The Best Invitation of All

Invitations honor us. When others ask us to join them for a gathering, especially a meal, they invite us into their lives. Perhaps this is the reason we become a bit nervous when an invitation comes from someone we don’t know very well. This was the case not long ago when the respective parents of a wonderful young couple decided it was time to spend some quality time together. (I’ve changed their names to protect the innocent!) Though the couple’s parents had met casually a few times, they hadn’t spent an entire evening together. Since Joe and Maggie had dated for four years and an engagement seemed imminent, it was time. Joe’s parents gladly accepted Maggie’s parents’ invitation to dinner. They loved Maggie and had hoped for quite some time that the relationship would blossom into something permanent. Maggie’s parents loved Joe. They’d already made him feel like a part of their family. Still, as the evening approached, both sets of parents worried. Maggie’s parents fretted about their preparations. What would they serve? Should they cook outdoors or host a more formal dinner? Maggie and Joe sent numerous texts relaying questions and responses between households. Finally, an exasperated Joe sent a text in all caps: TELL YOUR PARENTS THAT MY PARENTS WILL EAT ANYTHING! As for Maggie, she instructed her mother to cook whatever would be easiest as she knew all of the parents would prefer to spend more time talking than eating!

When “dinner day” arrived, tension increased in both households. Maggie’s mom was certain something would be over or under-cooked, while Joe’s mom was certain she would be over or under dressed. As both fathers feigned a relaxed exterior, Maggie’s dad began to sweat a little while filling the ice bucket. Though that ice wasn’t heavy enough to draw beads of perspiration from his forehead, the thought of handing his daughter over to even the nicest of young men was very heavy indeed. Joe’s dad whistled as he selected a plaid shirt to compliment his khakis. On the inside, however, his stomach churned. A single tear fell from the corner of his eye as he pictured his son staring at Maggie as she walked down the aisle. Only Maggie and Joe remained calm as they laughed over their parents’ nervousness. After all, weren’t they the ones who should worry about the evening going well?

After completing all that she could before their guests arrived, Maggie’s mom retraced the steps of every recipe in her head. Maggie’s dad began to pace. Maggie stared wide-eyed at the two of them. Al the while, she wondered how a little dinner could reduce her wonderful and intelligent parents to bumbling ineptitude? They were a mess! Joe would share the same observation regarding his parents much later that evening. Joe’s parents were uncharacteristically quiet during the drive to dinner. Joe tried to make conversation as he sensed his parents’ nervousness. Regardless of what he asked, his mom and dad responded in single syllables, seemingly oblivious to the topic.

In spite of the worries of all concerned, dinner went perfectly well. Joe’s mom can’t recall what she wore that night. She only knows that she was perfectly comfortable. Joe’s dad enjoyed the meal, though he cannot recite the menu. Maggie’s mom isn’t sure that the meal turned out as planned, but she was pleased by the lack of leftovers. Maggie’s dad forgot the name of the wine he served, but he knew everyone enjoyed it. All of this is fine because none of those details mattered. In the end, Maggie and Joe celebrated the fact that their parents got along. Everyone who gathered at the table that evening agreed that they were in the best of company. As it has happened, these families have come together often since “dinner day” with far less complicated preparations and the same joyful outcome.

Invitations honor us. When others ask us to join them for a meal, they invite us into their live. For the past several weeks, John’s gospel has assured us that Jesus himself assumed the role of host. Rather than a single invitation to a meal, Jesus extended a lifetime of invitations to everyone within earshot. Jesus first honored his followers by welcoming them to share a few loaves and fish. Though he might have sought out a much-needed meal and some rest for himself, Jesus invited the crowds to rest and to eat with him. This was Jesus’ way with everything. He welcomed and he listened. He embraced and he healed. Everyone Jesus met along the way was invited to partake of his precious company and to embrace his life-giving way of life. Jesus nurtured the people with God’s goodness in everything he said and did and he invited his followers to do the same by loving and caring for one another.

Because they love Maggie and Joe, their parents offered and accepted that initial invitation to dinner. The result is an expanded family which continues to be nurtured by the love and care they offer one another. Because he loves us, Jesus invites us into relationships with him and with all whom we meet along the way. When we open our hearts to God’s love and to each other, we accept the best invitation of all.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Return The Love With Love

Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant…
Matthew 20:27

Though I don’t often visit cemeteries, I recently did so to celebrate memories of my loved ones. I know I can do this anywhere. Still, I find tangible peace in these places where I expressed my grief through my tears and spoke my final farewells. Though the remains of all of the people whom I’ve lost weren’t buried in this particular place, each one came to mind as I gazed over rows of monuments which seemed to go on for infinity.

As I considered these loved ones, I realized the reason I miss them so. In one way or another, each one enriched my life. Even when some of them weren’t at their best, they touched me in extremely important ways. Perhaps the most powerful trait which these good souls share is their consistent willingness to put others before themselves. Even when circumstances forced them into acts of generosity and selflessness, they rose to these occasions with grace and kindness.

As I recounted their good deeds, I couldn’t help smiling. I looked up to my loved ones in their afterlife abodes and whispered, “How can I thank you for doing all that you did for me?” Though I “heard” nothing in response, I had the distinct feeling that doing the same for those I have been given to love would be quite enough.

Generous God, thank you for the amazing people who have enriched my life. Help me to do the same for those I meet along the way.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

From Hope To Joy

“There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord..”

From Isaiah 11:9

The approach of Christmas preparations always pique my nostalgia. Tomorrow is the first day of Advent and I can’t help taking a walk down Memory Lane. My musing draws me back to Christmas 1959, just five months after my dad passed away. I was only eight years old and I wondered what Christmas would be like that year. Today, I recall the efforts of those around me who made this Christmas special, perhaps in an effort to ease the sting of my dad’s absence…

Though she was in mourning herself, my older sister Rita helped our Mom to prepare a special gift for each one of us. On Christmas Eve, our parish priests asked my brother to walk his wagon to the rectory. Raoul returned with a full wagon carrying a beautifully wrapped package for each of the six of us. After Christmas dinner, we went on to Aunt Claire’s and Uncle Steve’s home to celebrate with my dad’s family. My aunt and uncle ushered us to their Christmas Tree for more gifts. Though all concerned knew that nothing could replace my dad, they did their best to emulate his love for us. Though I cannot name all of the gifts I received that year, I continue to feel the love offered that day. It has sustained me for a lifetime. My hope was fulfilled well beyond my expectations that Christmas. You know, my hope is fulfilled beyond my expectations every day!

Generous God, you gifted me with loved ones who fulfilled my hope beyond my dreams. As we begin Advent 2017, help me to spread hope throughout this season and always.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Loving Lent

Give thanks to him; bless his name, for he is good:
the Lord whose kindness endures forever.

Psalm 100:5

Though this is the second week of Lent, it is also Valentine’s Day week. While I consider my efforts to do my best in terms of my Lenten observances, I must remember to do these things with love. Perhaps the bit of chocolate which I enjoyed last Sunday was meant as both a sweet treat and a sweet reminder that love is always a priority in God’s eyes regardless of what we are doing.

With that in mind, I acknowledge the stubbornness and mean-spirited attitude which sometimes characterize my circumstances. Sometimes, it is I who infuses these sentiments into the moment at hand. Though I tend not to bring them in at the onset, I have joined in when others set the tone. It occurs to me that I must be more proactive when it comes to love this Lent. I must bring a bit of Valentine’s Day into every day if I am going to do God’s work. I must dispel the negativity and sweeten every situation with morsels of love. If I truly wish to express my gratitude for God’s presence in my life, I need to show it one loving act at a time.

Loving God, you gifted me with many things, the greatest of which is my capacity to love. Help me to share this gift generously, just as you do.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Food That Matters

I have heard the adage “You are what you eat” throughout my life. Still, my sons, my daughters-in-law and my grandchildren have given it new meaning. Though Mike and Abby habitually eat healthfully, they were even more meticulous in their efforts when Abby was expecting our granddaughters. As each of the girls moved from mommy’s milk to solid foods, my appreciation for fruit, vegetables and all things natural deepened. While they await the birth of their baby, Tim and Kim continue these lessons. I have become almost as aware as they are of additives and other items to be avoided when preparing and indulging in a meal. The truth is that the more careful my dear husband and I are about these things, the better we feel. The better we feel, the more willing we are to embrace and to make the most of this life. The depth of our children’s wisdom hits home. When we become what we eat, we also become so much more. It is in making the most of our sustenance that we find the strength not only to endure, but also to enjoy the journey ahead.

As I contemplate this reality, I consider everything else that I “take in” each day. Though I may not sip them from a cup or lift them to my mouth with a fork, I take in these things just as tangibly. Sometimes, it is the company of a good friend or nature’s beauty during a walk which fills me up. Sometimes, it is a favorite passage from a book or the lyrics of a favorite song which fill me up. Sometimes, it is simply realizing in a given moment that God loves me. In any case, I take these things in and I am nourished by them. They change me for the better and I am grateful that I am what I eat and what I take in. Just as my empty stomach nudges toward food throughout the day, my hungry spirit urges me to seek out these spirit-lifting encounters regularly. This is the good news.

As I contemplate further, I realize that there are other things I take in which are not particularly helpful. Sometimes, I can control my intake by walking away from the television set or setting aside the newspaper. I can ignore the newsfeed online or excuse myself from a conversation. Sometimes, troubles closer to home cannot be set aside and my immediate attention is required. These are the times when I must be most careful regarding the things I take in. When I concentrate on superficial irritations and discomfort, I overlook the essence of the situation before me. I also allow those irritations and that discomfort to become part of who I am and what I bring to the table. It is rarely if ever helpful to bring negativity to the table.

It seems to me that this is what Jesus was getting at in John’s gospel (John 6:24-35; 6:41-51; 6:51-58). These passages begin with the account of Jesus’ multiplication of a few loaves and fish to feed a crowd of thousands. These desperately hungry followers willingly settled for that meager meal rather than looking more deeply for the true nourishment Jesus offered. When the people followed him in search of their next respite, Jesus shook his head. “Do not work for food that perishes,” Jesus told them, “but for food that endures for eternal life.” Jesus explained further that he himself would be that food for them. “Don’t become loaves and fish,” Jesus seemed to say. “Become me!” These passages end with Jesus’ invitation to us all to do the same by feasting on the Bread of Life.

Yesterday, while attending an event together, my sister noticed that my face had clouded over and that I was about to serve up a generous portion of negativity. Though Georgette acknowledged that I had good reason to feel the way I did, she encouraged me not to partake of those feelings. Rather, she urged me to feast on the food that endures. “You have a right to be angry,” she said, “but don’t buy into it. Respond to the aggravation with love.” When Georgette’s eyes glowed with the love she encouraged me to take in, how could I refuse her? So it was that I set aside a morsel of my anger and then another. Eventually, I relaxed and responded to the moment at hand appropriately. Though I must admit to chewing on a crumb of my anger later that day, I had finally let it all go by bedtime. The next morning, I realized that the peace that comes with love and forgiveness had become a part of me and that the anger was long gone. With gratitude, I thanked our dear Lord for helping me to become less like those loaves and fish and more like him. Yes, I am what I eat and there is nothing more satisfying!

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved