Trust In God’s Plans

My husband-the-deacon and I traveled to Puglia, Italy last month. While we were there, Mike and I never concerned ourselves with where we were. We toured with a small group and followed a full itinerary. Our guides led us through lovely and quaint towns which I’d never heard of before this trip. I found each one to be uniquely welcoming. What a pleasure it was to discover them with little effort on our parts! All the while, the only choices Mike and I had to make were how much to eat and which beverages to enjoy with our meals. Though Mike has planned many wonderful trips for us in the past, it was a relief not to have planned this time around. When the tour concluded, Mike and I flew on to Palermo. We continued this adventure by exploring Mike’s grandparents’ birthplace in nearby Altofonte.

The truth is that we were exhausted when we landed in Palermo and we questioned the wisdom of this venture into Sicily. Fortunately, our friends Francesco and Pietro had planned an itinerary to guide us along the way. Somehow, these two managed to get us to exactly where we needed to be with the most unexpectedly amazing results. This began when Francesco met us at the airport, drove us to our hotel and then on to Altofonte. Mike’s grandparents’ church was hosting a festival which we were to attend. Though we knew a week earlier that Mike was assisting as deacon at the evening Mass, we didn’t know that Palermo’s cardinal would be there to celebrate the parish’s two hundred fiftieth birthday. We also didn’t expect the thousands of people who filled the village square. As soon as we arrived, Pietro and his girlfriend Simona met us to introduce Mike to the parish priest. Father Vincenzo ushered Mike to the sacristy where he was outfitted in an alb and stole. The cardinal’s arrival was my cue to join the congregation with Francesco, Pietro and Simona.

Because all of the seats were taken, we stood on the sidelines as the drama unfolded. During the opening hymn, Pietro tapped me on the shoulder. His parents who live on the square insisted that we watch from their balcony. I found my place above the crowd just as Father welcomed the cardinal and the congregation. Though he spoke Italian, my ears perked up when I heard a familiar name. Francesco excitedly translated as Father acknowledged this Deacon Michael Penich who had come all the way from the United States to visit his grandparents’ village and to celebrate that special day. Though I was a distance away, I couldn’t miss the deacon’s smile. Mike had hoped forever that he’d attend his grandparents’ church festival some year, but he never expected to be a part of this remarkable anniversary celebration.

In spite of his non-existent Italian vocabulary, Mike assisted the cardinal throughout the Mass. Afterward, the elderly cardinal departed while the remainder of the clergy, servers, choir and local dignitaries assembled for the procession. Mike and the others led the way for the portable shrine of Mary. It took twenty-four men to carry the beautifully encased painting of Mary which had adorned the church for more than two centuries. As I watched, I prayed that those men would hold tight. One slip and the good deacon would have been crushed! As my friends and I followed along, Francesco determined that we would see more of the mile-long procession if we ducked up and down side streets. With that, he led Simona and me every which way. Every time we stopped, we saw another portion of the thousand-person procession. While Francesco documented it all with some amazing photos, I caught my breath until he led Simona and me up another hill. Did I tell you that Altofonte rests on a mountainside? The celebration ended with a flourish of fireworks in the square. Mike and I watched while enjoying a wonderful meal with Pietro’s family.

I reference our tour and our first day in Altofonte with you because both couldn’t have unfolded more beautifully for Mike and me. We didn’t worry about a thing because we trusted our friends who took care of us. In today’s gospel (Mark 10:35-45), Mark tells us that two of Jesus’ disciples weren’t as trusting of Jesus. James and John concerned themselves with their places among Jesus’ followers. Apparently, the two brothers felt smugly certain of their ranking among the disciples. They considered themselves to be at the top of Jesus’ list. Rather than leaving the planning to Jesus, they insisted upon choosing their own places at his side. I don’t think James and John realized how fortunate they were to be in Jesus’ company. If they’d stopped to enjoy their good fortune, they would have realized that Jesus was already making all of the difference in the world for them. As for Mike and me, we wouldn’t have experienced the fullness of Puglia or Altofonte if we hadn’t relied on the good will of so many others.

In the end, James and John looked beyond their own plans to what Jesus had in store for them. I think they’d tell you today that everything ended well for them. Today, God invites you and me to do the same. Rather than fretting and wringing our hands in the midst of our plans gone awry, God asks us to open our eyes and our hearts to what the moment at hand has in store. Though we can do our best to prepare, sometimes simply embracing the moment that God has prepared for us is enough.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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The Gift of Love

I will thank you always for what you have done,
and proclaim the goodness of your name.

Psalm 52:11

After our kids and grandkids visited, I picked up the house a bit. There was little to do as I’d done the same before they all arrived. The only cleaning required was in the kitchen where I’d baked brownies and prepped a taco dip. I admit to a pleased-with-myself look as I took off my green apron and carried it to the laundry room. I love my green apron…

My sister fashioned this favorite decades ago. At the time, Cecele had two young children whom she was raising alone. As Christmas approached, my sister realized she had no money for Christmas gifts other than a few things for her children. Christmas has always been our family’s favorite holiday. Even in the leanest of times, our parents managed to provide something special for each of their children. Cecele couldn’t bear to arrive on Christmas day without gifts for her siblings and God-children. So it was that she hand-made something for each of us. She sewed a large stuffed snake for my son. Because I’m the cookie-baker of the family, at least at Christmastime, Cecele made two green terry cloth aprons for me. I’ve used them ever since.

Before putting it into the laundry tub, I held my apron close. I love my sister and this apron reminds me of her love for me.

Generous God, thank you for gracing us with hearts capable of love. Help us always to use them well!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

More On God’s Gifts…

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

Psalm 98:8

When friends of ours expressed doubts about taking a cruise, I promised to convince them otherwise. In an effort to do so, I showed them our album from an Alaskan Cruise we’d enjoyed some years ago. Though mere mention of the 49th State conjures up mental images of this trip, our album brought these beautiful memories to life…

Every morning, the majestic outdoors waited outside our window to welcome us to the new day. Mountains peered from above inviting me to gaze their way before the inevitable approach of cloud-cover. Gulls, salmon and whales gifted me with appearances as well and then quickly continued on their way. Even before breakfast, Creation filled me with reason to rejoice and be glad.

The people we met added to our treasure. I remember the Tlingit Tribe Member, the fifth generation Alaskan migrant, the Alaskan newcomer and fellow travelers who shared their stories with us. Each one embraced the simple life dictated by Alaska’s geography and climate only to find much more. Though it was impossible to understand each of their journeys completely, the peace within them was unmistakable. Life is not perfect for my Alaskan friends. Still, the beauty and simplicity around them lightens their burdens and frees them to focus more fully on the things that matter most.

Though I didn’t say much about the ship as I shared that album, the beauty we discovered on that cruise convinced our friends to give it a try.

Loving God, thank you for the wonderful gifts which urge us to expand our horizons and to appreciate your handiwork.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Precious Time With God’s Gifts

You fill us at daybreak with your kindness
and we shout for joy and gladness at what we see.

Psalm 90:14

I’ve recently shared memories from some recent travel. Though I’m always pleased with the sites we see, it’s my husband who keeps a bucket list of sorts of all of the places he hopes to visit. Oddly, in spite of our recent trek to Italy, I feel the need to get away these days.

Just as I expected, my husband read my lamentations. He seems to be waiting for me to hint at where I might like to go. When he reads this, he’ll discover that I’d like to get away with as little trouble as possible. This means that I prefer not to involve planes or trains or buses in our travel. Today, I’ll ask him to join me in selecting a destination we can drive to and enjoy for a few days. Regardless of our choice, I am certain I’ll find precisely what I need along the way.

This is the case every time my husband convinces me to venture away with him. In each new place and new person I meet, I discover an uplifting morsel of Creation and of the God who gifted us with this world and with one another. With each new encounter, I find good reason to shout for joy over what I see.

Generous God, thank you for giving me the sense to enjoy your gifts on occasion.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Hearts Like God’s

We give thanks to God always for all of you,
remembering you in our prayers…

1 Thessalonians 1:2

I was very excited to cross off another item on my “check-up” list. I’d gone to my internist and eye doctor and had a mammogram. When I arrived for this appointment, I was taken aback by the waiting room filled with pregnant women. I’m well past that possibility and it hadn’t occurred to me that I might wait in the company of so many mommies-in-waiting. The good news is that they all appeared cheerful as they chatted about their pregnancies and shared helpful tips with one another.

Though I’d brought a book along to occupy myself while I waited, I didn’t read a word. Instead, I stared at the same page all the while as I listened to the exchanges around me. I admit that I filled up with love as the young women around me shared their joy with one another. “Ah, to be young again!” I thought. I clearly recalled the joy my husband and I experienced throughout my pregnancies with both of our sons. It was only when the nurse interrupted my musing that I remembered the reason I was sitting in that waiting room.

As she escorted me to the examination room, I remembered the moments when the doctor confirmed each pregnancy. I fell in love with those babies-to-be instantly. Such are the hearts of parents. They are fashioned to love their children no matter what. Did you know that God’s heart works the same way?

Loving God, thank you for teaching us to love in such amazing ways.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Always-Dependable Shelter

Behind me and before, you hem me in
and rest your hand upon me.

Psalm 139:5

Though we were more than a week into October, humidity peeked that morning as I walked. Oddly, I failed to notice this until a row of trees covered me with shade for several seconds. As I ambled along beneath them, I felt notably cooler. When I walked on into the sun again, I felt the day’s unexpected heat until I reached another row of trees. I plodded along in and out of the heat for several minutes.

Eventually, I found myself beneath a half-block row of trees. I embraced the coolness I found there with deep gratitude. Though this morning’s temperatures would have been considered a blessing in mid-July, I was grateful for the reprieve just the same. I couldn’t help voicing my thanks with a short prayer: “Thank you, Generous God. This feels so good!” God responded with a most consoling thought. “Just as those trees offer you shelter from the heat,” God seemed to say, “I offer you shelter whenever you need it.”

For the rest of that walk and many times since, I’ve thanked God for the shelter that has come during countless difficult episodes in my life and the lives of those around me.

Comforting God, you are with us in our joys and in our sorrows. Please reveal your presence to us often just as tangibly as you did today.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved