Love With A Child’s Heart

Become as little children and you will enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 18:3

A wise teacher once told me that if I ever wanted to know if a person was a good person I should watch the way children respond to him or her. Though I wasn’t necessarily convinced of Sister Imelda’s wisdom at the time, three decades of working with children and my own parenting experience support her assertion for the most part. Children somehow instinctively seem to know who does and who doesn’t have their best interests at heart. Though I realize children have suffered greatly at the hands of adults they may have misjudged, children more often than not seem to be great judges of character.

My own sons seemed to do this instinctively. When my parenting came from the heart, they complied with my wishes with little or no complaint. However, when I pushed them in directions which I myself wasn’t sold on, they balked. They kept me honest in many ways, helping me to keep my words and my deeds in sync with what I truly believed was right.

Though I haven’t been a child for more than half a century, I think I need to regain my childhood view of things. Back then, I assumed all was well and that everyone was lovable until someone gave me very specific reasons to feel otherwise. With so much negativity in the air these days, it seems I need to begin each day with my childhood’s positive outlook. At the very least, I’ll try to see the goodness in my circumstances and the lovableness in those around me. That goodness and lovableness might just last all day!

Loving God, help us to love another as you love us and help us to transform this world with that love.

©2019 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

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

Special in God’s Eyes

This Labor Day weekend, my thoughts turn to all of the children and teachers who recently embraced the new school year. While I always welcomed summer vacation when my husband-the-principal and I-the-teacher regrouped as a family with our own kids, every August, I looked forward to the new school year as well. Of course, I also looked forward to Labor Day which granted all concerned a four-day school week! The other day, Mike shared a Facebook post with me from one of our former students. As I considered the amazing dad and husband he’s become, I offered a prayer for him and all of the great kids I’d met along the way. It was then that one of my own first day of school adventures came to mind. A favorite student wasn’t at all looking forward to the new school year or Labor Day…

On the first day each year, teachers flank school grounds long before the children arrive. Some of the children might have been unfamiliar with the environment while others might have needed a reminder that order would prevail. So it was that my fellow teachers and I stood ready to greet the new year’s students. Eventually, most of the children made their way into the building like an army of ants charging a picnic. Some approached with confidence. They were returning students who’d done well the prior year. They knew where to line up and what to expect. Their backpacks bulged with supplies in anticipation of whatever their new teachers might ask of them. Others arrived hand-in-hand with an adult companion. These grown-up escorts offered a bit of reassurance in an effort to prevent tears which would otherwise have flowed freely. For some who reluctantly inched toward school, tears flowed regardless of the company. The onset of the new year frightened them beyond their abilities to cope. These poor children always expected the worst.

The children I worried about most that first morning of the school year were those who lingered on the periphery of things. They feared crossing the threshold into the school and into the new year and they hid wherever they could. The year before, these children had attended school every day and worked hard at their assignments. They did their homework, but too often found it to be too hard. Without help, they too often failed the most important subjects. I vividly recalled their avoidance behaviors. One stood behind a tree. Another squatted low, hiding next to a dumpster. Still another perched himself high above the playground at the top of the slide. Gym-shoe clad feet betrayed the girl lurking behind a teacher’s van. The last one I eyed had started to walk home. He’d refused to endure failure once again.

Because I was a reading teacher, I didn’t have a class of my own to usher into the building. I was charged with gathering these elusive procrastinators. That year, after retrieving my young friends from their various hiding places, I bolted after the young man who was headed home. Jonah was a sixth grader who felt he’d had a rough year last time around. I knew him because Jonah had been one of my reading students. Jonah had made excellent progress in reading. His pre-test and post-test scores heralded the two-plus years’ growth he’d achieved. Jonah had moved from second to fourth grade reading level. Unfortunately, Jonah still performed two years below his new grade level. I shared the frustration which must have eaten away at him. His peers who were reading at grade level skated by with only six or eight months’ growth and that was enough for them. I understood why Jonah questioned his still being behind when his growth was greater than that of most of the other students.

With all of this in mind, I followed Jonah down the walk. Luckily, Jonah’s good nature impelled him to stop. Had he noticed that my heels made it impossible for me to chase him? His eyes told me that he almost welcomed my company. “Jonah,” I asked, “Where are you going? What will I do if you’re not in school today?” Jonah sniffed and tears followed. “I can’t do that stuff. I hate school. I’m stupid and I ain’t going in there!” Trying to keep my own tears in check, I reminded Jonah, “You learned two years’ worth of reading last year. If you do that again, you’ll be right where you’re supposed to be.” Jonah wiped his eyes and smiled just a bit. “That’s why I got that certificate, huh? My mom put it on her bedroom mirror.” I quickly asked, “She liked it?” Jonah smiled as I walked him to the door. “We both like it,” Jonah admitted. With that, Jonah skipped to his classroom, ready to try once again. With that, I prayed once again: “Thank you, Lord, for helping me to convince Jonah of just how special he is.” Jonah had given meaning to that day and to every day that I was privileged to work with him.

Today, at the close of Luke’s gospel (14:1, 7-14), Jesus says, “…when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” I admit that Jesus’ promise is above and beyond anything I can hope for today because Jonah repaid me a thousand-fold for simply doing my job that year. So it is that I celebrate Labor Day 2019 with a prayer for you and me…

Loving God, help us never to overlook the treasure to be found in those whom this world considers to be castaways. Like Jesus, help us to see that it is through our association with these favored ones that we witness your greatest work and that we best emulate your loving and welcoming heart.

©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

Always Teaching…

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

As soon as I saw his face, I knew the young man before me and I had walked the same hallways decades earlier. Though I was never his teacher, this bright and talented student and I interacted frequently due to our involvement in special projects and the close proximity of our classrooms. We talked almost every day.

Though Charles was far too bright to require the academic support I offered, I gave this young man as much attention as possible. His amazing abilities sometimes put him at odds with his classmates. I hoped to encourage him to be himself and to do his best in spite of the teasing and worse which his peers doled out. In the end, he persisted. This brave young man is now a happy, well-adjusted and productive adult.

Many years ago, I was fascinated by the title of a book regarding all of the things the author had learned in kindergarten. This writer was convinced that he’d acquired life’s most important skills during that single year. While I agree with him regarding those all-important life-skills, I’d like to think that we have the potential to learn something new every day. I also think we have the potential to teach something new every day. This is the reason that we need to be ever-mindful of the gift of the children among us. The things they learn at home, at school and in the neighborhood remain with them for the rest of their lives. Hopefully, our instructive example contributes to their development, their productivity and their ability to nurture and to teach others even better than we have.

Loving God, help us to bring a bit of your wonder and your love to the little children and to the grown children nearby.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved