Love Among Us

All of this is the work and the kindness of God.
Luke 1:18

As I wrap the few Christmas gifts my husband and I acquired for our family, the wife, mom and grandma in me hope that this will be a happy Christmas for all concerned. Though I’ve done my best to prepare for our smaller-than-usual gathering, one never knows what lies ahead. I consider the mother of Jesus and her plans. When Gabriel appeared to announce an alternative, the news must have startled Mary at best. “A son? My son? How can this possibly be?” Still, this brave teenager agreed to open herself to the challenges which lay ahead. Like every parent among us, Mary allowed her life to be changed forever by the child God had given her to love.

Over the past nine months, we’ve had our lives changed as well. A few days from now, we’ll celebrate Christmas in ways we never expected to. Who would have expected masks, hand sanitizer and social distancing to be a part of our observances? Still, God invites us to adjust, to refocus and to embrace this precious time. The child who changed everything two millenniums ago remains among us to do the same today. Like our own, this child seeks our attention, our focus and our love. Though our children grow and leave home to make their own way as we did, Jesus never leaves. He grew and prospered, died and rose only to remain around us and within us every moment of our lives.

It seems logical to do whatever we do this Christmas and always with Jesus in mind. Like our own children, that little babe in the manger sometimes makes unexpected demands. Like our own children, he also rewards us with greater love than seems possible.

Dear God, thank you for transforming this world and each of us through Jesus’ life among us.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Rejoice In God’s Presence!

After reading the scripture passages for this Fourth Sunday of Advent, I reread last week’s edition of Something To Think About. In spite of the fact that last Sunday was Gaudete or “Joyful” Sunday, I gave a good deal of attention to the suffering which surrounds so many of us these days. Fortunately, I returned to last Sunday’s theme by also acknowledging God’s presence in all of this. I ended that reflection with this realization: Though none of us knows the direction our lives will take in the next minute, hour or day, we can be certain of God’s love, God’s embrace and the joy to be found in God’s company. Today, I find that this perception of things is precisely what empowered Mary of Nazareth to embrace her role as the mother of Jesus.

My admiration for Mary took root years ago as I lay beneath our family Christmas tree. While my mother put the finishing touches on the village which rested at the base of that tree, I nestled on the floor with a head-full of First Christmas images. I imagined Mary full of joy and completely unable to contain her love for the baby she carried within her. In my childhood innocence, I pictured Mary peacefully content, just as Hallmark depicts her on so many Christmas cards. Filled to the brim with peace, Mary needed only to bow her head in prayer and wait for Jesus’ birth. “God will be take care of everything,” I imagined her saying, and so I believed it was…

These impressions of Mary’s experience remained with me years later when I was part of our elementary school choir at Presentation Parish. We frequently sang Marian hymns and my favorite was The Magnificat. Our choir director, Sister Mary Angelista, not only taught us to sing this Latin hymn, but also its meaning in English. In this prayer attributed to Mary, Jesus’ young mother-to-be announces: My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; because God has regarded the lowliness of this handmaid; For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed; Because God who is mighty has done great things for me… Mary’s prayer further convinced me that serving as Jesus’ mother was more of an honor than ones life work. Little did I realize…

A wonderful high school religion teacher, Sister Patricia Mary by name, taught me that things weren’t quite as easy for Mary as my childhood musings suggest. The poor girl was only fourteen when she was asked to endure a pregnancy out of wedlock. Her devout parents had raised Mary to be chaste and faithful to the Law. How would they deal with this news? Mary was betrothed to Joseph, a good and just man. How would she explain this turn of events to him? Mary must also have known that the politics of her day made life difficult at best for her people. Would talk of this child add to their devastation? In spite of all of this, Luke’s gospel (1:26-38) tells us that Mary responded to the angel’s message with, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” As I contemplated what might have moved Mary to this selfless response, I turned to The Magnificat once again. The second line caught my eye: …and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.

Finally, I understood that Mary chose to embrace her certainly treacherous journey toward motherhood because she knew that she would never be alone. Though Mary knew that her worldly lot would be uncomfortable at best, Mary also knew that she would endure what lay ahead in God’s company. Mary trusted unconditionally in God’s faithfulness to her. When I was that young child lying at the foot of our Christmas tree and that preteen singing alto in the choir, I never doubted God’s presence. I held onto the knowledge that God was with me in everything. Regardless of what occurred, sadness never overpowered the spark of joy that was a constant within me. Over time, I allowed life to pry me away from that certainty. It wasn’t worsening problems which brought about my shift. It was my outlook that had changed. I’d allowed the doubt so prevalent in this world to distract me from God who remained at my side. Today, Mary’s faith urges me to ask myself if this phenomenon has repeated itself too often during Year 2020. Like you, I’ve I struggled with battling COVID-19, social injustice, economic uncertainty and political strife. Like you, I’ve also more than survived many of the 290 days since our stay-in-place efforts began. Those days which soared above survival-mode were the days when I acknowledged God’s company.

At this writing, I’m still organizing creatively safe ways to celebrate Christmas 2020 with our family. Disappointed as I am that there will be no houseful of revelry, I am smiling. You see, I’ve finally taken to heart Mary’s perspective. Regardless of what lies ahead, Mary insists that we have reason to rejoice in God as well. We really are in this together: You, me, everyone and God! What more do we need to celebrate a Merry Christmas?

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always On My Mind…

From the day we heard about you,
we have not ceased praying for you…

From Colossians 1:9

I’m finalizing Father’s Day plans with my family. This sounds odd, I know, since planning any gathering is a skill we’re all relearning these days. Because my husband relishes his roles as “Dad” and “Grandpa”, we’re doing our best to ensure him a worthy celebration. In the midst of this, I clearly recall the day this all began…

After a years-long struggle to have children, my husband dreaded this doctor’s appointment. Those which preceded it had brought much disappointment. Because Doctor Wool was fully aware of this, he couldn’t refrain from smiling in the midst of my exam. “My God, you’re pregnant!” he announced. While, I giggled uncontrollably, he sent the nurse to the waiting room to get Mike. There was no reason to tell Mike anything as he’d already heard my response.

From that moment, we knew our baby. We had no idea of what he would look like or who this child would be. Still, we loved our precious offspring. On that day, I began to pray above all else that this child would be happy and that we would be worthy parents. When our baby arrived, he proved to be all we had hoped for and more. Still, I continued to pray for him.

The truth is that this is also my ritual regarding our second son, our daughters-in-law, our grandchildren and, of course, my husband. I do this for all whom I’ve been given to love. These days, I’ve added all of our world’s suffering to my list. Though I know this isn’t a necessary exercise because God wishes goodness for us all, I pray!

Loving God, be with us as we adjust to our new normal. Help all of your people to find happiness in their little corners of the world.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Grateful, Even Today

I have finished the race;
I have kept the faith.

2 Timothy 4:7

It’s Mother’s Day Eve and I’m counting my blessings. In spite of our current stay-at-home status and the distance between me and those I love most, I am grateful for so much…

As I assemble my list, I write “Being a mom”. This is the best job I’ve ever had! Next, I write “Mom” with a flourish. I learned a lot from my mom. Even her imperfections taught me important life lessons. As it happened, it was the grace with which my mom lived her last days which touched me and taught me most.

Three days before my mom passed away, fatigue confined her to bed. Her daytime attire changed from street clothes to a nightgown to a hospital gown within seventy-two hours. This day, I arrived just as Ruth, her nurse, was spooning tiny dollops of ice cream into my mom’s mouth. After giving me a “Hi, Mary” smile, my mom turned to Ruth to whisper, “Thank you for the ice cream.” Afterward, Ruth helped her to the washroom. As Ruth nestled my mom into the wheelchair, my mom whispered again, “Thank you for your help.” Mom held on tightly when Ruth wrapped her arms around her to ease her back into bed. As she left, my mom’s eyes followed Ruth to the door. Ruth turned to wave and my mom smiled in gratitude. Later, when the activity director came to see how she was doing, Mom met her with another of her grateful smiles.

In spite of her impending passing, my mother concerned herself with the people around her. She never complained and was ever grateful for even the smallest kindness. Whether or not it was part of ones job or part her children’s duty to care for their dying parent, my mom always whispered, “Thank you!” Yes, even in the midst of our pandemic woes, I have much to say “Thank you” for. We all do!

Happy Mother’s Day!

Dear God, thank you for the gift of my mom. She revealed your generosity, grace and love until the end. Give me the courage to offer the same to those I meet along the way, especially now.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Hold Onto The Joy

The moral is: keep your eyes open,
for you know not the day or hour.

Matthew 25:13

A recent “thank you” note regarding a funeral my husband and I attended reminded me of my own loss. I can usually set aside such reminders and get on with the task at hand, but not today. Perhaps it’s the lack of sunlight and the determined clouds which dominate the sky. Perhaps it’s my own November mood. Whatever the cause, my thoughts turn to one of the toughest losses of my life…

I expected to hear that her recovery might be lengthy, that her dementia might increase and that we needed to be prepared for a decline. Our mom’s body was growing tired. I didn’t expect to hear about the cancer, her four-month life expectancy and the possibility of pain. We told our mother the news…

Mom shared our surprise at the diagnosis, but not at the outcome. “We all have to die from something. I’ve had a good long life. I wanted to leave an educated family that contributes and I have. I hope I can do what I want for a while. I hope I can be comfortable. I hope I go without too much trouble. I hope…” I hoped, too.

Though her diagnosis was unexpected, the outcome was precisely what my mom had hoped for. The pain never came. Mom did everything she hoped to until her last two days. On the day she left us, my mom’s eyes weren’t open, but her heart was. I know she wasn’t disappointed!

Patient God, rather than suffering my mom’s loss as though she left yesterday, I should be dancing with joy for her and so I will!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

C… Creation!

Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice;
let the sea and what fills it resound;
let the plains be joyful and all that is in them!
Then shall all the trees of the forest exult before God!

Psalm 96:11-12

C is for Creation. When life is going well, I’m drawn outdoors to share my good fortune with Nature. When I’m troubled in great ways or small, Nature’s order and beauty beckon me with a promise of peace and better things to come. I cannot take in the tiniest of this earth’s treasures without also taking in the treasure of God’s loving care for me.

In my neck of the woods, we endured a cold and snowy winter. December required us to engage our snow-blower. In January, Nature transformed our neighborhood into a winter wonderland. The white blanket remained for weeks on end. When it seemed to hint at melting a bit in February, March roared in to restore its white grandeur. The snow which fell in April came and went through Easter. Still, Winter’s intrusion into Spring 2019 didn’t deter my appreciation of Nature’s absolute beauty. Whether blanketed in icy white or lush green, the loveliness I find outdoors is always miracle enough to nourish my spirit.

As I continue to alphabetize God’s amazing gifts, I rely heavily upon the gift of Creation. It is there that I find God’s wonder in its purest form. If Nature is so wonderfully fashioned, how much more so are you and I? As I ponder all of this further, it occurs to me that we have very good reason to take good care of ourselves, those God has given us to love and this amazing world of ours…

Dear God, help us all to care for the precious gifts of Creation, especially one another.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved