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)

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