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Silence: Blessings in Disguise

“The loveliest gifts sometimes come wrapped in the ugliest paper.” ― Matshona Dhliwayo

 

I call out to God, but the heavens are silent. My words seem to fall on deaf ears and my suffering continues. In anger I cry out to God, “where is your goodness, where is your love”– I know you hear my voice, why don’t you answer, why don’t you respond to my desperate pleas?

If your relationship with God sometimes feels like this, you are not alone. When stretched to our limits and in the fight for our life, when darkness seems to be winning and we are overcome with betrayals, addictions, health issues and we can’t find answers, we question God.

But what if our tears, hardships, pain and suffering in this life is really blessings in disguise. What if God purposes these situations to remind us this is not our home, to draw us closer to the cross and to thirst after Him? I believe God hears our cries; he listens and is continually proactive in our life.

We will never understand the inner workings of God in our life but one thing is certain, when life frightens us or gets us down—or when life seems like a battle ground and we feel like we’re alone on the battlefield—our omnipresent God is with us in every moment of any life situation.

In our valleys, when the heavens are silent, when doubt, fear, and transition overwhelm us, we must encourage one another and cling even closer to God. There is no nook and cranny of space that is absent of His presence. Whether you’re aware of it, or not, God is there.

I too, experience seasons of silence in my faith.  Sometimes they are short-lived, other times they seem like forever. Right now is one of those forever seasons for me.  It’s a conscious effort to forge ahead when God is mute and I am overcome by doubt and spiritual aloneness.

My journey with God has become a test of trust, a time to embrace and accept that His silence may actually be a blessing in disguise. Is this a time of training; is there something He wants to teach me? Whatever the reason, it will take as long as it takes and in the process my companions will be darkness and loneliness.

But dawn always follows darkness; loneliness is dispelled at daybreak and intimacy is restored.

“If you let God’s silence do its work, you will come out the other side knowing that you’re not alone, that God longs for deeper intimacy with you, that he’s worth trusting for the journey, and that you’re stronger than ever.”   ― Verla Wallace

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ADONAI Ori (The LORD is My Light)

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I awoke earlier than usual this morning. In the quiet twilight of dawn the Holy Spirit, as only He can do, prompted me to pray for those who carry grief and sorrow in the secret places of their heart. One friend in particular came to mind but I felt impressed to pray for others. I didn’t know the secret heartache of many, but God did.

In the stillness of the hour I meditated on the goodness of God and watched as daylight slowly edged its way through the dark morning skies.

        “You, LORD, are my lamp; the LORD turns my darkness into light.”
         II Samuel 22:29

Isn’t that just the way God works with the sorrow and grief we conceal in the darkened corridors of our heart? When the blackness of night casts shadows of hopelessness upon us, along comes daybreak to penetrate our heart with random words of encouragement or acts of kindness. Our hope and strength is renewed for a season as our darkness turns to dawn.

Today, I pray you find His light in the presence of your darkness and that your sorrow is turned into joy. From the rising of the sun to its setting, give praise to God. For praise is the clearest and most direct means of showing our total dependence on God in the midst of darkness.

Even King David endured periods of darkness in his life. He responded with praise and God brought deliverance. Psalms 27, written by David and sung in Biblical Hebrew, gives insight into how this song may have been heard by the listener when first written.

Listen to Psalm 27

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Lonnie’s Gift (A Short Story)

by Denise Marks

lonniesGiftHis dark skin was a stark contrast to our family members. I assumed he was a worker at the state park looking for a shaded area to rest on his lunch break. That became suspect when an hour later he was still seated at a picnic table on the far edge of our rented pavilion. His occasional glance toward the prepared food and personal items nearby alerted me something was amiss.

The morning had started with intermittent rain and overcast skies which didn’t seem promising for our annual Christmas in July family picnic at the Millennium State Park. We had a Jeep loaded with enough burger meat, hot dogs and side dishes to feed 60 plus people. I crossed my fingers the current weather would eventually give way to sunny skies.

My husband Chris navigated through the state park to locate our rented pavilion, situated at the bottom of a grassy incline Great, I thought. Not only do we have to carry heavy tubs of food and supplies down a precarious slope of wet grass, I have to do it in flip-flops. Water skis would have been a safer shoe choice.

With the arrival of family, sounds of laughter and chatter rebounded inside the pavilion. It didn’t take long for my disposition to lighten as everyone offered to lend a helping hand. Food was plentiful, almost to the point of excess, as three generations gathered to celebrate family. When overcast skies gave way to sunshine, lawn games and water activities dominated the day.

Yet, midst all the activity, my attention remained focused on the lone man seated in our pavilion. Why had he stayed so long? What were his intentions? I felt ashamed for thinking the worst, but better safe than sorry when clueless to a person’s identity. And so, I asked my grandkids to discreetly move electronic devices and purses to a more secure area before we walked to the beach.

The grandkids and I returned from the beach to find the unknown man gone. I was about to breath a sigh of relief until I caught a glimpse of him congregating with family members. My husband called out to me as I approached the group,
“I want to introduce you to someone. His name is Lonnie.”

As I offered a friendly handshake, I couldn’t help but notice the sadness in his eyes. They seemed to reflect an untold story of homelessness, hunger and loneliness. It was a family event and I didn’t have time to explore why a man who appeared clean-shaven and relatively well-groomed lived as a vagrant in a state park.

Chris had also noted Lonnie perched on the outskirts of our family event. In kindness, he introduced himself and asked, “Is there something you need?”

Glancing downward, Lonnie replied, “I’m hungry. Do you have any food to spare?”
“Of course,” said my husband as he handed Lonnie a plate and invited him to share with us.
Several servings later and a trail of cookie crumbs throughout the pavilion was evidence Lonnie had enjoyed his gifted meal.

From the outskirts of the pavilion, he watched as our family played lawn games. I sensed he wanted to be a part of our family surroundings, but was apprehensive to engage himself in any of the activities.
At the end of the day, Lonnie disappeared just as discreetly as he had arrived and I couldn’t help but wonder if Lonnie called the park his home. There were so many unanswered questions about this gentle man. The only thing he disclosed that day was his need for something to eat— and he did so with humility.

Since gifts are not exchanged at our Christmas in July gatherings, we didn’t expect the heartwarming gift Lonnie left with us. He gifted himself. His presence was an unspoken reminder that not everyone has food, family, friends or shelter. When blessed with more than enough, pay it forward.

These questions would never be answered, but we received the gift of a different perspective. If we were to ever meet again, I would say to our new friend, “Thank you Lonnie for spending a few hours with our family. Your presence was the best Christmas gift ever.

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TWEETS FROM SATAN

evil-twitter-bird-with-hornsI am not a person prone to depression, but this morning heaviness filled my heart. Loneliness and teary outbursts befriended me as the enemy taunted me with my shortcomings, failures and flaws. What was going on?

I had just experienced a weekend of spiritual renewal that left me feeling empowered to take bold risks in my Christian walk of faith. The movie ‘War Room’ further inspired me to make a greater commitment to my prayer time and the study of God’s Word.

My fiery aspirations were quickly dampened as the enemy began to infiltrate my thoughts with relentless tweets that focused on my inadequacies.

“Why would Jesus love or use someone like you.”
“You think you are helping people through your devotionals but no one reads them.”
“Don’t you know God gave up on you long ago? He isn’t listening anymore.”
“Do you really believe God has a calling on your life at this age? “

And then, Father God began to stir the embers of my downtrodden spirit. Flames of faith reached upward as He stoked the fire. When I called out to Jesus, my darkness was turned to joy. God’s altar of grace burns continuously and the enemy cannot extinguish it.

Our sacrifices of praise, the blood of Christ, God’s Word and prayers of believers will keep the fire burning until God’s appointed time.
As the spiritual veil of darkness lifted, the Holy Spirit directed my thoughts to this scripture:

“The fire must be kept burning on the altar continuously; it must not go out.”
Leviticus 6:13 (NIV)

I don’t know about you, but I sense an urgency to keep the fire burning continuously as we witness believers being mocked, persecuted and tortured daily for their faith in Jesus. Truly we are living in the end times where ungodliness is embraced by those in high places, acts of perverseness have no shock value and homage is paid to man’s ego and fame.

“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.”
II Timothy 3:1-5 (NIV)

I encourage Christians everywhere to keep the fire burning upon the altar of God. We are at war against the enemy of this world, Satan and there is no middle ground in this battle. You are either for God, or against Him. Who is your master?

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BROKEN

Broken in Spirit
I find solace in walking the wooded trails behind my home. The sound of crackling branches beneath my feet and rustling leaves from the canopy of trees above seems to awaken my senses. Daily things that seemed so urgent are momentarily abandoned as I slow my pace and embrace my surroundings.

Yesterday, I needed the respite the trails offered. It had been a 10 hour wait in ER before mom was finally admitted to the hospital. Overwhelmed with exhaustion, I longed for quiet time to meditate and digest the events of the day.

My plan was to curl up on the sofa and do nothing; instead, I walked the trails. For whatever reason, I sensed there was something God wanted to privately share with me. And so, with walking stick in hand, I headed toward the trails.

I probed the ground with my walking stick in search of anything that might bring inspiration to my emotionally charged day. Frustrated, I bowed my head and silently prayed.

“OK, God, a still voice prompted me to take this walk; what is it you want to share with me? “

Immediately the wind seemed to whisper “look upward” and my gaze was directed to a pine tree with its trunk nearly broken in half; most likely, by an expected storm. The tree appeared to be in survival mode with signs of new growth just below the break as it struggled to find light. In that moment it was clear what God wanted to share with me.

The events of the last few weeks have left me feeling much like the pine tree that stood before me; broken and struggling to reach upward to the light. God understood the heaviness of my heart. My merciful Heavenly Father had directed me to this pine tree to speak to my heart that in my brokenness he was near.

It is our brokenness that attracts God’s attention and reveals our need for His mercy. When we acknowledge our dependence upon Him, the Holy Spirit shines a searchlight to help us find our way. New life sprouts as we reach toward the beacon of light.

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” Psalms 51:17
“The Lord is near those with a broken heart.” Psalms 34:18

To those who are broken my life circumstances and losses, I say look up. God is near and longs to cradle your heart in His Divine hands and breathe new life into your spirit.

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BLOSSOM OF HOPE

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This week has felt like I was navigating upstream without a paddle. The onslaught of business issues coupled with the loss of a dear friend to cancer had drained both my mental and physical energy. I needed a distraction from life so I went outside and pulled weeds.

The Barren Tree

The barren weeping cherry tree.

I’m not sure why, but when faced with life’s difficult moments, I find comfort in pulling weeds. I many not be able to control situations in life, but I can control the unwanted growth in my flower beds. And so, with garden trowel in hand, I walked through my flower beds looking for weeds. Every turn of the blade and scoop of dirt would help my plants thrive.

As I worked my way around the property, I approached the final flower bed. It is my favorite flower bed and home to a weeping cherry tree I planted many years ago. Every spring its pink blossoms cascade downward in an effort to kiss the ground below and has been the backdrop of my daughter’s many prom pictures. But today, there were no pink blossoms as it struggled to survive; it was slowly dying and its days were numbered.

Sadness overwhelmed me much like it did when I heard the news of my friend’s death. No amount of weeding, feeding or care would revive or extend the life of my beloved weeping cherry tree. There were a few signs of life, but for the most part, the barren branches told me its days were numbered.

I wrapped my arms around the base of the tree trunk and prayed silently. It wasn’t a prayer for a miracle and certainly not a prayer filled with much faith. It was more an outcry to God for assurance. I needed to know I wasn’t alone in the midst of the difficult moments and challenges before me.

It was a simple prayer,
“Heavenly Father, I am overwhelmed by life right now. I am broken, drained and barren just like this weeping cherry tree. I am being choked by weeds and need your divine intervention. There are no blossoms on this tree that I embrace, not one. If you are here with me, if there is hope beyond today, let me see just one cherry blossom on this tree. Amen.”

For me, one cherry blossom would signify hope endures even in life’s darkest moments. When I finished my prayer, I looked upwards. It was then, my eyes were directed to one lone cherry blossom and I knew God cared about every detail of my life.

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Whatever difficulties and trials you face in this life, embrace hope in things eternal. When weeds seek to choke your hope and peace; when you are overwhelmed with sadness, anxiety and the uncertainty of the future, know this: God has a plan for your life.

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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