Special in God’s Eyes

This Labor Day weekend, my thoughts turn to all of the children and teachers who recently embraced the new school year. While I always welcomed summer vacation when my husband-the-principal and I-the-teacher regrouped as a family with our own kids, every August, I looked forward to the new school year as well. Of course, I also looked forward to Labor Day which granted all concerned a four-day school week! The other day, Mike shared a Facebook post with me from one of our former students. As I considered the amazing dad and husband he’s become, I offered a prayer for him and all of the great kids I’d met along the way. It was then that one of my own first day of school adventures came to mind. A favorite student wasn’t at all looking forward to the new school year or Labor Day…

On the first day each year, teachers flank school grounds long before the children arrive. Some of the children might have been unfamiliar with the environment while others might have needed a reminder that order would prevail. So it was that my fellow teachers and I stood ready to greet the new year’s students. Eventually, most of the children made their way into the building like an army of ants charging a picnic. Some approached with confidence. They were returning students who’d done well the prior year. They knew where to line up and what to expect. Their backpacks bulged with supplies in anticipation of whatever their new teachers might ask of them. Others arrived hand-in-hand with an adult companion. These grown-up escorts offered a bit of reassurance in an effort to prevent tears which would otherwise have flowed freely. For some who reluctantly inched toward school, tears flowed regardless of the company. The onset of the new year frightened them beyond their abilities to cope. These poor children always expected the worst.

The children I worried about most that first morning of the school year were those who lingered on the periphery of things. They feared crossing the threshold into the school and into the new year and they hid wherever they could. The year before, these children had attended school every day and worked hard at their assignments. They did their homework, but too often found it to be too hard. Without help, they too often failed the most important subjects. I vividly recalled their avoidance behaviors. One stood behind a tree. Another squatted low, hiding next to a dumpster. Still another perched himself high above the playground at the top of the slide. Gym-shoe clad feet betrayed the girl lurking behind a teacher’s van. The last one I eyed had started to walk home. He’d refused to endure failure once again.

Because I was a reading teacher, I didn’t have a class of my own to usher into the building. I was charged with gathering these elusive procrastinators. That year, after retrieving my young friends from their various hiding places, I bolted after the young man who was headed home. Jonah was a sixth grader who felt he’d had a rough year last time around. I knew him because Jonah had been one of my reading students. Jonah had made excellent progress in reading. His pre-test and post-test scores heralded the two-plus years’ growth he’d achieved. Jonah had moved from second to fourth grade reading level. Unfortunately, Jonah still performed two years below his new grade level. I shared the frustration which must have eaten away at him. His peers who were reading at grade level skated by with only six or eight months’ growth and that was enough for them. I understood why Jonah questioned his still being behind when his growth was greater than that of most of the other students.

With all of this in mind, I followed Jonah down the walk. Luckily, Jonah’s good nature impelled him to stop. Had he noticed that my heels made it impossible for me to chase him? His eyes told me that he almost welcomed my company. “Jonah,” I asked, “Where are you going? What will I do if you’re not in school today?” Jonah sniffed and tears followed. “I can’t do that stuff. I hate school. I’m stupid and I ain’t going in there!” Trying to keep my own tears in check, I reminded Jonah, “You learned two years’ worth of reading last year. If you do that again, you’ll be right where you’re supposed to be.” Jonah wiped his eyes and smiled just a bit. “That’s why I got that certificate, huh? My mom put it on her bedroom mirror.” I quickly asked, “She liked it?” Jonah smiled as I walked him to the door. “We both like it,” Jonah admitted. With that, Jonah skipped to his classroom, ready to try once again. With that, I prayed once again: “Thank you, Lord, for helping me to convince Jonah of just how special he is.” Jonah had given meaning to that day and to every day that I was privileged to work with him.

Today, at the close of Luke’s gospel (14:1, 7-14), Jesus says, “…when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” I admit that Jesus’ promise is above and beyond anything I can hope for today because Jonah repaid me a thousand-fold for simply doing my job that year. So it is that I celebrate Labor Day 2019 with a prayer for you and me…

Loving God, help us never to overlook the treasure to be found in those whom this world considers to be castaways. Like Jesus, help us to see that it is through our association with these favored ones that we witness your greatest work and that we best emulate your loving and welcoming heart.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Little Change

“These works that I perform testify on my behalf
that God has sent me.”

From John 5:36

I reluctantly admit to my childhood impatience with the behavior of Jesus’ contemporaries. Because it was so obvious to me at age ten or eleven that Jesus’ lessons, parables and works had to have come from a loving God, I wondered why it was so difficult for the Pharisees to accept them. They knew that all of Israel awaited the Messiah. Foreign astrologers who recognized the sign in the night sky over their own country traveled to faraway Jerusalem in search of Jesus. It seemed to me that, in spite of everything, the Pharisees and many others should have known better than to reject Jesus.

Sadly, I acknowledge that times haven’t changed much. Though we see all that Jesus accomplished from his humble state, we work to accumulate riches. Though we see that Jesus needed no worldly authority to serve us, we vie for power just the same. Though Jesus sought the company of outcasts, we prefer those of higher stature regardless of the condition of their character. Though Jesus set aside his own concerns whenever he was needed, we take care of our own needs first. Though Jesus sought out time for prayer at every opportunity, we complain when our worship service seems dull or a homily lasts too long.

Though times haven’t changed much, there is still time for me to change for the better. There’s still time for all of us to change for the better.

Good and Patient God, I continue to allow my human frailties to keep me from nurturing my better self. Please help me to change me and the ways of this world so they reflect you a bit more accurately.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

From Mundane To Holy

He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them…
and Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.

From Luke 2:51-52

On this second day of New Year 2019, I wonder if I’ll actually have success with my New Year’s resolutions. Our Christmas Tree will stand for only a few more days and I sense the ebb of the Christmas Spirit around me. The joy of the First Christmas faded just as quickly, perhaps more so. After all, Mary and Joseph had a baby in tow for the long trek home from Bethlehem. There, life would fall into some level of normalcy and they would be left on their own to raise God’s son, much as we are left on our own to do what we do. Of course, God watches over us all the while.

Our ordinary days are as important for us as they were for Jesus. You know, the best of this life can be found in the simplest human experiences. Perhaps picking up playthings and helping to clear the table predisposed Jesus to becoming a responsible adult. Perhaps this willingness to cooperate helped young Jesus to notice when another was in need. Perhaps being thanked by his parents taught Jesus to be grateful when others were kind to him. Perhaps there were times when the Holy Family did without things in order to share with others. Perhaps these choices taught Jesus the generosity characteristic of his encounters with others in adulthood. Perhaps the seemingly mundane things you and I do for others are making an impression as well.

Dear God, help us all to transform the mundane into the holy, one good deed at a time.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Simply Holy

He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them…
and Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and the people.

From Luke 2:51-52

On this second day of New Year 2018, I hope to have success with my New Year’s resolutions. As I noted yesterday, the most important of these is to remember that every day, indeed, every moment of every day, offers the opportunity to begin anew.

With that in mind, I must acknowledge that I sense the fading of Christmas Spirit around me. The joy of the First Christmas faded just as quickly, I know. After all, poor Mary and Joseph had a baby in tow for the long trek home from Bethlehem. There, life would fall into some level of normalcy and they would be left on their own to raise God’s son, much as we are left on our own to do what we do. This means, of course, that God watches over us all the while.

Our ordinary days are as important for us as they were for Jesus. You know, the best of this life can be found in the simplest human experiences. Perhaps picking up playthings and helping to clear the table predisposed Jesus to becoming a responsible adult. Perhaps this willingness to cooperate helped young Jesus to notice when another was in need. Perhaps being thanked by his parents taught Jesus to be grateful when others were kind to him. Perhaps there were times when the Holy Family did without things in order to share with others. Perhaps these choices taught Jesus the generosity characteristic of his encounters with the suffering in adulthood. Perhaps the seemingly mundane things you and I do for others are making an impression as well.

Dear God, help us to transform our simple lives into holy lives, one good deed at a time.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Mundane and Holy

He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them…
and Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.

From Luke 2:51-52

On this second day of New Year 2016, I ask myself if I will actually have success with my New Year’s resolutions. Though our Christmas Tree will stand for a few more days, I sense the ebb of the Christmas Spirit around me. The joy of the First Christmas faded just as quickly, perhaps more so. After all, Mary and Joseph had a baby in tow for the long trek home from Bethlehem. There, life would fall into some level of normalcy and they would be left on their own to raise God’s son, much as we are left on our own to do what we do. This means, of course, that God watches over us all the while.

Our ordinary days are as important for us as they were for Jesus. You know, the best of this life can be found in the simplest human experiences. Perhaps picking up playthings and helping to clear the table predisposed Jesus to becoming a responsible adult. Perhaps this willingness to cooperate helped young Jesus to notice when another was in need. Perhaps being thanked by his parents taught Jesus to be grateful when others were kind to him. Perhaps there were times when the Holy Family did without things in order to share with others. Perhaps these choices taught Jesus the generosity characteristic of his encounters with others in adulthood. Perhaps the seemingly mundane things you and I do for others are making an impression as well.

Dear God, help us all to transform the mundane into the holy, one good deed at a time.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved