All of Our Beloved Children

This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you.
John 15:12

The news, both local and national, continues to include incidents of children lost to violence. I grew up in a very tough and often dangerous neighborhood where insecurity and fear sometimes overwhelmed me and everyone else nearby. Still, I never endured the day-in and day-out sights and sounds of gunfire and other atrocities which some of our children have grown to consider to be a way of life.

Regardless of our busy schedules, our fatigue and our own worries, we adults are responsible for the children in our lives. Whether they live next door, in our own homes, across town or on the other side of the world, children matter. Whether they present themselves as whiny toddlers or sarcastic teens, they need our support and our love.

Obviously, our own children come first as we are the only parents they have. Still, nieces and nephews, neighbors and acquaintances who haven’t yet reached adulthood also need an occasional smile or word of encouragement from us. Efforts to assist needy children and orphans nearby and faraway need our attention as well. As small as our efforts may seem, they may just counteract the sadness or feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness which might otherwise lead these young souls astray. It’s all about feeling loved and appreciated, you know?

Patient God, you gift us with the capacity to love one another. Give us the generosity and the courage to share this gift with the children whom you have placed in our care.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Make It A God Day!

I much prefer face-to-face and telephone interactions to email and texts. Still, I use my handheld and desktop devices to communicate in one way or another every day. Over the years, I’ve developed adequate publishing skills and enough technical knowledge not to disrupt my computer’s functions too often. Still, I’ve experienced the occasional snafu usually through my own ineptitude. Much to my dismay, this occurred a few weeks ago. Somehow, I’d deleted my email account. After struggling to retrace my steps for hours, I realized that I needed far more expertise than I possess to retrieve it. What had I done? In desperation, I set aside my panic long enough to reach out to a friend.

Much to my good fortune, Andy generously agreed to rescue me. I think my tearful over-the-phone explanation encouraged him to come to my aid in person rather than trying to guide me from afar. While I waited for his arrival, more tears streamed down my face. When I deleted that email account, I’d lost my blog account and more than two thousand of my daily reflections. Once again, I asked myself, “What have I done?” I had no time to answer because the doorbell rang. A very calm Andy must have sensed my distress. Before he did a thing, Andy alleviated my worst fears by assuring me that everything I thought I’d lost was indeed somewhere. With that, he quickly and amazingly restored it all. Within minutes, I’d replaced my tears with a smile and returned to my work.

Because this technological frenzy had persisted for hours before Andy’s rescue, I was behind with my writing. Before returning to the reflection at hand, I tackled the thirty or so emails which had accumulated since the onset of my misery. Though I normally think far more quickly than I type, I did this even more so as I made my way through those messages. I proof-read often to see that I’d written what I’d intended to write. Oddly, though it hadn’t been that sort of a day for me, my most frequent error occurred at the close of almost every one of my replies. I’d intended to end with “Have a good day!” However, I actually typed, “Have a god day!” Why was I so consistent with this particular error? I had made this mistake before, but never with such consistency. Had I hit the “o” key so quickly that the second “o” didn’t register? It took me several minutes to acknowledge that “g-o-d” was far more than the misspelling of “good.” It’s the single most important word that I know. Was my error actually a subconscious or perhaps inspired effort to offer my email recipients much more than a good day? Perhaps my error wasn’t a spelling error at all, but rather an error in capitalization. Perhaps I should have been typing, “Have a God day!” all along. After all, Andy had certainly given me a God day when he saved my email and my writing.

I’m sharing all of this with you because “God days” seem to be at the core of Jesus’ message to his disciples this Ascension Day. When he bade them farewell, Jesus reminded his friends of the most important aspects of his teaching. God blessed each of us with the potential for a lifetime of God days. If Jesus’ friends took his words to heart, every day would be a “God day” for them. Though we hear different Ascension gospels each year, Jesus’ promise remains the same.

In today’s account from Luke (Luke 24:46-53), Jesus said, “And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.” Luke wrote to impress upon his readers Jesus’ promise that God would be with them in everything. Mark’s account (Mark 16:15-20) tells us that Jesus asked his disciples to “Go into the world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” By sharing the word, they would assure all who listened of God’s love for them. Every day would be a God day for all concerned. In Matthew’s account (Matthew 28:16-20), Jesus added this promise: “I will be with you always, until the end of the world.” Jesus promised to remain at their sides through everything. John’s gospel ends without a reference to the Ascension. When John’s gospel is read on Ascension Day, this reference to the Last Supper is cited: “Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed, saying: ‘Holy Father, I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word…’” Jesus’ prayer included not only the disciples who walked with him, but also all who would eventually be touched by their efforts. Indeed, “God days” are intended for everyone.

On this Feast of the Ascension, we are invited to join the disciples in making every day a “God day” for ourselves and for all whom we meet along the way. Through all that he said and did, Jesus assured those in his company that they were loved more than they could ever imagine and that God was with them in good times and in bad. It’s up to us to do the same. This likely won’t involve our preaching on street corners or mountainsides. However, if we follow Jesus’ lead, these efforts will involve sharing God’s love as best we can whenever we can. Every time we repeat this precious message through our interactions and our relationships with those we’ve been given to love, we make their days and our own “God days”. As for me, I’m most grateful that my friend Andy imitated Jesus’ generosity in transforming that potentially devastating day into a God day for me.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love’s Work

…love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

From John 15:12-13

I admit to lots of anger over the suffering of those I’ve been given to love. Whether they are my own family members or children starving to death half a world away, I find it difficult to accept that there actually is nothing I can do to help. My frustration is amplified by my conviction that our problems can be solved if we consider them from a loving perspective. This isn’t a pie-in-the-sky impossibility. Years of work with some tough youngsters taught me otherwise. When I approached a troubled student with sincerity and genuine concern, he or she sensed this and responded in kind.

What a different world this would be if we set aside our own pride and our own agendas for the good of others. It seems to me that we amass a treasure trove of goodness for ourselves when we put others ahead of ourselves. What a different world this would be if we did lay down our lives for one another! What a different world this would be if we each accomplished one good deed -instead of the opposite- every day!

Loving God, you gift each of us with the ability to make this world a better place. Help us to realize our potential and to make our positive mark as only we can.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Move Past The Pits…

If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.
From John 15:20

A friend’s recent encounter with hospice conjured up memories from my husband’s experience as a hospice chaplain. Though I didn’t know Mike’s patients because their contacts were confidential, one particularly remarkable woman was the exception. Mary frequently amazed Mike with her commentaries on this life of ours, so much so that he asked if he could share a bit of it with me…

Though a day of hospice visits often proved to be taxing, my husband always returned home with a smile on the days he saw Mary. This elderly woman shared the most amazing bits of wisdom during their visits. My husband’s favorite morsel came in these words: “They can say life is a bowl of cherries, but I say it’s a bowl of cherry pits!” Throughout all of their visits, this comment stood out most. Mike and Mary often laughed over the truth found in her observation!

When we behave ourselves and try to do the right thing, we sometimes feel entitled to carefree days and smooth sailing. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for any of us. As we’re reminded in the passage above, even Jesus didn’t have an easy time on this earth. Why then would this life be any different for you and me? Like Jesus, I think we’re supposed to embrace both those elusive cherries and their all too plentiful pits!

Dear God, thank you for the gift of Jesus. He lived a truly human life to show us that, in spite of everything, this life is worth the effort. In spite of everything, like Mary, we will move past our troubles here and make it home to you.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Just Standing By…

“It was not you who chose me, but I who
chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit…”

From John 15:16

A mutual friend was in the midst of a battle with cancer. Another dear friend called in anticipation of writing a note of encouragement to her. This friend wanted to confirm our ailing loved one’s address and to check on her condition. That particular day had been frustrating in terms of treatment plans and mixed messages from medical staff. I’d just returned home from a session with our friend and her doctors. This meeting left me with a headache. I didn’t know where all of this was going and I didn’t want my sick friend to suffer needlessly. The grueling traffic that lasted for the duration of my drive home didn’t help. So it was that my other friend had to endure twenty minutes of my ranting before we addressed the reason for his call.

With regret for wasting so much time with my complaints, I offered my apologies as we closed our conversation. Though he had his own troubles to deal with, this friend’s response was precisely what one would expect from a friend. He knew exactly what I was going through and dismissed my guilt with unqualified kindness. His effort enabled me to dig in and to support our ailing friend through the long days that followed. My friend’s effort also reminded me to do the same for those who looked to me for encouragement.

Loving God, thank you for the relationships in my life which mirror your love for me. Help me to return this love in kind at every opportunity.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Guide and Light The Way

The day after our granddaughter’s First Communion celebration, I woke with a smile. You see, Grandpa and I had spent Claire’s day with all of our family. Nothing brings Mike and me more joy! On this new day, we’d enjoy a bit more family time while babysitting for our grandsons. Because Grandpa would join me a bit later, I headed into the Monday morning traffic alone. Early risers who glutted the roads with me became unexpected allies along the way. Drizzle which greeted me as I pulled out of the garage quickly gave way to blue skies and sunshine. As I drove, I whispered a prayer of thanks for this new day, the cooperative drivers who shared the road with me, the prior day’s good times and the amazing people God has given me to love.

Later that morning, after our older grandson headed off to school, his parents drove off to work and before Grandpa arrived, our younger grandson took an early nap. I was grateful for the quiet as I had writing to do. Still, something -or Someone- urged me to use that quiet to replenish myself before tending to this reflection. I admit that I didn’t need to be nudged twice. I nestled into the recliner and contemplated closing my eyes. While offering another prayer of gratitude, this time for this unexpected bit of rest, the large picture above the fireplace caught my eye. Though I’ve often gazed at this rendering of a beautiful lighthouse, it spoke volumes to me that morning. This structure sits at the ocean’s edge with only one means of approach. A long wooden pathway with railings on both sides leads to a single door at the lighthouse’s base. It occurred to me that someone –Someone?– was very careful about seeing to it that all who approached did so safely without detour or delay. That pathway also allowed every visitor access to the amazing serene expanse which unfolded in every direction along the way. I wondered where that lighthouse is located because I’d like to visit it one day…

Much to my good fortune, my little grandson napped just long enough for me to jot down the first paragraph this reflection. Though I’m continuing this effort days later, that photo’s inspiration remains with me. It occurs to me that I have a good deal in common with those who walk the path to that lighthouse and to its benevolent occupant. Actually, you and I have something in common with every person into whom God has breathed life and who travels the path which lies ahead. Sometimes, we plod along with full appreciation of the beauty around us. When life is good, we’re happy to do nothing more than to draw in that goodness. Sometimes, pesky knotholes and loose boards make walking a serious challenge. We grab the railings on both sides to keep ourselves from falling. Sometimes, we’re so troubled that even that lighthouse’s mighty beam fails to light our way enough to urge us on. It is during these times that those on the path with us ease themselves between us and those wooden railings. They take hold of our hands to guide our uncertain steps. These hearty companions remain with us until we regain our footing and are able to amble along on our own. How often we too find ourselves serving as railings for other unsteady travelers!

John’s gospel (John 13:31-35) assures us that we also have something in common with Jesus and his closest friends. In this passage, Jesus offers indispensable words of encouragement to all who who turn to him to find their way. We return with Jesus to the Last Supper for this lesson. Jesus knew well what was about to happen to him and he was desperate to give his friends what they needed to make it through the trials which lay ahead. Like the railings on the pathway to that lighthouse, Jesus offered his friends something to hold onto along the way. Jesus had spent three years constructing that railing by teaching his friends how to care for those they were given to love. At their final meal together, Jesus repeated the essence of his message: “My children, I will be with you only a little while longer… Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” Jesus had been there to support and guide their every step and he asked his friends to be there for each other and all who would share life’s pathway with them. Jesus asks us to do the same.

I’m happy to share that my path is leading me to another family gathering. This time, Grandpa and I participate as Deacon Mike and Mary. We’ll join our parish family for a very special weekend of celebration. Together, we’ll hear the first homilies delivered by our newly ordained deacons. Deacon Rod and Deacon Andy have prepared well for this and I know that they’ll do a wonderful job! Andy and his wife Kate and Rod and his wife Rita began this preparation more than four years ago. They adjusted their family lives and their work lives to accommodate diaconate training, to focus upon their spiritual journeys and to participate even more fully in parish life. All the while, they’ve remained at our sides. Throughout the years ahead, Rod and Andy will join our other deacons Ivan, Bob and Mike in leading the way. Sometimes, you and I will return the favor. Always, God will be with us until we make it home.

On this truly blessed occasion, I whisper another prayer of thanks…

Dear God, thank you for Andy and Rod who embrace their new roles among us. Thank you for their families who so generously share them with us. Thank you for calling them to be strong railings who will guide us along our way to you. Thank you for being present in the times ahead when we will step up to support them. Most of all, thank you for being that lighthouse who guides us and welcomes us home.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved