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The God of Comfort

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I appreciate art because it has the ability to make us stop in the moment and give pause to what the artist is hoping to convey. Art arouses our visual awareness and powerfully evokes emotions undefined by words.

This statue by Albert György uniquely captures the feeling of emptiness that coincides with loss. Life may appear normal on the outside, but internally there is an all-consuming void. I have to believe that a great loss inspired this artist’s piece of work.

We all encounter loss and can relate to the giant hole it leaves in our innermost being. We find countless ways to preoccupy ourselves in an effort to fill that hole; but the void remains. Even God experienced loss when His son, Jesus, died on the cross.

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

Prayer for Today:

Lord, I know, you are the God of comfort and when my whole world shattered, you have been with me every step of the way. Continue to be ever near and my constant companion when the giant hole wants to pull into the depths of darkness and despair. In those moments, draw me ever closer to you and fill that hole with the knowledge that you are only a breath away and your arms of comfort are everlasting.

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A Funny Thing Happened: Life

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Life happens in the most unusual places and the most inappropriate times. It could be in a grocery store, it might be while chaperoning your child’s school field trip, or picking up pet waste in your backyard. Life is funny that way. It doesn’t wait for you, it just happens.

Scenario One:

I decide to go fishing with my nine-year old grandson. How difficult is that? Bait a hook and cast the line off the shore line. BINGO, BANGO, BONGO something is tugging at my line. The pole bends beneath the weight of my catch and the bobber sinks into the water. The adrenaline pumps through my veins and I know I’ve got a live one.

And then life happens. I pull my line from the water only to discover I’ve caught an empty pop can that is entangled in a massive amount of lake weeds. My annoyance level grows when I realize the only wacky worm bait I own is at the bottom of the lake.

It’s in my power to make it a SH@# or SUGAR moment. What to do?

Scenario Two:

It’s Saturday morning.  With a shopping list in hand and three kids in tow, I am grocery store bound. It should be a flawless outing. But then life happens. Pulling the cart into the checkout lane I realize it’s not my cart. Oops! Thank you, grandson, for assuming the cart belonged to us because you saw Fruity Pebbles and strawberry pop tarts.

I can either make it a SH!# or SUGAR moment. What to do?

Yep! The odds of life going amiss are high.

When faced with life happen moments we are presented with two choices:  See the humor or get angry.

I’ve opted for the anger route more times than I care to admit and could author a book on How to Get Angry When Life Happens. Unfortunately, the last page of the book would be a repeat of the first page. Why? Because anger spawns a repeat cycle of past mistakes. Nothing is learned through anger and we end up in the same place we started.

When we allow humor to kick start a life happens moment the page turn reads differently.  Let’s backtrack to the first scenario and consider the options.

My fishing line is tangled and an aluminum can is the only catch of the day. The vile profanities perched on my tongue are but one breath away. My nine-year old grandson watches as I reel my catch onto the shore. He’s waiting to see how Neenee will react to this hot mess attached to her life happens fishing line.

“Run up to the house and bring back the biggest platter you can find,” I called out.

“Why,” he questioned.

“Stop with the questions and just go,” I said.

A few minutes later he returns with a cookie sheet. “That’s perfect buddy! Why don’t you pack up our fishing gear and head back to the house. Tell Poppy to set the table for dinner and I’ll be there shortly.”

I quickly cut the tangled fishing line from the pole and carefully arrange my catch of the day on the baking sheet and walk to the house.

“Wash your hands because dinner is almost ready.”  I walked into the kitchen and plopped the cookie sheet in the center of the table.

“No way, Neenee,” laughs my grandson. “We’re not eating that.”

“No buddy, we aren’t. The restaurant up the road is bringing us their fresh catch of the day. They felt bad that they caught all the fish in the lake today and the only thing left was aluminum cans.”

Yes, a funny thing happened: Life.

Oh how I wish I had understood in my youth that humor is the best Band-aid for so many day-to-day life happens moments.

Just for Today Prayer:

Jesus, life happens and not always as planned, but even then, those unplanned moments are purposely designed by you. It offers us an opportunity to grow in you in humorous ways we never thought possible.  Remind me that,

“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Proverbs 17:22 (ESV)

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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)