Abba’s Children

I laughed half-heartedly as I looked over our June calendar. I’d already drawn a large X through a previously scheduled hair appointment and a meeting, a friend’s wedding day and our departure date for my niece’s wedding in Italy. Each of these events was cancelled several weeks ago in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As I considered what we would do to celebrate Father’s Day in some manner, I looked upward. How I wanted to fill that calendar with an extended family dinner or a trip to the zoo or a cookout! I admit that I looked upward with every intention of complaining. And so I began, “I get staying-in-place. I understand that we don’t want to spread the virus. I just want to see our kids and grandkids and I’d like to actually hug them! Seeing a friend or two would also be nice!” As soon as I reached that exclamation point, I turned away from the calendar and looked downward. I put on my shoes and went outdoors to our patio.

My husband-the-deacon should also be called my husband-the-gardener. He truly has a green thumb which allows him to select just the right combinations of flowers and greenery to bring our yard to life each year. Mike’s plants are his babies and he carefully nurtures each one until it reaches its most beautiful potential. We usually wait several weeks into summer for his pots and flowerbeds to grow into their lush best. This year, however, is different. A week after he’d completed his planting, everything he’d nestled into the soil began to blossom beyond expectation. Within another few weeks, every leaf and flower had grown into what seemed to be its seasonal best. When I told Mike how amazed I was at all of this, he simply shook his head. “I don’t know what’s happening,” he said, “but the flowers have never looked this good before July. Whatever the reason, I’m glad!” Mike’s handiwork is what beckoned me out to the patio to continue my conversation with God.

As I took in the beauty around me, I looked upward once again, this time with my apology. “I’m sorry. I know I have nothing to complain about. So many people are suffering. If it’s not the virus, it’s the worry. A lot of people haven’t been called back to work. Some never will be. Then there are the poor who are always poor. Nothing ever seems to get better for them. Then there are the nurses, the doctors and the EMTs. Have they actually had the chance to rest yet? Then there is George Floyd. The poor man had no idea that he’d lose his life while changing all of our lives that day. I’m so sorry, dear God. I have nothing to complain about…” With that, I walked around our entire front and back yards. I looked at every annual and perennial. My husband-the-gardener had planted each one precisely where he wanted it to be and he pruned those that needed it with care. Though Mike often asks me what I think about his planting choices, I defer to his judgment. As I said, he’s the one who knows his flowers…

By the time I walked back to the patio, tears were streaming down my face. I finally understood. Just as Mike had done with every one of his plants, God has done with me. Mike’s plants are his babies. We are God’s babies. Mike planted each one where it would flourish and bloom. God planted me where I will flourish and bloom. God has planted us all in the precise place where we will flourish and bloom. My husband-the-gardener has achieved amazing results with his plantings. Imagine what God-the-Gardener hopes to achieve in you and me!

With that, I turned my thoughts from my worry and disappointment to Father’s Day and to this reflection. My kids and I organized a worthy celebration for Mike after all. I made him a Father’s Day card to avoid an extra trip to the store. Then, I turned my attention to God-the-Gardener. As I type, I realize I should have written God-the-Daddy because this is the name Jesus gave us to address his Abba and ours. We are much more than flowers and greenery to God. The scriptures remind us that we are indeed Abba’s children.

In the first reading (Jeremiah 20:10-13), Jeremiah ends a fearful lament with this joyful realization: “The Lord is with me, like a mighty champion… who has rescued the life of the poor!” In the second reading (Romans 5:12-15), Paul tells us “…the grace of God… overflows for the many.” That many includes you and me. If we continue to doubt that we are God’s children, Jesus settles the matter in Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 10:26-33): “Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without Abba’s knowledge… So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” There you have it! Though we fail one another and fail ourselves more often than we care to admit, our Abba remains steadfast in loving us. In the midst of our troubles, our Abba never leaves us alone. It seems that, in spite of everything, Father’s Day is well-timed this year. What better time is there to acknowledge our dads who love us through everything and our Abba who does the same?

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always On My Mind…

From the day we heard about you,
we have not ceased praying for you…

From Colossians 1:9

I’m finalizing Father’s Day plans with my family. This sounds odd, I know, since planning any gathering is a skill we’re all relearning these days. Because my husband relishes his roles as “Dad” and “Grandpa”, we’re doing our best to ensure him a worthy celebration. In the midst of this, I clearly recall the day this all began…

After a years-long struggle to have children, my husband dreaded this doctor’s appointment. Those which preceded it had brought much disappointment. Because Doctor Wool was fully aware of this, he couldn’t refrain from smiling in the midst of my exam. “My God, you’re pregnant!” he announced. While, I giggled uncontrollably, he sent the nurse to the waiting room to get Mike. There was no reason to tell Mike anything as he’d already heard my response.

From that moment, we knew our baby. We had no idea of what he would look like or who this child would be. Still, we loved our precious offspring. On that day, I began to pray above all else that this child would be happy and that we would be worthy parents. When our baby arrived, he proved to be all we had hoped for and more. Still, I continued to pray for him.

The truth is that this is also my ritual regarding our second son, our daughters-in-law, our grandchildren and, of course, my husband. I do this for all whom I’ve been given to love. These days, I’ve added all of our world’s suffering to my list. Though I know this isn’t a necessary exercise because God wishes goodness for us all, I pray!

Loving God, be with us as we adjust to our new normal. Help all of your people to find happiness in their little corners of the world.

©2020 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

Abba Days

Our summer calendar seems to be filled beyond capacity! As a result, my husband, our children and I have juggled several family celebrations in an effort to allow all concerned to attend weddings, pool parties, swim meets and the many other events which have come with this busy summer. Part of this jockeying of dates included Father’s Day. To ease the pressure on all concerned, my patient husband suggested that we celebrate his Father’s Day this weekend. The rest of us breathed a grateful sigh of relief as we quickly agreed to this arrangement. With that, I turned my thoughts to the tasks at hand until I sat to begin this writing. I’d given little thought to Father’s Day until I selected Mike’s card and then turned to today’s scripture passages. Both ignited vivid images of three dads who’ve touched my life.

“Daddy” references my biological father. Time spent in his company was a precious commodity because the six of us children filled our flat and our parents’ days. My dad also worked nights which meant that moments alone with him were rare. When he passed away at age thirty-nine, I was eight years old. At the time, I knew Daddy had taken up residence in heaven with my grandfathers and uncle who had passed on not long before. My dad knelt with us often to assist us in praying these loved ones into heaven. He also assured us that these special people would be very happy. In the days before my dad’s passing, my family prayed him into heaven as well. In the end, I determined that he would also be just fine. Case closed.

Some years later, my mom married my step-father. He became “Daddy” as well. Twenty-five good years later, it became evident that he would leave us as well. Oddly, I found myself less comfortable with the circumstances than I had been when my dad died. I knew my step-dad was ready to move on. He’d became too tired and too weak to continue and my mom could no longer care for him at home. Both of their hearts broke over his potential move to a nursing home. When this seemed imminent, my second Daddy closed his eyes and stopped eating. I prayed diligently for his peaceful passing and a few weeks later, he was gone. Though alleluias echoed throughout my step-dad’s Mass of Resurrection, peace escaped me. While I had no doubt regarding my step-dad’s fate, I fretted about what might have been and the things which were not quite perfect. I also fretted about my mom. This time, there were no children for her to care for. This time, she would return to an empty apartment to go it alone. While my mom seemed to have assumed the faithful acceptance I had exhibited at age eight, I found myself quite anxious and afraid over what lay ahead for her.

Fortunately, I finally turned over my worry to third “Daddy” who graces my life. Jesus always chose his words carefully and when he taught us to pray, he invited us to call upon God as “Abba”. The little children of Jesus’ day and their present-day counterparts lovingly address their daddies as “Abba”. Jesus intentionally invited us to do the same. My certainty that our Abba cares for us allowed me the calm which enveloped me when my first daddy passed away. When I lost my second daddy, the worries of adulthood caused me to forget that, no matter what, I am always in Abba’s care. When I finally remembered this, I realized that my mom and the rest of us were in God’s hands after all. This is the reason I can’t resist revisiting my Father’s Day sentiments for this writing. Jesus made every day Abba’s Day and today’s scriptures invite us to do the same.

In the first reading (Jeremiah 20:10-13), Jeremiah ends a lengthy and fearful lament with this realization: “The Lord is with me, like a mighty champion… he has rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked!” In the second reading (Romans 5:12-15), Paul assures us that “…the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many.” If we continue to doubt that we bask is God’s loving care, Jesus settles the matter in today’s gospel (Matthew 10:26-33): “Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” There you have it! Though we may fail one another and fail ourselves in caring for those we’ve been given to love, our Abba remains steadfast in loving us through everything. Perhaps my family’s belated Father’s Day is well-timed after all. Every day really is Abba’s Day and it’s up to us to live accordingly with joy.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Come, Sit at My Table

My husband and I have just returned from a wedding rehearsal. I don’t usually attend the good deacon’s wedding rehearsals, but this one was different. Our dear friends’ daughter will marry her beloved tomorrow and Mike will officiate. Because we’ve known Morgan’s parents since long before they discovered she was on the way, I was also invited to enjoy the festivities. Now I’m familiar enough with these events to know that my husband usually begins by teasing those involved. He explains with his most serious voice that the most important reason for a wedding rehearsal is the rehearsal dinner. When Mike gathered the wedding party to begin, he did just that. I rolled my eyes in Mike’s direction to encourage him to get serious about this particular rehearsal. As is his custom in such circumstances, the good deacon ignored my prompt and proceeded as though I wasn’t there.

I have to admit that in this case Mike’s humor was well-placed. Many of those involved in the wedding had traveled from out-of-state. As a result, Morgan and husband-to-be Mike had to deal with the logistics of getting everyone in place happily and on-time. Just a few days earlier, the bride’s brother learned that the final interview for the job which would begin his career was scheduled a few hours before this rehearsal. Poor Mitch had to ace that interview and then negotiate the rush hour traffic to the church. In spite of the worry involved, the result of all of this was a very relaxed rehearsal with everyone present. In the end, all concerned left smiling with a good idea of what would occur the next day and Mike’s promise to provide signals throughout the ceremony as needed.

When we arrived at the restaurant, I had to acknowledge that the value Mike had given to wedding rehearsal dinners was well-placed. When Mitch’s phone rang just before we went inside, I looked upward and made a humble plea on his behalf. When Mitch’s worried expression morphed into a smile, I realized that the news was good. Mitch’s girlfriend Tess hugged him tightly in response. In addition to celebrating his sister’s wedding, Mitch would toast his new employer. The bride’s parents couldn’t believe their good fortune regarding both of their children. This gathering at table with loved ones would indeed be the highlight of the day.

With the wedding planning complete, the bride’s and groom’s parents relaxed and enjoyed their guests. The food was delicious and the meal served as a fitting backdrop to the festivities. Smiles and loving gazes filled the room as Morgan’s parents admired their lovely daughter and the young man who would soon become a permanent member of their family. I admit to observing the bride’s parents as they breathed another sigh of relief over their son’s new job! The groom’s parents shared the same experience as they observed their son, a fine and successful young man who has had the good fortune of falling in love with a terrific woman. On the way home, I apologized for my “eye rolling”. The good deacon’s seemingly flippant remark that the rehearsal dinner was far more important than the wedding rehearsal proved to be absolutely true this evening.

I share my rehearsal dinner adventure with you because it echoes all that we celebrate on this Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. Throughout his life, Jesus relished the opportunity to eat with those he loved. This practice likely began during Jesus’ childhood in Nazareth around the family table he shared with Mary and Joseph. The scriptures tell us that throughout his adulthood Jesus often ate with the people of the towns where his preaching took him. The scriptures also report that the temple authorities frequently criticized Jesus for keeping such close company with sinners, especially at their dinner tables. The scribes and Pharisees were so distracted by “the rules” that they failed to appreciate what Jesus was doing. Jesus gave us himself not only at the Last Supper, but also during every shared meal and every shared moment of his life among us.

The Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ falls on Father’s Day this year. Fathers and their families everywhere will gather at all sorts of tables to share meals. If all goes well, the joy found will echo my rehearsal dinner experience. If all goes well, that joy will result in all of our deeper appreciation of those we’ve been given to love. If all goes well, each of these gatherings will reveal a glimpse of the gift Jesus offers in the Eucharist, the gifts to be found in one another and the gift of God’s presence in every moment of our lives.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Prayer for Happiness

From the day we heard about you,
we do not cease praying for you…

From Colossians 1:9

I’m finalizing Father’s Day plans with our family. My husband relishes his roles as “Dad” and “Grandpa” and we’re doing our best to ensure him a worthy celebration. All of this has put me into nostalgia mode. I clearly recall the day my husband found out he would be a dad…

After a years-long struggle to have children, poor Mike feared this doctor’s appointment. Those which preceded it had brought much disappointment. Doctor Wool was fully aware of this which is the reason he couldn’t refrain from smiling in the midst of my exam. “By God, you’re pregnant!” he announced. While, I giggled uncontrollably, he sent the nurse to the waiting room to get Mike. There was no reason to tell Mike anything as he’d heard my giggle.

From that moment, we knew our baby. We had no idea of what he or she would look like or who this child would be. Still, we loved our precious offspring. On that day, I began to pray above all else that this child would be happy and that we would be worthy parents. When our baby arrived, he proved to be all we had hoped for and more. Still, I continued to pray for him.

The truth is that this is my ritual regarding our second son, their wives, our grandchildren and, of course, my husband. I do this for all whom I’ve been given to love. These days, I’ve added all or our world’s suffering to my list. After all, if people were happier the world would be far more peaceful. And, I’m certain God wishes happiness for us all.

Loving God, bless us all with happy hearts!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved