Hearts Like God’s

We give thanks to God always for all of you,
remembering you in our prayers…

1 Thessalonians 1:2

I was very excited to cross off another item on my “check-up” list. I’d gone to my internist and eye doctor and had a mammogram. When I arrived for this appointment, I was taken aback by the waiting room filled with pregnant women. I’m well past that possibility and it hadn’t occurred to me that I might wait in the company of so many mommies-in-waiting. The good news is that they all appeared cheerful as they chatted about their pregnancies and shared helpful tips with one another.

Though I’d brought a book along to occupy myself while I waited, I didn’t read a word. Instead, I stared at the same page all the while as I listened to the exchanges around me. I admit that I filled up with love as the young women around me shared their joy with one another. “Ah, to be young again!” I thought. I clearly recalled the joy my husband and I experienced throughout my pregnancies with both of our sons. It was only when the nurse interrupted my musing that I remembered the reason I was sitting in that waiting room.

As she escorted me to the examination room, I remembered the moments when the doctor confirmed each pregnancy. I fell in love with those babies-to-be instantly. Such are the hearts of parents. They are fashioned to love their children no matter what. Did you know that God’s heart works the same way?

Loving God, thank you for teaching us to love in such amazing ways.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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We Find Our Treasure When We Let Go…

In mid-September, my husband-the-good-deacon and I enjoyed an eight-day tour of Puglia. This quaint Italian wonderland is located on the southeast side of the big boot. After eating, exploring and eating even more, Mike and I questioned the wisdom of adding four additional days to our travel. Happy as we were with the tour, we were tired and wanted to go home. Still, while our fellow tourists boarded that plane back to O’Hare, Mike and I settled in on the smaller aircraft which would take us to Palermo, Sicily. Though the flight lasted less than an hour, fatigue dug in its heels. When our luggage appeared an hour after we landed, we were convinced that we were doomed to four days of misery. With that, we pulled our bags out of the terminal and headed outdoors. Amazingly, it took only a second to spot the young man who was waving and smiling broadly as he called our names. In an instant, our fatigue faded. Mike and I bubbled with joy as walked to Francesco and the four memorable days which awaited us.

Mike met Francesco a few years ago via Facebook and a recommendation regarding his work. The two have communicated all the while via private messages and WhatsApp chats. During this time, Francesco completed a genealogy search for us. Francesco’s enthusiasm suggested that he was as pleased as we were with the results. It was as though Mike’s Sicilian family had become Francesco’s long lost relatives as well. Throughout our time together, this impression proved accurate. Amazingly, while our hopes regarding this visit to Mike’s grandparents’ village were abundantly fulfilled, it was an unexpected encounter in a nearby town which best illustrates the tone of our time in Sicily and the amazing friendships which have resulted.

We spoke about this impending trip with our friends Mary Lou and Dave. Mary Lou shared that her aunt and uncle live in a town close to Mike’s grandparents’ home in Altofonte. On a whim, Mike asked for their address thinking that we might find the time to greet this elderly couple and their daughter. When we mentioned the possibility to Francesco, he promised to make this happen. While Francesco confirmed the directions to Casteldaccia, Mike called Mary Lou to ensure that we’d be welcomed and that we wouldn’t frighten her family. With that, we made our way into their neighborhood. We soon discovered that the house numbers had recently changed and that the address we had was no longer accurate. Fortunately, it was early evening and many of the locals were sitting outdoors. When Francesco asked a gentleman if he knew where Paolo and Maria lived, I noticed a woman a few doors down. She poked her husband and said, “Paolo e Maria?” Sure enough, we’d found Mary Lou’s family!

While Francesco explained our presence, I pulled out my cell phone and retrieved a photo of Mary Lou, Dave and their kids. Before Francesco could complete his explanation, Maria jumped up to greet us. After I shared the photo with her, Maria ran (Yes, she ran!) into the house to get her daughter Angelina. Francesco explained for us that we were so close, we simply had to bring our greetings, smiles and hugs to Mary Lou’s family. Though we were a little nervous about this encounter, it took only seconds for Mike and me to feel that we were among family. We smiled all the while as we shared news regarding Mary Lou and Dave, Valerie and Ryan. Francesco documented this visit with photographs and a video of the hugs I collected for Mary Lou and her family. As for me, I’ve fulfilled my promise to bring those hugs and a full account of our time together all the way home to Gurnee.

I share our Sicilian adventure with you because it gets to the heart of the young man’s problem in today’s gospel (Mark 10:17-30). This rich fellow spent his life carefully adhering to The Law. His well-intentioned heart and his desire to do more drew him to Jesus. Jesus recognized the young man’s goodness and he invited him to give his wealth to the poor and to follow him. This generosity of spirit was beyond the young man’s comprehension. He couldn’t imagine himself without his wealth in hand.

You know, fatigue almost kept Mike and me from embracing the joy we found in Sicily. Mary Lou’s family might have allowed fear to keep them from welcoming us into their home. Rather, it was without hesitation that they embraced us as their own. Their love for Mary Lou compelled them to do nothing less. That truly poor rich man had busied himself so completely with calculating The Law’s dictates and his own profits that he couldn’t imagine opening himself to a different way of life. His material concerns kept him from the joy which awaited him in Jesus and in all of those he’d meet along the way. I wish that young man could have joined us in Paolo and Maria’s home. They would have shown him that when we open our hands to let go, we free ourselves to embrace the best of this life. What we have at the moment is not nearly as valuable as what we will have when we open our hearts to one another.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

It Is A God Day!

This is the day the Lord has made.
Rejoice and be glad!

Psalm 118:24

A few years ago, I found myself making an habitual mistake every time I closed an email. When I intended to type, “Have a good day,” I actually typed, “Have a god day!” Though my typo didn’t begin with a capital letter, the meaning of my error didn’t escape me. Well, I’ve apparently not mastered my typing skills in this regard because I’m once again making that error on a regular basis.

When I consider what might be behind this typing slip, it doesn’t take me long to figure it out. Life in this world of ours is tough these days. This country and many others around the world are steeped in battles within their own borders which elicit anything but good days. The church reels in its turmoil over the abuse of children and the blatant cover-up of these incidents. In addition, there are the natural disasters and violence which assault innocent people day in and day out. It’s extremely difficult for me to have a good day with these clouds overhead. Finally, a call from our sons or smiles from our grandchildren distract me from my woe. Finally, I remember that God is above, loving us and encouraging us all the while.

In the end, I realize that there is no typing error here. I truly wish all of us to “Have a God day!” every day! From morning til night, we all need to realize that God loves us. God has also given each of us unique gifts with which we can change this world as only they can.

Yep, I wish us all a God day every day!

Loving God, thank you for making all of our days God days even when we fail to notice.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

It’s Good To Be Noticed

Jesus entered a house and wanted no one to know
about it, but he could not escape notice.

From Mark 7:24

My husband serves as “family grocery shopper” most of the time. When I joined him in retirement, I tried to retrieve what had once been my responsibility. After my first few trips to the store, Mike finally asked, “What takes you so long? I can find the stuff on a list twice as long in half the time. What are you doing there?” When I thought about what had transpired on these outings, I told Mike that, each time, I had run into a neighbor, a friend from church or a former colleague. Of course, I took the time to chat. Why not? I had all of the time in the world.

A few months later, I relinquished my hold on our shopping lists at least half of the time. As visits to our grandchildren and my writing schedule increased, I realized that efficient shopping trips were sometimes in order. I also ventured to the store on occasion because my grocery-store encounters were sometimes unexpectedly important to me or to the person I ran into.

The scriptures tell us that Jesus’ moments of peace were often disrupted by those who needed him. The same is true for you and me. All that is asked is that we respond as best we can.

Dear God, I am grateful that others occasionally need me. Help me to respond to them as you would.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

From Mourning to Joy

How great is the goodness, O Lord,
which you have in store.

From Psalm 31:20

My husband has always exhibited great compassion for those who’ve lost a loved one. Still, his empathy grew exponentially as a result of his work as a hospice chaplain. This is the reason that he willingly presides over wake services and funerals when asked. Regardless of his busy schedule, Mike adjusts his plans whenever he can to accommodate those in mourning.

On one such occasion, a woman’s remains were being sent from out-of-state for her funeral and burial. Her family had no local church affiliation, so Mike agreed to do the service. When he asked about the person who’d passed, he discovered that this fifty-eight-year-old was disabled and had been cared for by her parents all of her life. By this time, their ages prevented them from traveling, but they wanted their child to rest in peace with their other departed family members. One day, these parents will do the same.

In spite of their advanced ages and their daughter’s difficult life, the woman’s parents deeply grieved her loss. Still, they couldn’t help sharing the joy their daughter offered them at the end of her life. “Just before Ella passed away, she told us that she was going with Jesus and she smiled. How can we cry after hearing that?” Mike responded by sharing the homily he would offer at Ella’s service with her parents over the phone. This time, he knew there was no need to persuade mourners that their loved one had embraced eternal life. He simply mourned with them and smiled with them over what they now knew to be true.

Gentle God, touch the hearts of those who mourn with a glimpse of the peace Ella shared with her mom and dad that day.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Serve Up Some Joy

Show me, O Lord, your way…
From Psalm 27:11

From the time I realized what a nun was, I wanted to enter the convent as two of my dad’s sisters had. They and my mom’s aunt who was also a nun had given me good reason to admire their work.

As it happened, though I spent a lot of time with nuns over the years, I never did become one of them. Oddly, it was during a summer away with the sisters that they encouraged me to accept a date with a young man who volunteered at the parish where we were helping out. Though this puzzled me at the time, their counsel proved most helpful. I happily invited these sisters to his and my wedding the following year!

You know, I was drawn to the nuns because of the good they accomplished. Nothing appealed to me more than the service they rendered to others. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that God’s call to service has less to do with ones marital or employment status than with the status of ones heart. Those wonderful women had inspired me with their generosity and their persistence. They never seemed to tire of solving the problems at hand and doing good. Indeed, they inspired both my husband and me to find amazing and unexpected ways to do the same as best we can wherever we are.

It seems to me that God offers the same opportunity to each of us every moment of every day.

Loving God, help us to serve one another generously.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved