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

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Always God’s Baby

“I will never forget you.
See, upon the palms of my hands I
have written your name…”

From Isaiah 49:15-16

Our granddaughter spent weeks in anticipation of her birthday. Claire has two older sisters, so in spite of each birthday, she remains the baby of the family. She entered kindergarten this year and behaves impeccably there. Still, she thoroughly enjoys every opportunity to play “Baby and Mommy”. Claire makes it clear that she is the baby and that she is only two years old. “Not two and a half,” Claire insists. “I’m a little baby and I’m only two.” With that, she crawls and cries and refuses to use words of any kind. I respond as the loving and patient Mommy who heals her every woe. Claire rests in my arms as I pretend to rock her to sleep. During this phase of our play, she coos contentedly until she feigns a deep sleep.

It was just a year ago that Claire proclaimed her resolve not to attend the “big school” with her sisters because she would always be a baby. Though my first inclination was to encourage her to embrace growing up, I thought better of it. How often over my own lifetime have I wished to set aside the troubles of adulthood? How often have I wished to be scooped up onto someone’s lap with no expectation of me except to lie there contentedly?

You know, there is something to be said for being someone’s child and for allowing ourselves to be cared for. Though Claire is growing up like the rest of us, I hope she never loses sight of the pleasure she finds in her loved ones’ laps.

Happy Birthday, Claire! You’ll always be God’s baby!

Loving God, thank you for making room for each one of us in your lap. Let us never forget the love you shower upon us. Today, please bless Claire and all of the little children who look to us for guidance and love.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We Matter

A few weeks ago, we celebrated our eldest grandchild’s ninth birthday. In August, we’ll celebrate our youngest grandchild’s first birthday. All of this revelry nudged me into gratitude-mode. When the recent heat and humidity urged me indoors, I decided to relax by enjoying the things for which I’m most grateful. As you likely suspect, my family tops the list. On that particular day, however, my dear husband was otherwise engaged at Wrigley Field (Yes, the Cubs won!) and our kids and grandkids were busy with their Wednesday schedules. So it was that I settled in with the next best thing: our family photo albums.

I began my trek down Memory Lane with our sons’ baby albums. Afterward, I turned to the newer albums which I began nine years ago when we first became grandparents. I admit to tears of joy as I recalled our sons’ arrivals. Photos of our grandkids elicited the same response over which I had no control. I spent two hours flipping between those albums. In the process, I found myself amazed at how often I couldn’t tell the difference between our own sons and at how different each of our grandchildren looks. Even more amazing were my recollections of holding those sons and their offspring as they slept. For me, there is nothing more precious and peace-filled than holding a sleeping baby. Every time, I can’t help swaying as they breathe, back and forth and in sync with their every exhalation. Even today, I often absent-mindedly sway when I stand -a remnant from those loving encounters. As I finally set our albums aside, it occurred to me that I had found such joy in holding those little ones because it was then that I my love for them seemed most tangible. At least for the moments they spent in my arms, I could ensure that all was well in their little worlds.

When I returned to the tasks at hand, I remained in gratitude-mode because the reasons I have to give thanks have grown exponentially. As I cleared my desk to prepare for this writing, I noted another image of a babe in arms. We purchased this bit of artwork from the Sisters of St. Joseph at least a decade ago. It is a small paper sculpture which depicts Isaiah’s reference to our being held in the palm of God’s hand. I admit that this image is as precious to me as those which fill our family albums because I consider myself to be that baby and that hand to be God’s hand. Just as I couldn’t help being absorbed into the rhythm of all of my beloved babies’ breathing, God’s love impels our benevolent Creator to remain in sync with each one of us. It seems to me that this is the reason Jesus persisted in trying to convince us of God’s enduring love and best wishes for us all.

In his gospel (Luke 12:13-21), Luke shares another of Jesus’ parables in this regard. This time, Jesus speaks in great detail of a wealthy farmer: “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 that he was what mattered to God. Though the man had likely worked very hard to accumulate his wealth, he seems not to have attended to more important things. Had he taken the time to care for those God had given him to love? Had he taken the time to attend to God? Though I don’t believe that God expects us to remain on bent knees twenty-four seven, I do think that God enjoys being with us. Though we always rest in God’s arms or palm, taking the time to be in sync with God makes the very best of those precious moments. Trust this grandma; I know.

You know, I’m not the only one who has albums of photos of the people I love. Though God may not display hard-copies of you and me somewhere on a heavenly coffee table, rest assured that our images are always before God just the same. God asks that we care about the things that matter because we are happiest when we do so, and nothing is more pleasing to God than seeing us happy. As I said, trust this grandma; I know.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Always Hears Us

I will give thanks to you, O LORD, with all my heart,
for you have heard the words of my mouth…

From Psalm 138:1-2

The month of June always prompts giddy thoughts of summer. As we considered our plans this time around, my husband and I studied our calendar. Our first priority is time spent with our grandchildren and our eldest granddaughter’s birthday. As Mike wrote her name next to the date on our calendar, a memory from long ago prompted a prayer of thanksgiving for this happy and healthy child…

When our little granddaughter was hospitalized, fear took hold. Though our sons had endured their shares of childhood illnesses, neither spent time in the hospital as a toddler. Our granddaughter seemed bright as could be and had spoken like an adult since shortly after she uttered her first words. “Still, she is so small,” I whispered.

I remember that drive to the hospital and my prayer as though it was yesterday. “We’re truly blessed, Lord, I know. I also know that we’re not immune to the tragedies of this life. Still, please heal this little one. I don’t know what we would do without her.” When we arrived, we found our granddaughter with an IV inserted in her arm, a sticker on her hospital gown and a smile on her face. Though she was pale and weak, Mommy reported that her first-born was responding well to treatment. As for this grandma, I breathed a sigh of relief and a very grateful prayer.

Loving God, I know you listen to all of our prayers. I am most grateful that your plans and mine were in harmony that day so long ago. Help me to remember that your love is always in sync with what is best for me.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved