The Advent of Joy

Love your neighbor as yourself.
From Matthew 22:19

As I strung lights around our Christmas Tree, I remembered my mom doing the same half a century ago. I loved watching her transform the year’s bare tree into our living room’s centerpiece. While perched on a small ladder, she placed ornaments strategically. Those that reflected most were hung near the brightest lights. Though we lived in a crowded flat, there was always room for that tree and the tiny village she’d fashion beneath it.

The Christmas I recall most vividly, our dad had passed away the previous July. Young as I was, I wondered how my mom found the strength to celebrate that year. In spite of the sadness which remained with us all of those months, my older sister Rita joined Mom in preparing special gifts for each of us. On Christmas Eve, our parish priests asked my brother to walk his wagon down to the rectory. Raoul returned with a beautifully wrapped package for himself and his five sisters. Who could have expected more? None of us did, but it came…

After Christmas dinner at home, we went on to Aunt Claire’s and Uncle Steve’s home to celebrate with our extended family. My aunt and uncle ushered us to their Christmas Tree for more gifts. Though all concerned knew that nothing could replace my dad, they did their best to emulate his love for us. Though I can’t name the gifts I received that year, I continue to feel the love offered which has sustained me for a lifetime.

In spite of the terrible loss my family experienced, those who loved us did their best to bring joy to that long ago Christmas. It seems to me that we observe Advent best when we do the same for one another.

Loving God, help me to bring joy to others in everything I say and do.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Precious and Loved

Your children will be like olive branches who enrich your table.
From Psalm 128:3

Whenever our grandchildren visit, they spend a good deal of time thumbing through the photo albums stacked on our coffee table. These albums feature all of them from the time of their births. Of course, the rest of us are also preserved for posterity in this smattering of birthday, Christmas and other special occasion photos. Though kids enjoy looking at all of us, they seem especially amazed by the way they’ve changed over the years. So are we! As that metamorphosis continues, so will our love for each of them!

The other day, I decided to peruse my husband’s and my photo history. After enjoying our grandchild-filled albums, I opened our wedding album. As I poured over the decades-old pictures, tears threatened. On almost every page, I found Mike and me in our twenty-something prime. In those same photos, I found many a loved one who has passed on from this life. Just as Mike and I have had a significant impact upon one another, each of these special people left a significant mark on us. The love they showered upon us so long ago is tangible even today in most of what Mike and I do and say.

You know, my husband and I aren’t perfect. Nor are our sons and their families and the countless others who’ve touched our lives. Still, we love them dearly and we hope we’ve added to the richness of their lives just as they’ve added to our life together. The most important gift we give to one another is our love, especially when it seems least deserved. It is then that our love matters most of all!

Thank you, God, for the people you have given me to love in this life and for those who so generously love me in return.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Blessed Now and Later

Jesus toured all of Galilee. He taught,
proclaimed the good news, and cured the people of every illness.

From Matthew 4:23

Recent planning for my husband’s birthday, our granddaughter’s birthday and Thanksgiving Day has elicited a renewed appreciation for the gift of my family. Poignant memories of younger versions of my husband and me, falling in love, marrying and the pregnancies which resulted in two amazing sons fill me up. Add to this our sons’ wonderful wives and our grandchildren. You get the idea. I have much to be grateful for.

Still, none of this would be possible if not for the family and other special people who nurtured us along the way. So many of the people who helped me to become who I am today have passed on. Though my certainty of their joy in heaven remains steadfast, the sting of their absence reemerges often. The scriptures teem with examples of the healing powers of Jesus. Sometimes I wonder, “Why not two millenniums later? Why couldn’t they have stayed just long enough to see our grandchildren?”

When I find myself asking such questions, I look to Jesus who struggled with the trials and tribulations of this world just as we do. I can’t help thinking that Jesus was able to do all of this because he knew what was coming afterward. In the end, he determined that eternal life was worth the trouble. Since we know what Jesus knew back then, aren’t our woes worth the trouble as well? Events in the here and now don’t always unfold as we hope because, in the end, they lead us to so much more. Our loved ones in the hereafter attest to that!

Loving God, I will try to embrace every moment I’m given, even the difficult ones, because I know joy will follow them.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Live with Faith, Hope and God’s Love!

This week, I’ll celebrate my parents’ seventy-seventh wedding anniversary. While my mom and dad will observe this special day in a place far better than our troubled world, I’ll reminisce over old photos and poignant memories. I’m tempted to long for the simpler times my parents seemed to enjoy, but I cannot. Life was no easier for them than it is for us these days. Though the details of our circumstances differ, similar pain has punctuated human history since our beginning. One of the treasures my mom left is an album in which she mounted the bridal shower and wedding cards she and my dad received. These treasures get to the heart of everything of importance to us as we journey through this life and beyond. I’m certain they inspired my parents’ efforts in this regard…

I opened my mom’s album and considered each page of cards. These tiny treasures measure no more than three inches or four inches in height and width. Still, in spite of their diminutive size, they carry grand wishes. The personal notes added to manufactured verses speak eloquently of each sender’s love for my future parents. The various signatures elicited images of family members and friends from long ago. As I thumbed through the yellowed pages, one letter-sized paper stood out. I wondered who might have sent this particular greeting. As I read, I discovered perhaps the most touching message of them all. It was written by the president of the company for which my mom worked. Here is what that extremely wise man had to say: “Dear Rita: I am happy to learn that you are to be married on Saturday and want to extend my best wishes to you and your husband. May your wedded life be full of joy and happiness. Do not let the present gloomy world conditions put a damper on your hopes and ambitions. Marriage is a wonderful venture in life and I know it is going to mean much happiness to you both in the years to come. With kindest regards, I remain… W. R. Barker”

My parents married in 1942. World War II raged and times were tough. Many family members and friends served in the military. The damage done by a childhood bout with rheumatic fever kept my father from joining them. My mom had been working for years by then. She took a job during high school because her family needed the added income to get by. My mom’s single regret was her inability to attend college. Neither she nor her parents could afford the tuition. I’m certain that meeting my dad dulled the sting of that unrealized dream as a new dream took shape in their relationship. Indeed, my parents’ wedding day proved to be the first of 6,112 amazing days together. It seems Mr. Barker knew the potential for joy which my parents realized throughout the years ahead. His letter summed up everything that we can hope for in this life: A measure of happiness, the love of others, encouragement in spite of troubling times and friends who stand at our sides. Apparently, my mom appreciated Mr. Barker’s sentiments because his letter is displayed quite beautifully in her album. My mother’s grateful approach to her circumstances over the years since convince me that she took Mr. Barker’s sentiments to heart. Yes, our hopes and ambitions and love make all of the difference regardless of the conditions around us.

Mr. Barker’s words touched me as well because they reflect the love which Jesus exhibited when he met a group of lepers one day. Luke’s gospel (Luke 17:11-19) tells us that, when they saw him, these suffering men cried out, “Jesus! Master! Have pity on us!” Jesus felt their pain as only Jesus could. Without hesitation, he sent the men to show themselves to the priests of the temple. On their way, one leper realized he was healed. While the others went on to have themselves declared cured, this man raced back and fell at Jesus’ feet. Though the others certainly realized what had occurred, only this man returned. Could it be that he recognized a more significant blessing? Indeed, he had encountered the Lord! Not only was his body made whole, but his spirit had also been revived by God’s all-encompassing love. This grateful one-time leper realized that he would flourish in spite of the world’s gloomy conditions because he was loved. God’s love would ensure that nothing would ever again put a damper on this man’s hopes and ambitions. He returned to say “Thank you, Lord!” for good reason!

As I consider the wedding greetings which fill my mom’s album, I realize she kept them for good reason. They provided a constant reminder of the love which surrounded her and my dad as they began their life together. Just as the leper’s healing reminded him of God’s healing love in his life, my mother’s album kept her cognizant of God and all of the loved ones who walked this life’s journey with her. It seems that Mr. Barker described perfectly how the cured man and we should respond to God’s love in our lives: We must never allow gloomy world conditions to put a damper on our hopes and dreams. We must embrace this life as the wonderful venture it is. God’s love will bring happiness to us in the days ahead both here and in heaven above.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A History Lesson

Remember not against us the iniquities of the past;
may your compassion quickly come to us…

From Psalm 79:8

A recent gathering reminded me of just how much I’ve forgotten. When a family member reminded me of a childhood incident which she thought had devastated me, I was hard-pressed to recall what had actually happened. Fortunately for me, I usually let these things go. The scar left by this particular injury faded into nothingness long ago.

I admit that there are a very few unpleasant memories which remain close to the surface. Though I never dwell on them, they do induce goosebumps or a queasy stomach if I give them the time of day. I never choose to think about these things. Still, a single word sometimes evokes memories which I cannot control. At times such as these, I take a deep breath and look upward. It helps to know that God knows my pain even better than I do.

We all add to our personal histories with every breath we take. This is no problem when joy accompanies those breaths. Unfortunately, the realities of this life include both good and bad events. It seems to me that the best we can do is to learn from them all. When someone or something hurts us, we try never to impose the same pain on others. When something brings us joy, we find ways to bring similar joy to those we have been given to love.

Loving God, thank you for walking with us as we make history with one another as best we can.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We Remember…

God loves the people,
and God adorns the lowly with victory.

Psalm 149:4

Our Memorial Day observances honor those who gave their lives in service of this country. Whether drafted into service or enlisted by choice, each one fulfilled a mission. Though some wrestled with doubt, wondering if anything is worth dying for, we know the final outcome. They persisted for us. This weekend, thousands of flags decorate these heroes’ graves.

Today, we also remember our civilian loved ones. Though they didn’t endure the trials of battle, they endured the trials of this life. Whether our parent or spouse, our child, another family member or friend, we miss them. They also responded to their missions in this life and they completed them as best they could. At times, our loved ones achieved great success and their impacts upon our lives were sources of great joy. At times, they failed and their impacts were precisely the opposite. Still, we mourn those who have passed, sometimes because of their humanity and sometimes in spite of it.

There is something God-like about our remembering. When we reminisce, we tend to recall happy or amusing or glorious times shared. My dad died when most of us were very young. Within a year of his passing, this dear man had become a saint in our collective consciousness. I have no doubt that God agrees!
Memorial Day offers us the opportunity to celebrate the eternal joy of all who know that joy firsthand. There is something holy to be found as we relish our relationships with those whom we mourn. The selective memories which bestow sainthood upon our very human loved ones reflect the selective vision of God. Upon each of our arrivals home, God sees only a loved one who’s been away far too long.

Today, as we remember our military personnel and all of the loved ones who have lived their lives for us, let’s smile between the tears. God gives us good reason to rejoice for them all!

Loving God, be with all of our servicewomen and men today. Keep them and all of us safe until we return home to you.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved