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

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Love Them, No Matter What!

“Let us move on to the neighboring villages
so that I may proclaim the good news of God’s love there also.”

Mark 1:38

While sorting through receipts, I happily discarded the ones which represented good Christmas gift choices. I was especially pleased that our growing granddaughters were pleased with Grandpa’s and my selections for them. As I continued, I recalled the unhappy little boy I’d encountered during one of those successful shopping trips.

The little guy had reached his shopping limit. I realized that his mother’s promise to head to the checkout in five minutes made no impression when he announced, “I hate you!” This mom couldn’t reply because she would have produced more than the single tear which trailed down her cheek. She simply pushed her cart with her son in tow toward the front of the store.

Though I still had things to purchase, I couldn’t let this poor woman leave without helping her. I took my own cart to the checkout line and waited behind her. I made a bit of small talk and then shared that my own son had spoken the same words to me more than three decades earlier. I admitted that I’d responded with tears as well. Fortunately, my wonderful neighbor helped me to deal with the situation. When I asked if her kids had ever said that, my neighbor responded, “Sure they did. They’re kids. And you know what I did? I pulled them close and said, ‘Well, that’s okay because I still love you!’”

I shared that I repeated my neighbor’s words to my own son and that this was the last time my son ever spoke those words to me. After thanking me for this bit of wisdom, the young mom kissed her little boy on the top of his head and headed back to pick up that last item she needed. As for me, I finished my shopping, too.

Loving God, your loving ways make good sense. Thank you for giving us the sense to share them.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Transformed By Love

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

As I continue to prepare for Christmas, the wife, mom and grandma in me hope that everything will be perfect for the ones I love. Though I’ve done my best to prepare, 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. “God’s Son? My Son? How can this possibly be?” Still, this brave teenager listened and opened 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.

Within a week, we will celebrate Christmas. Life will likely be more hectic than any of us prefer. Still, we’ll adjust, refocus and embrace this precious time. The child who changed everything two millenniums ago remains among us to do the same today. Like our loved ones, this child seeks our attention, our focus and our love. Though our own 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. So it is that Jesus asks that we do whatever we do with him in mind. Like our own children, that cute little babe in the manger makes unimaginably unexpected demands upon us. Like our own children, he rewards us with greater love than seems possible.

Dear God, thank you for transforming this world with your love.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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

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