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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J… Joy!

God has sent me to bring
glad tidings to the poor…

From Luke 4:18

J is for Joy. Joy can be illusive. A recent off-the-cuff remark opened an old wound. Normally, I let go of hurtful events, burying them deep within. As of late, however, these things have resurfaced. As a result, this seemingly harmless remark sent me into a tailspin. In an effort not to succumb to my sadness, I distracted myself. I began by perusing the newspaper. This only increased my melancholy. I set aside the paper and picked up the remote. I surfed the channels until a news report caught my attention. The update confirmed that recent violence had been accomplished to “honor” God’s name. I sank into my recliner, looked out the window and asked, “Dear God, what are we doing?”

We humans have hurt one another in God’s name since the beginning of time. Before I could repeat my question, a lone dove perched on our bird bath. Almost on cue, she turned my way, seemingly to peer into my aching heart. Though a large blue jay joined her to dance on the rim of that bird bath, the dove continued to look at me. Finally, I prayed aloud, “Thank you, Lord!” Though that dove didn’t change the news that afternoon, she filled me with joy. When she eventually flew away, perhaps to spread joy elsewhere, God’s joy remained with me.

As long as we continue to nurture God’s joy within us and around us, there will be joy in this world. Rather than allowing myself to be overwhelmed by wounds old and new, I will allow God’s joy to overwhelm me. My joy-filled revelry will compel me to share that joy at every opportunity!

God of Joy, help us to focus on your joy in spite of this world’s continuing attempts to distort and disfigure it. Be with us as we bring your joy into every moment every day.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

J is for…

The Lord has sent me to bring
glad tidings to the poor…

From Luke 4:18

J is for Joy. I would be completely dishonest if I didn’t admit that joy eludes me at times. A recent off-the-cuff remark opened an old wound. Though I tend to let go of hurtful memories, this recollection surfaced immediately. Rather than giving in to my slowly simmering anger, I picked up the newspaper to distract myself. Unfortunately, the headlines only increased my melancholy. I swapped the paper for the remote. I surfed the channels until a news report caught my attention. The update confirmed that violence continues to plague my old neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago. I sank into my recliner, looked out the window and asked, “Dear God, what are we doing?”

We humans have hurt one another since the beginning of time. Before I could repeat my question to the Almighty, a lone bird perched on our bird bath. Though the bird may have been a pigeon, she was a dove to me. Almost on cue, she turned my way seemingly to peer into my aching heart. When a large blue jay joined her to dance on the rim of that bird bath, the dove continued to look at me. That sweet bird didn’t change the news that afternoon. Still, she filled me with joy just the same. When she eventually flew away, I imagined that she’d gone to spread joy elsewhere.

As long as we can appreciate the joy within us and around us, there will be joy in this world of ours. Rather than allowing myself to be overwhelmed by wounds old and new, that wonderful dove reminded me to revel in joy and to share that joy at every opportunity.

God of Joy, you send me to bring your joy everywhere I go.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Be Peacemakers, One and All

Say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God in whom I trust.”

Psalm 91:2

It has been a week since a shooter decided to leave his mark upon unsuspecting New Yorkers who were out to enjoy a beautiful fall afternoon. Because it was Halloween, the assailant seems to have felt certain that numerous victims would be his for the taking. As it happened, this assessment proved accurate. Eight people were killed and numerous others were wounded in some way. Had the man not been stopped, notes he left indicate that he would have moved on to make victims of others in his path.

I was unaware of all that had occurred until later that evening because I’d spent the day with my grandson. Later at home, I looked with tearful eyes at the wall where our grandchildren’s photos hang. Without thinking, I said aloud, “I hope we can fix this before you grow up and I hope each of you sees to it that this never happens again.” The tears flowed more freely when I realized that I’d uttered similar words after the Las Vegas shooter’s assault.

I began working my way through Psalm 91 with yesterday’s reflection and I’ll continue for a while longer. This particular Psalm celebrates God’s care for each one of us. In the midst of this world’s ongoing violence, it seems appropriate to acknowledge God’s very real love and concern for us. It also seems appropriate for me and for all of us to challenge ourselves to counter that violence and to share God’s love at every opportunity. Our simple attempts to insert calm and peace into the moments at hand are a great way to start.

Dear God, you are our refuge and our strength. Help us to be the same for one another.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Christmas Continues…

Following this, they selected Stephen,
a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit…”

From Acts of the Apostles 6:5

I enjoy the day after Christmas. What a gift this is! Our Christmas preparations have come to fruition in one way or another. Today, there is nothing more to do than to continue to enjoy the successes of our celebrations and, perhaps, to clean up a bit. As I ponder all that went well yesterday, I give thanks. Truly, I’m generously blessed. In gratitude, I insist to myself that I will disregard anything which was not to my liking or is out of my control. At the same time, I will pray for all concerned, including myself. After all, I’m the only one over whom I have jurisdiction.

In spite of the imperfections of my life, I hope to celebrate for a very long time the God who offered heaven to us from the hands of a little baby. Today, on this Feast of St. Stephen, I hope to be known as a good and just soul just as Stephen was. Like the good Stephen, I hope to take all that Jesus means to this world to heart and to share these things generously. Like the good Stephen, I hope to present a worthy heart -as best mine can be- to God one day. In the process, I hope to bring a bit of Christmas to every day.

Dear God, thank you for the gifts of Christmas 2016 and for the Gift of the first Christmas. Jesus truly changed my life and this world forever!

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Gifts of Love

This is Christmas Day. In my parish church, our new Nativity scene, a forest of lighted trees and a garden of beautiful poinsettias set the scene. I couldn’t ask for a more beautiful place to celebrate Christmas. Things were a little different three weeks ago when our parish family immersed itself in Gift Weekend. The sanctuary was filled with packages and gift bags of every size and color. Our statue of Mary was lost behind that mountain of generosity. Rather than the folding chairs which provide extra seating, the gathering space was filled with an assortment of bicycles. As that weekend unfolded, I found myself wiping away tears multiple times. I pictured my fellow parishioners shopping with gift tags for those in need in hand. I also imagined this Christmas Day when hundreds of men and women, teens and toddlers will open those gifts with great excitement and appreciation. When I left church that day, my heart was filled with at least as much love as our church building had been. When I arrived at home, I decided I was in the perfect mindset to prepare this Christmas reflection.

As I pondered the miracle of this holy day, I couldn’t shake the images of those gifts and the smiling people who would welcome them. Suddenly, a little boy I met many years ago came to mind. Isaac was an expert regarding matters of the heart and his capacity to love was second to few. Just like my parish’s efforts on Gift Weekend, and throughout the year for that matter, it seemed to me that his generous gesture many Christmases ago captured the spirit and the love with which God touched this earth on the first Christmas Day…

Isaac was one of my students because he needed a little direction in developing his reading skills. On our way to and from my classroom each day, we had the opportunity to talk. It isn’t often that children have an adult to themselves and my students took full advantage of the situation. Isaac was no exception. I knew the latest regarding his mother’s lengthy disabling illness and his father’s efforts to care for her and the children. I knew about his older brother’s return from the military for an early Christmas visit and that Isaac read from a little prayer-book every night. The last day of school before winter break, Isaac shared something very special which remains with me today.

I’d purchased a small Christmas gift for each of my students. When I retrieved them for their lessons, I asked that they bring their book bags along so they could put away their gifts and forget about them until they arrived at home after school. When I gave Isaac the package with his name on it, his eyes became saucers. He examined the wrapping and the card addressed to him. “Can I put this under my Christmas Tree?” he asked. I told him that he could do whatever he and his mom and dad wanted him to do. It was his gift, after all. Now when Isaac came to school every day, he arrived clean, having had breakfast, and ready to do his best, though in the same shirt and slacks for the week. Isaac didn’t enjoy the luxuries we sometimes take for granted. Still, his family was rich in love. When Isaac opened his book bag to store his gift, he said, “I have something for you. I have a gift for you.”

Isaac took me completely by surprise. His dad was among the working poor and certainly couldn’t afford gifts for his children’s teachers. I finally understood when Isaac reached into his bag and pulled out a green two-headed dragon. I told Isaac that it was a great dragon, but that I would be very happy just knowing that he enjoyed playing with it. Still, Isaac persisted. “I was going to trade it for Poke’mon, but I want you to have it instead.” At the time, anything Poke’mon was a valued commodity. Isaac had planned to trade his dragon for one of his classmate’s coveted collectibles. He abandoned this plan to show his reading teacher how much he cared for her. When I finally composed myself, I asked Isaac if his mom or dad would mind that he left the toy with me. “Oh, no, Mrs. P. They would want me to give it to you. It’s for Christmas.” With that, Isaac and I made a prominent place on my bookshelf for that dragon. Afterward, I told Isaac that he could take the dragon home anytime he wanted to. “Are you taking your present back?” he asked. “Never,” I told him. Isaac responded, “Neither am I.” I kept that two-headed dragon for more than a decade. After Isaac had been promoted from eighth grade and graduated high school, I gave it to another little boy who needed a taste of the love which filled Isaac’s heart.

God touched this world with selfless love two thousand Christmases ago. Jesus spent thirty-three years showing us how to share that love. Isaac’s parents paid attention and they passed on what they learned to their son. Isaac paid attention and he passed on what he learned to me. Today, we pay attention as well. Now, it is up to us to pass on what we’ve learned as we tend lovingly to those we meet along the way.

Merry Christmas!

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved