Our Difficult Endeavor

Often, doing the right thing is a difficult endeavor… Today, Luke’s gospel (12:49-53) tells us that Jesus made this quite clear. I admit that this passage had been among the most troubling and difficult for me to understand over the years. I prefer Jesus’ lessons regarding love and forgiveness, compassion and mercy. I treasure the image Jesus put forth of God as Abba, our dad who considers us all God’s children and God’s family. Yet, in this gospel, Jesus announced, “Do you think I have come to establish peace on this earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father…” I didn’t continue this quote because I’m certain you get the idea. Why, just a few weeks after teaching us to be true neighbors (Remember the Parable of the Good Samaritan?), did Jesus change course? It occurs to me that Jesus may have done this to prepare us for what certainly lies ahead. Perhaps Jesus hoped to offer us encouragement for those times when we’d have to proceed alone because even our loved ones fail to understand.

This past Thursday, we celebrated the Feast of Mary’s Assumption into Heaven, the last event of Mary’s life. Today’s gospel nudged my thoughts toward Mary’s lifetime. Before she left this life, Mary experienced years of uncertainly, anguish and even division among her loved ones while trying to do the right thing. This likely began when the angel invited Mary to become the mother of Jesus. Mary knew what the scriptures taught regarding the long-awaited messiah. Like her contemporaries, Mary didn’t expect that messiah to be born to a powerless and impoverished maiden. When you and I are faced with difficult choices or forced into relentless suffering, we can turn to two thousand years of Christianity for inspiration. We endure and we rise above our suffering because we’ve learned to do so from Mary’s own son. Unfortunately, poor Mary found herself in uncharted territory when that angel asked her to enter into an out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Seeking her parents’ understanding was quite a hurdle to overcome! What of her unsuspecting fiancé? What of her faithful fellow Jewish believers who might have seen this as cause to stone her? Still, in spite of the uncertainty, Mary followed her heart armed only with her faith in God’s presence at her side.

After Jesus’ birth, Joseph shared Mary’s faithfulness to God and to the child whom they would raise together. It was in their home that Jesus developed into the person who enriched human history with everlasting results. What wonderful examples this laborer father and peasant mother must have been! What difficult discussions they must have had beyond earshot of their son! Joseph and Mary nurtured Jesus within a family who seemed typical of those who inhabited Nazareth. Like neighboring couples, Mary and Joseph didn’t necessarily agree on every aspect of Jesus’ upbringing. Imagine the conversations which streamed through their work and leisure. Imagine the laughter and worry they shared at mealtime. Imagine the talks between Jesus and his mother and father before bedtime. Poor Mary and Joseph were certainly blessed by their child, but he also overwhelmed them. In the end, whatever occurred between these three has made all of the difference in this world to the rest of us.

While Mary survived Jesus’ childhood, she couldn’t have predicted what life after Joseph’s death would be like. Nor could she have imagined the triumphs and troubles which followed Jesus throughout his ministry. What did her neighbors say when Jesus left the widowed Mary to pursue his work? What did these friends say when they heard tidbits of Jesus’ teaching during the weeks, months and years that followed? Who warned Mary of the horror that threatened when Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time? Somehow, Mary was among the people who crowded the way as Jesus plodded along that path to Calvary. Somehow, Mary found her place at Jesus’ cross. As she stood helplessly beneath him, did Mary question her choices regarding Jesus’ upbringing? Did Mary mourn missed opportunities to urge he son in another direction? Did Mary question her faith in the seemingly faraway Abba who stood by through all of this? The mother in me can imagine nothing worse than standing at the foot of my son’s cross. Still, though Mary Magdalene, Joanna, John and others may others have attempted to usher Mary away for her safety, none succeeded. Mary had agreed to be Jesus’ mother and she held onto that title until the end. Yes, doing the right thing is a difficult endeavor.

Perhaps Jesus’ insisted that he’d come to divide us because he’d learned early on that even those closest to us don’t always understand the reasons we do what we do. Mary and Joseph set out to parent Jesus with no assurances. Jesus set out to do his Abba’s work with no assurances. The disciples who first heard this one-time laborer’s preaching followed without guarantees. The man born blind and Mary Magdalene opened their hearts to Jesus with no regard for what others thought. In the end, each one opted to do what he or she felt called to do just as Jesus had. This life can be harsh at times. Just as Jesus prepared us to bask in God’s love for us and our love for one another, he prepared us for the troubles we’d encounter along the way. When unrest and division occur as a result of our doing the right thing, Jesus assures us that the good that follows will outlast it all. Jesus proved this beyond a doubt, don’t you think?

©2019 Mary Penich-All Rights Reserved

A Time To Think and Then To Speak

A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to be silent, and a time to speak.

Ecclesiastes 3:7

There was a time when my mom said that there is always time to sew. She was a talented seamstress who sewed her own clothing throughout most of her life. My mom clothed her six children beautifully because she could transform the plainest fabric into the cutest outfits for us. She often fashioned our winter coats from adult coats which others had cast aside. Our mom made some of our wedding dressings and the bridesmaid gowns which accompanied them.

There was a time when I would say that there is always time to speak. My dad often asked, “Who put the nickel in you?” when I monopolized a conversation. My husband has noted on occasion, “What others can say in a sentence, you say in two paragraphs.”

Late in her life, my mom found sewing to be more tedious than creative. Her eyesight had diminished just enough to make threading a needle impossible. The arthritis in her hands added to the difficulty of that and many related tasks. So it was that she set her sewing machine aside.

Over time, I’ve found my words to be tedious on occasion as well. Though I haven’t set aside all of my words, I have tried to become more selective in using them.

Dear God, thank you for being with us as we attempt to make good use of all of your gifts.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Find The Courage

But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem,
do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.”

Luke 23:28

The Eighth Station: Jesus Meets The Women of Jerusalem

Once again, it was the women who approached Jesus. In spite of the soldiers’ threat, they stepped up to offer their tears on Jesus’ behalf. Jesus responded by consoling them. Jesus had embraced the road which lay before him. So it was that he encouraged the women to do the same. Jesus made no empty promises regarding the difficulties of life on this earth. What Jesus did offer was his example of persistence and his certainty in the things to come.

It isn’t easy for any of us to live as Jesus did. Though we may not be called to carry a wooden cross beam that is twice our size, we’re often called to do the right thing in difficult circumstances. Sometimes, our choices seem small in the grand scheme of things. Sometimes, our choices have far-reaching consequences. Always, what we choose to do makes a world of difference to us and to those we have been given to love both nearby and far away.

Today, I find courage in those brave women who approached Jesus. Today, I’ll respond as they did to everyone I meet along the way.

Loving God, you are with me in everything I do. Help me to be brave enough to behave accordingly.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Call to Love

Thus says the Lord God: I, too, will take from the crest of the cedar,
from its topmost branches tear off a tender shoot,
and plant it on a high and lofty mountain;
on the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it.
It shall put forth branches and bear fruit, and become a majestic cedar.

Ezekiel 17:22-24

After finalizing Father’s Day plans with our sons and daughters-in-law, I got offline with the hope of tending to some writing. Before opening my file, I glanced toward the window for a peek at summer’s greenery. Nature always inspires me and I expected this glimpse to be no exception. Much to my surprise, my gaze never made it to the huge blue spruce that rests just beyond the glass. A photo on the file cabinet in front of the window caught my attention first. There were our sons with their wives and our grandchildren. Mike and I couldn’t have smiled more broadly as we posed that day. When we’re surrounded by our family, we’re in the happiest of places. It occurred to me that Mike’s and my smiles in that photo might actually have competed with our grins the day we received the news that we were expecting our first baby. Though neither Mike nor I knew much about parenting at the time, we did know that this news was the start of the most important and exciting time of our lives. Over the years, we’ve used many other mostly positive adjectives to describe our stints as Dad and Mom. In the end, we wouldn’t trade these roles for anything. How grateful we are for this family of ours!

When I turned back to my keyboard to open that file, a photo on the bookcase next to me also caught my eye. There I saw the first family which gave me an appetite for the joy I’ve found in my own. This photo was taken when I was six years old. My siblings were fourteen, twelve, four, three and fifteen months. We’d posed in front of our house on Easter Sunday just two years before my dad passed away. I reminded myself of how fortunate I am to have memories of my dad. My youngest sister knows him only from pictures. The next youngest was only five years old when our dad passed away. Though her memories included only a few fleeting images of him, my sister observed more than once that our dad loved her very much. She assured us that this had to be the case because she’d felt the absence of that love ever since. My best “Daddy memory” is bath time. The four youngest of us played together in the tub for as long as our parents could tolerate it or until the water cooled a bit too much. Then, our mom quickly washed and rinsed each of us, usually in the order of our ages. One at a time, we ran across the bathroom floor from our mom to our dad, giggling all the while. Daddy dried us off and dressed us in our pajamas. The goal of all of this was to get us into bed before my dad left for his night shift at the railroad yard. I wondered when we realized that this scene would be repeated only a few more times…

My brother, my sisters and I each responded to the loss of our dad differently. Still, the pain of his absence remains a constant in our lives. This good man, husband and father impacted his family as no one else could have. When we’re touched with great happiness, we miss sharing the good news with him. When we find ourselves in turmoil, we long for the embrace of his caring arms. Sometimes, we simply want to share the mundane details of a boring day with him. Our dad is a very funny guy who would likely turn our monotonous moaning into an amusing anecdote, if only he could. Like my younger sister, I know that our dad loved each of us as best he could. Perhaps the greatest impact of his love for me is manifested in my relationships with my sons. Mike’s dad certainly did the same for him. From the time we knew they were on the way, we loved our sons. When each of them was born, Mike and I felt as though we’d known them forever. We spent every available minute with them. Though this sometimes required very efficient tweaking of our work schedules and adjusting or ignoring our social calendars, we gladly spent our time with our boys. After all, Mike is the only dad our sons will have and I am their only mom.

I cited the quote above from Ezekiel because God’s intent is precise in this message. God created something amazing in each one of us. Just as God took that tender shoot from a cedar tree and planted it in a place where it would flourish, God has planted you and me precisely where we are meant to be. Just as God provided the sun, rain and soil needed to nourish that tree, God does the same for you and me. All the while, God hopes that we will do the same for one another. If you question the value of your life, take it from this daughter that the eight years I shared with my dad meant everything to me. Every day that you have with those you have been given to love is equally valuable. With that, I wish the dads among us a very Happy Father’s Day! I wish the rest of us the grace we need to follow their leads and God’s by nurturing those we’ve been given to love as only we can.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Choice Is Ours

Last year, a dear friend relocated to Chicago. We both grew up in the city where I remained through college graduation. My more adventurous friend headed north to attend college in Minnesota. While I’ve lived in the area my entire life, he began a successful career here and then continued it out west and out east until retiring to our hometown. Kevin’s return has prompted a few reunions which indicate that our friendship remains intact. At the same time, we’ve discovered that though a good deal has changed over the years, some things never will.

When we met in junior high school, Kevin’s intelligence, quick wit and courage were immediately apparent to me. Though I look up to Kevin, other of our classmates towered over him. Still, he maintained his stature among our peers by using these characteristics flawlessly. Though these things assisted Kevin socially, they were even more helpful to others when the chips were down. Kevin managed to say just the right thing to defuse a fight, to defend a classmate or to set a teacher straight in the face of injustice. Throughout high school, when we all embraced the causes of the day, Kevin was more well-read, well-spoken and well-intentioned than most of the rest of us. In high school, I dated someone Kevin considered to be less-than-savory. He didn’t hesitate to share this opinion and to support it with clear evidence. Much to my dismay, he was correct in his assessment. In more important areas, especially the social injustices of our day, Kevin stepped up competently and whole-heartedly. When I questioned the wisdom of my own involvement in such interventions, Kevin’s enthusiasm removed my doubt.

These memories give me cause to consider Luke’s gospel in ways which escaped me in the past. One passage from Luke (12:49-53) had been among the most troubling and difficult for me to relate to over the years. I prefer Jesus’ lessons regarding love and forgiveness, compassion and mercy. I very much appreciate the image Jesus put forth of God as “Abba” or “Daddy” because we are all God’s children. Yet on the occasion chronicled in this passage, Jesus spoke of families and houses divided because of him and his message. As I consider why Jesus departed from his teaching on love to say he had come to divide us from those we love, I recall my own actions in the face of injustice.

When I was in high school, I worked at a nearby grocery store. All was well as I had a good manager who exhibited the work ethic he expected of his employees. I didn’t realize how fortunate I was to be in such a wholesome environment until our manager retired and was replaced by his polar opposite. My coworkers and I noticed the change almost immediately. A few were thrilled with this new opportunity to get away with as much as possible, while the rest of us were taken aback by the new status quo. Though the parent company provided pricing standards, items in our store were priced higher to increase profit. Though the police were to be called when shoplifters were caught, this manager forced perpetrators to empty their wallets and then sent them on their way. When we could no longer stand by and watch all of this, several of my co-workers and I made an appointment with the district manager. Though we saw no change as a result of our effort, that wayward manager eventually caused his own firing.

Jesus seemed out-of-character in this passage from Luke when he suggested that families be divided. Today, I see that division wasn’t Jesus’ goal. It’s up to all of us to discern Jesus’ meaning. In keeping with God’s unconditional love for us, Jesus certainly wished us to live as sisters and brothers who care for one another. However, in keeping with God’s gift of free will, Jesus acknowledged that our ability to choose God or to walk away from God will cause division among us. Jesus told his followers that they needed to make their choices and to be prepared for the discomfort and the division which might result.

My friend Kevin wasn’t always comfortable with what he felt he had to do. Still, he chose to do the right thing. That wayward manager’s choices were as difficult to live with as was our choice to report his behavior. The same is true for us all. Though the choices before us differ, the overall intent of those choices is the same. We can opt to live as God would have us live or we can opt out. The gospel’s message is clear. God loves us and we are free to choose whether or not to return that love. Either way, we’ll be divided from the ways of this world or from God.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Time To Think

A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to be silent, and a time to speak.

Ecclesiastes 3:7

There was a time when my mom said that there is always time to sew. She was a talented seamstress who sewed her own clothing most of her life. My mom clothed her six children beautifully because she could transform the plainest fabric into the cutest outfits for us. She often fashioned our winter coats from adult coats which others had cast aside. Our mom made some of our wedding dressings and the bridesmaid gowns which accompanied them.

There was a time when I would say that there is always time to speak. My dad often asked, “Who put the nickel in you?” when I monopolized a conversation. My husband has noted on occasion, “What others can say in a sentence, you say in two paragraphs.”

Late in her life, my mom found sewing to be more tedious than creative. Her eyesight had diminished just enough to make threading a needle impossible. The arthritis in her hands added to the difficulty of that and many related tasks. So it was that she set her sewing machine aside.

Over time, I have found my words to be tedious on occasion as well. Though I have not set aside all of my words, I have tried to become more selective in using them.

Dear God, thank you for being with us as we attempt to make good use of all of your gifts.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved