Lessons Worth Learning

My people, hear my teaching;
listen to the words of my mouth.

Psalm 78:1-

Early in my career, I came to understand some very important aspects of teaching. To get my message across, I first had to get the attention of my students. Then, I had to keep their attention by making what I had to say interesting and understandable. Finally, I had to give them reason to remember what I shared.

Perhaps this is the reason Jesus taught the same message over and over again through a variety of parables. When I doubt that I am loved, I need only to recall the parables of The Good Shepherd, The Pearl of Great Price and The Lost Coin. In each one, everything is set aside in order to pursue that which is missing. The message? Regardless of where I hide, God does whatever it takes to watch over me and to love me every minute of every day. When I doubt that I can possibly be forgiven, I need only to recall the parables of The Prodigal Son, The Unjust Judge and The Friend at Midnight. The message? Regardless of how the world responds to my guilt, God always looks beyond what I have done to embrace me and to encourage me to be begin anew.

It seems to me that Jesus’ effort was well placed, at least for me. I can’t help embracing everything Jesus said regarding God’s mercy and patience, forgiveness and love. These bits of wisdom are what make this life doable for me.

Generous God, thank you for gifting humankind with such a great teacher. Help each of us to take Jesus’ lessons to heart.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Dearest Friend

The Lord is near to all who call upon him…
From Psalm 145:18

While de-cluttering my bookshelves for the umpteenth time, I came across a stack of prayer cards. One caught my attention because it is a homemade creation I picked up at a craft sale some time ago. The anonymous prayer featured on the card expresses the sentiments of someone who wishes each of us to experience God as powerfully as he does. This prayer doesn’t ask that others are blessed with a keen knowledge of church teaching or of the scriptures or of theology. Though these are all good places to seek some understanding of God, this prayer asks that we sense God’s presence not only with our minds, but also with our hearts. It occurred to me that this prayer’s author knows God in the same way that he knows his closest friends. What is more amazing is that God seems to reciprocate this relationship in very tangible ways.

I’ve taken that prayer card and given it a new home on my desk. Every day when I check my calendar, it reminds me to talk to God with the open and loving heart of this prayer’s author. I can think of nothing better for any of us than to truly understand with our heads and our hearts that God loves us passionately and remains with us always. Indeed, God is a very dear friend to us all.

Dear God, thank you for showing yourself to us in so many ways. Please, reveal your friendship so unmistakably that we can’t miss your presence around us and within us.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Picture Perfect Love

All the paths of the Lord are
kindness and constancy…

From Psalm 25:10

Whenever our granddaughters visit, they spend a good deal of time thumbing through the photo albums we keep on our coffee table. These albums feature each one from the time of her birth. Now, they include our grandson as well. Of course, the rest of us are also preserved for posterity in this smattering of birthday, Christmas and other special occasion photos. The kids enjoy looking at all of us. Still, they seem especially amazed by the way they have changed over the years. So are we! As that metamorphosis continues, so will our love for each one…

The other day, I decided to peruse my husband’s and my photo history. After enjoying our grandchild-filled albums, I pulled out our wedding album. As I poured over those decades-old pictures, tears threatened several times. On almost every page, I found a loved one who has passed on from this life. Each one of these special people left a significant mark on me. The love they showered upon my husband and me so long ago is tangible even today in most of what we do and say.

Though I know my loved ones present and passed on are not perfect, they have all added to the richness in my life. It seems to me that the most important gift we give to one another is our love. We give this gift best during time well spent together.

Thank you, God, for the people you have given me to love in this life and for those who have so generously loved me in return.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Give Hope… Give Jesus…

This First Sunday of Advent would have taken me by surprise if I hadn’t been sick a few weeks ago. Since he didn’t quite believe that I would be fine on my own, my husband stayed around the house the first few days of my ordeal. Mike used this time productively by pulling out our Christmas decorations. I admit that his effort gave me reason to perk up a bit. Though I was in no shape to carry boxes, I was able to look over the treasures within them. In the midst of all of this, I announced that there was very good reason for my illness. It had provided the perfect opportunity to purge ourselves of the items we’d planned to give away in years past. We’d failed to do this before because we habitually decided what to part with in January when we took down our Christmas Tree. It’s not helpful to donate Christmas decorations in January, so we stowed them away. This year, our effort would be perfectly timed!

As I looked over this lifetime of Christmas treasures, I couldn’t help tearing up a bit. Every year, my mom fashioned a tiny village beneath our family Christmas Tree. When Mike and I married, we did the same. Like most newlyweds at the time, money was scarce. Still, we purchased a neighborhood of tiny cardboard houses and a Nativity Set. Mike dressed up the houses by glittering the rooftop of each one. Though we’d used them for years afterward, they look like new. Since we purchased a more sturdy village some years ago, I boxed those sweet little houses for another family to enjoy. When I was feeling better a few days later, I dropped off those houses and everything else at the St. Vincent De Paul Thrift Store. I admit that, at the last minute, I almost pulled those little houses from the pile of items we were donating. I worried that their new owner might not realize what they still mean to me. When I finally decided to let go of my precious houses, I hoped that they would bring another family as much joy as they had brought me.

As I drove back home, I distracted myself from my regret with thoughts of this writing and the approach of Christmas. It occurred to me that my predicament gave me a small taste of what God may have experienced when God placed Jesus in our care. I had given up just a few little houses. God had sent a son -God’s only son- to dwell among us. Just as is the case with my little Christmas houses, there were no guarantees that we would care for this child as much as God cared for him. Still, God trusted us with Jesus and hope came to life for humankind. Living with hope in the present moment and hope in the things to come is precisely what Advent and all of our lives are about.

This First Sunday of Advent, the scriptures encourage us by providing good reason for our hope. In the reading from Isaiah (Isaiah 2:1-5), the prophet speaks of a reign of peace to which all people will be drawn. During this end time, soldiers will fashion their weapons into tools for the harvest and no nation will ever again rise against another. Isaiah describes a time when the people will walk in the light of the Lord, a time for which we all should prepare by seeking out that light in the here and now. In the second reading (Romans 13:11-14), Paul tells us again that the reign of peace is so close that we simply must live as though it is already here. In the gospel (Matthew 24:37-44), Jesus urges his followers to stay awake and to be prepared because one never knows when the Son of Man will come. Jesus urges us to be ready as well. It seems to me that Isaiah and Paul underscore Jesus’ urging by calling us to live as though the Son of Man is among us. Indeed, if we truly believe what we profess each week, we know that Jesus is here after all. Though we will never fully experience the joys of heaven on this earth, we can certainly enjoy glimpses and tastes of heaven’s wonder in our care for those we’ve been given to love.

This Advent, I invite you to join me in letting go. Better yet, I invite you to join me in happily sharing our gifts with genuine enthusiasm. Just as I came to imagine a grateful family placing my little houses under their Christmas Tree this year, God imagines us making the most of the gift of Jesus’ presence in our lives. We all get to imagine the grateful souls whom you and I will touch when we choose to share what we have. In the process, our generosity will bring hope to others and it will bring Jesus to us all. Happy Advent!

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Worry, but have faith, too…

“Why are you so terrified?
Why are you lacking in faith?”

Mark 4:40

I’ve given birth twice and I can honestly say that I would do it all over again for both of my sons. This is an easier call for my older son as his delivery was “too easy” I am told. The second time around was a little different…

Because I’d experienced contractions for days, we expected a quick delivery. Still, we waited several hours for progress. Suddenly, a nurse tossed a gown at my husband and rushed me into the delivery room. Monitors had detected fetal distress. When he made his appearance shortly thereafter, Timothy was white as a ghost. That nurse whisked our baby away without allowing me to hold him. After some whispering among the medical team, our doctor asked us not to worry. Then he added that he was calling in a specialist. My husband and I prayed. We had waited a very long time for this child.

The next morning, the doctor shared that our baby might be suffering from an illness which could cause serious disabilities before taking him by age three. This news devastated us and our prayers continued. Later that day, Sister Charles who managed the hospital lab hurried into our room. She said, “I’ve looked at Timothy. Trust me. He will be just fine.” By the time the tests were completed, our little boy sported a very healthy glow. I’m happy to report that Sister Charles was absolutely right!

Dear God, thank you for this wonderful son and his wonderful older brother. Today, in celebration of his birthday, please bless all parents with a generous measure of peace. You understand better than we do just how much we worry about our children.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

There’s Always Time

He entered a house and wanted no one to know
about it, but he could not escape notice.

From Mark 7:24

It’s Black Friday. Crowds in stores and malls everywhere swell exponentially with every passing minute. As I considered the mass of humanity of which I was a part this morning, I whispered a prayer of gratitude for those retailers who agreed not to open their doors on Thanksgiving Day. Of all of the holidays we celebrate in this country, Thanksgiving Day is the one we all enjoy without regard for our religious affiliations or lack thereof. I thanked God for the generosity of these employers whose workers enjoyed the holiday with their families yesterday.

After uttering a mental “amen” I returned to my list to determine where to go next. A voice near a cashier distracted. This person remarked that he would be wealthy if he had a dollar for every minute he spent waiting. As the man hurried out of the store, I chuckled to myself. I’d found my own wealth in the few seemingly wasted moments which allowed me to get my bearings. While the world rushed about me, I had also found the time to pray.

Perhaps this is the reason Jesus rose early and stole away for quiet time as often as he could. The scriptures also tell us that these moments were usually disrupted by those who desperately needed Jesus. The same is true of you and me. Today, I’m going to try to respond as Jesus would, with patience, genuine concern and love.

Dear God, our world grows busier every day. Still, I’m grateful that others occasionally need me. Help me to respond to them as you would. Then, remind me to pray a bit, too.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved