Alive Again!

Though I’m echoing sentiments I’ve already shared regarding my visits to Israel, they merit repeating. During our first trip, I quickly discovered that the precise locations of the events of Jesus’ life didn’t concern me. Breathing the air Jesus breathed and walking in the places where Jesus walked were quite enough for me. Being among people who resembled Jesus, his family, his neighbors and his disciples touched me deeply. During last year’s trip, I became attuned to what Jesus’ life may actually have been like. This year, a picture of Jesus of Nazareth formed within me. With every passing day, I felt I’d come to know Jesus more intimately than I ever had before. We were on the Sea of Galilee when I began to fully appreciate this remarkable phenomenon.

Last year, our guide Yossi had made special arrangements for this voyage. He’d insisted that we sail on Daniel’s boat. This year, though Daniel had taken the day off, he ventured out to offer us the tour we were promised. How relieved I was when I saw Daniel at the helm! After we made our way out onto the water, I settled in as Jesus might have two millenniums ago while Daniel shared his music and his story. The now-familiar tale of this remarkable man served as the backdrop to my own musing regarding the time Jesus spent on the shores of this historic body of water…

Daniel is a Messianic Jew who believes that there is no more waiting for the messiah. Daniel was born to a young unmarried Orthodox Jewish woman who gave her son up for adoption to a secular Jewish family. Though his family had no faith to share, they provided Daniel with a loving home in the port city of Haifa. This proximity to the water inspired Daniel’s love for the sea and his desire to become a boat captain one day. Daniel’s family also nurtured his love for music by gifting him with a set of drums early on. Unfortunately, Daniel endured a personal crisis as a young man. This death of sorts urged Daniel onto a quest deep within himself. Because his family hadn’t kept his adoption secret, Daniel continued his journey by finding his birth family: his mother and four siblings. After meeting them, Daniel relocated nearby. He stayed in a Kibbutz and found a job on a tour boat.

I recalled our tour guide Yossi’s experience growing up in a Kibbutz. There was no talk of God there. I assumed that Daniel’s newfound family were Orthodox Jews as his birth mother had been, so there would be no talk of Jesus with them. Also, offering tours of “holy” places is big business and certainly not a religious experience for local Jews and Palestinians. What was it then that prompted Daniel to take that extreme step toward Jesus? Apparently, Daniel discovered Jesus’ tangible presence on the Sea of Galilee just as I had. For five years, he listened to his passengers talk about their belief in Yeshua (Jesus in Hebrew) as they sailed. All the while, Daniel absorbed the prayers, the music and the scripture passages they shared. Every day, Daniel pondered all that he saw and heard. In the end, Daniel couldn’t help being moved. Something within Daniel came to life the day he realized that he also believed in Yeshua. Yeshua had become Daniel’s most precious and life-giving treasure.

Daniel responds to Jesus’ presence in his life by sharing his music and his story during tours. My second encounter with Daniel transformed Jesus to the Yeshua of long ago. Daniel, Yossi and the Israelis I passed in the marketplaces, our hotels and at the sites we visited aren’t very different from the people who inhabited these places with Jesus. Daniel is ostracized by well-intentioned Jews who feel he has forsaken his faith. Yossi puzzles over local politics just as Jesus’ followers and his enemies did. Today’s Israeli’s struggle, just as people always have, to care for their families, to live peacefully and to at least taste the freedom to follow their hearts’ desires.

I share all of this because Jesus seems to have done for Daniel what he did for Lazarus two thousand years ago. Today, John’s gospel (John 11:1-45) tells us that Jesus’ dear friend Lazarus had taken ill and died. When Jesus went to Lazarus’ sisters to comfort them, Martha and Mary insisted that Lazarus would not have died if Jesus had been with him. Do you know how many times I’ve looked upward to declare, “If you were here, things would be different!” Raising Lazarus was among Jesus’ greatest miracles. Daniel insists that this miracle was repeated in him when he welcomed Jesus into his life. I know that this miracle has been repeated within me every time I’ve survived one of the major and minor tragedies of my life. Jesus brings each of us back to life over and over again. The best part of all of this is that we can imitate Jesus’ miracle. Like Jesus, we can renew the lives of those we meet along the way as only we can.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved


Our Singing Boat Captain

Jesus said to them, “Come after me.
I will make you fishers of men.”

Mark 1:17

As it happened, our guide Yossi isn’t the only musician I met in Israel…

I recall that, last year, Yossi was very concerned that we board Daniel’s boat the morning we sailed on the Sea of Galilee. We waited in a long line to do so though other boats were available. Five minutes into our cruise, I understood Yossi’s determination when Daniel Carmel’s crew-mate took the microphone to introduce his captain. The man told us that Daniel is a Messianic Jew who operates his boating business for two reasons: To make a living and to spread the word about Jesus of Nazareth.

Daniel was born to an unwed Orthodox Jewish woman who gave him up for adoption to a secular Jewish couple. Though Daniel’s adoptive family gave him a wonderful life, a crisis in his late twenties prompted Daniel to connect with this birth mother as well. In the process, he discovered a second family who also welcomed him into their lives. To get to know them better, Daniel moved nearby. His new home on the shores of the Sea of Galilee prompted him to take a job on a tour boat. After years of listening to pastors preach about Jesus on the very sea he frequented, Daniel felt that this Jesus, Yeshua in Hebrew, was calling him just as he called Peter, Andrew and the rest. When Daniel purchased his own boat, he began to preach as well. He continues to do so today with his amazing singing voice.

For much of our cruise, Daniel Carmel sang familiar hymns in both English and Hebrew. His passion for his Lord touched everyone on board. This year, Daniel once again sang a most inspiring and prayerful homily.

Loving God, thank you for inspiring our prayer and for listening to us however we pray.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Another Child Lost…

So he went in and said to them,
“Why this commotion and weeping?”

From Mark 5:39

I grew up in a tough neighborhood. This means that I heard the names of gangs in whispers and I was careful with my money when walking to and from the grocery store. I didn’t go out after dark. Still, the worst local news referenced an occasional a knife or a purse-snatching. Though my own family was touched by more serious crime, these events pale in light of today’s reports. Guns have replaced knives and murder has become the crime of choice. The losses of children are far too common.

The only child in our family to pass away is my husband’s cousin Mary. Mary was born long before current medical advances. Mary’s Down Syndrome had taken a toll on her heart. Every cold required a serious regimen of care to prevent complications. Mary enjoyed a much longer life than expected as a result of her parents’ diligence. She was twenty-two when she began her last hospital stay. When my husband and I went to Mary’s home to console her parents, they surprised us with their account of Mary’s final moments. “Just before Mary passed away, she told us that she was going with Jesus and she smiled.” Their child’s proclamation brought the consolation they needed. Mary’s suffering had ended and her absolute joy began. Mary’s parents had found some peace in the midst of their sorrow.

No parent should ever have to say goodbye to a child. Today, far too many children will be lost to starvation, to violence and to abuse. Illness is one thing. These circumstances are another. Though I know that God will meet each one with open arms, most of their parents will not have the luxury of hearing Mary’s consoling words. Most of their parents will simply sob and ask, “Why?”

Compassionate God, please comfort the heart of every parent who has lost a child. And, please God, touch the hearts of those responsible and help us all to put at end to this.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Good Things To Come

I will not leave you orphaned.
John 14:18

I acknowledge that recent losses have impacted my writing as of late. Over the holidays, a friend lost her dad and another her grandpa. I lost a friend as well. Recent conversations have been punctuated with memories of our loved ones passed. In every case, our animated tones betray our common conviction that “our people” are alive and well in places unknown to us. I find great comfort in this shared certainty. There was a time when I had difficulty expressing my sentiments to those who mourned. This began when my uncle lay on his deathbed. My dad softened the blow of this impending loss by sharing that Uncle Gee would be well in heaven. His polio-ravaged body would be straight and tall and he would be very happy. Daddy’s words served me well over the next few years when both of my grandfathers and my dad himself passed on.

A lifetime of losses and my insatiable interest in life after this life have convinced me that my dad was correct in his assertion regarding my uncle’s future. As a result, I sometimes stumble over my words in my attempts to offer encouragement to those in mourning. I mistakenly take their tears a sign that they aren’t as certain as I am regarding the things to come.

Whenever I receive news of someone’s passing, I congratulate him or her on this achievement. Afterward, I ask this person to watch over those left to mourn. In the process, I’ve come to realize that feeling the sting of loss is no commentary on a mourner’s faith in the things to come. Loss hurts regardless. Finally, I stopped fretting over my choice of words. Being there is far more important than anything I might say.

Loving God, bless those who mourn today and keep us all mindful of the things to come.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Happily Hopeful

He was transfigured before their eyes.
His face became as dazzling as the sun
and his clothes radiant as light.

Matthew 17:2

Yesterday’s reflection regarding the loss of my friend George brought to mind another dear soul. When I shared my impression of George’s faith, images of my mother filled me up. No wonder George and I became immediate friends. He could have been my mom’s brother! Both offer the rest of a lesson in embracing the hereafter…

When the doctor discovered her diseased gallbladder and ordered surgery, I expected to hear that my mom’s recovery might be lengthy, that her minimal dementia might be increased by the anesthesia and that we needed to be prepared for a decline as her body was growing tired. I didn’t expect to hear about cancer, her four-month life expectancy and the possibility of pain which might darken her perpetual smile. Then, we told our mother the news…

Our mom shared our surprise at the diagnosis, but not at the outcome. “We all have to die from something. I’ve had a good long life. I wanted to leave an educated family that contributes and I have. I hope I can do what I want for a while. I hope I can be comfortable. I hope I go without too much trouble. I hope…” I hoped, too.

Though this news was unexpected, the outcome was precisely what my mom had hoped for. The pain never came. Mom did everything she hoped to do until her last two days. On the day she left us, her eyes were closed, but her heart was open. She knew exactly what was in store and she embraced it.

Generous God, thank you for the happy passing which ushered my mom into eternity. Please bless us all with the same.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Peace Patrol

O Lord, you have been our refuge through all generations.
Psalm 90:1 21:23

When I taught, I prided myself in remaining calm in the face of misbehavior. My students apparently agreed as indicated by their subsequent compliance. Still, I admit to allowing my anger to get the best of me the morning I heard that a student I’d taught a year earlier had died. The sting of his loss remains…

Though he had a very kind heart, Lee had also been taken in by the allure of the streets just like some of his older family members. This time, Lee drove a van that his friends had loaded with stolen bicycles. A police chase resulted in the accident which took Lee’s life. At school the following morning, I heard one of Lee’s classmates bragging that he had been in the van during that chase and that he flew out the door and ran away when the van tipped on its side. Before he could finish his yarn, I called him over. “Who do you think you are?” I wailed. “Lee died last night and you were nowhere near that van. Don’t you dare try to make yourself look cool because of Lee’s death!”

I didn’t realize the power of my words. Suddenly, one could literally hear a pin drop in the once noisy hallway. While the target of my ire crept into his classroom with his eyes cast to the floor, others who knew Lee stopped to offer their condolences over the friend we had all lost. These kindnesses returned some semblance of peace to our now incomplete world.

Dear God, Lee rests in your everlasting peace, I know. Be with us as we work to bring a hint of that peace to one another.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved