Fear No Evil…

Though I walk through the valley of darkness,
I fear no evil; for you are with me;
your rod and your staff bring me comfort.

Psalm 23:4

I just received a postcard reminding me to make an appointment with my dentist. Though I don’t fear the dentist as some people do, I do admit to being “doctored out”. I’ve recently taken care of all of my annual check-ups and I’ve had enough. Oddly, that last phrase reminds me of a time long ago when I felt exactly the same way…

As a little child, I feared a visit from the doctor more than anything else. (Yes, doctors made house calls back then!) Though our family physician was pleasant enough, he visited our home only when one of us was ill enough to require immediate intervention. That intervention usually took the form of an injection. Much to my dismay, I was the designated patient on one such occasion. Though only five, I recognized those dreaded letters as my mom spelled “D-o-c-t-o-r” to inform my dad that she was making the call. I’m certain that my tears began to flow by the time my mom said “c”.

An hour or so later, the doctor arrived with that dreaded syringe. After assessing my symptoms, he opened his black bag as my dad lifted me over his shoulder. I carried on so that I didn’t feel pain. When my dad told me that it was over, I cried even harder. I was angry as ever that the doctor had accomplished his dastardly deed. I spent the next half hour on my dad’s lap. He wrapped his arms around me as my sobs faded into whimpers. When my whimpers disappeared, my dad pulled me close to whisper in my ear. “Tomorrow, you’re going to be all better,” he promised. I believed his every word. Though he wasn’t able to keep me from the evils of this world, my dad did love me through them all.

Dear God, thank you for loving me even more powerfully than my dad did.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Advertisements

Generosity… Practice Makes Perfect!

Last weekend, I shared that I’d gone through two boxes of photos from my childhood while looking for a picture for my sister. This encounter with my past elicited numerous memories which have filled me up ever since. I’m happy to report that each one has warmed my heart in unexpectedly amazing ways. Over the past several days, I’ve looked upward often to thank God for this life of mine. At the same time, I admit to looking into the mirror and thinking that I must be getting old. After all, I’ve been celebrating the good old days an awful lot as of late. Oddly, someone looking in from the outside might question my use of the word “good” regarding my childhood. I grew up in a family which would be considered among the working poor today. Still, though life wasn’t perfect, it was certainly more simple than it might have been as a result of our humble circumstances. Our most precious commodities were the people around us. Though they didn’t have many material goods to offer, they were generous in sharing the gift of themselves. As I read today’s scripture readings I couldn’t help thinking of these giving people who made all of the difference in the world to me.

The reading from Kings (1 Kings 17:1016) tells us that a great famine had devastated the land. A poor widow realized that she had only enough flour and oil left to prepare one more tiny loaf of bread. After consuming this final ration, the woman knew she and her son will surely die from starvation. Still, in spite of her impending demise, the widow responded to Elijah who’d happened by as she gathered sticks for a fire. Though she had no reason to help him, the woman listened to Elijah’s request and his promise of nourishment. With that, she gave Elijah the last of her bread. In the end, Elijah, the widow and her son weathered that yearlong famine. Just as Elijah had promised, God rewarded the woman’s generosity with a jar of flour and a jug of oil which never emptied.

Mark’s gospel (Mark 12:38-44) introduces a second widow in the temple who was completely unaware of Jesus the Teacher’s presence. At the same time, the woman was very much aware that she stood before her Creator. It was with great reverence for her God that she reached deeply into her meager treasure to retrieve all that she had, two coins worth just a few pennies. Though meaningless in the shadow of the mountain of money contributed by the wealthy, this offering meant everything to the widow because she had nothing else. Though she might have traded those coins for bread, she handed them over to the temple, perhaps to assist a stranger whose need was even greater than her own.

The widows in today’s readings tug at my heartstrings because I’ve lived most of my life in the company of women like them. The widows in my life answered to Mom, Grandma, Ma Mere, Auntie and a host of given names. Over the years, I found that their generosity wasn’t measured in any single event in their respective lives. These precious people placed the needs of others before themselves on an ongoing basis. Since I witnessed her generosity most closely, I’ll tell you about my mom. She ran our household on a tight budget. At age thirty-nine, she’d joined the ranks of the widowed with six children in tow. A monthly death benefit from my dad’s job, my mom’s position at Sears, my sister’s pay from her receptionist job at the parish rectory and my brother’s pay from delivering groceries allowed us to eke by most weeks. Unexpected expenses such as doctors’ visits and outgrown shoes sometimes taxed our resources beyond capacity. Still, my mom dropped her weekly envelope into the collection basket and sent each of us to church with a quarter in our children’s envelopes. My siblings and I each donated one can to the holiday food drive and we sold wrapping paper with everyone else in the neighborhood to support our school. When our sales failed to meet their quota, our mom purchased items enough to allow them to do so. If one of my mom’s sisters found herself short of funds during a given week, my mom offered what was needed to help her sister to get by. Through all of this, my mom taught me her greatest lesson: To be generous.

Now I don’t mean to imply that the only remarkable examples of generosity come through the efforts of the widowed among us. Generosity flows from varied and sometimes unexpected people. What I mean to suggest is that generosity is a habit developed over a lifetime; generosity comes easiest to those who practice it most; and nothing rivals the joy that comes from giving in spite of our own need. My mom embraced these truths because she was convinced that she would be taken care of. She was certain that God’s generosity would always outdo her own. In the end, she was right. When my mom left this world, she didn’t leave behind many material riches. What she did leave is this dutiful daughter who will tell you what my mom found when she entered the hereafter. She found everyone and everything that she’d ever hoped for. It seems to me that our challenge today is to begin to develop our own varieties of generosity and to practice our unique version of this virtue at every opportunity. Though I can’t actually hear her voice, I know my mom is urging me to tell you that you won’t regret your efforts in this regard.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Never Give Up!

God leads me in right paths…
From Psalm 23:3

When I consider the state of this world, I wonder why God bothers. At times, when I consider the state of my own heart, I wonder the same. Why do you bother, Dear God? Your gifts are more numerous than the grains of sand which cover this earth’s beaches. Still, we ignore them or misuse them in equally bountiful ways.

Fortunately for me, God takes note of my despair long before it morphs into something unmanageable. In the midst of my laments, images of kindnesses great and small distract my thinking. Moments in nature, in the company of those I love, at prayer and at peace with the moment compel me to utter words of thanks without much thought. While I remain baffled at this transition from hopelessness to contentment, God leans back and admires this bit of Divine Handiwork.

The discouragement which I find is this world of ours is a far more perplexing matter. When I find it so difficult to reel in my own frustrations, how am I to repair the far larger messes which surround us all? Did I write, “How am I to repair…?

As I consider Psalm 23 once again, I understand. God will never cease to lead us in right paths because it is in God’s nature to do so. When one loves as completely as God does, one never EVER gives up on the objects of that love! It’s up to us never to give up on the objects of God’s love either. Like God, we need to have faith in ourselves and in those we’ve been given to love. Only God knows the good we can do.

Loving God, thank you for your ongoing encouragement in things great and small. Remind me never to give up on this world because you will never give up on a single one of us.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Let God Get Your Attention

…God leads me beside still waters;
God restores my soul.

Psalm 23:2-3

The other day, I ran from the moment I woke that morning. Before finishing preparations for a meeting I’d lead that evening, I forced myself to complete my morning exercises. Afterward, I finished a bit of housecleaning and three loads of laundry. Having the “home front” in order eased me into a productive and positive frame of mind for the evening’s meeting.

As it happened, I was prepared with hours to spare. It the midst of my revelry, I noted that sunshine was pouring through my window. Though the needle on my thermometer hadn’t edged beyond the forties that day, I couldn’t resist the sun’s warmth. The rays that seemed to reach from heaven enhanced the beautiful fall colors that adorned my neighborhood. As I gazed out the window at that amazing show, another passage from Psalm 23 came to mind…

So it was that I headed out the door to walk beyond the trees on my block to the still waters of a nearby pond. I admit that I enjoyed every step in the chilling wind as God restored my soul.

Loving God, I remember thank you for drawing my attention with that wonderful sunshine so you could refresh my soul once again.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Enthusiastic Love

Love is patient, love is kind…
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

From 1 Corinthians 13:4, 7

My husband and I recently attended a family wedding. Katie and Casey are as loving a couple as I’ve ever encountered. In their case, I know in my heart that this will be an “until death do they part” union.

I truly enjoy weddings. We guests are included because the bride and groom are special to us. In this case, the bride is my cousin’s daughter. a daughter who’s made her mom and dad proud in so many ways. Her groom is special to us as well simply because Katie loves him. What more do we need to know?

Yes, we celebrated as this bride and groom offered one another their very best on their wedding day and for the lifetime together that follows. Though they may not realize it, Katie and Casey have inspired the family and friends who gathered with them to rekindle and nurture our own relationships. How could any of us have failed to be inspired by such tangible love?

Loving God, bless Katie and Casey as they embark upon their life together. Be with them in their joy and in their sorrow, today and always. Help the rest of us to emulate their enthusiastic love in our own relationships!

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Gifts Everywhere!

Let rivers clap their hands,
the mountains shout with them for joy
before the Lord.”

Psalm 98 III:7-9

The four seasons captivate me, each one with its own variety of nature’s grandeur. Spring arrives with only the slightest hints of renewed life-in-the-making. Summer brings hope-fulfilled in lush green carpets of grass and blossoms of every color. Though fall’s sometimes gloomy days replace summer’s vibrancy too quickly, its own colors renew my fascination with the outdoors. Yet, in spite of all of this beauty, I find myself most taken in by the coldest season of the year. The other day, blustering winds hinted at winter’s impending arrival. I realized that winter will soon draw me in with its onslaught of snow and cold perhaps a bit sooner than I’d hoped. Still, I find nothing more beautiful than an ice-clad tree or an undisturbed expanse of hardened snow. Add the crunch of that snow under my feet and a chilling wind around me and I am in outdoor heaven!

Having written that, I see that the piles of leaves I raked this morning now flutter about in the wind. They crackle as they fly and I wonder if they’re actually laughing at my wasted effort. Mounds of snow will require similar and perhaps equally futile attention when they arrive in not too many weeks. Still, I look forward to winter.

You see, it is during winter that most living things lie dormant beneath the surface. To me, they symbolize the potential to be found in so many unexpected places and people. Recent gatherings with family and friends revealed gifts which too often lurk beneath the surface. Finding these treasures in those I’ve been given to love elicited pure joy. These wonderful encounters rekindled my hope, just as winter does. Though it may be hidden for a while, life is everywhere!

Creator God, help me to appreciate your gifts whatever the season.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved