We Find Our Treasure When We Let Go…

In mid-September, my husband-the-good-deacon and I enjoyed an eight-day tour of Puglia. This quaint Italian wonderland is located on the southeast side of the big boot. After eating, exploring and eating even more, Mike and I questioned the wisdom of adding four additional days to our travel. Happy as we were with the tour, we were tired and wanted to go home. Still, while our fellow tourists boarded that plane back to O’Hare, Mike and I settled in on the smaller aircraft which would take us to Palermo, Sicily. Though the flight lasted less than an hour, fatigue dug in its heels. When our luggage appeared an hour after we landed, we were convinced that we were doomed to four days of misery. With that, we pulled our bags out of the terminal and headed outdoors. Amazingly, it took only a second to spot the young man who was waving and smiling broadly as he called our names. In an instant, our fatigue faded. Mike and I bubbled with joy as walked to Francesco and the four memorable days which awaited us.

Mike met Francesco a few years ago via Facebook and a recommendation regarding his work. The two have communicated all the while via private messages and WhatsApp chats. During this time, Francesco completed a genealogy search for us. Francesco’s enthusiasm suggested that he was as pleased as we were with the results. It was as though Mike’s Sicilian family had become Francesco’s long lost relatives as well. Throughout our time together, this impression proved accurate. Amazingly, while our hopes regarding this visit to Mike’s grandparents’ village were abundantly fulfilled, it was an unexpected encounter in a nearby town which best illustrates the tone of our time in Sicily and the amazing friendships which have resulted.

We spoke about this impending trip with our friends Mary Lou and Dave. Mary Lou shared that her aunt and uncle live in a town close to Mike’s grandparents’ home in Altofonte. On a whim, Mike asked for their address thinking that we might find the time to greet this elderly couple and their daughter. When we mentioned the possibility to Francesco, he promised to make this happen. While Francesco confirmed the directions to Casteldaccia, Mike called Mary Lou to ensure that we’d be welcomed and that we wouldn’t frighten her family. With that, we made our way into their neighborhood. We soon discovered that the house numbers had recently changed and that the address we had was no longer accurate. Fortunately, it was early evening and many of the locals were sitting outdoors. When Francesco asked a gentleman if he knew where Paolo and Maria lived, I noticed a woman a few doors down. She poked her husband and said, “Paolo e Maria?” Sure enough, we’d found Mary Lou’s family!

While Francesco explained our presence, I pulled out my cell phone and retrieved a photo of Mary Lou, Dave and their kids. Before Francesco could complete his explanation, Maria jumped up to greet us. After I shared the photo with her, Maria ran (Yes, she ran!) into the house to get her daughter Angelina. Francesco explained for us that we were so close, we simply had to bring our greetings, smiles and hugs to Mary Lou’s family. Though we were a little nervous about this encounter, it took only seconds for Mike and me to feel that we were among family. We smiled all the while as we shared news regarding Mary Lou and Dave, Valerie and Ryan. Francesco documented this visit with photographs and a video of the hugs I collected for Mary Lou and her family. As for me, I’ve fulfilled my promise to bring those hugs and a full account of our time together all the way home to Gurnee.

I share our Sicilian adventure with you because it gets to the heart of the young man’s problem in today’s gospel (Mark 10:17-30). This rich fellow spent his life carefully adhering to The Law. His well-intentioned heart and his desire to do more drew him to Jesus. Jesus recognized the young man’s goodness and he invited him to give his wealth to the poor and to follow him. This generosity of spirit was beyond the young man’s comprehension. He couldn’t imagine himself without his wealth in hand.

You know, fatigue almost kept Mike and me from embracing the joy we found in Sicily. Mary Lou’s family might have allowed fear to keep them from welcoming us into their home. Rather, it was without hesitation that they embraced us as their own. Their love for Mary Lou compelled them to do nothing less. That truly poor rich man had busied himself so completely with calculating The Law’s dictates and his own profits that he couldn’t imagine opening himself to a different way of life. His material concerns kept him from the joy which awaited him in Jesus and in all of those he’d meet along the way. I wish that young man could have joined us in Paolo and Maria’s home. They would have shown him that when we open our hands to let go, we free ourselves to embrace the best of this life. What we have at the moment is not nearly as valuable as what we will have when we open our hearts to one another.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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It’s Good To Be Noticed

Jesus entered a house and wanted no one to know
about it, but he could not escape notice.

From Mark 7:24

My husband serves as “family grocery shopper” most of the time. When I joined him in retirement, I tried to retrieve what had once been my responsibility. After my first few trips to the store, Mike finally asked, “What takes you so long? I can find the stuff on a list twice as long in half the time. What are you doing there?” When I thought about what had transpired on these outings, I told Mike that, each time, I had run into a neighbor, a friend from church or a former colleague. Of course, I took the time to chat. Why not? I had all of the time in the world.

A few months later, I relinquished my hold on our shopping lists at least half of the time. As visits to our grandchildren and my writing schedule increased, I realized that efficient shopping trips were sometimes in order. I also ventured to the store on occasion because my grocery-store encounters were sometimes unexpectedly important to me or to the person I ran into.

The scriptures tell us that Jesus’ moments of peace were often disrupted by those who needed him. The same is true for you and me. All that is asked is that we respond as best we can.

Dear God, I am grateful that others occasionally need me. Help me to respond to them as you would.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Responds With Love… Always!

The good deacon and I returned from a wonderful trip to Italy several days ago. For reasons unknown to me, I continue to struggle with a bit of jet-lag at the moment. I’ve found it difficult to settle into the routines which had structured my days before our travel. I puzzled over this while I walked the neighborhood. When I returned home with no insight, I retreated to our backyard. I ambled about the patio to bid my farewell to the colorful flowers and greenery which had delighted me this past summer. As always, my dear husband had put his green thumb to good use in selecting, arranging and nurturing the annuals which surround our home. Early every October, Mike reluctantly pulls up his handiwork, making mental notes about the coming year’s selections all the while. As I said good-bye to my floral friends, I added my apologies for ignoring them for days at a time. Before we left for our vacation, worry regarding many things had drawn me to my knees and away from much else. As I considered the flowers which would soon take their leave, I found myself painfully aware of this life’s fragility.

I went into the house for a glass of water and attempted to set aside my melancholy. I tried to focus on the things I had to do, especially this writing. As I drank that cool water, I wished that a few drops of inspiration would fill me up as well. With that, I refilled my glass. Rather than heading to my keyboard, I went out to our screened porch. I sat to gaze at the flowers of Summer 2018 for a while longer. Though I’m usually invigorated by our annual fall cleanup, I was glad that we wouldn’t get to it for a few more days. In spite of my affection for winter, the thought of losing everything in sight to make way for snow pained me. In spite of my certainty regarding the potential contained in every falling leaf, the leaves strewn about our yard distressed me as well. Though the browning petals and stems which Mike will soon pull from our flowerbeds also promised new life to next year’s plantings, melancholy overwhelmed me…

Sometimes, when life as we know it is threatened, pain engulfs us and threatens to rob us of our hope. For me, this is most often true when the solutions to the problems at hand are beyond my grasp. When I finally and reluctantly admit that there is nothing I can do on my own, I turn to God. Over the years, I’ve learned to take God’s love for us very personally. From the time I was a child, I’ve known that God’s love remains with us in the best and worst of times and through everything which occurs in between. It seems that I’ve known forever that hopelessness simply isn’t an option for God’s loved ones and that we are all God’s loved ones. With that in mind, I looked at our drooping blossoms differently. I looked at my worries differently, too. I admitted that I’d allowed these things to take their toll for far too long. I also admitted that pouring out my heart to God made all of the difference in the world. Pained as I was, I finally acknowledged that all will unfold as it should. Just as our dying flowers will nourish next spring’s growth, God’s presence in the midst of my troubles nourishes me.

I’m sharing all of this with you because I don’t want you to be thrown by Jesus’ stance in today’s gospel (Mark 10:2-16). Mark portrays Jesus with a stern and uncompromising attitude. I want to be certain that you realize that Jesus directed this harshness toward the Pharisees and not toward God’s suffering people. The Pharisees relentlessly attempted to trap Jesus in blasphemy. On this occasion, they tested Jesus with questions regarding divorce. Jesus’ response made it clear that he understood The Law regarding this issue. Jesus also made it clear that God’s intent is to support us in our loving relationships with one another. After this discussion, Jesus continued to respond with love and compassion to those he met along the way, including those steeped in marital strife.

God, who knows our suffering better than we know it ourselves, offers the same to you and me. Whether the life of a loved one or the life of a cherished relationship is threatened, God experiences our dread with us. It’s not God’s intent to cause those of us who’ve experienced divorce to squirm in our pews today. The decades I’ve spent assisting people with the annulment process have provided me a glimpse into their pain. Though my heart aches in response, God understands the pain of a failing marriage far better than I. Our human relationships can be sources of great joy and God asks that we do our best to nurture that joy. When these relationships become sources of great sorrow, God asks that we address this sorrow honestly. Sometimes, we can work through the sorrow and return to our joy. Sometimes, we have no choice but to walk away. In either case, we do so in the presence of our loving God. On the occasion I describe above, it took me far too long to turn my worries over to God. I encourage you not to make the same mistake!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

From Mourning to Joy

How great is the goodness, O Lord,
which you have in store.

From Psalm 31:20

My husband has always exhibited great compassion for those who’ve lost a loved one. Still, his empathy grew exponentially as a result of his work as a hospice chaplain. This is the reason that he willingly presides over wake services and funerals when asked. Regardless of his busy schedule, Mike adjusts his plans whenever he can to accommodate those in mourning.

On one such occasion, a woman’s remains were being sent from out-of-state for her funeral and burial. Her family had no local church affiliation, so Mike agreed to do the service. When he asked about the person who’d passed, he discovered that this fifty-eight-year-old was disabled and had been cared for by her parents all of her life. By this time, their ages prevented them from traveling, but they wanted their child to rest in peace with their other departed family members. One day, these parents will do the same.

In spite of their advanced ages and their daughter’s difficult life, the woman’s parents deeply grieved her loss. Still, they couldn’t help sharing the joy their daughter offered them at the end of her life. “Just before Ella passed away, she told us that she was going with Jesus and she smiled. How can we cry after hearing that?” Mike responded by sharing the homily he would offer at Ella’s service with her parents over the phone. This time, he knew there was no need to persuade mourners that their loved one had embraced eternal life. He simply mourned with them and smiled with them over what they now knew to be true.

Gentle God, touch the hearts of those who mourn with a glimpse of the peace Ella shared with her mom and dad that day.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Those Special Women

Her children rise up to praise her;
her husband, too, extols her.

Proverbs 31:28

My husband’s aunt passed away a year ago just prior to her 102nd birthday. Aunt Mary was a true matriarch who held her own until the very end of her life. The only exception was her one hundredth birthday party which she told her children not to have. When they insisted, Aunt Mary insisted as well. She would allow only a very small gathering. For once, her children didn’t listen to her! It was a grand celebration that even Aunt Mary enjoyed.

When my husband’s cousins recently sold Aunt Mary’s home, memories filled me up. Though I’m the in-law in all of this, the family who occupied that home welcomed me into their lives. Because of the distance between them, she and my husband’s mom spoke over the phone frequently. Afterward, my husband’s mom quickly called him to share the latest family news. Of course, he shared the same with me. And so it went for decades…

You know, there’s something to be said for the matriarchs in our families. My own clan boasts several who resemble Aunt Mary in their determination and their immeasurable capacities to love. They lead us in strong, but nurturing ways, each in her own way. Though not one of them is perfect, each one certainly leaves her indelible mark on us with loving precision. In the end, each of these women did the best she could and I am most grateful. After all, they’ve given me a peek at God’s feminine side which I might otherwise have missed.

Loving God, thank you for the special women who enrich our lives.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Treasure It All

Beside restful waters God leads me;
God refreshes my soul…

From Psalm 23:2-3

An adage and an old song join forces to remind us that we often don’t realize what we have until we lose it. In addition, we sometimes don’t appreciate the impact of these losses until it’s too late. I admit that I’m a creature of habit and that change doesn’t come easily for me. Still, there have been times when I’ve embraced something new, only to discover that I missed what I’d replaced.

At the same time, I’ve also found joy beyond my expectations in the midst of new experiences. When my husband, our sons and I moved from our first home to a new home in a new neighborhood, we found our new neighbors, new opportunities and new environs to be just what we’d hoped for. Fortunately, my aversion to long flights didn’t keep me from my first overseas trip. I eventually set aside my fear to embrace the treasures to be found in numerous destinations since. New friends, new jobs, new adventures in volunteering and enjoying life fill me up as well.

It occurs to me that holding on to familiar treasures while opening our hearts to new ones is the way to go. What more wonderful way is there to appreciate the tried and true gifts of this life while sampling the new offerings along the way? God placed us here to do our best, to learn from our experiences and to smell a variety of roses along the way.

Generous God, thank you for everything.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved