They’re Always Watching!

Beloved:Let no one have contempt for your youth,
but set an example for those who believe,
in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity.

1 Timothy 4:12

The other day at the grocery store, a young man “slipped” and said a word that wasn’t suitable for the ears of some nearby children. Before he could apologize, the older woman with him responded, “You know, kids are always watching and it’s up to us to show them what’s right.” The woman added another line or two about how she and his dad were very careful of their language when he was within earshot. The young man took his mother’s comments well. The pair smiled at one another and then continued their shopping. As for the kids, I’m grateful to say that they didn’t react to any of this as they were distracted by the shelves of breakfast cereal before them. Neither they nor their mom seemed to have heard a word.

That wise parent’s comment echoed sentiments repeated frequently throughout my teaching career and my second career as a grandparent. Grandchildren repeat just about everything they hear. They also mimic our actions and our attitudes far more accurately than we might think possible.

What does all of this mean for us allegedly mature adults? Apparently, we need to be on our best behavior as often as possible. None of us knows when an impressionable child of any age may be watching. It’s up to us to provide them with the best lessons we’re capable of offering as often as we can.

Easy, huh?

Loving God, help us to offer only glimpses of your goodness to the young souls you place in our care.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Sister’s Life Lessons

Some months ago, I received an email from a high school friend. Nadine had written to tell me that fellow alums were planning a reunion. My classmates and I have reached a milestone anniversary of our graduation from high school and a party is definitely in order! Thoughts of Nadine and many other classmates elicited a smile. After sending a grateful response to that email, I hurried to our calendar to record the date. As soon as I turned to September, I realized that I won’t be able to attend that reunion. The same day, my dear husband will witness the marriage of a very special couple. Mike and I wouldn’t miss their wedding for anything. So it was that I sent Nadine a subsequent email to express my regret. This past week, when I received a follow-up reminder of that reunion, I decided to enjoy a small reunion of my own. I pulled my yearbook from the shelf and nestled into my recliner. As soon as I opened that book, memories filled me up. I admit to some tears as I read the kind comments my classmates and teachers had written to me inside the covers and in the margins of almost every page. The four years we shared were a gift…

After returning my yearbook to its shelf, I checked the Sisters of Mercy website for tidbits regarding my former teachers. As expected, I found that most of them are enjoying the fruits of their labor in the hereafter. When I scrolled down the names of the sisters who’ve passed away, Sister Imelda evoked a smile. Sister Imelda held the dubious honor of serving as my freshman homeroom teacher. This role required her to account for her students’ whereabouts every weekday morning and to immerse us into the freshman religion curriculum. It was during religion class that Sister Imelda left an indelible mark on me. Difficult as it could have been to get our attention, Sister did so with ease. She provided a question box for our anonymous queries on any topic. At the beginning of every class, Sister responded to one of our submissions. I came to appreciate Sister Imelda’s bravery in doing this after sitting on the teacher’s side of the desk before my own students. Our class of fifteen-year-old girls provided extremely creative questions. Every time, Sister responded graciously and thoroughly. We’d learned far more about sin, faith and morals than we cared to by the end of that year. More importantly, by June each of us also saw God in a completely different and truly awesome light.

I continue to embrace Sister Imelda’s image of God because Sister insisted that ours is the God of Love. Rather than guilting us into submission, Sister presented the rules we tried to live by quite practically. She insisted that these guidelines for living served as shields to keep us safe. When we did our best to do the right thing, we stayed close to God. Sister added that our close proximity to God was our most prized possession. “As long as God is nearby,” Sister said, “you’ll be fine.” Of course, we concluded that God’s presence depended upon us. When a classmate submitted an anonymous question regarding God’s proximity when one managed to commit a mortal sin, Sister reassured us. I’ll never forget Sister rising from her seat with her finger pointed at us as she proclaimed, “That’s when God is closest to you and don’t you forget that! God doesn’t want to lose a single one us!” This was probably the first time in my life that I actually believed that God loves me and remains with me regardless of my guilt. On that day, I began to take even the harshest lessons from my religion classes and sermons as reassurances that God remains with me in everything.

Today’s scripture passages and those we’ve encountered in recent weeks are about as unsettling as some of the questions my classmates and I posed to Sister Imelda that year. The passage from Wisdom (Wisdom 9:13-18) tells us that we understand nothing unless we are gifted with understanding by the Holy Spirit. But what if someone isn’t among the gifted, we wonder. Sister Imelda would say, “God speaks to all of us. We simply need to take the time to listen.” In Paul’s letter to Philemon (Philemon 9-10;12-17), Paul tells his friend how to deal with his runaway slave. Paul had befriended this slave and he wanted the man to remain with him. Because this wasn’t possible, Paul sent the slave back to Philemon and asked Philemon to see his slave in a new light. Paul asked his friend to treat the slave as he would treat Paul himself and he fully expected Philemon to do nothing less. But what if Philemon refused? Sister Imelda would say, “You can’t make choices for other people. You can only give them your best shot, offer them good counsel and pray for the best.” In the end, Philemon did as Paul asked. Luke’s gospel (Luke 4:25-33) further forsakes this world’s view of things. Luke tells us that Jesus called the people to hate everything they held dear in order to free themselves to be disciples. But who can look upon their families and their wealth and walk away from them? Sister Imelda would say, “Jesus used strong examples to show us that it’s really hard to live as he did. All Jesus really asks is that we do our best with what we’re given and that we love one another. That will be enough!”

Sister Imelda’s wisdom has served me well. Though today’s scriptures seem difficult to follow, God’s underlying message urges us on just as Sister Imelda did. Sister Imelda convinced this high school freshman that God loves us though, sometimes, difficult words are necessary to get our attention. In the end, Sister Imelda would say, “As God’s much-loved children, we’re asked to allow God into our lives, to do our best within the circumstances we’re given and to help others to do the same. It’s just that simple!” I couldn’t agree more!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Hear The Cry of the Poor

For he shall rescue the poor when he cries out,
and the afflicted when he has no one to help him.
…the lives of the poor he shall save.

From Psalm 72:12-13

One of my favorite images of Jesus is Jesus The Teacher. I found great joy in my own teaching career and I’m pleased that Jesus and I have this vocation in common. I suppose the similarities end there as Jesus’ curriculum extended far beyond my own. Nonetheless, I’ve decided to turn to what I know best to ease myself and hopefully a few of you into a productive Spring 2019. I know. Spring began in March and summer will be here in less than a month. Still, I’m easing into spring because the cold weather distracted me from getting serious about this seemingly elusive season. Regardless, it’s time for me to get serious…

When I taught, I began every day by reviewing my lesson plans. The teachers who are reading with you know that the lesson plans they prepare provide their daily agendas. They include relevant page numbers and activities for various school subjects and blocks of time. Lesson plans keep all concerned focused on the given day’s priorities. I’m thinking that I’ll make better use of my days if I focus upon Jesus-the-Teacher’s priorities for me.

The passage above from Psalm 72 seems to be a good place to start. Jesus ministered to the poor in all of their forms. The world around you and me is filled with people who suffer equivalent woes. Jesus-the-Teacher might suggest that we plan our days to do the things we must and to reach out to the poor we meet along the way.

Loving God, help us to reach out to the poor among us as Jesus would.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Bring Joy To The Moment

Give thanks to God, for God is good.
God’s mercy endures forever.

Daniel 3:89

The other day, I ran into a couple with whom my husband and I worked before we retired. It was a pleasure to see these two happily strolling along. They were very dedicated educators who’d done a great deal to help many students and colleagues along the way. I couldn’t help smiling as we shared memories from our workdays and current events regarding our families. When we parted, I told them that it was a real pleasure to have talked to them, for indeed it was. During this exchange, I renewed my conviction that their positive presence in our workplace was rooted in their genuinely joyful approach to life. After we parted, I considered the mark I’d left on our school district. Had I brought my students and colleagues a bit of the joy which my friends had?

I responded to myself with thoughts of my favorite eight graders from long ago. These particular students desperately needed an adult ear. Every day when they reported to my classroom, they attempted to share their woes for the entire period. I never believed that they were engaging in work avoidance. The truth is that they were struggling with many things which needed to be dealt with. One day, when we learned that their classmate had unexpectedly lost his dad, their world turned upside-down. That day, we spent the entire period discussing this devastating occurrence.

The following day, I reminded my students that I was a reading teacher and not a counselor. As a result, I offered to spend the first ten minutes of each period sharing when needed. We’d use the remaining thirty-five minutes to engage in reading. Amazingly, they so appreciated this gesture that they improved their reading skills and their attitudes far more than anyone expected. I smiled as I acknowledged that I’d shared a bit of joy with them.

Compassionate God, thank you for making us flexible beings who can always find a way to bring joy to the moment at hand.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Care for God’s Kids

This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you.
John 15:17

Though I’ve been retired for a while, I’m blessed with friends who continue to work very hard for our children. They include teachers and administrators and secretaries, crossing guards and parent volunteers who take their work with children to heart. One of these friends continues to work with a coalition I belonged to “way back when”. The truth is that I envy his opportunity to do something about an issue which continues to weigh heavily on me.

This group concerns itself with after-school activities and crime prevention. The statistics regarding high-crime time periods and those involved indicate that after-school hours when children and teens have the least supervision are the most concerning. Gang-awareness experts tell us that otherwise “good kids” who lack consistent support from family or other supportive relationships are easily recruited by gangs. In light of all of this, those involved continue to seek funding for after-school activities and in-school support and mentoring for the children who need them most.

Regardless of the many things which keep us busy, we adults are responsible for the children in our lives. Whether they are whining toddlers or sarcastic teens, they need our support and our love. Obviously, our own children come first as we are the only parents they have. Still, the nieces and nephews, neighbors, acquaintances and students who haven’t yet reached adulthood also need the encouragement we can offer. These small efforts can counteract the sadness or feelings of worthlessness which might otherwise lead these youngsters astray. It’s all about feeling loved and appreciated, you know?

Patient God, give us the generosity and the courage to share your love with the children whom you have placed in our care.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Live and Learn!

“Teach them to carry out everything I have told you.”
Matthew 28:20

I admit that reading the daily obituaries has become habitual for me. This has been the case since I inadvertently read of the passing of a favorite classmate some months ago. In the process, I’ve come across other familiar names which identified acquaintances from long ago or elicited fond memories. Last week, one of those listed shared the name of an amazing professor I haven’t seen for many years. When I realized this, I offered a prayer for Kathleen and then retrieved my favorite “Kathleen Memory.”

It was the last day of a semester of an extremely demanding post-graduate program. After collecting our final assignments, Kathleen assigned a textbook to be read over winter break. I didn’t hide my anger well as I spoke: “I’ve survived this semester only because I’ve looked forward to Christmas with my family. This intrusion upon this very necessary time together is unacceptable.” Dedicated teacher that she was, Kathleen pointed out that I was no longer in high school and that the assignment stood.

As we left, my classmates applauded my courage and laughed at my stupidity in speaking up. “Mary, just don’t read it. We’re not. The day before class, scan the chapter titles. You’ll know enough to muddle through.” I went home brooding, unsure of what I would do.

As it happened, we enjoyed a wonderful Christmas. While the kids played with their new toys and my husband tended to other things, I read that book. The truth is that it proved to be very helpful in my subsequent work with children and teachers. When I returned to begin the next semester, I apologized to Kathleen for my attitude. My gracious professor smiled in response. “I admire your passion, Mary. I also admire your commitment. I knew you’d read the book.”

Patient God, when I balk at the things you ask of me, open my mind to your wisdom and my heart to your love. Also, please bless Kathleen today. She inspired some of my best work.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved