Expectations Fulfilled…

In verdant pastures God gives me repose;
beside restful waters God leads me;
God refreshes my soul.

From Psalm 23:2-3

This is the anniversary of my sister’s departure for the hereafter.

When Cecele returned to her doctor due to a persistent cough, she didn’t expect him to suggest an exploratory procedure. Not long afterward, she didn’t expect to hear about cancer, her months-long prognosis and the chemo which might or might not help. When she finally absorbed all of this, Cecele observed, “I’m a fighter. I’m going to fight this.” And that she did!

My sister dug in her heals and embraced the regimen of care laid out for her. The rest of us accompanied her to appointments and did whatever else we could to lighten her burden. We talked a little and we listened a lot. When the chemo wreaked havoc with her hair, my sister’s daughter-in-law shaved her head for her. Though the Cancer Society provided a lovely wig, Cecele determined that bald is beautiful. On her, it really was. When the chemo failed to help, Cecele accepted hospice care. Again, she fought, This time, she fought to accomplish everything that needed to be done before she took her leave. And that she did, too. I don’t think I’ll ever meet an equally prepared dying person!

Though my sister’s final journey was unexpected, the outcome was precisely what she’d hoped for. When I bade my final farewell to her earthly remains, the peace on Cecele’s face was unmistakable. The few glimpses of the hereafter which had graced her last days sustained Cecele through her good-byes and her last breaths. I have no doubt that her experience of the things to come is everything she hoped for and so much more! It was her expectation regarding eternal life which saw her through what could have been a far more difficult journey.

Loving God, thank you for this life and the amazing life to come.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserve

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Return The Love With Love

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 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 loved ones, I realized the reason I miss them so. In one way or another, each one enriched my life. Even when some of them weren’t at their best, they touched me in extremely important ways. Perhaps the most powerful trait which these good souls share is 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 and kindness.

As I recounted their good deeds, I couldn’t help smiling. I looked up to 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 would 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.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Things That Stay With Us

It was after dinner Monday evening. Since my dear husband and I had spent the day with our grandson, I was fully prepared to snuggle in my recliner until bedtime. Mike sat a few feet away in his own chair with his laptop in position for an email and Facebook check. I would have dozed off as Mike typed away if he hadn’t begun to whistle Won’t You Be My Neighbor?. Before I could question Mike’s choice of melodies, I remembered that Danny and I had sung that song several times throughout the day. Danny is allowed to watch an episode or two of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood most days and he’s learned the lyrics to this and a few other favorites. Danny often sings them while we play. As for me, I remember every word because I used to sing those lyrics decades ago with Mr. Rogers and with our own sons. As Mike whistled away, I offered my thanks for Mr. Rogers’ influence during our sons’ formative years and for his continued presence to Danny through Daniel Tiger. I ended my prayer by observing, “Nice that those lyrics have stayed with me.”

Mike stopped whistling as he became engrossed in the evening’s Facebook posts and I dozed off. I awoke only when Mike asked me what my plans were for Tuesday. I didn’t tell him that I’d been napping and that I’d dreamed myself back to my own childhood. I’d been gazing skyward toward the white clouds which lingered above the backyard of my childhood home. Many a summer evening, I sat on a swing with my eyes fixed on the billowing white clusters above me. I loved the clouds because I knew that just beyond them God kept watch over me and my loved ones. Though my parents had never put it quite this way, their continued reliance upon our benevolent Creator assured me of this reality. “Nice that those memories have stayed with me,” I mumbled to myself.

When I finally turned my attention to Mike’s question, I told him that I had nothing special planned except to write. When he went on to ask if I wanted to see a movie and then added that the Mr. Roger’s documentary was available, I jumped at the opportunity. Mike would likely have chosen to see something else since we haven’t been to a movie in some time. Still, in spite of the thirty minute drive we’d have to make for the showing, my very dear husband checked the show times and then asked which one I’d prefer. As for me, I’d already begun to anticipate this viewing because I’d seen snippets a few days earlier. As I considered Mr. Rogers’ contribution to the welfare of so many children, I pictured him in his trademark sweater singing his welcome to the neighborhood to everyone within earshot. “Nice that his kindness has stayed with me,” I thought to myself.

The following day when Mike and I made our way into the theater, I was grateful that the Tuesday afternoon crowd was sparse. If my reaction to the previews I’d seen earlier was any indication, this would be a joyful and tearful afternoon for me. As it happened, the documentary offered far more than I expected. I recalled several of the episodes which were featured. I’d forgotten that Mr. Rogers had tackled tough topics which challenged even the most seasoned parents. He addressed divorce and death, racism and war. He featured persons with disabilities whose different bodies also housed amazing talents. Mr. Rogers explained everything in terms children could understand. At the same time, he reminded the adults who took the time to watch to appreciate the value each one of us brings to this world of ours. Outtakes with the crew revealed Fred Rogers’ humanity and his genuine nature. What we saw in those decades of episodes was indeed the real deal. What we saw in Fred Rogers’ activism in support of children’s television and in support of all of our humanity was the real deal as well. “Nice that the importance of this dear man’s work has stayed with us,” I told Mike on the drive home.

I share all of this because Fred Rogers learned from the best. When he focused upon the most important messages our children need to hear and did his best to see that those truths stayed with them, he did as Jesus did. When Jesus sent his disciples out on their first missions, Jesus hoped a few things would stay with them as well. Mark’s gospel (6:7-13) tells us that Jesus prepared his disciples carefully. After offering them the best of his teaching and the best of his example, Jesus gave a few final directives: Take nothing but a walking stick… Wear sandals and a single tunic… Stay where you are welcomed… Shake off the dust of any place that doesn’t welcome you… I can’t help wondering what Jesus whispered as he watched his best friends walk out into the distance: Remember I am with you… Reveal God’s love in every word and deed… Know that your best is good enough for me… I love you… This passage closes with the happy news of the disciples’ success. Nice that the things Jesus shared stayed with them, isn’t it? Nice that the things Jesus shared stay with you and me.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Relax and Enjoy!

Come to me,
all you who are weary and burdened,
and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28

I’ve been on a roll with my writing. I’ve been on a roll with everything for that matter as I need to be caught up. We’re happily awaiting the birth of our newest grandchild and Grandpa and I want to be ready. We’ll take care of big brother when Mommy and Daddy leave for the hospital. The name of the game these days is “Hurry Up and Be Ready”. While I celebrate these happy circumstances, I admit that I’m a little tired…

I abandoned this writing for just a minute to get a drink of water. While in the kitchen, a tap on the window drew my attention. It was far too windy for her to rest out in the open, so a lovely white dove nestled into the large flowerpot outside our patio door. Such visitors usually fly off when I draw near, but she remained to stare back at me and to tap again. A ray of sunlight caused her feathers to take on a heavenly aura. I scratched my head as I wonder what she was up to. That dove’s contented look indicated that she wasn’t wondering a thing about me. When our gazes met, I realized that I haven’t relaxed at all today. Did this lovely dove know that she reminded me to slow down and to do just that?

When I left that sweet bird to her rest, I returned to my keyboard to share her story with you. As soon as I proof this writing, I’m going to grab a book I’m reading. That book and I will retreat to our screened porch where I’ll read until it’s time to start dinner. For this, I thank you, Ms. Dove!

Loving God, thank you for your well-timed reminders to set aside my work, to relax and to enjoy life.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

W is for…

Let integrity and uprightness preserve me…
From Psalm 25:21

W is for Write. I realize that there are many more meaningful words which begin with “w”. I chose “write” because this is what I need to be doing at the moment. I’m in the midst of writing a book which is very important to me. Perhaps a reader or two will find it has meaning for them as well. The process, however, is grueling at best. I get on a role for a day or two or three only to be interrupted by what I call “real life”.

For some time now, a “real life” situation has sapped my energy and my creativity. I attribute this to my genuine concern for those involved. I think that we all need to invest our time in the concerns which matter to us and to those we love. Because I needed to clear my head regarding all this, I retreated to the outdoors. In the midst of that much-needed walk, I recalled several people who’ve approached me over the past few months to thank me for these posts and for my Sunday reflections which appear in our parish bulletin. I told myself, “My writing seems to be important to a lot of people including myself.” As soon as I said that, I had to wonder if the energy and worry I’d invested in that bit of “real life” was equally important. As I walked on, I admitted that I’ve already done everything within my power to help. Aside from praying for those concerned, there truly is no more for me to do.

With that, I returned home. I whispered a prayer regarding that situation and then sat at my keyboard to write this post and to begin the next chapter of my book.

Loving God, thank you for the inspiration and for the faithful readers who join me in taking it to heart.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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