Care and Be Cared For

Give to the one who asks of you,
and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.”

Matthew 5:42

Sometimes, it seems that those around us have read the gospel above and have decided to push us to fulfill Jesus’ words to the nth degree. Though we often feel great sympathy for those in need, we sometimes find ourselves overwhelmed by the numerous demands on our time and our resources.

It is when I’m overwhelmed in this way that someone always manages to come along to minister to me. Though my busyness and limited resources are the results of my own choices, this makes no difference to the kind soul who comes to my aid. He or she simply says just the right thing or spends just enough time listening to ease me through the moment’s rough spot. I always walk away from these encounters feeling replenished and revived, fully capable of responding to the next person who needs me. I can only hope that my benefactor is repaid in kind down the road.

Could this be what Jesus had in mind all along? Could it be that we are meant to care for one another and to be cared for by one another until we make it home? There, God will take over the loving and caring. What more can we ask for?

Thank you for caring for us, O God, and for sharing this skill with us. Help us to care for one another as only we can.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Plan Generously

“…go, sell what you have and give to the poor,
and you will have treasure in heaven.”

From Matthew 19:21

I learned about the poor early on. Though my own family could be counted among the working poor, my mom often assured us that there were far needier people in the world. So it was that I took encounters with those needy ones to heart…

Throughout college, I traveled from the West Side to the far northeast of Chicago. I attended Mundelein College located next door to Loyola University. Loyola’s beloved Sister Jean taught me there. That hour commute required a bus ride and then subsequent transfers to the Lake and Howard Street trains.

One January day, a woman wearing only a clear plastic raincoat over her clothing rode with me. She carried two bags which looked more like her belongings than the fruits of a shopping spree. Though the woman didn’t ask, I felt compelled to give her my jacket. At the time, this jacket was my only coat. I was paying my own way through college and really couldn’t afford to replace it. Still… While I closed my eyes to ask for guidance, the train stopped and my raincoat-clad friend stepped off. I felt terribly guilty about this missed opportunity until I shared it with a friend. “You did receive guidance from above.” he said. “The woman got off the train and you kept the coat you needed. God took care of you and God will inspire someone to take care of her.”

I puzzled over this for some time. I also gave to the poor whenever I could. When I graduated and acquired a job, I began to budget for my giving. Finally, there was no question regarding what I could and couldn’t afford. Giving became part of the plan.

Generous God, sometimes, the easiest way to live as you would have us live is to plan. Thank you for taking care of me and the woman in the raincoat.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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

Important Work

“Go home to your family and make it clear to them
all that God has done for you.”

From Mark 5:19

While growing up, I had visions of grandeur regarding what I would do with my life. I wanted to solve the problems of the world. I wanted to end wars. I wanted to fight against prejudice and injustice. I wanted to end poverty. I wanted to work with special needs children. I wanted to become a nurse. I wanted to teach…

When things began to fall into place, the path before me became less cluttered. I learned to value the seemingly mundane vocations that in reality make all of the difference in the world. A good person who deals fairly and kindly with those around her brings peace to our world. Generous couples who allow their love to spill over onto to those around them bring love to the world. Parents who nurture their children with their time and attention bring hope to this world. Caring for those we have been given to love -both near an afar- is the most important work we can do.

Though it’s taken me a lifetime, I finally get it!

Loving and Generous God, sometimes I wonder if I’m doing my loved ones or this world any good. Thank you for the precious moments with them which dispel my doubt.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

So Well Taken Care Of…

What you own belongs to the Lord
and is given for the good of all.

Leviticus 25:23

When I was a little girl, I didn’t realize how little we had. In many ways, this was a very good thing. I was rich with family and others in my life who supplied me with everything that I actually needed. It was in high school that I questioned my circumstances. Many of my classmates went shopping with their mothers on a regular basis. They also went out for lunch or dinner just for the fun of it. These girls dressed in the latest clothing as well. I suddenly found myself feeling that I had somehow missed out on something important.

At age sixteen, I secured my first job. This opportunity provided the means for me to pay for my college education and minimal “extras” beforehand. Early into this venture, I set aside a few dollars from each paycheck until I had enough money to go shopping for myself. While I enjoyed selecting my own clothing, my joy was short-lived. I found the prices of some items I liked to be prohibitive. I also found a new appreciation for my parents’ ingenuity in managing to feed and clothe their six children on blue-collar incomes. In the process, I discovered that I hadn’t been deprived of anything that I actually needed after all.

Loving God, you gift us with all that we truly need. Thank you!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Rich In God’s Eyes

Some months after Marie passed away, her daughters sorted through her things. They’d allowed their mourning to ease a bit before dealing with this daunting task. The day they gathered, they lovingly and practically decided what to keep, what to pass on to Marie’s grandchildren and what to give away. All the while, these sisters shared many laughs and shed lots of tears over the memories which surfaced as they worked. An item that drew their attention spoke to one of Marie’s lifelong interests. It was a framed needlepoint rendering of a gray-haired woman sitting next to a mound of assorted fabric. Next to the woman, someone had meticulously stitched, “She who dies with the most fabric wins.” One of Marie’s daughters had gifted her mom with this artwork because Marie purchased fabric whenever it was offered at a good price. Marie’s walk-in closet was literally filled with the stuff when she left her condo for the last time.

Now Marie wasn’t a compulsive buyer. She always purchased fabric with a project in mind. When her daughters were growing up, Marie fashioned most of their clothes and her own. She also upholstered furniture, sewed drapes and did alterations for various family members. Among Marie’s favorite projects were the bridesmaids dresses she fashioned for her daughters’ weddings and the items she sewed for veterans confined to area VA Hospitals. Marie made lap blankets to warm the vets who spent their days in wheelchairs. She made neck pillows for those who were bedridden. She made ditty bags in which all of them could store their personal items for safekeeping. Marie never let anything go to waste. Years after her daughters’ weddings, Marie recycled those old bridesmaid dresses by using their fabric for these same items for women vets. Marie made good use of everything fabric-related. A few years before she passed away, Marie’s hands began to ache with arthritis. When she found that she could clothe herself with purchased items as inexpensively as with what she made for herself, Marie limited her sewing to items for the veterans. Marie determined that she’d use her stockpile in service of those most in need. Though she left her condo with that full closet, she’d actually used most of the fabric she’d collected over the years. Her daughters were quite certain that she had a plan in mind for every leftover bit of it.

Interestingly enough, though sewing was a huge part of Marie’s life, she moved on to other things after she left her condo. Marie concentrated on the new business at hand. She’d taken up residence with one of her daughters and her focus became being a good house-guest. It was Marie’s goal to cause as little disruption as possible in the lives of all concerned. Her sons-in-law agreed that Marie was easy to have around. When Marie was diagnosed with cancer, her life’s work changed once again. Marie’s new goal became to live the life she had left to the fullest just as she always had. All the while, her generosity continued to be evident. Marie enjoyed daily activities in her hospice setting, was a good patient when she needed care, provided upbeat company to her fellow residents, held onto her dignity at all costs and assured her daughters that she was absolutely fine. After four months, Marie left this world peacefully.

In his gospel (Luke 12:13-21), Luke shares Jesus’ parable of the rich man. This fellow seemed to believe, “Whoever dies with the most stuff wins.” Jesus told his friends, “There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’ And he said, ‘This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, ‘Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!’ But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’ Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.’” The poor rich man didn’t understand the blessing that wealth of any sort is meant to be. He busied himself with building up storehouses of his own treasure rather than using what he had to enrich those God had given him to love. Poor rich man that he was, he didn’t enjoy loving others as much as he enjoyed loving himself. Poor rich man that he was, he didn’t understand at all the things that truly matter and the things that should have mattered to him.

Through everything that she said and did, Marie gave new meaning to her daughter’s needlepoint gift. Marie’s efforts echoed the message Jesus shared with his disciples that day. She who dies with the most fabric does win when she does as Marie did. Whether sticking to her meager budget by sewing for herself, clothing her children or making things for her vets, Marie used her wealth of talent well. Even that leftover stockpile served others after Marie’s passing because her daughters saw to it. It seems to me that the moral of the story is this: Whether we’ve been blessed with the ability to sew or to listen, with a kind heart, a healthy stock portfolio, patience or… you get the idea. God asks only that we take as good care of others as we do of ourselves with what we have. The truth is that I learned this firsthand. I’m the one who purchased that little needlepoint artwork. Marie is my mom.

©2019 Mary Penich-All Rights Reserved