Generosity… Practice Makes Perfect!

Last weekend, I shared that I’d gone through two boxes of photos from my childhood while looking for a picture for my sister. This encounter with my past elicited numerous memories which have filled me up ever since. I’m happy to report that each one has warmed my heart in unexpectedly amazing ways. Over the past several days, I’ve looked upward often to thank God for this life of mine. At the same time, I admit to looking into the mirror and thinking that I must be getting old. After all, I’ve been celebrating the good old days an awful lot as of late. Oddly, someone looking in from the outside might question my use of the word “good” regarding my childhood. I grew up in a family which would be considered among the working poor today. Still, though life wasn’t perfect, it was certainly more simple than it might have been as a result of our humble circumstances. Our most precious commodities were the people around us. Though they didn’t have many material goods to offer, they were generous in sharing the gift of themselves. As I read today’s scripture readings I couldn’t help thinking of these giving people who made all of the difference in the world to me.

The reading from Kings (1 Kings 17:1016) tells us that a great famine had devastated the land. A poor widow realized that she had only enough flour and oil left to prepare one more tiny loaf of bread. After consuming this final ration, the woman knew she and her son will surely die from starvation. Still, in spite of her impending demise, the widow responded to Elijah who’d happened by as she gathered sticks for a fire. Though she had no reason to help him, the woman listened to Elijah’s request and his promise of nourishment. With that, she gave Elijah the last of her bread. In the end, Elijah, the widow and her son weathered that yearlong famine. Just as Elijah had promised, God rewarded the woman’s generosity with a jar of flour and a jug of oil which never emptied.

Mark’s gospel (Mark 12:38-44) introduces a second widow in the temple who was completely unaware of Jesus the Teacher’s presence. At the same time, the woman was very much aware that she stood before her Creator. It was with great reverence for her God that she reached deeply into her meager treasure to retrieve all that she had, two coins worth just a few pennies. Though meaningless in the shadow of the mountain of money contributed by the wealthy, this offering meant everything to the widow because she had nothing else. Though she might have traded those coins for bread, she handed them over to the temple, perhaps to assist a stranger whose need was even greater than her own.

The widows in today’s readings tug at my heartstrings because I’ve lived most of my life in the company of women like them. The widows in my life answered to Mom, Grandma, Ma Mere, Auntie and a host of given names. Over the years, I found that their generosity wasn’t measured in any single event in their respective lives. These precious people placed the needs of others before themselves on an ongoing basis. Since I witnessed her generosity most closely, I’ll tell you about my mom. She ran our household on a tight budget. At age thirty-nine, she’d joined the ranks of the widowed with six children in tow. A monthly death benefit from my dad’s job, my mom’s position at Sears, my sister’s pay from her receptionist job at the parish rectory and my brother’s pay from delivering groceries allowed us to eke by most weeks. Unexpected expenses such as doctors’ visits and outgrown shoes sometimes taxed our resources beyond capacity. Still, my mom dropped her weekly envelope into the collection basket and sent each of us to church with a quarter in our children’s envelopes. My siblings and I each donated one can to the holiday food drive and we sold wrapping paper with everyone else in the neighborhood to support our school. When our sales failed to meet their quota, our mom purchased items enough to allow them to do so. If one of my mom’s sisters found herself short of funds during a given week, my mom offered what was needed to help her sister to get by. Through all of this, my mom taught me her greatest lesson: To be generous.

Now I don’t mean to imply that the only remarkable examples of generosity come through the efforts of the widowed among us. Generosity flows from varied and sometimes unexpected people. What I mean to suggest is that generosity is a habit developed over a lifetime; generosity comes easiest to those who practice it most; and nothing rivals the joy that comes from giving in spite of our own need. My mom embraced these truths because she was convinced that she would be taken care of. She was certain that God’s generosity would always outdo her own. In the end, she was right. When my mom left this world, she didn’t leave behind many material riches. What she did leave is this dutiful daughter who will tell you what my mom found when she entered the hereafter. She found everyone and everything that she’d ever hoped for. It seems to me that our challenge today is to begin to develop our own varieties of generosity and to practice our unique version of this virtue at every opportunity. Though I can’t actually hear her voice, I know my mom is urging me to tell you that you won’t regret your efforts in this regard.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Dear Sweet Cubby

…the one who humbles himself will be exalted.
From Luke 18:14

At a recent gathering with my sisters, I lamented the closing of a once favorite restaurant. Though the food was wonderful and the atmosphere was welcoming, the owner was even more so. We chose this eatery often, especially when we had our mom with us. You see, that owner was Ron Santo and our mom was a fan.

It was around 5:00 when we arrived that evening so long ago. On the way into the restaurant, our mom wondered aloud if Ron Santo would be there. As it happened, the Cubs’ famed third baseman made one of his frequent appearances to mingle with his patrons that night. When Mom saw him, she flew out of her chair to greet him. Ron Santo graciously shook her hand. Unfortunately for him, our mom didn’t let go. She pulled the poor man to our table. “You have to meet my five daughters,” she insisted.

Mr. Santo never stopped smiling as our mom dragged him along. When they arrived at our table, we apologized for our mom’s enthusiasm, but he would have none of it. Ron Santo looked at us and said, “Well, you sure have beautiful daughters, just like their mother!” He chatted with us for several minutes, gave our mom a hug and then went on his way. When we left the restaurant, Mr. Santo made a point of saying good-bye to Mom. Though this beloved Cubby is remembered for so much more, I’ll never forget his kindness to our mom.

Loving God, help me always to appreciate the good people who grace my life.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Be Strong

Our enemies mock us.
O Lord of hosts, restore us;
if your face shines upon us
we will be safe.

From Psalm 80:7-8

I seem to be making an extended visit to Memory Lane. Here I go again…

My friend Glenda and I had been classmates since first grade. It was during sixth grade that we endured some troubles. Glenda began to blossom into womanhood quite noticeably and I managed to annoy our teacher on a daily basis regardless of my effort to do just the opposite.

One day, Sister assigned essays to read to the entire class. Glenda and I were shy and we trembled in unison at the thought. AS it happened, I managed to read my work without a fumble. When Sister called upon Glenda, I closed my eyes and prayed that she’d experience the same. A classmate’s giggle interrupted my prayer. A second giggle prompted me to open my eyes. By the time I focused on Glenda, everyone in the classroom was laughing except for me. When I noticed Glenda’s unbuttoned blouse, I couldn’t laugh. I was mortified for her. Fortunately, Sister quickly took control and sent Glenda and me into the hallway where I was to explain what had happened.

While I told Glenda about her blouse, Sister mercilessly reprimanded our classmates. Poor Glenda sobbed until I convinced her that we were the lucky ones. After all, the rest of the class was in deep trouble. In the end, our classmates ostracized Glenda and me for a few weeks because we “got them into trouble”. Never mind that their laughter had caused Glenda’s tears. As for Glenda and me, our friendship grew stronger. In the end, my friendship with Sister grew a bit as well.

Dear God, you inspire the courage which helps us to do the right thing.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Humble Servant

Whoever wishes to be first among you shall serve.
Matthew 20:27

The memories which filled me up at the cemetery the other day remain with me. My loved ones in the hereafter certainly taught me a lot before they took their leave. One of those lessons came at the hands of my dear Aunt Lucille…

Aunt Lucille cared for elderly people throughout her own post-retirement years. She had a way with her “ladies” as she would call them. Her work was truly a pleasure for all concerned. Over time, one of Aunt Lucille’s clients had become rather difficult. The poor woman’s memory no longer served her. This exacerbated her demanding personality. This lady was unkind and demanding, at best (my words, not Aunt Lucille’s). Because Aunt Lucille was always one to find the upside in a situation, she devised a plan. Aunt Lucille made a point of discovering this woman’s favorite things and her pet peeves. My aunt-the-caretaker said and did just the right things to focus her patient on the positive. During the year Aunt Lucille cared for her, this woman became one of my aunt’s most beloved clients.

When the woman passed away, Aunt Lucille went to her funeral. The woman’s family was quite renowned and many notable people attended the service. Aunt Lucille arrived early to insure herself a seat. She chose the last row to leave room for more important attendees. Just before the service began, the woman’s son noticed Aunt Lucille in the back of the church. He immediately walked back to her and escorted her to the family’s pew. “My mother loved you, Lucille. You’ve been a blessing to her and to us. Your place is here!”

We love you, too, Aunt Lucille! Thank you for showing us how it’s done.

Loving God, help me to love with Aunt Lucille’s humility and compassion.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Light The Way

Wherever we are, we are the light of God’s goodness.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta

I told you about this young woman a few years ago. I hadn’t seen her in quite some time until today. When I greeted her, she smiled in return. Still, I don’t think she remembered what she did for me six years ago. She’s probably extended so many kindnesses to others that she simply can’t keep track of them. As for me, I’ll never forget the day on which I caught a glimpse of her soul…

As she bagged my groceries, I told the cashier that I had a case of Snapple in my cart. The young woman eased my cart forward. She gently placed each bag next the Snapple being certain that nothing was damaged in the process. When the young woman asked if I needed help outside, I explained that I normally pride myself in being able to load up the car. However, this day was an exception due to my shoulder injury.

As we walked to my car, she said, “I’m sorry to hear about your shoulder. Did the doctor look at it?” I shared the saga of my surgery, post-op exercises and recovery which forced me into hibernation for weeks. “My goodness!” she said as she placed the groceries into my car. “Well, you take care of yourself. Listen to that doctor and rest. If you do what you’re supposed to do, you’ll be just fine. When I say my prayers, I’ll pray for you. I’m going to pray right now on my way back to work. Now you take care.” Her promise to pray for me touched my heart in ways that she’ll never know. That day marked a major turn in my recovery. No wonder I haven’t forgotten her. I never will.

Dear God, thank you for giving us the capacity to bring your light to one another and for those who so generously do so.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

K is for…

People who are well do not need a doctor;
sick people do. I did not come to heal the righteous,
but the lowly.

Mark 2:17

K is for Kindness. Unexpected kindness is the greatest variety of this virtue. When I’m not at my best, a bit of TLC can salvage a given moment for all concerned. I became a recipient of random kindnesses early on in my life. Whenever I woke my mom in the middle of the night with a childhood woe, she responded with patience. She consoled me, walked me to my room and tucked me into my bed with a second good-night kiss. Thoughtful teachers responded to my occasional transgressions with understanding rather than anger. Their mercy encouraged me to be my best. When life became more complicated through my teens and into adulthood, I responded far more positively to a kind word than to a less-than-civil reprimand. The good news in all of this is that I took these lessons in kindness to heart. When I became a teacher and a parent, I found that my students and my own children responded best when kindness set the tone of our interactions.

You know, it’s easy to extend kindness to the people we like and to those who offer us the same courtesy. Unfortunately, those whose names aren’t on our “A List” likely need our kindness more than anyone else. Kindness offered indiscriminately changes lives and this world in amazing ways.

Gracious God, thank you for giving us the capacity to respond to one another with kindness. Inspire us to do so, especially when it is most difficult and most needed.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved