Gifts of Hope and Joy

The cow and the bear shall be neighbors,
together their young shall rest…

From Isaiah 11:7

My husband and I sometimes grow weary of our full schedules. This is the reason we have happily curtailed our Christmas preparations this year. The truth is that we both enjoy our traditions. As a result, we haven’t “curtailed” our activities as much as we’ve organized our efforts. Preparing our home -both inside and out- for our family and friends is symbolic of our love for each one of them. Giving up any of this would dampen our experience of Christmas. Advent 2017 will lose its luster if we don’t prepare as is our custom. You see, our busyness during the days before Christmas keeps us focused on poor Mary and Joseph as they scrambled to prepare for Jesus’ birth so long ago. It also keeps us focused on the reasons we do what we do for others.

I’m happy to share that we have started our decorating and shopping early. This timing has energized us enough to attend to our “full schedules” with joy rather than angst. Though the phone continues to ring, our good will remains intact. Perhaps this is the reason Jesus ministered so generously to the needy souls who came his way. In offering others hope, Jesus found joy.

I know. I seem to be in a rut with all of this organizing for Advent and Christmas. I have reason for this. My hope is to inspire you to do the same. Enjoy!

Loving God, thank you for the moments of joy that come in the midst of our efforts to care for one another.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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God’s Watchful Eye

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life.
In the Lord’s own house shall I dwell
forever and ever.

Psalm 23:6

Several weeks ago, I shared that a friend asked me how I was doing. She wasn’t being polite. She really wanted to know. Soon after, another friend ran into someone I haven’t seen in quite some time. This man had been a fellow parishioner of our church who relocated. He asked how I was doing because he really wanted to know as well. Both read these posts and both have the impression that something is bothering me. What astute readers I’m blessed with! More importantly, how wonderful it is that they took the time to express their concern.

I consider myself to be a generously blessed soul. At the same time, I’m a painfully sensitive soul. I take the suffering around me to heart and I find it difficult to acknowledge that I can’t remedy it all. While my family and loved ones nearby are fine, others in the vicinity and throughout this world suffer devastation I can only imagine. These reflections allow me to encourage others and myself as we plod along. This is the reason I find such consolation in Psalm 23. The Shepherd who inspired this prayer watches over us every step of the way. This Shepherd cares for each of us as only a shepherd can. I find great comfort in this realization.

Many people have troubles which seem insurmountable. Like my friends who expressed their concern for me, I must express my concern as well. If there is something tangible I can do to help, I will do it. If not, I must pray and I must rely on God to do the rest.

Dear God, be with us as we encourage one another today and always.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Treats

Last week, I found myself alone on Trick-or-Treat detail. My dear husband had run over to church for an appointment and this was fine with me. Though I struggled to keep myself from feasting on the bowl of candy strategically perched at our front door, it took no effort at all to enjoy the amazing assortment of children and adults who came by for these annual freebies. Because only one urchin had knocked during the first twenty minutes of my stint, I ran to my desk for my copy of today’s scripture passages and a pad of paper. I’d decided to use the intervals of quiet to complete the reflection I’d begun a few days earlier. By three o’clock, I’d made amazing progress with my writing because only five additional kids had come by in the interim.

At five minutes after three, everything changed. The floodgates opened and I was deluged with well over one hundred festive beggars during the next ninety minutes. Though my first six visitors were cute as can be, the flood of humanity who followed took my breath away in the most amazing way. Whether they were adorned in elaborate costumes or eking by with only a grocery bag in hand, each one arrived with a smile and some semblance of a Halloween greeting. Each one also expressed gratitude with a variety of thanks or a few kind comments about our yard decor. In the midst of dealing with the lovable circus on parade at my door, I set aside the reflection I’d begun and started a new one. I must have been a victim of Divine Inspiration. Who else could have made an afternoon of ringing doorbells and haphazard candy distribution so inspiring?

I couldn’t shake the conviction that the people of Jesus’ day should have celebrated Halloween. Yes, I realize that this holiday was first observed centuries after Jesus lived as the Eve of All Hallows (The Eve of All Saints). Still, I felt certain that if the scribes and Pharisees had enjoyed the opportunity to dress up and to smile for free candy at their neighbors’ doors, they might have developed far different attitudes toward God, The Law and God’s intent regarding The Law. If these leaders of the temple had been on the other sides of those doors, doling out candy simply for the joy of it, they certainly would have revised their thinking regarding God and God’s people. As for me, I was about seventy-five kids into my candy distribution when I realized that I’d been given a glimpse of the joy God finds in loving us unconditionally. The trick-or-treaters’ varying levels of disguise made no difference to me. They all arrived with their hope intact regarding the things to come. They all showed up ready to reap the treasures promised by this extremely sweet day. No one and nothing would deter them, especially not me. I found great pleasure in handing over their treats with no strings attached.

It seems to me that the scribes and Pharisees simply couldn’t find it in their hearts to give freely and, more sadly, to receive freely. In today’s gospel (Matthew 23:1-12), Matthew tells us that, once again, Jesus experienced frustration with the temple hierarchy. The scribes and Pharisees had nurtured their arrogance so completely that they blinded themselves to the beauty which lay in the hearts of the people they were meant to serve. Rather than appreciating the parade of saints and sinners who came to the temple for reassurance, these alleged holy men busied themselves with holding those beneath them to the letter of The Law regardless of the cost to their spirits. At the same time, they positioned themselves to accumulate every fringe benefit and honor which their status in the temple afforded them. These alleged holy men could have chosen to serve their brothers and sisters as Jesus did. Still, they chose to embrace the world’s fleeting riches instead. This is the reason Jesus cautioned the people to follow the teachings of their leaders, but not their selfish example.

I’m completing this reflection the day after my Trick-or-Treat adventure. I admit to a sense of satisfaction when I stowed the few pieces of our leftover candy in the pantry. I actually counted those extras and calculated that one-hundred thirty-seven kids had graced our door. Did I write “graced”? Graced, indeed! Silly as it sounds, this is precisely how I felt. I’d experienced some sense of Jesus’ love for God’s people! Though the materially poor often caught his attention, the spiritually poor tugged at Jesus’ heartstrings as well. Did Jesus wonder, “How will I convince them of God’s all-accepting love?” Regardless, Jesus answered himself in everything he said and did. Poor scribes and Pharisees! Had no one ever given to you freely? Had you never given freely of yourselves? Were you too blind to see Jesus’ loving ways or had you already filled your bags with treats of your own design? I can’t answer for these poor men, but I can assure you and me of something: It’s up to us to open our bags and our hearts as we approach God’s door. It’s also up to us to freely accept what we receive and to share it.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Sew Love

I will thank you always for what you have done,
and proclaim the goodness of your name.

Psalm 52:11

Whenever our family gathers, my granddaughters are very generous with their offers to help in the kitchen. This is especially true of Ellie who is the eldest. The last time we gathered, Ellie helped me put together a taco dip which is a family favorite. Actually, I should say that I helped Ellie because she truly did most of the work. Thank you, Ellie!

While engaged in such culinary activity, I normally wear my green apron. I have two of these terry cloth creations which are identical. When they’re helping, my granddaughters often vie for the honor of wearing the second one. Though I cannot be certain of their motivation, I know my own. I love my green apron…

My sister fashioned this favorite decades ago. At the time, Cecele had two young children whom she was raising alone. As Christmas approached, my sister realized she had no money for Christmas gifts other than a few things for her children. Christmas has always been our family’s favorite holiday. Even in the leanest of times, our parents managed to provide something special for each of us. Cecele couldn’t bear to arrive on Christmas day without gifts for her siblings and God-children. So it was that she hand-made something for each of us. She sewed a large stuffed snake for my son. Because I’m the cookie baker of the family, at least at Christmastime, Cecele made two green aprons for me. I’ve used them ever since.

Before I put that apron away after washing it, I hold it close. I love my sister and this apron reminds me of her love for me. Thank you, Cecele!

Generous God, thank you for gracing us with hearts which can express our love so creatively.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Respond and Rest

Jesus went into the district of Tyre.
He entered a house and wanted no one to know
about it, but he could not escape notice.

Mark 7:24

My husband serves as our “family grocery shopper” most of the time. When I joined him in retirement, I tried to retrieve what had once been my responsibility. After my first few trips to the store, my husband finally asked, “What takes you so long? I can find the stuff on a list twice as long in half the time. What are you doing there?” When I thought about what had transpired on these outings, I realized that, each time, I had run into a neighbor, a someone from church, a former colleague or a friend. Of course, I took the time to chat. Why not? I had all of the time in the world.

I admit that I eventually relinquished my hold on our shopping lists much of the time. As visits to our grandchildren and my writing schedule have increased, I realize that efficient shopping trips are sometimes in order. I also realize that these grocery-store encounters are sometimes unexpectedly important to me or to the person I’ve met along the way.

The scriptures tell us that Jesus’ moments of peace were often disrupted by those who needed him. The same is true of you and me. All that is asked is that we respond as best we can. By the way, we’re also allowed to rest on occasion just a Jesus did.

Dear God, I am grateful that others occasionally need me. Help me to respond with kindness to them and to my own fatigue as needed.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Trust God

Say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God in whom I trust.”

Psalm 91:2

Though I’m probably more patient than most, this isn’t necessarily true when I’m tired and it’s never true when I’m worried. I can always tell when I have overextended myself because I become edgy and critical. Little things which are usually easy to let go become heavy burdens. Though I don’t verbally express my displeasure with the situation at hand, my face betrays me.

A few weeks ago, a friend who saw me at church asked how I was doing. Though her concern was genuine, I responded with my usual, “I’m fine. How are you?” I lied. At the same time, I wondered what prompted her query at that particular moment. So it was that I thought back to that morning. This friend had attended the last Mass of the day. I had attended the 7:30 Mass and then stayed to assist at our parish welcome desk for the remainder of the morning. By the end of the third Mass, I felt the fatigue which threatened to overwhelm me. I recalled smiling only halfheartedly as I cleaned up crayons and pencils and replaced chairs which had been strewn about. I’m certain I was silently wishing that people would return what they used to its proper place. I also recalled that I’d spent the morning worrying about a problem over which I have no control. I’ve done everything within my power to help and there is nothing more I can do.

When my friend saw me that day, I was tired and worried. My response to her kindness didn’t fool her a bit. When we parted ways, I asked myself what I would tell a friend in the same situation. I answered quickly, “Go home and get some rest, pray about that problem and then hand it over to God.” I’m still working at following my advice…

Patient God, thank you for these well-placed reminders to be patient with myself and with those you have given me to love.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved