Time To Dance?

A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance.

Ecclesiastes 3:4

My husband and I planned to attend three weddings this summer. At the moment, the two earlier weddings have been cancelled while the third dangles in uncertainty on our calendar. We looked forward to celebrating with each couple. I would have found it encouraging and, yes, a bit romantic, to wish these hopeful spouses all of the best for their futures together.

I admit that I also looked forward to dancing at their receptions. I usually begin with a slow dance in my husband’s arms. Afterward, he retreats to join anyone else who isn’t dancing while I continue on with a friend or family member whose spouse has also retreated from the dance floor. In the end, the dancer within me takes over for as long as I can move. Though she sometimes has a difficult time guiding my feet into the prescribed steps for a given dance, she always succeeds in freeing me to abandon my inhibitions and to rejoice in the music at hand.

Needless to say, there will be no such dancing for us in the foreseeable future. Still, the words I cited above from Ecclesiastes nudge me to try. I truly believe that God intentionally created us with the ability to party. This is one of God’s most creative ways of reminding us to take the time to relax and not to take ourselves or this life too seriously. Like you, I know we’re immersed in one of the most serious times of our lives. Still…

…Our grandchildren amuse us with three-way FaceTime calls. Friends resend emails and Facebook posts which force us to laugh aloud. We walk outdoors and shout cheerful greetings to those we see while social distancing at twice the prescribed footage. We telephone those we love, but cannot see and we pray for everyone. Yes, we are in this together and we are called to turn our mourning into dancing whenever we can!

Gracious God, thank you for our ability to transform our tears into laughter and our mourning into at least an attempt to dance.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Pesky Politics!

…all the people were arguing among themselves…
From 1 Kings 19:10

When our friends who recently traveled to Italy chronicled their adventures every day via Facebook, they elicited fond memories of my husband’s and my trip there. These memories nudged me toward our Sicily album. As I perused those photos, I rekindled my fascination with the island’s rich history…

The local guides prided themselves in both Sicily’s natural beauty and the amazing contributions of the various ethnic groups who made Sicily their home over the centuries. I developed great respect for the Sicilian people who continue to celebrate humanity’s potential. They welcome immigrants from everywhere who wish to make their homes among them. At the same time, I found myself amused by the story behind two of Sicily’s most visited and beloved cathedrals. One was built to “outdo” the other. I still laugh over this as the concept of “outdoing” anyone when building a place of worship continues to puzzle me. I remember our tour guide’s response to my wry smile: “Politics. You know it’s everywhere, even in the church,” he said.

That guide’s comment wasn’t lost on me. His words challenged me to do my best to be open to others. Regardless of their differences in perspective and especially when “politics” is at work among us, I must resist my own need to “win”. It’s far more important for me and for all of us to be at one with those we’ve been given to love. Within our families, our neighborhoods, our workplaces, our churches and our nation, there’s simply no room for power struggles. We have much to accomplish together and this never seems to have been more true than it is today.

Loving God, open our hearts to all of those whom we meet along the way and inspire our efforts to work together.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Stand Together

“Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs
under the table eat the family’s leavings.”

Mark 7:28

I was born into an Irish and Italian neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago. Since only the tiniest drop of each bloodline flows through me, I had no preference for either group. The truth is that I envied them both, especially on St. Patrick’s and St. Joseph’s Days when they celebrated their heritage with great flourish. For the most part, I’m French Canadian. There is no designated day for me to do the same. Though my own family celebrated rich traditions which were the direct result of my nationality, I longed for a more colorful and universal display of our heritage. By third grade, many of these neighbors moved away. New African-American neighbors took their places. At that time, I discovered that my new neighbors found themselves in the same situation as I. No one outside of their own families celebrated their heritage with a flourish either. Sadly, most outsiders looked upon my new neighbors’ rich heritage as a threat or a curse. As for me, my new neighbors became my friends.

This childhood experience evolved into a lifetime of effort to overlook ethnicity and the numerous other differences which often separate us. Perhaps it was providential that I spent my career working with children. My classroom provided the perfect forum in which to honor both our personal uniqueness and our common qualities. In the process, I think I succeeded in honoring my students for who they were while also respecting the heritage of each one. I hope I do the same today for all of those whom I meet along the way.

God of us All, it seems that we manage to separate ourselves into differing factions more than ever these days. We continue to find reason to stand apart. Please inspire us with your loving and welcoming ways before it’s too late.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Thank You, Neighbors!

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
From Mark 12:31

I don’t have the time to post two reflections in a single day. Still, yesterday’s activity in my snow-covered neighborhood compels me to do just that.

Several inches of snow had fallen overnight. Local schools were closed and some of the neighbors worked from home. A few others had unavoidable obligations which prevented them from clearing their walks and driveways. After fortifying ourselves with breakfast and coffee (okay, my husband had the coffee), we bundled up and headed outdoors to tackle our driveway and then move on to the neighbors’.

While Mike started our snowblower and I grabbed a shovel, two more snowblowers arrived on the scene. Our neighbor Ron from down the block had already cleared his own driveway and those of two neighbors on his side of the street. He’d come down the block to begin his fourth driveway just across the street from us. Our other neighbor Mike had done his own drive and was finishing up another neighbor’s driveway on our side of the street. When he saw us, he aligned his snowblower with my husband’s. They cleared our driveway in a few minutes. As for me, I had only the front walk and the steps outside our the back door to deal with. When I thanked the guys for their efforts, they looked surprised. In their minds, they simply did what any neighbor would do.

Though yesterday’s outdoor temperature was uncomfortably cold, I came into the house after shoveling the snow feeling warm to my core. That’s what happens when we neighbors simply do what any neighbor would do.

Loving God, help me to love all of the neighbors whom I meet along the way as simply and as generously as my snow-moving neighbors loved me yesterday.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love, Plain and Simple

Bless the Lord, all you God’s chosen ones…
From Tobit 13:8

I admit that recent events in this world of ours have urged me into a bit of a funk. Fortunately, a day with my grandson brought about a much-needed change of attitude. Though Danny is allowed little screen-time, we occasionally watch Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. This furry little tiger originated in Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood which I watched with my sons decades ago. It amazed me that the mild-mannered Fred Rogers captivated Mike and Tim for the duration of his show.

The hallmark of Fred Rogers’ work was his ability to make his audience members feel special and important, wanted and cherished. I think my husband and I did a reasonable job of making our sons feel loved. They’re loved more than I can ever put into words. Still, regardless of the similar good efforts of those around us, we sometimes feel devalued and unwanted. In spite of my parents’ best efforts, I recall my own childhood moments of dejection and loneliness. It was then that I vowed to assure my future children that they are loved no matter what!

You know, some of the trauma in this world seems to be the result of rejection at some level. Perhaps it’s time for us all to acknowledge not only the worth of our loved ones and ourselves, but also that of all with whom we share this planet. Perhaps it’s time to recognize that while YOU and I are God’s chosen ones, so are our perceived adversaries. Perhaps it’s time to make love the hallmark of all that we say and do.

Loving God, be with us in our efforts to love one another, especially when it is most difficult.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Dance Like You Mean It!

A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance.

Ecclesiastes 3:4

This summer, my husband and I will attend three weddings. Two of these involve the offspring of dear friends. As a result, both promise ample opportunities to reconnect with special people from near and far. Both will include numerous well-wishers who have good reason to make merry.

Though my husband is never anxious to dance for any reason, I consider every wedding invitation to be an invitation to dance the night away. This ritual usually begins with a slow dance or two in my husband’s arms. Afterward, he retreats to join anyone who is not dancing while I continue the fancy footwork with whoever else needs a partner. This “whoever else” is usually a friend or relative whose spouse has also “retreated”. In the end, I spend an hour or more allowing the dancer within me to take over. Though she has a difficult time guiding my feet into the “right” steps, she always succeeds in freeing me to abandon my inhibitions and to rejoice in the music at hand.

It occurs to me that God intentionally created us with the ability to “party”. This is one of God’s most creative ways of reminding us to take the time to relax and not to take ourselves too seriously. There is no more effective way to do this than to dance with abandon… and so I will!

Gracious God, thank you for caring for all of us: Our hearts, our bodies, our souls and our need to enjoy this life.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved