God Is Here

In the beginning was the Word;
the Word was in God’s presence
and the Word was God.

John 1:1

The teacher in me taught me to make the most of our winter breaks. When I taught second and third graders, their unrest before Christmas vacation betrayed their anticipation regarding what Santa might place under their trees on Christmas Day. I engaged in some extremely creative teaching to keep my students’ attention until I finally dismissed them for their two-week hiatus. Because my husband was a school principal, his office needed a revolving door during those final days as a few students needed more than their teachers’ creativity to contain them. When we had children of our own, we did our best to send them off to school with plenty of “encouragement” to behave until the final bell rang and vacation began.

This time away from school was truly a gift to all concerned. Though having the kids at home while trying to prepare for Christmas was a challenge, their involvement added to all of our appreciation of the season. When Christmas Day arrived, we had much to celebrate together.

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve and another variety of anticipation and a bit of uncertainty sets in. Like the children who wondered what gifts Christmas would bring, I wonder what the New Year has in store. The truth is that God only knows. So it is that tomorrow I will settle in to enjoy the Eve of the New Year with those I’ve been given to love. I will trust that, whatever 2018 brings, God will be with us through it all.

Loving God, thank you for your loving care today, throughout the coming year and always.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always Safe

You shall not fear the terror of the night
nor the arrow that flies by day.

Psalm 91:5

My family will gather in a few days to continue our holiday festivities with a New Year’s Day celebration. For generations before I arrived, my dad’s Canadian family preserved this tradition which includes a blessing. Every New Year’s Day, our family gathers before our eldest family member to request their intercession. This year, my sister Rita will ask God’s gifts of happiness, health and prosperity for each one of us during the coming year.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve experienced a reassuring sense of peace as we kneel together for this annual prayer. Afterward, I feel oddly protected regardless of what life has in store for the next three hundred and sixty-four days. This was very important to me the year my dad passed away and for many years thereafter. Perhaps this is the reason I was always careful to help my own sons to feel safe. Perhaps this is the reason I hold my grandchildren so close these days. Perhaps this is the reason I’m compelled to remind all who will listen that God is always nearby, around us and within us, keeping us safe all the while.

Caring God, just as you lovingly remain with us, help us to treasure and nurture one another with equal devotion.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A… Abundant Gifts

He shall be like rain coming down on the meadow,
like showers watering the earth.

Psalm 72:6

I’m delaying my errands this morning until after 9:00. I live down the block from our neighborhood school and this is the first day of classes after winter break. Walking children, buses and automobiles dictate my schedule and insure the safety of all concerned. The extra time this morning is a gift which I’m enjoying with gratitude. I’m preparing for my errands quite leisurely, leisurely enough to slip in a prayer for teachers and children everywhere who are easing themselves back into their classroom schedules and the rigors of teaching and learning. After praying for them, I offer thanks for my own teaching career and its completion. Today, retirement is a particularly beautiful thing!

A few years ago, I turned to the ABCs of my career and life in general to inspire the New Year. Since I enjoyed that writing and many of you enjoyed the reading, I’m going to do the same to welcome New Year 2017. Will you join me as I begin at the beginning with A?

A is for Abundance. Each of us is a treasure-trove to ourselves and to others. We are filled with abundant gifts which no one possesses in the same configuration as we do. It’s up to us to look within for our own abundance and to share it generously with those we’ve been given to love. It’s also up to us to find and to acknowledge the abundance in others and to empower them to do the same.

Loving God, help us to recognize the abundance in ourselves and in those around us. May we all use our gifts well!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

My Resolution

I am a voice in the desert, crying out:
“Make straight the way of the Lord!”

John 1:23

New Year 2017 fills me with memories and wields a self-imposed challenge. Though I learned long ago not to burden myself with a list of impossible and improbable resolutions, I hope to improve myself meaningfully this coming year. This time, however, I will view my need for improvement with God’s eyes rather than my own.

You know, we humans can be a critical lot when it comes to judging one another. To remedy this, I hope to relieve myself of the burden of judging others. I never get it right because I cannot see into another’s heart. When I foolishly voice my misunderstanding or misinterpretation, I almost always make things worse. Since this is the case, why judge others at all? Though I may occasionally need to step in to prevent harm, I need not accompany my intervention with judgment. So it is that I will try.

You, know, we humans can also be a critical lot when it comes to judging ourselves. Whenever I consider my own failings, hopelessness looms overhead. I consistently fail to view myself with God’s eyes rather than my own. As I consider this, the picture of my sons on my desk catches my eye. I love them more than anything and nothing they do will ever change that… What was that? “I love them more than anything and nothing they do will ever change that…” God loves me even more so and nothing I do will ever change that either. Not ever!

It seems to me that the best way for me to spend the next the three hundred sixty-three days of 2017 is to view my fellow humans and myself with God’s loving eyes and to treat them and myself accordingly.

Loving God, remind me often that your love is meant for everyone, even me! <e

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Special, Just Like Mary

“And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”
From Luke 2:16-21

Whenever the scriptures referenced the mother of Jesus, I used to picture my favorite statue, painting or Christmas card. These renderings portrayed a serene and beautiful young woman. She either held the Child Jesus or prayed with folded hands. Mary’s clothing was impeccable and often trimmed in gold. A halo surrounded her head to assure me of Mary’s holiness. Early in my life, these representations accounted for my understanding of Mary. The wistful child in me whole-heartedly embraced what I thought I knew. When I became an adult and then a spouse and a parent, this perception changed. I had to acknowledge that Mary’s life wasn’t comprised of the series of serene tableaus which that artwork suggested.

Though Mary likely experienced a childhood typical of her day, it didn’t last long. Historians tells us that young women of Mary’s day were often betrothed and given into marriage in their early teens. The scriptures tell us that Mary was betrothed to Joseph, a good and just man. Tradition tells us that Joseph was likely several years older than she. Conventional as this arrangement was, it went awry the day an angel visited Mary. This emissary of the Lord God invited Mary to accept a pregnancy which wouldn’t begin in the usual way. Though Mary didn’t plan to be with child this early in her young life and certainly not before she married, something impelled her to accept God’s invitation. Unfortunately, when the angel disappeared, Mary was left to inform her poor parents and poor Joseph of the situation. Imagine how that must have gone!

Did Mary’s parents think their daughter was foolhardy or sinful? Or had they seen something in this child which indicated that she would accomplish the amazing one day? Though, for Mary’s sake I hope it was the latter, I’m certain that her parents worried and fretted just the same. Their daughter could have been stoned to death for being unfaithful to her betrothed. And what about Joseph? Did he think Mary was less than the woman he’d fallen in love with? Did he wonder how she could betray their love that way? Fortunately for all concerned, another angelic visitor clarified the situation and Joseph married Mary as planned. Still, in spite of this chapter’s happy ending, Mary experienced many more difficulties throughout her life. Yet, in spite of all of these troubles, Mary carried on. How? Only God and Mary know.

It seems to me that New Year’s Day is the perfect day to celebrate Mary, The Mother of God. As I do this, I’m going to set aside the saintly images which inspired my childhood devotion to Mary. Rather, I will look to the Mary who endured and overcame very human troubles which seem to exceed everything most of us will ever experience. I will look to the woman who changed diapers, searched for a lost child, mourned her husband and sent off her son to preach a new message to an unforgiving world. I will look to the woman who followed the accounts of Jesus’ work, who begged God to protect him and who wept before the cross on which he died. How did Mary find the strength to stay as they tortured Jesus? How could she have left him? In all of this, Mary carried on. How? Maybe God and Mary aren’t the only ones who know after all.

Many of us have survived devastating illnesses, heart-breaking losses and fractured relationships which simply wouldn’t heal. Many of us have survived persistent frustrations at work, in school and even at home where we should find refuge from these things. Many of us have survived events in our families and in the world at large which seemed far too much to bear. Many of us have survived those annoying little things which we hoped to change, but never quite found the means or the time to tackle. This was the case in Mary’s world and this continues to be the case in our world as well. The key concept here is that, as of today, we have survived our troubles just as Mary did. It seems to me that Mary was indeed very special to God and so are we.

This New Year’s Day, I thank God for last year’s gifts. I acknowledge the troubles of 2016 and thank God that I’ve survived them. I also thank God for being with me in everything. Finally, I thank God for the gift of New Year 2017 and ask that the gifts of 2017 outweigh its troubles. However it goes, I will carry on as Mary did. We’ll all carry on because, like Mary, that is what we do.

Happy New Year!

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

An Eve to Enjoy!

From heaven the Lord looks
and sees us all.

Psalm 33:13

Though I retired from my teaching career some time ago, I can’t help anticipating holiday breaks with a smile. Whether it is a one-day hiatus such as Veteran’s Day or a days-long winter or spring break, I enjoy these departures from the norm. When I worked full-time, my husband, our sons and I filled these recesses from school with everything that our school schedules prevented. We played in the snow and then went to the movies to retreat from the cold. Enjoying new toys and other Christmas gifts added to the fun. We went to bed a little later and slept in a little longer with great relish. Today, I admit to partaking of these pleasures with special joy in spite of the fact that I have the option of doing so almost every day. Somehow, sleeping in and setting aside my to-do list bring the greatest pleasure during the days between Christmas and New Year’s. A welcome side-effect is the leisurely tone with which I pray during this time. There’s no rush involved in these conversations with God. Yes, leisure time is a beautiful thing!

This New Year’s Eve, our sons and their wives and children are making the most of this break from their jobs and school. I smile broadly as I acknowledge that this particular family tradition is not lost on the younger generation. They learned well to appreciate this special time to relax and enjoy one another. Appropriately, they are teaching their children the same.

Loving God, be with us as we make the time today and throughout the coming year to enjoy ourselves, one another and you.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved