The Hero Among Us

My dear husband and I had been overwhelmed by the tasks at hand for weeks. Then, Mike contracted the flu which evolved into bronchitis and an ear infection. I was medicated for preventative purposes. Still, I managed to catch a cold of my own. In a last-ditch effort to feel healthy again, we retreated to the north for a few days. We’d hoped to leave those pesky contagions behind and to breathe in some fresh Wisconsin air. As it happened, we did relax for most of those three days away. While Mike alternated between watching reruns and napping, I sought refuge in a thick worn paperback which has been with me since sophomore year of college. While Mike snoozed in the recliner across from me, I nuzzled into the corner of the couch. I didn’t turn to the beginning of my book because I didn’t have the time. Rather, I thumbed through hundreds of pages until I came to the section most familiar to me near the end of that book. I looked carefully until I found the passage I needed to read for this writing. Before I began, I turned my eyes and my thoughts heavenward. Though this would be a difficult interlude with the written word, it would also be a source of great peace for me if only I persisted…

A few paragraphs into the narrative, a chill ran down my spine. The passage I poured over hit a little too close to home. Without warning, difficult memories from my own life resurfaced. I looked away from the page to take a deep breath. Still, the tears flowed freely. This story’s hero is near and dear to me and I wasn’t ready to acknowledge that he approached the end of his life. He had maintained a positive and tough exterior while I lamented. I found him tying up loose ends in an attempt to leave those he loved with the best of his wisdom. Though his tone was hopeful, my hero suffered within. Worry regarding the path ahead threatened to shake his faith. His closest companions failed to sense this. When a few began to take notice, the events at hand distracted them from their concern. I had no doubt that my hero’s friends would be completely overwhelmed as the plot continued to unfold.

As I read on through those final pages with my hero, my own trials and tribulations resurfaced. I suppose this occurred because I identify with his story on many levels. He and I seem to approach the things that are most important to us in the same away. He loved his family just as I love my own. He was devoted to his parents whose most poignant lessons came through example rather than words. My parents taught me with their actions as well. My hero was very much at home in his faith because his parents introduced him to God when he was just a baby. My parents did the same. My hero lost his father early on, yet he grew into a devoted son who made his mother proud. Though my dad’s untimely death caused him to miss most of my childhood, I managed to make my mom proud once or twice as well. When those around him faced difficulties, this hero who seems more like a friend consistently stepped up to help. Though I often fail, I really do try to do the same.

When I turned back to my dog-eared text, I was struck by my hero’s persistence in the face of the worst this life had to offer him. Though he occasionally withdrew to regroup and to replenish his soul, he never abandoned his mission. Indeed, he returned every time more convinced than ever that he was walking the right path. I read on to find my hero as he left a holiday dinner. He had bared his soul to his friends regarding his love for them and he’d offered a final gesture of his devotion to each one. When he rose from their dinner table, my hero wondered if any of his friends had grasped his meaning. It was with a heavy heart that he led them out into the night. He left them to rest in a garden and then moved on to an isolated patch to consider what hours ahead would bring. He always turned to his dad on such occasions and that night is no exception. “Abba,” he prayed, “if you are willing, take this cup away from me…” Fear overwhelmed him and he sweated droplets of blood. Still, he turned to his father once again to add, “still, not my will but yours be done.”

With that, I set aside my tattered bible and closed the page on Luke’s passion account (Luke 22:14-23:56). As calamities from my own life flooded my memory, Jesus’ words filled my heart. I realized that I’d survived these things because I’d followed Jesus’ lead with absolute confidence. Every time, I had turned to the parent Jesus and I share, and, every time, God had accompanied me through what lay ahead. Every single time!

This Palm Sunday, as we listen to Jesus’ story, we acknowledge all that Jesus said and did. In Jesus’ life, we find the strength to endure. In his passion and death, we find the hope that urges us on. Jesus never promised that our lives will be easy, but Jesus did promise often that we will never be alone in our efforts. Today and throughout this Holy Week, we celebrate this hero who has shown us the way to live with courage, to die with hope and to rise into the reality of the resurrection which awaits us all.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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For Me?

The one who sent me is with me.
God has not left me alone…

John 8:29

I’ve been a little frustrated over being needed a bit too often as of late. This past Sunday morning, I set out for church with a weary heart. Indeed, I felt completely overwhelmed. As I drove, I decided to listen to a favorite CD which always lifts my spirits. When I attempted to sing along, I found that an irritated throat left me without my voice. “Great,” I moaned.

I like to sing. I can lift myself out of the dumps with just a line or two of the right song. When I arrived at church, I checked the music selections for that morning’s Mass. I quickly discovered that I didn’t know most of the hymns which we’d sing that day. Though my raspy throat kept me from joining in aloud, I was frustrated over not being able to mentally sing along. Much to my surprise, someone sat nearby who has a wonderful voice. With every new song, this fellow seemed to be singing just for me. Though I know this impression is inaccurate, this gentleman’s singing lifted me up just the same.

As Lent 2019 continues to unfold, I’ll listen carefully for those unexpected lyrics of encouragement which God sends for me in so many creative ways. At the same time, I’ll try to do this for those who rely upon me. Hopefully, I will let them know somehow that I’m singing, listening or simply being there just for them.

Loving God, Jesus couldn’t help stopping for the needy souls he met along the way. Help me to do the same.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Unappreciated Treasure

“When you lift me up,
then you will realize that I AM.”

From John 8:27

There is an adage which addresses our frequent failure to realize what we have until we lose it. At one time or another, we all experience this type of loss when it is too late. I remember how eagerly I awaited the start of high school, only to find that I missed the comfort of my junior high school friends when I got there. I was thrilled to change schools during my teaching career until the first day I walked into the teachers’ lounge and realized that I didn’t know a soul. Though our only dog drove me nuts most of the time, I missed Ernie terribly when he died.

Like the Pharisees who rejected Jesus, my list of lost and unappreciated treasures is far too long. Fortunately for me, one precious gift remains a constant in my life. I was born to parents of faith who relied on God in good times and in bad. My mom and dad shared their faith with me quite tangibly. As a result, my faith is a constant in my life, part and parcel of everything I do. When I lose something I should have appreciated more, I find great consolation in knowing that God will never do the same regarding me. Though I sometimes forsake God’s gifts, God will never ever forsake me.

Dear God, open my eyes to the treasures around me, especially to the people you have given me to love. Help me to appreciate these treasures and to share them and myself generously.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Answer That Call

Fill us at daybreak with your kindness…
From Psalm 90:14 1:38

I can’t remember being this busy! The phone has rung once too often with today’s allotment of roto-calls. Then there were the legitimate callers who needed something which only I could provide. I’m truly humbled that others depend upon me. Today, however, I wished to be depended upon just a bit less. I’m tired. I received two books as gifts which await my perusal and my own book needs to be written. Just a minute. There goes my phone again!

This time, I’m grateful for the call. Our grandsons needs a sitter. Of course, my husband and I are available. Of course, we’ll stay as long as needed. Of course, we’ll enjoy every minute we spend with Danny and Ben.

As I look to my calendar to clear the day, I notice the little bust of Charlie Brown which Danny’s and Ben’s dad sculpted in elementary school. The signature and date scrawled on its bottom indicate that Tim fashioned this replica of my favorite Peanuts character when he was 9 years old. I treasure it because of Charlie Brown’s endearing message to me. Though Charlie Brown’s outlook can sometimes be more dismal than I’d like, he always manages to pull himself together and to do his best no matter what. Though Charlie Brown doesn’t initially appreciate the fruits of his labor, in the end, his efforts always prove to be worthwhile.

My responses to those earlier phone calls and to many of this life’s demands didn’t emulate Charlie Brown’s efforts as much as they should have. It was that request for Grandpa’s and my services which adjusted my focus. You know, it truly is an amazing blessing to be needed! The next time the phone rings, I’ll answer with Charlie Brown’s enthusiasm and his good will.

Dear God, help me to respond with love whenever I’m needed, regardless of when I receive the call.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

2019… A Year of ???

Only three days of Year 2018 remained when I looked up from my keyboard to discover large flakes of snow falling just beyond the window. I smiled broadly. Because we’d enjoyed spring-like temperatures for a while, this snow took me completely by surprise. Though I noted that there was no accumulation, those flitting flakes were enough to brighten my mood. In spite of the mid-afternoon hour that Friday, I decided to set aside this writing and to run a few errands. Unlike the commuters who’d soon be headed home, I wanted to enjoy the white stuff firsthand. As it happened, the snow fell only ten minutes into my travels. Still, much to my good fortune, that ten-minute interlude was enough to maintain my joyful mood and to fortify me for the long lines which greeted me at each of the stores I visited. Though I waited for twenty-five minutes in one line, I hummed happily all the while. Who would have thought that a bit of snow and running errands would be so uplifting?

While driving home, I was gifted with another surprise. I’d tuned in to the news in spite of the fact that it might darken my mood. In the midst of stock reports and the world and national news, a familiar voice shared an amazing human-interest tidbit. Though this snippet lasted less than a minute, it remained with me all the way home and as I made my way back to my keyboard. With New Year’s Eve and New Year 2019 just 72 hours away, this report focused on New Year’s resolutions. The news anchor explained that one resolution in particular had made an unexpected impact throughout 2018. Apparently, someone had decided to make New Year 2018 the Year of Love. A young woman had resolved to use social media to do this. She’d planned to write a post every day which described someone who meant something special to her. She’d even titled her effort #Year of Love. When asked about her success, the woman shared that it wasn’t difficult to find people to write about. Every day, someone graced her life. She added that 2018 hadn’t provided enough days for her to acknowledge all of the people who’d touched her with their love. As a result, she’s decided to continue these daily acknowledgements throughout New Year 2019. As Ms. Year of Love went on to describe the remarkably varied people she’d featured, I began to recount my own treasure in this regard. I also began to consider how I might make 2019 my own year of something…

Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. The scriptures tell us that Jesus was about thirty years of age when he spent forty days alone in the desert to consider what lay ahead for him. In spite of encounters with evil during what Jesus hoped would be a reflective interlude, Jesus chose to embrace the path ahead as best he could. Luke’s gospel (Luke 3:15-16, 21-22) tells us that the people were certainly ready for someone to grace their lives. Many wondered if John the Baptizer might be the messiah for whom they waited. John responded by assuring the crowds that one far greater than he was coming. When Jesus approached John for baptism, poor John did as Jesus asked in spite of feeling completely unworthy to do so. Perhaps to reassure both men and the rest of us, God declared from above, “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased.” After that day, a relieved John continued his preaching. With every word, John pointed his followers in Jesus’ direction while Jesus embraced his mission as only he could. If social media had been available, perhaps Jesus would have dubbed his effort Life of Love.

As I’ve written often, I repeat that there was nothing easy about Jesus’ life among us. Still, Jesus persisted in using his very human circumstances to reveal God’s love and God’s faith in each one of us. Though he was given thirty-three years, Jesus used only the last three to teach and to preach. Until then, he’d invested himself in his life at home with Mary and Joseph, in the neighborhood with this neighbors and in working as an itinerant mason and an itinerant rabbi. It was in those places that Jesus came to fully appreciate those he’d been given to love. When Jesus invested himself in others, Jesus also invested himself in spreading God’s love. Long before Jesus asked John to baptize him, Jesus had made Life of Love his way of doing things. No wonder God was so pleased!

I’m most grateful for the bit of snow which distracted me from this writing and for that well-timed report about the woman who transformed 2018 through her #Year of Love efforts. Most of all, I’m grateful for that much-needed reminder to refine my own plans for New Year 2019. When I consider my too-frequent surrenders to the darkness around me this past year, something –no Someone– urges me to make Year of Joy this year’s effort. If ten minutes of snow succeeded in cheering me up and that twenty-five minute wait in line failed to elicit a groan, finding the joy around me seems doable. Like Jesus, I need to do this as only I can. The truth is that we’re all called to do what only we can throughout these lives of ours. Whatever we choose to be our new year efforts, God asks only that we stick to them as only we can. After all, like Jesus, each one of us is God’s beloved child!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Bring Joy… Find Joy!

That is my joy, and it is complete.
John 3:29-30

A recent conversation with a friend who was once a nun unearthed memories of my own aspirations in that regard. Though my friend found that a different calling better suited her, she continues to treasure the years she spent with her “sisters”. From the time I realized who the nuns and sisters were, I wanted to join them as well. When discussing this with my mom, she often responded that she would be thrilled if one of her five daughters did just that.

As it happened, I spent a lot of time with the nuns over the years including an entire summer during college. Still, I never did become one of them. Oddly, it was during that very summer that the nuns encouraged me to accept a date with the young man who eventually became my husband. Who would have known?

In spite of my marital state, my desire to emulate the good sisters’ service ethic has remained with me. Fortunately, my husband shares a similar perspective. For all of our married life, we’ve been service-oriented. Like my friend and the other nuns whom Mike and I encountered along the way, we’ve found amazing and unexpected ways to be of help to those we’ve met along the way.

The moral of the story? Find a way to do something for someone. Though it may not seem like fun at the onset, whatever you do will bring you joy!

Dear God, you never cease to surprise us with opportunities. Help each of us to respond generously to your heartfelt invitation to care for one another.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved