Friday, December 26, 2014

If You Ask Me ... This Is Life

 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”  
Revelation 22:16

Yes, it is December 26th, but I'm so glad that Christmas is not over. Aren't you? The season of light goes on because the Light that  h a s  a l w a y s  b e e n  will never be snuffed out. The bright star from the East actually shone on its Source: the bright Morning Star born into the world to be the Light of the World.

This Light is a person. His name is Immanuel.   G o d   W i t h   U s.

Though He arrived as a little baby, He was recognized as the fulfillment of a promise. So He was worshiped from birth as the King who would bring salvation.

Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”  
Luke 2:28-32

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. 
John 1:14

As I continue to ponder the glorious truth of Christ's birth, I've been reflecting on the many names God's Word ascribes to Jesus. During Christmas, one name stands out and reminds us of the awesome reality that God is with us. And there is nothing we need more than that.

Here's an 1854 sermon that speaks of this astounding and comforting truth. God is with us. He is the miracle.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. 
Isaiah 7:14

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” 
Luke 2:13-14

May the Light of Christ shine into our hearts this Christmas season with a fresh revelation of His glory, His majesty, and the astonishing truth that  H e ...  i s ... w i t h ... u s.

Christmas Blessings all year,

Dr Mari 

To see Christmas from a child's eyes, follow this link.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Security Blankets and Christ's Birth: A Child's Reflection

As I sat down to write about Christmas, my ten year-old daughter asked whether she could write the post instead. Here's what she wrote.

One of my very favorite things about Christmas is listening to Linus on Z88.3 tell Charlie Brown what Christmas is all about. This was one of the first times you see Linus drop his blanket. I feel Linus was caught in the story so much, he felt more secure in telling the story than keeping his security blanket. 

I feel that all of us have a security blanket such as best friends, electronics, and so on, and we forget our real security is Jesus. I mean, there's nothing wrong with best friends as a sub security blanket, but we most certainly may not use electronics and other things as the key to security. Sometimes we forget that Christmas is about Jesus because you see pictures of Santa Claus, hear Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and so on. When Linus comes on I snap out of Santa Claus and get reminded all over again about the true meaning of Christmas. 

It's fun to think of Santa Claus but I sometimes think ... why in the world do most people not know the true story of Saint Nicholas? Why do most people not know that poor shepherds came to see the king before wise men came? Why do some people not know what the nativity is? Because we live in a world full of different cultures and different beliefs. When we see a person that doesn't know who Saint Nicholas is or what the nativity is, we can tell them. I hope they will feel the true joy, peace, and love that came down to us in a little manger on Christmas Day. You may be one person but you're oh so special in God's eyes. With Him you can be anything because through Him anything is possible. 

I'll end this by saying, Jesus is the real big reason of the season. 

Now it's time to drop your security blanket. All you need to hold on to is Jesus.

From our family to yours, have a blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Dr. Mari
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. 
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6

Hear Linus explain Christmas to Charlie Brown here.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Musings: Love Wins

I'm so glad that, as I get older, I'm becoming an early riser. One of my favorite things to do on the beach (if I'm up early enough!) is to watch the sun rise over the horizon to the tune of crashing waves. I love to take in the miniscule, microsecond changes one misses by not paying close attention. A bird formation appearing out of nowhere and changing the landscape, ever so briefly. A gentle breeze beckoning the palm trees to join in a subtle dance. A dolphin's fin cutting through a wave for two seconds, noticed only by those who choose to sit and ponder the beauty, magnificence, and power displayed every second throughout creation. Nature rewards in a special way those who devote time to admire it.

I stand in awe as I watch the sun rise over the ocean. Light takes over the darkness slowly, imperceptibly and, yet, with such power. The darkness flees in the mere presence of light. All the light has to do is be.... 

Watching this conquest, this daring display, I grasp something about God's goodness triumphing--always--over evil. This victory may seem slow to manifest at times, but it is happening nonetheless. 

The light takes over the darkness. 

God triumphs. 

Love wins.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving!
Dr Mari

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 
John‬ ‭1‬:‭5‬

Love never fails. 
1 Corinthians 13:8

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Ever Walk on Sacred Space? Join Me!

I recently published an article titled Sacred Space: A Place of Encounter where I discuss special places where I've encountered God. One of these sacred spaces is right here in Central Florida, in the middle of everything: Canterbury Retreat Center. This December (5 & 6) I will be one of the leaders for a very special retreat at Canterbury focused on the power of prayer. Click on the link at the end of the article to find out more and to register. Here is the article.

“Silence is God’s first language,” wrote mystic St. John of the Cross in the 16th century. His quote was later expanded by 20th century monk Thomas Keating, who added, “Silence is God’s first language; everything else is a poor translation. In order to hear that language, we must learn to be still and to rest in God.”

So how do we do this in our fast-­paced, multitasking, technology-­driven 21st century world? Noise follows us everywhere we go. You can’t even sit in silence anymore in most restaurants or waiting rooms. We have TVs, radios, smartphones, music, interviews, reality shows, and seemingly endless chatter. Silence, however, must be pursued. And sacred spaces help us find it.

Sacred spaces. The very phrase evokes feelings and memories we long to relive. Most of us can think of special places we’ve visited that we consider sacred, though we may define the term in different ways. I’ve experienced a few such spaces in my life, and they’re all special for the same reason: I experienced God’s presence there.

My first sacred space was the church at the foot of the street where I grew up in Puerto Rico. It was the smallest church I’ve ever seen, simple and completely ordinary. The typical Sunday service was packed with twenty people. I don’t remember any of the sermons preached there. We had no choir or Sunday school. There were no bells rung that I can recall. But I do recall the peace I felt walking in, while I prayed, and as we sang together, and the profound sense of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. All that, I remember well, and just thinking about it brings back showers of comfort and peace.

Canterbury Retreat Center is another special sacred space. I’ve been blessed to participate in retreats, icon workshops, and conferences there that helped me grow in my faith. And every time I’m there, I know I’m walking on sacred grounds.

I believe God’s Spirit dwells at Canterbury.

A sacred space is a place where we experience God’s presence. It is more about God’s Spirit than it is about the place itself. And the Holy Spirit is present at Canterbury. Places like my neighborhood church and Canterbury Retreat Center help modern-­day followers of Jesus find outer silence so we may experience inner stillness. They help us be still and rest in God, that we may return to the noise of the world changed—renewed and refreshed by God’s very presence and the Voice we can only hear in stillness.

Sacred spaces say, Come away and sit with God, close enough to hear His voice speak to your soul. Our part is to be intentional and pursue this stillness and silence. Our part is to leave the noise and go to that sacred space where we may “be still and know” that He is God (Psalm 46:10).

Join me to experience the sacred space at Canterbury Retreat Center on December 5-6, 2014. Set aside these two days (before the busyness of the Christmas season begins) to worship, pray, and grow closer to God.

Be still!
Dr Mari

“Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.” (Mother Teresa)

UPDATE: My next retreat at Canterbury Retreat Center will be September 9-10, 2016. It will be based on my book, The 3 Y's of Faith: Keys to a fruitful walk with God. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Great Resource for Fertility Info/Family Planning

Hello, friends! I write to spread the word about a new website with trustworthy information and resources to empower women and engage men to appreciate and learn more about their fertility. Many women and couples are seeking alternatives to artificial contraception. Others have suffered from infertility that remains undiagnosed and may not realize there are well-researched, sound, and medically safe alternatives to artificial reproductive technologies. This new website is full of facts and resources (including links to excellent articles) for women and couples seeking answers and help.

Check out Facts About Fertility and share it with others! I have the privilege of serving as their editor and have been impressed with their level of expertise, knowledge, and evidence-based approach.

Facts to Ponder: If a healthy woman is fertile no more than 80 days a year, why do so many women choose to use daily contraception when they're already, by design, not fertile 285 out of 365 days? Is this a healthy and wise choice when it is a known fact that hormonal contraception can cause (or contribute to) depression, blood clots, headaches, high blood pressure, strokes, cancer, and more? Learn more here.

Be well!
Dr Mari

Friday, August 29, 2014

A Song in My Heart (Part II)

Since my musings from last week about the songs God's placed in my heart, I've discovered another 'singing doctor.' I was so excited when my cousin posted this video (link below) about a physician who's delivered some eight thousand babies and welcomes them into our world with a song. He does this to celebrate the miracle of life. 

"They're special. Each of them is an individual. When I'm singing to those babies I think that I'm singing to an important person. That's the credit I give to all of them," he says. "So to me, it's a wonderful thing in my hands, the miracle of life. And ... you forget about all the crises going on everywhere, for a moment, when you see that miracle of life in front of you."

God's blessings abound.

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord. The fruit of the womb is a reward.
Psalm 127:3, NKJV

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights.
James 1:17, NKJV

Watch this singing doctor here and smile!

Dr Mari

Read Part I of A Song in My Heart here.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Song in My Heart (Part I)

I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry.... He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord." 
(Psalm 40:1-3)

As a young girl, I was blessed to worship at a little church that sat humbly at the foot of the street where I grew up. On Sunday mornings, I walked down the street with my neighbor to start the week there. All I knew at the time is that I was drawn to the stillness, the Eucharist, and the singing. In many ways, that little space was home.

One of God's greatest gifts to me has been to birth a song in my heart. At work, some call me the 'singing doctor,' which my choir conductor friend will surely find humorous. (Loving to sing is not the same as being gifted in singing! And please read the entire post for an important disclaimer below.) Still, it seems no matter what I experience in life, a song always emerges in my soul as a companion through trials and a reminder of God's presence until the storms subside.

As I reflect on years of trials and joys, so many songs stand out. Like the time my car was rear-ended while Roberto Arellana's song (Árbol Sin Raíces) blasted in my car. I remember getting hit and continuing to sing while getting out of the car. Praising God stilled me right when I needed it, as when Mary's Magnificat welcomed new life when I gave birth to my beautiful daughter. Angels heralded her arrival, and I knew it because of a song.

I remember a tough day months ago when it seemed every good thing I tried to do for my patients was met by walls of resistance. Out of the blue, a nurse stopped me in the hallway and shared a song she said I had to hear right then. So I stopped to listen to Great Are You Lord and joined their song of praise. A two-minute pause for a spiritual drink flooded my soul with God's presence, transforming my day.

It's Your breath in our lungs ... so we pour out our praise to You only, proclaims the song. Indeed, my praise belongs to the One who is always on time and whose love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:8).

I've learned that praise is powerful. No matter what I face in life, I pray God's song will always emerge from my soul, lifting me into His presence where I may "be still and know" that He is God (Psalm 46:10).

And I pray the same for you.

God's Masterpiece in New Smyrna Beach, FL. © 2014, ASW

Dr Mari

By day the Lord directs His love, at night His song is with me — a prayer to the God of my life. 
(Psalm 42:8)

The Lord your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.
(Zephaniah 3:17, NKJV)

I took the photo this summer in New Smyrna Beach, Florida the most breathtaking sunrise I've ever seen.

Human Physician Disclaimer: I wish I could say I'm always the 'singing doctor.' I'm a work in progress, though I sing much more than I used to (and less today than I will tomorrow!). I owe much of my joy at work to the wonderful people God continues to place around me. My teams (and my patients) are a tremendous blessing.

To hear a singing doctor welcoming babies into our world, read Part II of A Song in My Heart. (Don't worry ... it's not me! This one can sing.)

For a related story, see God's Song.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Hope for Today: Inherit the Promise

I recently wrote a study of the book of Hebrews. While researching and reading before the writing phase, I recognized the recurring theme of perseverance weaved throughout the book. This has also become a recurring theme in my life and, indeed, it is a critical element in the life of every Christian living intentionally for God.

In Hebrews 6:12, the author writes, "We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised." These words call believers to hold on to what they know, letting nothing shake the foundation of their faith, advancing from spiritual milk to the solid food needed to mature in Christ. Laziness and complacency are our spiritual enemies, but faith and patient endurance are friends on our journey to inherit God's promises.

As Christians, we face the danger of staying stuck in the information phase of our faith knowledge without fruit. Learning is essential, but if we don't apply what we learn, our lives will not bear fruit for God's kingdom. We may even become puffed up by our knowledge when our lives are starving for a gospel that's alive in us and revealed in the world through our actions.

We have no better example of persevering, active faith than Jesus. Sent to rescue the world from the power of sin and death, he was misunderstood, mocked, and killed. But betrayal didn't stop him. Rejection didn't discourage him. Threats did not diminish him or his resolve. Why? Jesus knew and lived by the truth. He knew who sent him. He knew his creation. And he knew who he was.

Jesus' sense of mission, abiding communion with his Father, and the empowering of the Holy Spirit grounded him completely. Jesus stood firm. Nothing could sway him.

I want that perseverance. I want that certainty. I want that determination. And the good news is that I can have it. We can have it. But, to attain it, we must do as Jesus did. We must claim our identity in God and find our purpose there. We must stay in communion with Jesus, the way to the Father. And we must live filled by the Spirit who gives us the power to live for Jesus.

Lake Gem at Canterbury Retreat Center, a sacred space.

Ponder with me: Am I still sipping spiritual milk or have I moved on to solid food? Am I puffed up and immobilized by knowledge without relationship?

Lord Jesus, help me mature through a relationship with You, that I may not shrink back when life gets tough but continue to believe and trust You, my Savior and my Lord.

Dr Mari

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.
Hebrews 6:19

For more on perseverance, read Adversity's Gift: Perseverance and Second Chances: Heaven's Heart.

I wrote and published a version of this post in The Journey, a quarterly publication of Bible Reading Fellowship. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Living on Mission: Compassion Trumps Fear (Part III)

This week, a human story of compassion and faith winning over fear captured my heart. In the midst of a terrifying outbreak of Ebola virus, Dr. Kent Brantly felt called to Liberia to treat patients with this infection with a mortality rate as high as 60 - 90%. While caring for people with the disease, Dr. Brantly became infected and quarantined himself. After initially insisting that the only available experimental serum be given to an infected colleague (they ended up both receiving the medication), Dr. Brantly arrived on US soil for treatment at a special unit at Emory Hospital in Atlanta.

Transported under meticulous infection control procedures all the way from West Africa, he surprised the world by walking out of the ambulance in a body suit before entering the hospital. Though still critically ill, he seems to be improving while thousands continue to pray for him all over the globe.

This 33 year-old physician, husband, and father of two children (ages 3 and 5) works for Samaritan's Purse, an organization that provides food, water, shelter, medicine, and other assistance throughout the world in the name of Christ. Dr. Brantly was drawn to mission work since youth and wanted to be a missionary even before becoming a doctor. He is a member of the Christian Medical & Dental Associations.

Please join me in praying for this selfless young doctor.

Lord, I thank You for drawing people to know and follow You. I thank You for giving Dr. Kent Brantly a heart of service and compassion. I pray that his health will be completely restored and that, through his illness, a cure may be found for the hundreds of people infected with this virus. I pray, Lord Jesus, that Your Name will be exalted through this doctor's suffering and that many people will come to know You through him. I also pray for his wife and children, for all people infected with this virus, and for every healthcare professional caring for him and others with this infection.

Kent Bradley is a beautiful example of courageously walking with Jesus in healthcare. What a witness! Please keep him in your prayers.

In Hope,
Dr Mari

For Parts I and II of this series on mission, see Living on Mission: What's That All About? and Living on Mission: A Look Back.

UPDATE, August 15, 2014: Follow this link to an update of Dr. Brantly's progress. As he recovers, he continues to thank God for His mercy and is grateful for the excellent care he's received.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Living on Mission: A Look Back (Part II)

Years ago, my life was transformed after meeting one woman. I don't know her name. I can't even remember what she looked like. But I'll never forget what meeting her accomplished in me.

During my second medical mission trip to Guatemala, after treating hundreds of people one after another, our clinic day was almost over. While I felt exhausted physically but invigorated in my soul with a deep sense of accomplishment and joy, a young woman sat in front of me and smiled nervously. With impressive skill and heartwarming trust, she summarized her life story and current challenges in a brief yet thorough and impactful way.

I got it quickly. I saw into her soul and felt her pain.

Her story included mental illness, physical exhaustion, endless demands on her time as a single mom, and domestic abuse. I quickly summoned in my mind the various resources I knew were available within her community, and ensured good follow-up for her once our brief time together was over.

While she shared her story, I felt overwhelmed. In a continuous inward gaze to God, I prayed while she spoke.

"He hit me and I ran away," she shared of years ago. (Lord, please keep her strong as she raises her children alone.)

"I work the fields now and the kids eat every day. (Oh, I thank You, Lord! Please continue providing for them.)

"But now that I'm sick, I don't know what to do." (Lord, what can I possibly do for this mother when our mission ends tomorrow? Why have me hear this when there's so little I can do?)

Pray with her. Offer to pray with her.

God's voice came, as so often happens, in a whisper like a soft, soothing rain. My reply was more like a raging storm! 

(Pray with her? I've never done that! Lord, that's not what we do. I'm a doctor, you know. We're supposed to leave our faith on the other side of our exam room door.)

Well, in Guatemala there were no doors. On mission, there was no wall separating my personal faith from my professional practice. Somehow, a certain courage came over me to stop being two different people, leaving the best part of me outside of my relationship with those I seek to help.

Still caught up in a heavenly gaze, I spoke to the soul before me.

"I am so sorry for all you've been through, and I'm so proud of you and your courage in sharing your story. The truth is, I'm not sure how I can help you, but I know the One who can."

And then, the words that changed my life slipped through my lips unto her heart and mine!

"Would it be okay if I pray with you?"

She looked surprised and excited. Her eyes lit up, and she sprung up and took my hands. Clearly, even the mention of faith and God empowered her like none of my words had. She was in her element. In an instant, hope arrived.

So I, too, rose from my chair (and from my previous life!) and began to pray with simple words, asking our God to guide her steps, guard her heart, and heal her soul. I asked God to bring the right people to help her once our team left. And I thanked God for giving her courage and strength.

I offered a short, heartfelt prayer. And before I was able to speak my Amen!, she shocked me.

She began to pray for me in our native Spanish, and the gates of Heaven opened.

Suddenly, we were two sisters seeking the same God together, and we were not alone. God's presence filled the room and, for a time, I was unaware of our surroundings and felt lifted up to Heaven. It was a holy moment that continues to bear fruit, empowering and filling my soul even now.

As I boarded the plane the next day, I knew life would never be the same again. From then on, I would be myself with patients back home. I would not withhold my greatest treasure my faith in an all-powerful, good, and loving God from the hurting people who need Him most.

I decided to live on mission here and now with no need to board planes to the other side of the world. My mission field is here.

That inward gaze changed me. I would go as far as saying that it saved my life. That prayer with a stranger saved me from the apathy and self-centeredness at the heart of our culture's decline. And it saved me from the fear of being genuinely myself as I care for people. Thanks be to God!

Two days ago, our teenager boarded a plane on his second mission trip to Costa Rica. As I reflect on the events of my second mission trip, I rejoice for him and the entire team, for I know these life-changing moments often come during mission trips overseas outside our comfort zone where we can become something we were not when we arrived.

Our children have learned at a young age that life is about loving God by loving and serving Him in our neighbors. They have learned that our gifts and talents come from above with a purpose: we are to share them with others. What a blessing!

Please join me once more in praying for their safety, their health, and for God's work to be accomplished in and through them. Pray for hearts to be transformed and lives changed, including ours as we intercede for them. And pray for God's Spirit to empower them (and all of us!) to love as Christ loves.

On mission!
Dr Mari 

For parts I and III of this series on Mission, read Living on Mission: What's That All About? and Living on Mission: Compassion Trumps Fear.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. 
The old has passed away; behold, the new has come!
2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV)

"God loves to pour out His Spirit with power on those who will dare to align radically their purposes with His." (S. Childers)

"The spirit of Christ is the spirit of missions. The nearer we get to Him, the more intensely missionary we become." (Henry Martyn)

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!
1 John 3:1

For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.
1 John 3:11

Monday, June 30, 2014