Gift Them with Hope

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

Isaiah 35:4

Something nudged me toward the obituary section of the paper. Much to my surprise, I encountered the name of one of my former students. “How can this be?” I asked myself. “Robert is only 51.”

As I recalled vivid memories of this young man as a third grader, noise outdoors drew me to the window. I looked past our lawn to the school across the street. A group of children had come out for recess. I smiled as I imagined Robert doing the same. Though he could sometimes be a handful, Robert had a very good heart. My thoughts turned to my own classroom and the Christmas celebrations I’d enjoyed there.

Like Robert, most of my students counted the days to Christmas with great relish. Robert enjoyed the holidays with his family. At the same time, a few of his classmates dreaded this departure from their daily routines. These children lived in 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 had their own troubles which made Christmas a low priority. As for Robert, he had a kind heart. How often he looked beyond his own mischief to extend kindness to his less fortunate friends. Robert never teased one of them!

As I continued to watch the carefree youngsters on the playground across the street, I prayed for Robert, that eternity will bring him a plethora of Christmas-like days. I also prayed for children in need, that somehow the rest of us find ways to provide for them.

Dear God, help us to bring hope to this in need as best we can.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Always Reason To Hope

…the calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to lead them.

From Isaiah 11:6

My 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 next to me. As Danny eyed my uncommonly troubled eyes, he looked to see if I was watching. Then, ever so carefully, he touched the tips of my fingers. I smiled as I considered his bravery in approaching me. With that, my headache eased and I invited Danny to sit closer. He immediately nestled nearer.

In an effort not to disturb our comfortable cuddle, I stretched for my phone. Danny looked up and asked, “Pictures?” I couldn’t help smiling at the obvious. “Yes, pictures,” I replied. With that, we revisited recent history in Danny’s life. My photos and short videos include trips to the park and family parties. They also chronicle Danny at play. As Danny chattered on about his own antics and those of his cousins and the rest of us, I listened attentively. It occurred to me that I had wasted too much of this day attending to my headache and my worry. Danny made it obvious that the world is in good hands. Come to think of it, another little child made the same observation two millenniums ago when he was born in that stable in Bethlehem. Yes, there is always hope!

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

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Newborn Hope

We are God’s people,
the flock God tends…

From Psalm 100:3

I drove to my doctor’s appointment reluctantly. I’m reasonably healthy and I didn’t want to chance hearing that this isn’t any longer the case. I worried about my blood pressure which is usually quite good. Current events in the world-at-large and nearby have given me reason to fret and to wring my hands and I can’t seem to do anything to alleviate the messes around me. It was with this mindset that I arrived for that appointment.

When I entered the doctor’s office, I was shocked to see the waiting room filled with pregnant women. I’m well past that possibility and it hadn’t occurred to me that I might be in the company of so many mommies-in-waiting. Though I came in with a heavy heart, the women before me appeared to be worry-free as they conversed about their pregnancies and shared helpful tips with one another. I admit to smiling as I listened.

The joyful chatter which filled the room also filled me up. Rather than burying myself in the book I’d brought along, I prayed for these mothers-to-be, their mates and their babies. I requested uneventful deliveries which would result in happy and healthy newborns. I asked that the parents involved would welcome their children with love, calm, patience, wisdom and generosity. I ended my prayer with words of thanksgiving for blessings received. I wouldn’t have known what to request for these parents-to-be if I hadn’t been blessed with the same.

As the nurse escorted me to the examination room, it occurred to me that, beside the messes which have caused me so much worry as of late, there are also innumerable reasons for hope in this world and it was about time for me to focus on that hope.

Loving God, this world is filled with hope. Please open my eyes to every bit of it!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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

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