Special in God’s Eyes

This Labor Day weekend, my thoughts turn to all of the children and teachers who recently embraced the new school year. While I always welcomed summer vacation when my husband-the-principal and I-the-teacher regrouped as a family with our own kids, every August, I looked forward to the new school year as well. Of course, I also looked forward to Labor Day which granted all concerned a four-day school week! The other day, Mike shared a Facebook post with me from one of our former students. As I considered the amazing dad and husband he’s become, I offered a prayer for him and all of the great kids I’d met along the way. It was then that one of my own first day of school adventures came to mind. A favorite student wasn’t at all looking forward to the new school year or Labor Day…

On the first day each year, teachers flank school grounds long before the children arrive. Some of the children might have been unfamiliar with the environment while others might have needed a reminder that order would prevail. So it was that my fellow teachers and I stood ready to greet the new year’s students. Eventually, most of the children made their way into the building like an army of ants charging a picnic. Some approached with confidence. They were returning students who’d done well the prior year. They knew where to line up and what to expect. Their backpacks bulged with supplies in anticipation of whatever their new teachers might ask of them. Others arrived hand-in-hand with an adult companion. These grown-up escorts offered a bit of reassurance in an effort to prevent tears which would otherwise have flowed freely. For some who reluctantly inched toward school, tears flowed regardless of the company. The onset of the new year frightened them beyond their abilities to cope. These poor children always expected the worst.

The children I worried about most that first morning of the school year were those who lingered on the periphery of things. They feared crossing the threshold into the school and into the new year and they hid wherever they could. The year before, these children had attended school every day and worked hard at their assignments. They did their homework, but too often found it to be too hard. Without help, they too often failed the most important subjects. I vividly recalled their avoidance behaviors. One stood behind a tree. Another squatted low, hiding next to a dumpster. Still another perched himself high above the playground at the top of the slide. Gym-shoe clad feet betrayed the girl lurking behind a teacher’s van. The last one I eyed had started to walk home. He’d refused to endure failure once again.

Because I was a reading teacher, I didn’t have a class of my own to usher into the building. I was charged with gathering these elusive procrastinators. That year, after retrieving my young friends from their various hiding places, I bolted after the young man who was headed home. Jonah was a sixth grader who felt he’d had a rough year last time around. I knew him because Jonah had been one of my reading students. Jonah had made excellent progress in reading. His pre-test and post-test scores heralded the two-plus years’ growth he’d achieved. Jonah had moved from second to fourth grade reading level. Unfortunately, Jonah still performed two years below his new grade level. I shared the frustration which must have eaten away at him. His peers who were reading at grade level skated by with only six or eight months’ growth and that was enough for them. I understood why Jonah questioned his still being behind when his growth was greater than that of most of the other students.

With all of this in mind, I followed Jonah down the walk. Luckily, Jonah’s good nature impelled him to stop. Had he noticed that my heels made it impossible for me to chase him? His eyes told me that he almost welcomed my company. “Jonah,” I asked, “Where are you going? What will I do if you’re not in school today?” Jonah sniffed and tears followed. “I can’t do that stuff. I hate school. I’m stupid and I ain’t going in there!” Trying to keep my own tears in check, I reminded Jonah, “You learned two years’ worth of reading last year. If you do that again, you’ll be right where you’re supposed to be.” Jonah wiped his eyes and smiled just a bit. “That’s why I got that certificate, huh? My mom put it on her bedroom mirror.” I quickly asked, “She liked it?” Jonah smiled as I walked him to the door. “We both like it,” Jonah admitted. With that, Jonah skipped to his classroom, ready to try once again. With that, I prayed once again: “Thank you, Lord, for helping me to convince Jonah of just how special he is.” Jonah had given meaning to that day and to every day that I was privileged to work with him.

Today, at the close of Luke’s gospel (14:1, 7-14), Jesus says, “…when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” I admit that Jesus’ promise is above and beyond anything I can hope for today because Jonah repaid me a thousand-fold for simply doing my job that year. So it is that I celebrate Labor Day 2019 with a prayer for you and me…

Loving God, help us never to overlook the treasure to be found in those whom this world considers to be castaways. Like Jesus, help us to see that it is through our association with these favored ones that we witness your greatest work and that we best emulate your loving and welcoming heart.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Share Your Good Fortune!

What now is has already been;
what is to be, already is;
and God restores what would otherwise be displaced.

Ecclesiastes 3:15

A few weeks ago, I ran into someone whom I’d helped to get some much-needed assistance. This dear soul was eager to give me a progress report. Because this occurred some years ago, I’d almost forgotten our encounter. As it happened, my friend had made good use of the opportunities given him. He was happy to let me know that he was in the midst of paying forward the generosity he’d experienced. I was really excited to hear that he’d decided to support a local summer program for kids. I couldn’t help observing that if we all invested more in our children, we’d prevent many of the problems that plague us today from continuing on tomorrow -but that’s a topic for another day!

It occurs to me that it is indeed God’s intent that we “pay it forward” as often as possible. When we’re in the midst of our own struggles, it often takes all of our energy and resources simply to survive. Still, when we find ourselves blessed with abundance in any way, we increase our joy exponentially by sharing it with others. Those who helped my grateful friend had no idea that their support would change his life. He has no idea of what his support will do for the children involved in that program he supported. None of us can predict the lengths to which our goodness toward others will go which is all the more reason to do good as often as we can.

Loving God, inspire our generosity and make us whole-hearted sharers of your love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

I’ll Do My Part

Her neighbors and relatives heard
that the Lord had shown great mercy toward her,
and they rejoiced with her.

Luke 1:58

I admit that I’ve continued to worry quite a bit as of late. Though I consider myself to be a concerned member of our human family, I used to keep the world’s worries in perspective. Currently, it’s very difficult to do so. Every newscast brings more violence, injustice and inhumanity to light. It’s impossible to miss our need to change this world for the better. Not many of us have influence at the global level, I know. However, we can all make a difference in our little corners of the world.

As I consider how I might make a positive difference in the space I occupy, I look back to my teaching career. If I expected my students to interact peacefully, I had to model that behavior consistently. I couldn’t tell these children to speak kindly to one another if I freely corrected and embarrassed them with unnecessary harshness. My interactions with family, friends and neighbors are equally instructive. If I wish to live in harmony with those God has given me to love, I must make a positive contribution to the mix.

The truth is that our work in this regard is great. Whether we approach others with a positive attitude, give our time to the lonely or the needy, write letters to our legislators regarding the issues before us, or take a deep breath before we say something we will regret… Whatever we choose to do will make a difference.

Loving God, be with is as we tend to our small parcels of this world with compassion and love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Y… Yearning!

My soul yearns and pines for the Lord.
My heart and my soul cry out for God.

Psalm 84:3

Y is for Yearning. Sometimes, only God will do.

After retiring from his first career as a school principal, my husband worked as a hospice chaplain. This work touched him deeply. Though we consider ourselves to be “God-aware” people, this experience brought new depth in this regard to both of us. Mike observed often that, when a patient seemed to have lost every means of communication, he or she somehow managed to acknowledge prayer. Whether by squeezing a hand, blinking an eye, smiling ever so slightly or whispering an “amen”, even those closest to death became present when it was time to pray. Some patients rapt in comas seemed to breathe more calmly when those around them prayed. When all else was said and done, God remained present to each one.

Though most of us are not in need of hospice care at the moment, we are all in need of God. When no one else comprehends our suffering, it is God who experiences every detail of it with us. When we cannot mouth a single word, much less breathe without shedding more tears, God understands our situations completely. God is with us -ALWAYS!

In times of suffering, when I’m certain that no one understands my heartbreak, I feel completely alone for only a millisecond. If I pay attention, I realize within that instant that God is with me. Yes, sometimes, only God will do. Always, God will do!

Merciful and loving God, thank you for satisfying my yearning with your presence.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Answer That Call

Fill us at daybreak with your kindness…
From Psalm 90:14 1:38

I can’t remember being this busy! The phone has rung once too often with today’s allotment of roto-calls. Then there were the legitimate callers who needed something which only I could provide. I’m truly humbled that others depend upon me. Today, however, I wished to be depended upon just a bit less. I’m tired. I received two books as gifts which await my perusal and my own book needs to be written. Just a minute. There goes my phone again!

This time, I’m grateful for the call. Our grandsons needs a sitter. Of course, my husband and I are available. Of course, we’ll stay as long as needed. Of course, we’ll enjoy every minute we spend with Danny and Ben.

As I look to my calendar to clear the day, I notice the little bust of Charlie Brown which Danny’s and Ben’s dad sculpted in elementary school. The signature and date scrawled on its bottom indicate that Tim fashioned this replica of my favorite Peanuts character when he was 9 years old. I treasure it because of Charlie Brown’s endearing message to me. Though Charlie Brown’s outlook can sometimes be more dismal than I’d like, he always manages to pull himself together and to do his best no matter what. Though Charlie Brown doesn’t initially appreciate the fruits of his labor, in the end, his efforts always prove to be worthwhile.

My responses to those earlier phone calls and to many of this life’s demands didn’t emulate Charlie Brown’s efforts as much as they should have. It was that request for Grandpa’s and my services which adjusted my focus. You know, it truly is an amazing blessing to be needed! The next time the phone rings, I’ll answer with Charlie Brown’s enthusiasm and his good will.

Dear God, help me to respond with love whenever I’m needed, regardless of when I receive the call.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We Are God’s Poor

God hears the poor,
and those who are in bonds God spurns not.

Psalm 69:34

Sometimes, when we hear or read about the poor in the scriptures or via the media, we assume that the term references those with dire material needs. Though this is certainly often the case, God’s definition of “the poor” is all-inclusive. God attends to each one of us whether our needs are material or otherwise.

Sometimes, when we find ourselves doing well in the world’s eyes, we also find ourselves in need deep within us where it matters most. Just as the materially poor climb a slippery slope when it comes to establishing a secure life for themselves and their loved ones, the materially rich sometimes expend so much energy holding on to what they have that they lose their grip on the things that matter most to them.

We all take turns being counted among God’s poor. This much-loved group includes you and me and all of our brothers and sisters whenever this life robs us of the things we need to continue on. Whether we’re lacking money enough for a loaf of bread or love enough to care for our aging parent, God knows our suffering. Whether we are besought by the enemy before us or by the demons within us, God stands at our sides. All the while, God offers us enough love to get by.

Loving God, you recognize our poverty in all of its forms. Be persistent with your generous love, that we may share that love with one another.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved