Worry Not!

He makes me lie down in green pastures…
Psalm 23:2

I’ve shared often that my husband is the travel aficionado of our family. He takes great pleasure in exploring new places and getting to know the people who inhabit them. Each adventure leaves him refreshed and ready to tackle our daily routine once we return home. As for me, I used to waste away the days of anticipation leading to these treks with unnecessary worry. While my husband looked forward to our vacations with almost as much joy as he experienced while we’re away, I worried about the things I was leaving behind and the potential travel issues which rarely materialized. Today, I acknowledge that the dear man has patiently guided me along long enough to convince me that all will be well in the end.

As I reflect further on Psalm 23, I can’t help thinking that our persistent God has cooperated in my husband’s travel efforts with good reason. I’ve overcome my travel worries and learned to lie down in green pastures, traipse through them and even climb over them as a result. Every time, like my husband, I return ready to embrace life here at home once again. I’ve even begun to suggest destinations for next time!

Loving God, thank you for caring for us even when we are reluctant to care for ourselves. Thank you also for the dear souls who make your care for us tangible.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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You’ll Always Be The Best!

Fill us at daybreak with your kindness,
that we may shout for joy and gladness all our days.

Psalm 90:14

Bad days used to be a rarity for me. I was always surprised when I seemed to have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed. I’ve never figured out which side of the bed is the wrong side. Still, in spite of my ignorance in this regard, for several weeks I’d managed to find that wrong side more often than not. In the midst of this string of cranky days, a much-loved voice called unexpectedly. If Katie* and I were engaged via FaceTime, she would have seen that I was doing a happy dance as we spoke.

As it happened, my little dance was short-lived because Katie had some scary news to share. A head injury from years ago has taken its toll and her memory will be affected. Katie has a loving family including a grandchild which adds to her concern. Still, Katie remained upbeat as she voiced her resolve to be the best she can for as long as she can. As she spoke, I whispered prayers for Divine Intervention regarding the duration of her ability to be the best she can. I’ve done the same ever since. Katie has always been 100% good enough for me. Still, I understand her worry.

Though Katie likely thinks that I’m doing her a favor by praying on her behalf, she’s the one who’s performed the good deed. Her call broke the spell those bad days had cast upon me. Katie has been my most consistent and vocal fan since I began writing in the public forum 25 years ago. As we spoke that day, Katie’s deep faith in God’s care for her reminded me that God cares just as deeply for me. Yes, Katie, you’ll always be the best you can be!

Loving God, give Katie a miraculously long string of “best she can be” days and months and years.

*I’ve changed Katie’s name to protect her privacy.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love God, Your Neighbor and You!

In an effort to distract myself from some gnawing worries, I engaged in a bit of therapeutic behavior. Productivity has always been an effective antidote to my frustration, so I headed to our spare bedroom to purge the closet. I invested an hour in this self-help therapy during which I hoped to dispel my fretting. The mementos I unearthed in that closet immersed me into an equally troubling scenario which unfolded almost two decades ago. Little did I realize that this unplanned trip down Memory Lane was precisely what I needed to adjust my perspective.

On the closet’s shelf, I found several textbooks and notebooks which had been my constant companions during the 1998-1999 School Year. This year of intense training impacted both my career and my family life. The career effects unfolded in the expected positive manner. This would have been a thrilling opportunity if its effects on my family life weren’t so difficult. My husband’s response caused him to morph into “the good deacon” that year. While managing life as a school principal and our parish deacon, Mike took on the majority of our household responsibilities. Tim, an eighth grader at the time, happily engaged in pre-graduation and high school prepping. Mike, a senior in college, busied himself lining up the “perfect” job to begin his career. In my absence, the three men in my life rose to the occasion in stellar fashion. As for me, I barely managed survival-mode.

Throughout that year, I continued to staff the desk at Saint Paul’s on weekends, to write this weekly reflection and to complete an annulment case each month. What was I thinking? I joined Mike and the boys for important events which were at a minimum. Though parenting is my favorite role, I probably uttered, “Thank God!” in response. Just prior to Christmas, the stress caught up with me. My colleagues and I had gathered for the last class of the first term. When our professor arrived, we greeted her with smiles and asked about her holiday plans. Our excitement kept us from noticing the books cradled in her arms. When class began, she congratulated us for the productive semester and promised not to keep us for the entire day. Then, she handed each of us a textbook which we were to read by our first class in January. An awkward silence reigned until I spoke up. I’d been living for an uninterrupted Christmas break with my family and it was with tear-filled eyes that I asked, “You are kidding, aren’t you?” In appropriately stern fashion, my professor responded, “You are engaged in doctoral level coursework. This assignment is the least I can expect of you.”

My unfortunate question put an unmistakable damper on our remaining hour together. As soon as my classmates and I left the building, they unanimously congratulated me for my courage in speaking up and chided me for my stupidity in doing so. “Mary, are you crazy? Don’t read the book. Just don’t read it.” They planned to scan the table of contents and index just before that next class. They’d garner enough information to suggest that they’d actually read the book. As they headed to their cars, they laughed over my exchange with the professor. As for me, tears stung my eyes as I drove off. In the end, I enjoyed a wonderful Christmas with my family and I didn’t worry about that book until school started. I had another week before my coursework began again. So, rather than catching up at school and relaxing a bit, I read that book. As it happened, I was the only one who did so. What was worse, after having given the assignment, our professor never referenced the book again. Go figure!

When I found that book on my closet shelf the other day, today’s gospel (Matthew 22:34-40) took on much deeper meaning for me. The passage chronicles one of the Pharisees’ final efforts to discredit Jesus. This time, they asked Jesus which were the greatest of the commandments. Because the Pharisees had made an art of complicating the lives of the faithful, Jesus countered quite simply: The greatest commandments are to love God with all of our hearts, minds and souls and to love our neighbors as ourselves. It seems to me that we love God best when we acknowledge God’s loving presence in our lives. We love our neighbors best when we share that love with them.

During that difficult training year, I allowed my focus on God’s love to blur. I failed to acknowledge God’s appreciation for me just as I am. In the process, I also failed to acknowledge my appreciation for God. I was simply too busy. Though on paper I’d completed a very successful year, I didn’t feel very good about it until I stored those books and notebooks for future reference and got back to attending to the people in my life: my family, my students and the people of St. Paul’s. Oddly enough, when I put all of this into perspective, I was better able to express my love for God and for my neighbors quite tangibly. As for those worries which urged me to clean that closet, I’m putting them into perspective as well.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Newborn Hope

We are God’s people,
the flock God tends…

From Psalm 100:3

I drove to my doctor’s appointment reluctantly. I’m reasonably healthy and I didn’t want to chance hearing that this isn’t any longer the case. I worried about my blood pressure which is usually quite good. Current events in the world-at-large and nearby have given me reason to fret and to wring my hands and I can’t seem to do anything to alleviate the messes around me. It was with this mindset that I arrived for that appointment.

When I entered the doctor’s office, I was shocked to see the waiting room filled with pregnant women. I’m well past that possibility and it hadn’t occurred to me that I might be in the company of so many mommies-in-waiting. Though I came in with a heavy heart, the women before me appeared to be worry-free as they conversed about their pregnancies and shared helpful tips with one another. I admit to smiling as I listened.

The joyful chatter which filled the room also filled me up. Rather than burying myself in the book I’d brought along, I prayed for these mothers-to-be, their mates and their babies. I requested uneventful deliveries which would result in happy and healthy newborns. I asked that the parents involved would welcome their children with love, calm, patience, wisdom and generosity. I ended my prayer with words of thanksgiving for blessings received. I wouldn’t have known what to request for these parents-to-be if I hadn’t been blessed with the same.

As the nurse escorted me to the examination room, it occurred to me that, beside the messes which have caused me so much worry as of late, there are also innumerable reasons for hope in this world and it was about time for me to focus on that hope.

Loving God, this world is filled with hope. Please open my eyes to every bit of it!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Loosening My Grip

See what love God has bestowed on us…
From 1 John 3:1

A storm is brewing just beyond my window. In spite of this past summer’s flooding, a recent string of dry days makes this a welcome occurrence. The meteorologist who offered an explanation of this change in the weather made little sense to me. Still, I listened gratefully to his promise of rain.

It occurs to me that my knowledge of human nature exceeds my knowledge of the weather. Sadly, I sometimes set aside my wisdom in this regard by inserting myself into situations over which I have little or no control. Though my intentions are pure at the onset, my ineffective efforts eventually get the best of me. Even when the signs are crystal clear, I push when I should let go and let God take care.

In an effort to do better in this regard, I’m taking a lesson from the storm brewing overhead and I’m taking a walk. Without any involvement on my part, its rains will fall and provide new life to the grass and the other greenery I enjoy along the way. As I walk, I realize that, without any involvement on my part, God will oversee the troubling situation at hand. Because the urge to do something remains, I’ll pray.

Patient God, give me the wisdom to let go and to let you when necessary.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Trust God

Say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God in whom I trust.”

Psalm 91:2

Though I’m probably more patient than most, this isn’t necessarily true when I’m tired and it’s never true when I’m worried. I can always tell when I have overextended myself because I become edgy and critical. Little things which are usually easy to let go become heavy burdens. Though I don’t verbally express my displeasure with the situation at hand, my face betrays me.

A few weeks ago, a friend who saw me at church asked how I was doing. Though her concern was genuine, I responded with my usual, “I’m fine. How are you?” I lied. At the same time, I wondered what prompted her query at that particular moment. So it was that I thought back to that morning. This friend had attended the last Mass of the day. I had attended the 7:30 Mass and then stayed to assist at our parish welcome desk for the remainder of the morning. By the end of the third Mass, I felt the fatigue which threatened to overwhelm me. I recalled smiling only halfheartedly as I cleaned up crayons and pencils and replaced chairs which had been strewn about. I’m certain I was silently wishing that people would return what they used to its proper place. I also recalled that I’d spent the morning worrying about a problem over which I have no control. I’ve done everything within my power to help and there is nothing more I can do.

When my friend saw me that day, I was tired and worried. My response to her kindness didn’t fool her a bit. When we parted ways, I asked myself what I would tell a friend in the same situation. I answered quickly, “Go home and get some rest, pray about that problem and then hand it over to God.” I’m still working at following my advice…

Patient God, thank you for these well-placed reminders to be patient with myself and with those you have given me to love.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved