Love Past and Present

Your love endures through all generations.
From Psalm 145:13

Our granddaughter spent a few days with us in mid-August. This belated overnight stay for her birthday coincided with our wedding anniversary. Because everyone was gathering at our house to celebrate on Ellie’s last day with us, my husband pulled out our wedding album. Ellie glanced at a few pictures probably in an effort to delay her bedtime. After ushering her off to bed, I found it was the perfect time for me to revisit those memories.

As I poured over our wedding pictures, tears threatened several times. I lingered a while over the photos which featured loved ones who’ve passed on from this life. Each one has left a significant mark on my life. Each one contributed in one way or another to my love for my own children and grandchildren and nieces and nephews.

Though I know my loved ones present and passed on aren’t perfect, they’ve all added to the richness in my life. It seems to me that the most important gift we can give one another is time well spent together. We do more good than we realize whenever we love one another the best we can as only we can.

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

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Expectations Fulfilled…

In verdant pastures God gives me repose;
beside restful waters God leads me;
God refreshes my soul.

From Psalm 23:2-3

This is the anniversary of my sister’s departure for the hereafter.

When Cecele returned to her doctor due to a persistent cough, she didn’t expect him to suggest an exploratory procedure. Not long afterward, she didn’t expect to hear about cancer, her months-long prognosis and the chemo which might or might not help. When she finally absorbed all of this, Cecele observed, “I’m a fighter. I’m going to fight this.” And that she did!

My sister dug in her heals and embraced the regimen of care laid out for her. The rest of us accompanied her to appointments and did whatever else we could to lighten her burden. We talked a little and we listened a lot. When the chemo wreaked havoc with her hair, my sister’s daughter-in-law shaved her head for her. Though the Cancer Society provided a lovely wig, Cecele determined that bald is beautiful. On her, it really was. When the chemo failed to help, Cecele accepted hospice care. Again, she fought, This time, she fought to accomplish everything that needed to be done before she took her leave. And that she did, too. I don’t think I’ll ever meet an equally prepared dying person!

Though my sister’s final journey was unexpected, the outcome was precisely what she’d hoped for. When I bade my final farewell to her earthly remains, the peace on Cecele’s face was unmistakable. The few glimpses of the hereafter which had graced her last days sustained Cecele through her good-byes and her last breaths. I have no doubt that her experience of the things to come is everything she hoped for and so much more! It was her expectation regarding eternal life which saw her through what could have been a far more difficult journey.

Loving God, thank you for this life and the amazing life to come.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserve

God Feeds Us Well!

My husband is a far more adventurous cook than I. Mike has a knack for determining whether or not a dish will please the palate by simply reading its recipe. I can count the errors he’s made over the decades in this regard on one hand and I don’t need all five fingers to do so! Before we retired, Mike and I found cooking together to be relaxing. We enjoyed shopping for and preparing these mystery meals which distracted us from the headaches we left at work. Even today, Mike continues to assess the offerings in the food section of the newspaper and those he encounters online. As for me, I’ve outgrown these culinary adventures. Since I’ve left those work worries behind, I no longer need the distraction. The truth is that I grew up with enough mystery meals to last a lifetime…

The family menus of my childhood resembled those of most of my generation. We appreciated the nutritional values of fruits and vegetables and we didn’t consider the consequences of frying. Fortunately, my mom had naturally healthy preferences and we ate fairly well. Still, our large family complicated meal planning. In addition to my parents and the six of us children, my uncle and grandfather shared our flat. (Yes, it was a circus at times!) My dad and Uncle Gee ate everything without complaint. Any negativity from Grandpa related more to his frustration with his poor health than to my mom’s cooking. We children were another matter. I was more willing than the others to try the “something new” my mom so often tested on us. I was honestly no more adventurous than they were. I just felt sorry for the poor woman when it came to cooking for us all.

Our greatest challenges were the meals which least resembled something fit for human consumption. (Sorry, Mom!) There were casseroles and hashes which included unrecognizable ingredients. We tasted them on the basis of smell alone. Often, my mom avoided naming a meal. She simply assured us that it was just like something we’d previously enjoyed. If we liked her secret concoction, my mom identified it. If we rejected the mystery meal of the hour, it’s true identity remained her secret. My mom probably hoped to pass it off in another form at another time. Looking back, I think my mom’s ability to feed all of us on a very limited budget deserves applause. Her success in distracting us from the actual content of her offerings is impressive. In the end, my mom saw to it that each one of us had all that we needed to grow and to flourish. Though we didn’t always appreciate her efforts, my mom never stopped caring for us. I share all of this because God has been doing the same since the first of us feasted upon the fruits of Creation ages ago.

Today’s scriptures chronicle some of God’s efforts in this regard. The excerpt from Exodus (16:2-4, 20-24) offers an example of the Israelites’ complaints throughout their flight from Egypt. Tired and hungry, they’d exhausted their patience. The people moaned to Moses that they were better off as Pharaoh’s slaves than starving in the barren desert. Though God knew all of this, Moses prayed on their behalf and, as always, God provided. Every night, quail filled their camp to provide plenty for supper. Every morning, manna appeared. When the people failed to recognize their breakfast, Moses showed them the flakes lying beneath the dew. In the end, all were nourished with what they needed to embrace each new day. The passage from Ephesians (4:17, 20-14) tells us that Paul experienced frustration with his people as well. When the Ephesians also failed to appreciate what lay before them, Paul pointed out that they’d been nourished as well. God’s very presence graced their lives and it was up to them to live accordingly. In the gospel (John 6:24-35), John shares one of Jesus’ lessons in nutrition. Hungry crowds had followed him because they wanted yet another free meal. Jesus responded by explaining that God offered them far more than a no-cost lunch or dinner. Through Jesus, God’s presence had taken tangible form. God dwelled among them and within them and it was up to them to let go of their worry and to embrace this lasting sustenance.

My mother often said that food didn’t have to look like meat and potatoes to taste good. When Mike tries a new recipe, he encourages me not to allow the ingredients to discourage me from tasting it. Every day, God does much the same. God offers each of us a feast of opportunities throughout this life. Though we may not like the looks of everything on our plates, God assures us that tasting what lies ahead will be worth the effort. When we set aside our fear and worry to embrace what God provides, we take in all that we need to grow and to flourish. Today, we’re invited to join the Israelites, the Ephesians and that hungry crowd who followed Jesus in taking in God’s nourishment wherever it lies: In our work and in our leisure, in those we know and in the strangers we met along the way; in our own prayer and in our worship together; in everything!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

J is for…

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

From Luke 4:18

J is for Joy. I would be completely dishonest if I didn’t admit that joy eludes me at times. A recent off-the-cuff remark opened an old wound. Though I tend to let go of hurtful memories, this recollection surfaced immediately. Rather than giving in to my slowly simmering anger, I picked up the newspaper to distract myself. Unfortunately, the headlines only increased my melancholy. I swapped the paper for the remote. I surfed the channels until a news report caught my attention. The update confirmed that violence continues to plague my old neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago. I sank into my recliner, looked out the window and asked, “Dear God, what are we doing?”

We humans have hurt one another since the beginning of time. Before I could repeat my question to the Almighty, a lone bird perched on our bird bath. Though the bird may have been a pigeon, she was a dove to me. Almost on cue, she turned my way seemingly to peer into my aching heart. When a large blue jay joined her to dance on the rim of that bird bath, the dove continued to look at me. That sweet bird didn’t change the news that afternoon. Still, she filled me with joy just the same. When she eventually flew away, I imagined that she’d gone to spread joy elsewhere.

As long as we can appreciate the joy within us and around us, there will be joy in this world of ours. Rather than allowing myself to be overwhelmed by wounds old and new, that wonderful dove reminded me to revel in joy and to share that joy at every opportunity.

God of Joy, you send me to bring your joy everywhere I go.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Remember When?

I sat at my computer to check the email messages I hadn’t been able to get to. Just before my husband and I headed north for a few days, my printer broke. Though I’d hoped to remedy the situation before Mike and I left, my inability to print remained until the day after we returned. The family tech experts (a.k.a. our sons) indicated that a new printer was in order. After purchasing said printer, I turned to my inbox. While determining which messages to deal with first, I found a “Forward” from a dear friend. In spite of my frustration regarding all I had to do and though my fear of computer viruses usually keeps me from opening forwarded emails, I gave this one a look. The friend who sent it dislikes SPAM and viruses as much as I do and he is as busy as I am, so I assumed his message merited my attention. The subject line “Remember When…” enticed me to take a stroll down Memory Lane.

The truth is that I wasn’t disappointed by my friend’s email. My printer issue had really gotten to me because I do my final proofreading of these reflections from a printed copy. Keri, our ever-patient bulletin editor can tell you that my submission last week was certainly last-minute. Perhaps I needed this interlude with nostalgia to forget my printer woes and to move on. As it happened, from the first photo in my friend’s email, I was hooked. It featured two high school girls wearing gym uniforms suspiciously similar to the one I wore for four years. As I scrolled down to each subsequent photograph, images from my childhood filled me up. A small television set with a very tiny screen which took several minutes to warm up brought me back to my childhood living room. There I saw my brother who insisted that we watch “Sing Along with Mitch” every week. And, every week, my brother sang every song with great gusto and completely off-key. It was in that same living room that I often nestled next to my mother in an overstuffed chair to enjoy the vintage movies playing on that tiny screen.

As I continued through that email, I encountered Hula Hoops and a full-service gas station where attendants actually wiped windshields with every fill-up and provided tire air at no cost. A vintage class picture featured clones of my own grade school classmates who donned familiar uniforms. A cloud which resembled a heart transported me to the rusty old swing set in our backyard. I loved swinging alone while I stared at the sky. When I did this, I found shapes of every sort among the clouds. Sometimes, I imagined God looking down at me from behind those clouds where I truly believed heaven awaits us all. Pictures of a dial telephone, S&H Green Stamps and a cel from a vintage Bugs Bunny cartoon caused me to tear up a bit. Suddenly, my Uncle Gee appeared before me as he dialed up my grandmother on our family’s single black telephone. I couldn’t help reciting “VanBuren 6-1-0-9-9”, the first telephone number I’d ever memorized. By the time I’d scrolled down to the end of that email, I’d mentally celebrated numerous high points from long ago. Though I’d intended to allow myself only a few minutes, I’d spent a half-hour on Memory Lane.

The following weekend, when I arrived at St. Paul’s for Mass, a lone First Communion booklet on the gathering space desk whisked me back to Memory Lane. Once again, I was immersed in the heartwarming comfort brought on by that nostalgic email. While walking to my pew for Mass, I remembered kneeling in my parish church decades earlier. I recalled my parish priest’s suggestion that we begin every Mass by asking God to take care of our family and friends and to forgive us for anything that needed forgiving. I’ve done this for decades, always ending with a bit of quiet to allow for God’s contribution to the conversation. Though God can be very quiet at times, that morning, God seemed to look with me as I saw myself walking toward the altar to receive Holy Communion for the very first time. The heartwarming comfort which that email had elicited morphed into a soul-drenching fullness that I truly cannot explain. I only know that I found myself filled up from top to bottom, inside and outside with God’s presence.

On this Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, I can find no better way to celebrate than to stroll down Memory Lane once again. This time, rather than focusing upon old photos, I turn my eyes and my heart to Jesus. Jesus shared himself completely when he walked among us. The love between Father and Son filled Jesus so much so that it permeated Jesus’ every word and deed. To be certain that this love remained with us, Jesus left us the gift of himself in the Eucharist. Happily, there is no need to walk down Memory Lane to embrace this gift. Jesus who walked among us so long ago remains with us today and he will be with us always.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Memories… Memories…

“Were not our hearts burning inside us as he talked
to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?”

From Luke 24:32

Because we diligently chronicled our first trip to Israel, we have two albums which we lingered over after that trip and before we returned. We realize that this is the digital age and that we can enjoy our memories in full color on our laptop. Still, having them in hand is a luxury we’re not ready to give up. We keep all of our photo albums in our family room. This prompts visitors and us to enjoy them often. There’s no easier way to acknowledge our blessings on a regular basis.

Luke’s gospel tells us that Cleopas and his companion were confused by the stranger whom they met on the road to Emmaus. They had just left Jerusalem where Jesus had been crucified. It seemed everyone they knew was affected in some way by this tragedy, yet this man seemed to know nothing of it. Finally, when this stranger conjured up their memory of the breaking of the bread, they realized he was Jesus. This precious memory clarified everything!

Both of my visits to Israel have enriched me beyond words. Every time I open our albums, another precious memory enhances the moment at hand. As was the case for those fellows who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus, my heart continues to burn within me.

Loving God, help me never to forget the wonder of your presence in my life.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved