Enjoy The Break!

From heaven the Lord looks
and sees us all.

Psalm 33:13

Today, the experienced teacher in me is making an appearance. She’s reminding me in no uncertain terms just how happily I anticipated holiday breaks. Though I loved my job and the students who endured every day with me, I looked forward to a day off just as eagerly as they did. Whether it was a one-day hiatus such as Veteran’s Day or a days-long winter or spring break, I enjoyed these departures from the norm. When I worked full-time, my husband, our sons and I filled these recesses from school with everything that our school schedules prevented. We played in the snow and then went to the movies to retreat from the cold. Enjoying new toys and other Christmas gifts added to the fun. We went to bed a little later and slept in a little longer with great relish.

Today, I admit to partaking of these pleasures with special joy in spite of the fact that I have the option of doing so almost every day. Sleeping in and setting aside my to-do list bring the greatest pleasure during the days between Christmas and New Year’s Day. A welcome side-effect is the leisurely tone with which I pray during this time. There’s no rush involved in these conversations with God. Yes, leisure time is a beautiful thing!

This New Year’s Eve, our sons and their wives and children are making the most of this break from their jobs and school. I’m pleased that this particular family tradition isn’t lost on the younger generation. My offspring appreciate this special time to relax and enjoy one another and they’re teaching their children the same.

Loving God, be with us as we make the time today and throughout the coming year to enjoy ourselves, one another and you.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

I’m Resolved… I Really Am!

I am a voice in the desert, crying out:
Make straight the way of the Lord!

John 1:23

Though I’ve made New Year’s resolutions in the past, I most often avoid this opportunity. It has seemed a little foolhardy to allow the calendar to dictate meaningful change in my life. Still, I’ve decided to do so this year.

Before actually committing myself, I’ve taken time to reflect. This exercise in introspection included a leisurely afternoon during which I reread all of the Christmas cards and letters we received this year. Each one brought a measure of glad tidings and re-acquainted me with friends near and far. Halfway through, I came across an unusually beautiful card. It features the unexpected image of John the Baptist. Subtle silhouettes of both a crèche and cross are etched into the background. The verse from John’s gospel cited above is printed on the inside cover. I couldn’t help thinking that this particular card truly proclaimed the message of Christmas.

After reading the remainder of our Christmas mail, I considered my resolution. It occurred to me that I should attend to both body and spirit in my efforts. So it is that I’m taking John the Baptist’s lead on both counts. I’ll keep my body healthy by resuming my once chiseled-in-stone walking schedule. I’ll keep my spirit healthy by sticking to my message as John did. I’ll tend to my words and my actions by writing the truth as I know it and by living accordingly as best I can. In both cases, I must proceed with love. I think John tried to do that, too.

Loving God, today and always, help me to use my body and my spirit to care for those you have given me to love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s HOW TO Manual

Though we settled our Christmas Tree into its stand four weeks ago, I haven’t tired of its fragrance. We spent uncountable hours decorating our home and selecting what we hoped were perfect gifts. Still, my dear husband and I haven’t tired of embracing Christmas as best we can. Most importantly, we haven’t tired of taking every opportunity to express our affection for those we’ve been given to love. Happily, we’ve learned to do all of this from The Expert. Today, God reiterates these lessons through the scriptures. On this Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, God seems to have left us a manual on the topic: HOW TO LOVE ONE ANOTHER THE WAY I LOVE YOU.

The first reading from Sirach (3:2-6, 12-14) defines our roles. God sets family members in particular positions with particular responsibilities. Fathers hold places of honor over their children and mothers’ authority over their offspring is without question. When children are respectful of their parents, a household is most blessed! For a moment, I want to set aside that HOW TO LOVE manual because family life seldom meets this level of perfection. Sometimes, a father or mother or daughter or son does everything God expects. Still, relationships break down, loved ones disappoint and family life becomes unrecognizable. It is during these times that God nudges that manual closer to us, not to prod us to follow its rules, but to remind us that the Author loves us very much. Regardless of how the rest of the family feels at any moment in time, God loves us.

The second reading from Colossians (3:12-21) makes it quite clear that family-like behavior isn’t limited to the family members with whom we take up residence until we establish our own homes. Whether one is surrounded by endless family or is the sole survivor of his or her bloodline, each of us is titled “brother” or “sister”. Each of us is counted among God’s family. When we keep our identities as God’s beloved in the forefront it seems only natural to behave as God’s family. We need only to consider the compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and mercy Jesus extended to those around him to know how we are to treat one another. Because are looked upon with compassion, we feel compassion toward one another. We glow in the warmth of God’s kindness and so we are kind to others. We are never lorded-over by our humble brother Jesus. So it is that we uplift those around us with our respect for them. Because we appreciate gentle encouragement, we quietly help one another along. We develop confidence because our Teacher is patient with us and so we are patient with one another. Because we experience the joy of forgiveness, we forgive. Each one of us is a parent and a child at one time or another and it is up to us to embrace these roles as best we can.

Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23) draws us from the ideal to reality when he chronicles the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt. This wasn’t the first and wouldn’t be the last of the troubling events Jesus, Mary and Joseph endured. The circumstances of Mary’s prenuptial pregnancy would have placed her in great danger had she been found out. Just as Joseph reconciled himself to this, he learned that he and Mary were required to travel to Bethlehem for a census. Poor Mary was just days from giving birth. The weary pair arrived in Bethlehem only to find that there was no place for them to stay. They’d just settled themselves among the animals in dark stable-cave when Jesus was born. Jesus’ family life begin in the midst of the noise and odor of livestock and among strangers. Herod’s merciless assault upon infant boys born in the area compelled Joseph to usher his family to Egypt. Only after the danger subsided did they return home to Nazareth.

It seems that Jesus’ family became expert at following God’s HOW TO LOVE ONE ANOTHER manual very early on. As for me, I can’t help being inspired by their efforts. Jesus’ first few years among us included far more trauma than most of us will ever experience. We know that Jesus’ life ended with no less difficulty. We turn to this holy family for inspiration because they have been where we are. They flourished in midst of their troubles because they did their best to love one another as God loved them.

Today, the fragrance of pine fades from our living room, our wreath loses a few more needles and some of those perfect gifts need to be returned. Still, I smile because the Author of that HOW TO LOVE ONE ANOTHER THE WAY I LOVE YOU manual remains with me and all of us in good times and in bad to guide us every step of the way.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Filled With Grace… Always!

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

Luke 2:40

As 2019 eases into its final days, I’m preparing to hang my 2020 Calendar. In the process, I wonder aloud what the coming year will bring. As I flip back through this year’s calendar, I give thanks for the many blessings which have come my way. Though trauma and tragedy touched a day here and a week there, it was always accompanied by unexpected blessings. In spite of the condition of this world of ours, I’m impelled to acknowledge these past gifts and the ever-present love which surrounds me.

That love encourages an inner calm which I really cannot explain. Yes, I listen to the news, read the paper and check online stories with you. Still, I find myself engulfed by goodness. When life is trying, this invisible shield keeps me focused on the things to come. I consider Jesus. Luke tells us that he grew in strength and wisdom and had God’s grace upon him. Though I sometimes question my own strength and wisdom, I do feel the grace of God upon me and around me as well. Jesus himself has convinced me that this impression is accurate. His lessons regarding God’s love assure me in every circumstance that my loved ones and I will be fine in the end. Indeed, as Jesus tells it, God’s grace is upon us all.

Gracious God, thank you for your presence among us. Your love enhances the best and worst of our days. It enriches our best efforts and softens our failures. You draw goodness even from our imperfections. In truth, your grace works wonders among us all.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Happy Birthday, Daddy!

Here, then, is the message we have heard and announce to you:
that God is light; in God there is no darkness.

1 John 1:5

On the third day of Christmas, I always think of 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.

When I was a little girl, the date of my dad’s birthday troubled me a bit. I thought that my dad was shortchanged. I asked him if he minded that his birthday fell two days after Christmas. Good man that he is, Daddy replied that this was okay. He felt that Christmas was a very good day which led into his own very, very good day. Because my grandparents had little money, I’m quite certain that my dad didn’t receive many gifts on either day. Still, he shared his memories with a smile big enough to convince this daughter that his childhood Christmases and birthdays were just fine.

This is a small parcel of the wisdom my dad shared with me. Happily, he always did so with a smile. Today, I’m going to allow myself a piece of cake in my dad’s honor -a sweet reminder of his sweet presence in my life. We’re going to party together in my heart.

Generous God, thank you for my dad who is among the best of those who have shown me your love. As you well know, Daddy did this with great competence and with a flourish which will never be replaced.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

More Christmas!

Following this, they selected Stephen,
a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit…”

From Acts of the Apostles 6:5

I enjoy the day after Christmas. What a gift this is! Our Christmas preparations have come to fruition in one way or another. Today, there is nothing more to do than to continue to enjoy the successes of our celebrations and, perhaps, to clean up a bit. As I ponder all that went well yesterday, I give thanks. Truly, I’m generously blessed. In gratitude, I insist to myself that I will disregard anything which was not to my liking or is out of my control. At the same time, I will pray for all concerned, including myself. After all, I’m the only one over whom I have jurisdiction.

In spite of the imperfections of my life, I hope to celebrate for a very long time the God who offered heaven to us from the hands of a little baby. Today, on this Feast of St. Stephen, I hope to be known as a good and just soul just as Stephen was. Like the good Stephen, I hope to take all that Jesus means to this world to heart and to share these things generously. Like the good Stephen, I hope to present a worthy heart -as best mine can be- to God one day. In the process, I hope to bring a bit of Christmas to every day.

Dear God, thank you for the gifts of Christmas 2019 and for the Gift of the first Christmas. Jesus truly changed my life and this world forever!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved