Love’s Difference

We can do no great things, only small things with great love.
St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta

My husband and I rearranged our wall of family photos to make space for our new grandson’s picture. The pictures include our sons as toddlers, college graduates and grooms. As I considered the little boys-turned-men, I wondered how it happened that my older son became a husband and the father of three little girls. I went on to wonder how his younger brother also became a husband who now is the dad of two little boys.

As I perused the family photos further, my eyes rested on my husband’s and my parents who have all passed away. Wasn’t it just last week when they celebrated the kids’ birthdays with us? My momentary grief morphed into a chuckle as I gazed at our sons’ wedding photos which include their dad and me. It occurred to me that he and I are well past the ages our parents were on our wedding day. “How did that happen?” I wonder further.

As I consider these familial milestones, the significance of every moment of our lives becomes crystal clear. Both the good and the bad from our pasts made possible each of the photos on our wall. Though the future is filled with uncharted waters, my response to every moment will contribute to the happiness which lies ahead. Most importantly, I realize the value of the present moment –God’s greatest gift to each one of us– which requires my undivided attention and my love. The events of my life, both great and small, will be shaped by the love I bring to each one.

Loving God, help me always to remember the value of the opportunity at hand and the difference my love can make.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Patience… With Others and Ourselves

When one finds a worthy woman, her value is beyond pearls…
She brings good, not evil all the days of her life.

From Proverbs 31:10-13

Though I’m probably more patient than most, this isn’t necessarily true when I’m tired. When I’ve overextended, I become edgy and critical. Little things which I usually let go become heavy burdens. Though I don’t verbally express my displeasure with the situation at hand, my face betrays me.

Recently, a friend emailed my husband to inquire about me. He wrote that I looked distressed at church which prompted him to check on me. When Mike shared our friend’s observation with me, I thought back to that morning. Our friend had attended the last Mass of the day. I’d attended the 7:30 Mass and then stayed to assist at our parish welcome desk for the remainder of the morning. By the end of the second Mass, I felt my fatigue. By the start of the third Mass, that fatigue overwhelmed me. When our friend waved on his way into church, I smiled half-heartedly. I was cleaning up crayons and pencils and replacing chairs that had been strewn about. I’m certain I was silently wishing that people had returned what they’d used to its proper place. I’d done similar tidying up two hours earlier with a genuine smile and without complaint.

I asked my husband to tell our friend that all was well and that I was simply tired. I asked myself to be as patient with me as I usually am with others. When I’m tired, I must do what I’d tell others to do: Go home and get some rest. If I listen to my advice, I’ll likely eliminate those half-hearted interactions which aren’t helpful to anyone.

Patient God, thank you for these well-placed reminders to be patient with myself and with those you have given me to love.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

S is for…

Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am pleased…

From Isaiah 42:1

S is for Service. When I was a little girl, I was usually the first to raise my hand when a teacher asked for assistance. At home, though I disliked my own chores, I happily volunteered when my mom requested help with a non-mandatory task. I jumped at the opportunity to do something for her especially after my dad passed away. Young as I was, I quickly discovered that, of all of the joy I’d experienced, the best of it was the result of being of service to someone.

Our lives are filled with opportunities to serve. I’ve been a spouse, parent, teacher, colleague, daughter to an elderly mom and sister to dying siblings, an ear for a troubled soul and an all-purpose volunteer. I’ve rescued a wayward can of soup that rolled out of a fellow shopper’s bag and a twenty-dollar bill that fell out of another’s wallet. I’ve even extinguished the burning hair of a wedding guest who stood a bit too close to a lighted candle. Your list of everyday and life-time service would fill a space much larger than this. Whenever we respond to those God has given us to love, we serve.

The joy that resulted from my helpful efforts as a child has remained with me. Though it’s nice to be thanked on occasion, the joy comes either way. Perhaps this is God’s way of assuring us that God is indeed pleased with us and all that we do!

Thank you, Good and Gracious God, for giving us loving and caring hearts like your own.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

K is for…

People who are well do not need a doctor;
sick people do. I did not come to heal the righteous,
but the lowly.

Mark 2:17

K is for Kindness. Unexpected kindness is the greatest variety of this virtue. When I’m not at my best, a bit of TLC can salvage a given moment for all concerned. I became a recipient of random kindnesses early on in my life. Whenever I woke my mom in the middle of the night with a childhood woe, she responded with patience. She consoled me, walked me to my room and tucked me into my bed with a second good-night kiss. Thoughtful teachers responded to my occasional transgressions with understanding rather than anger. Their mercy encouraged me to be my best. When life became more complicated through my teens and into adulthood, I responded far more positively to a kind word than to a less-than-civil reprimand. The good news in all of this is that I took these lessons in kindness to heart. When I became a teacher and a parent, I found that my students and my own children responded best when kindness set the tone of our interactions.

You know, it’s easy to extend kindness to the people we like and to those who offer us the same courtesy. Unfortunately, those whose names aren’t on our “A List” likely need our kindness more than anyone else. Kindness offered indiscriminately changes lives and this world in amazing ways.

Gracious God, thank you for giving us the capacity to respond to one another with kindness. Inspire us to do so, especially when it is most difficult and most needed.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Rejoice! Be Glad! Respond!

Alleluia! Rejoice and be glad! Today, we are more aware than ever of God’s unending love for us. The events of the first Easter plant seeds of unshakable hope in the hearts of all who have heard Jesus’ name. If we take nothing else from Jesus’ final days, we must at least begin to appreciate the joy which awaits us. Jesus suffered the worst our earthly existence has to offer, yet he endured. When Jesus breathed his last on that wooden cross, he opened his eyes once again to life with his Father. Today, Jesus continues to rejoice in the fruits of his thirty-three years among us. After we persevere through the seemingly tragic events of our lives, we will do as Jesus does. I write “Alleluia!” and “Rejoice and be glad!” because, when Jesus rose from the dead, he illustrated as precisely as possible all that awaits you and me.

This year, I began my Lenten Journey one month early. In mid-January, I returned to Israel for a second visit. This unexpected opportunity allowed me to delve a bit more deeply into the story behind the Holy Land’s now-familiar sites. This time, I felt very much at home in Nazareth and Magdala, at the Sea of Galilee, in Capernaum and Jerusalem. This time, I moved beyond my awe regarding these places to being completely rapt by Jesus himself. You know, Jesus literally made all of the difference in the world to humankind. Through his life among us, Jesus changed everything. As our guide shared the scriptures and his own archaeological and historical perspectives regarding Jesus’ time among us, I felt I had finally begun to understand. I began this reflection with an invitation to rejoice and be glad. It occurs to me that Jesus calls us to take one step further. Jesus asks that we rejoice and be glad and that we respond to his loving presence in our lives.

Whether we revisit Jesus’ time among us in the holy Land, in the scriptures or in the quiet of our hearts, we find innumerable examples of Jesus’ unconditional love. We also find that those whom Jesus touched responded in remarkable ways. Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well became extraordinary when she responded by accepting Jesus’ presence in her life. She was so taken with Jesus that she ran off to tell anyone who would listen of their encounter. When Jesus cured the man born blind, the man responded with deep gratitude and then shared his good fortune with all who would listen as well. He told not only his neighbors, but also the priests in the temple. While the priests responded by expelling the now-sighted man from his place of worship, the man left filled with absolute faith in God who had gifted him with new life. In every case, those Jesus healed responded by embracing their second chances with Jesus at their sides. Though he was crucified just three years into his ministry, Jesus remained with those he was given to love until they joined him in eternity.

Today, the love which brought peace to the woman at the well is extended to us. The love which gave sight to the man born blind invites us to see with new eyes as well. The love which transformed their lives is ours today. All that God asks on this Feast of Jesus’ Resurrection is that we rejoice and be glad and that we respond by welcoming God into our lives. Though we may not have invested ourselves in failed relationships and we may not suffer from physical blindness, we have all suffered in our own way. Whether physical maladies afflict us or our loved ones, their pain and the toll they take are very real. Though our physical vision may need only a tweak, we have all been blinded by our attitudes and our emotions, our desires and our regret. We have all failed to see God’s love for us at one time or another because our suffering has clouded our perspective. These are the times when God is most insistent that we look to the cross and remember that Jesus would have endured it all for any one of us.

In Jerusalem, I peered into the tomb which biblical scholars, historians and archeologists believe to be the burial site of Jesus. As I stared into the darkness, I imagined Mary Magdalene peering into this place on the first Easter morning. Though she didn’t yet realize that she had reason to rejoice and be glad, she had certainly responded to Jesus’ presence in her life. Nothing would have kept Mary from going to the tomb that morning to minister to the one who had changed her life forever. Today, we rejoice and are glad with Mary and the rest. Just as they did, we’ve come to understand and to celebrate because the life which comes after this life is worth all of our effort. Today, Jesus and all of those who have gone before us invite us to respond to this amazing news.

This is Easter Sunday and today we begin our own quests to live with the Risen Jesus at our sides. Today, we rejoice and we are truly glad! But, most of all, we respond wholeheartedly because Jesus remains with us through whatever will come our way today and always.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

My Tangible Prayer

All who touched him got well.
From Mark 6:56

Lent 2018 will begin in ten days. Every year, I try to set aside these forty days much the way a couple sets aside time for a getaway together. If my husband and I are astute enough to retreat and to nurture, and sometimes recapture, our love for each other, it makes sense to do the same in our relationships with God. The time I spent in Israel has intensified my need in this regard.

I walked the roads and byways where Jesus taught. I peered into a home in the tiny town of Nazareth which certainly housed Jesus’ neighbors. Had Joseph and Mary and he visited there? I stepped into the ruins of the synagogue where Jesus and Mary Magdalene prayed. Did they meet there or on one of the excavated streets nearby? I spent time in the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed to be rid of his cross. I visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where everything ended and everything began. Jesus’ life had become frighteningly and awesomely real to me. I left Israel compelled to make this awareness known to Jesus in a tangible way.

I hope that my affection for the Lord God is obvious in my efforts to fill this space every day. I hope that most of what I do speaks to this. Still, daily demands often distract me. I don’t take the time to speak my affection to God or to simply reflect in God’s good company. Lent 2018 provides the perfect opportunity to remedy this. I’ve decided to find my trip itinerary. I’m going to revisit each stop along the way in Jesus’ company. I’ll tell him what it meant to me. Then, I’ll listen for what he has to say…

Good and Gracious God, thank you for the gift of Jesus. He offered us a lifetime of glimpses into your great love for us.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved