N… Name

At daybreak, he called his disciples and selected twelve of them
to be his apostles: Simon, to whom he gave the name Peter…

Luke 6:13-16

N is for Name. Some years ago, his name caused our younger son some serious heartache. One evening at dinner, when he could no longer contain his misery, Tim tearfully demanded, “Why does everyone in this family’s name start with an ‘M’ except for mine?” I’d never given Tim’s dilemma a thought, so I immediately and silently begged for guidance before I responded: “Tim, Dad’s name was Mike and my name was Mary when we met. We didn’t choose to have ‘M’ names. When Mike was born, Dad wanted to continue the family name, so we named him Michael. Yours is the only name that we really thought about. I love the name ‘Timothy’ and I love you. It was the perfect name for you.” This explanation was true. It was also enough to allow Tim to finish his dinner with a smile.

I believe that God gives us parents some latitude in naming our children. This is quite a gift since God knows the value of our names. God renamed Abram when God sent him off. This Abraham would father the Jewish people. Jesus gave Simon a new name. Simon Peter became the rock upon whom Jesus built his church. Later, when Saul vengefully persecuted the followers of Jesus, Jesus stepped in and renamed him. Paul became one of the greatest teachers of Christian living.

Though your name and mine were likely bestowed with a bit less fanfare than those of our biblical predecessors, God uses them with the same expectation. In every opportunity which comes our way, God calls our names with great love and with great hope in our responses.

Speak, Loving God, for we will listen as you call our names.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Enjoy The Break!

From heaven the Lord looks
and sees us all.

Psalm 33:13

Today, the experienced teacher in me is making an appearance. She’s reminding me in no uncertain terms just how happily I anticipated holiday breaks. Though I loved my job and the students who endured every day with me, I looked forward to a day off just as eagerly as they did. Whether it was a one-day hiatus such as Veteran’s Day or a days-long winter or spring break, I enjoyed these departures from the norm. When I worked full-time, my husband, our sons and I filled these recesses from school with everything that our school schedules prevented. We played in the snow and then went to the movies to retreat from the cold. Enjoying new toys and other Christmas gifts added to the fun. We went to bed a little later and slept in a little longer with great relish.

Today, I admit to partaking of these pleasures with special joy in spite of the fact that I have the option of doing so almost every day. Sleeping in and setting aside my to-do list bring the greatest pleasure during the days between Christmas and New Year’s Day. A welcome side-effect is the leisurely tone with which I pray during this time. There’s no rush involved in these conversations with God. Yes, leisure time is a beautiful thing!

This New Year’s Eve, our sons and their wives and children are making the most of this break from their jobs and school. I’m pleased that this particular family tradition isn’t lost on the younger generation. My offspring appreciate this special time to relax and enjoy one another and they’re teaching their children the same.

Loving God, be with us as we make the time today and throughout the coming year to enjoy ourselves, one another and you.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Christmas Love

This is Christmas Day. In my parish church, our Nativity scene, a forest of lighted trees and a garden of beautiful poinsettias set the scene. I couldn’t ask for a more beautiful place to celebrate Christmas. Things were a little different three weeks ago when our parish family immersed itself in Gift Weekend. The sanctuary was filled with packages and gift bags of every size and color. Our statue of Mary was lost behind that mountain of generosity. Rather than today’s folding chairs which provide extra seating, the gathering space was filled with an assortment of bicycles. As that weekend unfolded, I found myself wiping away tears multiple times. I pictured my fellow parishioners shopping with gift tags for those in need in hand. I also imagined this Christmas Day when hundreds of men and women, teens and toddlers will open those gifts with great excitement and appreciation. When I left church that day, my heart was filled with at least as much love as our church building had been. When I arrived at home, I decided I was in the perfect mindset to prepare this Christmas reflection.

As I pondered the miracle of this holy day, I couldn’t shake the images of those gifts and the smiling people who would welcome them. Suddenly, a little boy I met many years ago came to mind. Isaac was an expert regarding matters of the heart and his capacity to love was second to few. Just like my parish’s efforts on Gift Weekend, and throughout the year for that matter, it seemed to me that his generous gesture many Christmases ago captured the spirit and the love with which God touched this earth on the first Christmas Day…

Isaac was one of my students because he needed a little direction in developing his reading skills. On our way to and from my classroom each day, we had the opportunity to talk. It isn’t often that children have an adult to themselves and my students took full advantage of the situation. Isaac was no exception. I knew the latest regarding his mother’s lengthy disabling illness and his father’s efforts to care for her and the children. I knew about his older brother’s return from the military for an early Christmas visit and that Isaac read from a little prayer-book every night. The last day of school before winter break, Isaac shared something very special which remains with me today.

I’d purchased a small Christmas gift for each of my students. When I retrieved them for their lessons, I asked that they bring their book bags along so they could put away their gifts and forget about them until they arrived at home after school. When I gave Isaac the package with his name on it, his eyes became saucers. He examined the wrapping and the card addressed to him. “Can I put this under my Christmas Tree?” he asked. I told him that he could do whatever he and his mom and dad wanted him to do. It was his gift, after all. Now when Isaac came to school every day, he arrived clean, having had breakfast, and ready to do his best, though in the same shirt and slacks for the week. Isaac didn’t enjoy the luxuries we sometimes take for granted. Still, his family was rich in love. When Isaac opened his book bag to store his gift, he said, “I have something for you. I have a gift for you.”

Isaac took me completely by surprise. His dad was among the working poor and certainly couldn’t afford gifts for his children’s teachers. I finally understood when Isaac reached into his bag and pulled out a green two-headed dragon. I told Isaac that it was a great dragon, but that I would be very happy just knowing that he enjoyed playing with it. Still, Isaac persisted. “I was going to trade it for Poke’mon, but I want you to have it instead.” At the time, anything Poke’mon was a valued commodity. Isaac had planned to trade his dragon for one of his classmate’s coveted collectibles. He abandoned this plan to show his reading teacher how much he cared for her. When I finally composed myself, I asked Isaac if his mom or dad would mind that he left the toy with me. “Oh, no, Mrs. P. They would want me to give it to you. It’s for Christmas.” With that, Isaac and I made a prominent place on my bookshelf for that dragon. Afterward, I told Isaac that he could take the dragon home anytime he wanted to. “Are you taking your present back?” he asked. “Never,” I told him. Isaac responded, “Neither am I.” I kept that two-headed dragon for more than a decade. After Isaac had been promoted from eighth grade and graduated high school, I gave it to another little boy who needed a taste of the love which filled Isaac’s heart.

God touched this world with selfless love two thousand Christmases ago. Jesus spent thirty-three years showing us how to share that love. Isaac’s parents paid attention and they passed on what they learned to their son. Isaac paid attention and he passed on what he learned to me. Today, we pay attention as well. Now, it is up to us to pass on what we’ve learned as we tend lovingly to those we meet along the way.

Merry Christmas!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Swaddled With Love

Your ways, O Lord, make known to me;
teach me your paths.

Psalm 25:4

While spending the day with our grandson, I noticed his Advent Calendar. Danny has happily joined his older cousins in counting the days until Christmas. Our granddaughters’ calendar features a bare stable and twenty-five numbered pockets. Each pocket contains a stuffed figure which will complete the Nativity scene by Christmas. Every year, the girls take turns placing a little stuffed animal or person in or near the stable. A few years ago, while admiring the partially complete scene, our youngest granddaughter slipped Baby Jesus from the pocket marked December 25. “Look at poor Baby Jesus,” Claire told me. “He didn’t have any baby clothes so his mommy put a towel on him.” I explained that though Mary and Joseph had a hard time finding a place for Jesus to be born, they did bring some very special clothes for him. “This is what babies wore back then. They’re called swaddling cloths.” This year, it was Claire who taught Danny about swaddling clothes.

Though Claire is now the swaddling clothes expert, she has held on to her concern regarding Jesus’ apparent poverty. I pray often that she and all of my grandchildren will always feel concern for those in need. After saying, “Amen,” I promised myself to respond to my own concern by doing something for someone in need today.

Loving God, help me to see your people’s need with your eyes and to respond to them with your heart.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Prepare The Way…

Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths…
Luke 3:4, 6

I’ve shared before that we celebrate our grandchildren’s birthdays with a sleepover. This year, our four-year-old grandson enjoyed (I hope!) his first overnight stay. The drill for each of these sleepovers in the same. I put a clean sheets on the bed and make the rest of the room child-friendly. I clear a space for our little guest’s suitcase and I place nightlights in strategic areas. I do my best to make this temporary space feel like home…

As Advent continues, I consider the temporary space Mary prepared for Jesus’ arrival. Though that manger once held hay for livestock, this didn’t matter to Mary or to her child. What did matter were the arms and the heart which held Jesus far more warmly and lovingly than any bed could have.

I hope our grandchildren will enjoy their sleepover bedrooms for years to come. Grandpa and I will continue to love them and to keep them safe and comfortable for as long as we can. Hopefully, our efforts will inspire these little ones to go out and do the same for their own families and everyone else God gives them to love.

It occurs to me that there is an Advent lesson and a life-long lesson here for me. Just as my husband and I willingly care for our grandchildren, we must care for all whom God looks upon with loving eyes, at least the ones who cross my path each day.

Loving God, fashion my heart into a resting place for you and for all of those you have given me to love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Believe!

“Why are you so terrified?
Why are you lacking in faith?”

Mark 4:40

A recent discussion with a second-time mom brought back memories of my own. This young woman’s first delivery was so much easier than her most recent effort! It was easy for me to commiserate. I’ve given birth twice and I can honestly say that I would do it all over again for both of my sons. Still, this is an easier call for my older son as his delivery was a little too easy, I’m told. The second time around was as baffling as that of the new mom I spoke with the other day…

Because I’d experienced contractions for days, we expected a quick delivery. Still, we waited several hours for progress. Suddenly, a nurse tossed a gown at my husband and rushed me into the delivery room. Monitors had detected fetal distress. When he made his appearance shortly thereafter, Timothy was white as a ghost. The nurse whisked our baby away without allowing me to hold him. After some whispering among the medical team, our doctor asked us not to worry. Then he added that he was calling in a specialist. My husband and I prayed. We’d waited a very long time for this child.

The next morning, the doctor shared that our baby might be suffering from an illness which would cause serious disabilities before taking him by age three. This news devastated us and our prayers continued. Later that day, Sister Charles who managed the hospital lab hurried into our room. She said, “I’ve looked at Timothy. Trust me. He’ll be just fine.” By the time the tests were completed, our little boy sported a very healthy glow. I’m happy to report that Sister Charles was absolutely right!

All of our worries aren’t unfounded, I know. All of our worries aren’t dispelled as happily, I know. I also know that God has always been and always will be with us through them all!

Dear God, you understand our worry better than we do. Thank you for being with us though them all.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved