Just Try…

Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place.
Luke 4:24

My sister called to tell me that one of the sisters who taught us in elementary school had passed away. I immediately recalled that she was the single teacher in my school career with whom I had difficulty until…

Glenda and I had been classmates since first grade. All was well until sixth grade when we endured some troubles. Glenda began to blossom into a young woman quite noticeably and I managed to annoy our teacher daily regardless of my genuine effort to do the opposite.

One day, Sister assigned essays which would be read to the entire class. Because Glenda and I were shy, we trembled in unison at the thought. Somehow, I managed to read my essay without a fumble. When Sister called Glenda, I closed my eyes to pray that Glenda would also do well. A classmate’s giggle interrupted my prayer. A second giggle prompted me to open my eyes. By the time I focused on Glenda, everyone in the classroom was laughing except for me. When I noticed Glenda’s unbuttoned blouse, I was mortified for her. Fortunately, Sister took control and sent Glenda and me into the hallway.

I explained what had happened while Sister mercilessly reprimanded our classmates. Poor Glenda sobbed until I convinced her that we were the lucky ones as the rest of the class was in deep trouble. In the end, our classmates ostracized Glenda and me for a few weeks because we “got them into trouble.” Never mind their merciless laughter which elicited Glenda’s tears. As for Glenda and me, our friendship grew stronger and Sister managed to muster a bit more patience with me.

Dear God, it isn’t always easy to do the right thing. Still, help me to try.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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The Kingdom of Heaven

For the past two Sundays, I’ve shared reflections regarding my parish’s 25th anniversary of our founding. Today, I share what occurred simultaneously. I’m most grateful that we were able to set aside the trauma of our recent flood to celebrate…

I love light. The brighter the better. This likely explains the pleasure I take in walking outdoors. Rays of sunshine peeking down at me between tree branches fill me with joy. When I’m inside, I admit to turning on more lamps than my dear husband cares for to accommodate my need to brighten a room. I’ve done the same at my sisters’ and our children’s homes. When we built our own house, my love for light compelled me to tell our builder that I wanted lots of windows. Only weather the likes of which we endured a few weeks ago causes me to regret that request on occasion.

It was during the night that blustering wind and rain pelted every pane of glass around me with a mighty force that shook my bed. I quickly discovered that Mike was lying wide-eyed beside me. Though it would have been wise to stay away from the windows, I abandoned common sense and slowly raised the blind which faces west. I should have run for cover, but I couldn’t turn my eyes from the large birch tree just inches beyond the glass. It leaned over to touch the ground and then brushed the window as it stood upright. After watching the tree repeat this exercise, it occurred to me that Mike and I needed to get downstairs and perhaps to the basement. When Mike suggested that the worst of the storm was over, I opened a blind to the north to see for myself. The bank of arbor vitae along the back of our yard swayed only slightly and the persistent rain quieted its assault a bit. Though the lights weren’t on, I saw that electricity continued to flow because our alarm clock continued to report the time.

While Mike offered his own prayers and then tried to resume his sleep, I turned my eyes upward and asked our dear Lord to keep everyone safe. Then, as though God needed assistance, I asked Michael the Archangel to protect our homes and property as best he could. Then, as though the good archangel also needed assistance, I asked my loved ones in the hereafter to offer any protection they could muster. Convinced that I’d placed us all and our property in the best of hands, I returned to sleep as well. This proved to be a good thing as I joined everyone for miles around in keeping vigil throughout the next few days. Though the sun made some appearances, additional rain added more than three inches to our total. While I prayed that the sunshine would evaporate some of this precipitation, I had to acknowledge that recent rainfall to the north would add more accumulation than the poor Des Plaines River could handle. Many of our Lake County neighbors continue to suffer through the aftermath of the 100 Years Flood which recurs far more frequently than its name suggests. In the midst of this calamity, I refined my understanding of light and its value to me. Light from the sun is certainly is life-giving. Light from the array of fixtures which brightens our home is also much appreciated. However, most important is the light emitted by our families, our neighbors, first responders and volunteers of every sort who stepped up to do just the right things to ease the troubles of those who needed them.

In today’s gospel (Matthew 13:44-52), Jesus teaches through parables once again. He tells us, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it…” During those torrential rains and the difficult days that followed, Jesus may have added, “The kingdom of heaven is like a wall of sandbags built by determined hands who toil for as long as needed to keep another safe.” Jesus might have said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a neighborhood without power where families leave their own homes to see that their neighbors are safe. When they find that all are well, they give thanks that only their electricity has been lost.” Jesus might also add, “The kingdom of heaven is like a clear sky which offers sunlight and the promise of receding waters.”

Before the flood, I might have said that kingdom of heaven is like the most brilliant light which reveals every detail of the people and things that I love. After the storm, I say, “The kingdom of heaven is like the light of our community, the kindness that abounds among neighbors and spills over onto strangers, the unexpected hand that helps those who think they cannot make it another day. The kingdom of heaven is precious light and property restored, not only by ComEd and carpenters, but by everyone who makes the well-being of others their priority.”

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

My Beloved BFF

When he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him,
and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.

Luke 15:20-21

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 of our lives and they share our greatest joys. The impact which a best friend has upon any of us is beyond words. That being said, I’m going to share one of the greatest things a dear friend has done for me.

I’ve often told those who are close to me that I truly appreciate the way Jesus of Nazareth asked us to live. I like Jesus’ acceptance of each of us for who we are and I agree with his insistence that we love one another. Jesus valued humility and service and so do I. Most of all, I appreciate knowing that there is nothing I can do that is unforgivable in God’s eyes. When he offered The Parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus offered me one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. This promise that God’s love is unconditional removes any doubt that I am a valued member of our human family -God’s family. Though I or any one of us can spend an entire lifetime rejecting God’s love, God’s embrace awaits us just the same.

Loving God, the most wonderful aspect of these powerful words is your assurance that they are true. Help me to convince others of your love and acceptance in all that I say and do.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Take Notice

If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets,
neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.

Luke 16:31

The most frustrating times of my teaching career, and throughout my life for that matter, occurred when stubborn or mean-spirited adults refused to do the right thing. At school, it was an unfair teacher, a principal who refused to back a teacher whom she didn’t much care for, a lunch monitor who exhibited an attitude toward “those” kids or a custodian who took his time when certain teachers called for help. This list, which goes on and on, exists in just about every human institution, including our circles of friends and our families. Our school secretary often observed, “Jesus himself could show them different and they’d still act that way!”

Luke’s gospel tells us that a hungry homeless man died on a rich man’s doorstep simply because the man didn’t notice him. When I consider my own annoyance with those who refused to do the right thing at work, I wonder how many times I’ve been guilty of the same. How many times have I intentionally avoided or simply not noticed a situation in which I could have done some good? Would it have mattered if Jesus himself had tapped me on the shoulder to get me moving?

It’s time that I forget about the omissions of others. Rather, I need to tend to my own ability to take notice and to take care whenever the opportunity arises.

Patient God, help me to see those who need me with your eyes and to respond to them with your heart.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Loving Memories

Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant.
Matthew 20:27

Though I don’t often visit cemeteries, I recently did so to celebrate memories of my loved ones. I know I can do this anywhere. Still, I find tangible peace in these places where I once expressed my grief through my tears and spoke my final farewells. Though the remains of all of the people whom I’ve lost weren’t buried in this particular place, each one came to mind as I gazed over rows of monuments which seemed to go on for infinity.

As I considered these losses which began when I was four years old, I realized the reason I so miss these loved ones. In one way or another, they all enriched my life. Even when some of them were not at their best, they touched me in extremely important ways. Perhaps the most powerful trait which these good people shared was their consistent willingness to put others before themselves. Even when circumstances forced them into acts of generosity and selflessness, they rose to these occasions with grace.

As I stood there, a plethora of memories recounted their good deeds. Though I cried the first time I stood at their gravesites, I couldn’t help smiling on this particular day. I looked up as if to find my loved ones in their afterlife abodes and whispered, “How can I thank you for doing all that you did for me?” Though I “heard” nothing in response, I had the distinct feeling that doing the same for those I have been given to love will be quite enough.

Generous God, thank you for the amazing people who have enriched my life. Help me to do the same for those I meet along the way.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Seize The Joy

Sing joyfully to the Lord, all you lands;
break into song; sing praise.

Psalm 98:4

A few weeks ago, my husband and I drove up north to our favorite getaway, a little log cabin in the woods. In spite of the fact that we left plenty of work behind at home, we gave in to this much-needed opportunity to relax. My husband doesn’t enjoy driving. However, he is always thrilled to be at the wheel when we’re headed north. Though I always volunteer to share the driving, I was grateful that my husband didn’t take me up on my offer. I happily lay back and enjoyed the view beyond my window. Nature didn’t disappoint as summer’s splendor revealed itself throughout the drive. As it happened, we made excellent time and were surprisingly refreshed when we arrived.

Though we intended to relax, as soon as we settled in, we tackled projects which we’d let go during prior visits. A few hours and lots of progress later, we realized that dinner time had come and we had made no plans. We opted for the twenty-minute drive to our favorite Mexican restaurant. As we settled in to scan the familiar menu, we laughed at how little we had relaxed that day. Still, we felt much better than we had a few days earlier when we decided we needed this get-away. My husband observed, “Maybe we didn’t mind all of the work at the cabin because we didn’t have to do it. We did it because we wanted to.” How right he was…

Gracious God, thank you for sharing your joyful Spirit with us. Give us the wisdom to revive our spirits by occasionally doing what we want to do.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved