Changed Forever…

She stood next to my bed and gently nudged my shoulder. “Mary, can you get up? Daddy died last night. Maybe you want to go to the 8:00 Mass.” This seems an odd way for a mother to inform her eight year old of her father’s passing. Actually, it felt quite natural to me. We had prayed for my dad’s happy death for days. This was the opportunity to seal the deal with my dad’s safe arrival in the hereafter. So, I rose from my bed, dressed quickly and ran the down the block to church. I didn’t acknowledge my grief until I stopped at the pew where our parish priest knelt. He resembled my dad just enough to elicit the uncontrollable sobs through which I gave him the news. As he wiped away my tears, Father reminded me that my dad would never be sick again. I sat at his side for the rest of Mass, half-convinced that everything would end well, half-knowing that my life would never be the same.

You know, nothing could replace my dad’s presence in my life, and, as a result, the road ahead would be very different from what it might have been. Fortunately for me, this priest’s kindness, my mother’s strength and the support of many family members and friends allowed our mourning family to reassemble our lives without my dad. Those who came to our rescue made all of the difference in the world.

I revisit the loss of my dad because his passing remains with me, a vivid entry which will never fade from my memory. This loss changed my life forever. Yet, it’s a drop in the ocean of devastation which washed over those in the paths of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma over the past several days. I endured and flourished in spite of my dad’s death because I found stability in my mother’s love, with my sisters and brother, in our home, with our extended family, at school, with my friends and within our parish. Those who’ve survived Harvey’s and Irma’s wrath, especially the children, have far less to hold on to. Lost homes and livelihoods, the lack of needed medications, food, changes of clothing and transportation to safety were minor aspects of the trauma these children and their parents endured. I worry about the infants who were just days old when these storms took everything from them. I can only imagine the toddlers who likely wailed in the confusion without even a stuffed animal to cling to. Consolation eludes victims of every age because so little of the familiar remains.

Life-changing events are just that. The survival of those involved depends upon the response of the rest of us. It seems to me that these hurricanes challenged those impacted and we who are left to respond beyond our wildest imaginings. As I watched hews reports of Irma’s destruction, I wondered what people in the Houston area were up to as they slowly rebuild what was home to them. Irma’s victims realized the urgency of preparing because they’d witnessed the suffering Harvey left in its path. How amazing that even our suffering helps others in life-saving ways!

I was just a little girl when my dad’s death turned my life upside-down. I survived because of the loving concern which surrounded me. We mustn’t let images from Florida take our attention from the suffering in Texas. We mustn’t allow politics, the next news story and our own concerns to distract us from the plights of our neighbors in Florida. There are children in both places who will never forget those storms and the trauma of their encounters with them. The mom, grandma and teacher in me is praying nonstop that, throughout the rebuilding process, the adults around them tend to these little ones aching spirits with great care. At the same time, those adults who I hope will come to the children’s rescue are suffering themselves. I’m praying nonstop that our support of their rebuilding efforts includes care for their spirits as well.

Today, I challenge myself not to forget the images from my television screen and newspapers which bombarded me throughout all of this. I challenge myself to check progress every few weeks to see what more needs to be done. I challenge myself to check with people I know or who know people in both places to learn what they really need. I challenge myself to respond as generously as I can to meet those needs.

Though Harvey and Irma won’t be the last forces to devastate humankind so powerfully, I have hope. I survived life-changing loss because of the love which surrounded me. Regardless of what life-changing events lie ahead, they will be met with equally life-changing generosity, support and love! Thank you in advance for the part you’ll play in all of this!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Morsels of Love

Every day we are called to do small things with great love.
Mother Teresa

Even the smallest kindnesses lift our spirits.

Our neighborhood school opened for the new school year a week ago. I laughed as I watched the children boarding their buses to go home yesterday. I likely saw many of them during the pre-school shopping days of early August. Parents and children searched for school supplies, negotiating all the while regarding which items were and were not essential to the coming school year. At the time, I breathed a sigh of relief because I wouldn’t be returning to a classroom this year. After whispering a prayer for the many teachers would go to work, I enjoyed observing more of the interplay between parents and their children.

Those adults amazed me with their patience as they gently urged their children back to their supply lists. Children responded in kind as they agreed that their family budgets would go only so far. In the end, parents and children shared the load as they carried their treasures off to their cars. All the while, they chatted about new teachers and reunions with friends. This scene repeated itself over and over again throughout August. Those parents who kept their cool and those children who took their parents’ cues certainly made the most of what could have been a trying time.

Over the years, I have witnessed countless acts of love -tiny, heroic moments in our every day lives through which we make or break one another’s spirits. Whenever we choose love over anger, love over impatience, love in spite of our weariness and love in the midst of heartbreak, we do our greatest work.

Loving God, thank you for the good adults and kids who teach us to love as you do in small, seemingly unimportant ways. These seemingly small efforts bring us closer to you.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Good Reason To Love

Caiaphas said to them, “You know nothing, nor do you consider
that it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people,
so that the whole nation may not perish.”

John 11:50

This is not my favorite scripture passage. Caiaphas sends a chill down my spine. He’s speaking about Jesus, the Good Shepherd who would leave his entire flock to find one lost sheep. He’s speaking about the Father of the Prodigal Son who gave that young man half his wealth, watched him squander it and then welcomed him home. Caiaphas mustn’t have heard the parable about the pearl of great price for which a man sold everything. He must have missed the tale of the woman who swept up and dusted her house again and again until she found her precious coin. Poor Caiaphas seems to have missed everything of importance that Jesus said because he’s blinded and deafened by his desire to maintain his own stature and to remain in power.

You know, there are many people near and far who are distracted by their troubles as well. Though some have lost their perspective through selfishness much like Caiaphas, most suffer distractions wielded upon them by the unexplained and/or deliberate injustices of our human existence. Perhaps Caiaphas’ callousness serves as a reminder that many of our fellow humans have little about which to rejoice today. Perhaps Caiaphas’ hatred of Jesus encourages us to love as Caiaphas could not love. Perhaps Caiaphas’ influence finally changes its direction because it inspires us to care for those who need us most.

Good and Gracious God, thank you for using even our weaknesses to teach us to love.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Just Try…

Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place.
Luke 4:24

My sister called to tell me that one of the sisters who taught us in elementary school had passed away. I immediately recalled that she was the single teacher in my school career with whom I had difficulty until…

Glenda and I had been classmates since first grade. All was well until sixth grade when we endured some troubles. Glenda began to blossom into a young woman quite noticeably and I managed to annoy our teacher daily regardless of my genuine effort to do the opposite.

One day, Sister assigned essays which would be read to the entire class. Because Glenda and I were shy, we trembled in unison at the thought. Somehow, I managed to read my essay without a fumble. When Sister called Glenda, I closed my eyes to pray that Glenda would also do well. 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 was mortified for her. Fortunately, Sister took control and sent Glenda and me into the hallway.

I explained what had happened while Sister mercilessly reprimanded our classmates. Poor Glenda sobbed until I convinced her that we were the lucky ones as 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 their merciless laughter which elicited Glenda’s tears. As for Glenda and me, our friendship grew stronger and Sister managed to muster a bit more patience with me.

Dear God, it isn’t always easy to do the right thing. Still, help me to try.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Loving Memories

Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant.
Matthew 20:27

Though I don’t often visit cemeteries, I recently did so to celebrate memories of my loved ones. I know I can do this anywhere. Still, I find tangible peace in these places where I once expressed my grief through my tears and spoke my final farewells. Though the remains of all of the people whom I’ve lost weren’t buried in this particular place, each one came to mind as I gazed over rows of monuments which seemed to go on for infinity.

As I considered these losses which began when I was four years old, I realized the reason I so miss these loved ones. In one way or another, they all enriched my life. Even when some of them were not at their best, they touched me in extremely important ways. Perhaps the most powerful trait which these good people shared was their consistent willingness to put others before themselves. Even when circumstances forced them into acts of generosity and selflessness, they rose to these occasions with grace.

As I stood there, a plethora of memories recounted their good deeds. Though I cried the first time I stood at their gravesites, I couldn’t help smiling on this particular day. I looked up as if to find my loved ones in their afterlife abodes and whispered, “How can I thank you for doing all that you did for me?” Though I “heard” nothing in response, I had the distinct feeling that doing the same for those I have been given to love will be quite enough.

Generous God, thank you for the amazing people who have enriched my life. Help me to do the same for those I meet along the way.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Light The Way

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

While waiting in line at the grocery store, I watched the young person at the end of the aisle bag groceries. She reminded me of someone who’d done this for me a few years ago. In the process, that helpful bagger offered me a glimpse of her very beautiful soul…

I’d told the cashier that I had a case of Snapple in my cart and then I eased the cart forward toward her helper who was carefully bagging my groceries. She gently placed each bag next to the Snapple to be certain that nothing was damaged in the process. As I paid for my groceries, the young woman asked if I needed help outside. I explained that I normally pride myself in being able to load up the car, but that I needed help on this day due to a shoulder issue.

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 shoulder surgery, the post-op exercises and the 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. No wonder I haven’t forgotten her. I don’t think I ever will.

I think Mother Teresa had just such acts of kindness in mind when she offered the wisdom I’ve cited above.

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

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved