Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Christmas Message: The Grace of God is Here!

"For the grace of God has appeared, 
bringing salvation to all, 
training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, 
and in the present age to live lives that are 
self-controlled, upright, and godly, 
while we wait for the blessed hope 
and the manifestation of the glory 
of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. 
He it is who gave himself for us 
that he might redeem us from all iniquity 
and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds."
Titus 2:11-14 (NRSV)

Christ is born!
The Grace of God has appeared.
Our Savior is here, now,
and offers salvation to all!

Such a priceless gift must be opened and shared;
such grace deserves a response.
So let us worship Him with our lives
and honor His holy name.

Have a blessed and meaningful Christmas!
Dr Mari

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Advent Reflections: What's at the Center?

This December, while we continue to prepare our hearts to celebrate Christmas, my family is also packing and unpacking boxes. Although we're not moving far, we will be in a new home very soon. This means new neighbors. A new commute. New surroundings. Once again, our Advent season of preparation is filled with change.

I'm thankful that, in the midst of change, old traditions can ground us, bringing comfort and peace. Last week we put up our Christmas tree and readied our house for this joyful season. As our kids placed the last few ornaments on the tree, I moved a few more boxes into the garage to make room for Christmas spirit. Our living room is now filled with lights, angels, Advent calendars, a well-adorned tree, and Christmas cheer. And in front of the tree sits a simple manger scene where Mary and Joseph behold the newborn King.

While packing a few more boxes last night, a beautiful thought captured my heart. As we continue to empty our house of stuff, visual reminders of the importance and relevance of Jesus have invaded our living room and our home. As we prepare our hearts to celebrate Christ's birth, the cards, decorations, and our Advent wreath are constant reminders of His presence among us. Our house has been emptied of stuff and filled with Christ!

This same process takes place in our hearts when we invite Christ to live there. We begin an intentional process to empty ourselves from everything that clutters our souls, hearts, and minds, and ask to be filled with the presence of Jesus through the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is also what the season of Advent is all about. It's a wonderful time to recommit ourselves to a life of faith, trust, and obedient surrender to the One who came to save us.

As our manger scene now fills the space left by the clutter of boxes and stuff, so the presence of Jesus will fill us when we empty ourselves of what clutters us inside ... if we ask. Jesus fills all things in every way, as explained in this excerpt from Paul's letter to the Ephesians. This is my prayer for you and for me this Advent,

"I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, 
may give you 
the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, 
so that you may know Him better.  
I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened 
in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, 
the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, 
 and His incomparably great power for us who believe. 
That power is like the working of His mighty strength, which He exerted in Christ 
when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms,  
far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, 
not only in the present age but also in the one to come.  
And God placed all things under His feet 
and appointed Him to be head over everything 
for the church, which is His body, 
the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way."  
(Ephesians 1:17-23)

May Christ remain at the center of our hearts and lives. And may His holy name be praised.
Dr Mari

* My devotional, Walking with Jesus in Healthcare, was published in November 2012! Spread the word to your friends and loved ones who care for the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of others. The book will inspire, encourage, and empower them! Visit my author website for details.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Announcing My Book Release!

It is with great joy that I announce the release of my new book for healthcare professionals and caregivers, Walking with Jesus in Healthcare! This 120-day devotional will inspire, encourage, and empower all who care for the physical, emotional, and/or spiritual wellbeing of others. It is written for doctors, nurses, Hospice workers, chaplains, counselors, dentists, therapists (of body and spirit), MA's, NP's, PA's, ancillary staff in hospitals and clinics, technicians, and all caregivers! We walk through the entire Gospel according to Luke (the physician) to learn from the Ultimate Healer how to live a prayerful and powerful life of service in healthcare and beyond.

The book released this week and is now available. It would be a wonderful gift for a friend or loved one in healthcare this Christmas! You may visit my author website for more details and ordering information. You may also contact me through that site for any questions.  

Join me in thanking God for the privilege of serving Him and His people in this way, and pray that all who read it will come closer to God. Thank you!

Dr Mari

For more information, visit my website. Spread the word!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Today, I Am Thankful - Again!

Today, I am thankful.
I am thankful for a new day and the opportunities it brings.
I am thankful for children's laughter, for their honesty and innocence.
I am thankful for the gift of life and health, 
for the ability to walk, talk, hear, see, and admire God's creation.
I am thankful for friends who stay near when it matters most 
and I am thankful for the memories that keep old friends near.
I am thankful for family, for love,
 and for the mundane of every-day living.

I am thankful for trials, for tough times, for people who stretch me.
I am thankful for the priceless gift of true friendship.
I am thankful for rainy days that force me to slow down
and cherish the simple.
I am thankful for God's gifts and my ability to develop and use them.

I am thankful for God and His goodness. 
I am thankful for the sacrifice that opened the door to Life eternal.
I am thankful for God's Word and its riches, its challenges, and its Truth.
I am thankful for God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
I am thankful for the mystery
and I am thankful for its miraculous nearness.
I am thankful for mercy, forgiveness, and grace.

Today and every day, 
I am thankful.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Thanksgiving: My New Book is Coming Soon!

12/12 UPDATE: My devotional for healthcare professionals and caregivers is now available! Visit my author website for details! 

To all my faithful followers and encouragers,

I am thrilled to share that I just finished the final round of edits for my devotional, Walking with Jesus in Healthcare. With God's help, it will be in print very soon! My faith has grown and my heart has been transformed while writing it, and I pray that it will bless every reader with a closer walk with God.

Here's an excerpt I share at the end of the book. It comes from a hymn written by Fanny Crosby in 1882. It is also the song of my heart as I complete this work I was called to do. What a privilege!

"Oh, the unsearchable riches of Christ,
wealth that can never be told!
Riches exhaustless of mercy and grace,
precious, more precious than gold!

Oh, the unsearchable riches of Christ!
Freely, how freely they flow,
making the souls of the faithful and true
happy wherever they go!

Oh, the unsearchable riches of Christ!
Who would not gladly endure
trials, afflictions, and crosses on earth,
riches like these to secure!"

Wishing you a strong faith and a life full of true riches,
Dr Mari

For more information and updates, visit my author website.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sunday Morning Inspiration

"It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching." 
(St Francis of Assisi)

May this song inspire us to live congruent lives where the thoughts of our minds and the inclinations of our hearts translate into actions that witness to Christ's presence and activity in a broken world.

Relying on His Grace,
Dr Mari

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Trust: A Pathway to Peace

I've had a remarkable few years. Like the little drummer boy, I gave God the most precious gifts He gave me to use for His purposes. As I've stepped more fully into His calling on my life, I trust that the One who called me will continue to equip me. It's an exhilarating process that still amazes me daily as I recognize that it is possible to have what you most desire. Psalm 37:4 agrees,  

"Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart."

One of the disciplines I took on as I became more intentional about fulfilling my purpose involves a commitment to do those things that nurture my soul and keep me full of the Lord's Spirit. This includes reading God's Word, spending time surrounded by nature, pursuing inner stillness, volunteering my time and talents to serve others, and pouring into key relationships in my life, among others.

Today I read a chapter from Brennan Manning's book, Ruthless Trust. Here's what spoke to my soul, "The splendor of a human heart which trusts that it is loved gives God more pleasure and delight than Westminster Cathedral, the Sistine Chapel, and all the other human glories combined. Why does our trust offer such immense pleasure to God? Because trust is the preeminent expression of love."

Brennan's words resonate within me and are close to my experience. As I've come closer to God, I know Him better. And the more I know His character, the more I trust Him.

As I trust God more, I have more joy, more peace, and I am more whole. And then, naturally, my attitude, thoughts, and actions reflect that trust. Others notice, which gives me the opportunity to share Him with them as well. I believe this sequence of events that flows from a trusting heart makes God (and all of heaven) smile.

The more we trust God, the more we learn to rely on His strength, which means we move away from relying on our weakness. We learn to rest in Him, which moves us away from a natural inclination to worry and fret (my previous specialty!). As we trust God more, we experience a peace that is beyond understanding even in the toughest moments.

Trusting God is a fruit of faith, and it bears its own fruit of other-centered living.

Today, resolve to seek strength outside of yourself. Choose to get to know God and His character better, and you'll enter into a relationship unlike anything you've ever known.

Trust God!
Dr Mari

Monday, October 22, 2012

Inspiration for Today

 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world....

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.

The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.

The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever.
The ordinances of the Lord are sure and altogether righteous.

They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb.

By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me.
Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
    be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, 

my Rock and my Redeemer.
Psalm 19:1-4; 7-14 

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, 
so that men are without excuse.
Romans 1:20 

Photos courtesy of Manuel Díaz Photography. Used with permission. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Prayer: A Way of Life

I recently came upon this quote by one of my favorite Christian writers, Henri Nouwen. He said, 

"To pray, I think, does not mean to think about God in contrast to thinking about other things, or to spend time with God instead of spending time with other people. Rather, it means to think and live in the presence of God. As soon as we begin to divide our thoughts about God and thoughts about people and events, we remove God from our daily life and put Him into a pious little niche where we can think pious thoughts and experience pious feelings.... 

Although it is important and even indispensable for the spiritual life to set apart time for God and God alone, prayer can only become unceasing prayer when all our thoughts -- beautiful or ugly, high or low, proud or shameful, sorrowful or joyful -- can be thought in the presence of God."

I agree with Henri's thoughts on prayer. There is so much written about this subject, and some of it is helpful. But as my own prayer life has changed and deepened, I've learned that prayer is much more than words and requests. 

Prayer reflects a relationship between one who surrenders and One who reigns. This relationship, one that is marked by transparency and a desire to seek God's best in all things, is central to a powerful and transforming prayer life. As this relationship matures and becomes central in someone's life, prayer itself becomes a way of life. This makes perfect sense. 

The one who gets to know God and His character never wants to leave His presence. Why would we?

Prayer is words, thoughts, and even gazes toward God. It is seeking God's face, His presence, and His wisdom in every circumstance. Such prayerful living keeps us safe, softens our hearts, and helps us live for others. It exposes our true selves and looks to God as the source of love, goodness, and peace. 

In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, the apostle Paul urges us to pray without ceasing, 

Be joyful always;  
pray continually;  
give thanks in all circumstances, 
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

I believe such praying without ceasing begins to happen naturally as we get to know God and His character -- His goodness, faithfulness, and love. As we learn that God is trustworthy and faithful, we want to live in His presence more and more, and so we pray continually, calling Him into every circumstance, good and bad.

James 5:13 points to the joy and wisdom of praying at all times,

Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.

In good times and bad times, prayer brings us into the presence of God. Prayer is the overflow of a life that is learning to trust the One who knows everything and cares about everything. Today, regardless of what you're facing, look to God as the answer. Pray that He will reveal Himself in the midst of your need, and continue to abide in Him through prayer as you wait for the answer. When you wait prayerfully, you wait in good company!

So, today and every day, choose to stay close to God, and pray!
Dr Mari

Prayer is also about learning to live in Love's Grip; read more about that here
The importance of prayer is emphasized in my new book, Walking with Jesus in Healthcare.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

70 X 7 - Freedom through Forgiveness

Forgiveness. It's so hard to do, but it's so critical to the one forgiven and to the one who forgives. I'm reading a wonderful book titled Gray Matter by a colleague, Dr David Levy. This neurosurgeon shares the story of his journey through forgiveness - extending it and receiving it - and the healing that followed. He then shares his process of guiding patients on their own path to forgiveness, a choice that facilitates healing and leads to better outcomes - even in brain surgery!

Many of you read my recent post, Second Chances, which is closely tied to today's theme of forgiveness. Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of sins, and so we're given countless second chances, as the song says, because of the Cross.

I have another new favorite song; I know you're not surprised! It's called Losing (hear it below). It shares the heart of one who wants to forgive but feels like he's losing in the process. Yet, that feeling couldn't be further from the reality of what takes place when we choose to forgive. When we forgive, although we may have a "right" to hold a grudge, we let go of that right. We let it go! We never excuse the insult or injury, we never deny the pain it's caused, but we choose to let go of the bitterness, resentment, and our desire and "right" to revenge.

Forgiveness is letting go!

When we choose to forgive, we release the one who harmed us, and we release ourselves. We free ourselves when we forgive. Or, to say it more accurately, we let Christ's work on the Cross free us from the prison of resentment and unforgiveness. When we forgive, we extend to others the forgiveness that Jesus extends to us.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free, says Galatians 5:1. To live in freedom, we must forgive. There is no other way for us. If we feel like we're losing when we forgive, the feeling is wrong, it's inaccurate. We're winning. We're winning big! We're winning our souls back.

As the song says, we all have a choice to make. One is love. The other is hate. When we choose to forgive, we are like Christ. We choose love.

Today, I choose to forgive again, and again. Everything. Everyone. You. Me.

Join me. 70 X 7 times. Be free! Let go.

Choose love!
Dr Mari

Monday, September 10, 2012

Dr Mari's Song of the Month

As most of you know, I love Christian music. Since the retreat that transformed my life years ago, music has been a daily part of my walk with God. Sometimes songs help us express our deepest needs or longings. They help us see things in a different way, and we gain a new perspective. They challenge, motivate, and inspire us. At the right time, a song can even change the course of someone's life.

This is not only a beautiful video, but this song by Casting Crowns has the best lyrics I've heard in a while. The song is Jesus, Friend of Sinners. Watch and listen!

And may we all live it out!

Many blessings,
Dr Mari 

Jesus straightened up and asked her,  
“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared.  
“Go now and leave your life of sin.” 
John 8:10,11

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
John 1:17

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Hope is Alive at Give Kids the World

Last night, I had the awesome privilege of spending a few hours at one of my favorite places here in Central Florida: Give Kids the World. Having survived the horror of the Holocaust, a man named Henri Landwirth founded this magical place to bless families from all over the world. The resort-like village offers Make-A-Wish-Foundation families a cost-free week away from the stress and chaos of constant medical appointments and exhausting treatments. They exist to fulfill the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses and their families "for as long as there is a need."

"Over 115,000 children have had their dream come true at Give Kids The World. No child in need has ever been turned away – and no child ever will. Give Kids The World is a place where families find joy, laughter, serenity, and a lifetime of memories."

This weekend, my teenager and I volunteered at the Park of Dreams pool area. David assisted the photographer capture precious memories of young princesses and pirates while I handed out towels, let people in and out, and served the families in various ways. There are always special moments, like when we both spotted a young dad swinging his little girl to Enchanted's That's How You Know, her red dress flowing like petals embracing the light.

The pirate party by the pool was a hit, as it is every Friday night. During the week-long stay, each family experiences Christmas on Thursday, the Mayor's birthday party, princess parades, pirate and tea parties, pony rides, free movies at Julie's Safari Theater, and much more. They also receive free admission to the Disney parks, Universal Studios, Sea World, and others. Can you even believe a place like this exists? The goal is to shower the kids and their families with kindness, goodness, and love. The village is a bit of heaven on earth.

Julie's Safari Theater at Give Kids the World

I am so thankful that God spared Henri's life. Although he could have grown bitter and cold having witnessed and experienced such cruelty, Henri chose to love instead. The village he founded is, to me, a story of redemption, courage, and love. His spirit, his kindness and compassion make me want to reach out to others and say, How can I give you the best of this world today?

Henri had a choice to make, and he chose the path of healing and blessing. Today, regardless of the losses we've faced and the heartbreak we may have experienced, we can choose love, forgiveness, and grace. We can choose to bless.

We can choose to give each other the best of this world and, in so doing, we will change the world.

Hope lives!
Dr Mari

Friday, August 10, 2012

Wisdom from Mother Teresa

"Active and contemplative are not two different lives;

it is only that one is faith in action through service,

the other faith in action through prayer." (Mother Teresa)

"And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. 
But the greatest of these is love." 

(1 Corinthians 13:13)

I am so thankful for the example of faithful ordinary people
through whom God does extraordinary things.

May we joyfully exercise our faith, 
giving it hands and feet
to reach a hurting world.

With love,
Dr Mari

For a reminder of small things we can all do to make a difference in someone's life, check out Josh Wilson's song, I Refuse.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Second Chances: Heaven's Heart

It's been a year since I've been there - my favorite spot to savor some fresh strawberries while reading a good book. It's not an exotic location; in fact, part of its beauty lies in its simplicity. It's the lawn at my in-laws' New England home. It seems like their garden gets better every year despite the petal-chewing deer that roam there faithfully every Spring. Through much hard work and perseverance, Mom and Dad have created something beautiful - a serene refuge to which I always long to return.

During a recent visit, I found out that Mom and Dad each tend separate gardens on their spacious lawn. After a visit to the town nursery, Mom plants the new-comers just North of the porch on the well-established garden that delights butterflies, bumblebees, and thirsty robins throughout the day. Up ahead stands a statue of St Francis where blue jays and orioles sometimes perch, surrounded by a colorful array of wild flowers. Mom's patience and discipline have paid off; the landscape is gorgeous.

Although I love all these gardens, I was thrilled to learn about the more hidden one that evolved over several years. Dad calls it the Garden of Second Chances. This hopeful patch welcomes those plants and flowers not worthy of front row status - the ones that, despite having the same soil and fertilizers, just don't make it elsewhere. Whatever Mom doesn't need in her gardens ends up here, where it gets a second chance.

Dad's Garden of Second Chances

Although early on this garden wasn't much to look at, it is now vibrant and beautiful, and the yard wouldn't be the same without it. A second chance made all the difference.

How often do we discard things - or, worse - give up on people without giving them the second chance that could save them or make a difference in their lives?

Do we withhold from the broken the gift of a fresh start? And when we fall short of our expectations, do we crawl around full of life-smothering shame and regret, or do we offer ourselves grace?

Last week I attended a convention where I discovered an Irish band that rocks. They call themselves Rend Collective Experiment, and their song Second Chance captured my soul. It celebrates the "countless second chances we've been given at the Cross." The chorus brings the truth of God's mercy home: "A second chance is Heaven's heart."

Indeed, we've all been given a second chance - many times! "Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness." (Lamentations 3:22,23)

Dad's Garden of Second Chances reminds me of God's grace - the undeserved favor and goodness He lavishes on imperfect people. Forgiveness is very often undeserved; that's what makes it a gift.

Next time I visit Mom and Dad, as always, I plan to photograph butterflies, study hummingbirds, and get a grand tour of Mom's lovely flower beds. And then I'll stroll up the hill to an unassuming patch of green that houses something we all need. Hope. Mercy. Grace.

And I will say a prayer of thanksgiving to a good Lord - the giver of all good things. The One whose grace is limitless. The One whose love never ends.

Dr Mari 

"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!" (1 John 3:1)

For more pictures and stories of my in-laws' gardens, read Living in the Moment and A Lesson in Patience from Hens and Chickens.

Monday, July 16, 2012

In Love's Grip: Resting in Hope

I recently met my newest cousin and fell in love all over again. One of the things I love about holding babies is that I not only enjoy the moment, but I get to relive the joy of holding my children as infants. I love babies - looking at them, feeding them, changing them - okay, maybe I don't love that! But I do love them.

The sweet hand of my newest little cousin.

I also love it when babies hold on to you for dear life, as in this photograph. While feeding this cutie last month and singing a lullaby, I suddenly felt her teeny fingers grab on to mine. When I tried to move my hand, she tightened her grip, as if to say, "You're mine right now, and I'm not ready to let go quite yet!"

This baby was content, and she was ready to fight to keep it that way!

Have you ever felt that way while holding on to God during times of need? I certainly have - often.

While listening to EMI recording artist Karyn Williams sing Rest in the Hope tonight, I had flashbacks to many moments of uncertainty and loss that were transformed by reaching up to a mighty God - one who never lets go.

Her song reminded me that God is "the truth that never changes." Indeed, Hebrews 13:8 assures us that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." Regardless of the circumstances of our lives, God IS, and Jesus is still our Immanuel, God with us.

Although He never changes, when we receive the love of Christ, everything changes for us. We now know the One who engraved us on the palms of His hands (Isaiah 49:16). We know the One who gave His life for us. We know the One whose love is an endless river of grace.

"Love never fails," says 1 Corinthians 13:8. God is love, and His love endures forever. If you ever doubt it, just read Psalm 136, which repeats it 26 times. Regardless of the depth of our need, His love endures forever, and His grace never runs out.

God is love. God is with us. God will never let go. We can rest in the hope of those promises.

Love never fails.

In His Grip,
Dr Mari

Hear the story behind Karyn Williams' song Rest in the Hope here. For more hope from God's promises, read God's Song.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Hidden Courage: A Tribute to a Young Veteran

This month, I translated a Little Patriot Book titled, When Your Dad Goes to War. The series, written by Maryann Makekau, helps children and their families cope with the many issues brought on by military deployment. As when I translated the Little Pink Book series to help families cope with cancer, I have been touched deeply by this small work of love.

Fifteen years ago, I served on Active Duty in the U. S. Air Force after completing a residency in family medicine. While stationed at a Special Operations base, I was privileged to care for Active Duty men and women and the families they left behind during frequent deployments to remote locations. I diagnosed and treated anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder often, and referred many families for additional help. Even years after the experience, I still remember the faces of countless people who sacrificed everything for their country and our freedom; they deserve our utmost respect, admiration, and gratitude.

This week I met another such family: a young disabled veteran, his wife, and their toddler. They attended a seminar to equip entrepreneurs who dream of starting a business. Along with the fifty-some other participants, this man shared his dreams, but something was different about him. His speech was slow, and his feet couldn't move much faster. Although he brought home physical as well as emotional scars from the war, his determination seems intact. I was inspired by watching him walk up and down every aisle, ever so slowly, but never stopping - his head always help up high.

When I looked in his eyes, I recognized a spark one might miss from his outer appearance. His eyes disclosed his hidden courage, his hope, his pride. I saw that same spark in my father's eyes; he, too, served in uniform as a young man. I have no doubt that, like my father, this young veteran will overcome every obstacle on his path, even if it takes some time, much perseverance, and the loving support of grateful people.


Still, the road won't be easy for him or his family. As I observed his wife help him walk, I felt led to pray for them. Their children. Their future. Their marriage. And, holding back tears of gratitude, I began to count my many, many blessings.

We all know someone who's served in the military, is serving, or will serve one day. Their sacrifices impact all of us, whether we recognize it or not. Although I no longer wear a uniform, I gained much during my time among so many courageous and selfless people. May we all remember them in our prayers and offer them a helping hand and an understanding heart every opportunity we have.

Dr Mari

“A new command I give you: Love one another. 
As I have loved you, so you must love one another."  
(John 13:34)

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Seek and You Will Find: The Joy of Relationship

"The moment one gives close attention to anything, 
even a blade of grass, 
it becomes a mysterious, awesome, 
indescribably magnificent world in itself." 
(Henry Miller, Author)

Yesterday was a full day. It wasn't so much filled with activity as with angst. You know - that inner restlessness that often comes during times of change and big choices. You're waiting to get from point A to point B, but a world of possibilities lies in between. Thus, angst!

I'm at the crossroads between who I've been and who I'm called to become. There is much I want to hold on to, and even more I'm eager to embrace. I am, once again, in a chrysalis of change, waiting for what's next.

Thankfully, I'm certain that what awaits me is marvelous. God told me Himself. "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'" (Jeremiah 29:11) This well-known verse is a sweet reminder of God's faithfulness to those who follow Him. Yet, the verse that follows it is even more hopeful.

"'Then you will call upon Me and come 
and pray to Me, 
and I will listen to you.  
You will seek Me and find Me 
when you seek Me with all your heart.  
I will be found by you,' 
declares the Lord..." 
 (Jeremiah 29:12-14a)
During times of critical decisions, I crave silence. I long for inner stillness, for I know that's when I hear God's whispers. I don't want to make a move outside of God's perfect will, so I must seek to know God's heart in every situation.

As I crave this inner stillness, God answers. I must simply wait - while in pursuit - and it surely comes! I experienced it yesterday.

We got home around dusk after letting the kids run around at the neighborhood playground. After a light and decision-free afternoon, the countless questions that sprinted to my mind as we reached our house were (thankfully!) halted by the deepest shade of red I've ever seen. A vividly crimson cardinal greeted us home, hopping happily all over our front yard. I couldn't help but stop everything and follow him to our backyard, where he soon found his mate and flew away.

As I pursued him stealthily, I noticed new flowers blooming all around me that I'd missed all week. I spotted critters and followed the flight of two monarch butterflies, and I drank in the lush green all around. 

As I took in my surroundings, I became still. And in that stillness, I felt completely at peace. My heart was glad and my mind was clear. Ahhh!

Although I didn't sense clear guidance as to each of my questions, the experience reminded me that I must participate in finding the stillness I need. Sometimes, finding such stillness must be the most intentional thing that we do. It's a terrific paradox!

Part of the beauty and mystery of Nature is in how ubiquitous it is. It's everywhere! Yet, it's also exquisitely hidden.

And so it is with God. Omnipresent, and beautifully hidden, waiting to be found.

Seek and you will find but, to find, you must seek with your whole heart. Your whole self, fully engaged. You must want it. I must want it.

There's the challenge, and why we must be still.  

"Be still and know that I am God..." (Psalm 46:10a)

Be still!
Dr Mari

*Photo by Manuel Díaz Photography. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.

For more stories to help you be still, read A Thirsty Deer Leads Worship! and Living in the Moment

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

My Mission Statement: To Shine!

Below is my mission statement; 
I borrowed it from Salvador's song, Shine

I will continue to pursue it daily with everything I have.

When I remember my calling and when I don't.
When it matters and when it, seemingly, doesn't.
When doing so brings accolades while attracting critics and judges.
When I feel like it, and when I don't.

I want to shine.

"Lord, let me shine
Shine like the moon
A reflection of You
All that I do
Lord, let me be
A light for Your truth
Light of the world
I want to be used
To shine for You."

I want to shine ... for Him!

All light is borrowed.
He shines through us.

We shine for Him.

Dr Mari

* Photo by Manuel Díaz Photography. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission. 

For a link to Salvador's song, Shine, read On the Edge of What's Next.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Purposeful Living: Becoming Who We Really Are

A beautiful friend recently sent me this e.e. cummings' quote and remarked, "I read this and thought of you. You are doing it!" Her thoughtful note put a smile on my face and made me glad - because she's right! Plus, she quoted my favorite poet - a fun bonus!

Every day, I become a bit more the person that God created me to be, and the journey has filled my life with a sense of adventure, purpose, and joy.

Some years ago I resolved to start using all the gifts God gave me and to give them back to Him as an offering. Since then, God continues to bless me with open doors to speak, write, and spread hope beyond the exam rooms where I care for patients. It's been an exciting time of rediscovering my gifts and trusting God to continue to develop them as I exercise them.

One of the pivotal experiences in this journey of growth involved meeting Mary, the gifted ex-Disney executive who became my coach. She helped me to focus my energy and define my purpose and goals, which shifted my life in a new and exciting direction. She did not ask me to write this but, if you are in need of coaching and inspiration, whether in your personal life or in your business, consider contacting her. The process of discovery she walks you through can be life-changing.*

I encourage you to look at your life and ask yourself, what do I want? What is the purpose of my life? Where are my choices taking me? As we commit to living a life of purpose and make the changes needed to achieve it, new doors open, and we begin to live abundant lives that make a difference. And that is a great way to live!

Dr Mari

* I now serve as a coach for physicians, a rewarding and unexpected new calling that evolved as a result of my coaching journey. *

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; 
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." (John 10:10)

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Physician: Heal Yourself!

I recently saw an ad for one of the medical VIP services that read,

Healing Others Shouldn't be Killing You.”

A “choking” visual created by a stethoscope looped around itself pulled me in, triggering flashbacks of my career as a physician. I remembered practicing as an Air Force officer with competing authorities - the military rank system and the medical hierarchy – which proved impossible to reconcile at times! During my second year in that challenging job, I fell on my knees one night and prayed, “Lord, I need You. If You are real, please reveal Yourself to me!”

He did, and my life has never been the same again.

When I gave my heart to Christ, He began to transform it, changing me as a mother, as a wife, and as a doctor. God is faithful to answer our prayers to know Him. And when we give Him our brokenness, He gives us life; what an exchange!

As I picture the loops around the choking stethoscope, I recognize that many physicians and caregivers feel like this right now. Squeezed in from every direction. Stretched to the max. Spent. And they feel this way right as they head for the door to see their next patient.

In a recent study of 1,195 physicians from various specialties, “nearly one-third of physicians responding to the survey indicated that they will want to leave medical practice after health reform is implemented.” One out of every three! I know of an office that recently lost three doctors in less than nine months. They all left for the same reasons. They had no joy in their work, little control over their days, and felt that they couldn't provide excellent care with the time constraints and other obstacles they face daily. In medicine, less is rarely more.

We need well-trained, compassionate team members as well as adequate resources and time to care for people with significant problems. The right fit is hard to find, and many never find it. For me, finding the right fit meant that I had to change, too, and learn to think outside the box. I chose to start working as an independent contractor, which has afforded me the flexibility to pursue God's call on my life as a pastor's wife, mother, author, speaker, and doctor. Joy has returned to my work, and I see myself as a servant in healthcare. 

Although the changes in my professional life have been life-giving, they came at a price. I've had to embrace a non-traditional model that others may not choose for themselves. Yet, in Galatians 1:10, Paul challenges our perspective and reminds us to consider our motives. “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God?... If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

These days, my joy and peace come from knowing that my choices are pleasing to God, and that is all I need.

No, helping others shouldn't be killing us. That is not God's will for His servants. Healing others is, in fact, life-giving when we do it with Jesus and to please God. I think many of us do it for Jesus but not necessarily with Him. This gap can be bridged through daily, intentional choices involving prayer, meditating on God's Word, adoring Him in worship, and through meaningful conversations with colleagues about the Lord and what He's doing in our personal and professional lives. The closer we walk with Him, the more He works through us, and He is a God of healing.

Are you working for Jesus on your own? There is a better way! Organizations like the Christian Community Health Fellowship can come alongside you as you work for the Lord in healthcare. If in doubt, ask yourself, is this God's will for my life, for my family, and for my patients? Ask Him to help you discern and prioritize your days around His agenda for your life, and resolve to make every necessary change – with His help – to remain aligned with His perfect will.

Dr Mari 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Today, I Am Thankful

“As you do not know the path of the wind, 
or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, 
so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.”
(Ecclesiastes 11:5)

Today, I am grateful for thoughtful children and a loving husband. 
For people who help those who need them and do so with excellence and compassion.
 For the Father's protection and the Son's selfless love.
For the Spirit's guidance, direction, and inspiration. 

Today, I thank God that although I do not understand,
I can know Him. 
Although I cannot see Him,
I recognize His hand prints everywhere 
and discern His voice in gentle whispers.

Today, I look around and see blessings. 
Some are hidden, like the seed that awaits its blossom.
Others yell out, 
"Open your eyes. 
God is real. 
Love is alive!"

Today and every day, I am thankful.

Dr Mari

*Photographs by Manuel Díaz. All Rights Reserved. www.manueldiazphotography.com.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day Reflections... And A Song

"Her children arise and call her blessed;
    her husband also, and he praises her:
'Many women do noble things,
    but you surpass them all.'
Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised."
(Proverbs 31:28-30)

Motherhood is one of the best ways that God teaches us selflessness.
It's a journey for all of us, 
and we are blessed
when we embrace our God-given role as mothers
and live it out. 

I live grateful for my mother and keenly aware of the impact 
her love, wisdom, and example had on my life, 
my brother's life, and so many others.

I, too, aspire to leave a legacy of love and blessing for my children, 
recognizing that only to the extent that I show them God
and reflect His love and His wisdom
will I impart the greatest treasure anybody can possess.

May God help us live into what it means to be a blessing to our children.
May we be parents who leave behind eternal riches.

Happy Mother's Day!
Dr Mari 

For a tribute to my inspiring mother, see Lessons I Learned Watching Mom: A Mother's Day Tribute. To listen to Celine Dion singing Because You Loved Me, click here.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

My Injury - A Megaphone!

So I hurt my hand. My right hand. My writing hand. Just as I was starting to add the final edits to my book. So instead of editing bliss, I have four more weeks to learn to appreciate the splint that protects my right thumb and my wrist's scaphoid, the bone I hurt when I fell off my bike.

And, yes, I recognize that I just started two sentences with "so" and another with a preposition, but remember. No editing bliss. My writing captain is on strike. By that, of course, I mean my right thumb. The space bar is critical to a writer, and the left thumb has way too many duties now.

All that said, there have been some benefits to this nuisance of an injury. Like my sweet husband putting my hair up when I opt for a pony tail - which is every morning now - mostly so I get to watch him do it. Too cute!

I've also realized how much I ignore my left hand when I'm well, relying heavily on my dominant hand. How often we use only some of the gifts God gave us while others lie dormant, unused and under-developed! I'm committed to using my left hand more after my right hand heals.

My biggest lesson came last week while Russ fetched the bag of sugar I couldn't quite grasp left-handed. I finally confessed, "I just want to be self-sufficient!"

"Really? That's what you want? Inter-dependent is what you mean. You want to let us help you when you need us, don't you?"

Well, in truth, no; I don't. I want to be able to do everything for myself with little need of others. A recovering perfectionist and type B wanna-be, I live by my to-do list and, lately, I simply cannot get it all done.

Somehow I sense that was part of God's plan in allowing this annoying detour to my perfect plans.

So what's my point? I guess I've realized how much I take for granted every single day. How much I need others. And the blessing of asking for help when I need it and accepting it with grace.

My alarm went off this morning with a song of praise. As I tested my thumb, I noticed it still hurts. So I joined the song on the radio, thanked God for another day, and walked over to my hubby, hair-tie in hand. He knew just what to do.

I'm pretty sure he smiled, and I definitely said thank you.

Dr Mari

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Love Never Fails: Hope for Tough Journeys

Visit Hope Matters for Dr Mari's Health & Hope Corner for April 2012, Love Never Fails: Hope for Tough Journeys. I was inspired to write this after copyediting newly-released Little Pink Book, When Your Grandma Forgets: Helping Children Cope with Alzheimer's and Beyond. Written by Maryann Makekau, this book provides information and encouragement in a simple, even whimsical way to help families navigate the challenges of Alzheimer's disease with hope.

This month I share about meeting Robert while waiting in line at a local diner. Watching his family love him in the midst of his new life with Alzheimer's reminded me that small things done in love are not small at all. And when we love others, our own hearts are transformed as well.

Our love matters.

Dr Mari

Follow this link to the full article at Hope Matters: Love Never Fails.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Strength for the Journey: Inspiration from Psalm 121

My ten year-old son just recited Psalm 121 to me in preparation for his Bible memory quiz tomorrow. Hear the uplifting words of the psalmist,

"I lift up my eyes to the hills—
   where does my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord,
   the Maker of heaven and earth. 

He will not let your foot slip—
   He who watches over you will not slumber;

indeed, He who watches over Israel
   will neither slumber nor sleep. 

The Lord watches over you—
   the Lord is your shade at your right hand;

the sun will not harm you by day,
   nor the moon by night. 

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
   He will watch over your life;

the Lord will watch over your coming and going
   both now and forevermore." 

As a doctor and pastor's wife, I continually hear stories of real human suffering. This week, I met a young mother whose son was killed two years ago. A beautiful woman died unexpectedly. An old friend continues to grieve the accidental death of her spouse, and a new friend started chemo. These are just a few of the people weighing heavily on my heart as I lift up my eyes to the Lord. 

So what can I say to each of them? I have only one answer - for them and for everyone else. Our help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

The One who watches over us never sleeps or slumbers. His love is tireless, His grace unending. His wisdom is beyond comprehension, His mercy a river of life.

More and more, my prayer for myself and for those I love is simply this: Jesus.

When I call on His name, it is as if I've had a drink of life that revives me and makes me long to share Him with others. His power in a surrendered, trusting life is nothing short of miraculous. The tougher life gets, the more I trust Him.

So if you're reading this seeking answers, I have one: Jesus. The Way, the Truth, and the Life. He is more real than our greatest suffering and stronger than our biggest burden. Trust Him with your life. He will never fail you.

In Him,
Dr Mari 

* Photograph by Manuel Díaz (www.manueldiazphotography.com). All Rights Reserved.

For more inspiration, read Adversity's Gift: Perseverance.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

He Is Risen! So What Does That Mean to You and Me?

These words from Hillsong United's song The Stand summarize the response of a heart touched by God's grace, 
"So what can I say, what can I do, 
but offer this heart, O God, 
completely to You."

When Jesus died on the cross, eternal life was made available to all. His sacrifice was perfect. His self-giving love unmatched. 2 Timothy 1:10 tells us that, on the cross, Jesus "destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." In 1 Corinthians 15:26, the apostle Paul calls death "the last enemy to be destroyed." What Jesus did for you and me on the cross impacts everything. His unequaled sacrifice deserves a response.

As I reflect on the depth of Christ's love,  Paul's prayer to the believers in Ephesus intrigues me,

"I pray that out of His glorious riches 
He may strengthen you with power 
through His Spirit in your inner being, 
so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. 
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 
may have power, 
together with all the saints, 
to grasp how wide and long and high and deep 
is the love of Christ, 
and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—
that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."
(Ephesians 3:16-19)

According to Paul, we need power to grasp Christ's love for us! Perhaps he means that, if we grasped it fully, it would blow us away. We couldn't take it. If we could assimilate the magnitude of Christ's love, it would surpass every experience we've ever had and all the knowledge an eternity of books could hold.

Christ's love is a river of mercy and grace - precisely what we need most! Because of His sacrifice on that lonely cross two thousand years ago we can live free from the grip of sin and safe from the power of death. Christ's love is stronger than death itself. And His love endures. His love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:8). His love never ends (Psalm 106:1).

So what can I say to that? And what can I do? I can give Him this thankful heart - completely, surrendering all to the One who is trustworthy and good.

When I open my heart to Christ's river of mercy and grace - by the Spirit - His enduring love pours in like a flood. When I say yes, He moves in. Even death could not hold Him and, since He now lives in me, that means death cannot hold me. That means sin has lost its grip on me. That means I have a new life.

Indeed, when I say yes to Him, I am born again!

Jesus is risen! With Him and because of Him, we can rise and walk out of every grave unto new life. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Because of what He has done, I am a new creation! Alive. Made new. Loved.

And so are you.

He is Risen, that we may have life! Hallelujah!

May we all have a blessed and meaningful Easter celebrating our Savior and our Lord!
Dr Mari

For more Holy Week reflections, read What's So Good About Good Friday?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Thirsty Deer Leads Worship!

Last month I joined my youngest son on an exciting overnight field trip to Tallahassee. We packed those two days with everything from a jungle cruise and a visit to the zoo to a tour of the Capitol that included handshakes with Senators and twenty minutes with Florida's Attorney General. The eloquent and down-to-earth woman (Pam Bondi) celebrated our children's manners and knowledge and encouraged them to continue to make good choices. As we left for our next adventure, she pointed to my son as he skipped away and said, "There goes a future president." Not bad for a first impression!

One of my favorite activities was walking through Florida's natural landscapes and learning about our red wolves, white-tailed squirrels, turkey mating behaviors (highly entertaining!), and, of course, the Florida alligator. As we wrapped up an exciting nature walk, a moving sight halted my failed attempts at catching up with the tour group. A group of five white-tailed deer seemed as surprised to see me as I was to spot them. One of them in particular caught my eye as he drank deeply from the waters that served as an almost perfect mirror for the surrounding live oaks.

Clearly more thirsty than the others, this deer closed its eyes with pure delight as he first licked the surface and, not fully satisfied, immersed his nose and mouth into the water, appearing to savor every gulp.

Without a single thought but lost in the moment, these words from Psalm 42 flooded my soul,

"As the deer pants for streams of water,
   so my soul pants for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
   When can I go and meet with God?" 
(Psalm 42:1,2) 

Answering the psalmist, it occurred to me that I'd just met God right there. As the animal continued to drink deeply, another passage stirred my soul, moving me to worship our Creator. 

 “Come, all you who are thirsty,
   come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
   come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
   without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
   and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to Me, and eat what is good,
   and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to Me;
   hear Me, that your soul may live."
(Isaiah 55:1-3a)

As these words formed in my soul, it was as if I joined the thirsty deer. I drank in God's goodness, praising Him for the beauty of His creation, for His presence all around us, and for His everlasting love. And I sensed His joy in my slowing down enough to hear His, "Yes! You found Me. Now, stay, and keep on drinking! Learn from that deer to get filled with that which truly satisfies."

Having been invited to such waters, why would we choose to lick only the surface or, worse, to drink from streams that don't last and don't satisfy? 

Its thirst quenched, the deer pranced away, maneuvering perfectly between the towering oaks all around us. And then I pictured my son skipping away, full of joy, after meeting the lovely Attorney General who encouraged him with hopeful words. Like that thirsty deer, may my son - and all of us! - continue to drink from the right streams, the ones that fill our souls and give us life. Whatever it is that God calls each of us to be, may we live to worship only Him.

In Him,
Dr Mari

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