Just Like Stephen

The Stephen already spoken of was a man filled with grace and power,
who worked great wonders and signs among the people.

Acts of the Apostles 6:8

What a gift we have in this day after Christmas! Our Christmas preparations have come to fruition. Today, there’s nothing more to do than to continue to enjoy the successes of our celebrations and to forget the rest. As I consider my own list of positives, I give thanks. I’m generously blessed. I’m also opting to forget the things which were or are not to my liking and out of my control. Rather, I pray for improvement on the part of all concerned, especially myself. After all, I’m the only one over whom I have jurisdiction.

So it is that I turn my thoughts to today, December 26, The Feast of Stephen. Stephen is among the first chosen to serve as deacon to assist the apostles in carrying out Jesus’ work. While the apostles tended to preaching, Stephen and those like him tended to serving the corporal needs of the people. They saw to it that widows and orphans were fed and that everyone who needed care received it. Today, I hope to continue my Christmas observance by engaging in good deeds as well. We’re all called to be good and just souls who live much like Stephen did.

Today, I also acknowledge the deacons in parishes everywhere who take care of so many of our practical needs just as Stephen did. My thanks to you for all that you do for us!

Dearest God, thank you for the gifts of Christmas 2018, the Gift of the First Christmas and the gift of those who live the spirit of this season throughout the year.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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No Strings Attached, Honest!

Brothers and sisters,
Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another,
for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

Romans 13:8

I retired from my career in education with a county level job. This position allowed me access to people and opportunities I might otherwise have never encountered. I very much appreciated working with others at this level to benefit our area children.

One new friend had been elected to a position at the state level. This person understood the possibilities that came with this position and was anxious to add good will and good sense to the mix. Over time, frustration mounted. Her every attempt to transform a good idea into practice required her support of not-particularly-good ideas in return. In the end, my friend found that too many bad ideas became reality as a result of the “deals” which had to be made to gather support. In the end, my friend resigned her elected position and moved on to a place where there were no strings attached to anyone’s good deeds.

We all occasionally find ourselves holding things over the heads of others to get our way. In the end, I never feel very good about this arrangement. I would much prefer that the other person simply did the right thing because it was right. I’m quite certain that God prefers it when I do the same.

Dear God, you’ve given us the wisdom to discern what is right and to act accordingly. Help us not to hinder our own goodness or the goodness of others by attaching strings to our good deeds.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love One Moment At A Time

“Love your neighbor…”
From Matthew 22:38

This is All Saints Day and my thoughts turn to my favorite souls in the afterlife. I enjoy celebrating these good people who used their ordinary lives to touch the rest of us in truly extraordinary ways. Though they don’t have feast days of their own, they certainly hold a special place in my heart. I’ve counted Mother Teresa of Calcutta among these special people since I’ve known of her. Even when she walked this earth, I knew God would welcome her with open arms at the end of her life here. When Pope Francis declared her a saint, he simply underscored my assessment of her remarkable life.

Though Mother Teresa said many important things, my favorite is this: “We can do no great things, only small things with great love…” It seems to me that she, my own loved ones and all who reside with them did just this. In their own creative ways, each one impacted my life and the lives many others in ways only they could. They understood well that a single moment can make all of the difference in the world. A single moment here and a single moment there are all it takes to mark the time between our births and passing. When we choose to do small things with great love, the significance of a day, an hour and a single moment grows exponentially.

Though you and I will likely never minister as dramatically as Mother Teresa did, we can serve those we meet along the way just the same. The smallest deed done with love will bring something great to someone.

Dear God, thank you for Mother Teresa and those like her who help us to see that every moment offers us an opportunity to love.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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

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