God With Us

No one has ever seen God…
From John 1:18

It is the teacher in me who taught me to make the most of our winter breaks. When I taught second and third graders, their unrest before Christmas vacation betrayed their anticipation regarding what Santa might place under their trees on Christmas Day. I engaged in some extremely creative teaching to keep my students’ attention until I finally dismissed them for their two-week hiatus. Because my husband was a school principal, his office needed a revolving door during those final days as a few students needed more than their teachers’ creativity to contain them. When we had children of our own, we did our best to send them off to school with plenty of “encouragement” to do their best until the final bell rang and vacation began.

This time away from school was truly a gift to all concerned. Though having the kids at home while trying to prepare for Christmas was a challenge, their involvement added to all of our appreciation of the season. When Christmas Day arrived, we had much to celebrate together.

This New Year’s Eve, another variety of anticipation and a bit of uncertainty sets in. Like the children who wondered what gifts Christmas would bring, I wonder what the New Year has in store. The truth is that God only knows. So it is that I settle in to enjoy this evening with those I have been given to love. I will trust that, whatever 2016 brings, God will be with us through it all.

Loving God, thank you for your loving care today, throughout the coming year and always.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Grace Upon Us All

The child grew in size and strength,
filled with wisdom,
and the grace of God was upon him.

Luke 2:40

The New Year is just thirty-six hours away and my thoughts turn to my hopes and dreams, worries and fears for 2016. I have been blessed with an inner calm which I really cannot explain. Still, I fret with the best of them on occasion, especially when a loved one faces peril that I can do nothing about. Normally, when my worries get the best of me, I head outdoors to walk. Because close encounters with slippery walks threaten, I have sought solace indoors through walks at the mall.

These walks are not a retreat from my troubles. The truth is that they are just the opposite. It is while I am embraced by a soft summer breeze or a gust of winter cold that I feel most like the child of whom Luke wrote so long ago. Even indoors at the mall, I find myself engulfed by the goodness around me. Though I have grown neither as wise nor as strong as Jesus did, I do have the grace of God upon me. Jesus himself convinced me of this by the way he lived his life among us. His lessons regarding God’s love assure me in the midst of the worst of my fretting that my loved ones and I will be fine after all. You see, God’s grace is upon us all.

Good and Gracious God, thank you for your presence and your enduring love which enhance the best and worst of our days.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Thank You, Daddy!

“…what we have seen and heard
we proclaim now to you.”

1 John 1:1

My dad would have celebrated his ninety-sixth birthday this week. Perhaps I shouldn’t have written “would have” as heaven may acknowledge such milestones with far more revelry than we do!

When I was a little girl, the proximity of Daddy’s birthday to Christmas troubled me. Young as I was, I appreciated the possibility that his special day was likely lost in the hustle and bustle of yuletide every year. Eventually, I asked my dad if he minded that his birthday fell two days after Christmas.

My dad replied with great wisdom. He told me that his birth date was just fine with him. After all, Christmas was a very good day which led into his own very good day. The truth is that my grandparents had little money which leads me to believe that my dad didn’t receive many gifts on either day. Still, he shared his memories with a smile big enough to convince this daughter that his childhood Christmases and birthdays were just fine.

Loving God, thank you for sending Jesus to live humbly among us. His life teaches us to find joy in whatever our circumstances may be. More importantly, thank you for my dad who passed your teaching on to me with great competence and with great love.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always Safe

The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream
and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother,
flee to Egypt and stay there until I tell you.”

Matthew 2:13

My family will gather in a few days to continue our Christmas festivities with a New Year’s Day celebration. For generations before I arrived, my dad’s Canadian family preserved this tradition which includes a blessing. Each year, our family gathers before our eldest family member to request their intercession. This year, my sister Rita will ask God’s gifts of happiness, health and prosperity for each one of us during the coming year.

For as long as I can remember, I experienced a sense of peace while we knelt together for this annual prayer. Afterward, I felt protected somehow regardless of what life had in store for the next three hundred and sixty-four days. This was very important to me the year my dad passed away and for years thereafter. Perhaps this is the reason I was always careful to help my own sons to feel safe. Perhaps this is the reason I hold my grandchildren so close these days. Perhaps this is the reason I am compelled to remind all who will listen that God is always nearby, around us and within us, to keep us safe along the way.

Caring God, even Jesus had reason to fear from very early on in his life. Still, Mary and Joseph remained steadfast in their loving care for him. Help us to treasure and nurture one another with equal devotion.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Celebrate Being Human

My husband and I had just spent three days with our granddaughters. Their parents had the opportunity to see the Blackhawks play in Nashville. Of course, Grandpa and I happily agreed to make this much-deserved get-away possible. While Mommy and Daddy enjoyed their mini-vacation, Grandpa and I enjoyed (and were admittedly worn out by) full immersion into our granddaughters’ lives. The girls assisted by behaving and providing some enlightening and amusing insight into their daily joys, trials and tribulations. All the while, I couldn’t help recalling life with our own sons. Wasn’t it just yesterday that we listened as Mike and Tim expounded on sports, their friends and their latest annoyance at school? Wasn’t it just yesterday that I worried so…

After reading today’s gospel, I felt completely justified in one bout with worry which I’ll never forget. Twelve-year-old Mike had set out after dinner for a friend’s house down the block where they’d spend the evening exploring a new video game. A few hours later when he failed to return home on time, I called my neighbor to ask her to send Mike home. She responded that she didn’t know Mike was there. When she asked her husband if Mike had come by, he responded in the negative. This was completely out of character as Mike was always good about sharing his whereabouts and checking in with us. After calling the parents of a few of his other friends with no results, I was frantic. Things can happen to kids in a split second and I knew that my son was not immune. With that, my husband decided to look for him while I stayed home with our younger son. Though Tim was only four years old, he sensed trouble easily and reacted with inconsolable fear for his big brother. Before my husband left, I called our neighbor again to ask that she let us know if Mike appeared there. After commiserating with me, she hung up the phone and went to check on her own sons who had been playing in the basement. Just as she opened the door, our Mike was running up the stairs. He confessed that he’d lost track of the time and was planning to run all the way home. By the time my neighbor called to apologize for inadvertently contributing to our worst fears, my out-of-breath son walked through the front door to a most unexpected hug!

Luke’s gospel (2:41-52) details a similar occurrence with Jesus and his parents. Together, they had walked from their small town to Jerusalem in the company of numerous neighbors and friends. After celebrating Passover in the temple, Mary and Joseph allowed Jesus to mingle freely amidst the caravan returning home. After all, Jesus was almost a teenager at the time. Only as night fell did Mary and Joseph realize that Jesus wasn’t among them. Because they had taught Jesus common sense and consideration for others, the frantic couple feared the worst. Left to travel alone, they hurried back to Jerusalem to search for their son. When Mary and Joseph finally found him in the temple, Jesus seemed bothered by his parents’ worry. He asked, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” I know many of us could have advised Mary and Joseph regarding their response! Still, these two who had taught Jesus compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and forgiveness, chose to practice what they preached. Though they failed to understand Jesus’ actions, they simply took their son home. As for Jesus, he returned to Nazareth “…and was obedient to them.” As for my elder son, I’m quite certain that he is making note of the fact that there was one occasion when he pleased his parents a bit more successfully than Jesus did!

Today’s feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph gives us all reason to celebrate our humanity. Being human is so important to our Wise Creator that God sent Jesus, not to “act” as one of us, but to truly “be” one of us. This explains Jesus’ impatience with Mary and Joseph at the temple. Twelve-year-old that he was, Jesus simply couldn’t understand why his parents would worry about him. Twelve-year old that he was, Jesus simply went about doing what he knew he must. This also explains Jesus’ persistence in revealing God’s love for us. Just as Jesus’ parents searched until they found him, God asks us to keep track of one another. Whether we are twelve months, twelve years, twenty, thirty-five, sixty-four or eighty-seven, God asks only that we care for those we have been given to love as only we humans can.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Feast of Stephen

The Stephen already spoken of was a man filled with grace and power,
who worked great wonders and signs among the people.

Acts of the Apostles 6:8

What a gift we have in this day after Christmas! Our Christmas preparations came to fruition yesterday. Today, there is nothing more to do than to continue to enjoy the successes of our celebrations and to forget the rest. As I consider my own list of positives, I give thanks. I am generously blessed. I am opting to forget the things which were or are not to my liking and out of my control. Rather, I pray for improvement on the part of all concerned, especially myself. After all, I am the only one over whom I have jurisdiction.

So it is that I turn my thoughts to today, December 26, The Feast of Stephen. Stephen is among the first chosen to serve as deacon to assist the apostles in carrying out Jesus’ work. While the apostles tended to preaching, Stephen and those like him tended to serving the corporal needs of the people. They saw to it that widows and orphans were fed and that everyone who needed care received it. Today, I hope to continue my Christmas observance by engaging in good deeds as well. We are all called to be good and just souls who live The Word just as Stephen did.

Today, I also acknowledge the three deacons at my parish church who take care of so many of our practical needs just as Stephen did. My thanks to you, Ivan, Mark and my husband Mike, for all that you do for us!

Dearest God, thank you for the gifts of Christmas 2015, the Gift of the First Christmas and the gift of those who live the spirit of this season throughout the year.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved