Your Truly Valuable Life

While sorting through yet another shelf in my bookcase, I came across something a fellow writer introduced me to more than a decade ago. I couldn’t help smiling as I thumbed through a few pages. This book had enticed me to read three others by the same author. For One More Day, Tuesdays with Morrie and Have a Little Faith are remarkable reads. Still, the fourth book, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, made me a true fan. I set down that book and ran to my computer. “I wonder if he’s written anything new,” I asked myself. As soon as I searched his name, an entry appeared which read, “Mitch Albom new book 2018.” When I clicked on the link, I found the summary of an interview with the author. As I read, I happily discovered that Mitch Albom has written a subsequent book, The Next Person You Meet In Heaven. It’s a sequel to the beloved tale which hooked me. Because it’ll be available in October, I turned my calendar to that page and made a note: Look for Albom’s book! With that, I remembered that this writing needed attention. So it was that I left my cluttered bookshelf for another day…

As I considered today’s feast, I realized that my encounter with those books was providential. John the Baptist was Jesus’ much beloved cousin whose life made an amazing difference to his contemporaries. Though John likely had no idea of the extent of his impact, his parents new that he was destined for greatness from the very beginning. God knew the same. Mitch Albom’s book, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, chronicles the last hours in the life of Eddie, an elderly man who wasn’t at all certain that he’d accomplished anything of value in his life. The story which unfolds dispels Eddie’s doubt and that of the rest of us in this regard.

Eddie had spent his adult years working at an amusement park. He married his first love, but sadly enough he and Marguerite were unable to have children. When Marguerite passed away at the onset of their middle years, Eddie was left completely alone. At this point, he was convinced that nothing else in his life mattered. Loneliness filled the decades which followed. Sadness over a life seemingly wasted compounded Eddie’s loneliness. He wondered why he’d been born at all. The mistakes made and the opportunities missed which punctuated Eddie’s memory compounded his misery. The single distraction that numbed his pain was his work. Every day, Eddie moved through a cycle of meticulous safety checks on the rides in the amusement park which employed him. It was Eddie’s expert knowledge of that work which brought about his passing. After he breathed his last, Eddie encountered five people waiting for him on his way to heaven. Each one shared a lesson which helped Eddie to understand the true meaning of life –not just any life, but Eddie’s particular life among his fellow humans.

Life-changing experiences often involve the very question Eddie asked himself when his wife passed away. When we look over our shoulders at our past accomplishments and our failures, they seem not to add up to much of anything. For some reason, we focus upon the rocks and ruts on the road we’ve traveled while being completely oblivious of the flowers and trees we’ve planted along the way. Like Eddie, we overlook the growth and the goodness which resulted from the hard times we’ve survived. Sadly, this focus on the negatives behind us too often keeps us from embracing the opportunities which lie ahead. Fortunately, as was the case with Eddie, we come to our senses through the support of those who love us and a bit of Divine Intervention.

You know, when John the Baptist was conceived, his parents had no doubt regarding the value of his life. John’s mother Elizabeth is the cousin of Jesus’ mother. She became pregnant in her old age which was viewed as an amazing blessing. Pregnant herself, Mary journeyed a long distance to visit Elizabeth. Later, when Elizabeth gave birth, the scriptures tell us that an angel rendered the child’s name to his parents. When the baby’s father presented that given name, he couldn’t help glorifying God. Those present whispered among themselves that John must have been destined for great things because God was already present in the little boy’s life.

The early days of our lives aren’t chronicled in scripture. Still, when God breathed life into us, God sent us on our way to live meaningfully as well. John the Baptist’s greatness was evident in his determination to do the work which God had set before him. Somehow, John knew that God was with him all the while. You and I are invited to embrace the work of our lives as well. Had Eddie opened his eyes a bit earlier, he would have seen the value of his seemingly mundane existence. As it happened, the five people Eddie met in heaven explained everything and Eddie finally experienced peace. You and I needn’t wait for heaven to find meaning in our lives. God reveals it again and again through our simple, yet powerful encounters with every soul we meet along the way.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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T is for…

Give thanks to God, for God is good,
and God’s mercy endures forever.

Psalm 136:1

T is for Thanksgiving. I’m ashamed to say that I’ve probably made it crystal clear in too many ways that life isn’t always perfect for me. At the same time, I truly hope that I’ve made it equally clear that I have much to be thankful for, far more than I ever expected or dared to hope for. Though the most precious of these gifts are intangible, they are very real to me just the same. Yes, I’m a very blessed soul.

This is the reason that I occasionally look into my mirror to give myself a stern look when I respond to life’s trials with something less than thanksgiving. When unpleasant challenges arise, I’ve been known to address my patient God with, “God, I know you’ve been very good to me, but really? I don’t mean to complain, but how can I deal with this?” My stern look, which is far more menacing than anything God would send my way, always assists me in adjusting my thinking and my prayer. So it is that I continue with, “Thank you, God, for being with me in everything. I know that all of this will end well. In the mean time, help me to respond as you would.”

T is for Thanksgiving. Our ability to be grateful is key to our happiness and our joy. Today and every day, I will do my best to face everything with a heart full of thanksgiving. Trust me. This effort makes all of the difference in the world and I encourage you to do the same.

Generous God, thank you for everything!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

G is for…

For this is our God,
and we are the people God shepherds,
the flock God guides.

Psalm 95:7

G is for God… and goodness, grace, generosity, gentleness, gift, gladness, glory, grandeur, gratitude, growth, gumption and a gaggle of other descriptors which apply to the God I’ve come to know and love.

Regardless of the name you prefer or the context in which you worship, God is all of these things and so much more for you, for me and for every soul blessed with the gift of life. Whether we were raised down the street from our place of worship or were never exposed to anything remotely similar, God is for us.

For me, the evidence lies deep within. I’ve been aware of God’s presence in my life for as long as I can remember. If you’re searching for more concrete evidence, consider this: Numerous published books and countless references have been cited regarding encounters with life after this life. Many people have crossed death’s threshold and returned to share their experiences. Whether a believer, an agnostic or an atheist beforehand, these travelers to the Other Side speak of the unconditional love, peace and acceptance which greeted them. Most conclude with great certainty that they have met God.

Though most of us will never return from this journey, we encounter God’s loving presence every day. As for me, I cannot help cultivating my relationship with God. It is the source of my greatest joy. I return my love to God best when I cultivate my relationships with those God has given me to love. After all, the best gifts are those which we share.

Generous and Gracious God, thank you for YOU!.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Beauty in Everything and Everyone

Bless the Lord, O my soul;
and forget not all of God’s benefits.

Psalm 103:2

That afternoon, while my husband headed to the gym, I abandoned my writing and headed outdoors. Rather than walking the neighborhood, I drove to a little lake just a mile away. I seized the opportunity to hike the path around this tiny body of water. Though the scenery there isn’t very different from that of our local park, it took my breath away. A brisk breeze urged me along. It also caused leaves to rustle and tiny waves to form on the lake. Though I could easily see from one edge of this pond to the other, those ripples of water made it look strong in its own right.

Along the way, I encountered numerous unfamiliar flowers, an oddly shaped tree and a chipmunk who dared to scamper inches from my toes. A very large and unleashed dog gave me reason to pause until the canine’s owner noted my alarm and quickly attached a leash to her furry companion. I thanked her for this consideration after I complimented her admittedly cute canine. When I began my second trek around the lake, I hoped to see that dog again so I could exhibit my newfound bravery in its presence. I also looked forward to discovering even more of the treasures hidden in this beautiful place.

Afterward, I strolled back to my car filled with gratitude for this amazing interlude with nature. While pulling away, it occurred to me that my fellow humans are filled with hidden treasures as well. That day, I promised to take a closer look at every opportunity…

Creator God, thank you for giving me the capacity to appreciate this beautiful world. Help me to appreciate my fellow humans as well.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Teach God’s Little Ones Well…

The child grew and became strong in spirit…
Luke 1:80

My husband enjoys numerous friends on Facebook many of whom are former students of ours. He was a school principal in the school district where I taught. As a result, we often interacted with the same students in spite of our assignments in different buildings. Occasionally, one of these kids dared to ask me about the difference in Mike’s and my demeanor. They noted that I seemed far more cheerful than he most of the time. I always laughed while explaining that my role as a reading teacher was far less taxing than my husband’s role as principal of 500 or more students. Though the kids never quite understood at the time, their Facebook interactions with their former principal indicate that, now that they are parents, they understand completely.

Several years ago, I was fascinated by the title of a book written about all of the things we learn in kindergarten. The author asserted that he’d learned everything he needed to know for the rest of his life during that first year of his education. Though I’d like to think that my husband and I added to our students’ wisdom long after kindergarten, I do understand what this author was getting at. It seems to me that we need to be ever-mindful of the lessons we offer the children in our midst. The things learned at home, at school and everywhere else when we’re young have lifelong ramifications. As adults, it’s up to us to ensure that our example offers our best to all of the children who grace our lives.

Loving God, help us to teach the children among us as you would.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Time Again…

A time to be born and a time to die;
A time to plant and a time to uproot the plant.

Ecclesiastes 3:2

A time to be born… I enjoy walking outdoors because of Nature’s ongoing evolution. My entire world engages in rebirth during springtime. This growth continues through summer when flowerbeds and gardens flourish. Leafy trees respond to September’s mix early on with subtle changes in color. October brings those changes to fruition only to give way to November winds. Leaves crunching beneath my feet remind me that winter is near. Even then, barren trees hold the promise of new life. Yes, it seems to me that there is always a time to be born.

A time to die… Just as Nature engages in rebirth around me, it also engages in dying all the while. Something old continually gives way to something new. Seeds fall from trees and dance in the wind until they find rest on the ground below. Though no longer part of a living tree, they hold all of the potential they need for life anew. These seeds nestle into the ground with great hope in the things to come.

A time to plant and a time to uproot the plant… If those seeds are lucky, a watchful gardener will see that they are covered with enough soil to survive. If they sprout too closely to one another, that gardener will gently relocate them so each will have room to take root and to receive its share of sunlight and water.

Loving God, you are the watchful gardener who places each of us precisely where we are meant to be. Help me to embrace my place with the certainly of those seeds who entrust their futures to your loving hands.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved