Monday, November 28, 2011

The Light of the World: Advent Reflections

The light of life has dawned.
One of my favorite traditions during the Advent season involves making a wreath that becomes our table's centerpiece until Christmas day. A new candle is lit each week symbolizing the light that shines when Christ enters our world. As we say grace before dinner each night, we take turns lighting the candles and reading different verses that remind us of the relevance of Christ's coming. This tradition is a powerful reminder of the eternal significance of the season and helps to quiet the voices that distract us from the true meaning of Christmas.

The prophet Isaiah spoke of this coming light hundreds of years before Jesus' birth,  

          "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; 
on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." 
                                                                                              - Isaiah 9:2

The Old Testament words from Isaiah 9:2 were quoted hundreds of years later by Matthew in the New Testament when he spoke about Jesus' life and ministry (Matthew 4:16). And in John 8:12, Jesus fills us with hope by telling us who He is,

“I am the light of the world. 
Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, 
but will have the light of life.” 

During Advent, we celebrate this light that shines into the darkness of our world and of our hearts bringing truth, salvation, and life. This time of year provides a wonderful opportunity to get to know the One who calls Himself "the light of the world." This Advent, may we all see Him more clearly and live more fully as we prepare to celebrate the glorious birth of Jesus Christ, the light of the world.

Dr Mari

Read God's Song for an account of God's blessings in the midst of suffering.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

More Ways to Unload Your Life (Part III)

Many of you enjoyed Overloaded Lives are Powerless Lives and Unloaded Lives are Powerful and asked for more. As we approach what to many of us is the busiest time of the year, why not resolve to have it be different this time around? We can manage our time proactively starting now. We can enjoy a true Advent - the time of preparation leading up to Christmas - by setting aside time to ready our hearts and nurture our spirits along the way. As you consider these steps we can all take to unload our lives, I invite you to put them into practice now to avoid another frazzled, hectic month that will leave you exhausted - just in time for Christmas!

So here are some more choices we can make to help us recover the precious gift of time. They are from Dr Richard Swenson's book, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives.

  • Sabotage Your Fuse Box. The author shares, "Our family enjoys Wisconsin winters where a two-foot snowfall is a thrill, not a torment. When the world is snowed in, cars can't move, businesses can't open, and schools can't convene. A spirit of holiday reigns. Part of the reason for this is the unexpected gift of time margin." Make today a "snow day" and decide to enjoy the gift of time! Can you even remember what it is you love to do when you suddenly have a free day? Do it now! And build it into your schedule more often.
  • Get Less Done But Do the Right Things. Some people lead such hectic lives that even hearing about their day is stressful. How they can continue to live with such daily chaos is beyond me! Even "good things" can become too much if they fill up our days to such an extent that we are no longer kind to ourselves or to others. "'For many people,' says pastor and author Rick Warren, 'the barrier to spiritual growth is not lack of commitment, but overcommitment to the wrong things.'" Remember, when you say yes to something, you have just said no to something else. Are your answers consistently in agreement with your values and goals? 
  • Enjoy Anticipation, Relish the Memories. Is your schedule ever so busy that there's little time to anticipate a wonderful event, enjoy it when it arrives or reminisce about it afterwards because you've already moved on to the next thing? Consider saying no to a few invitations next month so you can fully enjoy the ones to which you say yes! Do you feel obligated to go? Perhaps this question can help you as you discern when to say no.
  • Don't Rush Wisdom. Take your time when making decisions. "If life's pace pushes you, push back. Take as much time and prayer as you need for (clarity) to develop. And wait for your decision to be affirmed by peace."
  • For Type A's Only. Dr Swenson shares this advice from Dr Meyer Friedman, who first described the type A personality. "Practice smiling. Purposely speak more slowly, stop in the middle of some sentences, hesitate for three seconds, then continue. Purposely say 'I'm wrong' at least twice today, even if you're not sure you're wrong. Listen to at least two persons today without interrupting even once... Seek out the longest line at the bank." Although the old me could be the poster child for the type A personality (and still, at times!), I have learned to receive such previously frustrating annoyances as long lines in the supermarket as gifts - opportunities to breathe, to pray, to rest. "In repentance and rest is your salvation," says the Lord in Isaiah 30:15, "in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it." These are sobering words if we haven't learned to desire inner quiet more than we want whatever it is we want right now. To those of us pursuing the abundant life each day, the need to wait for some things becomes a gift. Outer chaos in our lives often reflects or leads to inner chaos. Having to wait builds patient endurance and is often a path to greater wisdom and love. 
  • Create Buffer Zones. Wouldn't it be nice if we all learned to create buffer zones around our daily lives? Whether at work or running errands, we can set aside even five minutes an hour to rest our minds and nurture our spirits. A song on iTunes. An inspiring poem. Enjoying photos of our children and spouse. Closing our eyes in prayer or reading a psalm or two. These short but powerful infusions of hope and joy in the middle of a busy day can make all the difference.
  • Plan for Free Time. "Christ's teaching, His healing, His serving, and His loving were usually spontaneous. The person standing in front of Him was the opportunity He accepted. If He chose spontaneous living, isn't that a signal to us? Overloaded schedules are not the way to walk In His Steps." An inflexible, over-scheduled day lacks buffer zones and leaves little room for the Holy Spirit to move. If your day is packed, move some items to another day or delete them altogether.
  • Be Available. "God... exalts faithfulness over productivity." Do we? Have we scheduled ourselves so full that we are unavailable to God? Can our agenda be interrupted to serve God and His people in need?
As we approach Advent and the celebration of Christ's birth, let us resolve to prepare our hearts, making room for God to use us like never before, giving Him our time and choosing to glorify Him in all we do.

Be free!
Dr Mari

* Photo by James Randkley, Stone/Getty Images. 

Visit Overloaded Lives are Powerless Lives for Part I and Unloaded Lives are Powerful for Part II of this series based on Dr Richard Swenson's book, Margin.


    Thursday, November 17, 2011

    Psalm 23 - For My Brother, With Love & Admiration

    I post this timeless psalm in thanksgiving for my older brother, whose courage and dedication to the truth and to fighting for what's right and good bring honor to a watchful Shepherd who will never lead us astray. 

    "The LORD is my Shepherd,
    I shall not be in want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
    He leads me beside quiet waters,
    He restores my soul.
    He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
    Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil, for You are with me;
    Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
    You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
    You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
    Surely goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
    and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever." 
     Psalm 23

    * Photo from

    Wednesday, November 16, 2011

    Dr Mari's Health & Hope Corner - November 2011

    Visit Hope Matters for this month's Health & Hope Corner: Life is for Living! In this short post, I share the transformation that took place in my heart when I learned to grieve the losses of life. I experienced and now understand the words of Jesus from Matthew 5:4,

    Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

    We can trust the pain in our hearts to God's river of mercy.
    We can trust the pain in our hearts to God's river of mercy and love. There, it is transformed, and we are free once more to live!

    Be free!
    Dr Mari

    Monday, November 14, 2011

    Some Calvin & Hobbes fun - in thanksgiving for all children!

    Celebrating all children - they enrich our lives so much!

    Sunday, November 13, 2011

    Para quienes aman a Lorenzo y a sus hermanas (For All Who Love Lorenzo and his sisters)

    Lorenzo, 2001-2010. ¡Te amamos! We love you!

    "Los cielos, Señor, celebran Tus maravillas,
    y Tu fidelidad la asamblea de los santos.
    ¿Quién en los cielos es comparable al Señor?
    ¿Quién como Él entre los seres celestiales?
    Dios es muy temido en la asamblea de los santos;
    grande y portentoso sobre cuantos lo rodean.
    ¿Quién como Tú, Señor, Dios Todopoderoso,
    rodeado de poder y de fidelidad?... 

    Tu brazo es capaz de grandes proezas;
    fuerte es Tu mano, exaltada Tu diestra.
    La justicia y el derecho son el fundamento de Tu trono, 
    y Tus heraldos, el amor y la verdad.
    Dichosos los que saben aclamarte, Señor, 
    y caminan a la luz de Tu presencia..."

    Salmo 89:5-8, 13-15

    ¡Gracias, Dios Todopoderoso! ¡En Ti confiamos! 

    Visita Praise You in This Storm para escuchar una canción llena de esperanza publicada en memoria de mi primito. ¡Te amo, Lorenzo!

    "The heavens praise Your wonders, O Lord,
       Your faithfulness too, in the assembly of the holy ones.
    For who in the skies above can compare with the Lord?
       Who is like the Lord among the heavenly beings?
    In the council of the holy ones God is greatly feared;
       He is more awesome than all who surround Him.
    O Lord God Almighty, who is like You?
       You are mighty, O Lord, and Your faithfulness surrounds You... 

    Your arm is endued with power;
       Your hand is strong, Your right hand exalted.
    Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne;
       love and faithfulness go before You.
    Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim You,
       who walk in the light of Your presence, O Lord."

    Psalm 89:5-8,13-15

    Thank You, Lord God, Almighty! Our trust is in You.

    For a song of hope and encouragement, visit Praise You in this Storm, posted in memory of my sweet cousin Lorenzo. 

    Thursday, November 10, 2011

    God's Song

    Have you heard God sing over you lately? I have, and it's glorious! In fact, I live for that. I live to hear His song again - every day! I remember many of His songs whispered to my heart, but one came so unexpectedly that it stands out. It happened last year.

    I had just lost my father and had grieved for months when another crucial relationship became strained. Having no words to express all the emotions that filled me, God inspired me to paint. I bought an unfinished bookshelf and, with each brushstroke, I poured my soul's grief and confusion unto the wood while sitting quietly in God's presence. And then it happened.

    With no warning or obvious trigger apart from a prayerful gaze seeking God's face, deep called to deep (see Psalm 42). The depth of God's mercy reached the depth of my suffering as I called on Him without words. Suddenly, I heard God speak to my restless heart, and I was healed. In an instant, I knew that God was with me, that He saw my heart and, loving me, delighted in my seeking - and delighted in me! He stilled my soul, singing over me as in these verses from Zephaniah 3:17,

    "The LORD your God is with you,
       He is mighty to save.
    He will take great delight in you,
       He will quiet you with His love,
       He will rejoice over you with singing.” 

    What a promise! We don't serve a God who is far away, seated in a distant throne out of touch, uninvolved with His creation. This view of God is not scriptural and is certainly far from my experience and that of countless Christians. We have a God who left His throne to walk among us and show us God's love. His character. His goodness. And His justice. We have a God with us who is mighty to save and delights in those who seek and welcome Him.

    In Philippians 2:6-11, the apostle Paul describes Jesus' saving actions. He explains that Jesus, "being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Jesus is our Immanuel, God with us (Isaiah 7:14).

    As we receive Him into our hearts, the Holy Spirit takes up residence within us, filling us with power and love. He opens our eyes and our ears to the truth of His Word, and we begin to see Him more and more clearly. And He enables us to hear His song! His song of redemption. Of hope. Of life. The song that speaks of an everlasting love unlike anything we've ever known.

    May we have ears to hear it and hearts to receive His matchless love.

    Dr Mari

    Sunday, November 6, 2011

    Unloaded Lives are Powerful: Restoring a Margin of Sanity (Part II)

    Are you frazzled, going from one commitment to another, continually in a rush, never fully processing one important event before the next one comes? If so, it is time to build a margin of sanity around your life! Judging from how many of you read my post Overloaded Lives are Powerless Lives, this topic has struck a cord. Last week I shared about the syndrome of overload; today I share some of what we can do about it. This comes from Dr Richard Swenson's book, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives.

    Here are some practical things we can begin to do today to recover the gift of time.
    • Expect the Unexpected. "Everything takes longer than it does," says a proverb in Ecuador. Build in some extra time each day to handle the unexpected.
    • Learn to Say No. And I would add, and "to feel good about it," for this is frequently a step toward greater health. Say No and move on, feeling good about your choice. But, beware. "Saying No is not an excuse for selfishness, rudeness or insensitivity. Instead, it is an invitation to listen carefully to the Spirit's voice, adhering closely to a system of wise priorities that inform our Yes and our No."
    • Turn off the TV! For the average adult, saying no to the TV will open up "twenty to thirty hours a week... Americans watch close to a billion hours of television every day. What did we do with this time before television was invented? Is it possible we lingered at the dinner table, helped the kids with homework, visited with the neighbors, dug in the garden, read great books, took long walks, and slept full nights?"
    • Prune the Activity Branches. Less can be more when it comes to cluttered schedules! And beware of directing your kids into over-scheduled lives by signing them up for everything under the sun. Is there something you can cut out from your weekly schedule that will open up another night to get to know your family again?
    • Practice Simplicity and Contentment. Less focus, energy, and time spent on things means more time for meaningful pursuits and relationships. Stop here a moment and reflect on what you're most focused on, what takes up your time and energy? There's much room for positive change here!
    • Separate Time from Technology. "Time-saving technologies... consume compress, and devour time. All the countries with the most time-saving technologies are the most stressed-out... Try disconnecting from clocks, watches, alarms, beepers, telephones, and e-mail for a day, a weekend or a week... Don't answer the telephone. Stop giving people the number to your cell phone and instead use it to make calls rather than receive calls." Remember the man in Mali, West Africa who said to Dr Swenson, "You Americans have all the watches, but we have all the time."
    • Short-Term Flurry Versus Long-Term Vision. What are we living for? Do we have a sense of direction and a vision for our lives? Have we sought God's vision for us? This is critical!
    • Thank God. Perhaps God orchestrated two events for you in one night so that you can comfortably say No to the one you're not thrilled about. Rather than fretting over it, thank God!
    Enjoy Nature today; it's free!

      These are just a few things we can start doing to regain some sanity in our schedules. I will share a few more later this week. Until then, I hope you're becoming more committed to protecting the precious gift of time and using it wisely. You and your loved ones will be glad you did!

      Be free!
      Dr Mari

      Visit Overloaded Lives are Powerless Lives: It's Time for a Change! for Part I and More Ways to Unload Your Life for Part III of this series based on Dr Richard Swenson's book, Margin.

      Wednesday, November 2, 2011

      Overloaded Lives are Powerless Lives: It's Time for a Change! (Part I)

      This month I've been reading a book titled Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives. Written by Dr Richard Swenson, it addresses the many ways that modern progress has robbed us of our reserves and has contributed to a culture that drives us to hurried, frazzled living. Whereas much good has come out of the technological age, we are living  chronically overloaded lives as individuals and as a society. The author shares various manifestations of this overload syndrome; see if they sound familiar.
      • Activity overload, which "takes away the pleasure of anticipation and the delight of reminiscence." 
      • Change overload, with frequent moves, new jobs, new schools, new... everything, constantly!
      • Choice overload: Just go to the supermarket or, better yet, visit one of the Superstores.
      • Commitment overload: Have we learned to discern our commitments and feel good about saying "No" when we must?
      • Debt overload. 
      • Decision overload.
      • Expectation overload. 
      • Fatigue overload: In my practice of family medicine, at least half of the patients that come in with a chronic problem complain of fatigue. Most of them sleep less than 6 hours per night, drink too much coffee and consume alcohol in excess, all of which contribute to fatigue.
      • Hurry overload.
      • Information overload: "We are buried by data on a daily basis." 
      • Media overload: In North America, the average TV set is turned on 55 hours a week!
      • Noise overload: "True quiet is extremely rare."
      • Possession overload: "Having first imprisoned us with debt, possessions then take over our houses and occupy our time... Everything I own owns me. Why would I want more?"
      • Technology overload: "The average person must learn to operate 20,000 pieces of equipment."
      • Traffic overload: "We now have more cars per family than drivers per family."
      • Work overload: "Work is God-ordained. Work overload, however, was not part of the original plan. Yet every morning millions of Americans head drudgingly to an exhausting work schedule that leaves them stressed and worn out. The earlier predictions of shorter work-weeks and higher incomes have backfired. Instead we often find total family work schedules exceeding eighty hours a week - yet another family 'over-working and under-relating.'"
      Such is life in our modern, advanced, developed world. The author relates meeting a man in Mali, West Africa, who said, "You Americans have all the watches; we have all the time."

      Does any of this resonate with you today? If so, consider ways to help yourself on a daily basis beginning right now. You can redirect your life by making new choices and moving in the direction of greater sanity and true living. Overload syndrome is pervasive, but there's so much that we can do about it! The book speaks of the concept of "margin" as the opposite of overload. Margin builds our reserves, increasing the space between us and our limits. Margin = power - load. We can increase our power for abundant living by doing more of those things that increase our well-being, and we can decrease the load we carry through careful choices, too. This will bring back a margin of sanity, energy, peace, and contentment to our daily lives that will make all the difference.

      One last thought. Are we measuring our progress by the world's definition of success, ours or God's? "What if... we were to begin measuring our progress not by our wealth but by our virtue; not by our education but by our humility; and not by our power but by our meekness?" What if?

      Be free!
      Dr Mari

      For part II of this series, read Unloaded Lives are Powerful: Restoring a Margin of Sanity. For more on why the choices we make matter, read I Am Not My Own.

       Above excerpts are from Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives by Richard Swenson, MD.

      *Photo by Manuel Díaz Photography. All Rights Reserved. *

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