Our Truly Wonderful Lives

This is the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Today, the church closes the Christmas Season just as we have in our homes. I admit that I delayed the process for as long as possible. It was only when a local meteorologist promised bearable temperatures that I set aside my reluctance to assist my husband. Because our younger and more daring friend assisted Mike with the outdoor lighting, I tended to the indoors. I urged myself on with this year’s take-down-the-tree viewing of It’s A Wonderful Life. Because I began my work in the living room and the television is in the family room, I raised the volume enough to allow me to hear the dialogue while I worked. This film is such a part of me that I can visualize every scene without watching a single frame. While the guys rolled up light strings outdoors, George Bailey and I became reacquainted indoors.

As I boxed ornaments and rolled up my own portion of lights, I celebrated the many people to whom George’s life had made all of the difference in the world. As I absorbed the dialogue, images from George Bailey’s life flooded my memory. The selfless decisions which defined George elicited frequent tears. Though I’ve seen the movie numerous times, I suffered every disappointment with George as though I had no idea that things would work out in the end. “Poor courageous George,” I thought to myself. “If only you realized just how good you are!” And so it went until the movie ended and our Christmas Tree was bare.

When Mike and I finished the tasks at hand, it was time to commit our tree to the parkway. There it would wait for a public works employee to toss it into a truck for the trip to the Land of Mulch. As I considered that barren tree, it occurred to me that George Bailey felt like that tree far too often. He should have felt good about the wonderful things he’d done for others. He saved his brother’s life and that of a sick child who was sent the wrong medicine by a distraught pharmacist. He took over his father’s business to prevent the loss of many jobs and many more homes. He used his own savings to send his brother to college in his place. All the while, George fought temptation in the form of Mr. Potter, the most miserly man in town, to stand up for God’s riff raff. Yes, George Bailey was a good man who gave the working poor and many others something to live for. Finally, when George felt that he had no more to give, the God-of-the-Riff-Raff stepped in through Clarence, a bumbling angel-to-be. If you watch the movie, you can join George in celebrating what truly was a wonderful life. Celebrating our lives on this earth is the point of our celebration of The Baptism of the Lord.

Matthew’s gospel (3:13-17) tells us that John the Baptizer was deeply inspired by Jesus. When Jesus asked to be baptized, John was reluctant to cooperate because he felt Jesus should baptize him. Though pleased with John’s faith, Jesus asked John to baptize him just the same. After John immersed Jesus in the Jordan River, God entered into the scene to announce to all who would hear, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” These words, proclaimed from the heavens over Jesus, were meant just as readily for John the Baptist, for the George Baileys among us, for you and for me. Though they don’t echo from the clouds above, God speaks these words just as clearly in the depths of our hearts. God’s words resound every time we embrace the difficult, selfless choices that make all of the difference in the world to those around us. When we feel we have no more to give, like George who was tempted to hurl himself off a bridge, God steps in. Though God’s appearance may not be as tangible as that of Clarence, God’s presence is very real.

Though I know how It’s A Wonderful Life will end, I cry through it every time I watch it. This phenomenon repeated itself in Jesus’ life as well. Jesus prayed often. Jesus revealed God’s love in his actions toward those who needed him and in stories like the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Jesus knew his life would end well, yet he suffered more disappointment and discouragement along the way than George Bailey. The same is true of you and me. Though our faith tells us that all will be well in the end, we worry inconsolably. When we fail to see the value of what we do, we join George Bailey on that bridge. Still, it’s when we’re on that bridge that we must recall George’s joy when his life was given back to him. It’s when we’re on that bridge that we must recall God’s words at the baptism of Jesus and realize that they are meant for us as well. “This is my beloved… with whom I am well pleased.” Yes, when we’re on that bridge, our lives are given back to us as well. This happy ending is truly the happiest beginning we will ever know!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

2019… A Year of ???

Only three days of Year 2018 remained when I looked up from my keyboard to discover large flakes of snow falling just beyond the window. I smiled broadly. Because we’d enjoyed spring-like temperatures for a while, this snow took me completely by surprise. Though I noted that there was no accumulation, those flitting flakes were enough to brighten my mood. In spite of the mid-afternoon hour that Friday, I decided to set aside this writing and to run a few errands. Unlike the commuters who’d soon be headed home, I wanted to enjoy the white stuff firsthand. As it happened, the snow fell only ten minutes into my travels. Still, much to my good fortune, that ten-minute interlude was enough to maintain my joyful mood and to fortify me for the long lines which greeted me at each of the stores I visited. Though I waited for twenty-five minutes in one line, I hummed happily all the while. Who would have thought that a bit of snow and running errands would be so uplifting?

While driving home, I was gifted with another surprise. I’d tuned in to the news in spite of the fact that it might darken my mood. In the midst of stock reports and the world and national news, a familiar voice shared an amazing human-interest tidbit. Though this snippet lasted less than a minute, it remained with me all the way home and as I made my way back to my keyboard. With New Year’s Eve and New Year 2019 just 72 hours away, this report focused on New Year’s resolutions. The news anchor explained that one resolution in particular had made an unexpected impact throughout 2018. Apparently, someone had decided to make New Year 2018 the Year of Love. A young woman had resolved to use social media to do this. She’d planned to write a post every day which described someone who meant something special to her. She’d even titled her effort #Year of Love. When asked about her success, the woman shared that it wasn’t difficult to find people to write about. Every day, someone graced her life. She added that 2018 hadn’t provided enough days for her to acknowledge all of the people who’d touched her with their love. As a result, she’s decided to continue these daily acknowledgements throughout New Year 2019. As Ms. Year of Love went on to describe the remarkably varied people she’d featured, I began to recount my own treasure in this regard. I also began to consider how I might make 2019 my own year of something…

Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. The scriptures tell us that Jesus was about thirty years of age when he spent forty days alone in the desert to consider what lay ahead for him. In spite of encounters with evil during what Jesus hoped would be a reflective interlude, Jesus chose to embrace the path ahead as best he could. Luke’s gospel (Luke 3:15-16, 21-22) tells us that the people were certainly ready for someone to grace their lives. Many wondered if John the Baptizer might be the messiah for whom they waited. John responded by assuring the crowds that one far greater than he was coming. When Jesus approached John for baptism, poor John did as Jesus asked in spite of feeling completely unworthy to do so. Perhaps to reassure both men and the rest of us, God declared from above, “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased.” After that day, a relieved John continued his preaching. With every word, John pointed his followers in Jesus’ direction while Jesus embraced his mission as only he could. If social media had been available, perhaps Jesus would have dubbed his effort Life of Love.

As I’ve written often, I repeat that there was nothing easy about Jesus’ life among us. Still, Jesus persisted in using his very human circumstances to reveal God’s love and God’s faith in each one of us. Though he was given thirty-three years, Jesus used only the last three to teach and to preach. Until then, he’d invested himself in his life at home with Mary and Joseph, in the neighborhood with this neighbors and in working as an itinerant mason and an itinerant rabbi. It was in those places that Jesus came to fully appreciate those he’d been given to love. When Jesus invested himself in others, Jesus also invested himself in spreading God’s love. Long before Jesus asked John to baptize him, Jesus had made Life of Love his way of doing things. No wonder God was so pleased!

I’m most grateful for the bit of snow which distracted me from this writing and for that well-timed report about the woman who transformed 2018 through her #Year of Love efforts. Most of all, I’m grateful for that much-needed reminder to refine my own plans for New Year 2019. When I consider my too-frequent surrenders to the darkness around me this past year, something –no Someone– urges me to make Year of Joy this year’s effort. If ten minutes of snow succeeded in cheering me up and that twenty-five minute wait in line failed to elicit a groan, finding the joy around me seems doable. Like Jesus, I need to do this as only I can. The truth is that we’re all called to do what only we can throughout these lives of ours. Whatever we choose to be our new year efforts, God asks only that we stick to them as only we can. After all, like Jesus, each one of us is God’s beloved child!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Let’s Change The World!

I am “a voice in the desert, crying out:
Make straight the way of the Lord!”

John 1:23

I begin New Year 2019 with great expectations for myself, for my loved ones and for this world of ours. I took a few minutes here and there for some pre-New Year reflection. I prioritized and then selected a few things which I can actually do something about. After devising my own self-improvement plan, I considered those I’ve been given to love. My assessment of their needs is far less critical and far more nurturing than my own. I simply consider each one and wish him or her a New Year filled with the grace, wisdom and strength to do their best as best they can.

This world of ours is another story. I’m torn between heartbreak for our brothers and sisters whose suffering seems endless and anger toward those in power who can’t seem to get it right when it comes to creating peace on this earth. The divide between bondage and liberty, poverty and wealth, sorrow and genuine joy seems to grow exponentially with every passing day. What can I do to make a difference in any of this?

Though my sphere of influence is minimal in the grand scheme of things, it’s still mine. Every moment of every day that I’m given is mine. If I respond to the situations at hand lovingly and productively, I change the world in a positive way. When I respond with anger and hatred or even thoughtless impatience, I do the opposite. It seems that the best New Year’s resolution I can make is to promise myself and God who inspires me to do everything I can to bring some measure of peace and love with me wherever I am. Sometimes, these efforts will be life-changing. Sometimes, they will be only moment-changing. Always, they will change this world for the better.

Loving God, be with us all as we bring you peace and love to this world, one moment at a time.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love’s Difference

We can do no great things, only small things with great love.
St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta

My husband and I rearranged our wall of family photos to make space for our new grandson’s picture. The pictures include our sons as toddlers, college graduates and grooms. As I considered the little boys-turned-men, I wondered how it happened that my older son became a husband and the father of three little girls. I went on to wonder how his younger brother also became a husband who now is the dad of two little boys.

As I perused the family photos further, my eyes rested on my husband’s and my parents who have all passed away. Wasn’t it just last week when they celebrated the kids’ birthdays with us? My momentary grief morphed into a chuckle as I gazed at our sons’ wedding photos which include their dad and me. It occurred to me that he and I are well past the ages our parents were on our wedding day. “How did that happen?” I wonder further.

As I consider these familial milestones, the significance of every moment of our lives becomes crystal clear. Both the good and the bad from our pasts made possible each of the photos on our wall. Though the future is filled with uncharted waters, my response to every moment will contribute to the happiness which lies ahead. Most importantly, I realize the value of the present moment –God’s greatest gift to each one of us– which requires my undivided attention and my love. The events of my life, both great and small, will be shaped by the love I bring to each one.

Loving God, help me always to remember the value of the opportunity at hand and the difference my love can make.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Blanket of Opportunity

Then you shall be radiant at what you see,
your heart shall throb and overflow…

Isaiah 60:5

It was December 9. After offering my usual “Thanks for the sleep and this new day” to the Almighty, I crawled out of bed and opened the shades in our room. As soon as I’d drawn the first one a quarter of the way up the window, I saw it. An amazing full-sized heart-warming blanket of white covered the entire world, at least as far as I could see! The beauty before me took my breath away. It was a full minute before I could shout downstairs to my husband, “It snowed!” When I did, Mike seemed surprised by my announcement. He responded with an “I know” which seemed to indicate “What did you expect?” In spite of his lack of enthusiasm, I couldn’t get over my elation over this wonderfully inspiring surprise.

I love snow, especially the first snowfall of the year. That morning’s treasure couldn’t have been more perfectly timed. I’d been exhausted for several days by unexpected though worthy tasks which added to my own pre-Christmas frenzy. The world-at-large continued to suffer as did too many good souls nearby. Though I truly did all that I could to infuse peace and a bit of joy into the moments at hand, I felt that I was in the midst of a losing battle. Then I opened the shade and discovered a new world and a new day and a new opportunity to begin again.

As it happened, I began that day by clearing the lovely blanket from our driveway and walk. With every shovel of that glittering white stuff, I exposed another opportunity to see my world with new eyes. Nothing would be the same that day and nothing will be the same today.

This is the first day of New Year 2018 and God blesses each one of us with an amazing full-sized heart-warming blanket of opportunity. Let’s make the most of it. HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Generous God, than you for a lifetime of opportunities to begin anew!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Change The World

I am “a voice in the desert, crying out:
Make straight the way of the Lord!”

John 1:23

I begin every New Year with great expectations for myself, for my loved ones and for this world of ours. Throughout my pre-New Year reflection, I prioritize my ever-growing list of imperfections and select a few things which I can actually do something about. After devising my own self-improvement plan, I consider those I have been given to love. My assessment of their needs is far less critical and far more nurturing than my own. I simply consider each one and wish him or her a New Year filled with the grace, wisdom and strength to do their best as best they can.

This world of ours is another story. I am torn between heartbreak for our brothers and sisters whose suffering seems endless and anger toward those in power who can’t seem to get it right when it comes to creating peace on this earth. The divide between bondage and liberty, poverty and wealth, sorrow and genuine joy seems to grow exponentially with every passing day. What can I do this New Year to make a difference in any of this?

Though my sphere of influence is minimal in the grand scheme of things, it is still mine. Every moment of every day that I am given is mine. If I respond to the situation at hand lovingly and productively, I change the world in a positive way. When I respond with anger and hatred or even thoughtless impatience, I do the opposite. It seems to me that the best New Year’s resolution I can make is to promise myself -and the God who inspires me- to do everything I can to bring some measure of peace and love with me wherever I am. Sometimes, these efforts will be life-changing. Sometimes, they will be only moment-changing. Always, they will change this world for the better.

Loving God, be with us all as we bring you peace and love to this world, one moment at a time.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved