God’s HOW TO Manual

Though we settled our Christmas Tree into its stand four weeks ago, I haven’t tired of its fragrance. We spent uncountable hours decorating our home and selecting what we hoped were perfect gifts. Still, my dear husband and I haven’t tired of embracing Christmas as best we can. Most importantly, we haven’t tired of taking every opportunity to express our affection for those we’ve been given to love. Happily, we’ve learned to do all of this from The Expert. Today, God reiterates these lessons through the scriptures. On this Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, God seems to have left us a manual on the topic: HOW TO LOVE ONE ANOTHER THE WAY I LOVE YOU.

The first reading from Sirach (3:2-6, 12-14) defines our roles. God sets family members in particular positions with particular responsibilities. Fathers hold places of honor over their children and mothers’ authority over their offspring is without question. When children are respectful of their parents, a household is most blessed! For a moment, I want to set aside that HOW TO LOVE manual because family life seldom meets this level of perfection. Sometimes, a father or mother or daughter or son does everything God expects. Still, relationships break down, loved ones disappoint and family life becomes unrecognizable. It is during these times that God nudges that manual closer to us, not to prod us to follow its rules, but to remind us that the Author loves us very much. Regardless of how the rest of the family feels at any moment in time, God loves us.

The second reading from Colossians (3:12-21) makes it quite clear that family-like behavior isn’t limited to the family members with whom we take up residence until we establish our own homes. Whether one is surrounded by endless family or is the sole survivor of his or her bloodline, each of us is titled “brother” or “sister”. Each of us is counted among God’s family. When we keep our identities as God’s beloved in the forefront it seems only natural to behave as God’s family. We need only to consider the compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and mercy Jesus extended to those around him to know how we are to treat one another. Because are looked upon with compassion, we feel compassion toward one another. We glow in the warmth of God’s kindness and so we are kind to others. We are never lorded-over by our humble brother Jesus. So it is that we uplift those around us with our respect for them. Because we appreciate gentle encouragement, we quietly help one another along. We develop confidence because our Teacher is patient with us and so we are patient with one another. Because we experience the joy of forgiveness, we forgive. Each one of us is a parent and a child at one time or another and it is up to us to embrace these roles as best we can.

Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23) draws us from the ideal to reality when he chronicles the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt. This wasn’t the first and wouldn’t be the last of the troubling events Jesus, Mary and Joseph endured. The circumstances of Mary’s prenuptial pregnancy would have placed her in great danger had she been found out. Just as Joseph reconciled himself to this, he learned that he and Mary were required to travel to Bethlehem for a census. Poor Mary was just days from giving birth. The weary pair arrived in Bethlehem only to find that there was no place for them to stay. They’d just settled themselves among the animals in dark stable-cave when Jesus was born. Jesus’ family life begin in the midst of the noise and odor of livestock and among strangers. Herod’s merciless assault upon infant boys born in the area compelled Joseph to usher his family to Egypt. Only after the danger subsided did they return home to Nazareth.

It seems that Jesus’ family became expert at following God’s HOW TO LOVE ONE ANOTHER manual very early on. As for me, I can’t help being inspired by their efforts. Jesus’ first few years among us included far more trauma than most of us will ever experience. We know that Jesus’ life ended with no less difficulty. We turn to this holy family for inspiration because they have been where we are. They flourished in midst of their troubles because they did their best to love one another as God loved them.

Today, the fragrance of pine fades from our living room, our wreath loses a few more needles and some of those perfect gifts need to be returned. Still, I smile because the Author of that HOW TO LOVE ONE ANOTHER THE WAY I LOVE YOU manual remains with me and all of us in good times and in bad to guide us every step of the way.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Fine-Tuned with Love

God looked at everything God made and God found it to be very good.
Genesis 1:31

When I checked my calendar this morning, I realized that it will soon be time to schedule the dryer vent cleaner and our piano tuner. Though that vent cleaning is a necessity, the piano tuning is a luxury I can’t live without. Though I continue to play like a fifth grader who didn’t practice as much as she should have, I love my piano and so does our piano tuner….

Our piano tuner’s arrival always manages to put a positive spin on my day. Jordan is a gracious fellow who never begins his work without first inquiring about the family and life in general. Once he’s assured that all is well, he settles in to begin the task at hand.

In the realm of pianos, ours ranks among the blue-collar variety. It’s what we could afford when we decided to make music a permanent fixture in our home. Still, Jordan treats it like a fine instrument. He carefully removes the upper front panel to expose the piano’s inner workings. With his head tilted just so, he pounds each key and adjusts each tuning pin accordingly. Every few keys, he plays a chord or two to confirm that the sound is what it should be. As I watch, I wait expectantly for those chords. Jordan is a talented pianist and even a few bars are worth my attention. When he finishes, Jordan always graces us with a medley of tunes. This is his own test of his work and an assurance to me that my piano is just as is should be.

Jordan doesn’t realize this, but his encounters with my piano always remind me of God’s work in my life. Though I may be of the blue-collar variety as well, God tends to me with great care. In the process, God sees to it that I, too, am just as I should be.

Creator God, thank you for tending so carefully to the things you have made, especially your children.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Faith In Us

Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is lifeless.
James 2:17

Though these words echo recent posts, I’m impelled to repeat that each of us is uniquely gifted. Because we’re human, we’re all also burdened with a unique variety of frailties. Though I still like to think that God has infused Divine DNA into each one of us, our frailties remain. Nonetheless, in spite of these imperfections, God has placed this world into our hands. I’m quite certain that this is no empty gesture on God’s part. Remember that Divine DNA? God knows better than we do just how capable we actually are.

Today, I challenge myself and anyone else who is open to an important and rewarding adventure. Let’s set aside our worries regarding the woes of the world-at-large and look a bit closer to home. Is there something in our communities, our neighborhoods, our temples, our churches, our workplaces, our organizations or in our own homes which needs our attention? If so, let’s roll up our sleeves and ask, “Is there something I can do to help?”

None of us should ever discount even the smallest opportunity to do good. I’m convinced that our efforts in every case will make a difference somewhere to someone. The more we attend to the opportunities at hand, the better off the entire world will be.

Caring God, I know I’m repeating myself, but please help us to embrace the opportunities large and small which you set before us.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

What Families Do…

My husband and I planned a pre-Christmas gathering for early December. We began by coordinating calendars with our sons to insure that they and their families would be able to attend. All was going well until the week beforehand. It was Tuesday when our eldest granddaughter called. Ellie began the conversation by sharing her excitement over the new friends she’s made in middle school. This grandparent and retired teacher was very happy to hear this as middle school can be challenging for newcomers. Ellie went on to say that one of her new friends had invited her and a few others to a party. The single complication in all of this was that the party was scheduled for the same evening as our gathering. Ellie called to ask if Grandpa Mike and I minded if she attended the other party. Before I could respond, Ellie assured me that she didn’t want to disappoint us and that she would come to our party if we wanted her to. Of course, my heart melted. I told Ellie that Grandpa and I wanted her to attend her friend’s party. After Ellie excitedly thanked us, this worrying Grandma confirmed with my son that Ellie had a ride to the party and that she would stay at her neighborhood friend’s home until her parents and siblings returned from our house. As it happened, Ellie had an enjoyable and safe time with her friends just as we did here.

Though we missed Ellie that Saturday night, Mike and I celebrated the realization that our first grandchild is morphing into a wonderful young person. We can’t ask for more than this. At the same time, Ellie’s party adventure brought back poignant memories of her dad’s and uncle’s experiences in this regard. Before our sons left the house for an evening of fun, I offered an excess of motherly guidance regarding their activities. Shall I mention that their dad usually stood in the background rolling his eyes? When our sons left, I also offered a prayer. I begged God and everyone else who was listening from above to inspire our sons to be wise and safe until they returned home. Happily, my prayers were answered generously! I share all of this because all of us want the best for those we’ve been given to love and parents have worried about their children since the beginning of time. Not even Mary and Joseph were spared this reality…

On this Feast of the Holy Family, Luke’s gospel (2:41-52) details Jesus’ contribution to his parents’ accumulation of gray hair. As was the custom at the time, Joseph, Mary and Jesus walked from Nazareth to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover in the temple. They traveled in the company of numerous neighbors and friends. After observing the feast, Mary and Joseph allowed Jesus to mingle freely amidst the caravan as they walked home. After all, Jesus was almost a teenager at the time. All the while, Mary assumed that her growing son was walking with the men. Joseph, who likely acknowledged that Jesus still had a lot of growing to do, assumed that his son was walking with the women and children. It was nightfall when Mary and Joseph realized that Jesus wasn’t with either one of them. Because they’d taught Jesus common sense and consideration for others, the frantic couple feared the worst. So it was that they left the safety of the caravan and walked back to Jerusalem alone to search for Jesus. When Mary and Joseph finally found him in the temple, Jesus seemed bothered by his parents’ concern. He asked, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” I know many of us could have advised Mary and Joseph regarding an appropriate response! Still, these two who had taught Jesus compassion, kindness, humility, patience and forgiveness practiced what they preached. Though they failed to understand Jesus’ actions, they resisted scolding him and simply led him home. As for Jesus, he returned to Nazareth “…and was obedient to them.” Perhaps I should tell Ellie that if she avoids causing her parents to worry, she’ll be far more successful than Jesus in this regard!

As I consider today’s Feast of the Holy Family, Jesus’ adventure in the temple compels me to dismiss the beautiful Christmas Cards and artwork which depict father, mother and child with halos and perpetual smiles in place. Life in Nazareth two millenniums ago wasn’t any less complicated than our lives are today. Just as our complicated modern-day circumstances impact family life, circumstances in Nazareth did the same for the Holy Family. Overcrowding, poverty, inhumane Roman rule and the unyielding expectations of the temple hierarchy were formidable stressors in this little family’s life. Like us, Joseph and Mary struggled to keep order in their household while loving and raising their child as best they could. When Jesus was lost, Joseph and Mary did exactly what any of us would have done when they went to the rescue of their loved one. It seems to me that today’s celebration of the Holy Family is a celebration of all of God’s family. Whether our roles are those of parent, child, grandparent, friend or a caring passer-by, God asks us to love one another and to keep track of one another just as God loves and watches over each one of us. After all, this is what families do, especially God’s family.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Thank You, Daddy!

God is light; in God there is no darkness.
From 1 John 1:5

On this third day of Christmas, I’m thinking about my dad. Today is his birthday and I hope he is celebrating with great gusto. My dad passed away many years ago at age 39. He has celebrated far more birthdays in the afterlife than he celebrated here.

In spite of my dad’s early departure from this life, he remains with me in many ways. It is my father who walked me through the difficult losses of my uncle and grandfather who lived with us. Daddy gave me reason to smile when he assured me that my polio-stricken uncle would certainly be walking straight and tall in heaven. Later, Daddy assured me that Grandpa wouldn’t need his cane to get around in his heavenly home. My dad’s conviction in this regard eased me through his own death not many years later. Daddy also wisely told me that I was harder on myself than anyone else would ever be and that I was a very good girl. Most importantly, my dad repeated these lessons often in the things he said and did.

On this third day of Christmas, I’m renewing my commitment to take my Dad’s lessons to heart. I’ll deal with the disappointments and losses of this life knowing that God has many good things in store in our heavenly home. I’ll also try to be a little easier on myself and on those around me. After all, in God’s eyes, we’re all good girls and boys!

Generous God, thank you for my dad who did a great job of revealing your love to me.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Fine Instrument, Indeed!

God looked at everything God made and found it to be very good.
Genesis 1:31

When I looked ahead to our November calendar, I noticed a note in the margin. Six months ago, I’d written “Call Jordan about the piano!”. Though I can’t call myself even a mediocre pianist, I love my piano. Since my husband and I purchased this precious instrument more than three decades ago, I’ve taken very good care of it. I have to admit that having the piano tuned is one of the nicest things I do for myself as well. I look forward to our tuner’s visits because they truly grace my day. Jordan is a gracious fellow who never begins his work without first inquiring about the family and life in general. Once he’s assured that all is well, he begins. In the realm of pianos, ours ranks among the blue-collar variety. It’s what we could afford at the time. Still, Jordan treats it like a fine instrument.

Jordan carefully removes the upper panel to expose the piano’s inner workings. With his head tilted just so, he pounds each key and adjusts each tuning pin accordingly. Every few keys, he plays a few chords to confirm that the sound is what it should be. As I listen, I wait expectantly. Jordan is a talented pianist and even a few bars are worth my attention. When he’s completely finished, he graces us with a medley of tunes. I suppose this is his own test of his work and an assurance to me that my piano is just as is should be.

Jordan doesn’t realize this, but his encounters with my piano are very special reminders to me of God’s work in my life. Though I may not be particularly special in the grand scheme of things, God treats me like a fine instrument as well. In the process, God sees to it that I, too, am just as I should be.

Creator God, thank you for tending so carefully to the things you’ve made, especially us.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved