A Glimmer of God’s Goodness

Wherever we are, we are the light of God’s goodness.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta

The young woman bagging my groceries listened and watched. When she heard me tell the cashier that I had a case of Snapple in my cart, she eased the cart forward. Then, she gently placed each bag into the cart, being certain that nothing was damaged in the process. After I paid for my groceries, the young woman asked if I needed help outside. Though I normally pride myself in being able to load up the car myself, I needed help that due to a very sore back.

As we walked to my car, the young woman said, “I’m sorry about your back. Did the doctor look at it?” I shared the saga of my morning exercise routine and my week-long failure to adhere to it. “My goodness!” she said as she placed the groceries into my car. “Well, you get back on schedule and do what you’re supposed to do. You’ll be just fine. When I say my prayers, I’ll pray for you. I’m going to pray right now on my way back to work.” Before turning away, that sweet young woman offered me her most encouraging smile.

Yes, I smiled as well. The truth is that I smiled all the way home. This harbinger of good cheer is one of the “special” young adults employed by our local grocer. Though she is allegedly developmentally challenged, this young woman is in no way challenged when it comes to bringing light to others. Her promise to pray for me is one of the most unexpected and welcome blessings I’ve ever received!

Dear God, thank you for those who light our way with their kindness.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Encourage One Another

Love your neighbor…
From Matthew 22:39

I ran into a former colleague who recently retired. Like I had, she spent her entire teaching career with kids who had far more to worry about than which box of cereal to choose for breakfast. We were both reading teachers whose students came to us from other classrooms. Because we had no homerooms, we monitored the outdoors and school entrances at the open and close of every school day. It was during these morning patrols that we encountered some reluctant grade-school students who expected the worst from every new day in their classrooms.

As my friend and I reminisced, we agreed that our former students had a variety of valid reasons for their daily trepidation. The good news is that they responded to our frequent interactions with surprising openness. My friend and I learned a good deal about these children as we coaxed them to the door. They shared things with us one-to-one which their classroom teachers would never know. We often shared advice with them which some eventually heeded enough to improve their days. We also put in a good word for these little lost souls whenever the opportunity arose. My friend and I also agreed that the best news in the world came in a teacher’s remark that one of our before-school friends was making meaningful progress or had actually enjoyed a good day.

From time to time we all encounter people who are reluctant to embrace the new day. Perhaps our willingness to listen or a word of encouragement will nudge them on their way. If they’re anything like those reluctant students, it’s worth a try.

Loving God, be with those who struggle today and give the rest of us the wisdom and generosity to encourage them along their way, just as you would.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Did You Notice?

I’d just driven onto our block when I noticed our friend half-running down the sidewalk behind her dog. I would write that Cindy was walking Duke, but the truth is that Duke was walking her. I couldn’t help smiling because Duke was behaving exactly like my husband’s and my first and only dog. Now our friend Cindy is quite athletic and perfectly capable of managing that large Labrador Retriever. It was the end of their walk and they were headed home. I’m certain that by that time Cindy had allowed Duke the luxury of running ahead of her. As for Mike’s and my dog, though he was half the size of Duke, he managed to lead us everywhere. Our difficulties with Ernie began during the drive home from the pet shop. That sweet little cocker-beagle-poodle-terrier mix refused to stay put. He repeatedly crawled out of the box he was to occupy all the way home.

Mike and I were married only ten months when we met Ernie. We were both teachers who managed our students quite well. Unfortunately, we didn’t do the same for our dog. Ernie failed doggie kindergarten because his owners failed to practice commands and reward his successes with any consistency. Did I mention that we thought everything Ernie did was cute? Eventually, our poor dog was saved by a good friend who told us that we were terrible parents! She generously took Ernie for a single afternoon and taught him everything he needed to know. She taught his owners a few things as well. In the end, Ernie wasn’t a prefect dog, but he was far more well-behaved than Mike and I deserved him to be.

During our fourteen years with Ernie, he taught us far more than we taught him. More importantly, we didn’t make the same mistakes with our sons that we did with our pet. This is likely because we honed our parenting skills while dealing with our dog. Yet, in spite of sacrificing himself for our kids, Ernie loved us unconditionally and seemed content to be part of our family. Ernie’s greatest attribute was his ability to notice just about everything around him. Ernie knew the mail carrier would arrive shortly though he or she wasn’t on our block yet. Ernie growled quietly long before I noticed a stranger approaching. He also paced in anticipation of Mike’s arrival even before the garage door opened. Ernie always sensed when a crying baby had woken me once too often on a given night. As I sat nursing my little son, Ernie nuzzled at my feet. “You’re not alone,” he seemed to say. When the extended family visited, Ernie made a beeline to my stepdad the first time they met. How did Ernie know that Bill was a dog-lover? When Mike’s father passed away, did Ernie sense Mike’s sadness? He climbed onto the couch next to my dear husband seemingly because he somehow knew Mike needed him. When Mike was away for a late night meeting or out of town at a conference, Ernie plopped himself on the floor on my side of the bed to assure me that he was keeping watch. Sometimes, Ernie attended to the details of this life far more carefully than I did.

In today’s gospel (Luke 16:19-31), Luke shares Jesus’ story of a rich man who missed a bit too much of what transpired around him. This man spent his time and his wealth quite freely on himself. He gorged himself on spectacular food and drink while failing to notice Lazarus who lay dying on his doorstep. The rich man was so taken with the luxuries which surrounded him that he didn’t notice the many other people who might have graced his life, especially those in need. Sadly, only the neighborhood dogs noticed Lazarus. Only they stopped to tend to their suffering neighbor and to lick his wounds. Did Ernie’s canine counterparts somehow know that Lazarus might have recovered if he’d been given the scraps from his rich neighbor’s table? Jesus went on to share that both men eventually passed away and entered into eternal life. Lazarus rested contentedly in the embrace of Abraham, while the rich man wallowed in pain and was desperate with thirst. When the rich man begged Abraham to send Lazarus to him with a few drops of water, Abraham couldn’t comply. Lazarus couldn’t enter the netherworld and the rich man couldn’t enter heaven. The point of Jesus’ story was that if the rich man had noticed his suffering neighbor life would have been much better for both of them. If only the rich man had noticed! He would have found his way to Abraham’s embrace.

I admit that Ernie drove me crazy much of the time. However, I also admit that Ernie comforted Mike and me far more. That little dog showed us that a well-timed nuzzle, sufficient food, a safe place to lay his head and the encouraging love of those who cared for him were all he needed. All that any of us need to be happy is the same. Once again, we’re invited to take notice of the people we’ve been given to love and to care for them as only we can.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Small Stuff Matters…

“For the one who is least among all of you
is the one who is greatest.”

From Luke 9:48

A recent walk around a nearby lake reminded me of just how small I am. This particular lake offers only a tiny beach area. The remainder of its circumference is lined with very tall trees and dense foliage. The greenery is interrupted only by a narrow path just wide enough for two. As I walked, I felt like a tiny ant in the grand scheme of things. Though the lot where I left my car was actually only a block away, I felt lost in the forest around me.

I feel very small at other times as well. In spite of my best efforts, it seems that I can’t do much to solve the problems of this world. Wars continue to be fought. Poverty continues in full force. Political interests overpower the good of the many and on it goes. I ask myself if there is anything I can do to make an important difference.

It is in the midst of this lament that I recall Jesus’ words regarding our need to become children once again. Little girls and boys don’t over-think things. (Remember when I mentioned little Christian’s kindness to Conner the other day?) Children simply observe the situation at hand and they respond accordingly. It occurs to me that I do my best work when I follow their lead. I do have the capacity to change the world. It is through my seemingly insignificant efforts that I bring peace, sustenance and justice to one soul at a time.

Dear God, the small things we do for one another make a world of difference after all. Thank you!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Little Acts… Great Love…

Every day we are called to do small things with great love.
Mother Teresa

Sometimes, the smallest kindness changes the world.

It was the first day of school. Two eight-year-olds made their way to the start of the new year. The problem was that Conner, who was anxious to begin the new year just an hour earlier, had lost his nerve and he began to cry. Conner’s autism amplified his fear. Little Christian noticed his schoolmate’s misery. Without delay, he took Conner by the hand. Together, these two new friends made their way into what now would become an amazing first day of school for them both.

Christian’s mom had her phone along when she took her son to school that morning. She likely hoped to capture a photo of him on his first day of second grade. She never suspected that she’d also capture her son offering a measure of kindness powerful enough to change another child’s world. Christian’s small gesture changed my world as well!

Every day, we witness countless acts of love, tiny heroic moments which change lives. Every minute we’re given holds an opportunity to make or to break one another’s spirits and our own. Whenever we choose love over anger, love over impatience, love in spite of our weariness and love in the midst of heartbreak, we do our greatest work. Whenever we take advantage of the tiniest opportunity to do good, we change this world for the better.

Loving God, thank you for making use of everything we do, especially our small, seemingly unimportant efforts. Even these tiny acts make this world a better place.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We Can Do It!

The Pharisees came forward and began to argue with Jesus.
They were looking for some heavenly sign from him as a test.

Mark 8:11

It’s never been easy for me to stand by and watch the suffering of those around me. Whether they are my own family members, dear friends, a street person or children brutalized half a world away, I find it impossible to accept that there is nothing I can do to help. It is in the midst of this frustration that I become like the Pharisees of old. They badgered Jesus for signs from above to legitimize his preaching. I find myself groaning as they did: “If only you would show yourself to those in power, they’d do something to fix this mess!” I realize that repairing this world is a multi-leveled task. It seems to me that a change of heart among the higher-ups and the rest of us would certainly help.

After behaving like a Pharisee and demanding God’s intervention, God remains in the quiet of my heart. God needs not to utter a single word because I already know the solution. God leaves it to each one of us to do the best we can as we see it. Whether we are a higher-up or one of the rest of us, each of us is charged with the responsibility to do the best we can to fix things. Each of us is also given the free will to opt in or to opt out of caring for others. God’s assistance comes from within our hearts and in the example of people of good will who urge us to bring love and peace to the moment at hand. Every time we respond, we will transform this world one loving act at a time.

Patient God, forgive my impatience with others and with You. Help me and all of us to do what we can to love those we have been given to love, here and everywhere.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved