Did You Notice?

I’d just driven onto our block when I noticed our friend half-running down the sidewalk behind her dog. I would write that Cindy was walking Duke, but the truth is that Duke was walking her. I couldn’t help smiling because Duke was behaving exactly like my husband’s and my first and only dog. Now our friend Cindy is quite athletic and perfectly capable of managing that large Labrador Retriever. It was the end of their walk and they were headed home. I’m certain that by that time Cindy had allowed Duke the luxury of running ahead of her. As for Mike’s and my dog, though he was half the size of Duke, he managed to lead us everywhere. Our difficulties with Ernie began during the drive home from the pet shop. That sweet little cocker-beagle-poodle-terrier mix refused to stay put. He repeatedly crawled out of the box he was to occupy all the way home.

Mike and I were married only ten months when we met Ernie. We were both teachers who managed our students quite well. Unfortunately, we didn’t do the same for our dog. Ernie failed doggie kindergarten because his owners failed to practice commands and reward his successes with any consistency. Did I mention that we thought everything Ernie did was cute? Eventually, our poor dog was saved by a good friend who told us that we were terrible parents! She generously took Ernie for a single afternoon and taught him everything he needed to know. She taught his owners a few things as well. In the end, Ernie wasn’t a prefect dog, but he was far more well-behaved than Mike and I deserved him to be.

During our fourteen years with Ernie, he taught us far more than we taught him. More importantly, we didn’t make the same mistakes with our sons that we did with our pet. This is likely because we honed our parenting skills while dealing with our dog. Yet, in spite of sacrificing himself for our kids, Ernie loved us unconditionally and seemed content to be part of our family. Ernie’s greatest attribute was his ability to notice just about everything around him. Ernie knew the mail carrier would arrive shortly though he or she wasn’t on our block yet. Ernie growled quietly long before I noticed a stranger approaching. He also paced in anticipation of Mike’s arrival even before the garage door opened. Ernie always sensed when a crying baby had woken me once too often on a given night. As I sat nursing my little son, Ernie nuzzled at my feet. “You’re not alone,” he seemed to say. When the extended family visited, Ernie made a beeline to my stepdad the first time they met. How did Ernie know that Bill was a dog-lover? When Mike’s father passed away, did Ernie sense Mike’s sadness? He climbed onto the couch next to my dear husband seemingly because he somehow knew Mike needed him. When Mike was away for a late night meeting or out of town at a conference, Ernie plopped himself on the floor on my side of the bed to assure me that he was keeping watch. Sometimes, Ernie attended to the details of this life far more carefully than I did.

In today’s gospel (Luke 16:19-31), Luke shares Jesus’ story of a rich man who missed a bit too much of what transpired around him. This man spent his time and his wealth quite freely on himself. He gorged himself on spectacular food and drink while failing to notice Lazarus who lay dying on his doorstep. The rich man was so taken with the luxuries which surrounded him that he didn’t notice the many other people who might have graced his life, especially those in need. Sadly, only the neighborhood dogs noticed Lazarus. Only they stopped to tend to their suffering neighbor and to lick his wounds. Did Ernie’s canine counterparts somehow know that Lazarus might have recovered if he’d been given the scraps from his rich neighbor’s table? Jesus went on to share that both men eventually passed away and entered into eternal life. Lazarus rested contentedly in the embrace of Abraham, while the rich man wallowed in pain and was desperate with thirst. When the rich man begged Abraham to send Lazarus to him with a few drops of water, Abraham couldn’t comply. Lazarus couldn’t enter the netherworld and the rich man couldn’t enter heaven. The point of Jesus’ story was that if the rich man had noticed his suffering neighbor life would have been much better for both of them. If only the rich man had noticed! He would have found his way to Abraham’s embrace.

I admit that Ernie drove me crazy much of the time. However, I also admit that Ernie comforted Mike and me far more. That little dog showed us that a well-timed nuzzle, sufficient food, a safe place to lay his head and the encouraging love of those who cared for him were all he needed. All that any of us need to be happy is the same. Once again, we’re invited to take notice of the people we’ve been given to love and to care for them as only we can.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Little Acts… Great Love…

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

Sometimes, the smallest kindness changes the world.

It was the first day of school. Two eight-year-olds made their way to the start of the new year. The problem was that Conner, who was anxious to begin the new year just an hour earlier, had lost his nerve and he began to cry. Conner’s autism amplified his fear. Little Christian noticed his schoolmate’s misery. Without delay, he took Conner by the hand. Together, these two new friends made their way into what now would become an amazing first day of school for them both.

Christian’s mom had her phone along when she took her son to school that morning. She likely hoped to capture a photo of him on his first day of second grade. She never suspected that she’d also capture her son offering a measure of kindness powerful enough to change another child’s world. Christian’s small gesture changed my world as well!

Every day, we witness countless acts of love, tiny heroic moments which change lives. Every minute we’re given holds an opportunity to make or to break one another’s spirits and our own. 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. Whenever we take advantage of the tiniest opportunity to do good, we change this world for the better.

Loving God, thank you for making use of everything we do, especially our small, seemingly unimportant efforts. Even these tiny acts make this world a better place.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Any Cobwebs?

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”

Luke 1:38

While cleaning up after we completed our holiday decorating, I noticed a cobweb in the corner of the living room just above our Christmas Tree. Because we display a village and crèche beneath the tree, it was impossible for me to reach and remove that pesky string of dust. I tried everything, including extending a broom handle in its direction. Nothing worked. Though I was tempted to brood about this mini-eyesore, I decided to use my effort more constructively…

There are many cobwebs in my life. They serve as small reminders of annoyances of every sort and size which usually remain out of sight. Occasionally, when I’m having a bad day or not feeling my best, I allow these “mini-eyesores” to monopolize my attention. Though dozens of blessings surround me, I overlook them in order to focus on one annoying cobweb or another. Though I can’t reach that pesky cobweb which still reigns over my Christmas Tree, I can reach inside to dispel the cobwebs within me.

On that first Christmas, there was likely a cobweb or two in the cave that housed the Holy Family. I’m quite certain that if those cobwebs were there, Mary and Joseph never noticed them. They had a far greater blessing to attend to and so do I!

Loving God, give me eyes that see the good around me and give me a heart which forgives the rest.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Make A World of Difference

Recently, when our parish church was in the midst of a renovation, I peeked inside to check progress. In the process, I couldn’t help noticing the paint crew’s care as they worked. They covered every piece of immovable furniture and then sanded, stained and painted as carefully as possible. One morning while the painters worked in full earnest, my husband the deacon prepared for a small funeral. Before the family arrived, Mike asked the crew if they would avoid sanding and other noisy tasks until afterward. Much to Mike’s amazement, the crew reverently waited outside until the liturgy ended. As soon as the family left, the painters hurried back in to work. This small effort made a world of difference to those who mourned that day.

Throughout this project, our weekday morning Masses were celebrated in the gathering space. Our usual setting for donuts, coffee and juice temporarily resembled a cozy chapel. This transformation resulted from some original thinking on our pastor’s part and the efforts of both staff and volunteers. All concerned saw to it that everything needed for Mass during the week was in place after our last Sunday Mass. Every Saturday morning, these items were returned to the church for the weekend. At times, large scaffolds kept us from our usual routines during Mass. Still, the choir sang above them, communion ministers worked around them, ushers guided baskets through them and our preaching priests and deacons spoke beneath them and beside them. Had the ladder been in place, I know one deacon who was prepared to speak from atop them! In spite of all of these small adjustments, we worshiped with reverence and a bit of pride at having prayed together in the midst of what may have seemed to be a mess. All of our efforts to make the best of this made a world of difference.

In the midst of this renovation, our young associate pastor had a small renovation of his own. He endured surgery for a bit of colon cancer. The good news is that it was at the earliest possible stage. The better news is that surgery went extremely well and his doctors expect a full recovery. Throughout his recuperation, our pastor saw to all of those little things which life-after-surgery entails. This made a world of difference to Father Dave who then concentrated on getting well. As I consider the cooperation between these two, I can’t help recalling the similar care Father Dave offered to our former pastor when he needed it most. The efforts of our young priest made a world of difference to our ailing pastor.

I share these bits and pieces of my parish’s recent history because they illustrate the importance of our smallest efforts to do good. Luke’s gospel (16:19-31) does the same. Luke tells us that Jesus addressed the Pharisees with a parable about a rich man and a poor man. The rich man lived in luxury and indulged himself without restraint. He barred no expense in seeing to his own pleasure as this was his sole concern. Just beyond his front door lay Lazarus, a beggar. Lazarus was in poor health and his body was covered with sores. He was so weak from hunger that he could no longer move. The only attention Lazarus received was from dogs wandering the street who licked his wounds. Though the scraps from the rich man’s table would have provided the nourishment Lazarus needed, the rich man didn’t share them because he didn’t notice that Lazarus was there. You know the rest of the story. What a world of difference it would have made if the rich man had only seen…

Today, my parish begins the rest of its story. Father Greg will be officially installed as our pastor. I use the adverb “officially” because he has been on the job since July 1. As he told us in his first homily, this journey began when Father Greg made the seemingly inconsequential decision to pick up a fork in the road –literally! The Carmelites gave meaning to that little fork when they invited Father Greg to serve as our pastor. Father Greg has given meaning to his response ever since. Though the rich man failed to notice Lazarus at his front door, Father Greg seems to notice everything at his door. Though Lazarus eventually died because no one noticed, my parish family will thrive because Father Greg responds to whatever he sees as best he can.

No one can promise that any of our lives will be perfect and worry free. Still, I do promise that if we do whatever we can whenever we can as best we can, we will make a world of difference for our parishes and homes and workplaces and families and for all whom we’ve been given to love.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Little Acts of Great Love

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

Sometimes, the smallest kindnesses lift our spirits to heaven.

While scrolling through Facebook, my husband found a tidbit regarding the numerous children who returned to school a few week’s ago. During the pre-school shopping days of early August, I observed numerous parents and children in search of school supplies. While I was relieved not to be returning to a classroom myself, I enjoyed watching the interplay as parents and children negotiated which items were and were not essential to the coming school year. Many parents amazed me with their patience as they gently urged their children back to those supply lists. The children responded in kind as they agreed that the family budget would go only so far. In the end, parents and children shared the load as they carried their treasures off to their cars. This scene repeated itself over and over again throughout August. Parents who kept their cool and children who took their parents’ cues certainly made the most of what might have been a trying outing at best.

You know, we’ve all witnessed countless acts of love -tiny, heroic moments in our every day lives. Every moment we’re given is an opportunity make or break one another’s spirits and our own. 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 acknowledging everything we do with love, especially our small, seemingly unimportant efforts. Even these tiny acts bring us closer to you.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved