Let’s Do Something!

It was July 10 when the world received the news. The last of those twelve young soccer players and their coach had been rescued from that flooded maze of caves in Thailand. I’ll never forget my relief and absolute joy over this miracle. Though those who cooperated in this rescue did their very best to help, they knew from the onset that their success was unlikely. Still, with their hope intact all the while, Thailand’s best combined forces with experts from several other nations and together they accomplished the impossible. When news of the rescue spread, we were no longer Thai or American, Chinese, Australian, Israeli or English or anything else. We were one people who rejoiced together because thirteen of our brothers had been saved.

During the days and weeks since, I admit that I’ve been fixated upon this rescue and the good which we can accomplish when we work together. Worldwide support of those twelve boys and their young coach renewed my conviction that we are indeed capable of reaching beyond the barriers which seem to separate us. We really can work together when we have something truly important to accomplish! As I write, I realize that I’ll likely share this story with whoever will listen to me or read my work for quite some time. Much to my relief, John’s gospel assures me that this is a good thing. John offers a retelling of one of the most beloved stories in the scriptures. The featured event is recounted at least six times in the New Testament. This is quite remarkable because the Christmas story is reported only once in Luke’s gospel. Jesus’ death and resurrection are chronicled only four times, once by each of the evangelists. What was it that compelled early scripture writers to place such emphasis upon Jesus’ multiplication of the loaves and fishes?

In his gospel (John 6:1-15), John wrote that Jesus had crossed the Sea of Galilee to seek some much-needed rest for his disciples and for himself. A crowd followed along because they’d witnessed Jesus’ numerous healings. The people couldn’t get enough of the hope that Jesus so generously offered. When Jesus looked upon the fatigued and famished multitude before him, he was moved with compassion. Jesus asked the disciples where they might find food for them. Stunned by Jesus’ incredulous request, poor Philip responded that two hundred days’ wages couldn’t purchase enough food for the crowd. Though he knew this would be of little help, Andrew pointed out that a boy among them had five barley loaves and two fish. Jesus somehow acquired the boy’s basket of food and he transformed it into the meal for thousands which has been remembered ever since.

As I considered this miracle, it occurred to me that I’ve never given much thought to the boy with that basket of bread and fish. Why did he give them up? He’d held his basket in the midst of a hungry horde who had no prospects for their next meal. He was probably hungry himself after his trek to the mountainside and the long afternoon he’d spent listening. Did anyone else attempt to cajole the boy into sharing his meager provisions? How did he get close enough to Jesus to be noticed? More importantly, why did the boy part with what might have been his own last meal for some time? Did he like Jesus? Did Andrew urge the boy to give it up? Did the boy’s parents insist that he part with his food? Did Jesus himself approach and say, “Will you share your food with me?”

I also don’t know why those experts and divers in Thailand left everything to try to save the thirteen captives in those flooded caves. While Jesus’ poor disciples were faced with providing an impossibly huge meal, these poor rescuers battled impossible circumstances. As Jesus’ plan unfolded, we know that the boy gave up his basket of food and that the disciples did their parts to distribute the food as Jesus asked. We also know that these Twenty-First Century rescuers literally dove in to assess what lay ahead and to do everything within their power to succeed. Throughout that rescue operation, I asked, “How is it that they find the courage to persist? How is it that, even when they’ve lost one of their own, they continue on?” Perhaps the boy in the gospel parted with his bread and fish because it was the thing to do. Perhaps those rescuers and their supporters simply did the same.

Perhaps this is the reason the scripture writers focused upon this story. Every day of this life, we’re all challenged to do something as well. Most of the time, these are small opportunities which we can take on alone or with the help of a friend or two. Sometimes, the outcome will be as unlikely as that mountainside banquet. Perhaps once in our lifetimes we’ll be challenged by an adventure as frightening as that flooded cave rescue. Whatever our circumstances, we’re asked again and again, “Will you do something?” Like that boy with the basket of food and those brave rescuers, let’s try to answer, “Yes!”

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Letting Go…

My husband recently spoke with a former hospice co-worker. Nancylou receives these daily reflections and noted that I recently referenced Mike’s foot surgery. She called to inquire about his recovery. After assuring his friend that he is fine, the two went on to reminisce about the work they shared. In the process, numerous beloved patients came to mind. Though I wasn’t privy to his patients’ names, Mike often shared touching stories about them. I remember one such tale regarding a young woman who had been stricken with cancer. She opened every visit with the assurance that she was doing “as well as I can.” A few minutes later, she habitually shared a new bit of wisdom which she’d acquired as a result of her illness. One day, she observed, “You know, when you’re sick, people encourage you and urge you on to get well. They know just what to say. When you’re in hospice, it’s different. Everyone knows that you’re not going to get better. It’s hard for them to know what to say. It’s hard for the person in hospice, too…” Mike was amazed at this woman’s generosity in revealing this very personal perspective regarding her journey. So was I…

As I read John’s gospel (6:1-15), I couldn’t help considering this woman’s observation. John tells us that Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee to seek much-needed rest for his disciples and himself. The crowd followed because they had been deeply touched by Jesus ability to heal and to work other wonders. The people couldn’t get enough of the hope Jesus offered. When Jesus saw the fatigued and famished multitude, he was moved with pity and love for them. Jesus asked the disciples where they might find enough food for these people. Stunned by Jesus’ incredulous request, poor Philip responded that two hundred days’ wages could not purchase food for that crowd. Out of desperation, Andrew pointed out a boy among them who had five barley loaves and two fish. Somehow, Jesus acquired that boy’s basket of food and transformed it into a meal for thousands.

As I consider Jesus’ miracle, it occurs to me that I have never given much thought to the boy with the bread and fish. This poor kid found himself in the midst of a hungry horde who had no prospects for their next meal. This boy probably ached with hunger himself after the long trek to the mountainside. Did any of the adults or older children try to cajole the boy into sharing his meager provisions? How did it happen that the boy parted with what might have been his last meal for quite some time? Perhaps the boy had been impressed by Jesus to some degree. Why else would he have been amidst the crowd that day? Though the boy might have been dragged into the melee by his parents, somehow he managed to get close enough to Jesus for his basket of food to be noticed. With hundreds of hungry people in need of the boy’s food, how was it that Jesus came into possession of it? Did Andrew urge the boy to give it up? Did the boy’s family insist that he part with his food? Or, did Jesus himself approach the boy with an offer he couldn’t refuse: “If you will let go of these few fish and loaves, I’ll replace them with something that you will have forever. Will you let go of this small meal so I can fill you up with all that you will ever need?”

In the end, I simply don’t know why that boy relinquished his food to Jesus. As my thoughts return to that young hospice patient, I wonder as well. How was it that she found the courage to let go of everyone and everything that sustained her through this life? How was it that she loosened her grasp on the things of this world to reach toward the next? It seems to me that the boy in John’s gospel parted with his bread and fish because he couldn’t resist Jesus. It seems to me this young woman followed the boy’s lead because she, too, couldn’t resist all that awaited her in Jesus’ company.

Though I always felt that the multiplication of that bread and fish contained the main message of this miracle, I cannot ignore the boy’s willingness to let go of his food. Just as Jesus coaxed that basket from the boy’s hand, Jesus coaxed that young woman to let go of this life. Jesus does the same with you and me. It is through this miracle that Jesus urges us all to loosen our grips on the things of this world. The boy and young woman found their reward in Jesus’ promises, and so will you and I.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Considerate Complaints

I will give thanks to your name,
because of your kindness and your truth.
When I called, you answered me;
you built up strength within me.

Psalm 138:2bc-3

I’m tired today. I guess the physical fatigue is to be expected as a result of my shoulder procedure and the serious medication which has accompanied it. Actually, it is the mental fatigue which troubles me more. You see, I am a reasonably good caretaker who has gladly risen to the occasion for my loved ones over the years. I suppose it comes naturally to me to step into this role. Being the recipient of such care is another thing. I rely on my husband to perform many of the operations that my right arm and hand previously managed quite well. This arrangement annoys me, and I imagine that it isn’t easy for him either.

As I sit stewing, it occurs to me that I frequently acknowledge that this earth is not heaven and that life here can be difficult more often than not. In my writing, I have frequently referenced the life of Jesus and the tough times which began before he was born and resulted in his birth among the livestock in a town far from his mother’s home. And this was only the beginning. If this was the case for the Messiah, who am I to expect anything better?

At the moment, I imagine the Lord God looking upon me with a knowing smile because I finally get it. I don’t have to pretend to enjoy my convalescence. I am allowed to acknowledge and to express by discomfort –both physical and otherwise. All that is required is that I do so with some consideration for those who are trying to take care of me. If I can’t find the strength to act accordingly, I need to nap until I do.

Patient God, thank you for allowing me the luxury of acknowledging my misery and for reminding me that this isn’t an easy time for those who care for me either. Please bless all concerned, including me, with all that we need to get through this.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved