Much to Be Grateful For

“A senseless man knows not,
nor does a fool appreciate…”

Psalm 92:7

Both an adage and an old song remind us that we sometimes don’t realize what we have until we lose it. More often than not, we don’t appreciate the impact of these losses until it’s too late. I remember how eagerly I awaited the start of high school only to find that I missed the comfort of my junior high school friends when I arrived there. I was thrilled to change schools during my teaching career until the first day I walked into the teachers’ lounge and realized that I didn’t know a soul. Though our only dog drove me nuts most of the time, I missed Ernie terribly when he died.

My list of lost and unappreciated treasures is far too long. Fortunately for me, one of these precious gifts remains a constant in my life. I was born to parents of faith who relied on God in good times and in bad. My amazing mom and dad shared this great faith with me quite tangibly. As a result, my faith is a constant which remains part and parcel of who I am. I’m most grateful for my faith which opens my eyes to a plethora of found and appreciated treasures every day.

Generous God, thank you for giving me the sense to recognize your gifts MOST of the time.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Trust God

Say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God in whom I trust.”

Psalm 91:2

Though I’m probably more patient than most, this isn’t necessarily true when I’m tired and it’s never true when I’m worried. I can always tell when I have overextended myself because I become edgy and critical. Little things which are usually easy to let go become heavy burdens. Though I don’t verbally express my displeasure with the situation at hand, my face betrays me.

A few weeks ago, a friend who saw me at church asked how I was doing. Though her concern was genuine, I responded with my usual, “I’m fine. How are you?” I lied. At the same time, I wondered what prompted her query at that particular moment. So it was that I thought back to that morning. This friend had attended the last Mass of the day. I had attended the 7:30 Mass and then stayed to assist at our parish welcome desk for the remainder of the morning. By the end of the third Mass, I felt the fatigue which threatened to overwhelm me. I recalled smiling only halfheartedly as I cleaned up crayons and pencils and replaced chairs which had been strewn about. I’m certain I was silently wishing that people would return what they used to its proper place. I also recalled that I’d spent the morning worrying about a problem over which I have no control. I’ve done everything within my power to help and there is nothing more I can do.

When my friend saw me that day, I was tired and worried. My response to her kindness didn’t fool her a bit. When we parted ways, I asked myself what I would tell a friend in the same situation. I answered quickly, “Go home and get some rest, pray about that problem and then hand it over to God.” I’m still working at following my advice…

Patient God, thank you for these well-placed reminders to be patient with myself and with those you have given me to love.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Loving Rebel

“How is it that you are angry with me
for curing a whole man on the sabbath?.”

John 7:23

The anniversary of a dear friend’s passing nudged numerous memories from my mental archives. I laughed as I considered this rebel who was like a dad to me…

I met Father O’Connell when he was a newly ordained priest assigned to my childhood parish. Our friendship took root immediately. Father always took the time to talk with me. He was the first person I told when my dad passed away. Father was also a bit of a rebel. Though he respected the letter of the law, he had great compassion for those in need. I remember his locking horns with the rectory housekeepers because he had “cluttered up” the basement with clothing which he’d collected for the poor. Eventually, the ladies relented and he was able to continue this charitable endeavor.

Years later, Father locked horns with a local mayor because he hired some striking city workers to do odd jobs around the church so they could put food on their tables. Perhaps it was because Father had such a good and generous heart that nothing ever came of the murmurs against him. Perhaps that mayor felt that Father was a little too close to God to mess with. In the end, the city rehired those workers and the parish church was in good repair.

I’m happy to share that a bit of my friend’s rebellious nature lives on in me. Though I rarely challenge the rules for my own sake, I habitually set them aside in the interest of love, God’s love, to be precise.

Dear God, be with us as we strive to live in accord with your love.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Promise Fulfilled

“Amen, amen, I say to you… the dead will hear the voice of God.”
From John 5:28

I believe I make peace with he passing of my loved ones for good reason. From very early on, my parents assured me that those who neared death were destined for absolute happiness and health in heaven. As I grew older and came to appreciate the suffering of those left behind, I held on to my parents’ promises and my own conviction that heaven is indeed worth the pain of this temporary separation. Over the years, I’ve found further consolation in my faith and in the wonderful accounts offered by those gifted with Near Death Experiences. These people who have tasted life after this life assure us all that my parents’ promises from long ago are well-founded.

A close encounter with this phenomenon came at the hands of my mom. She was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given a prognosis of four more months. After acknowledging that she had lived a good and long life, my mother’s only wish was to be independent for as long as possible. As it happened, she remained miraculously pain-free and medication-free, except for her insulin, until the end. It was during her final week among us that my mom mentioned the beautiful voices. She also remarked that her sisters were waiting for her. The morning of the day she passed, I asked my mom if she was afraid. Her face glowed when she answered, “Oh no, Mary. It’s beautiful over there!”

Loving God, thank you for these amazing glimpses of the wonder which lies ahead.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love’s Priorities

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart…
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Mark 12:30-31

This third week of September, the world around me has reached the normalcy that comes with a new school year. The teacher in me impels me to gauge the moment at hand in accord with my life in academia. Since I entered kindergarten, I’ve settled into a comforting routine by this time every September. This remained true for the years I spent as a student and the years I spent as a teacher and an administrator.

This year, I’m having a little trouble finding that comfortable routine. Unexpected events in the lives of those around me and in my own life disrupt my self-imposed schedule more often than not. The trials and tribulations of this world pull at my heartstrings. I can’t seem to organize and prioritize effectively because there is so much on my mind. When I try, the things I truly want to do always find their way to the bottom of my to-do list. “You’re not getting any younger,” I tell myself. “Something has to give…”

With that realization in mind, I reread the scripture I cited above. I love God with my whole heart, so I care for the things God loves. I love my neighbor as myself, so I care for my neighbor. It occurs to me that I’m one of God’s beloved as well. If I’m going to love others as I love myself, I need to truly love myself. This means that, on occasion, I get to accommodate my own heart’s desire.

Dear God, help me to find some balance as I strive to love as you do.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Changed Forever…

She stood next to my bed and gently nudged my shoulder. “Mary, can you get up? Daddy died last night. Maybe you want to go to the 8:00 Mass.” This seems an odd way for a mother to inform her eight year old of her father’s passing. Actually, it felt quite natural to me. We had prayed for my dad’s happy death for days. This was the opportunity to seal the deal with my dad’s safe arrival in the hereafter. So, I rose from my bed, dressed quickly and ran the down the block to church. I didn’t acknowledge my grief until I stopped at the pew where our parish priest knelt. He resembled my dad just enough to elicit the uncontrollable sobs through which I gave him the news. As he wiped away my tears, Father reminded me that my dad would never be sick again. I sat at his side for the rest of Mass, half-convinced that everything would end well, half-knowing that my life would never be the same.

You know, nothing could replace my dad’s presence in my life, and, as a result, the road ahead would be very different from what it might have been. Fortunately for me, this priest’s kindness, my mother’s strength and the support of many family members and friends allowed our mourning family to reassemble our lives without my dad. Those who came to our rescue made all of the difference in the world.

I revisit the loss of my dad because his passing remains with me, a vivid entry which will never fade from my memory. This loss changed my life forever. Yet, it’s a drop in the ocean of devastation which washed over those in the paths of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma over the past several days. I endured and flourished in spite of my dad’s death because I found stability in my mother’s love, with my sisters and brother, in our home, with our extended family, at school, with my friends and within our parish. Those who’ve survived Harvey’s and Irma’s wrath, especially the children, have far less to hold on to. Lost homes and livelihoods, the lack of needed medications, food, changes of clothing and transportation to safety were minor aspects of the trauma these children and their parents endured. I worry about the infants who were just days old when these storms took everything from them. I can only imagine the toddlers who likely wailed in the confusion without even a stuffed animal to cling to. Consolation eludes victims of every age because so little of the familiar remains.

Life-changing events are just that. The survival of those involved depends upon the response of the rest of us. It seems to me that these hurricanes challenged those impacted and we who are left to respond beyond our wildest imaginings. As I watched hews reports of Irma’s destruction, I wondered what people in the Houston area were up to as they slowly rebuild what was home to them. Irma’s victims realized the urgency of preparing because they’d witnessed the suffering Harvey left in its path. How amazing that even our suffering helps others in life-saving ways!

I was just a little girl when my dad’s death turned my life upside-down. I survived because of the loving concern which surrounded me. We mustn’t let images from Florida take our attention from the suffering in Texas. We mustn’t allow politics, the next news story and our own concerns to distract us from the plights of our neighbors in Florida. There are children in both places who will never forget those storms and the trauma of their encounters with them. The mom, grandma and teacher in me is praying nonstop that, throughout the rebuilding process, the adults around them tend to these little ones aching spirits with great care. At the same time, those adults who I hope will come to the children’s rescue are suffering themselves. I’m praying nonstop that our support of their rebuilding efforts includes care for their spirits as well.

Today, I challenge myself not to forget the images from my television screen and newspapers which bombarded me throughout all of this. I challenge myself to check progress every few weeks to see what more needs to be done. I challenge myself to check with people I know or who know people in both places to learn what they really need. I challenge myself to respond as generously as I can to meet those needs.

Though Harvey and Irma won’t be the last forces to devastate humankind so powerfully, I have hope. I survived life-changing loss because of the love which surrounded me. Regardless of what life-changing events lie ahead, they will be met with equally life-changing generosity, support and love! Thank you in advance for the part you’ll play in all of this!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved