Dear Sweet Cubby

…the one who humbles himself will be exalted.
From Luke 18:14

At a recent gathering with my sisters, I lamented the closing of a once favorite restaurant. Though the food was wonderful and the atmosphere was welcoming, the owner was even more so. We chose this eatery often, especially when we had our mom with us. You see, that owner was Ron Santo and our mom was a fan.

It was around 5:00 when we arrived that evening so long ago. On the way into the restaurant, our mom wondered aloud if Ron Santo would be there. As it happened, the Cubs’ famed third baseman made one of his frequent appearances to mingle with his patrons that night. When Mom saw him, she flew out of her chair to greet him. Ron Santo graciously shook her hand. Unfortunately for him, our mom didn’t let go. She pulled the poor man to our table. “You have to meet my five daughters,” she insisted.

Mr. Santo never stopped smiling as our mom dragged him along. When they arrived at our table, we apologized for our mom’s enthusiasm, but he would have none of it. Ron Santo looked at us and said, “Well, you sure have beautiful daughters, just like their mother!” He chatted with us for several minutes, gave our mom a hug and then went on his way. When we left the restaurant, Mr. Santo made a point of saying good-bye to Mom. Though this beloved Cubby is remembered for so much more, I’ll never forget his kindness to our mom.

Loving God, help me always to appreciate the good people who grace my life.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

So Loved!

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’s 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 that a best friend has upon any of us is beyond words. That being said, I’m going to share one of the greatest things my dearest 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. Imagine a dad who has been forsaken by his own child in so many heartbreaking ways welcoming that very child home! This illustration of God’s unconditional love removes any doubt that I am loved even more so. 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.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Let’s Do Something!

It was July 10 when the world received the news. The last of those twelve young soccer players and their coach had been rescued from that flooded maze of caves in Thailand. I’ll never forget my relief and absolute joy over this miracle. Though those who cooperated in this rescue did their very best to help, they knew from the onset that their success was unlikely. Still, with their hope intact all the while, Thailand’s best combined forces with experts from several other nations and together they accomplished the impossible. When news of the rescue spread, we were no longer Thai or American, Chinese, Australian, Israeli or English or anything else. We were one people who rejoiced together because thirteen of our brothers had been saved.

During the days and weeks since, I admit that I’ve been fixated upon this rescue and the good which we can accomplish when we work together. Worldwide support of those twelve boys and their young coach renewed my conviction that we are indeed capable of reaching beyond the barriers which seem to separate us. We really can work together when we have something truly important to accomplish! As I write, I realize that I’ll likely share this story with whoever will listen to me or read my work for quite some time. Much to my relief, John’s gospel assures me that this is a good thing. John offers a retelling of one of the most beloved stories in the scriptures. The featured event is recounted at least six times in the New Testament. This is quite remarkable because the Christmas story is reported only once in Luke’s gospel. Jesus’ death and resurrection are chronicled only four times, once by each of the evangelists. What was it that compelled early scripture writers to place such emphasis upon Jesus’ multiplication of the loaves and fishes?

In his gospel (John 6:1-15), John wrote that Jesus had crossed the Sea of Galilee to seek some much-needed rest for his disciples and for himself. A crowd followed along because they’d witnessed Jesus’ numerous healings. The people couldn’t get enough of the hope that Jesus so generously offered. When Jesus looked upon the fatigued and famished multitude before him, he was moved with compassion. Jesus asked the disciples where they might find food for them. Stunned by Jesus’ incredulous request, poor Philip responded that two hundred days’ wages couldn’t purchase enough food for the crowd. Though he knew this would be of little help, Andrew pointed out that a boy among them had five barley loaves and two fish. Jesus somehow acquired the boy’s basket of food and he transformed it into the meal for thousands which has been remembered ever since.

As I considered this miracle, it occurred to me that I’ve never given much thought to the boy with that basket of bread and fish. Why did he give them up? He’d held his basket in the midst of a hungry horde who had no prospects for their next meal. He was probably hungry himself after his trek to the mountainside and the long afternoon he’d spent listening. Did anyone else attempt to cajole the boy into sharing his meager provisions? How did he get close enough to Jesus to be noticed? More importantly, why did the boy part with what might have been his own last meal for some time? Did he like Jesus? Did Andrew urge the boy to give it up? Did the boy’s parents insist that he part with his food? Did Jesus himself approach and say, “Will you share your food with me?”

I also don’t know why those experts and divers in Thailand left everything to try to save the thirteen captives in those flooded caves. While Jesus’ poor disciples were faced with providing an impossibly huge meal, these poor rescuers battled impossible circumstances. As Jesus’ plan unfolded, we know that the boy gave up his basket of food and that the disciples did their parts to distribute the food as Jesus asked. We also know that these Twenty-First Century rescuers literally dove in to assess what lay ahead and to do everything within their power to succeed. Throughout that rescue operation, I asked, “How is it that they find the courage to persist? How is it that, even when they’ve lost one of their own, they continue on?” Perhaps the boy in the gospel parted with his bread and fish because it was the thing to do. Perhaps those rescuers and their supporters simply did the same.

Perhaps this is the reason the scripture writers focused upon this story. Every day of this life, we’re all challenged to do something as well. Most of the time, these are small opportunities which we can take on alone or with the help of a friend or two. Sometimes, the outcome will be as unlikely as that mountainside banquet. Perhaps once in our lifetimes we’ll be challenged by an adventure as frightening as that flooded cave rescue. Whatever our circumstances, we’re asked again and again, “Will you do something?” Like that boy with the basket of food and those brave rescuers, let’s try to answer, “Yes!”

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Be Strong

Our enemies mock us.
O Lord of hosts, restore us;
if your face shines upon us
we will be safe.

From Psalm 80:7-8

I seem to be making an extended visit to Memory Lane. Here I go again…

My friend Glenda and I had been classmates since first grade. It was during sixth grade that we endured some troubles. Glenda began to blossom into womanhood quite noticeably and I managed to annoy our teacher on a daily basis regardless of my effort to do just the opposite.

One day, Sister assigned essays to read to the entire class. Glenda and I were shy and we trembled in unison at the thought. AS it happened, I managed to read my work without a fumble. When Sister called upon Glenda, I closed my eyes and prayed that she’d experience the same. 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 couldn’t laugh. I was mortified for her. Fortunately, Sister quickly took control and sent Glenda and me into the hallway where I was to explain what had happened.

While I told Glenda about her blouse, Sister mercilessly reprimanded our classmates. Poor Glenda sobbed until I convinced her that we were the lucky ones. After all, 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 that their laughter had caused Glenda’s tears. As for Glenda and me, our friendship grew stronger. In the end, my friendship with Sister grew a bit as well.

Dear God, you inspire the courage which helps us to do the right thing.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Is There Something I Can Do?

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, have occurred when mean-spirited adults refused to do the right thing. At school, it was a teacher who refused to admit an error, a principal who refused to support a teacher whom she didn’t much care for, a lunch monitor who exhibited an attitude toward certain kids or a custodian who took his time when his least favorite 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 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 occurs to me that perhaps Jesus is tapping at the moment. For some reason, I’m compelled to ask, “What might I have done to help those seemingly mean-spirited people to embrace a more positive stance?” Hmmm… What might I have done?

With that, I see that 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.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Humble Servant

Whoever wishes to be first among you shall serve.
Matthew 20:27

The memories which filled me up at the cemetery the other day remain with me. My loved ones in the hereafter certainly taught me a lot before they took their leave. One of those lessons came at the hands of my dear Aunt Lucille…

Aunt Lucille cared for elderly people throughout her own post-retirement years. She had a way with her “ladies” as she would call them. Her work was truly a pleasure for all concerned. Over time, one of Aunt Lucille’s clients had become rather difficult. The poor woman’s memory no longer served her. This exacerbated her demanding personality. This lady was unkind and demanding, at best (my words, not Aunt Lucille’s). Because Aunt Lucille was always one to find the upside in a situation, she devised a plan. Aunt Lucille made a point of discovering this woman’s favorite things and her pet peeves. My aunt-the-caretaker said and did just the right things to focus her patient on the positive. During the year Aunt Lucille cared for her, this woman became one of my aunt’s most beloved clients.

When the woman passed away, Aunt Lucille went to her funeral. The woman’s family was quite renowned and many notable people attended the service. Aunt Lucille arrived early to insure herself a seat. She chose the last row to leave room for more important attendees. Just before the service began, the woman’s son noticed Aunt Lucille in the back of the church. He immediately walked back to her and escorted her to the family’s pew. “My mother loved you, Lucille. You’ve been a blessing to her and to us. Your place is here!”

We love you, too, Aunt Lucille! Thank you for showing us how it’s done.

Loving God, help me to love with Aunt Lucille’s humility and compassion.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved