Return The Love With Love

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 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 loved ones, I realized the reason I miss them so. In one way or another, each one enriched my life. Even when some of them weren’t at their best, they touched me in extremely important ways. Perhaps the most powerful trait which these good souls share is 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 and kindness.

As I recounted their good deeds, I couldn’t help smiling. I looked up to 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 would 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.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Find The Joy

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

Psalm 98:4

My husband and I recently drove up north to our favorite getaway, a little log cabin in the woods. Though we left plenty of work behind at home, we gave in to this much-needed opportunity to relax. Though I always volunteer to share the driving, my husband almost always opts to take the wheel for the duration. I admit that I was grateful that this was the case this time. I happily lay back and enjoyed the view beyond my window. Nature didn’t disappoint as summer’s splendor revealed itself throughout the drive. We made excellent time and were surprisingly refreshed when we arrived.

Though we intended to relax, as soon as we settled in, we each tackled a project which we had 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 five-minute drive to the nearest 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 determined that 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 our capacity to find joy in the most unexpected places.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

All God’s Treasures

Each one speaks from his or her heart’s abundance.
From Luke 6:45

While helping our granddaughters to pack their suitcases after an overnight stay, I checked under their beds for stray socks and flip-flops. In the process, I discovered a storage bin which I’d hidden years earlier. I’d left it untouched because I thought it was filled with one of our sons’ memorabilia. After we drove the girls home, I returned to that bin to determine which of our sons I’d hand it over to during their next visit. When I pulled that bin from under the bed, I saw that the label on top read “Mary’s Childhood and Teens”… What a surprise!

There I found my high school yearbook with handwritten messages from friends and teachers. Familiar faces filled my memory. The message written near Sister Imelda’s picture took me back to freshman year religion class. Sister had observed that we can get a good picture of ourselves by looking at our friends. I took this to mean that our friends mirror who we are. When I taught, I often noted that the “good” kids gravitated toward one another, while their less cooperative peers did the same. Still, good kids were sometimes conned by the allure of unsavory acquaintances. At the same time, placing a troubled child in good company resulted in unexpected liaisons that widened the horizons of all concerned. These amazing friendships changed everything for the children involved. Perhaps I missed the meaning of Sister Imelda’s observation. It isn’t that our friends mirror us, but that their company is witness to our openness to one another regardless of our similarities and differences.

As I considered the variety of friends and teachers who filled my yearbook with their kind words, I saw that our openness to one another is key to a rich life. What a treasure God has made of each of us!

Dear God, help us to appreciate one another more fully.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Passion for Goodness

Though I’ve frequently referenced my efforts to purge our home of the things we no longer need, this daunting task is far from completion. A few weeks ago, after I attended a retirement gathering, I was compelled to renew my efforts. I decided to focus on remnants from my own retirement. It had been a while since I stowed my desk name plate and some other items which made my office my own and I decided this would be a good place to start.

When I opened the box labeled RETIREMENT, I found a congratulatory plaque, my old business cards and the last school directory in which I was listed. I’d actually kept my final appointment book as well. I flipped through the pages and rediscovered the variety of activities that filled my days back then. When I read Teen Court Meeting and Suicide Prevention Task Force, a tear formed. Suddenly, I was immersed in a passionate discussion regarding youth offenses with local police chiefs, high school students and school district administrators. Just as quickly, I moved on to a meeting with the coroner, school social workers and mourning family members. I’d joined them to develop suicide education and prevention programs. I always left such gatherings with my adrenalin pumping. I was determined to do something which would have a positive impact upon the issue at hand. In the end, I did all that I could.

Needless to say, I didn’t do much purging that day. Rather, I turned my attention to this writing. The scripture passages cited exude passion and I found that my encounter with that memorabilia had placed me in the appropriate frame of mind to address this topic. I was extremely passionate regarding my work in education and the numerous causes which drew me in. I admit that I’m equally passionate regarding the issues we face today. The suffering featured in newscasts and headlines shakes me to my core. Perhaps it’s my status as a retiree which makes these things seem even more urgent than the issues I encountered as a teacher and administrator. My husband can assure you that I often speak aloud to the news anchor on hand in spite of the fact that I’m not being heard. While reading the paper, I’m equally verbose. Apparently, retiring from my career in education didn’t include retiring my passion for what I deem to be right and good. Today’s scriptures indicate that I’m not alone in this regard.

Jeremiah, Paul and Jesus were driven by their passion as well. They determined what was right and good and they shared their convictions regardless of the expense to themselves. Today’s first reading (Jeremiah 23:1-6) vividly illustrates Jeremiah’s anger. He didn’t take kindly to those who scattered the people and shirked their responsibility to care for them. His people had been devastated by their lack of leadership and their sense of loss. They’d been left with no one to cling to in their fear. Shepherds entrusted with sheep risked everything to protect their animals. Jeremiah insisted that those entrusted with God’s people are expected to do no less.

Paul echoed Jeremiah’s passion. Today’s second reading (Ephesians 2:13-18) is one of Paul’s many reminders that God’s presence in our lives is a treasure to be cherished. It is this presence which gives meaning to all that we do. Paul’s passion stemmed from a single encounter with Jesus. That pivotal meeting knocked Paul to the ground from which he rose a changed man. Paul couldn’t contain the peace which flowed from knowing that God was with him. As a result, he exhibited Jeremiah’s passion for God’s promises and God’s people in all that he said and did. Paul’s passion was fueled further by the example of Jesus who set aside everything to care for weary souls.

Jesus’ passion is undeniable. Today’s gospel (Mark 6:30-34) recounts the disciples’ return after having been sent off two by two to minister to the people. When they reunited with Jesus, the disciples excitedly reported all of the good works they’d accomplished. While Jesus shared their excitement, he also shared their fatigue. Exhilarated as they were, Jesus knew that they needed to rest. With that, he led the tiny band to a boat which would carry them off for a bit of seclusion. Of course, when the people heard of this parting, they set out on foot to the very place where Jesus and the disciples hoped to rest in solitude. Tired as he was, when the ever-attentive Jesus saw the crowd, the gospel tells us, “…his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” Jesus’ love for God’s people diminished his fatigue. His passion for what was right and good energized Jesus enough to minister to each and every one.

Today, those charged with caring for God’s people succeed at times and they fail at times. Like Jeremiah and Paul, you and I are called to add to the successes and to intervene when things run amok. When we allow our passion for what is right and good to lead us, we make positive differences in ways we may never realize. All the while, God is with us to rekindle our passion and to renew our energy along the way.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Led By Love

Joseph got up and took the child and his mother
and left that night for Egypt.

Matthew 2:14

Many years ago, my dad passed away in early July. As a result, I’m flooded with memories throughout this month which changed everything for my mom and her children. Some of that change involved Bill, the second love of my mom’s life. This good and brave man became our step-dad. I’m obliged to call Bill “brave” because he loved my mother with us six children in tow. I’m still amazed that we didn’t frighten the poor man away. Yes, Bill persisted out of love for my mother and for us.

I’ve always taken consolation in the fact that by dear step-dad was in good company. When Joseph pursued his relationship with Mary, he embraced impossible circumstances. Mary’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy could have caused her to be stoned to death. To protect her, Joseph intended to divorce Mary quietly. When he came to fully understand her circumstances, he took Mary into his home as his wife. This poor couple had barely settled in when Herod’s census forced Joseph to pack up his pregnant wife to travel to Bethlehem. Later, when the Magi inadvertently alerted the jealous king to Jesus’ birth, Joseph fled with his family to the safety of Egypt. Finally, Joseph, Mary and Jesus made their home in Nazareth.

Perhaps my step-dad found inspiration in Joseph’s plight. Perhaps the six of us seemed a less daunting challenge than attempting to parent Jesus. Whatever the case, both men inspire the rest of us to do what needs to be done to make a home in our hearts for those God has given us to love.

Dear God, give us Joseph’s and Bill’s courage as we strive to love one another.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Loved… Cared For…

“He took away our infirmities and bore our diseases.”
From Matthew 8:16-17

While I sat, I mindlessly tapped my fingers on the table. As I considered the realities of this life, I realized that there is often little I can do to alleviate the troubles which unfold around me. Just beyond the window, a large robin plopped himself into our bird bath. I was pleased with the robin’s arrival as my husband habitually cleans and fills our bird baths with the hope that our feathered friends will make use of them. This robin seemed most appreciative as he fluttered his wings for several seconds splashing water every which way. Though I knew he couldn’t hear me, I remarked, “It certainly doesn’t take much to make you happy!” Even before I finished this sentence, I realized that the same is true for all of us. Just as that water waited, available for my robin friend when he chose to enjoy it, all that we need awaits us.

Being loved and cared for is the best any of us can hope for. Being loved and cared for makes everything we encounter do-able. Though branches and boulders clutter the road that lies before us, we manage to climb over them or to plod around them because we aren’t alone. God remains every step of the way. Though we may only occasionally choose to bathe in the waters of God’s love and care, God remains to offer them just the same.

Loving God, thank you for your ever-present love and concern.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved