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Marlena Graves

Marlena Graves

Marlena is a bylined contributor for Christianity Today's Her.meneutics and Gifted for Leadership blogs. She also writes for other venues. She is married to her favorite person in existence, Shawn Graves. He’s a philosopher. Together they have three little girls. They enjoy their life together and always desire to welcome others into it. She’s on staff at her church offering and coordinating pastoral care for their beloved seniors. Her first book, A Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness released in June 2014. She blogs at http://marlenagraves.com and her Twitter handle is @MarlenaGraves.

Articles by Marlena Graves

Hard Times

Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther, poet and hymn writer William Cowper, Mother Teresa, and contemporary author Ann Voskamp—each has been recognized for their devotion to Jesus. And each has also battled depression.

Alluring

The owner of the coffee shop I escape to when I have a writing deadline told me she wants it to be the “community’s living room.” And I think it is. There are heart surgeons, business people, judges, medical students, teachers, kids from local schools, college students, parents, pastors, and writers who frequent it. Although I’m new to the area, I’ve already come to recognize many of the patrons. The people who work there are friendly and welcoming. The coffee and food are good. The atmosphere is cozy and alluring. It’s a go-to place in our community.

Confusing Assignments

I know of a man who passionately desires to be a pastor. He’s worked in youth ministry, camp ministry, and even alongside pastors in the church. He’s well-regarded by those with whom he interacts, having willingly volunteered his time while faithfully loving his wife and children. And yet, he’s been unable to find the right place to serve fulltime. Several churches “nearly” called on him. But he’s yet to receive a ministry role in any official capacity.

This Great Brightness

Our faces can give clues to our life experiences. They reveal our emotions, hint at our age, and indicate whether or not we’ve led difficult lives. They can also hint at whether or not we’ve been with God. I once had a co-worker at my workplace ask why I was so joyful and smiling all the time. His question caught me off guard; I wasn’t aware my face was revealing anything. I paused, and then answered, “Jesus.” He laughed off my reply and then asked, “No, really, why?” I reiterated, “Jesus.”

Overcoming Evil

In his book Hitler’s Cross, Pastor Erwin Lutzer shares these heart-wrenching words from a man who lived in Germany during the Nazi Holocaust: “We heard stories of what was happening to the Jews, but we tried to distance ourselves from it, because, what could anyone do to stop it? A railroad track ran behind our small church and each Sunday morning we could hear the whistle in the distance and then the wheels coming over the tracks. . . . We knew the time the train was coming and when we heard the whistle blow we began singing hymns. By the time the train came past our church we were singing at the top of our voices. If we heard the screams, we sang more loudly and soon we heard them no more.”

Know It All

I had a friend who questioned his Christian workplace’s views of a particular disputable theological matter. Not long after voicing his concerns, he was labeled by co-workers as being theologically suspect. He no longer works for that ministry. But he recently found out that his accusers and the denomination with which the workplace was affiliated ended up agreeing with his stance. Unfortunately, he never received an apology from the group.

Creation Teaching

We recently moved to my husband’s hometown, a city that features a beautiful metro park system. Every day, prior to work and after dropping off two of our three young daughters at school, we take a brief hike together. My husband straps our baby onto his back in a backpack-like contraption, and off we go!

Judgment and Obedience

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because his conscience tells him it is right.”

Got You Figured Out

Our pastor wasn’t pleased that his newspaper had been arriving late each morning—for two weeks. So he impatiently stood at his front door, ready to verbally pounce on the newspaper deliveryman and unleash his anger over the tardy papers. Before he did, however, he thought better of it. Instead, he asked, “How’s it going, Tom?” When he did, he found out that Tom’s house had burned to the ground two weeks before. He and his family were homeless. Tom had recently picked up extra work on a local farm to earn more money. Now he had to wake up even earlier than usual. It had been the worst two weeks of his life.

Under Construction

When I read the road sign announcing “Construction for the next 50 miles,” I groaned. Really? Construction had already been going on for the past three years and now it would be for the foreseeable future—up to three more years! Every day since, as I drive this stretch of pavement under repair, I wonder if it will ever be finished. Deep down I know it will be, yet when I’m stopped in painfully slow traffic, it’s hard to believe the interstate will ever be free of orange barrels and single lanes.

Ultimate Authority

During a recent presidential election year in my country, I found myself disappointed by the behavior of some of our Christian leaders. They told us to put our hope in Jesus, but their words and actions indicated they were putting their hope in “Caesar”—in political power.

Encouraging Leaders

A pastor friend told my husband and me that he’s considering leaving the ministry because he feels as if his efforts haven’t resulted in heart change for any of his congregants—that their priorities remained out of step with God’s. After my husband and I prayed for him, he told us that we had encouraged him. Even so, I’m not confident that he’ll remain in fulltime pastoral ministry.

Hidden Sins

I was ready to board a plane when my flight was cancelled due to engine failure. Unable to get on another flight, I had to wait until the next day. Because of my travel woes, the airline paid for my overnight stay at a nearby hotel. I was exhausted and ready for a good night’s sleep, but I wasn’t able to rest well because of the jarring sound of jet engines. Perhaps if I lived right near an airport, I’d be used to the sound of jets taking off and landing and would sleep right through the night!

Good Words

In the summer of 2016, a two-year-old was snatched by an alligator as he waded into a lagoon at an amusement park resort. His father tried desperately, without success, to rescue the boy from the alligator. A frantic search for the child ensued, but tragically, a few days later, divers recovered the toddler’s lifeless body.

Laying Down Our Lives

In May 2016, a teacher was eating at a restaurant with his wife when he saw a man attack a waitress with a knife. George Heath left his wife’s side and leapt into action—running at the attackers and wrapping his arms around him in an effort to keep the man from hurting anyone else. Heath’s efforts to protect the others in the restaurant proved successful. He was able to detain the suspect until police arrived. Sadly, however, the brave teacher died just minutes later. A stab wound during his heroic rescue attempt led to his death.

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> christian living

Model It

It was a regular Monday evening at a senior care facility. Hamburgers were on the menu, and an 87-year-old named Patty was eating hers when she began to choke. But just in the nick of time, another resident came to the rescue and did the Heimlich maneuver on her—saving the day. That resident was none other than 96-year-old Dr. Henry Heimlich himself, the doctor who is widely credited with inventing the procedure. For Patty’s sake, it was a good thing that Dr. Heimlich actually modeled what he taught!

Battle Strategy

At the height of an African government’s struggle with a terrorist rebel group, the president turned to the church for help. As people began to pray, an army chaplain declared that the war wouldn’t be won in battle, but through prayer. Thus began “Operation Gideon.” A team of intercessors gathered for several weeks of prayer and fasting. In time, a systematic breakdown of the rebel group’s influence occurred.

Cheerful Hospitality

After Mary and Jim married and moved into their first apartment, they decided to set aside a room in which to host others. I became a beneficiary of their warm hospitality on a teaching trip. They welcomed me, a stranger, into their home and showered me with love.

> daily devotional

Evidence of Kindness

Several children and their parents filed into a room in which a neo-natal nurse sat. The kids were carrying pictures of themselves as premature infants—years ago, they had been cared for by the nurse. Before the group surprised her, she had watched a video in which the parents expressed how thankful they were for her role in saving their children’s lives. After the reunion, the nurse remarked, “I love what I do. It’s a ministry for me. I believe God has put me [here] for a purpose, and He has given me a love for these babies and these parents.”

Humble Beginnings

It’s estimated that Howard Schultz, until recently the executive chairman of Starbucks, is worth three billion dollars. One might assume that such a successful businessman had been born into wealth and privilege, but nothing could be further from the truth. Schultz was born and raised in Bayview, a notoriously dangerous housing project in New York City. But far from resenting his childhood neighborhood, he credits his upbringing with keeping him grounded and connected to those around him.

Into His Image

“You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” This sentiment from Anne Lamott often comes back to me in situations of potential conflict. If I find myself assuming God feels exactly the same way I do about most situations, it’s safe to say my view of God is mixed with a good deal of myself! Only one Person has known the mind of God fully; we His followers always understand imperfectly (1 Corinthians 13:12).

> ethics

Imitate My Father

The idea of immigrants competing with locals for jobs is a political hot potato in many countries. Some citizens resent the newcomers because they perceive them as stealing jobs, competing for scarce services, and causing overcrowding. With unfamiliar customs and languages, the immigrants are sometimes accused of disturbing and even threatening the social fabric of the native born. So how should believers in Jesus respond to the aliens living in their midst?

rotten fruit

There’s a “quick sale” area in my local supermarket where fruit is offered at a huge discount. If not sold quickly, the fully ripened edibles will become soft, flabby, and infected with fungus.

judgment of justice

An acquaintance of mine, who is highly intelligent and has a philosophical bent, also carries antipathy toward God and religion. He enjoys being provocative, recently quoting the second-century philosopher Epicurus who said: “There is no such thing as justice in the abstract; it is merely a compact between men.”

> faith

In Preparation

My friend Phil began chemo treatments in December 2016 for an aggressive form of lymphoma cancer. By God’s grace, he’d been prepared for this challenge in many ways. His wife had battled cancer several years before, and he had seen me go through several treatments in my own battle with an aggressive lymphoma. He had also just changed jobs, and the benefits and community support there were just what the doctor ordered. Most of all, he had been enjoying deep relationship with God.

Perfect Plans

The rejection letter I received from the university’s registrar sent me spiraling into shock and disbelief. In the midst of my sadness and confusion, I was grateful that one of my cousins had encouraged me to apply to another school. Fortunately, I was accepted by that university. While I didn’t understand why I was unable to attend my dream school, I recognized that God wasn’t surprised. He knew everything about my situation and had my best in mind.

Seeing Is Disbelieving

There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true,” said philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. The story of the Israelites illustrates how easy it is to be fooled into believing what’s false and to disbelieve the truth.

> health

Evidence of Kindness

Several children and their parents filed into a room in which a neo-natal nurse sat. The kids were carrying pictures of themselves as premature infants—years ago, they had been cared for by the nurse. Before the group surprised her, she had watched a video in which the parents expressed how thankful they were for her role in saving their children’s lives. After the reunion, the nurse remarked, “I love what I do. It’s a ministry for me. I believe God has put me [here] for a purpose, and He has given me a love for these babies and these parents.”

Gaps

A battle rages where I live—a rivalry between two universities. The rivalry manifests itself primarily in athletic competition. My alma mater proudly displays the letter “S” as its logo. The S stands for State, as in Michigan State University. The other school brandishes a distinctive “M,” which represents the University of Michigan.

Hope for Today

Someone close to me recommitted his life to God, began taking his wife and young daughter to church, and was seeking to follow Jesus faithfully. Within weeks, however, his world began to fall apart. His daughter was admitted to the hospital with a chest infection, his business partner refused to pay him, and his wife asked for some time apart. He looked drained and weary when I offered to pray for him, saying he’d rather not have any help from God. From the moment he’d chosen to serve the Lord again, he said it felt as if a huge target had been placed on his back and the Enemy was having a field day.

> relationships

Next Generation Faith

Graeme was part of a group of self-proclaimed Satanists at my school. By God’s grace, he came to Jesus during an outreach event, began growing in his faith, and eagerly attended church youth groups. But one day I noticed he looked quite sad. When I asked why, he said his parents didn’t approve of his newfound faith. They wanted him to go back to his former way of life that included partying.

Covenant Relationship

Two different friends from different spheres of my life—one a man, one a woman—told me about their unfaithful spouses during the same week. Both felt betrayed and angry. They wondered if they would ever feel whole again.

Gifts from God

Police were sent to a home in response to a report of domestic child abuse. When they arrived at the house, they found a scared four-year-old girl with a black eye, swollen cheek, and bruises covering a majority of her tiny frame. The officers were devastated when they asked her to say her name and she meekly replied, “Idiot.”