The Small Stuff Matters…

“For the one who is least among all of you
is the one who is greatest.”

From Luke 9:48

A recent walk around a nearby lake reminded me of just how small I am. This particular lake offers only a tiny beach area. The remainder of its circumference is lined with very tall trees and dense foliage. The greenery is interrupted only by a narrow path just wide enough for two. As I walked, I felt like a tiny ant in the grand scheme of things. Though the lot where I left my car was actually only a block away, I felt lost in the forest around me.

I feel very small at other times as well. In spite of my best efforts, it seems that I can’t do much to solve the problems of this world. Wars continue to be fought. Poverty continues in full force. Political interests overpower the good of the many and on it goes. I ask myself if there is anything I can do to make an important difference.

It is in the midst of this lament that I recall Jesus’ words regarding our need to become children once again. Little girls and boys don’t over-think things. (Remember when I mentioned little Christian’s kindness to Conner the other day?) Children simply observe the situation at hand and they respond accordingly. It occurs to me that I do my best work when I follow their lead. I do have the capacity to change the world. It is through my seemingly insignificant efforts that I bring peace, sustenance and justice to one soul at a time.

Dear God, the small things we do for one another make a world of difference after all. Thank you!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Chosen and Loved!

Bless the Lord, all you God’s chosen ones…
From Tobit 13:8

During a recent visit, Grandpa and I watched an episode of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood with our grandson. This program is an outgrowth of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. I fondly recall introducing our sons to Fred Rogers. It never ceased to amaze me that the mild-mannered Mr. Rogers managed to captivate the boys for the duration of every show. The truth is that I enjoyed each episode as much as my sons did, perhaps more so.

I say this because when we became parents, I think my husband and I understood the importance of feeling special and important, wanted and cherished far more than our sons understood these things. As a result, I think their dad and I did a reasonably good job of making them feel loved. Sadly, regardless of the efforts of those around us, many of us feel devalued, unwanted and unimportant. In spite of my parents’ best efforts, I experienced my own childhood moments of dejection and loneliness. I vowed then and there that, should I ever have children of my own, they would know that they are loved no matter what!

When we feel rejected, unloved and lonely, we convince ourselves that no one really cares about us. So it is that I echo the words which inspired Fred Rogers in the first place: YOU are God’s chosen one. God loves YOU even more than I love my sons and far more than you will ever know until you meet God face to face. On that day, God will clear up any doubt you have!

Loving God, thank you for loving each one of us as your precious child. Please give us the wisdom to never forget just how loved we are!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Destination: Heaven!

In spite of the heavy traffic, I smiled as we crept along the tollway. Since my dear husband was driving, I’d been taking in the view along the way. Though there wasn’t much more to see than the other vehicles on the road, I was enjoying myself. I wondered about the drivers who hurried along with us. What was it that urged them along their way? I hoped each one would find what he or she hoped for at the end of the drive. Eventually, a semi cab interrupted this musing. It looked rather odd without its trailer in tow. As I wondered who thought up the ingenious design which allowed that trucker to sleep in his rig, I noticed some very large lettering printed across its back. “Destination: Heaven” it said. I wondered what impelled this man to proclaim his final stop to the rest of us. Were the other drivers who shared the road with us heading toward the same end? As Mike continued to make his way through the dense traffic, I asked myself, “What is that trucker’s idea of heaven? What about those other drivers? What about me?”

Since our first grandchild was born, I’ve said at least a thousand times, “I’m in grandma heaven!” Our grandchildren bring Mike and me great joy. I admit to savoring every minute that I spend with each of them. When I gathered for an afternoon with my sisters not long ago, one remarked, “Mmmm. This is heaven!” Though I’m certain she was pleased with our company, her comment was in response to the bit of Godiva chocolate she’d slipped into her mouth. How she loves chocolate! The other day, a friend remarked that she’d been in cruise heaven because she hadn’t set her alarm clock the entire time she was away. Currently, Cub fans find themselves in and out of baseball heaven as their lovable team edges nearer to and then farther from possible post-season play. After the Bears opening game, I won’t mention the possibility of football heaven unless, of course, you’re a Packer fan! I suppose each of us can describe those perfect circumstances which would make us feel that we are immersed in one type of heaven or another. Sometimes, the possibility seems completely out of reach and we dismiss it as pure folly. Sometimes, we convince ourselves that, if only this or that circumstance would conform to our wishes, we’d be in the heaven of our choosing.

In today’s gospel (Luke 15:1-32), Luke tells us that Jesus once told the story a young man who defined and then redefined heaven for himself much the way we do. The young man and his brother lived on the family farm with their father. They worked hand in hand with their dad in order to maintain their prosperous land. Apparently, this arrangement wasn’t the young man’s idea of heaven. He failed to find fulfillment in a hard day’s work and in the fruits of the fields around him. Heaven was something quite different to him. He wanted that heaven so badly that he forsook his own father’s life to get it. You see, the young man asked his father for his portion of his inheritance. When he did this, this son wasn’t simply asking for an advance on his allowance or for a small loan. This son was asking his father to behave as though he was dead and to give him what would be his upon his father’s death. Scripture scholars tell us that the young man could neither insult nor hurt his father more deeply than he did by voicing his demand. It was as though this son said to his father, “I can’t wait for you to die. Behave as you’re dead now and give me what is mine!”

Though you or I might have responded to the young man far differently, that father complied with his son’s wishes. That father gave his son the equivalent of what he would have inherited had this father died that day. With no regret, the young man immediately set out to find the heaven which he’d defined for himself. He invested his inheritance in partying. He spent every penny surrounding himself with the right people, especially those who saw things his way and those who brought him pleasure. He ate the best food and drank the finest wine with his store-bought acquaintances. The young man enjoyed it all without lifting a finger except, of course, to open his money bag to keep things the way he liked them. Eventually, the young man’s resources ran out and he was left without food, friends and finances. In the midst of starvation, he offered himself for hire to a landowner who took him on to tend to his pigs. As he stood in the mud surrounded by swine, the young man considered his predicament and how recklessly wasteful he’d been. He’d not only squandered his inheritance, but he’d also discarded the most important relationships in his life. Full of sorrow and regret, this lost son adjusted his perception of heaven. He set out for the place that once was his home. There, he would beg for a job beside the servants. Though he knew even this was too much to ask, the young man hoped against hope that he would find a parcel of heaven in the shadow of his father’s house. When the young man finally made it home, he was overwhelmed by the heaven he found in his loving father’s embrace.

I wish I’d been among the people who listened as Jesus told the prodigal son’s story. I wish I could have looked into Jesus’ eyes as he described the joy of welcoming home a lost child. In those eyes, I might have caught a glimpse of what my truck driver friend so boldly proclaimed for the rest of us to see. You know, “Destination: Heaven” is listed on each of our itineraries. Though heaven may escape us much of the time during this life, in the end, we will not escape heaven. Our Loving God waits with outstretched arms to warmly embrace every child, prodigal or otherwise, who comes home. On that day, we will actually find heaven just as Jesus promised.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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

They’re Always Watching!

Beloved:Let no one have contempt for your youth,
but set an example for those who believe,
in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity.

1 Timothy 4:12

The other day at the grocery store, a young man “slipped” and said a word that wasn’t suitable for the ears of some nearby children. Before he could apologize, the older woman with him responded, “You know, kids are always watching and it’s up to us to show them what’s right.” The woman added another line or two about how she and his dad were very careful of their language when he was within earshot. The young man took his mother’s comments well. The pair smiled at one another and then continued their shopping. As for the kids, I’m grateful to say that they didn’t react to any of this as they were distracted by the shelves of breakfast cereal before them. Neither they nor their mom seemed to have heard a word.

That wise parent’s comment echoed sentiments repeated frequently throughout my teaching career and my second career as a grandparent. Grandchildren repeat just about everything they hear. They also mimic our actions and our attitudes far more accurately than we might think possible.

What does all of this mean for us allegedly mature adults? Apparently, we need to be on our best behavior as often as possible. None of us knows when an impressionable child of any age may be watching. It’s up to us to provide them with the best lessons we’re capable of offering as often as we can.

Easy, huh?

Loving God, help us to offer only glimpses of your goodness to the young souls you place in our care.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

How Will We Change The World?

Peace!… Do not be afraid!
Go and carry the news…

From Matthew 28:9-11

Though eighteen years have passed, I’ll never forget my whereabouts Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001…

I was driving to school when a report of an airliner crashing into the World Trade Center interrupted the local news. The assistant principal and I were discussing that horrific accident when the second assault in New York occurred. Fortunately, our students were all in the building by that time. When the Pentagon was hit, area schools were put in “lock-down” mode. Classroom teachers secured their doors and kept their students inside while the rest of us patrolled the hallways and saw to it that no unidentified individuals entered. Our school district served both local children and the children of military personnel assigned to the military installation just blocks away. Each of us prayed fervently that the base wouldn’t be the next target…

Though eighteen years have passed, I’ll never forget the heroic effort which unfolded by midday, September 11, 2001…

The morning’s devastation horrified us all, yet bravery and selflessness reigned. Uncommon generosity became the norm. Those nearby joined hands to do everything possible to care for those who’d been hurt. Many more did the same during the months and years that followed. This world has never been the same since that day…

I was convinced that nothing would change this world as dramatically as that infamous day did and I was wrong. The actions of those hijackers inspired subsequent assaults. The actions of those first responders and those who who continued their efforts for months and years afterward inspired selflessness and generosity beyond all of our expectations.

What will change the world around us today? It’s up to you and me…

Loving and Merciful God, give us hearts which desire peace and hands to build that peace wherever we are.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved