Do What Only You Can Do

Should someone press you into service for one mile, go along for two miles.
Give to the one who asks of you and do not turn your back…

From Matthew 5:41-42

Sometimes, the people or circumstances around us seem determined to push us to the nth degree. Though we feel compassion for those in need, we sometimes find ourselves overwhelmed by the demands on our time and resources. Though we support a cause passionately, we sometimes don’t know where to begin to help. It’s when I’m overwhelmed in this way that someone always manages to come along to minister to me. This was the case the other day. Though we couldn’t see one another face-to-face, two quite generous “someones” reached out to me via the U.S. Mail.

A note and card came from a parishioner who doesn’t access the internet. Her only source of information regarding our church is our Sunday bulletin. When she told me this, I offered to mail her a copy each week until she feels safe enough to return to Mass. Her note offered a sweet “thank you” for my efforts. The second letter was from a nun in Ohio. Every week, I mailed a copy of my Sunday reflection to a fellow nun whom I’ve know for many years. Sadly, my nun-friend passed away. Her friend wrote to tell me how much my friend had enjoyed receiving my notes each week.

I have to tell you that these messages made all of the difference in the world to me. I think I’ve managed my weariness over COVID-19 and my heartbreak over injustice in this country fairly well. Still, when I retrieved the mail that day, I had a headache and a heartache over all of this. Those letters reminded me that the little I can do to improve the human condition these days actually is important to someone.

Loving God, help us all to continue doing what we can.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Characters

“I have found you and
with my holy oil I anoint you…”

From Psalm 89:21

A few days ago, I referenced a childhood photograph which conjured up a regretful memory. Today, a second look at that photo brought a smile to my face. My brother, my four sisters and I are posed on the steps of our front porch. We’re dressed in our Easter finery. On such occasions, a family gathering of some magnitude followed. Such celebrations usually spilled out onto that porch if the weather was at all bearable. Since my parents had eighteen siblings between them, our extended family included an amazing variety of characters. I write “characters” with appreciative thoughts of each one!

Characters of every sort enrich my life. Family, neighbors, schoolmates and church friends account for many. By the time I was sixteen and took my first job at a grocery store, I was quite adept at interacting with others. This came to good use in college, when I eventually married and began my teaching career. All the while, I enjoyed the characters whom I met along the way.

Most precious are the moments I’ve shared individually. These encounters allowed glimpses of others which I might have missed in a crowd. It’s likely that many of these special people have no idea of their contribution to my humble existence. Still, each one reminds me in one way or another that we are all God’s anointed ones. Each of us is a unique gift to those around us and to this world. Yes, we are all God’s characters, sent to enrich others along the way. As we ease back into our new normal, may we all share the best of our characters as only we can!

Dear God, stay with us as we renew our appreciation of ourselves, of one another and of our world.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Fine-Tuned with Love

God looked at everything God made and God found it to be very good.
Genesis 1:31

When I checked my calendar this morning, I realized that it will soon be time to schedule the dryer vent cleaner and our piano tuner. Though that vent cleaning is a necessity, the piano tuning is a luxury I can’t live without. Though I continue to play like a fifth grader who didn’t practice as much as she should have, I love my piano and so does our piano tuner….

Our piano tuner’s arrival always manages to put a positive spin on my day. Jordan is a gracious fellow who never begins his work without first inquiring about the family and life in general. Once he’s assured that all is well, he settles in to begin the task at hand.

In the realm of pianos, ours ranks among the blue-collar variety. It’s what we could afford when we decided to make music a permanent fixture in our home. Still, Jordan treats it like a fine instrument. He carefully removes the upper front panel to expose the piano’s inner workings. With his head tilted just so, he pounds each key and adjusts each tuning pin accordingly. Every few keys, he plays a chord or two to confirm that the sound is what it should be. As I watch, I wait expectantly for those chords. Jordan is a talented pianist and even a few bars are worth my attention. When he finishes, Jordan always graces us with a medley of tunes. This is his own test of his work and an assurance to me that my piano is just as is should be.

Jordan doesn’t realize this, but his encounters with my piano always remind me of God’s work in my life. Though I may be of the blue-collar variety as well, God tends to me with great care. In the process, God sees to it that I, too, am just as I should be.

Creator God, thank you for tending so carefully to the things you have made, especially your children.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Share The Word

He said to them, “Go into the whole world
and proclaim the gospel to every creature.”

Mark 16:15

Before we celebrated our first wedding anniversary, my husband and I purchased a puppy. We’d both grown up with dogs so this seemed a wise choice at the time. After inadvertently spoiling Ernie and failing “doggie kindergarten”, we were about to give up. Much to our good fortune, a wise friend stepped in to help. Judy had an extremely well-behaved dog of her own. When she told us that her four-legged friend sat up on a chair so she could wash the kitchen floor, we laughed. We also realized just how miserably we’d done with our poor dog. After Judy spent a few sessions with Ernie, our embarrassed laughter morphed into pure admiration. Ernie never quite measured up to Judy’s dog because he lived with us. Still, he behaved far better than he might have thanks to Judy’s intervention.

A few year’s later, another friend counseled us as we awaited the birth of our first child. As it happened, we applied both our mistakes with Ernie, Judy’s advice and Peggy’s good counsel to our adventures as first-time parents. How grateful we are that we learned our lessons well! Our son did, too. Raising his little brother was a piece of cake as well thanks to Mike’s endurance. Both have grown into amazing men.

It seems to me that preaching the gospel is much like sharing our wisdom with a friend, a spouse, a child and even a pet!

Generous God, thank you for the good people who share their wisdom with the rest of us.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Fine Instrument, Indeed!

God looked at everything God made and found it to be very good.
Genesis 1:31

When I looked ahead to our November calendar, I noticed a note in the margin. Six months ago, I’d written “Call Jordan about the piano!”. Though I can’t call myself even a mediocre pianist, I love my piano. Since my husband and I purchased this precious instrument more than three decades ago, I’ve taken very good care of it. I have to admit that having the piano tuned is one of the nicest things I do for myself as well. I look forward to our tuner’s visits because they truly grace my day. Jordan is a gracious fellow who never begins his work without first inquiring about the family and life in general. Once he’s assured that all is well, he begins. In the realm of pianos, ours ranks among the blue-collar variety. It’s what we could afford at the time. Still, Jordan treats it like a fine instrument.

Jordan carefully removes the upper panel to expose the piano’s inner workings. With his head tilted just so, he pounds each key and adjusts each tuning pin accordingly. Every few keys, he plays a few chords to confirm that the sound is what it should be. As I listen, I wait expectantly. Jordan is a talented pianist and even a few bars are worth my attention. When he’s completely finished, he graces us with a medley of tunes. I suppose this is his own test of his work and an assurance to me that my piano is just as is should be.

Jordan doesn’t realize this, but his encounters with my piano are very special reminders to me of God’s work in my life. Though I may not be particularly special in the grand scheme of things, God treats me like a fine instrument as well. In the process, God sees to it that I, too, am just as I should be.

Creator God, thank you for tending so carefully to the things you’ve made, especially us.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Let’s Do Something!

It was July 10 when the world received the news. The last of those twelve young soccer players and their coach had been rescued from that flooded maze of caves in Thailand. I’ll never forget my relief and absolute joy over this miracle. Though those who cooperated in this rescue did their very best to help, they knew from the onset that their success was unlikely. Still, with their hope intact all the while, Thailand’s best combined forces with experts from several other nations and together they accomplished the impossible. When news of the rescue spread, we were no longer Thai or American, Chinese, Australian, Israeli or English or anything else. We were one people who rejoiced together because thirteen of our brothers had been saved.

During the days and weeks since, I admit that I’ve been fixated upon this rescue and the good which we can accomplish when we work together. Worldwide support of those twelve boys and their young coach renewed my conviction that we are indeed capable of reaching beyond the barriers which seem to separate us. We really can work together when we have something truly important to accomplish! As I write, I realize that I’ll likely share this story with whoever will listen to me or read my work for quite some time. Much to my relief, John’s gospel assures me that this is a good thing. John offers a retelling of one of the most beloved stories in the scriptures. The featured event is recounted at least six times in the New Testament. This is quite remarkable because the Christmas story is reported only once in Luke’s gospel. Jesus’ death and resurrection are chronicled only four times, once by each of the evangelists. What was it that compelled early scripture writers to place such emphasis upon Jesus’ multiplication of the loaves and fishes?

In his gospel (John 6:1-15), John wrote that Jesus had crossed the Sea of Galilee to seek some much-needed rest for his disciples and for himself. A crowd followed along because they’d witnessed Jesus’ numerous healings. The people couldn’t get enough of the hope that Jesus so generously offered. When Jesus looked upon the fatigued and famished multitude before him, he was moved with compassion. Jesus asked the disciples where they might find food for them. Stunned by Jesus’ incredulous request, poor Philip responded that two hundred days’ wages couldn’t purchase enough food for the crowd. Though he knew this would be of little help, Andrew pointed out that a boy among them had five barley loaves and two fish. Jesus somehow acquired the boy’s basket of food and he transformed it into the meal for thousands which has been remembered ever since.

As I considered this miracle, it occurred to me that I’ve never given much thought to the boy with that basket of bread and fish. Why did he give them up? He’d held his basket in the midst of a hungry horde who had no prospects for their next meal. He was probably hungry himself after his trek to the mountainside and the long afternoon he’d spent listening. Did anyone else attempt to cajole the boy into sharing his meager provisions? How did he get close enough to Jesus to be noticed? More importantly, why did the boy part with what might have been his own last meal for some time? Did he like Jesus? Did Andrew urge the boy to give it up? Did the boy’s parents insist that he part with his food? Did Jesus himself approach and say, “Will you share your food with me?”

I also don’t know why those experts and divers in Thailand left everything to try to save the thirteen captives in those flooded caves. While Jesus’ poor disciples were faced with providing an impossibly huge meal, these poor rescuers battled impossible circumstances. As Jesus’ plan unfolded, we know that the boy gave up his basket of food and that the disciples did their parts to distribute the food as Jesus asked. We also know that these Twenty-First Century rescuers literally dove in to assess what lay ahead and to do everything within their power to succeed. Throughout that rescue operation, I asked, “How is it that they find the courage to persist? How is it that, even when they’ve lost one of their own, they continue on?” Perhaps the boy in the gospel parted with his bread and fish because it was the thing to do. Perhaps those rescuers and their supporters simply did the same.

Perhaps this is the reason the scripture writers focused upon this story. Every day of this life, we’re all challenged to do something as well. Most of the time, these are small opportunities which we can take on alone or with the help of a friend or two. Sometimes, the outcome will be as unlikely as that mountainside banquet. Perhaps once in our lifetimes we’ll be challenged by an adventure as frightening as that flooded cave rescue. Whatever our circumstances, we’re asked again and again, “Will you do something?” Like that boy with the basket of food and those brave rescuers, let’s try to answer, “Yes!”

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved