Christmas Love

This is Christmas Day. In my parish church, our Nativity scene, a forest of lighted trees and a garden of beautiful poinsettias set the scene. I couldn’t ask for a more beautiful place to celebrate Christmas. Things were a little different three weeks ago when our parish family immersed itself in Gift Weekend. The sanctuary was filled with packages and gift bags of every size and color. Our statue of Mary was lost behind that mountain of generosity. Rather than today’s folding chairs which provide extra seating, the gathering space was filled with an assortment of bicycles. As that weekend unfolded, I found myself wiping away tears multiple times. I pictured my fellow parishioners shopping with gift tags for those in need in hand. I also imagined this Christmas Day when hundreds of men and women, teens and toddlers will open those gifts with great excitement and appreciation. When I left church that day, my heart was filled with at least as much love as our church building had been. When I arrived at home, I decided I was in the perfect mindset to prepare this Christmas reflection.

As I pondered the miracle of this holy day, I couldn’t shake the images of those gifts and the smiling people who would welcome them. Suddenly, a little boy I met many years ago came to mind. Isaac was an expert regarding matters of the heart and his capacity to love was second to few. Just like my parish’s efforts on Gift Weekend, and throughout the year for that matter, it seemed to me that his generous gesture many Christmases ago captured the spirit and the love with which God touched this earth on the first Christmas Day…

Isaac was one of my students because he needed a little direction in developing his reading skills. On our way to and from my classroom each day, we had the opportunity to talk. It isn’t often that children have an adult to themselves and my students took full advantage of the situation. Isaac was no exception. I knew the latest regarding his mother’s lengthy disabling illness and his father’s efforts to care for her and the children. I knew about his older brother’s return from the military for an early Christmas visit and that Isaac read from a little prayer-book every night. The last day of school before winter break, Isaac shared something very special which remains with me today.

I’d purchased a small Christmas gift for each of my students. When I retrieved them for their lessons, I asked that they bring their book bags along so they could put away their gifts and forget about them until they arrived at home after school. When I gave Isaac the package with his name on it, his eyes became saucers. He examined the wrapping and the card addressed to him. “Can I put this under my Christmas Tree?” he asked. I told him that he could do whatever he and his mom and dad wanted him to do. It was his gift, after all. Now when Isaac came to school every day, he arrived clean, having had breakfast, and ready to do his best, though in the same shirt and slacks for the week. Isaac didn’t enjoy the luxuries we sometimes take for granted. Still, his family was rich in love. When Isaac opened his book bag to store his gift, he said, “I have something for you. I have a gift for you.”

Isaac took me completely by surprise. His dad was among the working poor and certainly couldn’t afford gifts for his children’s teachers. I finally understood when Isaac reached into his bag and pulled out a green two-headed dragon. I told Isaac that it was a great dragon, but that I would be very happy just knowing that he enjoyed playing with it. Still, Isaac persisted. “I was going to trade it for Poke’mon, but I want you to have it instead.” At the time, anything Poke’mon was a valued commodity. Isaac had planned to trade his dragon for one of his classmate’s coveted collectibles. He abandoned this plan to show his reading teacher how much he cared for her. When I finally composed myself, I asked Isaac if his mom or dad would mind that he left the toy with me. “Oh, no, Mrs. P. They would want me to give it to you. It’s for Christmas.” With that, Isaac and I made a prominent place on my bookshelf for that dragon. Afterward, I told Isaac that he could take the dragon home anytime he wanted to. “Are you taking your present back?” he asked. “Never,” I told him. Isaac responded, “Neither am I.” I kept that two-headed dragon for more than a decade. After Isaac had been promoted from eighth grade and graduated high school, I gave it to another little boy who needed a taste of the love which filled Isaac’s heart.

God touched this world with selfless love two thousand Christmases ago. Jesus spent thirty-three years showing us how to share that love. Isaac’s parents paid attention and they passed on what they learned to their son. Isaac paid attention and he passed on what he learned to me. Today, we pay attention as well. Now, it is up to us to pass on what we’ve learned as we tend lovingly to those we meet along the way.

Merry Christmas!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We Can Do It!

The Pharisees came forward and began to argue with Jesus.
They were looking for some heavenly sign from him as a test.

Mark 8:11

It’s never been easy for me to stand by and watch the suffering of those around me. Whether they are my own family members, dear friends, a street person or children brutalized half a world away, I find it impossible to accept that there is nothing I can do to help. It is in the midst of this frustration that I become like the Pharisees of old. They badgered Jesus for signs from above to legitimize his preaching. I find myself groaning as they did: “If only you would show yourself to those in power, they’d do something to fix this mess!” I realize that repairing this world is a multi-leveled task. It seems to me that a change of heart among the higher-ups and the rest of us would certainly help.

After behaving like a Pharisee and demanding God’s intervention, God remains in the quiet of my heart. God needs not to utter a single word because I already know the solution. God leaves it to each one of us to do the best we can as we see it. Whether we are a higher-up or one of the rest of us, each of us is charged with the responsibility to do the best we can to fix things. Each of us is also given the free will to opt in or to opt out of caring for others. God’s assistance comes from within our hearts and in the example of people of good will who urge us to bring love and peace to the moment at hand. Every time we respond, we will transform this world one loving act at a time.

Patient God, forgive my impatience with others and with You. Help me and all of us to do what we can to love those we have been given to love, here and everywhere.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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

K… Kindness!

People who are well do not need a doctor;
sick people do. I did not come to heal the righteous,
but sinners.

Mark 2:17

K is for Kindness. Unexpected kindness is the greatest variety of this virtue. When I’m not at my best, a bit of TLC can salvage the moment at hand for all concerned. I became the recipient of random kindnesses early on in my life. When I woke my mom in the middle of the night with a childhood woe, she responded with patience. She returned me to my room and tucked me into my bed with a second good-night kiss. Thoughtful teachers responded to my occasional transgressions with understanding rather than anger. Their mercy encouraged me to believe in my self-worth and to do my best. When life became more complicated through my teens and into adulthood, I responded far more positively to a kind and encouraging word than to a less-than-civil reprimand. The good news in all of this is that I took these lessons in kindness to heart. When I became a teacher and then a parent, I found that my students and my own children responded best when kindness set the tone for our interactions.

You know, it’s easy to extend kindness to the people we like and to those who offer us the same courtesy. Unfortunately, those whose names aren’t on our “A List” likely need our kindness far more. Kindness offered indiscriminately has the potential to change lives and this world in amazing ways.

Gracious God, thank you for giving us the capacity to respond to one another with kindness. Inspire us to do so, especially when it is most difficult and most needed.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Those Nails

There they crucified him…
From John 19:18

The Eleventh Station: Jesus Is Nailed to The Cross

I’ve never gotten over the nails. When I visited Israel, our guide showed us examples of nails from the era which were likely similar to those used on Jesus. Accounts which describe ancient crucifixion reference the use of nails or ropes or both. The intent was to lengthen as much as possible the duration of the victim’s suffering. I cannot help shuddering at the thought of one human being driving a nail into the wrist or the foot of another. How could we have evolved -or regressed- to this level of cruelty? Perhaps I cannot get over the nails because they were used on the one person whose entire life among us spoke of love, acceptance, forgiveness and mercy…

The scriptures tell us that Jesus used his time on that cross to continue to care for those he was given to love. One of the men crucified beside Jesus recognized him. For reasons only he knew, the man asked Jesus to remember him when he entered into his kingdom. Jesus responded by promising him that he would have a place in Paradise before the end of that fateful day. Jesus also spoke to his mother and his friend John. He gave them to one another to be family to each other after he was gone. Finally, Jesus forgave those who drove the nails into his body. He knew that they had no idea of what they were actually doing.

Though I will never get over those nails, I will also never get over the realization that I am loved. There is nothing that I or any of us can do which will stop God from loving us.

Loving God, help us to stop crucifying one another. Be with us as we replace every nail in our arsenals with an act of love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

K is for…

People who are well do not need a doctor;
sick people do. I did not come to heal the righteous,
but the lowly.

Mark 2:17

K is for Kindness. Unexpected kindness is the greatest variety of this virtue. When I’m not at my best, a bit of TLC can salvage a given moment for all concerned. I became a recipient of random kindnesses early on in my life. Whenever I woke my mom in the middle of the night with a childhood woe, she responded with patience. She consoled me, walked me to my room and tucked me into my bed with a second good-night kiss. Thoughtful teachers responded to my occasional transgressions with understanding rather than anger. Their mercy encouraged me to be my best. When life became more complicated through my teens and into adulthood, I responded far more positively to a kind word than to a less-than-civil reprimand. The good news in all of this is that I took these lessons in kindness to heart. When I became a teacher and a parent, I found that my students and my own children responded best when kindness set the tone of our interactions.

You know, it’s easy to extend kindness to the people we like and to those who offer us the same courtesy. Unfortunately, those whose names aren’t on our “A List” likely need our kindness more than anyone else. Kindness offered indiscriminately changes lives and this world in amazing ways.

Gracious God, thank you for giving us the capacity to respond to one another with kindness. Inspire us to do so, especially when it is most difficult and most needed.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved