Do You Know How Much…?

“…to you, my dear child whom I love,
grace, mercy, and peace…”

From 2 Timothy 1:2

Our kids recently visited to celebrate our middle granddaughter’s birthday. Our granddaughters are now ten, nine and six years of age. Our little grandson is two. How did this happen? I admit that this question gives me reason to pause. It wasn’t all that long ago that I had held my older son in my arms. It wasn’t all that long ago that I held my younger son in my arms. How is it that they appeared at our home with wives and their own children in tow? Of course, this musing fills me with joy. I’m completely overlooking the fact that my sons’ evolution into dads is proof positive of my own evolution into a grandma four times over!

Throughout our gathering, I circulated just enough to enjoy quality time with each of my sons, their wonderful wives and my grandchildren. Throughout these encounters, I wondered if any of them realize just how special they are to me. Though I try to express these sentiments in numerous ways, I wondered if I’ve been successful. The best job I’ve ever had is my job as a mom. The next best job is being a grandma. I hope that I’m a good mother-in-law. I work hard at this. Still, I wonder. Do they know how special they are and how much I love them?

Just in case… I love you, dear family of mine. (That includes you, dear husband!) I love you all very much!

Dear and generous God, thank you for my family and for the joy they bring to me.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Changed Forever…

She stood next to my bed and gently nudged my shoulder. “Mary, can you get up? Daddy died last night. Maybe you want to go to the 8:00 Mass.” This seems an odd way for a mother to inform her eight year old of her father’s passing. Actually, it felt quite natural to me. We had prayed for my dad’s happy death for days. This was the opportunity to seal the deal with my dad’s safe arrival in the hereafter. So, I rose from my bed, dressed quickly and ran the down the block to church. I didn’t acknowledge my grief until I stopped at the pew where our parish priest knelt. He resembled my dad just enough to elicit the uncontrollable sobs through which I gave him the news. As he wiped away my tears, Father reminded me that my dad would never be sick again. I sat at his side for the rest of Mass, half-convinced that everything would end well, half-knowing that my life would never be the same.

You know, nothing could replace my dad’s presence in my life, and, as a result, the road ahead would be very different from what it might have been. Fortunately for me, this priest’s kindness, my mother’s strength and the support of many family members and friends allowed our mourning family to reassemble our lives without my dad. Those who came to our rescue made all of the difference in the world.

I revisit the loss of my dad because his passing remains with me, a vivid entry which will never fade from my memory. This loss changed my life forever. Yet, it’s a drop in the ocean of devastation which washed over those in the paths of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma over the past several days. I endured and flourished in spite of my dad’s death because I found stability in my mother’s love, with my sisters and brother, in our home, with our extended family, at school, with my friends and within our parish. Those who’ve survived Harvey’s and Irma’s wrath, especially the children, have far less to hold on to. Lost homes and livelihoods, the lack of needed medications, food, changes of clothing and transportation to safety were minor aspects of the trauma these children and their parents endured. I worry about the infants who were just days old when these storms took everything from them. I can only imagine the toddlers who likely wailed in the confusion without even a stuffed animal to cling to. Consolation eludes victims of every age because so little of the familiar remains.

Life-changing events are just that. The survival of those involved depends upon the response of the rest of us. It seems to me that these hurricanes challenged those impacted and we who are left to respond beyond our wildest imaginings. As I watched hews reports of Irma’s destruction, I wondered what people in the Houston area were up to as they slowly rebuild what was home to them. Irma’s victims realized the urgency of preparing because they’d witnessed the suffering Harvey left in its path. How amazing that even our suffering helps others in life-saving ways!

I was just a little girl when my dad’s death turned my life upside-down. I survived because of the loving concern which surrounded me. We mustn’t let images from Florida take our attention from the suffering in Texas. We mustn’t allow politics, the next news story and our own concerns to distract us from the plights of our neighbors in Florida. There are children in both places who will never forget those storms and the trauma of their encounters with them. The mom, grandma and teacher in me is praying nonstop that, throughout the rebuilding process, the adults around them tend to these little ones aching spirits with great care. At the same time, those adults who I hope will come to the children’s rescue are suffering themselves. I’m praying nonstop that our support of their rebuilding efforts includes care for their spirits as well.

Today, I challenge myself not to forget the images from my television screen and newspapers which bombarded me throughout all of this. I challenge myself to check progress every few weeks to see what more needs to be done. I challenge myself to check with people I know or who know people in both places to learn what they really need. I challenge myself to respond as generously as I can to meet those needs.

Though Harvey and Irma won’t be the last forces to devastate humankind so powerfully, I have hope. I survived life-changing loss because of the love which surrounded me. Regardless of what life-changing events lie ahead, they will be met with equally life-changing generosity, support and love! Thank you in advance for the part you’ll play in all of this!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love Them Well

“Joseph did as the angel of the Lord directed him.”
Matthew 1:24

A recent family gathering with my siblings, all of our children and their own offspring conjured memories of my mom and my two dads. I wondered what the three of them think of this family of ours. How I wished I could see each of them hugging each of their grandchildren! How I hoped they could see my sons in action as dads!

Parenting wasn’t easy for either of my dads. My mom and dad had produced six children during their seventeen-year marriage. Together, they dealt with everything involved with our infancy, toddler and elementary school days. Together, they sent my older sister off to high school. Not long after, they lived their last year together knowing that my mom would be left on her own afterward. Some years later, my mom and step-dad fell in love. Bill joined our family with four of us in elementary school, one in high school and one in college. Because he had never had children of his own, I’m certain he had no idea of what he was getting into. Still, Bill and my mom worked together to make our “adjusted” family work.

I cited the line above from Matthew’s gospel because it seems to indicate the best plan of action when we’re faced with the daunting tasks before us, especially parenting. Joseph gave up everything when he agreed to provide a home for Jesus. Indeed, all parents give up life as they once knew it when they welcome their children. So it was that Joseph trusted God’s wisdom in placing Jesus in his care. All any of us can do is to trust God’s wisdom and to love those we have been given to love as only we can.

Loving God, help all of us to nurture the children in our care and all of our relationships, especially our relationship with you.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Morsels of Love

Every day we are called to do small things with great love.
Mother Teresa

Even the smallest kindnesses lift our spirits.

Our neighborhood school opened for the new school year a week ago. I laughed as I watched the children boarding their buses to go home yesterday. I likely saw many of them during the pre-school shopping days of early August. Parents and children searched for school supplies, negotiating all the while regarding which items were and were not essential to the coming school year. At the time, I breathed a sigh of relief because I wouldn’t be returning to a classroom this year. After whispering a prayer for the many teachers would go to work, I enjoyed observing more of the interplay between parents and their children.

Those adults amazed me with their patience as they gently urged their children back to their supply lists. Children responded in kind as they agreed that their family budgets would go only so far. In the end, parents and children shared the load as they carried their treasures off to their cars. All the while, they chatted about new teachers and reunions with friends. This scene repeated itself over and over again throughout August. Those parents who kept their cool and those children who took their parents’ cues certainly made the most of what could have been a trying time.

Over the years, I have witnessed countless acts of love -tiny, heroic moments in our every day lives through which we make or break one another’s spirits. Whenever we choose love over anger, love over impatience, love in spite of our weariness and love in the midst of heartbreak, we do our greatest work.

Loving God, thank you for the good adults and kids who teach us to love as you do in small, seemingly unimportant ways. These seemingly small efforts bring us closer to you.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Treasure

God looked at everything he had made,
and he found it very good.

From Genesis 1:31

Though I’m currently immersed in my writing schedule, I stepped away from my keyboard long enough to address my to-do list. One item which has proven to be a perpetual part of that list is purging our home. This exercise never ceases to reveal treasures from our past which conjure memories of loved ones here and in the hereafter. During this particular episode, I focused on our kitchen counter.

Because we have ample counters, a few mementos have made their homes on them. One of these items is a tiny yellow school bus planter. Our very dear next door neighbor Ellie gifted me with that little bus at least thirty years ago. Ellie had been an auxiliary grandmother to both of our sons from the day each one was born. We saw Ellie every day. When she relaxed on her patio, we often joined Ellie to catch up on the day’s news or to solve the problems of the world both far away and close to home. Even during the winter months when we were confined indoors, we ventured through the snow to visit Ellie.

Though I cannot recall the reason Ellie gave me that bus, I think of her every time I see it. About ten years into that little bus’s usually peaceful life, I dropped it. When it cracked in half, I was beside myself. Ellie had passed away not long before this and I couldn’t bear being without my reminder of her presence in our lives. With that, I glued the bus as best I could and parked it on the counter. When I picked up my little bus in the midst of this attempt to purge, I determined that it will remain with us a while longer.

Dear God, you treasure us far more than I do my little bus and you never question the wisdom of keeping us close to you. Thank you!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Goodness Finders

Now I have seen for myself and have testified,
“This is God’s chosen One.”

John 1:34

My husband and I recently attended an out-of-town wedding. The groom is the son of dear friends and we were happy to make the effort to celebrate with them. The better part of this is that many of the couple’s friends did the same. As a result, we enjoyed a long weekend in very good company. One of the couple’s who attended was Ellen and Ross. As I watched them dance at the wedding reception, I couldn’t help recalling the evening I first met Ross…

We were hosting our annual Christmas Party and our children and granddaughters were in attendance. This was the first time the girls met Ellen, a young woman whom I’ve known since she was a child. I love Ellen and my granddaughters immediately followed suit. That evening, Ellen brought along her boyfriend whom most of us were meeting for the first time. I couldn’t help liking Ross from the moment he offered his greeting and that sweet smile. I didn’t have the opportunity to confirm my first impression because I didn’t see much of Ross for the rest of the evening. My granddaughters managed to monopolize the poor man for most of the duration of the party. When my granddaughters told me how cool and wonderful and funny Ross is, what more did I need to know? I knew that Ross and Ellen had chosen one another wisely.

A very wise teacher once told me that if I ever wanted to know whether or not a person was a good soul simply to watch the way children react to him or her. Children somehow instinctively know who does and who does not have their best interest at heart. As I watched Ellen and Ross enjoy one another at that wedding, I knew my teacher and my granddaughters were absolutely right!

Loving God, thank you for the children among us who detect goodness with such precision and thank you for the wonderful people who bring that goodness to life.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved