Ask For God’s Help, Too

“…But when you pray, go to your inner room,
close the door, and pray to God in secret.”

From Matthew 6:6

A while back, I found myself quite frustrated. Though I usually manage my own troubles reasonably well, I hadn’t done a great job of that. I was also having difficulty with my inability to alleviate the troubles of those I love. I don’t like to see anyone suffering. Even the woes of those who might not list me among their friends give me reason to pity them and to help them as best I can.

So it was that I did what I could for these others and myself. I also wondered all the while why things had to be “this way” or “that way.” When I was in the midst of my best fretting and hand-wringing, it eventually occurred to me that I was relying on the wrong one to solve the problems at hand and to soothe the suffering around me. It was then that I sheepishly retreated to the quiet of my room and turned my eyes upward. There, I turned over all that troubled me to the One who always makes all of the difference in the world. Though God didn’t change any of our circumstances, my ability to work within them improved exponentially when I acknowledged God’s presence at my side.

Compassionate God, thank you for walking this sometimes arduous journey with us.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Care and Be Cared For

Give to the one who asks of you,
and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.”

Matthew 5:42

Sometimes, it seems that those around us have read the gospel above and have decided to push us to fulfill Jesus’ words to the nth degree. Though we often feel great sympathy for those in need, we sometimes find ourselves overwhelmed by the numerous demands on our time and our resources.

It is when I’m overwhelmed in this way that someone always manages to come along to minister to me. Though my busyness and limited resources are the results of my own choices, this makes no difference to the kind soul who comes to my aid. He or she simply says just the right thing or spends just enough time listening to ease me through the moment’s rough spot. I always walk away from these encounters feeling replenished and revived, fully capable of responding to the next person who needs me. I can only hope that my benefactor is repaid in kind down the road.

Could this be what Jesus had in mind all along? Could it be that we are meant to care for one another and to be cared for by one another until we make it home? There, God will take over the loving and caring. What more can we ask for?

Thank you for caring for us, O God, and for sharing this skill with us. Help us to care for one another as only we can.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

How Will We Change The World?

Peace!… Do not be afraid!
Go and carry the news…

From Matthew 28:9-11

Though eighteen years have passed, I’ll never forget my whereabouts Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001…

I was driving to school when a report of an airliner crashing into the World Trade Center interrupted the local news. The assistant principal and I were discussing that horrific accident when the second assault in New York occurred. Fortunately, our students were all in the building by that time. When the Pentagon was hit, area schools were put in “lock-down” mode. Classroom teachers secured their doors and kept their students inside while the rest of us patrolled the hallways and saw to it that no unidentified individuals entered. Our school district served both local children and the children of military personnel assigned to the military installation just blocks away. Each of us prayed fervently that the base wouldn’t be the next target…

Though eighteen years have passed, I’ll never forget the heroic effort which unfolded by midday, September 11, 2001…

The morning’s devastation horrified us all, yet bravery and selflessness reigned. Uncommon generosity became the norm. Those nearby joined hands to do everything possible to care for those who’d been hurt. Many more did the same during the months and years that followed. This world has never been the same since that day…

I was convinced that nothing would change this world as dramatically as that infamous day did and I was wrong. The actions of those hijackers inspired subsequent assaults. The actions of those first responders and those who who continued their efforts for months and years afterward inspired selflessness and generosity beyond all of our expectations.

What will change the world around us today? It’s up to you and me…

Loving and Merciful God, give us hearts which desire peace and hands to build that peace wherever we are.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Plan Generously

“…go, sell what you have and give to the poor,
and you will have treasure in heaven.”

From Matthew 19:21

I learned about the poor early on. Though my own family could be counted among the working poor, my mom often assured us that there were far needier people in the world. So it was that I took encounters with those needy ones to heart…

Throughout college, I traveled from the West Side to the far northeast of Chicago. I attended Mundelein College located next door to Loyola University. Loyola’s beloved Sister Jean taught me there. That hour commute required a bus ride and then subsequent transfers to the Lake and Howard Street trains.

One January day, a woman wearing only a clear plastic raincoat over her clothing rode with me. She carried two bags which looked more like her belongings than the fruits of a shopping spree. Though the woman didn’t ask, I felt compelled to give her my jacket. At the time, this jacket was my only coat. I was paying my own way through college and really couldn’t afford to replace it. Still… While I closed my eyes to ask for guidance, the train stopped and my raincoat-clad friend stepped off. I felt terribly guilty about this missed opportunity until I shared it with a friend. “You did receive guidance from above.” he said. “The woman got off the train and you kept the coat you needed. God took care of you and God will inspire someone to take care of her.”

I puzzled over this for some time. I also gave to the poor whenever I could. When I graduated and acquired a job, I began to budget for my giving. Finally, there was no question regarding what I could and couldn’t afford. Giving became part of the plan.

Generous God, sometimes, the easiest way to live as you would have us live is to plan. Thank you for taking care of me and the woman in the raincoat.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Special in God’s Eyes

This Labor Day weekend, my thoughts turn to all of the children and teachers who recently embraced the new school year. While I always welcomed summer vacation when my husband-the-principal and I-the-teacher regrouped as a family with our own kids, every August, I looked forward to the new school year as well. Of course, I also looked forward to Labor Day which granted all concerned a four-day school week! The other day, Mike shared a Facebook post with me from one of our former students. As I considered the amazing dad and husband he’s become, I offered a prayer for him and all of the great kids I’d met along the way. It was then that one of my own first day of school adventures came to mind. A favorite student wasn’t at all looking forward to the new school year or Labor Day…

On the first day each year, teachers flank school grounds long before the children arrive. Some of the children might have been unfamiliar with the environment while others might have needed a reminder that order would prevail. So it was that my fellow teachers and I stood ready to greet the new year’s students. Eventually, most of the children made their way into the building like an army of ants charging a picnic. Some approached with confidence. They were returning students who’d done well the prior year. They knew where to line up and what to expect. Their backpacks bulged with supplies in anticipation of whatever their new teachers might ask of them. Others arrived hand-in-hand with an adult companion. These grown-up escorts offered a bit of reassurance in an effort to prevent tears which would otherwise have flowed freely. For some who reluctantly inched toward school, tears flowed regardless of the company. The onset of the new year frightened them beyond their abilities to cope. These poor children always expected the worst.

The children I worried about most that first morning of the school year were those who lingered on the periphery of things. They feared crossing the threshold into the school and into the new year and they hid wherever they could. The year before, these children had attended school every day and worked hard at their assignments. They did their homework, but too often found it to be too hard. Without help, they too often failed the most important subjects. I vividly recalled their avoidance behaviors. One stood behind a tree. Another squatted low, hiding next to a dumpster. Still another perched himself high above the playground at the top of the slide. Gym-shoe clad feet betrayed the girl lurking behind a teacher’s van. The last one I eyed had started to walk home. He’d refused to endure failure once again.

Because I was a reading teacher, I didn’t have a class of my own to usher into the building. I was charged with gathering these elusive procrastinators. That year, after retrieving my young friends from their various hiding places, I bolted after the young man who was headed home. Jonah was a sixth grader who felt he’d had a rough year last time around. I knew him because Jonah had been one of my reading students. Jonah had made excellent progress in reading. His pre-test and post-test scores heralded the two-plus years’ growth he’d achieved. Jonah had moved from second to fourth grade reading level. Unfortunately, Jonah still performed two years below his new grade level. I shared the frustration which must have eaten away at him. His peers who were reading at grade level skated by with only six or eight months’ growth and that was enough for them. I understood why Jonah questioned his still being behind when his growth was greater than that of most of the other students.

With all of this in mind, I followed Jonah down the walk. Luckily, Jonah’s good nature impelled him to stop. Had he noticed that my heels made it impossible for me to chase him? His eyes told me that he almost welcomed my company. “Jonah,” I asked, “Where are you going? What will I do if you’re not in school today?” Jonah sniffed and tears followed. “I can’t do that stuff. I hate school. I’m stupid and I ain’t going in there!” Trying to keep my own tears in check, I reminded Jonah, “You learned two years’ worth of reading last year. If you do that again, you’ll be right where you’re supposed to be.” Jonah wiped his eyes and smiled just a bit. “That’s why I got that certificate, huh? My mom put it on her bedroom mirror.” I quickly asked, “She liked it?” Jonah smiled as I walked him to the door. “We both like it,” Jonah admitted. With that, Jonah skipped to his classroom, ready to try once again. With that, I prayed once again: “Thank you, Lord, for helping me to convince Jonah of just how special he is.” Jonah had given meaning to that day and to every day that I was privileged to work with him.

Today, at the close of Luke’s gospel (14:1, 7-14), Jesus says, “…when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” I admit that Jesus’ promise is above and beyond anything I can hope for today because Jonah repaid me a thousand-fold for simply doing my job that year. So it is that I celebrate Labor Day 2019 with a prayer for you and me…

Loving God, help us never to overlook the treasure to be found in those whom this world considers to be castaways. Like Jesus, help us to see that it is through our association with these favored ones that we witness your greatest work and that we best emulate your loving and welcoming heart.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We Can Do It!

The Pharisees came forward and began to argue with Jesus.
They were looking for some heavenly sign from him as a test.

Mark 8:11

It’s never been easy for me to stand by and watch the suffering of those around me. Whether they are my own family members, dear friends, a street person or children brutalized half a world away, I find it impossible to accept that there is nothing I can do to help. It is in the midst of this frustration that I become like the Pharisees of old. They badgered Jesus for signs from above to legitimize his preaching. I find myself groaning as they did: “If only you would show yourself to those in power, they’d do something to fix this mess!” I realize that repairing this world is a multi-leveled task. It seems to me that a change of heart among the higher-ups and the rest of us would certainly help.

After behaving like a Pharisee and demanding God’s intervention, God remains in the quiet of my heart. God needs not to utter a single word because I already know the solution. God leaves it to each one of us to do the best we can as we see it. Whether we are a higher-up or one of the rest of us, each of us is charged with the responsibility to do the best we can to fix things. Each of us is also given the free will to opt in or to opt out of caring for others. God’s assistance comes from within our hearts and in the example of people of good will who urge us to bring love and peace to the moment at hand. Every time we respond, we will transform this world one loving act at a time.

Patient God, forgive my impatience with others and with You. Help me and all of us to do what we can to love those we have been given to love, here and everywhere.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved