Live In Peace

Beside restful waters God leads me;
God refreshes my soul…

From Psalm 23:2-3

The snow day last week elicited a memory from my long-ago classroom… When I taught, I prided myself in remaining calm in the face of misbehavior. My students’ apparently agreed that this was a good approach to our occasional classroom troubles as their subsequent compliance proved me right. Still, I admit to allowing my anger to get the best of me the morning I heard that a former student had died.

Though he had a good and kind heart, Lee had also been taken in by the allure of the streets more than once. This time, he drove a van that his friends had loaded with stolen bicycles from a nearby suburb. A police chase resulted in the accident which took Lee’s life. In the wake of this news, I heard one of Lee’s classmates bragging that he was in the van during that chase and that he flew out the door and ran away when the van tipped over on its side. Before he could finish his yarn, I called him over. “Who do you think you are?” I wailed. “Lee died last night and you were nowhere near that van. Don’t you dare try to make yourself look cool on the death of my friend!”

I didn’t realize the power of my words at the time. Suddenly, one could literally hear a pin drop in the once noisy hallway. While the target of my ire crept into his classroom with his eyes cast to the floor, others who knew Lee stopped to offer their condolences over the friend we had all lost. These kindnesses returned some semblance of peace to each of one of us.

Dear God, while Lee resides in your everlasting peace, bless those he left behind with a taste of the peace he’s found.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Inspire Hope

Say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!

Isaiah 35:4

The temperature had risen enough to coax me outdoors to our driveway. There were a few patches of ice there and on the sidewalk which needed to be broken up. If I tended to these nuisances right away, the sun would melt them out of existence.

As I worked at the task at hand, a group of children ran out of the school across the way for recess. I smiled as I imagined their teachers thanking God for weather warm enough to allow for this reprieve from managing their classrooms. This was no criticism as I thanked God often for the same over the years. The joyful bantering that filled the air turned my thoughts to Christmas Past in my own classroom…

Most of my students counted the days to Christmas with great relish. Every year, however, one or two of my students dreaded this departure from their daily routines. These children lived in dire poverty. School lunches were the best of their meals and our simple class parties were the best of their Christmases. Too often, the lack of material treasures in their lives paled in the shadow of their lack of love and security. The adults around them, burdened with their own troubles, missed the hurt and hopelessness growing in their children’s eyes.

As I chopped the ice in my driveway, I prayed for these special children who appreciated the little gifts I hid in their backpacks almost as much as they appreciated my attention throughout the day at school. Though I didn’t have the resources to alleviate all of their poverty, I did manage to ignite a bit of hope in these amazingly resilient children.

If a needy child is pulling at your heartstrings this Christmas, respond. I assure you that you won’t regret it. Neither will that little one!

God of hope, let this child share your love with my smile and your hope with what I’m able to share.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Little Child Leads Us…

…the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
the calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to lead them.

Isaiah 11:6

My little grandson’s smile drew me in before I realized what the little imp had done. My gloomy attitude, aching sinuses and complete disappointment with so many things in this world meant nothing to the little boy who nuzzled in my arms. As Benjamin smiled in spite of my uncommonly troubled eyes, he seemed to look to look far past them into my very soul. At the same time, he ever so carefully wrapped his tiny fist around my finger. I smiled as I considered how masterfully Ben had accomplished his goal. With that, my headache eased and I pulled Ben a bit closer. This sweet child immediately responded in kind.

In and effort not to disturb Ben’s and my newly found comfort, I asked Grandpa to bring me Ben’s blanket. Ben drifted off to sleep, Grandpa headed outdoors to tend to a chore and I drifted into grateful conversation with our Benevolent Creator. As I spoke, I acknowledged that I’d wasted too much of this particular day attending to my headache and to my worry. Ben had made it obvious that the world was in even better hands than he was and that I needed to appreciate this. With that, it occurred to me -or did God remind me?- that a little child made the same observation two millenniums ago when he was born in that stable in Bethlehem. Indeed, there is always reason to be grateful!

Dear God, as I continue my journey to Christmas, keep me mindful of the gifts to be found in the people you have given me to love, especially the children who keep our hope alive.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Amazing Capacity To Love

This past weekend, my husband the good deacon and I headed north in anticipation of our annual Christmas Tree hunt. We drove up a week early to heat up the cabin and to stock it with food for our family’s arrival a few days later. Though this was a whirlwind overnight effort, Mike and I enjoyed every minute of it. There’s something amazingly peaceful about our time at the cabin. These Wisconsin interludes are very inspiring and I do my best writing there. This past weekend was no exception in spite of the time crunch. It was then that I considered what Thanksgiving Day 2018 would bring. It would be my 59th without my dad and Mike’s 36th without his dad. It would be my 15th without my mom and Mike’s 11th without his mom. These losses came to mind because Mike and I had attended the funeral of Deacon Ivan’s dad the previous Monday. Though Mike and I have become accustomed to the empty chairs at our Thanksgiving table, this would be a new experience for our parish deacon and his family. Papa Gaspar would enjoy the holiday elsewhere in the company of his old and newfound friends in eternity.

Since Mike habitually serves as driver for these treks, I’m left to converse, to listen to our favorite oldies and to enjoy the scenery. When we settle into a bit of quiet, I mentally continue whatever writing I’d begun a the cabin. This time, my thoughts returned to Ivan and Arleen and their loved ones. Though I’d come to know Papa Gaspar because he and Ivan’s mom attended Mass at my parish for many years, I didn’t fully appreciate him until I heard his grandson James speak at his funeral. According to James, Papa Gaspar brought a smile and much more to everyone on his path. Though he was a handyman by trade, he was also a handyman at heart. James offered a lifetime of examples of Papa’s impact upon him and all of his loved ones. “What a good soul!” I said to myself several times throughout that eulogy. As we drove home, it occurred to me that though a tear or two might threaten Papa’s family on Thanksgiving Day, they would certainly be lost in the memories which honored the man who yelled, “Tada!” to celebrate even the smallest accomplishment. It seemed to me that Papa Gaspar would interrupt any mourning his family would attempt with snippets of laughter from their time together in this life.

I write with firm resolve regarding Papa Gaspar’s new life in the hereafter because I have no choice. His faith has been evident in Ivan and his grandchildren for as long as I’ve known them and for decades before that. Papa Gaspar’s joyful and tender care of his dear wife in spite of his own frailty taught all concerned that every moment of this life is worth celebrating. Papa Gaspar seemed to know without a doubt that all he did for his family here opened his heart to all God would do for him in the hereafter. Everything Papa Gaspar taught in word and deed was evident in the peace which enveloped his family as they ushered him into eternity with their love and prayers. It seems to me that Papa Gaspar’s life hints at the reasons we celebrate Jesus as Christ the King today.

The Old Testament tells us that God pursued the chosen people with deep and passionate love. Still, in spite of God’s efforts, the people strayed. Neither plagues, nor pleading prophets, nor floods, nor famine softened the people’s hearts. Apparently, we humans needed something far more tangible to teach us of God’s endless devotion. So it was that heaven touched the earth in the person of Jesus. As one of us, Jesus defined the art of relationship-building and peacemaking. Jesus learned his trade within the confines of his own family. It was after thirty years of experiencing the daily trials and tribulations, triumphs and joys of humankind that Jesus set out to teach the entire world how to experience these things within the context of God’s love for us. It is true that Jesus died a horrific death for each one of us. However, it is also true that he lived his life for each one of us, teaching us through everything he said and did. Though Jesus knew he would soon die, he set aside his own fear as he shared his last supper with his friends. Though Jesus knew his friends would desert him, he promised to remain with them and with us always. God sent Jesus to reveal Divine Love to us and this is precisely what Jesus did.

It seems to me that Papa Gaspar took his roles as husband and father, grandfather and great-grandfather quite seriously as well. Though he had no dad of his own, he found the skills he needed to parent his children and to teach them to do the same for their own sons and daughters as well as their neighbors and those others whom they’d meet along the way. If you could take a close look at Deacon Ivan, you’d see just how successful Papa Gaspar has been! So it is that, on this Feast of Christ the King, we celebrate God’s generosity in loving us and in sending Jesus to give flesh and bone to God’s message of love. I’d like to think that we all have a bit of God’s capacity to love within us. Like Papa Gaspar, we simply need to choose to transform that propensity to love into a lifetime of loving one another as only we can.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Say Cheese!

Your Kingdom is a Kingdom for all ages,
and your dominion endures through all generations.

Psalm 145:13

When my first grandchild was born, I organized our photos of her and the rest of us from Day 1. Some family members and friends acknowledged my new role as “Grandma” by gifting me with photo albums and I put each one to immediate use. Rather than storing them away, I displayed the albums on our coffee table for easy access. I didn’t want to forget a bit of this new adventure.

Four additional grandchildren and a few memorable trips have enticed me to keep this “album thing” going. Thirteen volumes later, I find that my thinking in this regard is sound. When visiting, our grandchildren and their respective parents look through these albums often. Numerous conversations regarding the places we’ve been, the kids’ growth spurts and a variety of special occasions result. The smiles that accompany all of this indicate that my photo album collection is truly a celebration of who we are and where we have been.

Though I have no photographic evidence, I’m certain that my family and I haven’t been alone in all of this. God has been with us every step and click of the camera along the way.

Generous God, thank you for the memories and for the wonderful family who build them with me.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Hearts Like God’s

We give thanks to God always for all of you,
remembering you in our prayers…

1 Thessalonians 1:2

I was very excited to cross off another item on my “check-up” list. I’d gone to my internist and eye doctor and had a mammogram. When I arrived for this appointment, I was taken aback by the waiting room filled with pregnant women. I’m well past that possibility and it hadn’t occurred to me that I might wait in the company of so many mommies-in-waiting. The good news is that they all appeared cheerful as they chatted about their pregnancies and shared helpful tips with one another.

Though I’d brought a book along to occupy myself while I waited, I didn’t read a word. Instead, I stared at the same page all the while as I listened to the exchanges around me. I admit that I filled up with love as the young women around me shared their joy with one another. “Ah, to be young again!” I thought. I clearly recalled the joy my husband and I experienced throughout my pregnancies with both of our sons. It was only when the nurse interrupted my musing that I remembered the reason I was sitting in that waiting room.

As she escorted me to the examination room, I remembered the moments when the doctor confirmed each pregnancy. I fell in love with those babies-to-be instantly. Such are the hearts of parents. They are fashioned to love their children no matter what. Did you know that God’s heart works the same way?

Loving God, thank you for teaching us to love in such amazing ways.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved