The Way…

A FaceTime call from our grandson interrupted this writing. Danny wanted to share that his mom and dad had ordered a slide for their backyard! This was a significant development as local playgrounds are off-limits during these stay-at-home days. Though Danny and his little brother make good use of their backyard, their new slide will add immeasurable fun to their play. Of course, Grandpa and I also voiced our enthusiasm over all of this. With that, we offered our good-byes. Grandpa headed outdoors to check the grass seed we’d recently planted. Though I intended to return to my keyboard, I stood at the window and watched as my husband crossed the yard. Perhaps it was Mother’s Day’s approach that elicited memories of two little boys who’d made good use of that yard…

Our sons loved their slide as much as Danny will. They also loved their sandbox. Every summer, our sons rediscovered the joy of sand. Older son Mikie instructed little brother Timmy regarding the intricacies of road building. Mikie guided his little brother’s hand as he pulled a small shovel through the sand. The trench they created formed a road which accommodated Matchbox cars perfectly. Timmy caught on quickly because, in no time, he and his big brother were pushing trucks and cars along that sandy highway. I prayed that my sons would always work well together. Though I’d said, “Amen,” I didn’t walk away from the window. I’d caught a glimpse of the garden hose my husband uses to water that sprouting grass. Suddenly, fifteen-year-old Mike appeared as he used that hose to water flowers for his dad. Determined to distract his big brother, seven-year-old Timmy ran his hand through the stream of water and splashed Mike. It didn’t occur to Timmy that his brother controlled far more water than he did. Within seconds, Timmy was soaked from head to toe and he and Mike were laughing uncontrollably. I prayed that my sons would always find reason to laugh together.

When I checked my watch, I realized that my window of writing time was closing quickly. Still, I peeked out the window once more. Images of our sons appeared once again. This time, it was Mike’s wedding day. He and his groomsmen had just finished lunch on the patio. I watched as Mike and Tim compared cuff-links and vests. My son-the-groom noted that his brother looked “cool”. My son-the-best-man noted that his brother’s vest and tie were perfect choices for the day. Because they weren’t nearby for me to hug, I offered another prayer on their behalf. I prayed that my sons will always be there for one another through good times and tough times.

Finally, I returned to this writing. Though inspiration from above never fails to urge me on, I wondered what my sons’ relationship had to with this. When I returned to today’s scriptures, I understood. The first reading (Acts 6:1-7) reminds us that the early church grew rapidly to include people from both the Jewish and the Gentile communities. Those who shared the Jewish faith had much in common. Those who did not had little knowledge of The Law and traditions taught in local synagogues. Early on, some noticed that widows and other needy people within the Gentile community were neglected, while those from the Jewish community were cared for. Something needed to be done! It occurs to me that less-than-loving moments arose between my sons as well. Early on, when differences of opinion fueled harshness between them, their dad and I intervened. Eventually, they learned to work out these things on their own. My prayers in this regard were generously answered just as were the prayers of the early church. The disciples implemented a united effort to care for and to comfort all of their community.

In the second reading (1 Peter 2:4-9), Peter offered a pep talk of sorts. When the others became discouraged, Peter urged them to look within for their best selves and to do for others what only they could do. Just as my sons grew to value one another’s gifts and to use their gifts as best they could, we are called, today more than ever, to bring our gifts to the suffering. Peter insisted then just as he does today that we humans are creative enough to help those who need us most while maintaining social distancing and whatever else is required.

It is today’s gospel (John 14:1-12) which offers undeniable encouragement regarding all that we need to do in the moments at hand. At their last supper, Jesus’ friends fearfully complained that they had no idea of what would become of them when Jesus left. Jesus responded by insisting, “I am the way…” If the disciples followed Jesus’ example and if they loved their fellow humans as Jesus loved them, all would be well in the end for every single one. Today, God makes a similar request of us. God gifts each of us with unique talents. God asks only what their dad and I asked of our sons: That we love and encourage those we meet along the way just as Jesus would and as only we can.

Happy Mother’s Day! Happy Be the Best You Can Be Day!

©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

Mom

When one becomes a mother, her new life is valued far beyond pearls.
Her children entrust their hearts to her. They are an unfailing prize.

Inspired by Proverbs 31:10-11

On this Mother’s Day Eve, I can’t help thinking about the most important work of my life. Thoughts of my own mom and the other amazing moms who’ve touched my life swirl about in my head. Still, I can’t escape the overwhelming joy which fills me up as I consider my own good fortune in this regard.

I’ve shared before that I didn’t grow up with an ambition to get married or to have children. I was quite certain that I would please God most and reach the fullness of my potential by entering the convent. This resolve remained under the surface through college until, amazingly enough, I fell in love and married. Because I’d embraced a new husband and a new career simultaneously, my potential to be a mom escaped me for a while. It was only after a few successful years in the classroom and the purchase of our first home that I realized the opportunity before me.

Though our hope for a little one took some time to come to fruition, I’ll never forget the day I heard the news. During what seemed to be our millionth visit to his office, Dr. Wool finally announced, “Mary, you’re pregnant!” Apparently, I didn’t hide my excitement because my husband heard my response all the way out in the waiting room. At that moment, my life changed forever. Suddenly, I knew God’s love firsthand because, sight unseen, I loved that baby more than anything. The truth is, I continue to love him and his brother just that much! Though the rest is history, I’d relive every moment as their mom in a heartbeat -a joyful heartbeat.

Dear God, thank you for entrusting me with the two amazing people who call me “Mom”.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Loved Always and Forever!

It was decades ago…

Early that morning, I was sitting alone in the teachers’ lounge. I needed a few minutes to gather my thoughts before the school day began. My stepdad had been ill and I felt quite certain that he was in the midst of his last hospital stay. I didn’t realize a colleague had joined me until she said, “Mary, are you okay?” I smiled as I assured her that all was well. I must’ve been convincing because she replied, “Then can I ask you to do me a favor? I bought this book for a baby shower gift and I don’t know if it’s appropriate. Will you read it?” Since I felt badly about misrepresenting my state of mind seconds earlier, of course I agreed to help her. This was the day I became acquainted with Robert Munsch’s book, LOVE YOU FOREVER. When I delivered the book to that teacher’s classroom a few minutes later, I tearfully assured her that her purchase was the best baby shower gift I’d ever seen. It also unexpectedly lifted my spirits. After school that day, I clearly recall announcing to my dear husband that I needed to find that book and to purchase a copy of my own…

Year’s later, shortly after our parish was founded, my husband-the-deacon read that book at all of the Masses on our first Mother’s Day together in 1992. Mike’s gathered our children at the foot of the altar to do the same every year since. Though the book might seem to be a cutesy means to keep the children’s attention for a Mother’s Day homily, its message is meant to do far more for us all. When we listen carefully as Mike reads, we who believe in God’s promises can’t help identifying with the outlandish antics of the child and the eternal patience of the mother in the story. By the end of the book, we who believe in eternal life understand that the experiences of this child and parent illustrate precisely the relationship which God offers to each one of us. Let me explain…

From his infancy, Mother finds her helpless baby irresistible and she promises to love him forever. As is the case with us all, it doesn’t take long for this child to become adept at performing in less-than-lovable ways. Mother thinks the worst that can happen is having her watch flushed down the toilet until her toddler grows into boyhood and then his teens with all of the accompanying trials and tribulations. Still, whatever phase her child grows into, Mother repeats her promise to love him forever. Eventually, the young man leaves home for life in the world. In spite of the distance between them, Mother makes her way to her son to repeat her pledge to love him. As is often the case with those of us blessed with “seasoned” parents, the day arrives when Mother can no longer make her way to her son. She calls and invites him to come to her so she might to speak those words of promise to him one more time. You’ll have to read the book to discover what occurs when mother and child meet…

On this Ascension Day, Jesus finds himself in a similar predicament as his time on this earth with his disciples comes to a close. Though we hear different Ascension gospels each year, the core of Jesus’ message remains the same. In Luke’s account (Luke 24:46-53), Jesus says, “And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.” Luke impresses upon us Jesus’ promise that God will be with us in everything. In today’s account from Mark’s gospel (Mark 16:15-20), Jesus asks his disciples to “Go into the world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” By sharing the Word, they will assure all who listen of God’s love for them. In Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 28:16-20), Jesus adds his promise, “I will be with you always, until the end of the world.” Jesus promises to remain at their sides through everything. Like the mother in Robert Munsch’s story, Jesus repeats his promise to those he loves over and over again. This is precisely the point of everything Jesus said and did. By the end of the story, you realize that Jesus’ hope is the same as that of the grown child’s mother: That his beloved children accept love and that they learn to love generously in return.

You know, my stepdad passed away not long after I read LOVE YOU FOREVER in the teachers’ lounge that morning. When I bade him my final good-bye, I pictured my stepdad cradled in God’s arms just as that mother had cradled her son and just as that son had eventually cradled his mother. I was convinced that God wouldn’t begin my stepdad’s first day at home in heaven any other way. So it is that I thank you, Robert Munsch, for the poignant glimpse of God’s love which your wonderful book has given me. Thank you, Jesus, for preaching this very lesson every day of your life among us. Thank you, God, for loving each of us through our lifetime journeys home to you. Thank you, Moms (and dad’s!) for doing your best to teach the same!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Munsch, Robert (1986). LOVE YOU FOREVER. Ontario, Canada: Firefly Books.
This book is available in bookstores and online.

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

God’s Glad You’re You!

When I sat at my keyboard to begin this writing, I checked the calendar on my desk. I’d come fully prepared to develop an idea I’d had for a few days regarding today’s scripture readings. Much to my dismay, I’d forgotten that this is not only the Fifth Sunday of Easter, but also Mother’s Day. I didn’t have the time to return to Square 1. Still, the mom in me refused to ignore the obvious. As is my custom, I avoided the pain of starting over for as long as possible. I headed to the kitchen for some iced tea. It was such a beautiful day that I lingered at the kitchen window for a few minutes. My poor husband had just planted three tiny arbor vitae to replace a large tree we’d lost. As I considered how long it will take for these little guys to cover the open space at the corner of our yard, my mind wandered to the two little guys who used to play in that yard…

Our sons loved their sandbox. Every year, after Mike cleaned and refilled it, our sons rediscovered the joys of sand. Our less little son, Mike, instructed his more little brother, Tim, regarding the intricacies of road building. Mike carefully guided Tim’s hand as Tim pulled a small shovel through the sand just deep enough to fashion a road which would accommodate Matchbox cars. Tim caught on quickly because in no time he and his big brother were pushing trucks and cars down a sandy highway. Before I returned my thoughts to this writing, I prayed that my sons will always work this well together.

I couldn’t walk away from the kitchen window because the garden hose Mike had used to water his new little trees lay across the sidewalk. Suddenly, our fifteen-year-old Mike stood watering flowers for his dad. Intrigued by his brother’s discipline and determined to distract him, seven-year-old Tim ran his hand through the stream of water and splashed his older brother as best he could. It didn’t occur to Tim that his brother controlled a good deal more water than he. Within seconds, Tim was soaked from head to toe and he and Mike laughed uncontrollably. Before getting to this writing, I prayed that my sons will always be able to laugh together.

I’d almost finished my tea when I allowed myself another peek out the window. Though I thought the sun-drenched greenery across the back of the yard would offer some inspiration, that lush hedge only conjured additional images of our sons. This time, it was older brother Mike’s wedding day. They’d just finished lunch with the groomsmen. Mike and younger brother Tim were comparing cuff-links and vests. My son-the-groom noted that his younger brother looked “cool.” My son-the-best-man noted that his older brother’s gray vest and tie were good choices for the day. Because they weren’t here for me to hug, I offered another prayer on their behalf. I prayed that my sons will always be there for one another through good times and tough times.

As I made my way back to the study to begin this writing, I recalled our family gathering a few weeks ago. In what seemed to be a nanosecond, another wedding and four births added to Mike’s and Tim’s company in the backyard. As I sat at my keyboard for the second time in an hour, it occurred to me that my original idea was quite appropriate for both this Fifth Sunday of Easter and Mother’s Day.

Today’s scriptures are very clear about the importance of each of our efforts in this life. All three scripture passages (Acts 6:1-7, 1 Peter 2:4-9 and John 14:1-12) point to the things we can accomplish when we embrace the moment at hand. These invitations to action can be as subtle as a chance encounter at the grocery store or as obvious as a screaming baby who’s just emerged in the delivery room. In either case, our response has the potential to make all of the difference in the world to someone. The frightening and beautiful part of all of this is that, in God’s loving opinion, this work has been placed in most capable hands.

This Mother’s Day, I admit that embracing my role as Mom and Grandma came with far more perks than most jobs offer. At the same time, the investment required more than I thought I had to give. This Fifth Sunday of Easter, I admit that embracing my role as a member of our human family also offers far more perks than I ever expected. God has gifted each one of us with a unique presence which somehow enriches this world and all whom we meet along the way. God’s only expectation is that we try. If this humble mom can find such joy in her sons and daughters-in-law, her grandchildren and Grandpa Mike who shares all of this with me, imagine the joy God finds in you and me! Happy Mother’s Day and Happy God’s Glad You’re You Day!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved