So, What’s a Person To Do?

DIY??

So, What’s a Person To Do? [DIY?? Series, Part 2]

by Lydia Floren

If you are like me, most of your life you have heard some version of this saying:

“If you want something done right, you better do it yourself.” 

But, guess what?  Those words, and that concept, are not in the Bible, anywhere.  In fact, when we act independently in our lives – apart from God – we are doing the opposite of what the Bible teaches.

But, when things get tough, it is easy, isn’t it, to ditch our faith and take matters into our own hands? Especially, when our difficulties seem to go on and on, without our being able to see any hope or resolution.  When we quit waiting for God and choose self-reliance, our actions can take many forms, including avoiding, complaining, controlling, or self-indulgence. And, invariably, our way of doing things doesn’t make things better. Quite the opposite: it usually makes them much worse.

So, what’s a person to do when things go wrong, and continue to go wrong?

Wait. Patiently wait. Trust the God-Who-Loves-You.  And then, keep on trusting Him.

The Old Testament Israelites whined a lot. Isaiah 40 is a reality check for one of their gripe sessions. In the first part of the chapter, Isaiah answers their complaining by first reminding them of who God is. For example, in verses 12 and 13 he says,

Who else has held the oceans in his hand? Who has measured off the heavens with his fingers?

Who else knows the weight of the earth or has weighed the mountains and hills on a scale?

Who is able to advise the Spirit of the LORD? Who knows enough to give him advice or teach him?”

“Really? Are you serious?”, Isaiah seems to be saying, “Don’t you realize who you are talking to?  Listen while I refresh your memory.”

The last part, Isaiah 40:27-31, is one of my all time favorites. I first encountered these verses when I was a first year medical student. I was feeling overwhelmed and very sorry for myself. Isaiah’s words put things back in perspective.

O Jacob, how can you say the LORD does not see your troubles?

O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights?

Have you never heard? Have you never understood?

The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth.

He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding.

He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.

Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. 

But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength.

They will soar high on wings like eagles. 

They will run and not grow weary.

They will walk and not faint.  Isaiah 40:27-31  

My translation  

This is how I hear God speaking to me through these words:

“Really, Lydia? Really?? You think I don’t know what is going on here?  Newsflash:  I am the God of the universe. Of course I see what is happening. I GET IT.  So keep trusting Me. I will give you the power to move through your painful circumstances, and to rise above them.”

Southern Redneck Translation (SRT)

Or in southern redneck terms Isaiah is saying here:

“Quit yer bellyachin’. God’s got yer back. Hold yer hosses, and hang on to yer britches. Watch and learn, Son. Watch and learn.”  Isaiah 40:27-31 SRT 

So what’s a person to do?

Do you really want things done right?  Really? Then for heaven’s sake, don’t take matters into your own hands.  You have no idea what is really going on, or how to fix things properly. Believe me, you are liable to make matters worse instead of better.   If you really want things done right, trust God, and keep on trusting him. He will give you the strength to walk through your difficulties, and to learn to rise above them.

If You Want Something Done Right… (DIY?? Series Part 1)

DIY??

by Lydia Floren

We have all heard the saying, “If you want something done right, you better do it yourself.” But is that really true? Are you really the best person to fix every problem?

Think about it.  If your car is mechanically failing, are you going to watch a You-Tube video and pull out your wrench and start taking the engine apart?  If you have appendicitis, are you going to check Wikipedia, climb up on the kitchen table, get the butcher knife out, and whack away? I don’t think so. You, like me, are going to find the best expert available, and trust them to take care of things.

So, why are we so quick to take things into our own hands, when it comes to matters of faith?

Sure, we will trust a surgeon to take out our appendix and handle any post-op complications.  And, we will wait patiently for the best mechanic to fix our car properly.

But in difficult situations, especially those that don’t resolve promptly, we are quick to lose faith in God, who happens to be the best disaster-management expert in the universe.

Here’s an all-too-frequent scenario from my life:

1.  I feel pain.  This may be a physical pain, but often it is an emotional one, such as an unpleasant interaction that leaves me feeling wronged or slighted.  I’m not talking about the momentary unpleasantness that happens, say, when someone cuts me off in traffic. I’m talking about an ongoing dilemma, like a difficult relationship or an uncomfortable work situation, or a chronic health issue.

2.  I get restless. If the uncomfortable situation doesn’t resolve quickly (which for me is more than about 5 minutes) I get antsy. I don’t like pain. It needs to go away.

3.  I pray….maybe. (sometimes I skip this step.) I tell God, as if He didn’t know, exactly what my situation is, and politely ask Him to take care of it.   Before long (say, about 5 minutes), if nothing seems to be happening, I stomp my foot. “Why don’t you do something about this, God? Don’t you see what is happening here?”  Pretty soon, I start demanding, “God, get me out of this!  Make this go away! NOW!”

“…or else,” I whisper to myself, “I may just have to do it myself.”

4.  I decide it’s up to me. Here’s what goes thru my head:  “Somehow, God has missed the boat here. Maybe He isn’t seeing how much pain I am in.  Or maybe He sees it but just doesn’t matter to Him. Fine. Whatever. I’ll just handle it myself. After all, ‘if you want something done right, you better do it yourself.’  Isn’t that in the Bible somewhere?”

5.  I do my own thing. I try to eliminate the hurt (or the cause of it) myself. Here are a few ways I might do this typically by reverting to old coping mechanisms:

  • Avoiding. I dodge the person or situation that is causing me to feel this pain.
  • Complaining.  I make sure that not only God, but everyone around me knows how unjustly I have been treated.
  • Manipulating.  I try to manage or control the situation so the pain will stop, or at least lessen.
  • Self-indulging. I “treat myself” with something to take my mind off the pain. (Sort of an adult version of thumb-sucking.)  My favorite “pacifier” is food, particularly chocolate.  For others, it might be alcohol, surfing the net, working, shopping.

As you can imagine, when I take things into my own hands, they don’t turn out so well. Avoiding, complaining, manipulating and self-indulgence don’t make things better – they make them worse.

In Psalm 40:1-3, David said

I waited patiently for the LORD to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry.

He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire.

He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.

He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God.

Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the LORD.

DIY??

Are you in the middle of a difficult situation?  Do you feel like God is not doing enough? Not doing anything?  For heaven’s sake, don’t make my mistake and try to take things into your own hands.   You will only make matters worse. Trust me, you will be  sooooo much better off, if you choose to keep your focus squarely on God, waiting patiently for His strength and direction.

Just remember: God is the best disaster-management expert in the universe.

Rest assured: He will unfailingly pull you up out of your mess and put your feet back on solid ground.

 

Prescription for Peace

Prescription for peace (Rx)by Lydia Floren

I am a Family Medicine doctor, and over the years that I have practiced medicine, I have learned that often the most effective remedy for an illness is not the kind you pick up at a pharmacy.

Unusual Prescriptions

For example, a patient may come in with a cold. I can, and do, recommend certain medicines that might help to relieve symptoms, but the most important advice I can give – a prescription if you will – is rest.  With most sicknesses, especially viral ones, rest is essential to fast and complete healing.  Here are some other unusual “prescriptions” I might write:

  • A medical excuse for a few days off work.
  • A book to read. A couple of my favorites are Boundaries (difficult relationships), or Driven to Distraction (ADD).
  • Regular time with a positive encouraging friend.

A prescription for Peace

In Philippians 4, Paul outlines, what I like to call, a Prescription for Peace:

RX for Peace:

  1. Celebrate God’s goodnessRejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!  Phil 4:4 
  2. Be kind, remembering that God is with you. Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Phil 4:5
  3. Pray from a thankful heart. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Phil 4:6-7
  4. Focus on the positive. And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Phil 4:8
  5. Practice. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Phil 4:9 

 

Father, Thank You

Woman on pier.  Text reads "Father Thank You"

by Lydia Floren

The following prayer is on the first page of my thanksgiving journal. It blesses me, and I thought it might bless you too.

Father, Thank You…

  • You give me identity. You made me and gifted me with all the wonderful qualities I possess.  You have helped me see them and explore them. To understand them better. To cement them into a better understanding of who I am. 
  • You give me belonging. My place to belong. With no judgment or condemnation. Just acceptance, love, arms open wide. This place/home is

– with You. Every day. Where I am, there You are as well. And where You lead me to be is where I belong at the moment. And I am safe wherever that is.

– with other true believers, including those who have gone before, (like Nouwen, C.S. Lewis, Solzhenitsyn, St. Francis, Brother Lawrence, Hannah Whitehall Smith), and those in the Bible. And those in my life right now.

– And in eternity, my forever home.

And because of this true place that I belong, I can be content in the place that I am, wherever You have led me to be that day.

  • You give me immeasurable value, an innate sense of true worth that has nothing to do with any accomplishment. Just with the reality of who I am – my inherent and unique spirit. You didn’t come to save me for my usefulness, but simply because I am important to you. I was worth coming for and dying for, simply for the joy of my company with You forever.
  • You give me a sense of significance. A unique place of service and influence in this world. You invite me into the world every day to love people, and to serve them and minister to them. To be a part of what You are doing to redeem the world, and to restore it.  In Your power. By Your direction. With Your wisdom and discernment. And because it is in Your power, and by Your direction, I don’t need to fret about the details. I can just trust the process and the plan I have prayed thru with You, knowing that You will adjust and redirect me when needed.
  • You give me safety and provision. Protection. Safe passage wherever You lead me in life. And the understanding that You will provide everything that I need, including contentment in whatever circumstance I find myself. And the ability to face pain and walk through it. And You give me the security of knowing that You will come find me if I wander off the path, and will lead me back in the direction I need to go.
  • You give me guidance, and fellowship/company along the path You have set out for me, every day practical guidance in healing, in ministry, in growth, in self-care, in tending what I have been given. Even guidance in how to plan, to strategize. Guidance in the spontaneous. Guidance in how You want to work thru me to bless others.
  • You give me Yourself.  The greatest and best gift, and the most enduring one. The ongoing joy of knowing that I am continually in Your presence/company. Continually loved/cherished. Continually wanted, and included. Continually protected. Continually supplied with everything that I need. Continually being healed, renewed, empowered, challenged, encouraged.

Father, thank You for the joy of knowing that I can trust You with my whole heart and my whole life. 

But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth.  John 16:8 

Dreading Easter

Stained Glass church windows with title "Dreading Easter"by Lydia Floren

When I was little kid, I had very mixed emotions about Easter. I loved the part where I got to decorate eggs, eat chocolate, and dress up in a pretty new outfit. But, I dreaded going to church on Easter.  They said the Easter story was good news, but it didn’t seem good to me. It was the story of how mean people made fun of Jesus, and beat Him up, and then killed Him, and that somehow, it was all my fault.  What was good about that?

But I know something now that I didn’t know then: I didn’t kill Jesus.

Jesus made the decision to die entirely on His own. In fact, He could have changed His mind anywhere along the way.  For example, I can easily imagine this scenario happening in the middle of Jesus’ torture:

Jesus lifts his chin and focuses straight ahead.  Suddenly everything stops, suspended mid-motion. The roar of the crowd turns to silence. The razorlike whip, a mere 2 inches from His torn flesh, dangles in midair like strands of Spanish moss. He rips off His cruel crown and tosses it aside. In three long strides, He reaches the men stooped over his robe. He grabs the garment from frozen hands, donning it as He walks away, slicing through the stilled crowd like a hot knife through butter.  

This could have happened.  Jesus had plenty of power to do this and more. But He didn’t.  Every single moment of His life, and every second leading up to His death, He made the same decision over and over again. To stay. To endure. I can almost see Him gazing at each person in that vicious crowd, and as their eyes met, His murmuring, “You are worth it.”  He is still saying it to each of us. “I love you. You were worth it then, and you are worth it now. I have called you by name. You are mine.”

This Easter season, stop at the cross for a while, not to pile on guilt, but so you can be rid it. Let God banish those lies swirling around in your head: “You are worthless.” “You are a screw-up.” “You don’t deserve to be loved.”   Ditch the lie I believed as a child, “I killed Jesus.”   Stay at the cross for a while and absorb the truth: “Jesus chose to die because He loved me, and wanted me with Him forever. That’s how important I am to Him.”  “I am totally worth it.  He said so with His words, and by His actions.”

Shed the lies. Accept the truth. And then move on. Live your life in the freedom that Christ paid so dearly for. Freedom from condemnation and shame. Freedom in the knowledge that you are loved, valued, wanted, and worth dying for.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1

It is for freedom that Christ has set you free. Gal 5:1

There is no dread in Easter. Only joy.

His joy is us.

Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2 NASB

Our joy is Him.

I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. John 15:11

Are You My Answer?

Little bird with caption:  Are You My Answer?

by Lydia Floren

Are You My Mother? is a classic children’s story about a little bird who broke out of his shell and found himself alone in his nest. Somehow, he knew he had a mother and that he needed her, even though she wasn’t there. So, he hopped down from his perch and started looking for her. Each time he spied a potential candidate (animal or object), he would ask, “Are you my mother?”   And each time, he got the same response, “No, I am not your mother.”

The baby bird continued searching until he finally encountered his mom.  Curiously, he didn’t ask her, “Are you my mother?”,  because when he saw her, he immediately recognized her.

“I know who you are,” said the baby bird. 

“You are not a kitten or a hen or a dog. You are not a cow or a Snort”

“You are a bird, and you are my mother!”

We can often wander around in our lives in search of someone or something, to take care of our deepest needs.

We don’t use words, but like that little bird, we do ask the same question over and over again, “Are you my answer?”,  or in other words, “Will you be the person or thing that will fill that big hole in my heart?”

For example, we can do this when we rely on attention or accomplishments to bolster our self-esteem. Or when we focus more on what we can get out of a relationship than what we can give.  “Are you my answer?”, we query. “Will you give me the sense of significance, the feeling of belonging I so crave?”

But no person, or thing, is able to satisfy our deep hunger for unconditional love. Only God-Who-Is-Love can do this.

“Are you my answer?”

When we ask God, His response is always the same:

“Yes, dear Child, I am your answer.  Come. Lay down your burden of shame and self-contempt. Stop trying to fix yourself.  Rest in this truth: you are completely known and fully loved by Me. God. You are so precious to me that I chose to die for you. Nothing you do – past present or future – will ever change my love for you.”

When we truly encounter God’s love, when we allow it to seep into the core of our being, we don’t need to ask. We know. He, the God-Who-Is-Love, is our answer – is The Answer – to our deepest need.

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s people, 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 3:17-19

Huge tree with tangle of roots and the caption, "Be rooted and grounded in love."

Lifeline, by Lydia Floren

Lifeline

by Lydia Floren

I have spent a lot of time, over the years, learning how to experience and live in God’s love. I have read books, scoured the scriptures.  I have prayed. And I have written articles and launched a website, and spoken to groups on this topic. And prayed some more.  You would think by now I would be living a life where I experience God’s love all the time, that it would come naturally to me. But, often it doesn’t.  Yes, there are times when I “live in the presence of accepted tenderness”, as Brennan Manning calls it.  In those moments or days, I feel like I am in a speedboat skipping over the waves, grinning from ear to ear.  My heart overflows.

But how quickly my world can shift!  I get caught up in the little things, which somehow morph into big things. Or I get blindsided, suddenly lashed by a severe storm. One minute I am atop the water, the next I am up to my chin in choppy waves, struggling for every breath. My natural reaction, of course, is to flail, to fight with all my strength to keep my head above the current.  In my panic I have lost sight of Jesus’ steady gaze.  I no longer see his strong hand just inches from my own.

My lifeline

In the middle of the tempest God often whispers (and his whisper can be very loud, believe me!)

“Give thanks.”

“What? can’t you see I’m drowning here, Father? There is no time for this.”

“I see exactly what is going on, Child.”

“Give thanks. Now.”

I have learned through hard experience that I had best pay attention to that oh-so-kind voice. To take a gulp of air and give thanks right where I am.  When I do, the whole tempest around me shapeshifts into calm. The storm isn’t gone, of course.  I have just found the calm in its center. So I begin…

Thank you…

Thank you that you are going to make something wonderful out of all of this, and work it all to good. thank you for your goodness. Your care. Your constant presence in my life. thank you that I can trust you to give me strength to do what you are calling me to do. thank you for teaching me not to avoid the fire, but to walk through it under your protection. Thank you that you are not, and never will be, ashamed of me. That you know and have covered, not only my past mistakes, but also the ones I will make in the future. Thank you that you love me more than I can imagine. And thank you that I can trust you to guide me, and protect me. 

Thanksgiving changes everything. It is like opening the valve to a fire hydrant on a hot day.  Or turning on the light in a dark room. Or…or meeting God’s gaze in the middle of the storm, and then clutching on to his hand with all my might.  Terrified one minute, and content the next.

Are you in the middle of a storm? Overwhelmed with mounting bills, a deep hurt, or a scary diagnosis? Or an oppressive sense of failure? Are you fighting for your life?

Maybe it’s time to stop reacting to the problem, and start looking toward Your Lifeline.  To quit flailing.

Take a deep breath.  And then whisper these simple words: “Thank you….”

Once you start, He’ll help you fill in the rest.

10,000 Words – Paris

Lydia and Andrew in front of the Eiffel TowerAndrew and I celebrated our 30th with a trip to Paris.

Sacre Couer, as seen through the back of the clock at Musee D'Orsay

Sacre Couer, as seen from Musee D’Orsay

The Eiffel Tower at night, with a cross in the air, shadowing itEiffel at night, shadowed by a cross

Lit chandelier in the hall with floor to ceiling mirrorsHall of Mirrors, Versailles

Giant circular stained glass windowNotre Dame

Paris city view from the rooftopFrom the top of Notre Dame

Swan swimming on a still lakeSwans at Versailles gardens

barren, winter tree against a deep blue skyKing’s Gardens, Versailles, at dusk

Arched, lit bridge at night over a riverBridges at night

dozens of padlocks with inscriptions, locked to a fenceOur lock of love

All photos by Lydia Floren

Christmas Stories

Christmas Stories

by Letitia Suk

I have a large pile of Christmas books, because I like to read other people’s stories. Usually, they center on a situation with a sticky problem. then a miraculous solution that shows up, at almost the last minute. Do you like those, too?

You and I have our own tales of Christmas, too, like the “Ghosts of Christmas Past.” Maybe not as dramatic, but no less precious. I started keeping a “Christmas Journal” about thirty years ago, as a place to hold all my stories, but the best ones I know by heart.

Some of my memorable Christmas moments didn’t start out all cozy, but more like crazy, or even disastrous. Quite a few, in fact. Sometimes, the solution was a little slow to show up. Funny, how we don’t remember the uneventful ones nearly as well!

Some Christmas memories are almost quirky.  Like my earliest and best Christmas memory is a smell:  the plastic-y smell of a new doll, as every year one showed up under the tree. I still love the smell of new shower curtains, because it is exactly the same scent!

But there are different kinds of memories we can pull up this time of year…

In the great Magnificat, or Mary’s Song, as recorded in Luke, that we read or hear every year, there is one lin, that melts me every time: “For the Mighty One has done Great Things for me, Holy is His name.” ( Luke 1:49)

“Great Things He Has Done,” wow!  I can say with Mary, great things He has done for me, too. I bet you can, too.

What great things are in your storybook? Not just from Christmas-time, but from all times of your life.

The Bible reminds us often to remember. “Only be careful and watch yourselves closely, so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart, as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” (Deut 4:9)

Do you have memories of God’s power?  His faithfulness?  His provision?  Great things He has done in your family? I hope you are nodding your head.

Can you remember the first thing God did for you? I wrote about my first memory in “Getaway with God.” I’ll give you a hint, it is about a bird.

At an Advent retreat years ago, the facilitator sent us for an hour of alone time, to answer that question: What are the “great things” He has done? Turned out to be one of the most powerful lists I have ever made.

Try something fun this season, and set aside some time to name all the things God has done for you, in this last year, month, day, so far. If you’ve got a little more time, go back as far as you can.  You can even sit by your tree and sip hot cocoa while you compose your list ☺

Maybe your memories won’t end up nicely packaged on someone’s coffee table (they might!), but you can re-read your own favorite storybook anytime. It is always right at hand.

And this story never ends.

Letitia Suk, author of  Getaway with God: The Everywoman’s Guide to Personal Retreat.          c. Letitia Suk 2016/Letitiasuk.com

Thank you, Tish, for “guest blogging” this week! Merry Christmas, all! May God’s love fill your life to overflowing in this coming year!  Lydia