J is for Joy

The Lord has sent me to bring
glad tidings to the poor…

From Luke 4:18

J is for Joy. Sometimes, it’s difficult to focus on joy. A recent off-the-cuff comment opened an old wound. Because I tend to let go of hurtful moments from the past, this recollection took me by surprise. I distracted myself by perusing the newspaper which increased my melancholy exponentially. I set aside the paper and grabbed the remote. As I made my way through the channels, a news report caught my eye. The update confirmed that recent violence was accomplished to honor God’s name. I sank into my recliner, looked out the window and asked, “Dear God, what are we doing?”

We humans have been hurting one another in God’s name since the beginning of time. Still… Before I could repeat my question, a strong gust scattered glitter-like snow across the frozen ground. Almost on cue, several birds fluttered about, ensuring that those sparkling bits of ice remained afloat. When the birds congregated at their favorite feeder, another gust swirled the silver-white specks yet higher. That gust lifted my heart as well. “Thank you, Lord!” I said aloud.

Though that glistening snow didn’t change the subzero temperature outdoors, it filled me up with winter’s beauty. Though those flitting flakes will eventually settle and melt, God’s handiwork always surrounds me. As long as some of us continue to appreciate the joy within us and around us, there will be joy in this world of ours. Rather than allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed by wounds old and new, we must revel in the joy we have and share that joy with one another at every opportunity.

Generous God, help us to remain focused on your joy in spite of our continuing attempts to distort and disfigure it. Help us also to share that joy with those who need it most.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Be Salt! Be Light!

Jesus said to his disciples,
“You are the salt of the earth…
You are the light of the world.”

From Matthew 5:13-16

I admit that I’ve developed some interest in the obituary section of our daily newspaper. This began some months ago when I inadvertently came across the obituary of a classmate and friend with whom I’d lost contact after we both married. Ed (I called him Eddie.) was a great guy, a talented musician and a truly supportive friend. He’s one of the special people who have influenced my life for the better. I’m most grateful for both these long-term and minute-long encounter. Each one has opened my eyes to one aspect or another of myself, this life, this world and God. As I used to tell my students and my own sons, you may never know whom you are helping or who is helping you along the way. Still, even the briefest of these encounters can be life-changing for those involved.

Over the years, I’ve discovered that, whatever our named occupation or standing or relationship to others is, we are all called to be our best and to bring our best to whatever our situation may be. Whether our influence is world-wide or confined to a single room, that influence will change everything for those within this realm.

You know, Jesus didn’t target the temple hierarchy, government officials, local celebrities or the wealthy when he proclaimed that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. God holds each of us in such esteem that he calls us all to be the salt and the light that only we can be.

Dear God, thank you for trusting us to make this world a better place. Help us to use this power with wisdom and love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Very Real Love!

O my dove in the clefts of the rock, in the
secret recesses of the cliff, let me see you,
let me hear your voice,
for your voice is sweet and lovely.

Song of Songs 2:14

It is Christmas Eve, and I’m packing up gifts to take along to our family gathering this afternoon. In the midst of retrieving packages from our son’s room, I bumped a plastic container and knocked it off its shelf. I remembered moving this container last year when I stubbed my toe on it. Busy as I was, I’d examined the contents and the numerous memories they represented. I’m not allowing myself this luxury at the moment because I still have much to do. I will, however, reminisce mentally as I carry on. One of the treasures in that box is a wedding program. I remember this because one of the scripture readings included is from The Song of Songs which I cite above.

This particular passage is a favorite. Our friend Scott read these words at our wedding. My husband and I selected this reading because we were taken in by the painful longing this lover expressed for his beloved. The lover who spoke so passionately is the God of Israel who desperately sought to be reunited with the Jewish People. This Divine longing persisted for centuries as evidenced in the gift of Jesus. On the first Christmas, God expressed this insatiable love face-to-face and heart-to-heart in the most tangible way possible. God expressed this love in the gentle cooing of the newborn baby who would spend his life convincing us all that God’s love for us is very, very real.

Loving God, thank you for your very, very real love for each one of us.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Hint of Christmas

Be glad and rejoice for your reward
is great in heaven.

From Matthew 5:12

Our younger daughter-in-law recently asked about our family wall of pictures. I secretly hope that this means we’ll receive new pictures of our grandsons for Christmas. Because our older son’s wife knows the drill, I’m certain she has our granddaughters’ pictures ready for us. I’m smiling in anticipation! At the same time, I’m drawn to the pictures on that wall which will never be replaced. The great-grandparents, a great-aunt and a great-uncle have all moved on to the afterlife. Though I know that they are better than ever in their new digs, memories of their Christmases with us fill me up…

Every year, our large family gathered to celebrate this favorite of all days. This year, I’m struck hard by the number of family members I’ve lost. My mom and my dad, my husband’s parents, my brother and my sister left us earlier than any of us expected. When we gathered for their wakes and funerals, our conversations included not only our favorite reminiscing, but also our projections regarding their current activities at home with God. Though we regretted each loss, we also celebrated the blessings we found in each of them. We also wished them well in eternity! After all, every day is Christmas there!

When I left that wall of photos to get on with the tasks at hand, I whispered a prayer of gratitude for my family. Our sons, their wives and our grandchildren have brought joy beyond expectation to my husband and me. In the process, they’ve given us a taste of heaven on earth. I almost want to write, “Merry Christmas!” Indeed, I will. Merry Christmas!

Generous God, thank you for the gift of our loved ones and the gift of eternal life with you.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Celebrate Hope and Love

“Anyone who hears my words
and puts them into practice
is like the wise man who built his house on rock.”

Matthew 7:21

Christmas preparations always pique my nostalgia. I’d finished the day’s errands and allowed myself the time to reminisce a bit. My musing drew me back to Christmas 1959, just five months after my dad passed away. I was only eight years old and I wondered what Christmas would be like that year. That day, I recalled the efforts of so many around me who made that Christmas special. They all did their best to ease the sting of my dad’s absence.

My older sister Rita helped our Mom to prepare a special gift for each one of us. On Christmas Eve, our parish priests asked my brother to walk his wagon down to the rectory. Raoul returned with a full wagon carrying a beautifully wrapped package for each of the six of us children. After Christmas dinner with my mom’s side of the family, we went on to Aunt Claire’s and Uncle Steve’s home to celebrate with my dad’s family. My aunt and uncle ushered us to their Christmas Tree for more special gifts which were just for my siblings and me. Though all concerned knew that nothing would replace my dad, they did their best to emulate his love for us. You know, I can’t name most of the gifts I received that year. Nonetheless, I continue to feel the love that came with them. That love has sustained me for a lifetime.

What better way to is there to celebrate Christmas 2018 than to nurture hope and to love?

Generous God, you gifted me with loved ones who fulfilled my hope beyond my dreams and who loved me as you do. Help me to do the same for those I meet along the way.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Set The Table!

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

Psalm 23:5

When I was a little girl, dinner time was the best part of my day. Though I enjoyed our meals which were typical of a blue-collar family of the day, I enjoyed the family which gathered to partake of them far more. Because my dad worked nights, dinner time was our first opportunity to spend quality time with him most days. Because this was “morning” to him, my dad always exhibited his pleasant demeanor and his sense of humor as we ate. I believe that we laughed as much as we chewed throughout these shared meals.

Happily, my parents’ love for shared meals remains with their children. We all take every opportunity to open our homes, our tables and our hearts to others. I’m particularly grateful that my parents’ example taught me to extend hospitality to those who are less than friendly to me as well. At my parents’ table, I found the tools and the willingness to invite in any of God’s children who want to take a seat and “chew” on whatever is on their minds. Thank you, Mom and Dad!

Welcoming God, no matter the hour or the occasion, you make place at your table for everyone who calls your name.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved