So Generously Restored!

…he leads me beside still waters
and restores my soul.

Psalm 23:2-3

I ran from the moment I woke that morning. Before thinking about a little volunteer pitch which I’d deliver at Mass that evening, I forced myself to complete my morning exercises. Afterward, I did two loads of laundry while working on a few more of these daily reflections. Completing this little to-do list put me in the perfect frame of mind to ask others who are able to step up and occasionally help out with some fairly easy tasks at church.

After practicing my one-minute and fifteen-second speech, I noticed that the November rain had let up. Though the red line on my thermometer had not edged beyond forty-five that day, I couldn’t resist the oddly peaceful setting which lay beneath the cloudy sky. Though the beautiful fall colors which adorned my neighborhood were muted on that seemingly dismal day, the scene before me nudged me back to Psalm 23.

Though I had a bit more to do inside, I headed outdoors to walk. Every step of the way, God restored my soul. Even on that gray-hued day, God refreshed me.

Loving God, thank you for the many gifts with which you refresh us.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Love God, Your Neighbor and You!

In an effort to distract myself from some gnawing worries, I engaged in a bit of therapeutic behavior. Productivity has always been an effective antidote to my frustration, so I headed to our spare bedroom to purge the closet. I invested an hour in this self-help therapy during which I hoped to dispel my fretting. The mementos I unearthed in that closet immersed me into an equally troubling scenario which unfolded almost two decades ago. Little did I realize that this unplanned trip down Memory Lane was precisely what I needed to adjust my perspective.

On the closet’s shelf, I found several textbooks and notebooks which had been my constant companions during the 1998-1999 School Year. This year of intense training impacted both my career and my family life. The career effects unfolded in the expected positive manner. This would have been a thrilling opportunity if its effects on my family life weren’t so difficult. My husband’s response caused him to morph into “the good deacon” that year. While managing life as a school principal and our parish deacon, Mike took on the majority of our household responsibilities. Tim, an eighth grader at the time, happily engaged in pre-graduation and high school prepping. Mike, a senior in college, busied himself lining up the “perfect” job to begin his career. In my absence, the three men in my life rose to the occasion in stellar fashion. As for me, I barely managed survival-mode.

Throughout that year, I continued to staff the desk at Saint Paul’s on weekends, to write this weekly reflection and to complete an annulment case each month. What was I thinking? I joined Mike and the boys for important events which were at a minimum. Though parenting is my favorite role, I probably uttered, “Thank God!” in response. Just prior to Christmas, the stress caught up with me. My colleagues and I had gathered for the last class of the first term. When our professor arrived, we greeted her with smiles and asked about her holiday plans. Our excitement kept us from noticing the books cradled in her arms. When class began, she congratulated us for the productive semester and promised not to keep us for the entire day. Then, she handed each of us a textbook which we were to read by our first class in January. An awkward silence reigned until I spoke up. I’d been living for an uninterrupted Christmas break with my family and it was with tear-filled eyes that I asked, “You are kidding, aren’t you?” In appropriately stern fashion, my professor responded, “You are engaged in doctoral level coursework. This assignment is the least I can expect of you.”

My unfortunate question put an unmistakable damper on our remaining hour together. As soon as my classmates and I left the building, they unanimously congratulated me for my courage in speaking up and chided me for my stupidity in doing so. “Mary, are you crazy? Don’t read the book. Just don’t read it.” They planned to scan the table of contents and index just before that next class. They’d garner enough information to suggest that they’d actually read the book. As they headed to their cars, they laughed over my exchange with the professor. As for me, tears stung my eyes as I drove off. In the end, I enjoyed a wonderful Christmas with my family and I didn’t worry about that book until school started. I had another week before my coursework began again. So, rather than catching up at school and relaxing a bit, I read that book. As it happened, I was the only one who did so. What was worse, after having given the assignment, our professor never referenced the book again. Go figure!

When I found that book on my closet shelf the other day, today’s gospel (Matthew 22:34-40) took on much deeper meaning for me. The passage chronicles one of the Pharisees’ final efforts to discredit Jesus. This time, they asked Jesus which were the greatest of the commandments. Because the Pharisees had made an art of complicating the lives of the faithful, Jesus countered quite simply: The greatest commandments are to love God with all of our hearts, minds and souls and to love our neighbors as ourselves. It seems to me that we love God best when we acknowledge God’s loving presence in our lives. We love our neighbors best when we share that love with them.

During that difficult training year, I allowed my focus on God’s love to blur. I failed to acknowledge God’s appreciation for me just as I am. In the process, I also failed to acknowledge my appreciation for God. I was simply too busy. Though on paper I’d completed a very successful year, I didn’t feel very good about it until I stored those books and notebooks for future reference and got back to attending to the people in my life: my family, my students and the people of St. Paul’s. Oddly enough, when I put all of this into perspective, I was better able to express my love for God and for my neighbors quite tangibly. As for those worries which urged me to clean that closet, I’m putting them into perspective as well.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Relax and Rest

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered,
“you are worried and upset about many things,
but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better,
and it will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:41-42

It has taken me a lifetime to appreciate my need to slow down and to relax a bit. I truly enjoy the natural beauty around me. Still, I sometimes use more energy listing the reasons that I can’t head out to walk on a particular day than I would have spent actually walking. In the end, I accomplish far less than I might have if I’d been energized by that trek outdoors.

As I contemplate my need to relax, I look up from my keyboard to respond to the tree outside of my window. I watch as it seems to wave to me. It occurs to me that I must listen to the Wise One who once told Martha that she worried far too much. Martha needed to be more like Mary who sat peacefully at Jesus’ feet, drawing in his every word and all of the love that came with them. It occurs to me that I must ask Mary to move over a bit so I can sit with her. It is there that I’ll learn to stop worrying about the tasks which lie ahead and to enjoy the moment at hand.

I’m going to sign off now and go for a walk. I want to wave to that tree outside my window in person. Perhaps I’ll find a bit of Mary’s peace along the way.

Generous God, as I set aside my own worries, help me to assist others in doing the same. Teach us all to find your peace in our much-deserved rest.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

There’s Always Time

He entered a house and wanted no one to know
about it, but he could not escape notice.

From Mark 7:24

It’s Black Friday. Crowds in stores and malls everywhere swell exponentially with every passing minute. As I considered the mass of humanity of which I was a part this morning, I whispered a prayer of gratitude for those retailers who agreed not to open their doors on Thanksgiving Day. Of all of the holidays we celebrate in this country, Thanksgiving Day is the one we all enjoy without regard for our religious affiliations or lack thereof. I thanked God for the generosity of these employers whose workers enjoyed the holiday with their families yesterday.

After uttering a mental “amen” I returned to my list to determine where to go next. A voice near a cashier distracted. This person remarked that he would be wealthy if he had a dollar for every minute he spent waiting. As the man hurried out of the store, I chuckled to myself. I’d found my own wealth in the few seemingly wasted moments which allowed me to get my bearings. While the world rushed about me, I had also found the time to pray.

Perhaps this is the reason Jesus rose early and stole away for quiet time as often as he could. The scriptures also tell us that these moments were usually disrupted by those who desperately needed Jesus. The same is true of you and me. Today, I’m going to try to respond as Jesus would, with patience, genuine concern and love.

Dear God, our world grows busier every day. Still, I’m grateful that others occasionally need me. Help me to respond to them as you would. Then, remind me to pray a bit, too.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Timing

For a thousand years in your sight are as yesterday…
From Psalm 90:4

I was out of breath when I opened our front door for the UPS Man. When he handed me the box, he asked me if I was expecting any more books. Mr. UPS knows that I write. He also has enjoyed the dubious privilege of delivering hundreds of books to my door, always with a smile by the way. When I replied that I was struggling to get going on a yearlong devotional, he smiled and said, “Pace yourself!”

After closing the door and opening my package, I thought about Mr. UPS’s suggestion. “Pace yourself!” I repeated. Though I wasn’t certain that Mr. UPS knew, I knew that this was precisely what I needed to hear at the time. I also knew Who inspired this seemingly off-the-cuff comment. Determined to heed these words of wisdom, I wrote up a “To Do” list for the rest of the week. Then, I selected the tasks I thought I could finish that afternoon. Amazingly, I did everything I’d hoped to do with an hour to spare. I spent these precious extra moments on my patio enjoying the autumn colors and the cool breeze. As I took note of a beautifully fluffy cloud overhead, I offered a smile to the One who I knew was watching. “Thank you for the advice,” I prayed, “and for letting me know that we all have the responsibility to use our time well and the right to rest in between.”

Dear God, your timing is always perfect. Thank you for the messengers who remind us to heed your timepieces rather than our own.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

W… for Write

Let integrity and uprightness preserve me…
From Psalm 25:21

W is for Write. I realize that there are many more meaningful words which begin with “w”. I chose “write” because this is what I need to be doing at the moment. I’m in the midst of writing a book which is very important to me. Perhaps a reader or two will find it has meaning for them as well. The process, however, is grueling at best. I get on a role for a day or two or three only to be interrupted by what I call “real life”.

The other day when one of these incidences of “real life” threatened to monopolize my time, I retreated to the outdoors to clear my head before tackling the inevitable. In the midst of this much-needed walk, it occurred to me that I’m always writing something with my attitudes, with the things I say and with my actions. Though I’d like to leave something significant in written form, the truths I share through my daily life will be far more lasting. Just as no book store owner or librarian can predict which books patrons will pick up, I can’t predict who will read my attitudes, my next word or the things I do. Whether I opt to or not, I’m writing something with every breath I take.

With that, I returned home to “write” my next chapter by tending to the tasks at hand with patience and love.

Loving God, inspire us just to “write” of your wonder in everything we say and do.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved