Hope-full Halloween!

Rejoice and be glad,
for your reward will be great in heaven.

Matthew 5:12

When I was in elementary school, the good sisters made it clear that there would be no Halloween without All Saints Day. Sister taught us that Halloween evolved from “The Eve of All Hallows” which is the day before the saints’ holy day. In centuries past, adults in some European countries paraded in costumes on the Eve of All Hallows. They depicted various stages of our lives and our positions in the human hierarchy. This was all to remind us that no one is exempt from death. Today, children dress up as princesses and super-heroes, witches and ghosts with the hope of gathering as much candy as possible. I’m quite certain that none of them will give a thought to their mortality today. Though the children who come to our doors aren’t thinking much about life after this life, they do come with their hope intact. Trick-or-treaters hope more than anything that we’ll drop their favorite treats into their bags.

As for me, I plan to embrace a bit of hope. Between doorbell rings, I’ll consider the hopeful lives of my loved ones who have passed away. I’ll pray to them and request their help in keeping hope alive in my own life. I’ll allow my trick-or-treaters to teach me to look beyond the masks we sometimes wear to the gifts buried deep within those around me. Each one will remind me to hope for the best for and within others. I’ll also look beneath the surface of the tricky situations which trouble me today with absolute hope in God’s ability to turn these troubles into treats of opportunity.

Yes, this Halloween and every day give us reason to hope!

Loving God, thank you for getting us through life’s tricky times by filling us up with the treats of your love and companionship.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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You’ll Always Be The Best!

Fill us at daybreak with your kindness,
that we may shout for joy and gladness all our days.

Psalm 90:14

Bad days used to be a rarity for me. I was always surprised when I seemed to have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed. I’ve never figured out which side of the bed is the wrong side. Still, in spite of my ignorance in this regard, for several weeks I’d managed to find that wrong side more often than not. In the midst of this string of cranky days, a much-loved voice called unexpectedly. If Katie* and I were engaged via FaceTime, she would have seen that I was doing a happy dance as we spoke.

As it happened, my little dance was short-lived because Katie had some scary news to share. A head injury from years ago has taken its toll and her memory will be affected. Katie has a loving family including a grandchild which adds to her concern. Still, Katie remained upbeat as she voiced her resolve to be the best she can for as long as she can. As she spoke, I whispered prayers for Divine Intervention regarding the duration of her ability to be the best she can. I’ve done the same ever since. Katie has always been 100% good enough for me. Still, I understand her worry.

Though Katie likely thinks that I’m doing her a favor by praying on her behalf, she’s the one who’s performed the good deed. Her call broke the spell those bad days had cast upon me. Katie has been my most consistent and vocal fan since I began writing in the public forum 25 years ago. As we spoke that day, Katie’s deep faith in God’s care for her reminded me that God cares just as deeply for me. Yes, Katie, you’ll always be the best you can be!

Loving God, give Katie a miraculously long string of “best she can be” days and months and years.

*I’ve changed Katie’s name to protect her privacy.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love God, Your Neighbor and You!

In an effort to distract myself from some gnawing worries, I engaged in a bit of therapeutic behavior. Productivity has always been an effective antidote to my frustration, so I headed to our spare bedroom to purge the closet. I invested an hour in this self-help therapy during which I hoped to dispel my fretting. The mementos I unearthed in that closet immersed me into an equally troubling scenario which unfolded almost two decades ago. Little did I realize that this unplanned trip down Memory Lane was precisely what I needed to adjust my perspective.

On the closet’s shelf, I found several textbooks and notebooks which had been my constant companions during the 1998-1999 School Year. This year of intense training impacted both my career and my family life. The career effects unfolded in the expected positive manner. This would have been a thrilling opportunity if its effects on my family life weren’t so difficult. My husband’s response caused him to morph into “the good deacon” that year. While managing life as a school principal and our parish deacon, Mike took on the majority of our household responsibilities. Tim, an eighth grader at the time, happily engaged in pre-graduation and high school prepping. Mike, a senior in college, busied himself lining up the “perfect” job to begin his career. In my absence, the three men in my life rose to the occasion in stellar fashion. As for me, I barely managed survival-mode.

Throughout that year, I continued to staff the desk at Saint Paul’s on weekends, to write this weekly reflection and to complete an annulment case each month. What was I thinking? I joined Mike and the boys for important events which were at a minimum. Though parenting is my favorite role, I probably uttered, “Thank God!” in response. Just prior to Christmas, the stress caught up with me. My colleagues and I had gathered for the last class of the first term. When our professor arrived, we greeted her with smiles and asked about her holiday plans. Our excitement kept us from noticing the books cradled in her arms. When class began, she congratulated us for the productive semester and promised not to keep us for the entire day. Then, she handed each of us a textbook which we were to read by our first class in January. An awkward silence reigned until I spoke up. I’d been living for an uninterrupted Christmas break with my family and it was with tear-filled eyes that I asked, “You are kidding, aren’t you?” In appropriately stern fashion, my professor responded, “You are engaged in doctoral level coursework. This assignment is the least I can expect of you.”

My unfortunate question put an unmistakable damper on our remaining hour together. As soon as my classmates and I left the building, they unanimously congratulated me for my courage in speaking up and chided me for my stupidity in doing so. “Mary, are you crazy? Don’t read the book. Just don’t read it.” They planned to scan the table of contents and index just before that next class. They’d garner enough information to suggest that they’d actually read the book. As they headed to their cars, they laughed over my exchange with the professor. As for me, tears stung my eyes as I drove off. In the end, I enjoyed a wonderful Christmas with my family and I didn’t worry about that book until school started. I had another week before my coursework began again. So, rather than catching up at school and relaxing a bit, I read that book. As it happened, I was the only one who did so. What was worse, after having given the assignment, our professor never referenced the book again. Go figure!

When I found that book on my closet shelf the other day, today’s gospel (Matthew 22:34-40) took on much deeper meaning for me. The passage chronicles one of the Pharisees’ final efforts to discredit Jesus. This time, they asked Jesus which were the greatest of the commandments. Because the Pharisees had made an art of complicating the lives of the faithful, Jesus countered quite simply: The greatest commandments are to love God with all of our hearts, minds and souls and to love our neighbors as ourselves. It seems to me that we love God best when we acknowledge God’s loving presence in our lives. We love our neighbors best when we share that love with them.

During that difficult training year, I allowed my focus on God’s love to blur. I failed to acknowledge God’s appreciation for me just as I am. In the process, I also failed to acknowledge my appreciation for God. I was simply too busy. Though on paper I’d completed a very successful year, I didn’t feel very good about it until I stored those books and notebooks for future reference and got back to attending to the people in my life: my family, my students and the people of St. Paul’s. Oddly enough, when I put all of this into perspective, I was better able to express my love for God and for my neighbors quite tangibly. As for those worries which urged me to clean that closet, I’m putting them into perspective as well.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Sew Love

I will thank you always for what you have done,
and proclaim the goodness of your name.

Psalm 52:11

Whenever our family gathers, my granddaughters are very generous with their offers to help in the kitchen. This is especially true of Ellie who is the eldest. The last time we gathered, Ellie helped me put together a taco dip which is a family favorite. Actually, I should say that I helped Ellie because she truly did most of the work. Thank you, Ellie!

While engaged in such culinary activity, I normally wear my green apron. I have two of these terry cloth creations which are identical. When they’re helping, my granddaughters often vie for the honor of wearing the second one. Though I cannot be certain of their motivation, I know my own. I love my green apron…

My sister fashioned this favorite decades ago. At the time, Cecele had two young children whom she was raising alone. As Christmas approached, my sister realized she had no money for Christmas gifts other than a few things for her children. Christmas has always been our family’s favorite holiday. Even in the leanest of times, our parents managed to provide something special for each of us. Cecele couldn’t bear to arrive on Christmas day without gifts for her siblings and God-children. So it was that she hand-made something for each of us. She sewed a large stuffed snake for my son. Because I’m the cookie baker of the family, at least at Christmastime, Cecele made two green aprons for me. I’ve used them ever since.

Before I put that apron away after washing it, I hold it close. I love my sister and this apron reminds me of her love for me. Thank you, Cecele!

Generous God, thank you for gracing us with hearts which can express our love so creatively.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Best Laid Plans…

Let the sea and what fills it resound…
Let the rivers clap their hands…

From Psalm 98:7-8

I have a dear friend who is truly a world traveler. When John plans a trip, it’s usually several weeks in duration and may involve not one cruise, but two. I admire his wandering spirit and I enjoy reliving his adventures with him when he returns home. For the past few days, however, I’ve been following John’s cruise on Facebook only to discover that it has unfolded quite unexpectedly. He’s actually spent three days in “canal limbo” because of a ship failure. After 48 hours of unsuccessful repair attempts, it was determined that the ship needs to be dry-docked. After another 24 hours in “traveler limbo”, John managed to book a few side trips which will fill the time until his second cruise begins. As I noted earlier, I truly admire John’s wandering spirit!

How often we find ourselves in the midst of unplanned scenarios which seem determined to keep us dry-docked for a while! How often we struggle to escape these circumstances only to find that we sink deeper into their mire! Finally, when we stop fighting our circumstances and start planning ways to deal with them do we find peace. Like my friend John, we sometimes have to re-plan, regroup and begin again. Like my friend John, sometimes we find ourselves in far better circumstances after all.

Life isn’t perfect for any of us. Still, when we keep ourselves attuned to the peace deep within, we focus on the things which matter most. In the end, we actually find a better way.

Loving God, thank you for being the peace which sustains us.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Newborn Hope

We are God’s people,
the flock God tends…

From Psalm 100:3

I drove to my doctor’s appointment reluctantly. I’m reasonably healthy and I didn’t want to chance hearing that this isn’t any longer the case. I worried about my blood pressure which is usually quite good. Current events in the world-at-large and nearby have given me reason to fret and to wring my hands and I can’t seem to do anything to alleviate the messes around me. It was with this mindset that I arrived for that appointment.

When I entered the doctor’s office, I was shocked to see the waiting room filled with pregnant women. I’m well past that possibility and it hadn’t occurred to me that I might be in the company of so many mommies-in-waiting. Though I came in with a heavy heart, the women before me appeared to be worry-free as they conversed about their pregnancies and shared helpful tips with one another. I admit to smiling as I listened.

The joyful chatter which filled the room also filled me up. Rather than burying myself in the book I’d brought along, I prayed for these mothers-to-be, their mates and their babies. I requested uneventful deliveries which would result in happy and healthy newborns. I asked that the parents involved would welcome their children with love, calm, patience, wisdom and generosity. I ended my prayer with words of thanksgiving for blessings received. I wouldn’t have known what to request for these parents-to-be if I hadn’t been blessed with the same.

As the nurse escorted me to the examination room, it occurred to me that, beside the messes which have caused me so much worry as of late, there are also innumerable reasons for hope in this world and it was about time for me to focus on that hope.

Loving God, this world is filled with hope. Please open my eyes to every bit of it!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved