God is gracious to you always. When you cry out,
God hears and God answers you.

Isaiah 30:19

While finalizing our online Christmas shopping, I wondered about our grandchildren’s expectations of Santa Claus. Our older granddaughters have become Santa’s elves for their younger sister who awaits Santa’s arrival. Our older grandson works on his wish-list while his little brother frequently announces, “Santa Claus coming!” The younger kids seem to accept Santa’s and their own absence from the mall because it will keep all concerned safe and healthy for Christmas. This Santa talk took me back a few years to one student’s important visit with Santa…

My third graders and I anxiously awaited Christmas. The topic found its way into most of our lessons. In the midst of one discussion, Ronnie announced that he was going to prove to his sixth grade brother that Santa Claus is real. Ronnie planned to keep what he wanted for Christmas a secret from everyone except Santa. When Ronnie saw Santa during his family’s annual day-after-Thanksgiving trek to the mall, he whispered into Santa’s ear so his gifts remained a secret. I’d hoped to catch Ronnie’s brother in the hallway to let him in on Ronnie’s plan. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten. A few days after Christmas, I wondered if Ronnie’s experiment ended well.

Happily, Ronnie returned to school in January with a bigger-than-ever smile. Not long afterward, his mom shared that her older son had discovered Ronnie’s plan. The entire family paid close enough attention to Ronnie to eventually discover his Christmas wishes. Their efforts allowed Ronnie’s hope in Santa Claus to remain for another year.

This year, my hope is that Christmas renews all of our hope, not so much in Santa’s efforts as in God’s. May we all place our wish-lists in the hands of God who has only our best interests at heart. May we also imitate the children around us who will do their best to be their best until Christmas Day. Maybe we adults can behave a little longer, perhaps until this pandemic is under control.

Loving God, you are our hope. We’ll try to behave while you persist in caring for us.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Be Generously Grateful

It is good to give thanks to God.
Psalm 92:1

Thanksgiving is just two days away. This week, in the midst of prepping, I habitually offer prayers for those who work on Thanksgiving Day. Though I realize that our police, firefighters, EMTs and hospital staffers are used to rotating shifts through the holidays, I wish that stores and other non-essential businesses would close on this one national holiday which we all have reason to share. Still, this year, I’m not certain that I should voice this wish. So many long for a typical workday and the salary that comes with it…

This realization gives me reason to adjust my Thanksgiving prayers. After praying for all of those workers, I’m going to list all of the things for which I’m grateful. But I’m won’t stop there. After each one, I’m going to add a prayer. When I give thanks for my family, I will pray for all of the families who’ve lost someone to COVID-19. When I offer thanks for our own negative test results, I’ll pray for those who suffer with this and all diseases of the body, mind and spirit. When I offer thanks for our material blessings, I’ll pray for the many who need so much simply to get through another day. As I consider what their Thanksgiving meal might be like, I’ll promise to tweak our budget just enough to provide food for at least some of those in need.

I think it’s fair to say that none of us are completely satisfied with our situations today. The pandemic has certainly taken its toll. Still, I invite you to join me in finding the inspiration in our own blessings to pray for those and to do something for those who need them perhaps more than we do.

Loving God, we are so grateful for all that we have. Now be with us as we share our blessings with those in need.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Little Christmas

Because you cling to me,
I will deliver you…

From Psalm 91:16

When I was a child, my family referred to January 6 as Little Christmas. Though today we acknowledge this feast on the nearest Sunday, I still quietly celebrate The Epiphany whenever my calendar announces January 6. The Magi’s visit to the home of Jesus, Mary and Joseph was a very big deal. Wise astrologers that they were, the Magi had followed signs in the night sky which pointed to the arrival of Israel’s new king. The Magi didn’t waste the opportunity to pay homage to this child who they believed was destined for greatness.

At the moment, I’m taking the opportunity to enjoy my family’s depiction of this encounter at the creche beneath our Christmas Tree. As I pick up the pine needles which have fallen on this peaceful scene, I realize just how reluctant I am to let go of the hope and promise of Christmas 2019. Though most of us have returned to our pre-holiday routines, I’m holding tightly to as many remnants of Christmas as possible.

As I consider this holiday season which has come and gone so quickly, I’ve determined that it’s actually a blessing that Christmas creeps into shops and malls a few months early. That Christmas extends to January 6 is another happy circumstance. These reminders are with us for good reason. When we keep Christmas in mind, the hope and promise which that tiny baby brought to this world remain as well in God’s presence. Just as Jesus embraced every day which he walked among us, God embraces the moment at hand in our company. God is with us to endure, to survive and to celebrate every moment, especially those moments which change our lives forever. Whether these changes come with sorrow or joy, we live through them with God. Perhaps I should consider every day to be Little Christmas!

Loving God, thank you for making every day a Little Christmas by remaining with us in everything.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Very Real Love

O my dove in the clefts of the rock, in the
secret recesses of the cliff, let me see you,
let me hear your voice,
for your voice is sweet and lovely.

Song of Songs 2:14

While preparing for a Christmas gathering, I desperately tried to find places for items displaced by our Christmas decorations. Though my closet doesn’t have much room to spare, I looked for a useful nook. In the process, I bumped into a plastic container filled with a lifetime of mementos. Busy as I was, I allowed myself a very long minute to examine these treasures. I came across programs from the weddings of several loved ones. I couldn’t help smiling as I read the names of the maids of honor, best men and others involved. One of the programs included scripture readings which were shared that day. Among them, I found the passage from the Song of Songs cited above.

This particular passage is a favorite. Our friend Scott read these words at our wedding. My husband and I selected this reading because we were taken in by the painful longing this lover expressed for his beloved. What we did not fully appreciate is that the lover who spoke so passionately is the God of Israel who desperately sought to be reunited with the Jewish People. This Divine longing persisted for centuries and came to fruition in the gift of Jesus. On the first Christmas, God expressed this unrequited love face-to-face and heart-to-heart in the most tangible way possible. God expressed this love in the gentle cooing of the newborn baby who would spend his life convincing us all that God’s love for us is very, very real.

Loving God, thank you for your persistence. Today, busy as I am, I’ll slow down to bask in your loving gaze!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Comfort Them As Only You Can

Say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!
…They will meet with joy and gladness.

From Isaiah 35:4-10

Gift Weekend at my parish church was a huge success. Hundreds of my fellow parishioners arrived for Mass with gifts they’d purchased for needy children and teens. The tremendous need which was met turned my thoughts to some of my students from long ago…

Most of the children in my classroom could hardly wait for Christmas. There were a few, however, who dreaded Christmas vacation. They found comfort in the structure of our classroom where the expected almost always came to fruition. Their school lunch was often the best of their meals and our simple class parties were the best of their Christmases. More sadly, the lack of material treasures in their lives paled in the shadow of their lack of security. The adults around them, heavily burdened with their own troubles, didn’t have the luxury of detecting the hopelessness growing in their children’s eyes.

My thoughts wander further to a child of long ago. While Joseph searched for a place where Mary could give birth, Mary focused upon the child within her. When they finally settled among the livestock that night, perhaps Joseph arranged the hay in that manger while Mary labored. Though it wasn’t much, that warm hay provided the best bed Mary and Joseph could offer Jesus that night. Perhaps the best we can do for those in need around us is to provide them with our own variety of hay. Though it may not be much, our best is always enough to those in need and to God.

God of love, help me to comfort those who need you most with my own variety of hay.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always Time For Love

He entered a house and wanted no one to know
about it, but he could not escape notice.

From Mark 7:24

It’s Black Friday. Though early cyber sales and sneak previews drew much attention, crowds in stores and malls everywhere swell exponentially with every passing minute today. As I considered the mass of humanity of which I was a part this morning, I whispered a prayer of gratitude for those retailers who agreed not to open their doors on Thanksgiving Day. Of all of the holidays we celebrate in this country, Thanksgiving Day is the one we all enjoy without regard for our religious affiliations or lack thereof. I thanked God for the generosity of these employers whose workers enjoyed the holiday with their families yesterday.

After uttering a mental “amen” I returned to my list to determine where to go next. A voice near a cashier distracted me. This person remarked that he would be wealthy if he had a dollar for every minute he spent waiting. As the man hurried out of the store, I chuckled to myself. I’d found my own wealth in the few seemingly wasted moments which allowed me to get my bearings. While the world rushed about me, I also found the time to pray.

Perhaps this is the reason Jesus rose early and stole away for quiet time as often as he could. The scriptures also tell us that these moments were usually disrupted by those who desperately needed Jesus. The same is true of you and me. Today, will you join me in trying to respond as Jesus would? Let’s bring a bit of Jesus’ patience, concern and love to the mass of humanity out there!

Dear God, our world grows busier every day. Help me to respond to those caught in the midst this busyness as you would. Remind me to pray a bit, too.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved