Inspired By Mary of Nazareth

What does one do when she intends to dance her way through Advent, but stubs her toe within the first few steps? What does one do when he receives an unexpected diagnosis just a week into this four week journey? What does one do when he attempts to bring a bit of Merry Christmas to every day, but finds his good intentions rerouted by the loss of a loved one? What does one do when she tries her hardest to bring joy to the world, but finds herself unable to move beyond the unrest deep within her own heart? Since the beginning, I’ve urged you to join me in spreading glad tidings and dancing through Advent to Christmas Day. Still, in spite of our best efforts, many of you have discovered with me that this is sometimes more difficult than it seems…

The bumps in the road I’ve encountered this Advent too often threatened to derail my efforts. Rather than giving up on my good intentions, I decided to find encouragement in another Mary, the one who prepared for the first Christmas. When I was a child, I imagined this Mary filled with joy and unable to contain her love for the child she carried within her. I pictured Mary as she appears on many of our Christmas cards. So much at peace, Mary needed only to bow her head in prayer as she awaited Jesus’ birth. She knew God would take care of everything else. My young heart was incapable of comprehending Mary’s actual predicament. As I grew older, I realized that things weren’t quite as easy for Mary as my childhood musing suggested. When I traveled to the Holy Land a few years ago, a visit to Nazareth deepened my thoughts on the matter.

Mary of Nazareth was a young teen when she embraced this out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Her parents had raised Mary to be chaste and faithful to The Law. I can only imagine how they dealt with this news! Mary was betrothed to Joseph who was a good and just man. How did she explain this turn of events to him? Mary must have realized that the politics of her day made life difficult for the Jewish people. Did talk of this child add to their suffering? Did Mary consider the threat to her own safety? A woman caught in adultery drew the rage of the righteous which usually ended with her being stoned to death. As I walked through Nazareth three years ago, busy Israelis passed me from every direction. Some seemed immersed in the concerns of their day. Others laughed and chatted as they entered shops and restaurants. Still others, who’d covered themselves with broad hats and dark clothing, peered impatiently at less devout passersby. I wondered if they would have responded to Mary’s pregnancy with stones. Though the scriptures provide few details, it seems that Mary responded bravely to it all.

From the onset, Mary trusted in God’s faithfulness. As I walked the streets of Nazareth, I longed for the peace which urged Mary on. As I breathed in the air around me, I prayed that I would also breathe in Mary’s conviction that God is with me and with us all through everything we endure. For Mary of Nazareth, sadness and uncertainty never extinguished the spark of peace which was a constant within her heart. Though the complexities of this life grew with every step Jesus walked toward manhood, Mary trusted and carried on. As I ambled along the streets which were so familiar to Mary and Jesus, I admitted to myself that I haven’t been as adept as they were in dealing with the complexities of this life. Still, as Mary believed and as Jesus insisted, God remains with me.

So it is that I invite you to embrace the three days which remain until Christmas with renewed resolve. Though our eyes droop over perpetual to-do lists, look with me through Mary’s eyes toward Christmas Joy. Though our feet ache a bit from too many stumbles and too much running, let’s dance our way to join Mary beside Jesus’ manger. Though we’ve run out of shopping time, you and I know that we’ll never run out of blessings. Regardless of our successful and failed Christmas preparations, Mary’s peace and our own will abound on Christmas Day. Just as was the case for Mary that first Christmas Day, joy will prevail in the precious people we have been given to love. Most importantly, God’s love for you and me will be wrapped and unwrapped over and over again on Christmas Day and always. Merry Christmas!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We Will Manage, Too!

On you I depend from birth;
from my mother’s womb you are my strength.

Psalm 71:6ab

When heavy winds caused our lights to flicker for a second or two, I panicked. I had so much to do. I found myself trying to shop, wrap, clean, bake and write within carefully planned windows of time. I’d convinced myself that any interruption to my already impossible schedule would be catastrophic at best. When the lights flickered a second time for several more seconds, I did as I always do. I looked up from my keyboard and begged, “Please, Lord, not now.”

Rather than returning to the task at hand, I walked downstairs to assess the wind for myself. I looked out to the backyard first. Everything remained in its place. I looked east toward our screened porch where the Christmas Tree and the figures of Jesus, Mary and Joseph also held their ground. By the time I peeked out the living room windows, the wind had morphed into a barely detectable breeze. Reassured, I took a moment to enjoy our indoor Christmas Tree and the tiny village beneath it. After perusing the town, I focused on the crèche where Mary and Joseph gaze lovingly upon Jesus. I couldn’t help myself as I asked them, “On what kind of night was your little guy born? Did you have any light at all in your makeshift delivery room? How did you keep yourselves warm?”

As I walked upstairs, it occurred to me that Mary and Joseph managed in spite of their dire circumstances. Whatever the wind decided to do the rest of the day, I would manage, too.

Loving God, thank you for giving us the stamina and creativity to manage our circumstances. You are all the light we need today and always.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Someone Needs A Blanket

When the poor one called out, God heard,
and from all his distress God saved him.

Psalm 34:7

Every year, my husband begins our Christmas Tree decorating by trimming its trunk and securing it in its stand. For a day or two afterward, I string the lights and hang ornaments. While I work, my husband contemplates the tree’s lowest branches and the area beneath the tree. With great care, Mike plans the village which will fill that space. I offer meager assistance by unpacking numerous little houses, tiny trees and our crèche. I admit that I delay a bit as I unpack the stable and figures which will be the focal point of our little town of Bethlehem. Though I love the little structures which resemble the buildings of Jesus’ day, I pour over the tiny figures far longer.

I fully expect these tiny figures to answer when I ask what they were feeling back then. Though I can imagine what Mary and Joseph might say, I puzzle over the baby. “How aware where you that day? Were you planning out your life with that first cry in the night or where you simply protesting the cold? ‘Where’s my blanket?’ you might have wailed.” In the midst of my musing, the baby who rests in that tiny manger seems to ask that I leave him to his rest. He sends me off to bring blankets to those who need them far more than he.

As I reflect upon the miracle of God Among Us, I consider who it is who might need a blanket to ease his cold or to comfort her aching soul. That Bethlehem Baby seems insistent that it is up to me to do what I can to provide what is needed.

Loving God, your invitation to love one another sets the tone of every new day. Help me to respond as you would.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Prepare The Way…

Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths…
Luke 3:4, 6

I’ve shared before that we celebrate our grandchildren’s birthdays with a sleepover. This year, our four-year-old grandson enjoyed (I hope!) his first overnight stay. The drill for each of these sleepovers in the same. I put a clean sheets on the bed and make the rest of the room child-friendly. I clear a space for our little guest’s suitcase and I place nightlights in strategic areas. I do my best to make this temporary space feel like home…

As Advent continues, I consider the temporary space Mary prepared for Jesus’ arrival. Though that manger once held hay for livestock, this didn’t matter to Mary or to her child. What did matter were the arms and the heart which held Jesus far more warmly and lovingly than any bed could have.

I hope our grandchildren will enjoy their sleepover bedrooms for years to come. Grandpa and I will continue to love them and to keep them safe and comfortable for as long as we can. Hopefully, our efforts will inspire these little ones to go out and do the same for their own families and everyone else God gives them to love.

It occurs to me that there is an Advent lesson and a life-long lesson here for me. Just as my husband and I willingly care for our grandchildren, we must care for all whom God looks upon with loving eyes, at least the ones who cross my path each day.

Loving God, fashion my heart into a resting place for you and for all of those you have given me to love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Look Past The Dust

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”

Luke 1:38

While cleaning up after we completed our holiday decorating, I noticed a cobweb in the corner of the living room just above our Christmas Tree. Because we display a village and crèche beneath the tree, it was impossible for me to reach and remove that pesky string of dust. I tried everything, including extending a broom handle in its direction. Nothing worked. Though I was tempted to brood about this mini-eyesore, I decided to use my effort a bit more constructively…

There are many cobwebs in my life. They serve as small reminders of annoyances of every sort and size which usually remain out of sight. Occasionally, when I’m having a bad day or not feeling my best, I allow these “mini-eyesores” to monopolize my attention. Though dozens of blessings surround me, I overlook them in order to focus upon one annoying cobweb or another. Though I can’t reach that pesky cobweb which still reigns over my Christmas Tree, I can reach inside to dispel the cobwebs within me.

On that first Christmas, there was likely a cobweb or two in the cave that housed the Holy Family. I’m quite certain that if those cobwebs were there, Mary and Joseph never noticed them. They had a far greater blessing to attend to and so do I!

Loving God, give me eyes that see the good around me and give me a heart which forgives the rest.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

What Can I Do?

Sing and rejoice, O daughter Zion!
See, I am coming to dwell among you, says the Lord.

Zechariah 2:14

As I relax for a few minutes in our family room, those aging plastic figures of Jesus, Mary and Joseph beckon me nearer. I set aside my need to rest and walk to the door. Once again, I ask myself how I could have considered replacing them a few years ago. As I gaze at the peaceful scene before me, I consider the more difficult reality which Joseph and Mary faced that first Christmas…

The stable… If archaeologists and scripture scholars are correct, Mary actually gave birth to Jesus in a small cave. Those who have visited the site of Jesus’ birth express surprise over the size of this tiny space. Somehow, the cave’s cold rock makes a stable seem inviting. As I consider that cave which I’ve seen in photographs and videos, I wonder what I might have done to make Jesus’ arrival more comfortable.

My musing is of little consequence today unless it urges me to wonder further. What might I do today to make Jesus’ arrival more comfortable? I obviously count myself among those who find great consolation, peace, joy and purpose as a result of God’s presence in my life. What can I say or do to make these gifts more accessible to those who need them most? It seems to me that my actions will speak much more loudly than my words today. “What can I do,” I whisper, “to make someone aware of God’s love for them?”

What can I do…

Generous God, open my heart to your urging and to those who need you most. May I never miss an opportunity to share your loving presence.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved