The Small Stuff Matters…

“For the one who is least among all of you
is the one who is greatest.”

From Luke 9:48

A recent walk around a nearby lake reminded me of just how small I am. This particular lake offers only a tiny beach area. The remainder of its circumference is lined with very tall trees and dense foliage. The greenery is interrupted only by a narrow path just wide enough for two. As I walked, I felt like a tiny ant in the grand scheme of things. Though the lot where I left my car was actually only a block away, I felt lost in the forest around me.

I feel very small at other times as well. In spite of my best efforts, it seems that I can’t do much to solve the problems of this world. Wars continue to be fought. Poverty continues in full force. Political interests overpower the good of the many and on it goes. I ask myself if there is anything I can do to make an important difference.

It is in the midst of this lament that I recall Jesus’ words regarding our need to become children once again. Little girls and boys don’t over-think things. (Remember when I mentioned little Christian’s kindness to Conner the other day?) Children simply observe the situation at hand and they respond accordingly. It occurs to me that I do my best work when I follow their lead. I do have the capacity to change the world. It is through my seemingly insignificant efforts that I bring peace, sustenance and justice to one soul at a time.

Dear God, the small things we do for one another make a world of difference after all. Thank you!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Chosen and Loved!

Bless the Lord, all you God’s chosen ones…
From Tobit 13:8

During a recent visit, Grandpa and I watched an episode of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood with our grandson. This program is an outgrowth of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. I fondly recall introducing our sons to Fred Rogers. It never ceased to amaze me that the mild-mannered Mr. Rogers managed to captivate the boys for the duration of every show. The truth is that I enjoyed each episode as much as my sons did, perhaps more so.

I say this because when we became parents, I think my husband and I understood the importance of feeling special and important, wanted and cherished far more than our sons understood these things. As a result, I think their dad and I did a reasonably good job of making them feel loved. Sadly, regardless of the efforts of those around us, many of us feel devalued, unwanted and unimportant. In spite of my parents’ best efforts, I experienced my own childhood moments of dejection and loneliness. I vowed then and there that, should I ever have children of my own, they would know that they are loved no matter what!

When we feel rejected, unloved and lonely, we convince ourselves that no one really cares about us. So it is that I echo the words which inspired Fred Rogers in the first place: YOU are God’s chosen one. God loves YOU even more than I love my sons and far more than you will ever know until you meet God face to face. On that day, God will clear up any doubt you have!

Loving God, thank you for loving each one of us as your precious child. Please give us the wisdom to never forget just how loved we are!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Little Acts… Great Love…

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

Sometimes, the smallest kindness changes the world.

It was the first day of school. Two eight-year-olds made their way to the start of the new year. The problem was that Conner, who was anxious to begin the new year just an hour earlier, had lost his nerve and he began to cry. Conner’s autism amplified his fear. Little Christian noticed his schoolmate’s misery. Without delay, he took Conner by the hand. Together, these two new friends made their way into what now would become an amazing first day of school for them both.

Christian’s mom had her phone along when she took her son to school that morning. She likely hoped to capture a photo of him on his first day of second grade. She never suspected that she’d also capture her son offering a measure of kindness powerful enough to change another child’s world. Christian’s small gesture changed my world as well!

Every day, we witness countless acts of love, tiny heroic moments which change lives. Every minute we’re given holds an opportunity to make or to break one another’s spirits and our own. 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. Whenever we take advantage of the tiniest opportunity to do good, we change this world for the better.

Loving God, thank you for making use of everything we do, especially our small, seemingly unimportant efforts. Even these tiny acts make this world a better place.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

They’re Always Watching!

Beloved:Let no one have contempt for your youth,
but set an example for those who believe,
in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity.

1 Timothy 4:12

The other day at the grocery store, a young man “slipped” and said a word that wasn’t suitable for the ears of some nearby children. Before he could apologize, the older woman with him responded, “You know, kids are always watching and it’s up to us to show them what’s right.” The woman added another line or two about how she and his dad were very careful of their language when he was within earshot. The young man took his mother’s comments well. The pair smiled at one another and then continued their shopping. As for the kids, I’m grateful to say that they didn’t react to any of this as they were distracted by the shelves of breakfast cereal before them. Neither they nor their mom seemed to have heard a word.

That wise parent’s comment echoed sentiments repeated frequently throughout my teaching career and my second career as a grandparent. Grandchildren repeat just about everything they hear. They also mimic our actions and our attitudes far more accurately than we might think possible.

What does all of this mean for us allegedly mature adults? Apparently, we need to be on our best behavior as often as possible. None of us knows when an impressionable child of any age may be watching. It’s up to us to provide them with the best lessons we’re capable of offering as often as we can.

Easy, huh?

Loving God, help us to offer only glimpses of your goodness to the young souls you place in our care.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Understands… Always!

Trust in God at all times, O my people!
Poor out your hearts before God;
God is our refuge!

Psalm 62:9

During a recent visit with our grandsons, I experienced a bit of deja vu. The four-year-old was extremely excited because the sun had just emerged from behind a large patch of gray clouds. “Grandma, did you know that the sun is a big star? We can see it because it’s close to us. We can’t see the other stars, but they’re up there. The sun is too bright for us to see them…” As this preschooler continued to explain, I recalled his dad at that age exhibiting the same exhilaration over the new bits of knowledge he’d acquired. Like his little, my son soaked up all kinds of information like a sponge.

When such cerebral treasures are shared, especially by the children in my life, I do my best to give my full attention to the speaker. There is nothing more encouraging and comforting than really being listened to and understood.

As I write, it occurs to me that God does precisely this for each of us. Whether or not we are understood by those around us, God understands our meaning even better than we understand it ourselves. In my joys and in my sorrows, I find that there is nothing more encouraging and comforting than really being understood.

Dear God, thank you for always understanding my meaning. Help me to do the same as best I can for those you have given me to love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Sister’s Life Lessons

Some months ago, I received an email from a high school friend. Nadine had written to tell me that fellow alums were planning a reunion. My classmates and I have reached a milestone anniversary of our graduation from high school and a party is definitely in order! Thoughts of Nadine and many other classmates elicited a smile. After sending a grateful response to that email, I hurried to our calendar to record the date. As soon as I turned to September, I realized that I won’t be able to attend that reunion. The same day, my dear husband will witness the marriage of a very special couple. Mike and I wouldn’t miss their wedding for anything. So it was that I sent Nadine a subsequent email to express my regret. This past week, when I received a follow-up reminder of that reunion, I decided to enjoy a small reunion of my own. I pulled my yearbook from the shelf and nestled into my recliner. As soon as I opened that book, memories filled me up. I admit to some tears as I read the kind comments my classmates and teachers had written to me inside the covers and in the margins of almost every page. The four years we shared were a gift…

After returning my yearbook to its shelf, I checked the Sisters of Mercy website for tidbits regarding my former teachers. As expected, I found that most of them are enjoying the fruits of their labor in the hereafter. When I scrolled down the names of the sisters who’ve passed away, Sister Imelda evoked a smile. Sister Imelda held the dubious honor of serving as my freshman homeroom teacher. This role required her to account for her students’ whereabouts every weekday morning and to immerse us into the freshman religion curriculum. It was during religion class that Sister Imelda left an indelible mark on me. Difficult as it could have been to get our attention, Sister did so with ease. She provided a question box for our anonymous queries on any topic. At the beginning of every class, Sister responded to one of our submissions. I came to appreciate Sister Imelda’s bravery in doing this after sitting on the teacher’s side of the desk before my own students. Our class of fifteen-year-old girls provided extremely creative questions. Every time, Sister responded graciously and thoroughly. We’d learned far more about sin, faith and morals than we cared to by the end of that year. More importantly, by June each of us also saw God in a completely different and truly awesome light.

I continue to embrace Sister Imelda’s image of God because Sister insisted that ours is the God of Love. Rather than guilting us into submission, Sister presented the rules we tried to live by quite practically. She insisted that these guidelines for living served as shields to keep us safe. When we did our best to do the right thing, we stayed close to God. Sister added that our close proximity to God was our most prized possession. “As long as God is nearby,” Sister said, “you’ll be fine.” Of course, we concluded that God’s presence depended upon us. When a classmate submitted an anonymous question regarding God’s proximity when one managed to commit a mortal sin, Sister reassured us. I’ll never forget Sister rising from her seat with her finger pointed at us as she proclaimed, “That’s when God is closest to you and don’t you forget that! God doesn’t want to lose a single one us!” This was probably the first time in my life that I actually believed that God loves me and remains with me regardless of my guilt. On that day, I began to take even the harshest lessons from my religion classes and sermons as reassurances that God remains with me in everything.

Today’s scripture passages and those we’ve encountered in recent weeks are about as unsettling as some of the questions my classmates and I posed to Sister Imelda that year. The passage from Wisdom (Wisdom 9:13-18) tells us that we understand nothing unless we are gifted with understanding by the Holy Spirit. But what if someone isn’t among the gifted, we wonder. Sister Imelda would say, “God speaks to all of us. We simply need to take the time to listen.” In Paul’s letter to Philemon (Philemon 9-10;12-17), Paul tells his friend how to deal with his runaway slave. Paul had befriended this slave and he wanted the man to remain with him. Because this wasn’t possible, Paul sent the slave back to Philemon and asked Philemon to see his slave in a new light. Paul asked his friend to treat the slave as he would treat Paul himself and he fully expected Philemon to do nothing less. But what if Philemon refused? Sister Imelda would say, “You can’t make choices for other people. You can only give them your best shot, offer them good counsel and pray for the best.” In the end, Philemon did as Paul asked. Luke’s gospel (Luke 4:25-33) further forsakes this world’s view of things. Luke tells us that Jesus called the people to hate everything they held dear in order to free themselves to be disciples. But who can look upon their families and their wealth and walk away from them? Sister Imelda would say, “Jesus used strong examples to show us that it’s really hard to live as he did. All Jesus really asks is that we do our best with what we’re given and that we love one another. That will be enough!”

Sister Imelda’s wisdom has served me well. Though today’s scriptures seem difficult to follow, God’s underlying message urges us on just as Sister Imelda did. Sister Imelda convinced this high school freshman that God loves us though, sometimes, difficult words are necessary to get our attention. In the end, Sister Imelda would say, “As God’s much-loved children, we’re asked to allow God into our lives, to do our best within the circumstances we’re given and to help others to do the same. It’s just that simple!” I couldn’t agree more!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved