Welcome Home!

Peace and mercy on all who follow this rule of life
and on the Israel of God.

From Galatians 6:15-16

As our plane made its descent toward Ben Gurion International Airport, I experienced a palpable sense of peace. I felt as though I was on my way to a family reunion…

Several years earlier, my husband and I traveled to Croatia to meet his cousins there. Later, we traveled to Sicily to find his grandparents’ hometown. Still later, we flew to Quebec to meet my father’s family. On each of these occasions, we experienced a heartwarming sense of belonging. As we gathered our luggage in the airport in Tel Aviv, I experienced the same in Israel -even more so than I had before.

When we boarded the bus for our hotel, our driver welcomed us. She explained that she was with us only for this first bus ride. Our new driver and the guide I’d come to know so well during our previous trips would see to it that we were warmly welcomed once again on the following day.

As I listened, I realized I didn’t necessarily need to be welcomed after all. My own story had begun in Israel long ago. The one whom they called “Teacher” had laid the foundation for everything of importance to me. When he revealed the essence of God’s love, Jesus also revealed our capacity to love one another. I wouldn’t be the woman, child, sibling, wife, mom, grandma and friend I am today if I hadn’t taken those lessons to heart. Though we may not be blood relatives, Jesus and I are family just the same. Though I wasn’t born in the area as Jesus was, he was part of me. What a homecoming this trip to Israel would be!

Loving God, thank you for the many homecomings I’ve experience along the way.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always At Home

May you be glad on the
same score and rejoice with me.

Philippians 2:18

The first leg of trip to Israel (pardon the pun) “flew” by without incident. Our layover provided another opportunity to get to know our fellow travelers. The security staff who oversaw our international boarding were kind and reassuring, perhaps in response to our cooperative adherence to the necessary protocol. In the midst of locating our seats and stowing our carry-on bag, I whispered a prayer of gratitude for the good people around me. After a quick meal, I nuzzled into my seat with another prayer, this time for a nap.

Sleep never came. Some excited passengers chatted the entire time. I wrote “excited” because their pitch and their comments indicated that they were especially happy about their impending return to their home in Tel Aviv. Because I knew what awaited our group there, I began to feel excited, too. Tired as I was, I pulled out our itinerary to scan the list of the special places we’d visit. Each one was now familiar to me. This trip would truly be a homecoming for me as well.

You and I experience homecomings more often that we are aware. We belong to families and neighborhoods, faith communities, social clubs, service organizations and sports teams. We have workplaces and favorite gathering places where we feel very much at home. As I consider them all, I see their common thread. Each one reminds me that I don’t live alone on this earth. Every place where I encounter my fellow humans gives me reason to feel at home. Over the coming days, the Holy Land would be home to me once again.

As I continue my journey through Lent, perhaps I can find ways to make those around me to feel at home as well, especially those who are lonely.

Loving God, thank you for our capacities to be at home with one another and with you.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Come, Find Me…

Let whoever is simple turn in here…
Come eat of my food and
drink of the wine I have made.

From Proverbs 9:4-5

Three days before we left for Israel, I surprised myself with my packed suitcase and my unexpected calm. Before flying anywhere, I normally fret for days regarding what to bring and how to keep my bag under 50 pounds. This time, I managed to stow everything I needed in a 32-pound mid-size bag. A day later, my husband had done the same. The morning of our departure, we were ready long before our friend arrived to drive us to the airport. All was well.

As we drove along, I enjoyed the view while absentmindedly listening to the news. When the report turned to continuing unrest in the Middle East, my thoughts turned to those earlier trips to Israel. Both times, security in and out was very tight. Yet, both times, I also felt welcomed in this country which is surrounded by its enemies. Though I’d heard that Israel’s own people were often at odds with one another, I’d found that unexpected friendships had been forged among them. As we drove on, I felt an unexplained calm as I looked forward to the next eight days…

In the terminal, my husband and I checked in with our tour leader. Nancy thanked us for joining the group and she made us feel as though our presence made all of the difference in the world to her. When the sunshine pouring into the terminal rested its warm hand on me, I realized that our presence always makes a difference. Wherever I found myself for the next eight days, it was up to me to determine what that difference would be.

Dear God, you infuse every moment you give us with opportunities to find you in one another. Help me to make the most of each of these encounters.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Holy Land

Know that the Lord is God;
God made us and we are God’s;
the flock whom God tends.

From Psalm 100:3

I admit that a trip to the Holy Land was never on my bucket list. Yet, today I tell you that I have been there three times. I overcame my dislike for small places to endure a ten-hour flight and a subsequent four-hour flight in order to get there. The first time, I found my courage when our tour director listed the places we’d visit. A lifetime of images filled me up at that meeting. Suddenly, the events which occurred in Nazareth, Cana, Magdala, Caesarea and Jerusalem and on the Sea of Galilee so long ago filled a void in my own family history. That long flight seemed a small price to pay for the treasure of memories I’d find in the end. Yes, I’ve returned twice more because that treasure was truly worth the effort.

I invite you to journey through Lent 2020 with me. In the process, I hope you’ll discover as I did the significance of Jesus’ story and the significance of our own individual stories. Though I’ll frequently reference that place which the world calls the Holy Land, remember that you and I are important members of God’s flock and every place we find ourselves has the potential to become holy land as well. This Lent, it’s up to you and me to make it so.

Let’s begin…

Dear God, none of our stories are complete without you. Be with us this Lent and always as we strive to make every place we walk a bit of holy land.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Find The Time

All who touched him got well.
From Mark 6:56

Lent 2020 begins tomorrow. Every year, I try to set aside these forty days much the way a couple sets aside time to be together. If my husband and I are smart enough to retreat in order to nurture our love for each other, it makes sense to do the same in our relationships with God. So it is that I’m attempting to recapture the zeal of my childhood Lents by planning ahead for this special walk to Easter.

I’m at an advantage this year because images of Jesus’ homeland are etched into my memory. While in the Holy Land, I couldn’t help seeing Jesus’ shadow among the crowds in Jerusalem, in the dusty desert, near the synagogue in Magdala and on the paths winding through Capernaum. The gospels leave little doubt regarding Jesus’ popularity with ordinary people. His palpable presence everywhere I turned touched my heart. Though the temple hierarchy saw Jesus as a threat and the Romans considered him a nuisance, those of little or no stature -including me- find everything in him. This is the reason Lent is so precious to me. It gives me the time to get to know more about that irresistible Jesus who doesn’t need a thing from any of us, but who longs for our company just the same.

Today, let’s begin to plot our Lenten journeys. On Ash Wednesday, let’s assume our places among Jesus’ contemporaries. Let’s seek him out in every nook and cranny we pass along the way. Let’s seek him out in those we love, in those who love us and in those who need our love more desperately than ever. Trust, he will be in all of those places.

Dear God, as I prepare for my Lenten journey, encourage me with a glimpse of that heart which is blind to my imperfections and loves me as I am.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Good Enough!

So be perfect, just as God is perfect!
From Matthew 5:48

I realize I referenced the scripture passage above yesterday, but its message bears repeating. At first reading, Jesus’ request that we be perfect seems to be asking too much of us. Fortunately, I revisited that word “perfect” from the perspective of Jesus’ contemporaries. To them, striving to be perfect meant trying to be an entire, complete and full-grown version of oneself. The most important part of this is that our “self” is good enough for God. We are good enough whenever we attempt to put our best foot forward…

A few months ago, my sister saw FROZEN 2 at her local theater. Though this Disney flick is marketed to children, my sister shared that it offers a consistent message to all who gather to watch, adults included. Georgette observed that throughout the film’s unfolding, numerous wrongs needed to be put right. Though uncertain much of the time, our animated counterparts simply did what they saw to be the next right thing!

Georgette expounded upon this wisdom… “When things are wrong with the world and/or with us, it is important to remember God’s presence, glory and great love for us in every way. If we can embrace that, we can shed the guilt (and the uncertainty!) and move on to do the next right thing! How liberating to have the path open to do just that! How much better a world we would live in if we do this!”

My wise sister added, “Forgiveness and allowing people to grow in their own way and at their own pace is severely missing in this world today. This actually stunts the growth of all of us. So, we need to pray for open eyes and loving hearts to prevail.”

I couldn’t agree more!

Loving God, thank you for creating us with the capacity to do so much good! Be with us as we do our best to put our best foot forward every step of the way.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved