Love… Worthwhile Work!

Love is patient and love is kind…
From 1 Corinthians 13:4

This month, my husband and I celebrate a bit of a milestone in our marriage. Happy Anniversary, Dear!

Fifteen years into our marriage, Mike was ordained a deacon. As a result, he can witness marriages. As for me, I assist divorced persons with the church’s annulment process. Over the years, I’ve learned a thing or two regarding both scenarios. I’ve come to believe that those whose marriages succeed find themselves integrating the bliss of their best days and the sadness of their worst arguments with their efforts to love one another. In the end, these fortunate souls view their partners both realistically and lovingly as much as possible and they proceed accordingly with love.

I’ve also learned that there are many reasons that some marriages don’t succeed. At times neither party has made the necessary commitment. At times, two very good people simply shouldn’t have taken their relationship to this lifelong level. At times, in spite of the stellar efforts of one party, the other simply does not or cannot live up to the responsibilities of marriage. Finally, domestic violence or other circumstances deem the relationship unhealthy at best. In the end, God wishes happiness to us all. I’m grateful to have been able to help those in these types of circumstances to pick up the pieces and to move on.

You know, God wishes us happiness in all of our relationships. This is the reason God asks us to be patient and kind and to do our best to coexist with all the love that we can muster for the long haul.

Loving God, thank you for trusting us with the amazingly difficult, yet life-giving ability to love.

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God Feeds Us Well!

My husband is a far more adventurous cook than I. Mike has a knack for determining whether or not a dish will please the palate by simply reading its recipe. I can count the errors he’s made over the decades in this regard on one hand and I don’t need all five fingers to do so! Before we retired, Mike and I found cooking together to be relaxing. We enjoyed shopping for and preparing these mystery meals which distracted us from the headaches we left at work. Even today, Mike continues to assess the offerings in the food section of the newspaper and those he encounters online. As for me, I’ve outgrown these culinary adventures. Since I’ve left those work worries behind, I no longer need the distraction. The truth is that I grew up with enough mystery meals to last a lifetime…

The family menus of my childhood resembled those of most of my generation. We appreciated the nutritional values of fruits and vegetables and we didn’t consider the consequences of frying. Fortunately, my mom had naturally healthy preferences and we ate fairly well. Still, our large family complicated meal planning. In addition to my parents and the six of us children, my uncle and grandfather shared our flat. (Yes, it was a circus at times!) My dad and Uncle Gee ate everything without complaint. Any negativity from Grandpa related more to his frustration with his poor health than to my mom’s cooking. We children were another matter. I was more willing than the others to try the “something new” my mom so often tested on us. I was honestly no more adventurous than they were. I just felt sorry for the poor woman when it came to cooking for us all.

Our greatest challenges were the meals which least resembled something fit for human consumption. (Sorry, Mom!) There were casseroles and hashes which included unrecognizable ingredients. We tasted them on the basis of smell alone. Often, my mom avoided naming a meal. She simply assured us that it was just like something we’d previously enjoyed. If we liked her secret concoction, my mom identified it. If we rejected the mystery meal of the hour, it’s true identity remained her secret. My mom probably hoped to pass it off in another form at another time. Looking back, I think my mom’s ability to feed all of us on a very limited budget deserves applause. Her success in distracting us from the actual content of her offerings is impressive. In the end, my mom saw to it that each one of us had all that we needed to grow and to flourish. Though we didn’t always appreciate her efforts, my mom never stopped caring for us. I share all of this because God has been doing the same since the first of us feasted upon the fruits of Creation ages ago.

Today’s scriptures chronicle some of God’s efforts in this regard. The excerpt from Exodus (16:2-4, 20-24) offers an example of the Israelites’ complaints throughout their flight from Egypt. Tired and hungry, they’d exhausted their patience. The people moaned to Moses that they were better off as Pharaoh’s slaves than starving in the barren desert. Though God knew all of this, Moses prayed on their behalf and, as always, God provided. Every night, quail filled their camp to provide plenty for supper. Every morning, manna appeared. When the people failed to recognize their breakfast, Moses showed them the flakes lying beneath the dew. In the end, all were nourished with what they needed to embrace each new day. The passage from Ephesians (4:17, 20-14) tells us that Paul experienced frustration with his people as well. When the Ephesians also failed to appreciate what lay before them, Paul pointed out that they’d been nourished as well. God’s very presence graced their lives and it was up to them to live accordingly. In the gospel (John 6:24-35), John shares one of Jesus’ lessons in nutrition. Hungry crowds had followed him because they wanted yet another free meal. Jesus responded by explaining that God offered them far more than a no-cost lunch or dinner. Through Jesus, God’s presence had taken tangible form. God dwelled among them and within them and it was up to them to let go of their worry and to embrace this lasting sustenance.

My mother often said that food didn’t have to look like meat and potatoes to taste good. When Mike tries a new recipe, he encourages me not to allow the ingredients to discourage me from tasting it. Every day, God does much the same. God offers each of us a feast of opportunities throughout this life. Though we may not like the looks of everything on our plates, God assures us that tasting what lies ahead will be worth the effort. When we set aside our fear and worry to embrace what God provides, we take in all that we need to grow and to flourish. Today, we’re invited to join the Israelites, the Ephesians and that hungry crowd who followed Jesus in taking in God’s nourishment wherever it lies: In our work and in our leisure, in those we know and in the strangers we met along the way; in our own prayer and in our worship together; in everything!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Hearts Matter

Jesus said to them,
“The Sabbath was made for man,
and not man for the Sabbath.”

Mark 2:27

A recent discussion reminded me that for most of my life I’ve had occasional issues with rules. Though far from perfect at home, I was well-behaved at school. Still, there were times when I questioned “the law” laid down by a teacher or principal. I never saw reason for a classmate to be left sobbing over minor infractions such as having no pencil or forgetting homework. As it happened, my propensity to minimize these missteps almost cost me my place at high school graduation.

Weeks beforehand, our principal strolled through the cafeteria. When she stopped to chat with us outgoing seniors, she remarked that we’d likely soon hang black bunting over our lockers since we’d be vacating them. Afterward, a classmate noted that our principal had made a valid point. We needed to properly mourn our departure. One week later, we celebrated a mock funeral which included a solemn procession into the cafeteria behind a cardboard casket which bore a dummy dressed in a school uniform. The two hundred students assigned to our lunch period participated by streaming past the coffin to pay their respects. Though the entire event resembled an actual visitation with silence and feigned mourning, our principal wasn’t amused. She demanded the organizers’ names and mumbled something about their absence from graduation.

Because I was among the perceived culprits, I rehearsed the explanation I’d offer my mother and then sought out a trusted ally. I worked with Sister Paschal in the school bookstore and knew our respect was mutual. With great hope in Sister’s influence, I explained that our principal had inadvertently suggested this funeral. None of us meant any harm as this display was an expression of our school spirit and our genuine sadness over leaving.

Though I wasn’t privy to Sister Paschal’s intervention, I’m happy to report that our principal never addressed that funeral again. We all also happily attended graduated.

Loving God, rules are important, but not as important as people’s hearts. Help me always to remember this.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Humble Servant

Whoever wishes to be first among you shall serve.
Matthew 20:27

The memories which filled me up at the cemetery the other day remain with me. My loved ones in the hereafter certainly taught me a lot before they took their leave. One of those lessons came at the hands of my dear Aunt Lucille…

Aunt Lucille cared for elderly people throughout her own post-retirement years. She had a way with her “ladies” as she would call them. Her work was truly a pleasure for all concerned. Over time, one of Aunt Lucille’s clients had become rather difficult. The poor woman’s memory no longer served her. This exacerbated her demanding personality. This lady was unkind and demanding, at best (my words, not Aunt Lucille’s). Because Aunt Lucille was always one to find the upside in a situation, she devised a plan. Aunt Lucille made a point of discovering this woman’s favorite things and her pet peeves. My aunt-the-caretaker said and did just the right things to focus her patient on the positive. During the year Aunt Lucille cared for her, this woman became one of my aunt’s most beloved clients.

When the woman passed away, Aunt Lucille went to her funeral. The woman’s family was quite renowned and many notable people attended the service. Aunt Lucille arrived early to insure herself a seat. She chose the last row to leave room for more important attendees. Just before the service began, the woman’s son noticed Aunt Lucille in the back of the church. He immediately walked back to her and escorted her to the family’s pew. “My mother loved you, Lucille. You’ve been a blessing to her and to us. Your place is here!”

We love you, too, Aunt Lucille! Thank you for showing us how it’s done.

Loving God, help me to love with Aunt Lucille’s humility and compassion.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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

All God’s Treasures

Each one speaks from his or her heart’s abundance.
From Luke 6:45

While helping our granddaughters to pack their suitcases after an overnight stay, I checked under their beds for stray socks and flip-flops. In the process, I discovered a storage bin which I’d hidden years earlier. I’d left it untouched because I thought it was filled with one of our sons’ memorabilia. After we drove the girls home, I returned to that bin to determine which of our sons I’d hand it over to during their next visit. When I pulled that bin from under the bed, I saw that the label on top read “Mary’s Childhood and Teens”… What a surprise!

There I found my high school yearbook with handwritten messages from friends and teachers. Familiar faces filled my memory. The message written near Sister Imelda’s picture took me back to freshman year religion class. Sister had observed that we can get a good picture of ourselves by looking at our friends. I took this to mean that our friends mirror who we are. When I taught, I often noted that the “good” kids gravitated toward one another, while their less cooperative peers did the same. Still, good kids were sometimes conned by the allure of unsavory acquaintances. At the same time, placing a troubled child in good company resulted in unexpected liaisons that widened the horizons of all concerned. These amazing friendships changed everything for the children involved. Perhaps I missed the meaning of Sister Imelda’s observation. It isn’t that our friends mirror us, but that their company is witness to our openness to one another regardless of our similarities and differences.

As I considered the variety of friends and teachers who filled my yearbook with their kind words, I saw that our openness to one another is key to a rich life. What a treasure God has made of each of us!

Dear God, help us to appreciate one another more fully.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved