Living Gratefully

Let all your works give you thanks, O Lord,
and let your faithful ones bless you.

Psalm 145:10

This occurs occasionally and without explanation. Unexpected feelings of gratitude overwhelm me. I’m a creature of habit who walks the same route every single time I venture outdoors. Still, the blue of the sky or changes in the trees which I’ve seen a hundred times before fill me with awe. The familiar green branches looming overhead reveal new knots and gnarly twists every time I pass under them. Chirping birds provide the frosting on the cake. Even drizzling rain gives me reason to be grateful.

Perhaps I’ve been an unwitting student of Creation’s wisdom during these treks outdoors. Perhaps the gently clouded sky that beckons my eyes toward heaven and the trees which continuously raise their arms upward are reminding me to do the same. Their very existence points to God’s glory. And then there are those people I’ve been given to love…

Perhaps my existence on this earth is meant to point others in heaven’s direction as well. Like Nature around me, perhaps I’m meant to do everything I do with a spirit of gratitude. After all, being a part of God’s creation is a privilege and honor and something for which to be extremely grateful.

Generous God, when I appreciate what I have, it’s easy to share my gifts with others. Help me to do so generously.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Prioritize and Write! Right?

Hear, O Lord,the sound of my call;
hear, O Lord, and answer me.

Psalm 27:7

July proved to be a crazy month which ended with our family vacation. This adventure included our sons’ daughters-in-law and our four grandchildren. We had a wonderful time and, needless to say, my husband and I returned home exhausted, happily exhausted. Between loads of laundry, I peeked at our August calendar to confirm that this promises to be a far less frenetic month. After confirming that most dates are free of commitments, I noticed a word I’d written in large block letters at the top of this new calendar page: BOOK! With that, the free-time I’d anticipated for the month ahead seemed to have morphed into a writing frenzy.

I’ve alluded to my frustration over not completing my book multiple times. When I printed BOOK! next to AUGUST on my calendar, I made a mental note to make this the month I return to that manuscript. This time, however, I’ve also made a mental NOT to engage in a writing frenzy. In the past, I’ve spent every available minute at my keyboard. I kept phone calls brief and leisure reading became nonexistent. I exercised less and gave up solving an occasional Sudoku and daily crossword puzzles. Television became a non-entity as well. Though spending time with family and friends brings my greatest joy, I actually felt “bothered” by invitations to socialize.

My skewed priorities added nothing to the quality of my manuscript and the quality of my life. On this August 1, I’m happy to share that I will adhere to my new writing schedule which allows time for the other priorities in my life, especially the people I love.

Patient God, remind me often to make love my main priority.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Good and Gracious God

I began to reminisce on Memorial Day. My husband and I had just returned from a few days up north. As we turned into our driveway, the small American Flags he’d placed in each of our planters caught my eye and my heart. Before unloading the car, Mike unfurled our large flag and placed it on the front of the house. These images of the Stars and Stripes prompted thoughts of many family members and friends who had served in the military and who currently celebrated the holiday in a much better place. I smiled and offered a prayer of thanksgiving for them and for all who have sacrificed so much for us.

Throughout the two weeks since, numerous memories of my departed loved ones have surfaced. At the same time, I’ve enjoyed flashbacks of interactions with the many others still with us who’ve also enriched my life with their presence. This line-up of amazing people began with my great-aunt Sister Gerard. She was born on Memorial Day and I assume her recent birthday elicited my thoughts of her. Our wall of family photos which includes Sister Gerard inspired further reflection. Her sparkling eyes seemed to assure me that my dear aunt continues to love me from her home in the hereafter. I admit to a few tears as I considered Sister’s kindness toward me. Though she was always attentive, Sister Gerard surprised me with an invitation to spend a few days with her the summer before I began sixth grade. She lived in St. Gall’s Convent on the South Side of Chicago where she’d been assigned during much of my childhood. While with her, I spent time with the other sisters as well. I also helped Sister Gerard to set up her classroom for the coming year. All of this boosted my self-esteem exponentially. Of course, Sister Gerard made whoever was in her company feel special. This trait was the hallmark of many of the adults who graced my life. With so much for which to be thankful, I prayed once again.

How I wished my grandchildren could sit on my dad’s lap! My mom made most of my clothes when I was little. How I wished she could sew just one dress for Ellie, Lauren and Claire. I was certain she’d fashion a colorful pair of Bermuda shorts for Danny which would rival those she made for his dad and uncle. My aunts and uncles loved all of their nieces and nephews. How they would have enjoyed Mike and Abby, Tim and Kim and their children! And so it has gone. Fond memories have filled my days and mercilessly interrupted my attempts at this writing. Frustration threatened to distract me further until I realized that these were not interruptions that took me from my work after all. They were gentle bits of inspiration sent to reveal the gift we celebrate today.

On this Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, we celebrate God’s presence among us. This phenomenon began when love impelled our Creator to fashion this universe and all who inhabit it. When humankind failed to grasp the goodness of God’s gifts and looked elsewhere for happiness, God relentlessly pursued us. When we continued to run from God’s loving ways, heaven touched the earth one again in the person of Jesus. From the moment Mary gave birth to her tiny son, God’s presence became tangible. Jesus emerged from this humble beginning to reveal God’s love firsthand. Jesus clarified what we had too long ignored and too long misunderstood. When some failed to see the precious gifts Jesus offered, they turned against Jesus and saw to his death. Jesus responded by rising and returning to ensure us once and for all that God’s love prevails over everything. To see to it that we will never lose sight of God’s loving presence, God’s Holy Spirit remains with us. Though the Spirit may not often be revealed in tongues of fire, the Spirit continues to be revealed in remarkable ways.

These nostalgic interludes with my precious loved ones provided me with tangible evidence of all that we celebrate this Trinity Sunday. God’s ongoing presence in our lives tops the list. God’s Spirit has nudged me along through the numerous people God has given me to love and through those who have so generously loved me. Whether I’m at my best or at my worst, God’s presence remains within me and within the people who journey with me through this life. The only response I can offer is gratitude. So it is that I celebrate the God of love –Creator, Son and Spirit– with thanksgiving. You know, we all have reason to be grateful because God remains present in every moment of our lives. Whether it is in the wonder of Creation, in the presence of a kindred soul or deep within ourselves, we experience God’s love whenever we open our hearts to it. Why do we celebrate this Trinity Sunday? We celebrate because God is with us and God loves us today and always!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Much-Loved Characters

“I have found David, my servant;
with my holy oil I have anointed him…”

Psalm 89:21

A recent conversation with a dear lifelong friend conjured up fond memories of our upbringing. His family mirrors my own in that it’s loving and large. We grew up on the same block where our gatherings with relatives often poured out onto our front and back porches. Though my friend has eleven siblings and I have only five, we were both reared with an amazing variety of “characters” in our lives. By the way, I write that with loving thoughts of them all!

Throughout my life, I’ve been blessed with characters of every sort. Because I grew up down the block from our church, streams of fellow parishioners passed our house on their way to Mass each week. By the time I was sixteen and took my first job at a grocery store, I was quite adept at interacting with others. This came to good use in college, when I eventually married, began my teaching career and became involved in a new parish. All the while, I enjoyed the array of people who came with my new digs.

Still, more precious are the moments I’ve shared individually with others. These encounters offer glimpses of amazing souls whom I might have missed in a crowd. Many have no idea of their contribution to my humble existence. Each precious one reminds me that King David isn’t God’s only anointed one. Each of us is sent out to bless those around us and to bless this world with the unique gift of our self. Yes, each one of us is a “character” whom God has anointed and sent to enrich everyone we meet along the way.

Thank you, Dear God, for loving us and trusting us to enrich this world!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Welcomed With God’s Love

May your compassion quickly come to us,
for we are brought very low.

From Psalm 79:8

I’d had a very tough week. In the midst of it, my childhood friend shared that his ailing sister-in-law had passed away. I’d done my best to pray for her recovery, but this wasn’t to be. The day after, my friend sent the funeral arrangements. Though my husband was presiding at his cousin’s memorial service the same weekend, I announced that I planned to attend this funeral. Though his plate was as full as mine, Mike agreed that there was time to attend both.

The wounds from that tough week were fresh when I climbed into the passenger side of the car with some relief and inexplicable peace. The relief resulted from my husband’s insistence that he’d drive us into the city for the wake. The peace proved to be a premonition of what was to come. Though I’m in touch with my friend often, I haven’t seen his family in decades. His older sister accompanied him to my mom’s funeral, but that was fourteen years ago. Nonetheless, Mike and I arrived to an extremely warm welcome. When I apologized for what I hoped wasn’t an intrusion, the grieving husband would hear none of it. How grateful I was that we were early enough to miss the crowds and to engage him in conversation. When his sister arrived, she immediately approached to ask, “Are you Mary Ellen?” Of course I am and, at that moment, how wonderful I felt to be me.

The following day, at my husband’s family’s service, their welcome echoed the one we’d received the day before. Though my intent was to bring comfort to those suffering difficult losses, these amazing souls brought much more to me. The difficulties of the past week faded into the joy of being loved.

Most Loving God, thank you for the good souls who take the time to love as you do.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Lovable Children

Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths;
all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

Luke 3:4, 6

In preparation for our grandson’s first overnight stay, I put a clean sheet in his Pack ‘n Play and child-proofed his room. This room had actually been his daddy’s bedroom. As I assured myself that all was well, fond memories filled me up. Every time I see this little bed, I recall tucking in each of our granddaughters who are much too big to use it these days. Still, it was as though it was yesterday…

As Advent continues, I consider the “portable crib” in which Mary placed Jesus. That it held hay for livestock didn’t matter to Mary or to Jesus. What mattered were the arms and the heart which held Jesus far more warmly and lovingly than any bed could have.

You know, our grandson will join his cousins in growing far too big for this crib. And, just as is the case with them, we will continue to love them and to keep them safe and comfortable for as long as we can. Hopefully, our efforts will inspire these little ones to go out and do the same for their own families and everyone God gives them to love.

It occurs to me that there is an Advent lesson and a life-long lesson here for me. Just as I willing care for my lovable grandchildren, I must care for all whom God looks upon with loving eyes, at least the ones who cross my path today.

Loving God, fashion my heart into a resting place for you and for all of those you have given me to love.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved