Fear No Evil…

Though I walk through the valley of darkness,
I fear no evil; for you are with me;
your rod and your staff bring me comfort.

Psalm 23:4

I just received a postcard reminding me to make an appointment with my dentist. Though I don’t fear the dentist as some people do, I do admit to being “doctored out”. I’ve recently taken care of all of my annual check-ups and I’ve had enough. Oddly, that last phrase reminds me of a time long ago when I felt exactly the same way…

As a little child, I feared a visit from the doctor more than anything else. (Yes, doctors made house calls back then!) Though our family physician was pleasant enough, he visited our home only when one of us was ill enough to require immediate intervention. That intervention usually took the form of an injection. Much to my dismay, I was the designated patient on one such occasion. Though only five, I recognized those dreaded letters as my mom spelled “D-o-c-t-o-r” to inform my dad that she was making the call. I’m certain that my tears began to flow by the time my mom said “c”.

An hour or so later, the doctor arrived with that dreaded syringe. After assessing my symptoms, he opened his black bag as my dad lifted me over his shoulder. I carried on so that I didn’t feel pain. When my dad told me that it was over, I cried even harder. I was angry as ever that the doctor had accomplished his dastardly deed. I spent the next half hour on my dad’s lap. He wrapped his arms around me as my sobs faded into whimpers. When my whimpers disappeared, my dad pulled me close to whisper in my ear. “Tomorrow, you’re going to be all better,” he promised. I believed his every word. Though he wasn’t able to keep me from the evils of this world, my dad did love me through them all.

Dear God, thank you for loving me even more powerfully than my dad did.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Generosity… Practice Makes Perfect!

Last weekend, I shared that I’d gone through two boxes of photos from my childhood while looking for a picture for my sister. This encounter with my past elicited numerous memories which have filled me up ever since. I’m happy to report that each one has warmed my heart in unexpectedly amazing ways. Over the past several days, I’ve looked upward often to thank God for this life of mine. At the same time, I admit to looking into the mirror and thinking that I must be getting old. After all, I’ve been celebrating the good old days an awful lot as of late. Oddly, someone looking in from the outside might question my use of the word “good” regarding my childhood. I grew up in a family which would be considered among the working poor today. Still, though life wasn’t perfect, it was certainly more simple than it might have been as a result of our humble circumstances. Our most precious commodities were the people around us. Though they didn’t have many material goods to offer, they were generous in sharing the gift of themselves. As I read today’s scripture readings I couldn’t help thinking of these giving people who made all of the difference in the world to me.

The reading from Kings (1 Kings 17:1016) tells us that a great famine had devastated the land. A poor widow realized that she had only enough flour and oil left to prepare one more tiny loaf of bread. After consuming this final ration, the woman knew she and her son will surely die from starvation. Still, in spite of her impending demise, the widow responded to Elijah who’d happened by as she gathered sticks for a fire. Though she had no reason to help him, the woman listened to Elijah’s request and his promise of nourishment. With that, she gave Elijah the last of her bread. In the end, Elijah, the widow and her son weathered that yearlong famine. Just as Elijah had promised, God rewarded the woman’s generosity with a jar of flour and a jug of oil which never emptied.

Mark’s gospel (Mark 12:38-44) introduces a second widow in the temple who was completely unaware of Jesus the Teacher’s presence. At the same time, the woman was very much aware that she stood before her Creator. It was with great reverence for her God that she reached deeply into her meager treasure to retrieve all that she had, two coins worth just a few pennies. Though meaningless in the shadow of the mountain of money contributed by the wealthy, this offering meant everything to the widow because she had nothing else. Though she might have traded those coins for bread, she handed them over to the temple, perhaps to assist a stranger whose need was even greater than her own.

The widows in today’s readings tug at my heartstrings because I’ve lived most of my life in the company of women like them. The widows in my life answered to Mom, Grandma, Ma Mere, Auntie and a host of given names. Over the years, I found that their generosity wasn’t measured in any single event in their respective lives. These precious people placed the needs of others before themselves on an ongoing basis. Since I witnessed her generosity most closely, I’ll tell you about my mom. She ran our household on a tight budget. At age thirty-nine, she’d joined the ranks of the widowed with six children in tow. A monthly death benefit from my dad’s job, my mom’s position at Sears, my sister’s pay from her receptionist job at the parish rectory and my brother’s pay from delivering groceries allowed us to eke by most weeks. Unexpected expenses such as doctors’ visits and outgrown shoes sometimes taxed our resources beyond capacity. Still, my mom dropped her weekly envelope into the collection basket and sent each of us to church with a quarter in our children’s envelopes. My siblings and I each donated one can to the holiday food drive and we sold wrapping paper with everyone else in the neighborhood to support our school. When our sales failed to meet their quota, our mom purchased items enough to allow them to do so. If one of my mom’s sisters found herself short of funds during a given week, my mom offered what was needed to help her sister to get by. Through all of this, my mom taught me her greatest lesson: To be generous.

Now I don’t mean to imply that the only remarkable examples of generosity come through the efforts of the widowed among us. Generosity flows from varied and sometimes unexpected people. What I mean to suggest is that generosity is a habit developed over a lifetime; generosity comes easiest to those who practice it most; and nothing rivals the joy that comes from giving in spite of our own need. My mom embraced these truths because she was convinced that she would be taken care of. She was certain that God’s generosity would always outdo her own. In the end, she was right. When my mom left this world, she didn’t leave behind many material riches. What she did leave is this dutiful daughter who will tell you what my mom found when she entered the hereafter. She found everyone and everything that she’d ever hoped for. It seems to me that our challenge today is to begin to develop our own varieties of generosity and to practice our unique version of this virtue at every opportunity. Though I can’t actually hear her voice, I know my mom is urging me to tell you that you won’t regret your efforts in this regard.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Good Guy

“Joseph did as the angel of the Lord directed him.”
Matthew 1:24

Today is my father-in-law’s birthday. Like my own dad, he passed away far too early. The good news is that I knew him for ten years before he took his leave. Though our older son knew and loved his Grandpa, our younger son never met him. They would’ve liked one another! If his interactions with my elder son are any indication, this dear man wouldn’t have been able to contain his love for his five great-grandchildren either! How I wish I could have seen him holding each one of them!

Life wasn’t easy for my husband’s dad. Just after he married, he had to leave his wife behind to serve in the army. When he returned, the two had a tough time having children. When their first child was born, he lived only a few hours. Years later, my father-in-law told me that carried his son’s tiny casket to his grave for burial. Fortunately, my husband and his younger brother eventually came along.

My father-in-law was one of those good guys who worked hard at his regular job. He also took on part-time work to provide a few “extras” here and there. All the while, he cared for his aging parents who lived next door. This dear man actually had three jobs if you count the care-taking and home maintenance for which he was responsible. Still, he persisted in his roles as son and husband, dad and friend. Yes, he was a good man.

I cite the line above from Matthew’s gospel because it illustrate’s my father-in-law’s approach to things. Though I don’t think he actually saw an angel, I do believe he followed his heart in everything. This means that he followed God because God certainly resided within him.

Happy Birthday, Dear Father-in-law! Enjoy!

Loving God, thank you for this man and all of those who grace my life.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

C is for…

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 their 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.

However, in my neck of the woods, springtime took its sweet time while settling in. Without warning, we rushed from cool temperatures through a few days of springtime and on to summer. After all of that, our local meteorologists suggested that the roller-coaster ride wasn’t yet over. In spite of all of that, I can still assure you that the loveliness I find outdoors continues to be miracle enough to nourish my spirit.

As I move on in my effort 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. And, if Nature is so wonderfully fashioned, how much more so are you and I?

Dear God, I rejoice in your creative beauty every day! Thank you!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Bring Peace…

I will hear what God proclaims;
for he proclaims peace.

Psalm 85:9

Though I’ve recently shared my frustrations with the evils which plague us humans, I’ve prayed about these things. With that, I attend to the issues close at hand as best I can. My normal response to imminent trauma is precise calm. I do what needs to be done at the moment and collapse afterward. It’s then that I realize just how devastating the circumstances I encountered might have been. It’s then that I’m also grateful that I did something to be of help.

This propensity to respond is likely the result of my mother’s example. She responded to violence around her without concern for herself. Her priority was to keep her fellow human’s safe. She confronted a man who was bothering a woman on a bus; he jumped off that bus at the next stop. She chased the assailant who mugged my aunt in our hallway; he fled before doing irreparable harm. Though I haven’t found myself in the midst of such dramatic scenarios, my mom’s lessons have compelled me to respond to others who need assistance just the same.

You know, my mom was no more brave than the rest of us. It was her faith in doing the right thing and in the God who promises to be with us which was unshakable. Though my mom’s interventions weren’t necessarily peaceful -or particularly wise- as they unfolded, they brought unmistakable calm to those she assisted. Being a herald of God’s peace sometimes takes us to uncomfortable places.

Loving God, none of us can change this world on our own. Still, each of us can do something to improve the turf on which we walk. Give us the wisdom to know what to do and the courage to do it.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Thank you, Mom!

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

2 Timothy 4:7

On this Mother’s Day Eve, I count my blessings. As I assemble my list, I write “Mom”. I learned many things from my mom. Still, the grace with which she lived her last days touched me and taught me most.

Three days before my mom passed away, fatigue confined her to bed. Her daytime attire had changed from street clothes to a nightgown to a hospital gown within seventy-two hours. On the first of those three days, I arrived just as Ruth, her nurse, spooned tiny dollops of ice cream into my mom’s mouth. After giving me my “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 her 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 my mom was doing, Mom met her with another of those grateful smiles.

In spite of her physical decline and 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 ones duty to her dying parent.

Dear God, thank you for the gift of my mom. She revealed your generosity, grace and love all the way to your embrace.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved