A Miracle Revisited…

From the depths of my despair, I wept before you.
You heard my voice, dried my tears and responded.

Inspired by God’s Absolute Love

We’ve just celebrated my grandson’s birthday. Danny is 3 years old! He’s also Big Brother to sweet Little Brother and all is well. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than to revisit the journey from despair through hope to absolute joy which accompanied Danny’s arrival…

Because his mom’s contractions began during Week 26 of this pregnancy, reaching Week 32 proved to be a major milestone. Another two weeks would bring Baby close to typical newborn size and development. A day into that week, the telephone rang at 1:00 AM. I heard my husband repeat, “So your water broke?” Tears flowed as they spoke further. My prayers began.

That morning, we learned Baby could remain in place for two weeks while his mom remained in the hospital. Precautions would slow progress and assist the baby’s development. Later, my husband and I headed to church and our usual Sunday morning routine. I admit to complete distraction from everything except my prayers for Baby and his mom. My husband-the-deacon remained to perform baptisms and I returned home. On the way, I called my son. I heard the concern in his voice as he reported that his wife was experiencing a lot of pain. Because my daughter-in-law is healthy, athletic and incapable of complaining, I took this news to heart. It was then that my prayer changed…

I wept as I drove home and when I arrived. I wept as I changed my clothes. I wept until I found the courage to look heavenward. I wept bitterly as I spoke… “Dear God, I can feed the hungry and be there for the lonely. I can listen to those who need me and I can mourn with those in pain. But this? There’s nothing I can do about this. I can’t stop the contractions. I can’t keep that baby in place until the time is right. Only you can fix this. So I beg you for a miracle. I beg you not to allow this baby to be born until he is ready enough. Please give them a miracle because I can’t. This is all up to you.” And on I wept.

Our son called an hour later to report that things had settled down. Three hours after that, he called again: “He’s here! Daniel is here!” All tests indicated that Daniel was behaving like a mini-full-term newborn. His color, weight and reflexes amazed all concerned. Though he would remain in the hospital for a few weeks, there were no indications that Daniel was anything but “ready enough.”

Loving God, I humbly thank you for allowing me the courage to pray as I did and for responding with nothing less than that miracle which continues to bear the sweetest fruit!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Just Pace Yourself!

For a thousand years in your sight are as a day…
From Psalm 90:4

The day after July 4, the house was quiet. Our sons had taken their dad out for a belated Father’s Day excursion. I’d decided to use the time to write and to walk outdoors before the day’s heat set in. When I headed out, I noticed remnants of fireworks strewn about. Before walking, I swept up the contraband which had no doubt entertained someone nearby. As I worked, a delivery truck sped down the street. The driver’s urgency indicated that he was likely making up for his holiday off. I couldn’t help smiling because he reminded me of Mr. UPS, my favorite employee of that company.

Some years ago, Mr. UPS frequented our front door. Every time he set down a box in my foyer, he asked, “More books?” Mr. UPS knew that I write because he had the dubious privilege of delivering hundreds of books to me. In spite of their weight, he presented each box with a smile. I replied in the affirmative and then added that I was struggling with a year-long devotional. He smiled more broadly as he suggested, “Just pace yourself!” This advice was quite helpful back then just as it was on July 5.

After sweeping the driveway, I walked. I also gave a good deal of thought to Mr. UPS’s suggestion from long ago. “Just pace yourself!” I repeated. As I walked, I considered the beautiful flowers that adorn so many of my neighbors’ homes. “Those flowers didn’t plant themselves!” I mused. “They’re blooming today because someone made the time to plant them and to take care of them.” With that, I quickened my pace, finished that walk and headed home. As I sat at my keyboard, I reminded myself, “Your book isn’t writing itself either!” after completing a few more days’ reflections, I pulled up that neglected file and began again…

Dear God, thank you for the messengers who remind us to use the time we’re given well.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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

Life-Giving Water

Beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul…

From Psalm 23:2-3

The Dead Sea is a popular attraction in Israel. It rests sixteen miles east of Jerusalem and covers 300 square miles. When referenced in the scriptures, it’s called The Salt Sea. Most often, this formidable body of water is cited simply to describe the location of more important places. Though our ancient counterparts likely weren’t aware of the chemistry involved, the waters of their Salt Sea are actually almost 25% mineral salts. It seems to me that we should return this powerful body to its original name. Modern-day visitors appear to agree because they come in droves to seek its amazing power to rejuvenate ones skin, ones health and perhaps much more…

As we approached the shoreline, we found ourselves in the midst of a tourist haven. People from everywhere had come to experience the Dead Sea’s therapeutic powers firsthand. Many wore swimwear in an effort to soak themselves in this apparent fountain of youth for as long as possible. My husband and our tour-mates joined in the fun and fury by making their way down to the black mud beach. They waded into the water as far as their rolled-up jeans would allow.

As for me, I waited at a small observation area which offered a breathtaking view. After taking in the sea air and the inspiring surroundings, I watched as drenched pilgrims made their way back to the tourist center to warm themselves and to replace their swimsuits with dry clothing. Some laughed. Some seemed uncomfortably cold. Some seemed rapt in prayer, perhaps asking that this would be the “something” which relieved their suffering. As each one passed, I prayed as well. “Dear God, help them to find what they’re looking for.”

As we boarded the bus for our next adventure, I realized that I’d been blessed with something unexpected. Though I hadn’t touched a drop of that amazing water, my soul was at peace and all was well in my little corner of the world.

Generous God, thank you for the many unexpected surprises which come our way.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Find The Good!

Accordingly, Jesus sent Peter and John off with the instruction,
“Go and prepare our Passover supper for us.”

Luke 22:6

While in Israel, we celebrated a special Shabbat Dinner with a local family. It was Friday night just after Sabbath began when we poured into the modest apartment of an Orthodox Jewish couple. This couple shared their Sabbath experience to extend their good will and to provide an opportunity for them and their guests to eat and pray together. This was an authentic experience which included one toddler, two preschoolers, Mommy, Daddy, Grandma, Grandpa and us guests. Our hosts also invited a few friends.

After settling into our places, this couple asked us to introduce and to share something about ourselves. In the process, one of the couple’s guests spoke of his emigration to Israel. Noam is 29 and a native of Baltimore, Maryland. He’d moved to Israel a year earlier for his job. Noam described his immediate uneasiness within this foreign culture. Though he is a good Jew, Noam was unprepared for life in this strange place. He found people to be refreshingly, and sometimes frighteningly, direct. His mild-mannered demeanor proved to be no asset as he tried to assimilate. Still, Noam persisted. He recognizes that life isn’t perfect anywhere on this earth and that it’s up to each one of us to find the good wherever we are and the goodness within ourselves. With only this revelation to guide him, Noam eventually decided to make Israel his permanent home. Though he couldn’t explain the reason, he felt that he truly belonged in this place.

I was taken aback by Noam’s bravery, his perceptiveness and his persistence. As we continued our meal together, I wondered where I might look more carefully for the goodness around me. Perhaps I need to look within as well…

Dear God, you send each one of us into this life filled with goodness. Help us to find the goodness in one another and to do good wherever we are.

©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