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The Perfect Cocktail

coppa-martiniDo you know the Bible has the perfect cocktail for every situation in life?

Bartenders are aware that the most important rule of mixology, the rule that supersedes everything else, is that balance is everything. The same is true in your Christian walk with Jesus. Forget about a splash of this scripture or a splash of that scripture.

To grow in God’s grace, we must look deep into His Word to truly understand and receive the balanced life Christ intends for us to enjoy.

We are quick to assess our Christian cocktail based on needs. A couple parts of joy mixed with a little kindness and love; we throw in a pinch of mercy for good measure. Or, I’ll take two shots of a miracle, one shot of peace, followed by three shots of forgiveness.

If only the Christian walk was that simple. It’s not! Bible cocktail recipes are based on sound doctrine and principles. We can’t just throw things into a shaker and expect it to yield a perfect and balanced Christian life.

The right cocktail of scriptures mixed with prayer is the only way we find balance for whatever weakness, need or struggles we face.

What does God’s perfect cocktail look like for you?

I invite you to visit my blog (DeniseMarksBlog.com) every Monday and Friday for the next five weeks as I share my thoughts on God’s perfect and balanced cocktail for our imperfect life situations. God truly desires for us to find consistency, balance and divine intervention in all things.

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CONSUMED BY CLUTTER

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Clutter has never been a part of my lifestyle; until now. Every room in my house is filled with piles of this and stacks of that. I’m the process of updating my office and in the transition I have created chaos. The addition of Christmas decorations only adds to the mess. Not to mention all the furniture pieces I have been stockpiling in the garage to re-purpose. My husband shows no signs of support and, quite honestly, I don’t blame him.

This once clutter-free wife has become a borderline candidate for an episode on the Hoarders television show. What is going on here; what changed?

My life is no longer ‘all about the bass’, it’s all about the space (and there isn’t much of it).

Perhaps the ensuing clutter personifies my unfulfilled dreams; things I want to do or experience before I part ways with this world. Whatever the motivating factor, it’s time to unclutter my surroundings; not so I can collect more stuff, but to free up space so I can see what I already have.

I no longer want to look around me and feel like the psalmist who said, “My confusion is continually before me.” (Psalm 44:15, KJV)

And so, my goal this holiday season is to clear my life of unnecessary clutter, both materially and spiritually to make room for those things that matter most; family, faith and friendships. I am raking through the transient clutter that encompasses me in confusion.

First Corinthians 14:33 tells us that “God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” And Second Peter 2:19 makes it clear: “A man is slave to whatever has mastered him.”

And so, to my curbside-trash-hunting friends (you know who you are); you are welcome to pick through anything you find at the end of my driveway except for my trash-taker-outer honey-man. He’s not up for grabs.

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SISTERS

3139_1074232579462_6883989_nI have only one sibling; a sister named Sharon, but I call her Sharrie or sissy. We are one year and two days apart in age, but our chosen life paths are about as far apart as you can get.

She is a pastor’s wife and that in itself speaks volumes about her. Not everyone is cut out to be a soul mate to someone dedicated to the ministry; certainly not me. My mom was one of those women, but God saved us all when I chose a different path.

My sister has a beautiful singing voice, plays the piano and effortlessly leads worship service every Sunday at church. She loves to hike trails, camp, bake, play practical jokes and hang out at their northern cottage which I have never visited (hint). Sharrie’s laugh is infectious; you have only to sit next to her while watching a comedy movie to witness her ability to unabashedly laugh out loud. She is our daddy’s daughter in that respect.

I, on the other hand, prefer hotels to camping; opt for motorized vehicles over bicycles and never hike more than up and down the stairs of my home. Church members would drop off the rosters if I led a worship service and all my baked goods are purchased at the local grocery store.

No one can keep a secret better than my sister or save money in a pillowcase like she is known to do. When I needed money to buy cigarettes in high school, her pillowcase was the bank that provided the needed cash.

She was the athlete and compliant child; I was the president of art club and a rebel. I married at 18, she married at 27. All ‘no’ answers from my parents were an open invitation to ‘do it anyway’. Anger was my middle name and I could bring conflict to a situation quicker than the blink of an eye. The Bible scripture blessed are the peacemakers did not apply to me.

With all our many differences you might wonder if my sister and I were birthed from the same parents. The God who created the opposing contrasts of night and day also created the opposing contrasts of Denise and Sharon and has allowed our different life experiences to work in unison. Our approach is uniquely different, but our lifelong goal has always been the same; to grow in the grace of Jesus.

My sister complements my shortcomings and remains my biggest cheerleader in helping me reach my goals. She prays, intercedes, listens and forgoes judgment when I make bad choices. When I reach out to her, she greets me with arms wide open; she is a friend in all seasons of life. There are no words I can pen to paper to express how much I love her.

And so, on my sister’s 58th birthday I give thanks for our forever friendship, the differences that join us as one and the many times she has been the beacon of hope in my darkest nights. She always believes in me; applauds my accomplishments and looks up to me, though I’m not sure why. Thank you for being my polar opposite. God knew I needed that in a sister.

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THE LAST GOODBYE

exhaustedI slumped onto the sofa like a wet noodle after the last few guests departed our annual holiday party. It had been a success with plenty of food, beverages and outdoor activities for every age group.

The day concluded with family sitting around a fire pit where big kids set off fireworks and little ones waved sparklers. It was a wonderful family day, but after the last goodbye, I collapsed in total exhaustion like it was my last hurrah.

I have always considered myself to be tenacious, ready to take on any challenge or task with everything I’ve got. However, the next day when asked to help disassemble the outdoor party canopy, I quickly realized my body parts had finally caught up to my age. Unable to lift the heavy framework, I was assigned a new job of grouping the pole extensions by their assigned number. Even that required reading glasses due to the small print size.

My giddy-up was gone and I no longer possessed the strength needed to complete the task at hand. It was time to say my last goodbye to youthfulness and accept the limitations that accompany the aging process. Don’t get me wrong, we should do our best to stay fit, eat healthy and seek out life adventures; but we should do so with an acceptance of our limitations.

Jesus certainly experienced what it was like to collapse from total exhaustion. Look no further than the Garden of Gethsemane when He prayed,

“Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” Luke 22:42

Jesus wasn’t assigned a new job just because the weight of the cross or the sin of mankind was too much to carry. The outdoor activities planned for His party included torture, beatings and being nailed to a cross. In light of this, my exhaustion and limitations pale when compared to what Jesus accomplished as his body collapsed in death and spoke His last goodbye, “It is finished.”

Jesus’ last goodbye to us gave birth to eternal life; my last goodbye to guests gave birth to a 2-hour nap.

While putting away tables, chairs, food and outdoor games from the weekend party, I considered that I am not being nailed to a cross, eating my last supper or sentenced to death for my religious beliefs. Yes, I may be weary, tired and aged; but I’m not wearing military dog tags, navigating through mine fields or looking at my child’s photo inside a combat helmet.

Our youth may fade, but the glory of the privileged life we enjoy remains intact. Because of the selfless acts of love imparted by others and their allegiance to uphold our freedoms at whatever cost, I am able to sit by a fire pit with my family, watch grandkids light sparklers, eat from a bountiful table and curl up on the sofa like a wet noodle at day’s end.

When faced with utter exhaustion and your strength seems like sand in a sieve, you are not alone. Our ability to face life’s challenges and understand all the fine print it entails requires the help of others and an acceptance of our own limitations.

The last goodbye doesn’t mean we can no longer function, it only means we may require the strength of others or a higher power to get the job done. All we need to do is ask.

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WHEN MEMORIES TAKE LEAVE

on-emptyI sat in the squeaky backyard swing with my great-grandma and watched grandpa as he dumped dry ice into the chest freezer in the garage. My great-grandparents were cotton farmers in the South, but their age now limited them to a small garden plot next to their house.

It’s odd the things we remember from our childhood. Unlike my sister, I never seem to remember the important things. Nope, I remember things that are trivial like squeaky swings and dry ice being dumped in an old freezer box. I remember the color of my grandma’s Avon bag from 1965 and the exact shape and color of the Avon Topaz cologne on her bathroom vanity; yet, have no memory of more important and relevant things. It leaves me to question if my brain wasn’t damaged by forceps at birth.

How we experience and remember life is different for each of us. The things I will remember about my upcoming trip to Italy will be much different than my analytical husband. He will remember the name of every cathedral and monument we visit. I will remember the color of the roses in the flower gardens and how our dinner napkins were folded. As a visual/tactile person I categorize life moments in snapshots and by touch; and that’s OK.

I love that God has created us so divinely and uniquely different from each other. Yet, when we come together and share our life experiences, memories and journeys those differences complement each other and the diversity unites us to see life through the eyes of another.

And so, I will continue to remember crazy stuff like my home phone number from 45 years ago, the pink and white checked swimsuit I wore my first time on water skis or the material I picked out for my 7th grade home-economic sewing project.

I am certain my memory will continue to fail me on things of importance, but one thing I will never forget is that I am fearfully and wonderfully made by God.

“Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! It is amazing to think about. Your workmanship is marvelous—and how well I know it.” Psalms 139:14 (TLB)

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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,

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“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.