Grateful To Be Needed

“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
Be it done to me according to your word.”

Luke 1:38

The phone has rung once too often today. There were the roto-calls which come in spite of our being on the “No Call List”. (Does anyone know or care what that is anymore?) Then there were the legitimate callers who needed something which only I could provide. I’m truly humbled that others depend upon me. Today, however, I wished to be depended upon a little less. I’m tired. Two books await my perusal and my own book needs to be finished. Ugh! There goes the phone again!

This time, I’m grateful for the call. Our grandson needs a sitter tomorrow. Of course, my husband and I will be available. Of course, we’ll stay as long as we are needed. Of course, we will enjoy every minute we spend with little Danny.

As I look toward my calendar to clear the day, I notice the little statue of Mary nearby. Danny’s dad gave it to me long ago. Since I am named after the Mother of Jesus, I try to emulate her in my life. Hmm. Perhaps my response to those phone calls earlier wasn’t a particularly good example of this. Mary responded generously to numerous life-changing requests made of her. It was Danny’s mommy’s phone call which adjusted my focus. It’s an amazing blessing to be needed! The next time the phone rings, I’ll answer with Mary’s selflessness and genuine gratitude.

Patient God, help me to respond with love whenever I am needed, regardless of when I receive the call.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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So Loved…

“Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted
in his own native place.”

Luke 4:24

I’ve written about Glenda before. Still, a news story from our childhood neighborhood brought her to mind and I cannot resist…

Glenda and I lived on the same block and were classmates from first through sixth grade. During sixth grade, Glenda blossomed into a young woman quite noticeably and I managed to annoy our teacher on a daily basis regardless of my genuine effort to do just the opposite.

One day, Sister announced that we would read the essays we’d just written before the class. Our shyness caused Glenda and me to tremble in unison. When I was called, I managed to read my work without a fumble. When Sister called Glenda, I closed my eyes and prayed that she would also do well. A giggle interrupted my prayer. A second giggle prompted me to open my eyes. By the time I focused on Glenda, everyone was laughing, except for me. When I noticed that Glenda’s blouse had unbuttoned, I was mortified for her. Fortunately, Sister took control and sent Glenda and me into the hallway. While I explained what had happened to Glenda, Sister mercilessly reprimanded the rest of the class. Poor Glenda sobbed until I managed to convince her that we were the lucky ones because the rest of the class was in serious trouble.

Afterward, our classmates ostracized us for a while because we “got them into trouble.” Never mind that their unkindness created this mess. At the same time, Glenda’s and my friendship was sealed forever. In the end, Sister even managed to muster a bit more patience with me.

Dear God, I could never have laughed at Glenda. I loved her too much! Thank you for this glimpse of how much you love me.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Special Place for You and Me

Last Sunday, my husband and I stole away from church a bit early. We usually “hang out” from the first Mass until the last. However, it was Valentine’s Day and we interrupted our Sunday routine with an outing. A friend told us about an art exhibit which he encouraged us to visit. Information online confirmed that this was a “must see” opportunity. By the time we headed to the gallery, the forecasted snow was falling and traffic moved at a snail’s pace. Since Mike drove, I was free to enjoy the view. On the way, I discovered what it is like to see the world from the inside of a snow globe. I delighted in the winter wonderland beyond the glass in spite of the shoveling which would be required a few hours later. I needed to recover from what had been a hectic morning, because I had a busy afternoon in store. I normally allow myself to relax on Sundays. However, I needed to prepare this reflection which I’d neglected the week before.

As Mike drove, I absent-mindedly hummed a hymn we’d sung during Mass that morning. In the process, I recalled the refrain which had caused me to stop singing for a few seconds. I remember telling myself, “There is a wonderful story here!” As I sang on, I memorized the words which had touched me so. This was an easy task because the lyrics echoed precisely what I needed to hear… Like a rose trampled on the ground, you took the fall, and thought of me above all. Though I don’t normally check the composers of the hymns we sing, I looked for their names. I wondered if Lenny LeBlanc and Paul Baloche knew the power of their lyrics. Did they select the title Above All because they somehow knew that these words would melt my heart today? “Yes,” I reminded myself, “God looks upon each of us as the most important person in this world.” When we arrived at the gallery, I realized that I was not alone in my thinking…

The “gallery” is actually a temporarily transformed old factory. The featured exhibit will travel from place to place until a suitable permanent home is found. Though the Smithsonian Institute expressed interest years ago, the artist refused. The docent who guided us shared that, before he died, this artist specified that viewings were to remain free and accessible to as many people as possible, especially to lonely and unloved children. It is no wonder that the he named this work My Father’s Love. Though Mike and I had viewed the artwork online, the actual works took our breath away.

My Father’s Love features numerous biblical images in stunning wood tones. Artist Ed Lantzer created the scenes on thirty four-by-eight-foot wooden panels. These panels are covered entirely with hundreds of thousands of half-inch diamond-shaped wood pieces cut from more than one hundred-fifty varieties of trees. None of the wood was dyed or painted. Each one was selected for its color or texture and each one is essential to the resulting image. Though the images of Creation, the Last Supper, Jesus’ scourging and the Crucifixion drew us in, the tiny wooden pieces which made them up drew us in further. For thirty years, Mr. Lantzer worked without plans or drawings to create what he saw with his heart. Even a team from MIT was unable to decipher the artist’s method in placing each bit of wood precisely where it belonged. Each wooden piece contributed perfectly to the final image.

When we returned from the museum, I turned to Luke’s gospel (Luke 9:28b-36) for further inspiration. Luke tells us that Jesus took Peter, James and John to a mountainside to pray. Minutes into their prayer, Jesus’ face changed and his clothing became dazzling white. As if this wasn’t enough, Moses and Elijah suddenly appeared as well. This stunned Peter and his friends who were unable to make sense of what they saw. Still, Peter’s desire to do something urged him to offer tents to the holy trio before him. Before he could babble further, a voice bellowed from the clouds, “This is my chosen son; listen to him.” Finally, Peter and the others realized they were precisely where they belonged. God had a message for them above all others. God had revealed that each of them would be an essential part of the things to come.

I’m convinced that it was no accident that we visited that exhibit, that we sang Above All and that I’m writing about Jesus’ Transfiguration today. I haven’t been at my best as of late, and I desperately needed these reminders that I am an important part of a bigger picture. Apparently, no one can bring the color and texture which I bring to God’s masterpiece. The same is true for each one of us. Above all, you and I have a special place in God’s plan and in God’s heart.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our BFF

His father caught sight of him,
and was filled with compassion.
He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.

Luke 15:20

If you have a best friend, you likely recall the important experiences you’ve shared over the years. You may have a gift from this person or a photo of the two of you which you treasure. We cherish our best friends. They know what is on our minds before we do. They can finish our sentences. They help us through the most difficult times and they share our greatest joys. The impact of our best friends is beyond words.

Odd as this may sound, I need to share that I count God among my friends. Indeed, God tops the list as my very best friend. My granddaughters tell me that God is my BFF (They had to teach me that this means “Best Friend Forever”.) and they are correct. I am grateful for God’s acceptance of each of us for who we are and I am grateful that God loved us long before God created us and asked that we love one another. God values humility and service. God also acknowledges our frailties. I am grateful for these things as well. Most of all, I appreciate knowing that there is nothing I can do which is unforgivable in God’s eyes.

When Jesus offered The Parable of the Prodigal Son, he illustrated the character of my BFF perfectly. God’s love is unconditional. God’s love is a constant offering to you and me. Though we are all free to spend our lifetimes rejecting God’s love, God’s embrace awaits us just the same.

Loving God, thank you for serving as BFF to every one of us.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Loving Lent

Give thanks to him; bless his name, for he is good:
the Lord whose kindness endures forever.

Psalm 100:5

Though this is the second week of Lent, it is also Valentine’s Day week. While I consider my efforts to do my best in terms of my Lenten observances, I must remember to do these things with love. Perhaps the bit of chocolate which I enjoyed last Sunday was meant as both a sweet treat and a sweet reminder that love is always a priority in God’s eyes regardless of what we are doing.

With that in mind, I acknowledge the stubbornness and mean-spirited attitude which sometimes characterize my circumstances. Sometimes, it is I who infuses these sentiments into the moment at hand. Though I tend not to bring them in at the onset, I have joined in when others set the tone. It occurs to me that I must be more proactive when it comes to love this Lent. I must bring a bit of Valentine’s Day into every day if I am going to do God’s work. I must dispel the negativity and sweeten every situation with morsels of love. If I truly wish to express my gratitude for God’s presence in my life, I need to show it one loving act at a time.

Loving God, you gifted me with many things, the greatest of which is my capacity to love. Help me to share this gift generously, just as you do.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Teaching Moments

“For they preach, but they do not practice.”
From Matthew 23:3

My mom had serious issues with double standards. After hearing a newscaster’s remark or reading an article in the newspaper, she often responded, “Do as I say, and not as I do!” She sometimes said the same regarding situations at work. Apparently, my mom’s supervisor didn’t always exhibit the behavior he expected from his employees. My mom tried to be fair in her interactions and she did not appreciate those who didn’t do the same. Perhaps this is the reason my mom did most of her teaching by example. Though I remember some of her pet sayings, I recall the things she did far more vividly.

I try to keep my mother’s example in mind in my own interactions and relationships. There is nothing worse than betraying the trust of those who depend upon us and those who love us. Though I cannot promise to be perfect, I can promise to do my best. This is the reason I will offer a special prayer today for all of those upon whom we depend and for those who depend upon me. Whether at home, school, in the neighborhood, on our job-sights or at our places of worship, we all need the company of people whose actions speak even more clearly than their words.

Dear God, help us always to practice what we preach as best we can.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved