God’s Precious Kids

The child grew and became strong in spirit…
Luke 1:80

My husband recently shared a Facebook posting he received from a former student of ours. Mike was Charlie’s middle school principal. As an elementary school remedial reading teacher, I never taught Charlie because he is extremely bright. Still, he and I interacted frequently due to our involvement in special school projects and the close proximity of our classrooms. We talked almost every day.

The truth is that I intentionally gave Charlie a good deal of attention. His amazing academic ability sometimes put him at odds with his classmates. I hoped to encourage Charlie to be himself and to do his best in spite of the teasing and worse which his peers mercilessly doled out. In the end, Charlie persisted. This brave young man is now a happy and productive adult.

Early into my teaching career, I was fascinated by a book concerning the most important things we learn in school. The author was convinced that he’d learned everything he needed to know for the rest of his life during kindergarten. Today, more than ever, I think we all need to be mindful of those early lessons in getting along and caring for each another. How I wish I could assign some of those currently in office and a few of my fellow citizens to repeat those lessons! The truth is that I sometimes need a similar refresher as well.

So it is that I’m going to take another peek at Charlie’s Facebook post. I’m certain that the image of his smile will reignite my faith in my fellow humans and in myself as we love one another through our battle with COVID-19.

Loving God, help us to be the children you created us to be.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Fear Not…

I sought God, and God answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.

Psalm 34:5

While wheeling our recyclables to the street, a glass bottle re-positioned itself and crashed to the bottom of the cart. It made a loud unexpected crash which startled me. When I realized what had happened, I had to laugh at my response. Just a few weeks earlier, I’d dropped my Snapple bottle into our son’s recycle bin which resulted in a similar crash which brought our younger grandson to tears. Fortunately, Ben responded to my embrace and my assurances that all would be well. This little episode brought to mind tender moments with our own sons long ago.

Some of the most meaningful interactions between parents and children result from uncertainty and fear. A parent’s embrace and a few well-chosen words bring the assurance that, indeed, everything will be all right. When parents’ words aren’t enough and their children continue to shiver and shake, they simply hold their little ones tightly for as long as it takes to bring them peace.

During these difficult times, we who are God’s children aren’t very different from our own. Sometimes, no matter how well-chosen God’s words are, we find it difficult to take them in. Uncertainty and fear overwhelm us. For these very reasons, God promises simply to be with us.

I thought I was old enough and wise enough not to be frightened by much. Nonetheless, the devastation COVID-19 has imposed upon our world threatens to do just that. Since my parents’ laps aren’t available, I turn to God for consolation. It is in God’s embrace that I’m reminded of the terrible events which have shaped human history since time began. Throughout these episodes, we supported one another as best we could and as only we could. Today, God asks that we simply do our best to do as much. In the mean time, God will make good on that promise to remain with us all the while.

Loving God, thank you for embracing us in our joy, in our fear and in everything.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Real Life Lessons

When he saw the crowds, he went up on the mountainside.
After he sat down, the disciples gathered around him…

Matthew 5:1

Even from afar, the Mount of the Beatitudes exudes beauty. This deceptively peaceful setting is also known as Mount Eremos. Its name is derived from Greek and means “solitary or uninhabited”. I laugh as I type this fact as the opposite must have been true of this place the day Jesus offered his hope-filled lessons in living.

While Matthew placed Jesus on a mountainside for this discourse, Luke described the site as a level place. A close look clears up this discrepancy as there are numerous level places on the hillsides of Galilee. Jesus could have delivered his sermon from any one of them. More important is the value of Jesus’ teaching that day. Matthew’s indication that Jesus sat before he began mustn’t be overlooked. Those who taught in the temple always sat before offering their lessons. Jesus made a point when he followed suit. Once again, it was quite clear that Jesus taught with authority.

As for me, I’ve found myself weary of the empty words of an assortment “authority figures” throughout my life. What a life-giving experience it was when my parents and a favorite teacher and a respected public figure and my priest asked no more of me than they asked of themselves! This is precisely the experience of those who heard Jesus that day. This was their experience every time Jesus opened his mouth because Jesus’ actions always spoke louder than his words.

Loving God, thank you for sending an authentic representative to share your loving ways with us.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

At Home…

Joseph went to the region of Galilee.
There he settled with them in a town called Nazareth.

From Matthew 2:23

While in Israel, we visited Nazareth. Jesus, Mary and Joseph lived there from the time Jesus was a little boy. Mary had also grown up there. It was in Nazareth that Mary discovered she would be the mother of Jesus.

The Basilica of the Annunciation rests over Mary’s home. Our archaeologist guide cited first century evidence which indicates that this place is indeed where Mary grew up and where it is believed the Angel Gabriel visited her. A small grotto in the church houses a portion of Mary’s home. After viewing that area, we walked next to the church where another portion of Jesus’ neighborhood has been excavated. There we viewed a Nazareth home likely similar to that of Jesus and his parents. It isn’t unreasonable to believe that Mary had walked into that home to visit a neighbor or that the boy Jesus had run through it in pursuit of a playmate. It isn’t unreasonable to imagine Joseph the Handyman was there as well, perhaps to carve into a wall to create a ledge for storage.

In Nazareth, I was completely overwhelmed by the past, a past in which I felt I had a share. The events which unfolded in Nazareth two thousand years ago prepared Jesus and his family for what was to come. The neighborliness of Joseph and Mary impacted Jesus’ behavior toward others as a child and in adulthood. All of this had everything to do with the manner in which Jesus lived his adult life. All of this has everything to do with the way I live my life as well.

That day in Nazareth, I celebrated with my long-ago family who remain with me even today.

Dear God, thank you for the many hints of your presence which sustain us.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Mercy Enough for Us All

“Be merciful, just as God is merciful.
Do not judge, for you will not be judged.”

Luke 6:36-37

I admit that I’d engaged in a bit of self-deprecation. I’d been emotional and angry, sometimes with reason and sometimes for no reason at all. I questioned my life’s work, wondering exactly what that might be.

A few mornings later, while heading to the kitchen for breakfast, I passed our wall of family photos. When I noticed my dad’s picture, he seemed to be smiling at me. Suddenly, words he’d spoken to me decades earlier echoed in my mind. My dad had told me, “You’re much harder on yourself than anyone else would ever be.” Though I didn’t understand what he meant at the time, that morning, I understood.

I’ve spent much of my life second-guessing myself, wondering if anything I’ve said or done has been good enough. Though my childhood was filled with the company of numerous encouraging adults, a single harsh word sent me into a tailspin. It took me weeks or longer to recover. Of course, most of those around me were completely oblivious to my self-imposed pain because I persisted in trying even harder to please them. It wasn’t until years into adulthood that I realized God’s mercy wasn’t only to be imitated in my relationships with others, but also in my regard for myself.

That morning, I promised to stop judging me. Today, I’m pleased to report that I’ve kept that promise for the most part. When I find myself faltering, I repeat my dad’s words to me and start anew.

Loving God, thank you for inspiring my dad with your amazingly merciful love and for inspiring me to listen to him.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Happy Birthday, Daddy!

Here, then, is the message we have heard and announce to you:
that God is light; in God there is no darkness.

1 John 1:5

On the third day of Christmas, I always think of my dad. Today is his birthday and I hope he is celebrating with great gusto. My dad passed away many years ago at age 39. He has celebrated far more birthdays in the afterlife than he celebrated here.

When I was a little girl, the date of my dad’s birthday troubled me a bit. I thought that my dad was shortchanged. I asked him if he minded that his birthday fell two days after Christmas. Good man that he is, Daddy replied that this was okay. He felt that Christmas was a very good day which led into his own very, very good day. Because my grandparents had little money, I’m quite certain that my dad didn’t receive many gifts on either day. Still, he shared his memories with a smile big enough to convince this daughter that his childhood Christmases and birthdays were just fine.

This is a small parcel of the wisdom my dad shared with me. Happily, he always did so with a smile. Today, I’m going to allow myself a piece of cake in my dad’s honor -a sweet reminder of his sweet presence in my life. We’re going to party together in my heart.

Generous God, thank you for my dad who is among the best of those who have shown me your love. As you well know, Daddy did this with great competence and with a flourish which will never be replaced.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved