Choose Carefully

A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to be silent, and a time to speak.

Ecclesiastes 3:7

My mom always made time to sew regardless of how busy she was. She was a talented seamstress who sewed her own clothing from high school throughout most of her life. She clothed her children beautifully because she could transform the plainest fabric into the cutest outfits for us. She often fashioned our winter coats from adult coats which others had cast aside. Our mom fashioned some of our wedding dressings and the bridesmaid gowns which accompanied them.

There was a time when I always found time to speak. This prompted my dad to ask, “Who put the nickel in you?” This also prompted my husband to note more than once, “What others can say in a sentence, you say in two paragraphs.”

Late in her life, my mom found sewing to be more tedious than creative. Her eyesight had diminished just enough to make threading a needle impossible. The arthritis in her hands added to the difficulty. So it was that she set aside her sewing machine.

On occasion, I’ve found my words to be tedious as well. Though I haven’t set aside all of them, I am more selective regarding which words to use and when.

Dear God, being good stewards of our gifts requires that we make the best use of them. Once again, I ask for guidance.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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D… Depth, Yours and Mine

When cares abound within me,
your comfort gladdens my soul.”

Psalm 94:19

D is for Depth. Though I don’t use this word often enough in my writing, it is of great importance to me. I think you would agree that we all do our best work when we study the task before us inside and out. We go beneath the surface of appearances to be certain that we understand before we proceed.

Throughout my teaching career and my volunteer endeavors, I met the challenges of my students and those who needed me best when I took the time to explore beneath the surface with them. Many things simply aren’t what they seem to be.

Of all of life’s gifts, I think I appreciate most the understanding of another soul. What a gift it is when someone delves beneath the surface to discover what actually makes me tick! What a gift it is when I care enough to allow another to share the depths of his or her spirit with me! When we appreciate the value of depth, our lives become exponentially fuller.

Dear God, you reside within the depths of each one of us. Help us to find you within one another.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

C… Creation and All of Its Wonder

Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice;
let the sea and what fills it resound;
let the plains be joyful and all that is in them!
Then shall all the trees of the forest exult before the Lord.

Psalm 96:11-12

C is for Creation. When life is going well, I’m drawn outdoors to share my good fortune with nature. When I’m troubled in great ways or small, nature’s order and beauty beckon me with a promise of peace and better things to come. I can’t take in the tiniest of this earth’s treasures without also taking in the treasure of God’s loving care for me.

In my neck of the woods, December brought an onslaught of snow. As January approached, most of the white stuff melted away to expose lingering green lawns. This taste of spring is short-lived as January promises to be generous with the white stuff. Odd as it may be, I find any snowfall to be miraculous. The beauty I find in that glistening white blanket lifts me up in spite of all of the shoveling that will follow. There’s something about snow which transforms the sorrow of any moment into joy.

As I continue this alphabet into New Year 2017, I cannot ignore the gift of Creation. It is there that I find God’s wonder in its purest form. If Nature is so wonderfully fashioned, how much more so are you and I?

Dear God, help me to discover your creative beauty within those you have given me to love and within myself.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Gifts of Love

This is Christmas Day. In my parish church, our new Nativity scene, a forest of lighted trees and a garden of beautiful poinsettias set the scene. I couldn’t ask for a more beautiful place to celebrate Christmas. Things were a little different three weeks ago when our parish family immersed itself in Gift Weekend. The sanctuary was filled with packages and gift bags of every size and color. Our statue of Mary was lost behind that mountain of generosity. Rather than the folding chairs which provide extra seating, the gathering space was filled with an assortment of bicycles. As that weekend unfolded, I found myself wiping away tears multiple times. I pictured my fellow parishioners shopping with gift tags for those in need in hand. I also imagined this Christmas Day when hundreds of men and women, teens and toddlers will open those gifts with great excitement and appreciation. When I left church that day, my heart was filled with at least as much love as our church building had been. When I arrived at home, I decided I was in the perfect mindset to prepare this Christmas reflection.

As I pondered the miracle of this holy day, I couldn’t shake the images of those gifts and the smiling people who would welcome them. Suddenly, a little boy I met many years ago came to mind. Isaac was an expert regarding matters of the heart and his capacity to love was second to few. Just like my parish’s efforts on Gift Weekend, and throughout the year for that matter, it seemed to me that his generous gesture many Christmases ago captured the spirit and the love with which God touched this earth on the first Christmas Day…

Isaac was one of my students because he needed a little direction in developing his reading skills. On our way to and from my classroom each day, we had the opportunity to talk. It isn’t often that children have an adult to themselves and my students took full advantage of the situation. Isaac was no exception. I knew the latest regarding his mother’s lengthy disabling illness and his father’s efforts to care for her and the children. I knew about his older brother’s return from the military for an early Christmas visit and that Isaac read from a little prayer-book every night. The last day of school before winter break, Isaac shared something very special which remains with me today.

I’d purchased a small Christmas gift for each of my students. When I retrieved them for their lessons, I asked that they bring their book bags along so they could put away their gifts and forget about them until they arrived at home after school. When I gave Isaac the package with his name on it, his eyes became saucers. He examined the wrapping and the card addressed to him. “Can I put this under my Christmas Tree?” he asked. I told him that he could do whatever he and his mom and dad wanted him to do. It was his gift, after all. Now when Isaac came to school every day, he arrived clean, having had breakfast, and ready to do his best, though in the same shirt and slacks for the week. Isaac didn’t enjoy the luxuries we sometimes take for granted. Still, his family was rich in love. When Isaac opened his book bag to store his gift, he said, “I have something for you. I have a gift for you.”

Isaac took me completely by surprise. His dad was among the working poor and certainly couldn’t afford gifts for his children’s teachers. I finally understood when Isaac reached into his bag and pulled out a green two-headed dragon. I told Isaac that it was a great dragon, but that I would be very happy just knowing that he enjoyed playing with it. Still, Isaac persisted. “I was going to trade it for Poke’mon, but I want you to have it instead.” At the time, anything Poke’mon was a valued commodity. Isaac had planned to trade his dragon for one of his classmate’s coveted collectibles. He abandoned this plan to show his reading teacher how much he cared for her. When I finally composed myself, I asked Isaac if his mom or dad would mind that he left the toy with me. “Oh, no, Mrs. P. They would want me to give it to you. It’s for Christmas.” With that, Isaac and I made a prominent place on my bookshelf for that dragon. Afterward, I told Isaac that he could take the dragon home anytime he wanted to. “Are you taking your present back?” he asked. “Never,” I told him. Isaac responded, “Neither am I.” I kept that two-headed dragon for more than a decade. After Isaac had been promoted from eighth grade and graduated high school, I gave it to another little boy who needed a taste of the love which filled Isaac’s heart.

God touched this world with selfless love two thousand Christmases ago. Jesus spent thirty-three years showing us how to share that love. Isaac’s parents paid attention and they passed on what they learned to their son. Isaac paid attention and he passed on what he learned to me. Today, we pay attention as well. Now, it is up to us to pass on what we’ve learned as we tend lovingly to those we meet along the way.

Merry Christmas!

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Blankets For Everyone

When the poor one called out, the Lord heard,
and from all his distress he save him.

Psalm 34:7

Every year, my husband begins our Christmas Tree decorating by trimming its trunk and securing it in its stand. For a day or two afterward, I string the lights and hang ornaments. While I work, my husband contemplates the tree’s lowest branches and the area beneath the tree. With great care, Mike plans the village which will fill that space. I offer meager assistance by unpacking numerous little houses, tiny trees and our crèche. I admit that I delay a bit as I unpack the stable and figures which will be the focal point of our little town of Bethlehem. Though I love the little structures which resemble the buildings of Jesus’ day, I pour over the tiny figures far longer.

I fully expect them to answer when I ask what they were feeling back then. Though I can imagine what Mary and Joseph might say, I puzzle over the baby. “How aware where you that day? Were you planning out your life with that first cry in the night or where you simply protesting the cold? ‘Where’s my blanket?’ you might have cried.” In the midst of my musing, the Baby who rests in our tiny stable seems to ask that I leave him to his rest. He sends me off to bring blankets to those who need them far more than he.

As I reflect on the miracle of God Among Us, I also consider who needs a blanket to ease his cold or to comfort her aching soul. That Bethlehem Baby seems insistent that it is up to me to do what I can.

Loving God, your invitation to love and care for one another sets the tone of this season and of every new day. Help me to respond as you would.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We Share Our Hay

Say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!
…They will meet with joy and gladness,
sorrow and mourning will flee.

From Isaiah 35:4-10

A recent trip to Target brought me back to my classroom where I joined my students in counting the days to Christmas vacation. Most of the children found nothing better than freedom from school schedules and homework. A mother in the toy aisle who seemed to be struggling with her Christmas budget brought to mind those children who dreaded Christmas vacation. They found comfort in the structure of our classroom where the expected almost always came to fruition. Their school lunch was often the best of their meals and our simple class parties were the best of their Christmases. More sadly, the lack of material treasures in their lives paled in the shadow of their lack of security. The adults around them, heavily burdened with their own troubles, didn’t have the luxury of detecting the hopelessness growing in their children’s eyes.

My thoughts wander to a child of long ago. While Joseph searched for a place where Mary could give birth, Mary focused upon the child within. When they finally settled among the livestock that night, perhaps Joseph arranged the hay in that manger while Mary labored. Though it wasn’t much, that warm hay provided the best bed Mary and Joseph could offer Jesus that night. Perhaps the best we can do for those in need around us is to provide them with our own variety of hay. Though it may not be much, our best is always enough to those in need and to God.

God of love, help me to comfort those who need you most with my own variety of hay.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved