Alive Again!

I hope this reference to our visit to the Holy Land eases each of us away from our current worries for a little while…

When we sailed on the Sea of Galilee, I couldn’t help smiling. I knew this adventure would be a high point of this trip. It was more than unlikely that we had followed the precise route Jesus had taken with his fishermen disciples when they sailed this sea. Still, the water beneath me, the sky above me and the hills in the distance were all part of the view Jesus enjoyed every time he ventured out onto Peter’s or another friend’s boat. Archaeologists tell us that the Israeli sailors who hosted us likely resemble Jesus and his contemporaries. Though their contemporary clothing suggested otherwise, their love for that boat, the water beneath them and the priceless view all around them ushered me back to Jesus’ day.

On this Fifth Sunday of Lent, we retell the story of Jesus’ dear friend Lazarus. Though Lazarus succumbed to serious illness and seemed lost to all who loved him, the scriptures tell us that Jesus changed everything for all concerned when he raised Lazarus from the dead. As I consider what Jesus did for Lazarus that day, I cannot miss the similarity between this event and what occurred with another of Jesus’ friends these two thousand years later. Though this would be my third voyage with Daniel Carmel, I knew I would never tire of sharing the story of how his newfound life with Jesus came about.

Daniel was born to a young unmarried Orthodox Jewish woman who gave him up for adoption. The secular Jewish family who made him their own had no faith to share with Daniel. However, they did have a lot of love and a happy home to share with their new son. Daniel and his family lived in the port city of Haifa. This proximity to 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. They gifted him with a set of drums early on. Though Daniel enjoyed a nurturing upbringing, he endured a personal crisis while in his twenties. This death of sorts urged Daniel onto a quest deep within himself. Because his family hadn’t kept his adoption secret, Daniel continued his internal exploration by finding his birth family. Daniel found not only his mother, but also four siblings. With the hope of building relationships with them, Daniel relocated nearby. He stayed in a Kibbutz and found a job on a tour boat.

When I first heard this, I recalled our tour guide’s experience growing up in a Kibbutz. There was no talk of God there. I assumed Daniel’s newfound family were Orthodox Jews as his birth mother had been, so there would be no talk of Jesus with them. Offering tours of “holy” places is big business and certainly not a religious experience for local Jewish and Palestinian businessmen. I puzzled over what it was that prompted Daniel to take that extreme step toward Jesus. Amazingly enough, 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. Indeed, Yeshua had become Daniel’s most precious and life-giving treasure.

Daniel shares this treasure through his testimony and his music during boat tours and concerts in churches. Daniel sings the hymns which first inspired him. He has translated them into Hebrew for other Messianic Jewish believers to enjoy. Jesus’ passion for sharing God’s love is very much alive in Daniel. He expresses that passion in all he says and does in spite of being ostracized by many of his fellow Jews, secular and religious, who resent his belief in Jesus. As for me, Daniel’s music eases me into Jesus’ company every time I hear it.

It seems that Jesus has done for Daniel what he did for Lazarus so long ago. John’s gospel (John 11:1-45) tells us that, when Lazarus died, Jesus went to Lazarus’ sisters to comfort them. Martha and Mary responded by insisting that Lazarus would not have died if Jesus had been with him. How many times I’ve looked upward and declared the same, “If you were here, things would be different!” Daniel Carmel insists that Jesus is with us, that his miracle was repeated in him and that it is repeated in you and me every time we survive one of the major and minor tragedies of this life. The best part of all of this is that we can imitate Jesus’ miracle in our own efforts to renew the lives of those we’ve been given to love. Today, this seems to be more important than ever!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Hold Onto The Joy

The moral is: keep your eyes open,
for you know not the day or hour.

Matthew 25:13

A recent “thank you” note regarding a funeral my husband and I attended reminded me of my own loss. I can usually set aside such reminders and get on with the task at hand, but not today. Perhaps it’s the lack of sunlight and the determined clouds which dominate the sky. Perhaps it’s my own November mood. Whatever the cause, my thoughts turn to one of the toughest losses of my life…

I expected to hear that her recovery might be lengthy, that her dementia might increase and that we needed to be prepared for a decline. Our mom’s body was growing tired. I didn’t expect to hear about the cancer, her four-month life expectancy and the possibility of pain. We told our mother the news…

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 her diagnosis was unexpected, the outcome was precisely what my mom had hoped for. The pain never came. Mom did everything she hoped to until her last two days. On the day she left us, my mom’s eyes weren’t open, but her heart was. I know she wasn’t disappointed!

Patient God, rather than suffering my mom’s loss as though she left yesterday, I should be dancing with joy for her and so I will!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God of The Living!

While running an errand in the near-freezing cold, I realized that I should have worn my winter jacket. My favorite hoodie wasn’t doing the job that morning. As I made my way in and out of the cold, I promised myself that I’d reorganize our coat closet as soon as possible. Our winter outerwear needed to be moved center stage and our lighter jackets needed to be cleaned and stored for next year. Amazingly enough, I kept my promise to myself that very day. I not only tackled the coat closet, but our clothes closet as well. For me, the coats were easy to deal with. I’d purged my winter wear last year. It was my everyday casual clothing that posed a dilemma. I’m a creature of habit when it comes to my wardrobe. Every season, I settle into my favorite and most comfortable clothing and I ignore the rest. I’ve finally learned that if I haven’t worn something for a year, well, maybe two or three years, I need to give it away. After some serious haggling with myself, I let go of those neglected garments and added them to my giveaway pile.

My poor husband had the misfortune of returning home while I was in the midst of my closet purge. I immediately invited him to look at a few things which he hasn’t worn in a while. Mike reluctantly eyed the shirts, sweaters and slacks which he’s held onto for a little too long. Though all of them are in good condition, he’d replaced them with more stylish options over the past few years. Still, when I urged the dear man to give a particular shirt or sweater away, he insisted that it would be back in style again. When I reminded the good deacon that I’d be donating our treasures to someone who needed them far more than we, he agreed to part with them all. Mike’s only hold-out is the plaid wool jacket he purchased while a student at Western Illinois University during his first winter there. Though he claims that parting with the jacket would be like throwing away his college photo album, I believe that Mike secretly hopes to return to the joys of college by wearing that jacket in Macomb one day!

I share Mike’s and my giveaway adventure because our reluctance to part with the comfort of our old familiar clothing is reminiscent of the Sadducees’ reluctance to let go of their old familiar thinking in today’s gospel (Luke 20:27-38). Luke tells us that the Sadducees posed a question which prompted Jesus to address the afterlife. The Sadducees didn’t believe in life after this life, yet they questioned Jesus about it. They reminded Jesus that The Law required a widow with no children to marry her husband’s brother. The intent was to provide the lost husband an heir and the widow the means to be cared for. The Sadducees added that if this brother passed away and the widow remained childless, she was to marry a subsequent brother. The Sadducees went so far as to offer the tale of a poor widow who had wed and lost seven brothers while remaining childless. They ended by asking Jesus which brother would be the widow’s husband at the resurrection of the dead. Though Jesus knew the Sadducees’ malicious intent, he used the opportunity to offer them an important lesson…

Jesus explained that those who pass on to the next life have no need to marry. In eternity, they find greater intimacy with God and with one another than they ever experienced in this life. Before allowing the Sadducees to respond, Jesus cited The Covenant handed down. Their beloved Moses had acknowledged the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in his encounter with the burning bush. Moses declared that the God of The Covenant is the God of the Living. Jesus pointed out that, if the Sadducees believed in the God of the Living, they must also believe that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob live with God in eternity. Sadly, the Sadducees couldn’t let go of their resolve. Rather than recognizing the hope which Jesus offered them, they walked away with clenched fists, holding tightly to the things that kept them from embracing God’s gift of eternal life.

I’m happy that the good deacon and I were able to empty our closets of the things we no longer need. I’m happy to share that we’ve also let go of a few other things we don’t need. We’ve moved beyond our closet purge to take inventory of our hearts as well. We’ll hold onto the precious experiences along the way which have made us who we are today. After all, four years in Macomb changed Mike’s life forever! At the same time, we’re letting go of things which we no longer need or shouldn’t have had in the first place. Past resentments, habitual worries and tired old sins don’t help any of us. If our less cluttered closets elicit smiles, how many more smiles will our uncluttered hearts will bring? Yes, we’ll have more room for the blessings of this life. We’ll also have more room for the God of the Living –the God who dwells within us now and who awaits us all in the world to come.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Blessed Now and Later

Jesus toured all of Galilee. He taught,
proclaimed the good news, and cured the people of every illness.

From Matthew 4:23

Recent planning for my husband’s birthday, our granddaughter’s birthday and Thanksgiving Day has elicited a renewed appreciation for the gift of my family. Poignant memories of younger versions of my husband and me, falling in love, marrying and the pregnancies which resulted in two amazing sons fill me up. Add to this our sons’ wonderful wives and our grandchildren. You get the idea. I have much to be grateful for.

Still, none of this would be possible if not for the family and other special people who nurtured us along the way. So many of the people who helped me to become who I am today have passed on. Though my certainty of their joy in heaven remains steadfast, the sting of their absence reemerges often. The scriptures teem with examples of the healing powers of Jesus. Sometimes I wonder, “Why not two millenniums later? Why couldn’t they have stayed just long enough to see our grandchildren?”

When I find myself asking such questions, I look to Jesus who struggled with the trials and tribulations of this world just as we do. I can’t help thinking that Jesus was able to do all of this because he knew what was coming afterward. In the end, he determined that eternal life was worth the trouble. Since we know what Jesus knew back then, aren’t our woes worth the trouble as well? Events in the here and now don’t always unfold as we hope because, in the end, they lead us to so much more. Our loved ones in the hereafter attest to that!

Loving God, I will try to embrace every moment I’m given, even the difficult ones, because I know joy will follow them.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Friends Above

The souls of the just are in the hand of God…
From Wisdom 3:1

Before sitting at my keyboard today, I walked. As I grabbed my jacket, I heard raindrops tapping on the window. “Thank God for hoods,” I said as I headed out the door.

I don’t mind walking in the rain. My willingness to endure downpours great and small bolsters my sense of well-being. Walking in the rain also offers a unique perspective to which I’m usually not privy. Everything looks different in the rain. The sky exhibits great character. Who knew that there were so many varied shades of gray? Trees glisten far more subtly than they do in sunlight and far more beautifully, too. Dirty cars look newly waxed and sewer caps shine. Today, our neighborhood birds became nearly silent which allowed me to hear drops of rain falling into the pond I passed. I also heard individual drops as they pelted my hooded head.

As I walked further, I considered my loved ones who’ve passed away. This is All Souls Day and we celebrate the amazing souls who have touched our lives before moving on to the hereafter. With each loss, raindrops fell from my eyes on days much like this one. In spite of their absences which still pain me, I offered a prayer of thanksgiving for each one. I also prayed on their behalf that they enjoy the unique perspective that comes with a home in heaven. As I continued my walk, I felt quite certain that my loved ones were reminiscing as well.

Loving God, thank you for the gift of this life and the new life that will follow.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Beloved Servant

“Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant;
whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.”

Matthew 20:27

A recent walk past my wall of family photos brought Aunt Lucille to mind…

After raising her own children and becoming a widow for the second time, Aunt Lucille busied herself by caring for home-bound elderly people. She had a way with others and her “ladies” as she called them were no exception. One particular woman had been troublesome from the start. This was our opinion, NOT Aunt Lucille’s. The woman’s memory no longer served her which exacerbated her already trying personality. She was unkind and demanding at best. Still, Aunt Lucille made a point of discovering this woman’s favorite things and her pet peeves in an attempt to accentuate the positive and to avoid the negative as best she could. During the year Aunt Lucille cared for her, this woman became one of her most tiring and most beloved patients. When this woman passed away, Aunt Lucille attended her funeral.

The woman’s family was well-known and many notable people attended the service. When Aunt Lucille arrived early to insure herself a seat, she sat in the last row to avoid imposing upon anyone. Just before the funeral service began, the woman’s son noticed Aunt Lucille in the back of the church. He immediately walked back to her and escorted her to the family’s pew. “My mother loved you, Lucille. You’ve been a blessing to her and to us. Your place is here!” Needless to say, my aunt was overwhelmed by this recognition. That son’s kindness gave her a glimpse of God’s appreciation as well!

Loving God, help us all to put ourselves aside and to care for those we’ve been given to love with Aunt Lucille’s humility and generosity.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved