God’s Precious Kids

The child grew and became strong in spirit…
Luke 1:80

My husband recently shared a Facebook posting he received from a former student of ours. Mike was Charlie’s middle school principal. As an elementary school remedial reading teacher, I never taught Charlie because he is extremely bright. Still, he and I interacted frequently due to our involvement in special school projects and the close proximity of our classrooms. We talked almost every day.

The truth is that I intentionally gave Charlie a good deal of attention. His amazing academic ability sometimes put him at odds with his classmates. I hoped to encourage Charlie to be himself and to do his best in spite of the teasing and worse which his peers mercilessly doled out. In the end, Charlie persisted. This brave young man is now a happy and productive adult.

Early into my teaching career, I was fascinated by a book concerning the most important things we learn in school. The author was convinced that he’d learned everything he needed to know for the rest of his life during kindergarten. Today, more than ever, I think we all need to be mindful of those early lessons in getting along and caring for each another. How I wish I could assign some of those currently in office and a few of my fellow citizens to repeat those lessons! The truth is that I sometimes need a similar refresher as well.

So it is that I’m going to take another peek at Charlie’s Facebook post. I’m certain that the image of his smile will reignite my faith in my fellow humans and in myself as we love one another through our battle with COVID-19.

Loving God, help us to be the children you created us to be.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Let’s Treat One Another With Forgiveness

Forgive us our trespasses…
From Matthew 6:12

While shopping for Halloween candy, I ran into a young teacher I know. We chatted as she gathered treats for her students. Afterward, my thoughts turned to my first year teaching and our class Halloween Party…

Three students distinguished themselves behavior-wise early on. These third graders couldn’t keep themselves in line; they weren’t quiet for more than three minutes and they couldn’t keep their hands to themselves. By Wednesday before our party, they’d pushed beyond my minimal limits. That afternoon, I informed them that they wouldn’t attend our class party. Crestfallen, they moped their way out of school that day. Thursday before school, they enjoyed the playground until they saw me. My presence likely reminded them that they’d be sitting in the principal’s office the following afternoon. Their skips became slow walks and their smiling eyes clouded over as they focused on the black-top beneath their feet.

As I consider my own imperfections, I find myself moping like my wayward students who did their best to spoil Halloween for themselves that year. It was up to me to maintain an orderly classroom and to enforce appropriate rules. Still, I couldn’t help noting that my three outcasts were quite subdued the day before our party. By Friday morning, I hardly noticed them as they’d joined in their classmates’ cooperative efforts. An hour after lunch, my three friends gathered their supplies for their stay in the principal’s office. My heart ached for them as I asked, “Do you know why you’re leaving?” Each one nodded. “What are you going to do about it?” I asked. “Be good!” they said in unison. With that, I led them back to their desks to join in the festivities.

Jesus made his feelings regarding forgiveness quite clear. How could I ignore them?

Merciful God, thank you for teaching us to forgive.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Encourage One Another

Love your neighbor…
From Matthew 22:39

I ran into a former colleague who recently retired. Like I had, she spent her entire teaching career with kids who had far more to worry about than which box of cereal to choose for breakfast. We were both reading teachers whose students came to us from other classrooms. Because we had no homerooms, we monitored the outdoors and school entrances at the open and close of every school day. It was during these morning patrols that we encountered some reluctant grade-school students who expected the worst from every new day in their classrooms.

As my friend and I reminisced, we agreed that our former students had a variety of valid reasons for their daily trepidation. The good news is that they responded to our frequent interactions with surprising openness. My friend and I learned a good deal about these children as we coaxed them to the door. They shared things with us one-to-one which their classroom teachers would never know. We often shared advice with them which some eventually heeded enough to improve their days. We also put in a good word for these little lost souls whenever the opportunity arose. My friend and I also agreed that the best news in the world came in a teacher’s remark that one of our before-school friends was making meaningful progress or had actually enjoyed a good day.

From time to time we all encounter people who are reluctant to embrace the new day. Perhaps our willingness to listen or a word of encouragement will nudge them on their way. If they’re anything like those reluctant students, it’s worth a try.

Loving God, be with those who struggle today and give the rest of us the wisdom and generosity to encourage them along their way, just as you would.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love… Just Love!

The ordinances of the Lord are true, all of them just.
They are more precious than gold…

Psalm 19:10

As I walked the other day, I passed our local school at dismissal. Though I usually avoid this timing, I enjoyed the circus of it all just the same. The kids were well-behaved as they lined up for their buses and I fully appreciated the effort expended by them and their teachers to accomplish this. I wouldn’t trade my teaching career for anything. Still, there were days when I would’ve preferred to be any place other than in my classroom. This usually had little to do with the children. More often than not, it resulted from fatigue, frustration with “the powers that be” or the problems of people I care about. The good news is that my students managed to dispel my frustration in amazing ways.

When the children sensed an uncharacteristic edge in my voice, they were especially quiet and extremely helpful toward me and one another. In an effort not to darken my mood further, a few of them gave “the eye” to their less perceptive classmates who quickly responded. I always noted -and appreciated- this response to my crankiness and I answered it with a quick return to normalcy.

I worked very hard to make my classroom a productive and compassionate place. I realized that I succeeded at some level when the children managed my “off days” so mercifully. It seems to me that God has worked to make this world of ours a productive and compassionate place as well. The best way to let our Loving Creator know that we appreciate this effort is to respond in kind to one another.

Patient God, thank you for our capacity to love. Remind us often that your most pressing request is that we love each other.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Seedlings of Peace

Act justly, love kindness, walk humbly with God.
From Micah 6:6-8

Smiling comes naturally to me. This means that whenever I meet people, I add a smile to the encounter. The truth is that I smile at most of creation when I have the opportunity to enjoy it. I smile even when I’m outdoors walking alone. Neither drizzle nor a cloudy sky dampens my fascination with the beauty around me.

This is the reason I was taken aback by the students in the school to which I was assigned some years ago. My office was located at one end of the building. The school office and the children I worked with were located at the other end. As a result, I walked the halls numerous times per day. Every time, I passed students. A few days into this assignment, I noticed the lack of smiles, or any acknowledgement for that matter, along the way. When I offered a “good morning” as I passed, students registered genuine surprise. It took many of them a week or two before they began to respond in kind. A few months into the school year, a colleague asked me why the students I met always greeted me. I told her that they were simply returning the favor.

It seems to me that if we desire peace and justice in this world, we need to plant seeds of that peace and justice wherever we find ourselves. A few seedlings scattered here and there will grow into a flowerbed and then a garden one day. To get there, though, we must first plant the seeds.

Loving God, inspire us to imitate your creative ways in our efforts to plant peace and justice in our world.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Gifts of Peace

Their amazement went beyond all bounds.
“He has done everything well!
He heals the deaf and the mute!”

From Mark 7:37

As I made my way out of the store the other day, a teen-aged girl and someone who seemed to be her younger brother made their way in. I couldn’t help hearing as this young woman advised her young companion regarding how to deal with someone who was giving him trouble. Though I’m not certain of how that conversation ended, I liked what I heard as I passed by. This young woman’s wise advice reminded me of a former student from long ago…

I could hear Frankie telling her classmate, “Nasty, nasty, nasty. He’s just nasty, so ignore him!” Frankie, a fifth grader who was wise beyond her years, had mastered the art of defusing misbehavior. Though she would never allow one classmate to physically hurt another, Frankie ignored verbal assaults and she taught those in her company to do the same. Frankie single-handedly prevented many a playground altercation by simply walking away. While the teacher in me addressed any assault, verbal or otherwise, I truly respected Frankie’s approach to getting along in this world.

As I walked on to my car, I prayed for the young woman I’d passed and her little brother. I asked God to help her to replace his anxiety with a bit of peace.

Dear God, thank you for the peacemakers among us. Help us all to learn from those who try to diffuse our troubles with a measure of peace.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved