Beauty in Everything and Everyone

Bless the Lord, O my soul;
and forget not all of God’s benefits.

Psalm 103:2

That afternoon, while my husband headed to the gym, I abandoned my writing and headed outdoors. Rather than walking the neighborhood, I drove to a little lake just a mile away. I seized the opportunity to hike the path around this tiny body of water. Though the scenery there isn’t very different from that of our local park, it took my breath away. A brisk breeze urged me along. It also caused leaves to rustle and tiny waves to form on the lake. Though I could easily see from one edge of this pond to the other, those ripples of water made it look strong in its own right.

Along the way, I encountered numerous unfamiliar flowers, an oddly shaped tree and a chipmunk who dared to scamper inches from my toes. A very large and unleashed dog gave me reason to pause until the canine’s owner noted my alarm and quickly attached a leash to her furry companion. I thanked her for this consideration after I complimented her admittedly cute canine. When I began my second trek around the lake, I hoped to see that dog again so I could exhibit my newfound bravery in its presence. I also looked forward to discovering even more of the treasures hidden in this beautiful place.

Afterward, I strolled back to my car filled with gratitude for this amazing interlude with nature. While pulling away, it occurred to me that my fellow humans are filled with hidden treasures as well. That day, I promised to take a closer look at every opportunity…

Creator God, thank you for giving me the capacity to appreciate this beautiful world. Help me to appreciate my fellow humans as well.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Pray With Certainty

Then Abraham said, “May the Lord not be angry,
but let me speak just once more…”

Genesis 18:32

The promise of springtime has also brought the promise of eternity with the end of some lengthy illnesses and other unexpected departures from this life. Recent wakes and funerals bring to mind a springtime loss of my own…

Thirty years ago, I stood at my step-father’s bedside with an aching heart. Emphysema had transformed the muscular carpenter I once knew into a shadow of his former self. I prayed and asked the God of Abraham to watch with me for a while. Like Abraham, as soon as I had God’s attention, I began negotiating.

First, I asked for relief for my dad’s difficult breathing. When I felt assured of that much, I went on. I requested strength for my mom and for the rest of us to remain present to him for as long as needed. I knew God was listening as always and so I continued. In the end, I dared to set limits on the “as long as needed” part. Indeed, I challenged God to hear and to respond to my prayer as Jesus promised God would do.

Just a week later, we walked with my step-dad through his passing. When all was said and done, I apologized to our patient God for my insolent and demanding prayer. I also thanked God for taking this second dad of mine home. In spite of my tears, I smiled and promised to pray with the conviction of Abraham many more times before God and I meet face to face.

Loving and Patient God, thank you for listening and for responding with more than I could ever hope for.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

All God’s Flowers

In their panic and fright
they thought they were seeing a ghost.

Luke 24:37

While decorating our church for Easter, my husband realized he’d forgetting to buy flowers for our Easter table. As soon as he left church, he went off to purchase those forgotten flowers. He returned home with what he thought was a disappointing handful of yellow tulips. Because he loves plants of every sort, Mike lovingly nestled the small bouquet into a little glass vase. I found them to be just right for our small family gathering though I wondered why Mike thought they were yellow tulips. To me, they looked sweetly and delicately white. By Easter Sunday morning, those delicate buds had blossomed beautifully. In spite of their lack of color (They were white!), they filled that vase and gave unexpected life to our Easter table.

Though my reflections regarding our trip to Israel are coming to a close, the impact of that wonderful experience remains with me. Just as those precious tulips graced our home for a full week, God has graced me through my experience in Israel and through every moment with which I’m blessed.

You and I are much like my husband’s tulips in God’s eyes. God sees us just as we are -yellow, white, brown, black or red. The color of our skin or of our mood is part of what God loves about us. Just as my husband chose that seemingly unwanted bouquet to bring a bit of Easter joy into our home, God singles out you and me to enhance life on this earth, especially the lives of those God has given us to love.

Dear God, thank you for the many surprising ways you remind me that I am loved. Help me to love all of your children as you do.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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

In Mary’s Footsteps

Mary, called the Magdalene, from whom seven devils had gone out…
From Luke 8:2

I admit that the attitudes of Jesus’ contemporaries toward illness and other maladies have troubled me most of my life. I was surrounded by sick people from the time I was very young and I couldn’t accept that any of my loved ones deserved their suffering. The adults around me must have agreed because they explained that these events were simply a part of life. All that one could do in response was the best he or she could. “Poor Mary Magdalene,” I thought. My only consolation in her case was that she knew Jesus’ personally. “Lucky Mary!” I added.

As I considered Magdala in Jesus’ day, I imagined Mary Magdalene doing her best to maintain her stature in spite of the mysterious illness which plagued her. I also wondered if Mary maintained this facade when she first met Jesus or if she immediately revealed the pain which tormented her. Whichever the case, when Mary made her way to Jesus, her life changed forever.

While looking over the ruins in Magdala, I recalled the main street which is flanked by the remains of numerous shops. Archaeologists suggest that pottery, fresh produce and woven cloth were likely sold there. Shops which sported small pools likely sold locally caught fish. Another street flanked by a row of houses was part of a neighborhood arranged in grid-like fashion much like ours at home. Near the shore of the Sea of Galilee are remains of a warehouse and huge storage vessels. Magdala was home to a bustling economy and, in spite of her mysterious affliction, Mary Magdalene held her own among prosperous business people and her well-to-do neighbors. This was quite an accomplishment for a First Century woman.

Dear God, help me to walk through my circumstances with the persistent competence of Mary Magdalene.

©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