They Serve and Protect Us

Upon their hands, the angels shall bear you up,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.

Psalm 91:12

On this Veteran’s Day, I cannot help thinking about those who serve and protect us both nearby and far away. It seems that every passing day gives reason for us to pray a bit more fervently for their safety. Whether they serve us overseas or here at home, these dedicated personnel have set aside their personal lives to do so. Ones politics doesn’t matter in their regard. They serve us and protect us regardless.

Though I know God remains with each one in spite of what may come his or her way, it is a worthy endeavor to keep them in our prayers just the same. At the same time, let’s add a prayer of thanks for the hundreds of thousands of veterans among us. Though it is only recently that we’ve acknowledged the toll taken by active military service, all of our veterans have suffered in one way or another simply because they have served this country of ours.

Happy Veterans Day, Dear Veterans and Veterans-in-the making. Thank you for everything!

Dear God, bless them generously and be with them all.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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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

Happiness to Come…

My renewed need to purge our home of non-necessities nudged me up the stairs to our spare bedroom. This was a huge mistake as that particular room is likely the most nostalgic place in our house. The wall of antique pictures of great-grandparents and grandparents and photos from my husband’s and my childhood eased the urgency I’d felt just a minute earlier. When I finally opened the first dresser drawer, I found one of the treasures my mom left when she passed away. As I paged through the seventy-four-year-old album, I rediscovered my mom’s bridal shower and wedding greeting cards. Suddenly, I realized that my definition of non-necessities was evolving quickly. My parents were married in October and I couldn’t resist this opportunity to celebrate their anniversary once again…

As I gently perused the yellowed cards, I was taken aback by their diminutive size. Most are no larger than three inches by four inches. One is just two inches by two. Still, these tiny cards carry grand wishes. Single phrases added to the manufactured verses spoke eloquently of love felt for my mom and dad. I imagined my someday-to-be-parents smiling over this album which teemed with kindness. As I read the various signatures, images of loved ones filled me up. “Auntie C. Dionne” clarified the origins of my propensity to address all of my aunts as “Auntie.” Isabelle, who attended my mom’s bridal shower, wrote a lovely poem to accompany her gift. Perhaps she inspired my mom always to add a note to her greeting cards. Emily Gutchick’s signature confirmed that she was married before my mom and dad. Her name also conjured fond memories of my first dance with a boy -her son, Bobby.

Telegrams from Auntie Lucille and Uncle Leonard, Mr. and Mrs. Belanger and soon-to-be Uncle Clarence underscored everyone’s excitement over this union. My dad’s co-workers sent their greetings as well. Perhaps the most touching message came from the president of the company where my mother worked: “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 on October 17, 1942. World War II raged and times were tough. Family members and friends served in the military. Damage done by a bout with rheumatic fever kept my dad from joining them. My mom had been working for years by then. She took a job during high school and continued after graduation because her family needed this added income. My mom’s greatest 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 6112 amazing days together. It seems Mr. Barker predicted the joy which lay ahead. His greeting 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 are always at our sides. Apparently, my mom appreciated Mr. Barker’s sentiments because his letter is displayed quite beautifully in her album.

Mr. Barker’s touching words reflect the empathy Jesus exhibits in Luke’s gospel (Luke 17:11-19). As he walked along, Jesus encountered ten lepers who cried out, “Jesus! Master! Have pity on us!” Jesus looked upon them and felt their pain as only Jesus could. With little ado, Jesus sent the men off to show themselves to the priests of the temple. On the way, one leper realized he was cured. He raced back, fell at Jesus’ feet and worshiped him. Though the others knew by then that they, too, were healed, only this man recognized the more significant blessing. He had encountered the Lord! Not only his body, but his spirit as well had been made whole. Jesus knew that a healthy spirit would flourish in spite of gloomy world conditions. Nothing would ever again discourage this man’s hope and ambition. So it was that he returned to say, “Thank you, Lord!”

As I consider the greeting cards which fill my mother’s album, I realize she kept them to remember the love which surrounded her and my dad throughout their life together. Just as the leper’s cure reminded him of God’s presence in his life, my mother’s album kept her cognizant of the loved ones who walked this life’s journey with her. It seems to me that Mr. Barker described perfectly how we are to respond to the miracle we celebrate today: We must never allow gloomy world conditions to put a damper on our hopes and ambitions. Life is a wonderful venture which will mean much happiness to us in the days to come –on this earth and in heaven above.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved