The Advent of Joy

Love your neighbor as yourself.
From Matthew 22:19

As I strung lights around our Christmas Tree, I remembered my mom doing the same half a century ago. I loved watching her transform the year’s bare tree into our living room’s centerpiece. While perched on a small ladder, she placed ornaments strategically. Those that reflected most were hung near the brightest lights. Though we lived in a crowded flat, there was always room for that tree and the tiny village she’d fashion beneath it.

The Christmas I recall most vividly, our dad had passed away the previous July. Young as I was, I wondered how my mom found the strength to celebrate that year. In spite of the sadness which remained with us all of those months, my older sister Rita joined Mom in preparing special gifts for each of us. On Christmas Eve, our parish priests asked my brother to walk his wagon down to the rectory. Raoul returned with a beautifully wrapped package for himself and his five sisters. Who could have expected more? None of us did, but it came…

After Christmas dinner at home, we went on to Aunt Claire’s and Uncle Steve’s home to celebrate with our extended family. My aunt and uncle ushered us to their Christmas Tree for more gifts. Though all concerned knew that nothing could replace my dad, they did their best to emulate his love for us. Though I can’t name the gifts I received that year, I continue to feel the love offered which has sustained me for a lifetime.

In spite of the terrible loss my family experienced, those who loved us did their best to bring joy to that long ago Christmas. It seems to me that we observe Advent best when we do the same for one another.

Loving God, help me to bring joy to others in everything I say and do.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Never Disappointed!

God will be gracious to you when you cry out;
as soon as God hears, God will answer you.

From Isaiah 30:19

I’ll never forget Joey…

It was early December during the year I was assigned to teach second grade. A little boy in my class arrived at school in tears. It was the eve of St. Nicholas Day and Joey’s older brother had announced that he was not putting out his shoes in anticipation of a visit from the jolly old saint. He had told poor Joey that this tradition was for babies and that no one would be visiting their apartment that night. Joey had placed his hope in this yuletide saint for as long as he could remember because his grandparents had brought this tradition with them from their homeland. Joey was crestfallen over his brother’s loss of hope. I knew that Joey’s family had recently experienced a rough turn of events and I wondered if his older brother knew that there was no money for “extras” this year.

I consoled Joey as best I could and then decided to arrange for a visit from St. Nicholas at school. I expanded our social studies lesson that day to include a discussion of holiday traditions. After Joey and his classmates shared their family traditions, I asked if they’d like to prepare for a visit from St. Nicholas. The possibility of unexpected surprises resulted in unanimous agreement. At the end of the day, the children left their gym shoes on their desks. After school, I hurried out to purchase small treats and crayons for each of them. The next morning, I arrived early to fill their shoes with these treasures. When I went outdoors to gather my students, Joey ran to me to report that St. Nicholas had indeed visited his home. “Even my big brother found stuff in his shoes!” So did Joey’s classmates.

Dear God, when I see unhappiness and doubt in others, help me to replace their hopelessness with your joy.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Knows and God Cares

They laid them at his feet and he cured them…
“My heart is moved with pity for the crowd.”

From Matthew 15:30

My joyful Advent journey took a turn earlier today. It’s difficult to read about the miracles of Jesus when so many suffer in the here and now. Oddly, I deal with my own illnesses reasonably well. I tell myself that these inconveniences are mere reminders that I’m not yet in heaven. Unfortunately, I dismiss this wisdom when others are ill or in dire straights. I admit to turning my eyes upward more often than I should and daring to ask, “Why not this time, Lord? If you could cure the sick back then, why not now?”

I eventually calm down by considering Jesus’ behavior when he faced his own demise. Do you remember? Jesus left his friends behind and ventured further into the Garden of Gethsemane alone. In desperation, Jesus threw himself to the ground as droplets of red perspiration fell from his face. “Can you take this cup from me?” Heartsick as Jesus was, he realized that God, who is Loving Parent to us all, would be with him through everything. In the end, Jesus was certain that he would more than survive whatever the next few days held for him.

With that, I placed all of those who suffer in any way into God’s hands. Though I continue to pray in full earnest, I’ve stopped worrying. In the end, God remains with them and all of us through everything as well.

Loving God, my worries disperse and my hope becomes joy as I journey in your company toward Christmas and toward my home with you.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Peace… Bring It Everywhere

The wolf shall be the guest of the lamb
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
the calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to lead them.

Isaiah 11:6

As I continue my Advent journey, it occurs to me that I long for the same things that the people of Jesus’ time so desperately desired. I long for a world driven by a desire for peace, rather than the desire for power. I long for understanding among nations and within nations, among people and within the relationships which are most important to us. I long for good will, the kind the angels wished us on that first Christmas night. I long for a cure for the diseases which ravage our bodies. I long for a cure for the maladies which trouble our souls. Yes, I long for peace.

I’m distracted from this writing by rays of sunshine peering through my window. Then again, perhaps I’m not distracted. Perhaps I’m being called. Those rays warm the tall spruce in our yard and I realize that I’m not alone in my longing. Just as that tree outside my window stands dormant until spring returns with the stuff of new life, we do the same. Unlike that tree, however, none of us needs to lie dormant. There is always something we can do in the moment at hand to improve this life for others and for ourselves.

So it is that I renew my resolve to take every opportunity to find God’s presence in my circumstances and in the people God has given me to love. Because I truly long for peace on earth, I will do my part to create peace one moment at a time.

Loving God, thank you for being with me in everything, especially in my resolve to make this world a better place for us all.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Fill The Void

On that day,
a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse,
and from his roots a bud shall blossom.

Isaiah 11:1

Though the cold has set in, a squirrel appeared this morning to eat from beneath our bird feeders. The birds who feast high above drop a generous measure of seed onto the grass below. As a result, this determined squirrel has learned to scavenge plenty of food. His success is evidenced by his waistline. This particular squirrel is the chubbiest I’ve ever seen. Still, I don’t fault him a bit. The winter weather is here and Mr. Squirrel must prepare for the long haul.

As I consider that squirrel, I realize that his creativity in preparing for the enduring cold should inspire my own efforts as I prepare for Christmas. My lengthy to-do list, decorating and shopping make it difficult to find the time to reflect upon the reason we celebrate this season every year. Just as Mr. Squirrel has found a way to feed his chubby little body, I must find a way to nourish my soul. So it is that I will indulge in the generous measure of inspiration around me. The efforts of so many who care for those in need renew my faith in the goodness of humankind. Though my own efforts seem small, I guess they do add up after all -just like the birdseed that continues to fill up Mr. Squirrel!

Today and every day this Advent, may we all be encouraged by the goodness around us and may we all become a part of it. Wherever we find a need, let’s fill the void.

Loving God, thank you for the wonders of nature and the creativity of my fellow souls. They constantly remind me to do good wherever I can.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Do Your Thing!

How blessed are the poor in spirit;
the reign of God is theirs.

Matthew 5:3

When I flipped my calendar to December, I realized that only twenty-four days remained until Christmas. Today, only twenty-three days remain! When I consider our Christmas Eve schedule, I realize that we have only twenty-two days to accomplish all that we have to do. In spite of this time crunch, I realize that my own to-do list pales in light of the trials and tribulations of so many others.

I’ve lost more loved ones this past year and I know those closest to them feel these losses more than ever today. The economy may bring better news to the wealthy just now, but plenty of people I know continue to worry about securing basic necessities. Food pantries need more supplies, shelters need more blankets and curbside bell-ringers clang more loudly than ever. It feels as though their very lives depend upon what I put into their little red pales.

None of us can respond to the needs of every person we meet along the way. Still, every one of us can do something to help. As I check off items on my to-do list, I think I also need to check off a need for someone else. I can call or send a note to someone who mourns. I can drop a bit of green into a red bucket, donate a toy for a needy child or bring a case of soup to the food pantry. Whatever I choose to do will matter because the quality of someone’s life depends on it. It really does…

Loving God, help me to open my eyes and my heart to the small miracles I can accomplish for one of your needy children.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved