Rich In God’s Love

See, you lowly ones, and be glad;
you who seek God, may your hearts revive!
For God hears the poor,
and God spurns not those who are in chains.

Psalm 69:33-35

When the media features items regarding the poor, we assume that the term references those with dire material needs and this is often the case. Still, God’s definition of “the poor” is all-inclusive. Whether our needs are material or spiritual, God attends to us. Sometimes, we seem to be doing well in the world’s eyes only to discover the 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, others of us sometimes lose our grip on the things which are truly most important to us.

It seems to me that we are all counted among God’s poor at one time or another. This much-loved group includes us whenever this life robs us of the things we need to carry on. Whether we are lacking money enough for a loaf of bread or energy enough to care for our aging parent, God knows our need and shares our concern. Whether we are besought by the enemy before us or by the demons within us, God stands at our sides. Whether a physical or mental or emotional illness plagues us, God understands our predicament. In spite of our many needs, God always provides love enough for us to get by.

Loving God, you recognize our poverty in all of its forms. Thank you for your generous response.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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The Small Stuff Matters…

“For the one who is least among all of you
is the one who is greatest.”

From Luke 9:48

A recent walk around a nearby lake reminded me of just how small I am. This particular lake offers only a tiny beach area. The remainder of its circumference is lined with very tall trees and dense foliage. The greenery is interrupted only by a narrow path just wide enough for two. As I walked, I felt like a tiny ant in the grand scheme of things. Though the lot where I left my car was actually only a block away, I felt lost in the forest around me.

I feel very small at other times as well. In spite of my best efforts, it seems that I can’t do much to solve the problems of this world. Wars continue to be fought. Poverty continues in full force. Political interests overpower the good of the many and on it goes. I ask myself if there is anything I can do to make an important difference.

It is in the midst of this lament that I recall Jesus’ words regarding our need to become children once again. Little girls and boys don’t over-think things. (Remember when I mentioned little Christian’s kindness to Conner the other day?) Children simply observe the situation at hand and they respond accordingly. It occurs to me that I do my best work when I follow their lead. I do have the capacity to change the world. It is through my seemingly insignificant efforts that I bring peace, sustenance and justice to one soul at a time.

Dear God, the small things we do for one another make a world of difference after all. Thank you!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Plan Generously

“…go, sell what you have and give to the poor,
and you will have treasure in heaven.”

From Matthew 19:21

I learned about the poor early on. Though my own family could be counted among the working poor, my mom often assured us that there were far needier people in the world. So it was that I took encounters with those needy ones to heart…

Throughout college, I traveled from the West Side to the far northeast of Chicago. I attended Mundelein College located next door to Loyola University. Loyola’s beloved Sister Jean taught me there. That hour commute required a bus ride and then subsequent transfers to the Lake and Howard Street trains.

One January day, a woman wearing only a clear plastic raincoat over her clothing rode with me. She carried two bags which looked more like her belongings than the fruits of a shopping spree. Though the woman didn’t ask, I felt compelled to give her my jacket. At the time, this jacket was my only coat. I was paying my own way through college and really couldn’t afford to replace it. Still… While I closed my eyes to ask for guidance, the train stopped and my raincoat-clad friend stepped off. I felt terribly guilty about this missed opportunity until I shared it with a friend. “You did receive guidance from above.” he said. “The woman got off the train and you kept the coat you needed. God took care of you and God will inspire someone to take care of her.”

I puzzled over this for some time. I also gave to the poor whenever I could. When I graduated and acquired a job, I began to budget for my giving. Finally, there was no question regarding what I could and couldn’t afford. Giving became part of the plan.

Generous God, sometimes, the easiest way to live as you would have us live is to plan. Thank you for taking care of me and the woman in the raincoat.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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

All of Our Beloved Children

This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you.
John 15:12

The news, both local and national, continues to include incidents of children lost to violence. I grew up in a very tough and often dangerous neighborhood where insecurity and fear sometimes overwhelmed me and everyone else nearby. Still, I never endured the day-in and day-out sights and sounds of gunfire and other atrocities which some of our children have grown to consider to be a way of life.

Regardless of our busy schedules, our fatigue and our own worries, we adults are responsible for the children in our lives. Whether they live next door, in our own homes, across town or on the other side of the world, children matter. Whether they present themselves as whiny toddlers or sarcastic teens, they need our support and our love.

Obviously, our own children come first as we are the only parents they have. Still, nieces and nephews, neighbors and acquaintances who haven’t yet reached adulthood also need an occasional smile or word of encouragement from us. Efforts to assist needy children and orphans nearby and faraway need our attention as well. As small as our efforts may seem, they may just counteract the sadness or feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness which might otherwise lead these young souls astray. It’s all about feeling loved and appreciated, you know?

Patient God, you gift us with the capacity to love one another. Give us the generosity and the courage to share this gift with the children whom you have placed in our care.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

So Well Taken Care Of…

What you own belongs to the Lord
and is given for the good of all.

Leviticus 25:23

When I was a little girl, I didn’t realize how little we had. In many ways, this was a very good thing. I was rich with family and others in my life who supplied me with everything that I actually needed. It was in high school that I questioned my circumstances. Many of my classmates went shopping with their mothers on a regular basis. They also went out for lunch or dinner just for the fun of it. These girls dressed in the latest clothing as well. I suddenly found myself feeling that I had somehow missed out on something important.

At age sixteen, I secured my first job. This opportunity provided the means for me to pay for my college education and minimal “extras” beforehand. Early into this venture, I set aside a few dollars from each paycheck until I had enough money to go shopping for myself. While I enjoyed selecting my own clothing, my joy was short-lived. I found the prices of some items I liked to be prohibitive. I also found a new appreciation for my parents’ ingenuity in managing to feed and clothe their six children on blue-collar incomes. In the process, I discovered that I hadn’t been deprived of anything that I actually needed after all.

Loving God, you gift us with all that we truly need. Thank you!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved