Fear No Evil…

Though I walk through the valley of darkness,
I fear no evil; for you are with me;
your rod and your staff bring me comfort.

Psalm 23:4

I just received a postcard reminding me to make an appointment with my dentist. Though I don’t fear the dentist as some people do, I do admit to being “doctored out”. I’ve recently taken care of all of my annual check-ups and I’ve had enough. Oddly, that last phrase reminds me of a time long ago when I felt exactly the same way…

As a little child, I feared a visit from the doctor more than anything else. (Yes, doctors made house calls back then!) Though our family physician was pleasant enough, he visited our home only when one of us was ill enough to require immediate intervention. That intervention usually took the form of an injection. Much to my dismay, I was the designated patient on one such occasion. Though only five, I recognized those dreaded letters as my mom spelled “D-o-c-t-o-r” to inform my dad that she was making the call. I’m certain that my tears began to flow by the time my mom said “c”.

An hour or so later, the doctor arrived with that dreaded syringe. After assessing my symptoms, he opened his black bag as my dad lifted me over his shoulder. I carried on so that I didn’t feel pain. When my dad told me that it was over, I cried even harder. I was angry as ever that the doctor had accomplished his dastardly deed. I spent the next half hour on my dad’s lap. He wrapped his arms around me as my sobs faded into whimpers. When my whimpers disappeared, my dad pulled me close to whisper in my ear. “Tomorrow, you’re going to be all better,” he promised. I believed his every word. Though he wasn’t able to keep me from the evils of this world, my dad did love me through them all.

Dear God, thank you for loving me even more powerfully than my dad did.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Generosity… Practice Makes Perfect!

Last weekend, I shared that I’d gone through two boxes of photos from my childhood while looking for a picture for my sister. This encounter with my past elicited numerous memories which have filled me up ever since. I’m happy to report that each one has warmed my heart in unexpectedly amazing ways. Over the past several days, I’ve looked upward often to thank God for this life of mine. At the same time, I admit to looking into the mirror and thinking that I must be getting old. After all, I’ve been celebrating the good old days an awful lot as of late. Oddly, someone looking in from the outside might question my use of the word “good” regarding my childhood. I grew up in a family which would be considered among the working poor today. Still, though life wasn’t perfect, it was certainly more simple than it might have been as a result of our humble circumstances. Our most precious commodities were the people around us. Though they didn’t have many material goods to offer, they were generous in sharing the gift of themselves. As I read today’s scripture readings I couldn’t help thinking of these giving people who made all of the difference in the world to me.

The reading from Kings (1 Kings 17:1016) tells us that a great famine had devastated the land. A poor widow realized that she had only enough flour and oil left to prepare one more tiny loaf of bread. After consuming this final ration, the woman knew she and her son will surely die from starvation. Still, in spite of her impending demise, the widow responded to Elijah who’d happened by as she gathered sticks for a fire. Though she had no reason to help him, the woman listened to Elijah’s request and his promise of nourishment. With that, she gave Elijah the last of her bread. In the end, Elijah, the widow and her son weathered that yearlong famine. Just as Elijah had promised, God rewarded the woman’s generosity with a jar of flour and a jug of oil which never emptied.

Mark’s gospel (Mark 12:38-44) introduces a second widow in the temple who was completely unaware of Jesus the Teacher’s presence. At the same time, the woman was very much aware that she stood before her Creator. It was with great reverence for her God that she reached deeply into her meager treasure to retrieve all that she had, two coins worth just a few pennies. Though meaningless in the shadow of the mountain of money contributed by the wealthy, this offering meant everything to the widow because she had nothing else. Though she might have traded those coins for bread, she handed them over to the temple, perhaps to assist a stranger whose need was even greater than her own.

The widows in today’s readings tug at my heartstrings because I’ve lived most of my life in the company of women like them. The widows in my life answered to Mom, Grandma, Ma Mere, Auntie and a host of given names. Over the years, I found that their generosity wasn’t measured in any single event in their respective lives. These precious people placed the needs of others before themselves on an ongoing basis. Since I witnessed her generosity most closely, I’ll tell you about my mom. She ran our household on a tight budget. At age thirty-nine, she’d joined the ranks of the widowed with six children in tow. A monthly death benefit from my dad’s job, my mom’s position at Sears, my sister’s pay from her receptionist job at the parish rectory and my brother’s pay from delivering groceries allowed us to eke by most weeks. Unexpected expenses such as doctors’ visits and outgrown shoes sometimes taxed our resources beyond capacity. Still, my mom dropped her weekly envelope into the collection basket and sent each of us to church with a quarter in our children’s envelopes. My siblings and I each donated one can to the holiday food drive and we sold wrapping paper with everyone else in the neighborhood to support our school. When our sales failed to meet their quota, our mom purchased items enough to allow them to do so. If one of my mom’s sisters found herself short of funds during a given week, my mom offered what was needed to help her sister to get by. Through all of this, my mom taught me her greatest lesson: To be generous.

Now I don’t mean to imply that the only remarkable examples of generosity come through the efforts of the widowed among us. Generosity flows from varied and sometimes unexpected people. What I mean to suggest is that generosity is a habit developed over a lifetime; generosity comes easiest to those who practice it most; and nothing rivals the joy that comes from giving in spite of our own need. My mom embraced these truths because she was convinced that she would be taken care of. She was certain that God’s generosity would always outdo her own. In the end, she was right. When my mom left this world, she didn’t leave behind many material riches. What she did leave is this dutiful daughter who will tell you what my mom found when she entered the hereafter. She found everyone and everything that she’d ever hoped for. It seems to me that our challenge today is to begin to develop our own varieties of generosity and to practice our unique version of this virtue at every opportunity. Though I can’t actually hear her voice, I know my mom is urging me to tell you that you won’t regret your efforts in this regard.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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

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