Generations of Hope

I hear what God proclaims;
God proclaims peace.

Psalm 85:9ab

I’ve enjoyed an abundance of family time as of late due to recent birthdays, our family vacation and our anniversaries. Still, in spite of the tangible love evident in all of these events, I’m bothered these days. I wonder aloud if this restlessness is a sign that I’m getting older. A sense of urgency overwhelms me and I feel a deep need to fix everything that needs fixing!

I love our sons, their wives and our grandchildren more than anything else on this earth. This prompts me to be gravely troubled by the current state of this world of ours. When I convince myself that things cannot possibly get worse, the airwaves deliver another bit of bad news. After lamenting this turn of events, reminders of poverty and other social ills here at home and around the world hit me right between the eyes. I think of my family, especially our grandchildren, and I wonder what this world will be like long after Grandpa and I are gone. How will this mess get fixed?

The family photo resting above my keyboard interrupts my brooding. The sparkle in the eyes of my offspring insists that I give them and their contemporaries a little credit. That sparkle touches smoldering embers of hope deep within which I’ve neglected these days. It occurs to me that numerous generations before me have wrung their hands in despair as well, only to be surprised by the goodness brought about by the young people among them. Finally, I find peace.

Loving God, thank you for the gift of each new generation. Within them lie hope and the potential for peace on this earth.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Happy Hearted and Fully Loved

From the day we heard about you,
we have not ceased praying for you…

Colossians 1:9

This past summer, we celebrated our two grandsons’ and a granddaughter’s birthdays. We also celebrated our own forty-something wedding anniversary and the anniversaries of our sons and daughters-in-law. In the midst of all of this revelry, my thoughts returned often to Mike’s and my wedding and our first encounter with parenthood…

I’ll never forget the day my doctor told me that, indeed, I was with child. This announcement came after a years-long struggle to have children. Yes, this news was most welcome! I also recall that from the moment I heard these words, I felt that I knew my baby. Though I had no idea of what he or she would look like and I had no idea of who this child would be, I couldn’t help loving this precious little one. It was on that day that I also began to pray, above all else, that this child would be happy. If God blessed this little person with a happy heart, I knew he or she would be able to handle everything else.

When our baby arrived, he proved to be all I’d hoped for and more. Still, I continued to pray for him every day; sometimes, several times a day. The truth is that this is my ritual regarding our second son, both of our daughters-in-law and our grandchildren as well. I do the same for my extended family and friends.

If I’m going to be totally honest here, I must admit that I call God’s attention to much of the world these days. If people were a bit happier, this world would be far more peaceful. It seems to me that it’s God’s wish for each of us to be happy. So I pray -often and with absolute faith- for just that.

Loving God, bless us all with happy hearts!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always In Good Company

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

Psalm 136:1

I was a little “off” when I woke the other day. I’d enjoyed a string of busy and happily peaceful days. Still, I found myself immersed in sadness. For unknown reasons, my first thoughts that morning were steeped in relatively ancient history. I asked myself, “Why did I wake up with that on my mind?” Though I did my best to focus on happier things, nothing seemed to help. So it was that after breakfast, I bid my dear husband farewell and headed out for a walk.

As soon as I reached the front of our house, I looked back at the ever-present greenery and the colorful annuals Mike had planted this year. They’re prettier than ever and, for a few minutes, they took my mind off of those pesky old memories. As I walked further, I couldn’t miss the flowers which grace so many of our neighbors’ homes. “Thank you, Dear God, for these perfectly placed distractions!!” I prayed.

As I walked on, an uncommonly cool breeze nudged me along the way. “I love the wind, Dear God, because it reminds me that you’re with me.” As I continued on, those bothersome worries faded in the shadow of the beauty around me. Green trees seemed greener than ever. Lush lawns seemed even more beautiful. Every blossom I passed seemed to be in its prime. As I basked in all of this, that breeze continued to nudge me along the way. Finally, I realized that God was with me. Finally, I remembered that God is always with me. Finally, I knew that all would be well. Should those memories emerge once again, God will handle them with me.

Dear God, thank you for your patience, your company and your love.

©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

Speak and Listen

“This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.”
From Mark 7:6

A friend recently shared that he’s made serious progress when it comes to prayer. Somehow, he’s managed to set aside the hustle and hassles of daily life in order to spend quality time meditating. The results are obvious in his demeanor and his writing. I envied his peacefulness and wondered how I could capture a bit of it for myself.

I admit that I babble in God’s direction all day long. I also admit that I don’t always take the time to sit, to reflect and to listen to what God has to say to me. The other day while babysitting our grandsons, I decided to do something about this. As soon as I was certain they were asleep, I tiptoed to the family room and nestled into his parents’ recliner. While trying to focus myself, I caught a glimpse of the large print which hangs on their fireplace. The photo features a lovely lighthouse surrounded by amazingly beautiful clouds which punctuate a heavenly blue sky. A wooden path leads to the lighthouse and I imagined myself strolling happily upon it. I couldn’t wait to meet God who I imagined waited just as eagerly for me. Within a few moments, I’d entered into that lovely setting where I poured out my heart. For the rest of my grandsons’ naps, I sat in silence and listened. Finally, God had the opportunity speak. Finally, I was at peace.

Good and Gracious God, thank you for your unlimited patience. Though I allow many things to keep me from spending time with you, you are always with me.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Hail, Mary!

Her child was caught up to God and his throne.
The woman herself fled into the desert
where she had a place prepared by God.

From Revelation 12:5-6

When I was far too young, the adult women closest to me became widows. My aunt lost her husband, the father of her three children, when he was only thirty-six. My mom lost my dad after my five siblings and I were born. My dad was only thirty-nine. Still, both my aunt and my mom raised good children whom they supported at great expense to themselves. They didn’t think twice about the long hours they worked in order to keep food on their tables and roofs over their children’s heads. Amazingly, both also maintained their positive outlooks on life. Regardless of how tough things might have been for them, my aunt and my mom always felt that there were others who suffered far more than they. Through it all, their generosity remained intact.

On this day on which we celebrate Mary, I consider the strife the mother of Jesus endured when she was just a young teenager. Imagine what must have gone through her mind when she realized that she would be the mother of Jesus and a perceived adulteress at the same time. How did Mary explain to her parents and to poor Joseph that she was with child? After the dust settled in this regard, poor Mary faced a lifetime of uncertainly as she watched her baby son grow into The Messiah.

Perhaps it is Mary who inspired my aunt and my mom to persist. Perhaps Mary inspires all of the brave souls among us who manage their circumstances with grace and absolute faith in God’s loving presence. As for me, I’m most grateful for Mary’s inspiration.

Generous God, thank you for Mary who is indeed full of grace and blessed among all women.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved