Free To Choose Joy

How shall I make a return to God
for all God has given me?

Psalm 116:12

A retired friend recently shared that he’s thrilled to have to moved on to something which brings him joy. Though he’d worked hard to arrive at this place, he wrestled with this notion. It seemed selfish to him to want to do something which makes him happy. A few years ago when he struggled with this dilemma, I reminded him that his new endeavor would not only make him happy, but it would also being joy to those he’d encounter along the way.

The truth is that I understood my friend’s feelings too well. I shared the notion that what we do in this life is meant to serve others regardless of how happy or unhappy it makes us. Like my friend, I sometimes lost sight of God’s generous gift of free will and God’s absolute faith in our choices. Isn’t this the reason that God sent each of us out on our own in the first place?

So it was that after I encouraged my friend to heed his heart’s desire, I took stock of my own longing. The happiest people I know are busy doing the things which bring them joy. In the process, they also make a truly positive impact on those around them. My retired friend has done quite well in this regard. It’s time for me to be certain that I do too!

Loving God, give us the courage to seek joy in our lives and to share that joy with those we meet along the way.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Labor Day and Everyday Blessings

Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had grown up,
and went according to his custom
into the synagogue on the sabbath day.

Luke 4:16

Throughout his life among us, Jesus did many things “according to his custom.” He must have worshiped regularly at the temple because he was well-versed in the scriptures and the goings on within his faith community. His parents must have taught him to pray often because the scriptures offer numerous accounts of Jesus’ efforts to spend quiet moments in prayer. Jesus consistently exhibited good manners because he never left anyone out of his conversations. Jesus also invited shunned outcasts to share a meal with him. His contemporaries referred to Jesus as “the carpenter’s son.” He must have earned this designation by working hard at Joseph’s side to learn his trade well.

You know, Jesus spent the greatest portion of his life doing the ordinary things which make up most of our lives. It seems to me that Jesus would not have spent 30 of his 33 years among us engaged in these ordinary things of there wasn’t something extraordinary about them after all. When Jesus embraced his human existence, he embraced our human existence as well. When Jesus made a holy life of those 30 years as a son, a carpenter and neighbor, he offered us the opportunity to do the same. Though most of us won’t die as Jesus did, we all have the opportunity to live as Jesus lived.

This is Labor Day, the perfect day to celebrate the potential for holiness of our labor and our leisure. How? Do as Jesus did. Do it all with love.

Loving God, thank you for revealing your goodness through the life of Jesus. Help us to transform the ordinary moments of our lives into the extraordinary, just as Jesus did.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

S… Serve!

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

From Isaiah 42:1

S is for Serve. When I was a little girl, I habitually raised 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 the non-mandatory task at hand. This propensity to be helpful has remained with me. Truly, of all of the joy I’ve experienced, the best of it has been the result of being of service to someone.

Our choices to serve take many forms. In my case, I’ve been spouse, parent, teacher, colleague, daughter to an elderly mom, sister to a dying sibling, listener for a troubled soul and an all-purpose volunteer at my parish. I’ve rescued a wayward can of soup which rolled out of a fellow shopper’s hand and a twenty-dollar bill which 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. I’m sure your list of everyday and life-time service would fill this space in short order. I’m quite certain that whenever we respond to those God has given us to love, we serve them in some way.

I find that doing for others is the shortest road to true happiness. Being recognized or thanked for our efforts isn’t important because our good deeds fill us up with an amazing sense of joy. Indeed, whenever we serve in great or small ways, we make all of the difference in the world, sometimes for a few seconds and sometimes for a lifetime.

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

©2019 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

Relief from Our Suffering

Though the jetlag lingers a bit, I find myself energized by the prospect of sharing my experiences in the Holy Land with you. Early on our first day together, our guide pointed out that the country he would share with us is as much our homeland as his own. “You know all of these places,” Yossi told us. “Nazareth and Capernaum, Magdala, Cana and Jerusalem are as familiar to you as they are to me. You have heard their names since you were little children.” Throughout the days that followed, I took Yossi’s observation to heart. Every step of the way, I realized more fully that Yossi was absolutely right. I had indeed come home…

When I turned to today’s scripture passages, I imagined Yossi offering one of his enthusiastic narratives. This archaeologist and scholar of biblical religions cited Job, Paul, Peter and Jesus often. I should have taped Yossi’s commentaries because he referenced human suffering quite eloquently. Today’s scripture readings remind us that suffering is a constant in our earthly existence. In the excerpt from the Book of Job (7:1-4, 6-7), Job finds himself the victim of Satan’s folly. Though Job is a just man, God allows Satan to test Job’s faith. Satan creatively sees to it that Job loses his family, his home and his wealth. Job finds no consolation in his friends because they wrongly attribute Job’s misfortune to sinfulness on Job’s part or that of his forefathers. As his circumstances worsen, poor Job makes no secret of his misery. Job grumbles incessantly to the Lord God because he knows God is listening. In the end, it is with great love that God responds. Job lives out what remains of his life at peace with himself and at peace with God’s friendship. Though our guide Yossi who was raised in a socialist Kibbutz claimed not to be able to pray, he reminded us often to do as Job did and to cry out to God for peace in this world.

Saint Paul offers another perspective regarding suffering. In his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23), Paul tells us that, rather than grousing about his situation, he embraces it. Like Job, Paul experiences a close encounter with God which completely overwhelms him. In response, Paul immerses himself in God’s ways. He goes on to do everything possible to share his perspective with all who will hear him. Paul preaches because he finds it impossible to keep God’s wonder to himself. He knows that the eventual outcome will be everything and more than he hopes for. Though Paul suffers much in the process, he considers his story to have unfolded well, just as Job’s did. It seems that Yossi shares Paul’s conviction. Though Yossi often lamented the political climate in Israel, he always added that he believes peace in his homeland will be a reality one day.

Today’s gospel (Mark 1:29-39) brings me back to the ruins of Peter’s home in Capernaum. It was here Yossi shared that, when one uses the bible as a roadmap, it often leads to archeological finds which confirm the settings of given passages or events. This excerpt begins as Jesus and his friends leave the synagogue in Capernaum. They feel very good about Jesus’ work among the people that day and they walk together to Peter’s house to share a meal. When they arrive, they discover that Peter’s mother-in-law is very ill. Jesus goes to her bedside where he takes her hand and cures her. The woman immediately gets up and prepares a meal for her guests. As I stood above the ruins of Peter’s home, I wondered what Peter’s mother-in-law thought about his friends and their assumptions regarding her culinary handiwork. She must have met their expectations because Peter and the rest were energized enough to usher Jesus off to cure more of the sick. Capernaum is a small town and there isn’t much distance to walk before Jesus encounters those in need. While Jesus spends the day curing and consoling, his efforts take their toll. After spending the night at Peter’s house, Jesus rises much earlier than the others. He goes off to a deserted place to pray. Jesus knows well that this time will truly replenish his spirit. Afterward, Jesus faces another day’s demands by spreading Divine Love along the way. As for Yossi, he didn’t knowingly go off to pray. However, he did frequently lose himself in his music. Though Yossi claimed to play his flute to demonstrate the amazing acoustics of a given site, I think he also replenished his spirit with every note which floated heavenward.

It occurs to me that, though most of us cannot claim to bear burdens equal to those of Job, Paul and Jesus, our burdens are heavy nonetheless. When we remember to turn to God as they did, we find the strength to carry on. Perhaps one of the greatest gifts Yossi shared with me and my fellow travelers was his openness to prayer. Though this self-proclaimed secular Jew could not turn to God with his words, he raised himself to heaven every time he played his flute. Like Job, Paul and Jesus, he reminded us to manage even the most devastating of our suffering by retreating into God’s loving company.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Do You Know How Much…?

“…to you, my dear child whom I love,
grace, mercy, and peace…”

From 2 Timothy 1:2

Our kids recently visited to celebrate our middle granddaughter’s birthday. Our granddaughters are now ten, nine and six years of age. Our little grandson is two. How did this happen? I admit that this question gives me reason to pause. It wasn’t all that long ago that I had held my older son in my arms. It wasn’t all that long ago that I held my younger son in my arms. How is it that they appeared at our home with wives and their own children in tow? Of course, this musing fills me with joy. I’m completely overlooking the fact that my sons’ evolution into dads is proof positive of my own evolution into a grandma four times over!

Throughout our gathering, I circulated just enough to enjoy quality time with each of my sons, their wonderful wives and my grandchildren. Throughout these encounters, I wondered if any of them realize just how special they are to me. Though I try to express these sentiments in numerous ways, I wondered if I’ve been successful. The best job I’ve ever had is my job as a mom. The next best job is being a grandma. I hope that I’m a good mother-in-law. I work hard at this. Still, I wonder. Do they know how special they are and how much I love them?

Just in case… I love you, dear family of mine. (That includes you, dear husband!) I love you all very much!

Dear and generous God, thank you for my family and for the joy they bring to me.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved