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PORTRAIT OF AN OUTCAST SOLDIER

soldierLucas walked through the airport dressed in the new army fatigues gifted to him the morning of his discharge. As he exited the gate, there were no crowds to cheer his arrival home; in fact, there was no homecoming at all and loneliness overwhelmed him.

The army issued back pack was lightweight in comparison to the heavy equipment he had carried on the battlefield. There was no ammo, weapons or rations inside the pack now. Instead it held the few possessions he owned; discharge papers, pictures, letters and insignificant personal items. And loneliness overwhelmed him.

There was no one to call for a ride, so Lucas flagged a taxi. As he flung his back pack onto the back seat, the driver asked, “Where would you like to go, son?” He thought for a few moments and said,

“Someplace where I can get a cold beer and buy a pack of cigarettes.”
“You’ve got it, soldier, I know a great watering hole about a mile from here. The people are friendly and beer is just a buck. Heck, they might even give you a free beer if you share a few war stories.”

As the cab driver pulled away from the curb and sped in the direction of the pub, Lucas surveyed the unfamiliar landscape and loneliness overwhelmed him.

During his eighteen months on the front-lines of war, Lucas had lost both parents to cancer; he mourned their death amidst the graveyard of mine fields and the brutally wounded soldiers that surrounded him. The cabbie’s voice jolted Lucas from his thoughts when he asked,

“Where do you call home, soldier; are you home on leave or here for the long haul?”

The question caught Lucas off-guard. The content within his back pack was all he owned. He had returned home with no job; no parents and an only brother who committed suicide at age twenty. It was after his brother’s senseless death Lucas had enlisted in the military in a desperate attempt to make his parents proud. As he considered the cab driver’s question, loneliness overwhelmed him and he wept.

Lucas pulled a few wadded dollars from his pocket and handed them to the driver. He looked up at the neon sign above the pub and walked into the smoke-filled bar.

“Give me a pitcher of beer, shot of Jack Daniels and pack of Marlboro.”

Cigarette smoke swirled overhead as the jukebox pumped out Vietnam protest songs. As darkness descended upon the city, the drunken soldier stumbled out of the bar in search of a safe place to sleep. It was no different than being on the battlefield. He tucked his back pack beneath his head and found refuge inside a garbage dumpster.

That night Lucas died as an outcast of a war he never wanted to fight. He died alone in a dumpster and no one wept but Jesus. Jesus died alone on the cross and no one wept but God. Both Jesus and Lucas are portraits of outcast soldiers.

Let’s never forget our soldiers who have gone to battle to redeem our freedoms. They deserve more than a pitcher of beer, shot of Jack Daniels and pack of cigarettes. They deserve our respect, honor and thanks.

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HEAVEN’S PLASTIC SURGEON

wrinkles_gravityI’m not quite sure when it happened, but it did and now that it’s here, it’s not going away. I’m talking about wrinkles and all that extra padding that has turned my once thin body into the shape of a pear.

Firm skin is a thing of the past. I could fly South and back with the skin flaps beneath my arms and as for my legs, let’s just say my knees are now situated much closer to my ankles.

My eyes, once described as big, round cow eyes, have turned into sad, tired cow eyes. I have learned how to hide my double chin when someone snaps a picture. Sleeveless attire never enters the clothing equation and neck scarves are my new best friend (thankfully, they are in vogue); expandable or elastic waistbands are my constant companion.

Mirrors have become bulletin boards for the grand kids artwork and there is a dimmer switch on every light fixture in the house. Bigger is better when it comes to sunglasses; my favorite are those that cover my fading eyebrows and also hide the dark circles under my eyes.

Advanced age brings wisdom, but certainly not beauty. It’s a bitter-sweet trade-off. Scripture reminds us to be content in all things and that includes our acceptance of the aging process.

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” Matthew 6:25-26

I have given much consideration to this whole age thing and here is my conclusion.
When it’s my time to leave this earth, the power of gravity will work in my favor. I see it as an instant liposuction and face-lift all in one. The sagging skin, wrinkles and extra padding will be extracted upwards by the powerful force of God.

When I arrive at Heaven’s Gate, I will be refreshed, youthful and my current underarm skin flaps will be replaced with beautiful wings. As for sunglasses, they will only be needed to protect my eyes from the radiance of God’s glory.

FYI: It’s just one of the perks of being a Christian!

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Joe, The Soldier You Never Met

I share one of my writings with you in honor of this 2014 Memorial Day. Let us never forget the price paid for our freedom and how our government is willfully underwriting those freedoms. Let your voice be heard, America. If you agree, please share my story this weekend with everyone you know.

Dirty man trying to get up

Paralyzed by fear, Joe threw the grenade out of harm’s way and temporarily disarmed the enemy’s thirst for the blood of an American soldier. It wasn’t the first time he had faced death and certainly not his last.

After high school, Joe was hired as an automotive line worker, but America was at war and his age made him a candidate for the imposed lottery draft. Joe’s number came up and life as Joe knew it was about to change in more ways than he could ever imagine.

Basic training at the military base did little to prepare Joe for combat warfare. He was taught how to kill and defend himself, but was never prepared for the psychological effects that followed. All the therapy in the world can’t erase the unspeakable acts committed during combat warfare. Flashbacks of severed heads, mutilated bodies and scattered body parts never go away; the images have a mind of their own and surface at will.

The gruesome scenes witnessed were not things discussed over dinner or shared with family. His wife and children would never know the secrets that war had forever embedded in his heart, mind and soul. The horrors witnessed on the battlefield were personal demons that would haunt him for the rest of his life.

Joe hadn’t seen home in over a year, but this tour would be his last; he was scheduled for discharge in four months. At night, Joe assumed a fetal position beneath an army tank and listened to the distant gunfire. In those brief moments of reprieve, he would visualize his homecoming scenario until a nearby explosion jolted him back to the reality of his savage surroundings.

That day’s assigned ground force reconnaissance operation was no different than others. Orders were to survey the terrain and search a deserted village for a possible enemy base camp. The tanker came to a stop at the outskirts of the village. The deafening heartbeat of fear pounded in the eardrums of every soldier as they silently dispersed in every direction to scout the village on foot.

It wasn’t long before relentless rounds of ammo filled the air. Joe instinctively dropped to the ground and crawled to the nearest protected area he could find. Salty sweat beads and dirt rolled off his brow and clouded his vision but not before he saw the grenade next to him. With only seconds to react, Joe gripped the explosive device in his hand and threw it the only way he knew how; fast and furious.

An overwhelming sense of relief flooded Joe’s body as he stood to pick up his weapon; it had been a close call. There were a few brief seconds when he wondered if a homecoming party was in his future. The ongoing war had deprived him of quality time with family and friends; he was anxious to make up for that lost time.

Joe never saw it coming. The impact grenade launched by the enemy exploded without warning; there was no time to react, run or say a prayer. There would be no reception, welcome banner, flag covered casket or military dog tags. The enemy had won in their thirst for American blood. It wasn’t the homecoming Joe had imagined.

The epitaph on his headstone reads,

“I fought to my death without question. In hindsight, I wonder why.”

© 2014 This article is not to be reprinted in any publication 
without the express consent of the author (Denise Marks)
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WHEN WRONG IS RIGHT

rightwrongYou lose your job, your spouse wants a divorce, the promised job didn’t come through, you face a debilitating disease; these are just a few examples of what life dishes out to us. None of us are free from disappointments, heartache, and grief or health issues. However, we are free to determine how we will accept and manage our life situations.

I have come to accept there are times when a wrong is right. Consider this:

A spouse files for divorce, you’re barely able to make financial commitments and overwhelmed by the injustice of it all. Maybe you’ve been unfairly fired from a job; unable to provide health care or an income for your family. There are times in life we are wronged for all the right reasons; God’s reasons.

Like it or not, our life operates in a God-ordained cycle and every choice we make affects us in a positive or negative way. Yet, there are times we encounter situations out of our control; when choices made by others impact us in negative ways and we are powerless to change them. I call them life’s “wrong is right” moments.

Sometimes wrong things happen for all the right reasons even though we may not understand those reasons; but in the end, the wrongs work out in our favor. That is so like God. He takes our ashes and turns them into something of beauty; He turns our mourning into joy.

“To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the LORD has planted for his own glory.” Isaiah 61:3
“…I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.” Jeremiah 31:13

Have you been unjustly wronged by someone? Look to God to make the wrong a right. Lean not to your own understanding and trust Him in all things because His ways are not our ways.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.” Isaiah 55:8 (NLT)

 

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SASE

Image

Long before IM there was SASE. I can’t help but chuckle as I am fairly certain that those born after 1990 are clueless to the acronym SASE used in magazine advertisements. Back in the day (that would be the 80s); computers, web sites, cell phones and email, as we know them today, didn’t exist. If you wanted information, you sent a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) or called a land-line.

In my mid-twenties I started my first home business selling craft supplies. This was long before stores like Michael’s, JoAnn Fabrics or Hobby Lobby existed. The only affordable way to advertise was to place an ad in magazines that targeted my audience. For a fee, you could place an ad that read something like this:

Hundreds of CRAFT SUPPLIES at discount prices. Send a SASE to XYZ Company at XXX address for more information or $2 to receive our catalog.

That’s how it was done in the per-historic days; customer sent inquiries to a PO Box number rather than an email address. The receiver would then stuff the envelope with product information or catalog. Yes, the process seems primitive in comparison to the way I currently do business on the Internet, but at the time it provided a small measure of income to a single mom.

I’m not sure what caused those SASE memories to surface today, but whatever the reason, I am thankful for current technology and I’m fairly certain you are as well. SASE is an antiquity and there’s a good chance one of the SASE will eventually be displayed in a museum. I can only hope I am dead when that happens.

The evolution of change is constant and will continue to be in the technology driven world in which we live. But one thing remains unchanged, the way we communicate with our Heavenly Father. It far exceeds the most advanced technology communication devices we have or will develop in the future.

When we speak to Him, He hears us; it’s that simple. No SASE, IM, texts, phones or cell towers needed. Our prayers, cries for help, pleas for mercy and praise reach God faster than any Intel processor on the market today.

SASE in today’s world has changed to SASAE ( Set Aside Self-Absorbed Electronics) and talk to God. I encourage you to set aside your electronic devices and spend some time talking to the lover of your soul. He stands ready to listen.

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SHAKE DON’T SHUFFLE

oldwomanAs I gazed out my office window, I couldn’t help but fixate my eyes on the woman who moved slowly down the sidewalk; she walked as if the weight of the world rested on her shoulders. The methodical way in which she shuffled her steps and the downward creases at the corner of her mouth seemed to signify a life absent of joy and a hidden sadness she couldn’t share.

The woman seemed to sense I was watching her. She stopped abruptly and turned toward my office window. Uneasiness gripped me as the sun cast the outline of her shadow across my desk. It was only when our eyes met that I realized this woman was a reflection me and my uneasiness turned to panic.

With her forehead pressed against the glass and hands cupped around her face, the woman mouthed words I could not hear. I rolled my office chair over to the glass window and positioned my ear to the pane, but heard nothing. The woman soon turned away and continued to shuffle toward her unhappy destination. It disturbed me.

For the rest of the day the image of the sidewalk woman haunted me. Why had I felt such panic when our eyes locked? I longed to know why.

That evening, after dinner, I sat down and opened the newspaper to the Hometown section. I stared in disbelief as I locked eyes with the same elderly woman I had seen earlier that day. The news article was written by her oldest son and as I read the words, a shadowy picture of me began to unveil; I struggled to hold back tears.

The woman’s name was Sylvia. She held a graduate degree, married her high school sweetheart after college and together they raised three children. To the outside world it appeared to be a picture perfect life, but there was nothing further from the truth. You see, Sylvia didn’t love herself and her job only served to feed on those insecurities to cultivate an attitude of defeatism.

Because worry was a constant companion Sylvia wasn’t able to enjoy life’s moments. As her children grew in age, they adopted mom’s worries and insecurities as a lifestyle; and Dad began to distance himself from the family with extended work hours.

The son’s story spoke of the heartache of living with a loved one who is unable to fully embrace love and themselves. In retrospect, he listed those things he most longed for as a child:

  • For mom to have the courage to leave a job that fed her unhappiness
  • To play catch in the backyard rather than three baseball games every week
  • An acceptance that money worries are pointless; it will never create more income
  • That less is more
  • I’m not the sounding board for your unhappiness
  • 15 minutes of your undivided attention
  • That you loved yourself as much as I love you
  • When to say no to activities, events and things that don’t really matter
  • A clean house is not important to me if it means you can’t spend time with me

I folded up the newspaper and place it by my side. I quietly contemplated the story I had just read. In many ways it was my story and I didn’t want to end up as an unhappy, elderly woman who never stopped to smell the roses or took chances. The panic I had felt as I looked into this woman’s eyes was that very fear.

In that moment, I knew it was time to make changes, to love me and to follow my dreams. I needed it, my kids needed it and so did my husband. When the elderly lady peered into my office window she had said:

“Know what really matters. If your life is absent of joy, there is no one to blame but yourself. You get one chance at life so embrace it with everything you’ve got. You need to shake not shuffle your way through life.”

 

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LET’S TALK KARMA

I believe karma goes hand-in-hand with scripture,

fired

“Be not deceived; God is not mocked for whatever man sows that shall he also reap.”
Galatians 6:7

Each of us have faced situations that resurrect thoughts about Karma and how each of us has the potential to willfully use deceit to serve a personal agenda or vendetta. What might surprise you is what scripture has to say about our reaction to this bad karma.

“But I say unto you who hear, love your enemies and do good to them which hate you…”
Luke 6:27

“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you.”
Matthew 6:14

Let me share a story:

At one time they were close friends. They worked together, shared family weekend excursions and had built a friendship on camaraderie and common interests. As educators, they considered themselves equal and gave no consideration to the power struggles that often occur in parallel careers.

But over time, one friend allowed envy to enter her soul. She noticed her friend’s leadership and administrative skills far surpassed her own. Staff and students loved her friend more than her and she quietly opened the door to jealousy.

Hanging out after work slowly ceased as did invites to social events.

As the jealous friend became self-absorbed a power struggle began to erupt within her and anger consumed her; it was her constant companion. Her good friend continued to have a heart bent toward goodness, kindness and forgiveness, but there was one thing her friend didn’t have and that was POWER.

The jealous friend held the reins of power with the decision makers. She would conveniently keep upcoming meeting dates, important emails and shared information from her friend to make her appear uninformed before peer groups.

But the jealous friend’s best revenge was not coming in to work, or responding to phone calls and emails. She left her friend alone to oversee two buildings, staff and students for days at a time; only to find her friend seemed to handle all the administrative duties without a glitch. In fact, no one missed the jealous friend at all; it was a welcomed reprieve from her angry verbal assaults and inept administrative skills.

I would love to tell you my story has a happy ever after ending, but it doesn’t.

In the end, the jealous friend dismissed her loyal friend. Of course, she lacked the backbone to do it herself and found it much easier, or perhaps it was to ease the guilt, to have her hand-fed HR members handle the duty. She stood nearby as her friend was summoned to a mock meeting. It was like a lamb being led to slaughter.

The sacrifice was to compensate for the jealous friends lack of integrity, leadership skills and administrative abilities. But the blood spilled that day will never atone for the lies, deceit and jealousy that brought an innocent person to slaughter. Only the blood of Jesus can do that.

So where does that leave the loyal friend?

In the hands of God who is faithful to those who believe upon His name. When God closes a door it means He is ready to open the flood gate on the dam. And with all this Michigan rain, the river is up and a flash flood is roaring. WATCH OUT, the floodgates of Heaven are about to open.

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.” Malachi 3:10

God’s blessing reigns in our life when we are obedient to his call, seek to forgive others and give from the heart. As for karma, it is best left in the hands of God.