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Unexpected Grace

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With all the current mudslinging going on in the political arena, it’s refreshing to post some inspiring news about people who touch our life and often go unmentioned.

One such person is my longtime friend, Charlie, a retired engineer and owner of every foodie appliance on the market not to mention being an expert gardening by Google guru. He enjoys sharing his infinite knowledge, (at least what I believe to be infinite), about making home-brewed beers, sauerkraut varietals, roasted coffee beans and a plethora of ways to smoke meats and cheeses…and so much more.

Charlie grew up in Louisville and relocated to Michigan after college. In that transition our friendship blossomed and he became what I describe as a friend in all seasons. I can consistently count on him to be there whenever there is a need. It’s an unearned, cherished friendship not taken for granted.

Recently Charlie attended an autumn dinner celebration at my home and brought a bountiful variety of sauerkraut for us to taste.  True to form, he shared his usual myriad of information about everything imaginable but it was what happened after dinner that captured my attention.

Olivia, my middle school granddaughter, needed help with math homework.  From the get-go I was useless. Poppy and her mamma threw up their hands even though both were math minor graduates. And then, there was Charlie. The engineer I knew to be a whiz at math, even by today’s new math standards.

My heart swelled with appreciation as I listened to Charlie patiently coach and instruct Olivia in how to solve each math problem. I was reminded why I chose him to be a lifelong friend. It was a moment that substantiated the benevolence of mankind if we take a moment to part the waters of our bigotry, hatred and animosity of our political differences.

With homework finished, a very tired Olivia headed home with a heart full of gratitude for someone who took time to touch her life in an unexpected way. It was just homework to us, but to my granddaughter, it was much more than that.  It was the unearned, cherished help from someone in a time of need. In that moment, I caught a glimpse of the unmerited grace that Christ shows us every day of our life. It may not be help with a math equation, but it is most definitely help with a life equation.

Today’s Prayer:

Thank you, God, for using Charlie to illustrate the true meaning of your grace in the most unexpected place and time. I pray that each of us takes time from our busy life to showcase those individuals that touch the lives of others and go unmentioned.

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The “Never Alone” Cocktail

girl-1245678_640Earlier in the week, I determined to post about different areas and seasons in our life that need holy intoxication. When we allow ourselves to become inebriated with God’s Word, we experience divine liberation.

Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:13, “We were all . . . made to drink of one Spirit.” Jesus said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.

God is the Master of mixology and has deliberately provided the perfect biblical cocktail for every life situation. Today, I share the ‘Never Alone’ cocktail and examine God’s spiritual recipe for loneliness.

I consider a passage of Scripture found in the 102nd Psalm: “I am like a pelican of the wilderness: I am like an owl of the desert. I lie awake, and am like a sparrow alone on the housetop” (Psalm 102:6-7).

I don’t know about you, but I have experienced extreme bouts of loneliness at times in my life. There are many reasons for feeling alone; sorrow, sin, rejection, separation, low self-esteem to name a few. It has been estimated that as many as one in five suffer from loneliness.

So what does God tell us about loneliness?

First, let me make clear that no one fully understands what it’s like to be YOU except God. The fact that He knows us by name and our coming and goings reassures us we are never alone. He is with us always.

“I know when you rise up and when you sit down, your comings and goings and how you’ve become enraged at me.” Isaiah 37:28 (NIV)

Having a personal relationship with God changes everything; it is the answer to our loneliness problem. Not only that, but He understands what it is like to be a lonely human. Just look to the cross where He was abandoned by friends who even pretended they didn’t know him.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)

Scripture shares the story of a leper that sat by the roadside, an outcast rejected by society and forced to beg for food. He was ignored by everyone until Jesus passed by. The unsightly man ran to the feet of Jesus and fell to his knees.

“Lord, make me clean,” he said.

In that moment, Jesus reached out and touched him, yes, physically put his hand on a person who likely hadn’t felt the touch of a human hand in years and the leper was instantly healed. That one brief interaction with Jesus rocked his world. He still had no friends or possessions, nothing more than the rags on his back, but it didn’t matter; he had Jesus.

In our loneliness, we need to reach out to others and build a community of friends who care about us for the person we are, not for what we have or don’t have. When we connect with people who make us feel seen, heard, and valued without judgment, we see our life outside our own perspective.

No friend can save you from loneliness, but those relationships can sustain you in the down times and help you see you are not alone. God stands ready to be your BFF (best friend forever) in your loneliness. He is the solution that empowers us to find meaning, joy and comfort in a world broken by sin.

When you know Jesus as your savior, you are never alone. Do you know him?

Prayer for today:

Lord Jesus, I want to know you and experience your presence in my loneliness. I believe you died on the cross for my sins and want to invite you to take the reins of my life and lead me into a personal relationship with you. I ask that you become my new BFF. Thank you for never leaving my side and loving me in every situation.

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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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Reflections: Golden Years

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As I approach 60, my mailbox is filled with AARP promotional material and long-term health care applications. My prized collection of reading glasses has grown to over 20 pair; and crossing my legs has become a mandatory ritual whenever I cough or sneeze. The grand kids know that lost reading glasses can be found perched on my head and sending a one line text message will take me 10 minutes.

With age, comes a sense of freedom from others opinions or expectations. It’s truly exhilarating to grocery shop in my bikini, wear PJ’s to my dental appointment and cruise past a fast-food drive up window topless… just kidding!

A transcript of my daily conversations are much like this:

Grandchild: NeeNee you wore that outfit yesterday.
Me: Yep, and I might wear it again tomorrow. In fact, I might wear it all week. Mention it again, and I will show up at your school in this outfit.

Builder: I can have that done in 2 days for $$ cost.
Me: So, what you are saying is it will cost twice as much as your quote and take twice as long.

Husband: Did you take a nap today?
Me: Yes, I did and the answer to your ‘real’ question is NO; you can’t have the TV remote tonight because I will be up late watching every Hallmark movie made.

Daughter: Hi Mom, it’s 9 PM; I hope I didn’t wake you?
Me: Of course not, I’ve been asleep for an hour waiting for your call.

Grandchild: You sure have a lot of wrinkles.
Me: I know; thankfully, they are the only thing that doesn’t hurt with age.

With age comes knowledge and there are a few things I have learned. Like memory loss can sometimes work to my advantage, sex is over-rated, control isn’t the Holy Grail and neck scarves do wonders for the fleshy wattle around the neck. The cowboy boots that look so cute on the magazine model won’t look like that on me. Neither will the size zero stretch pants on the mannequins in the junior section of a store.

On a spiritual level, I have discovered life isn’t all about me. I now listen twice as much as I talk, and when I do, something marvelous happens. It generates a call to action based on the need of someone else and fosters an attitude of generosity, pay-it-forward and volunteerism.

And so, as I head to the salon to have my gray hair colored, purchase age-defying make-up from Mary Kay, pack Spanks and reading glasses into a suitcase for an upcoming vacation, I consider what age 60 will be like in heaven.

What characteristics and features will identify me to those I’ve known at different ages in my earthly journey? Will wrinkles, gray hair and reading glasses no longer exist? I can’t help but wonder if we will be given the opportunity to pick our ideal age in Heaven. If that could happen, what age would you pick and why.

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THE DEVIL IN DISGUISE

overcomeevilI am a friendly person by nature. My husband has always joked that I could strike up a conversation with the devil. Well, recently, I did just that; unknowingly.

The woman had an energy level that put me to shame and for those who know me well, that’s a daunting comparison. All the signs of an bi-polar person not taking medication were evident from the get-go, but I ignored them.

My ‘giving’ disposition took the reins in an effort to mentor this woman toward business goals, that in the end, she would never realize.

Long story short, I had met the devil in disguise and all those red flags I had sensed were really the red horns of deceit and betrayal. This person had a hidden agenda to suck the life and money out of me and others; only, to discard us by the wayside in search of new prey.

What this so-called friend (turned enemy) didn’t know or understand is the protective power of God’s Word that surrounds me day and night. As a Christian and child of God, I know the wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing will be revealed in due time. Not my time, but God’s time.

Many of you reading this post may have encountered a wolf in sheep’s clothing. On a daily basis we find the enemy of God using others to cultivate destruction and devastation to Christians around the globe. Christians needs to rise to the occasion and pray daily for those who are spiritually blinded and being used unknowingly as instruments to orchestrate the eradication of all things JESUS.

In the meantime, my husband and I are pursuing all the legal avenues to reclaim lost business possessions and continue to prayer this person will allow God to claim her soul for something of true purpose.

 

“Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered.”
Psalms 68:1

“You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”
Matthew 7: 16-20

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THE BUDDY BENCH

BuddyBenchLast week my granddaughter, Olivia, had a melt-down because she was being excluded by one of her school friends at recess time. Apparently, her friend had a new best friend and all former friends, including my granddaughter, were being ignored.

In an effort to promote harmony, I suggested we have a sleep-over for all parties involved. In doing so, NeeNee had a serious conversation with the girls about the emotional upsets they were having at school.

I love the honesty, resiliency and forgiving spirit of kids. As I talked with the girls they were candid about their feelings and in between their tearful sobs they talked about how it felt to be left out and sit on the playground ‘buddy bench’ the entire recess period because no one offers to play with them.

Being excluded at any age causes us to ask ourselves, “What is wrong with me.” Loneliness takes up residency in our spirit and opens the door for resentment, anger and, in some cases, thoughts of suicide. In my lifetime, I have experienced that kind of loneliness. Betrayal, divorce, joblessness, anxiety attacks, death of a loved one; or the loss of or longing for friendship have all taken lead role at some time or another.

The reason for your loneliness may be different than mine, but one thing is certain, loneliness is no respecter of persons; the emotions it stirs within us are the same. Perhaps you are sitting on the ‘buddy bench’ right now waiting for someone to befriend you, to care; to listen. That person is sitting next to you at this very moment. His name is Jesus and all you need to do is take His hand. He longs to lead you to the still waters and restore your soul; He longs to be your friend.

You will always find Jesus on the ‘buddy bench’ waiting to be a friend to anyone who asks.

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Revelation 3:20, ESV

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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.