V… Vision

And the Spirit lifted me up and
brought me in a vision to the Spirit of God…

From Ezekiel 11:24 Ezekiel 11:24-25

V is for Vision. This reference has nothing to do with my ability to see the world around me. The vision to which I refer is that internal sense of direction which guides each of us when all else fails. Though I’ve weathered some difficult events and losses in my own life, these things pale in the shadow of the suffering which others endure. I cannot help being amazed as those around me cope with their circumstances. Though situation after situation promises only the most dire outcome, these suffering souls proceed and endure with hope and grace.

As I consider my own life, I know that each incidence of survival was transformed into triumph by God who remained deep within me. Though I could see no end to the suffering on the surface, I knew better days lay ahead. Somehow, I could see that all would be well in God’s time. Those who have shared their stories with me are absolutely convinced that they completed their journeys through suffering unscathed only because they remained focused upon God all the while.

V is for Vision, our vision of our ever-loving, ever-merciful and ever-caring God who walks with us through everything. Even when that vision is blurred a bit by our tears, God remains at our sides.

Loving God, thank you for remaining with us, even when we fail to open the eyes of our hearts to you. Enhance our vision that we may always see that you are here.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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

God’s Enduring Presence

If you read my daily posts with any regularity, you’ve likely discovered that I’ve been struggling with the terrible suffering which seems to have engulfed our world as of late. While I have absolutely no doubt that God is with us in all of this, I’ve been wrestling with how I can possibly improve things for those both near and far. Sunday morning, as I spoke with some fellow parishioners at my parish, I discovered that they, too, have been stressed with pain which seems too difficult to bear. Though I tried to find the words to offer some much-needed comfort, I don’t know that I succeeded. I went home determined to use this space to inspire us all with what we need to deal with whatever lies ahead. When I failed to type even a paragraph in this regard by Monday morning, I attended my parish’s 9:00 Mass on Labor Day in observance of the holiday and to pray very hard for inspiration.

After greeting the usual morning Mass crowd, I saw a familiar face across the gathering space. It was Father Charles! He occasionally stops in when he’s in town visiting family. Our priests always welcome him to join them at the altar and Father Charles always happily accepts. Though I’m not a regular at morning Mass, I met Father Charles some years ago when he joined our pastor at the altar. Afterward, we spoke a bit and discovered that we share a very dear friend. Father Bill O’Connell mentored each of us throughout our youth and as we explored our vocations. Father O’Connell also inadvertently introduced my husband and me. Every time I see Father Charles, I can’t help recalling Father O’Connell’s smile and the lifetime of wisdom he shared with me. Still, when I left Mass on Labor Day, I was convinced that I had nothing to share with you.

When my husband and I returned home after Mass, he headed outdoors to water flowers and I ran upstairs to my desk. On the way, I prayed aloud, “Please help me! I don’t know what to say!!!” Before returning to the few sentences I’d rejected Sunday night, I reopened today’s scripture passages. Though I was already convinced that they are rich with meaning, I told myself, “Maybe I’ve missed something…” I slowly reread every line of the selections from Ezekiel (35:7-9), Paul’s letter to the Romans (13:8-10) and Matthew’s Gospel (18:15-20). It was when I read the very last line of today’s gospel that I spoke aloud once again, “Thank you, Father Charles, thank you Father O’Connell and THANK YOU, DEAR GOD!”

Matthew tells us that, after telling his disciples how to deal with one another’s transgressions, Jesus reminded them, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” As soon as I read the line, an image of Father O’Connell after a rather contentious meeting came to mind. Father was extremely frustrated that he and a group of parishioners weren’t seeing eye-to-eye at the moment. Though he was usually a diplomatic leader, Father was extremely passionate, and correct as it turned out, regarding the topic of discussion and he wasn’t about to give in. His only comment was to quote the last line of today’s gospel with a minor and quite meaningful change: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there will be a fight!” Though Father was far from laughter that day, I laughed until I cried. I deleted what I’d already written on this page and began anew. Though Jesus’ observation concerning God’s presence among us is absolutely true, we humans have seen to it that Father O’Connell’s edited version is also true more often than it should be.

You know, loving one another is seriously difficult business, especially when we find ourselves in the midst of unhappiness, disappointment, suffering and loss. Though I’ve done my best to remind you and myself that God is with us in everything, I find myself as troubled as people with no faith at all when the misery of this world threatens to overwhelm us. Then, I remember Father O’Connell’s frustration after that painful meeting and the positive outcome which came after he calmed down, listened and then worked with his people toward a solution. Then, I remember Jesus’ promise that whenever two or three are gathered, God is with us as well.

Though we may argue with those around us or wrestle with ourselves deep within, when we calm down and listen, answers do come. While it is unlikely that God will use words, it is absolutely certain that God will use you and me to bring God’s loving presence to the needy souls around us and to ourselves. Though none of us can promise a miraculous cure, the overnight rebuilding of Houston, an end to poverty or a loved ones depression or this world’s conflicts, we can roll up our sleeves and do our best to bring love to the moment at hand. More often than not, we’ll manage to do something which makes a very important difference to someone in need and to ourselves.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Reluctant Kids

I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked man,
says the Lord, but rather in his conversion that he may live.

Ezekiel 33:11

I spent my entire teaching career with kids who had to worry about a lot more than which box of cereal to choose for breakfast. When I became a reading teacher, I pulled my reading students from other classrooms. Because I had no homeroom of my own to manage, I monitored the outdoors and school entrances at the open and close of every school day. It was during my morning patrols that I encountered those reluctant grade-school students who expected the worst from every new day in their classrooms.

The bad news is that these poor young souls had a variety of valid reasons for their daily trepidation. The good news is that they responded to our daily interactions with surprising openness. I learned a good deal about many of them as I coaxed them to the door. They shared things with me individually which their classroom teachers would never know. I shared advice with them which some eventually heeded enough to improve their days. I also put in a good word for these little lost souls whenever the opportunity arose. The best news in the world to me came in a teacher’s remark that one of my morning charges was making meaningful progress or had actually enjoyed a good day.

It seems to me that 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 my former 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.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

All Mighty Cedars

While waiting in line at the grocery store the other day, I watched as the young man at the opposite end of the counter bagged groceries. Having done that job myself throughout high school and college, I appreciated his careful approach. Before I realized what had happened, my thoughts returned to a similar scene from a few decades earlier. At the time, I had focused upon the young man bagging groceries because he looked familiar. When I made my way through the line, I realized that he was a former student. I had taught him at least ten years earlier in third grade. My heart leapt as I observed his precision while doing his job. I smiled at his professional appearance and demeanor. When he looked up from the task at hand, he greeted me without hesitation. “Mrs. Penich, hi! Do you remember me? I’m…” Before he could finish, I announced, “Of course I remember you, Joshua!” With that, this one-time nine-year-old went on to explain that he was working to save for college which would begin the following fall. He also thanked me for being such a great teacher– one whom he would never forget.

I left the grocery store with mixed emotions. You see, Joshua had been one of the students about whom I worried a great deal. He rarely obeyed our classroom rules and was one of the few students whom I sent to the principal’s office. On one such occasion, Joshua actually sassed the principal. I was shocked at the time because he was never disrespectful toward me. He simply didn’t listen. By the end of the year, I had elicited just enough work from Joshua to promote him to fourth grade. Still, when I handed Joshua his final report card, I wasn’t proud of his or my accomplishments. I felt that he was one of those students whom I simply couldn’t reach. When Joshua remarked that I was a great teacher, I felt extremely undeserving of this judgment. I was proud of who Joshua had become, but I also felt that I had done little to help in the process. I asked myself what Joshua could possibly have remembered from our year together…

As I read through today’s first reading, I realized that I had missed a very important element of my relationship with Joshua. It was certainly my responsibility to create an orderly classroom which supported my students’ learning. However, I could not control my students’ responses. Still, I tried. My charges’ parents had sent me the best child they had to offer that year. I taught, disciplined and interacted on many levels with this in mind. This is the reason that I hoped never to give up on any of my students. Though Joshua had challenged my resolve, he apparently didn’t prevent my efforts from taking root. Something else was at work within us both. Ezekiel (17:22-24) tells us, “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.” For some reason, the Lord God had planted Joshua in my classroom that year. For some reason, in spite of my seemingly ineffective efforts, God saw to it that Joshua became a majestic cedar in his own right, just as God had done for me. Though neither of us was aware at the time, Joshua and I had actually spent quite a productive year together.

It seems to me that God intends to make a majestic cedar of each of one of us. Just as God takes that tender shoot from the crest of the cedar tree and plants it on the mountaintop to flourish, God plants you and me precisely where we are meant to be. God knows well that our circumstances and those with whom we share them will sometimes test God’s loving resolve. Still, God persists just the same. God provides all of the sunshine, rain and nutrients we need to grow into mighty trees and God trusts that you and I will thrive as a result. It seems appropriate to return God’s generosity by offering the same care to one another.

If you question the value of your life, take it from this teacher who is also a daughter, sister, wife, mom, aunt, grandma and friend, that the time we share with others means the world to them and to us. Whether we have an hour, a day, a year or a lifetime with those we have been given to love, it is just enough time to do for one another what God intends. Just ask Joshua and his third grade teacher!

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved