2019? Only God Knows…

No one has ever seen God…
From John 1:18

It is the teacher in me who taught me to make the most of our winter breaks. When I taught second and third graders, their unrest before Christmas vacation betrayed their anticipation regarding what Santa might place under their trees on Christmas Day. I engaged in some extremely creative teaching to keep my students’ attention until I finally dismissed them for their two-week hiatus. Because my husband was a school principal, his office needed a revolving door during those final days as a few students needed more than their teachers’ creativity to contain them. When we had children of our own, we did our best to send them off to school with plenty of “encouragement” to do their best until the final bell rang and vacation began.

This time away from school was truly a gift to all concerned. Though having the kids at home while trying to prepare for Christmas was a challenge, their involvement added to all of our appreciation of the season. When Christmas Day arrived, we had much to celebrate together.

This New Year’s Eve, another variety of anticipation and a bit of uncertainty sets in. Like the children who wondered what gifts Christmas would bring, I wonder what the New Year has in store. The truth is that God only knows. So it is that I settle in to enjoy this evening with those I have been given to love. I will trust that, whatever 2019 brings, God will be with us through it all.

Loving God, thank you for your loving care today, throughout the coming year and always.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

What Families Do…

My husband and I planned a pre-Christmas gathering for early December. We began by coordinating calendars with our sons to insure that they and their families would be able to attend. All was going well until the week beforehand. It was Tuesday when our eldest granddaughter called. Ellie began the conversation by sharing her excitement over the new friends she’s made in middle school. This grandparent and retired teacher was very happy to hear this as middle school can be challenging for newcomers. Ellie went on to say that one of her new friends had invited her and a few others to a party. The single complication in all of this was that the party was scheduled for the same evening as our gathering. Ellie called to ask if Grandpa Mike and I minded if she attended the other party. Before I could respond, Ellie assured me that she didn’t want to disappoint us and that she would come to our party if we wanted her to. Of course, my heart melted. I told Ellie that Grandpa and I wanted her to attend her friend’s party. After Ellie excitedly thanked us, this worrying Grandma confirmed with my son that Ellie had a ride to the party and that she would stay at her neighborhood friend’s home until her parents and siblings returned from our house. As it happened, Ellie had an enjoyable and safe time with her friends just as we did here.

Though we missed Ellie that Saturday night, Mike and I celebrated the realization that our first grandchild is morphing into a wonderful young person. We can’t ask for more than this. At the same time, Ellie’s party adventure brought back poignant memories of her dad’s and uncle’s experiences in this regard. Before our sons left the house for an evening of fun, I offered an excess of motherly guidance regarding their activities. Shall I mention that their dad usually stood in the background rolling his eyes? When our sons left, I also offered a prayer. I begged God and everyone else who was listening from above to inspire our sons to be wise and safe until they returned home. Happily, my prayers were answered generously! I share all of this because all of us want the best for those we’ve been given to love and parents have worried about their children since the beginning of time. Not even Mary and Joseph were spared this reality…

On this Feast of the Holy Family, Luke’s gospel (2:41-52) details Jesus’ contribution to his parents’ accumulation of gray hair. As was the custom at the time, Joseph, Mary and Jesus walked from Nazareth to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover in the temple. They traveled in the company of numerous neighbors and friends. After observing the feast, Mary and Joseph allowed Jesus to mingle freely amidst the caravan as they walked home. After all, Jesus was almost a teenager at the time. All the while, Mary assumed that her growing son was walking with the men. Joseph, who likely acknowledged that Jesus still had a lot of growing to do, assumed that his son was walking with the women and children. It was nightfall when Mary and Joseph realized that Jesus wasn’t with either one of them. Because they’d taught Jesus common sense and consideration for others, the frantic couple feared the worst. So it was that they left the safety of the caravan and walked back to Jerusalem alone to search for Jesus. When Mary and Joseph finally found him in the temple, Jesus seemed bothered by his parents’ concern. He asked, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” I know many of us could have advised Mary and Joseph regarding an appropriate response! Still, these two who had taught Jesus compassion, kindness, humility, patience and forgiveness practiced what they preached. Though they failed to understand Jesus’ actions, they resisted scolding him and simply led him home. As for Jesus, he returned to Nazareth “…and was obedient to them.” Perhaps I should tell Ellie that if she avoids causing her parents to worry, she’ll be far more successful than Jesus in this regard!

As I consider today’s Feast of the Holy Family, Jesus’ adventure in the temple compels me to dismiss the beautiful Christmas Cards and artwork which depict father, mother and child with halos and perpetual smiles in place. Life in Nazareth two millenniums ago wasn’t any less complicated than our lives are today. Just as our complicated modern-day circumstances impact family life, circumstances in Nazareth did the same for the Holy Family. Overcrowding, poverty, inhumane Roman rule and the unyielding expectations of the temple hierarchy were formidable stressors in this little family’s life. Like us, Joseph and Mary struggled to keep order in their household while loving and raising their child as best they could. When Jesus was lost, Joseph and Mary did exactly what any of us would have done when they went to the rescue of their loved one. It seems to me that today’s celebration of the Holy Family is a celebration of all of God’s family. Whether our roles are those of parent, child, grandparent, friend or a caring passer-by, God asks us to love one another and to keep track of one another just as God loves and watches over each one of us. After all, this is what families do, especially God’s family.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Hold on!

The child grew in size and strength,
filled with wisdom,
and the grace of God was upon him.

Luke 2:40

The New Year is just thirty-six hours away and my thoughts turn to my hopes and dreams for 2019. For much of my life, I’ve been blessed with an inner calm which I really cannot explain. Though I’ve fretted with the best of them, especially when a loved one faced peril which I could do nothing about, I’ve managed to be a source of steady support. If worry threatened to get the best of me, I headed outdoors to walk. When close encounters with slippery walks were imminent, I sought solace indoors by walking the mall.

In recent months, my inner calm has been somewhat elusive. Circumstances in several corners of my little world have been disrupted unexpectedly and undesirably. These situations have collided in a perfect storm of worry and heartache. Too often, I’ve been uncertain of what the next day or hour or second might bring. I thought I’d be through this storm by the time New Year 2019 chimed in. With only two days to go, I wonder…

Perhaps it’s time for me to take a walk inside, not around my house, but around my heart. I use this space often to insist that God is with us and within us in everything. Even when we ignore God’s company, God remains. As I type, Someone seems to ask, “Did you read that?” That Someone wonders why I insist to my readers that these things are true while not insisting the same to myself. I stopped writing to say aloud, “Yes, God, I know you’re here!”

With that, I refer you and me to Luke’s observation cited above. Like Jesus, you and I have the grace of God upon us. Jesus couldn’t have said or done more to convince us of God’s enduring love for us. Even in the midst of perfect storms, we’re safe because God is with us. It’s up to us to hold on and to move on. And so I will…

Loving God, thank you for your presence and your love which sustain us no matter what.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Safe In God’s Company

The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream
and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother,
flee to Egypt and stay there until I tell you.”

Matthew 2:13

For decades and decades, my family gathered to continue our Christmas festivities on New Year’s Day. My dad’s Canadian family lovingly preserved this traditional gathering which always included a blessing. At the appointed time, we gathered before our eldest family member to request his or her intercession. He or she responded by asking God’s gifts of happiness, health and prosperity for those present and for all of our loved ones during the coming year.

For as long as I can remember, I experienced a sense of comforting peace while kneeling in the company of my extended and extensive family. Each time, I couldn’t help feeling protected somehow regardless of what life had in store for the next three hundred and sixty-four days. This was especially important to me the year my dad passed away and for many years thereafter. Perhaps this is the reason I was always careful to help my own sons to feel safe. Perhaps this is the reason I hold my grandchildren so close to my heart. Perhaps this is the reason I’m compelled to remind all who will listen that God is always nearby, around us and within us to keep us safe along the way.

Loving God, even Jesus had reason to fear from very early on in his life. Still, Mary and Joseph remained steadfast in their loving care for him. Help us to treasure and to nurture one another with equal devotion. Help us always to remember that you are at our sides in everything.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Thank You, Daddy!

God is light; in God there is no darkness.
From 1 John 1:5

On this third day of Christmas, I’m thinking about my dad. Today is his birthday and I hope he is celebrating with great gusto. My dad passed away many years ago at age 39. He has celebrated far more birthdays in the afterlife than he celebrated here.

In spite of my dad’s early departure from this life, he remains with me in many ways. It is my father who walked me through the difficult losses of my uncle and grandfather who lived with us. Daddy gave me reason to smile when he assured me that my polio-stricken uncle would certainly be walking straight and tall in heaven. Later, Daddy assured me that Grandpa wouldn’t need his cane to get around in his heavenly home. My dad’s conviction in this regard eased me through his own death not many years later. Daddy also wisely told me that I was harder on myself than anyone else would ever be and that I was a very good girl. Most importantly, my dad repeated these lessons often in the things he said and did.

On this third day of Christmas, I’m renewing my commitment to take my Dad’s lessons to heart. I’ll deal with the disappointments and losses of this life knowing that God has many good things in store in our heavenly home. I’ll also try to be a little easier on myself and on those around me. After all, in God’s eyes, we’re all good girls and boys!

Generous God, thank you for my dad who did a great job of revealing your love to me.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Just Like Stephen

The Stephen already spoken of was a man filled with grace and power,
who worked great wonders and signs among the people.

Acts of the Apostles 6:8

What a gift we have in this day after Christmas! Our Christmas preparations have come to fruition. Today, there’s nothing more to do than to continue to enjoy the successes of our celebrations and to forget the rest. As I consider my own list of positives, I give thanks. I’m generously blessed. I’m also opting to forget the things which were or are not to my liking and out of my control. Rather, I pray for improvement on the part of all concerned, especially myself. After all, I’m the only one over whom I have jurisdiction.

So it is that I turn my thoughts to today, December 26, The Feast of Stephen. Stephen is among the first chosen to serve as deacon to assist the apostles in carrying out Jesus’ work. While the apostles tended to preaching, Stephen and those like him tended to serving the corporal needs of the people. They saw to it that widows and orphans were fed and that everyone who needed care received it. Today, I hope to continue my Christmas observance by engaging in good deeds as well. We’re all called to be good and just souls who live much like Stephen did.

Today, I also acknowledge the deacons in parishes everywhere who take care of so many of our practical needs just as Stephen did. My thanks to you for all that you do for us!

Dearest God, thank you for the gifts of Christmas 2018, the Gift of the First Christmas and the gift of those who live the spirit of this season throughout the year.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved