Finding Treasures

Young man staring out across a still lake.Finding Treasures

by Lydia Floren

Last week, we talked about how we are each a treasure to God, dearly loved by Him.  And how life-changing and soul-sustaining it is to be loved like that.

When we are loved like that, it moves us to action.  God calls us, challenges us, to care for those around us, the same  way that He cares for us.  Gently. Compassionately. Graciously. Respectfully.  We have no business judging. Or, condemning. Or, dismissing. Or, hurting. Or, criticizing.  We have no idea what someone has been through, or may still be going through.

And that’s not our job anyway.

Our business is to treat each treasure—each unique creation of God—with the utmost care.  To value them, regardless of what we see on the surface, because we know how precious they are inside.  And, when we have opportunity, our job is to brush off a little dirt and show their beauty even more, to themselves as much as to us.

Take the time today to notice the person in front of you.  Smile at them. Find a way to encourage them with a word, or a touch.  A listening ear, a small gift. A laugh. A prayer. Each effort you make brushes away a bit of dirt, and frees a spirit/heart to shine a bit brighter.

Treasure

Boy blowing out birthday candlesTreasure

by Lydia Floren

Birthdays were (and still are) a big deal in the Floren home.  When my kids were younger,  I would plan special celebrations for them, and sometimes (ok, more than sometimes) I would go a little over the top.  When each of our sons turned six, we had a treasure hunt.  A dozen or so first graders each made a pirate’s hat, and were given a treasure map and a paper bag.  Then, they hunted all over the yard for clues, filling up their bag with prizes as they went.  Finally, they were led to the back yard, where a big X  marked the spot in the dirt. (Not too original, but effective, especially for a 6 year old.)  It was wonderful to watch them attack that dirt, and then after unearthing their very own treasure box,  to carefully lift it out of the earth.  It was fun to see their eyes light up when they pryed open the lid and discovered the gold coins inside.  (Gold coins filled with chocolate, but hey, they were gold.)

Every person on earth—every soul—is a treasure to God.  We are His beloved, worth sacrificing His son for.  God loves us each with a tenderness, a gentleness, that can take our breath away.  He eagerly attacks the mountain of guilt and shame Satan heaps on us, and replaces these lies with His truth:  we are free from condemnation.  We are whole. We are beloved. And after He gently brushes away the dirt, He delights in showing us—and the world– the bright beauty he has placed within us. The fruitful and fruit-filled life that comes from being loved.

God’s love is life changing. And soul-sustaining.

"You are a Treasure", words over a silver pitcher of flowers

Superhuman Part 2: Finding Your Superpower

Superhuman, imposed on a heart.

by Lydia Floren

Last week, we talked about the challenge of loving others with God’s impossible love, something we can only do with His superhuman strength.  Today, let’s explore how we can access that love, how it can be such a reality in our lives, that it becomes easier and easier to love others in the same way.

Two boys in super hero costumes - Captain America

So, how can we love others with this superhuman, “1 Corinthians 13”, love?  It starts with learning to be loved, choosing to accept, experience, and live in the reality of God’s impossible all-encompassing love.

Choose to

  1. Accept the reality of God’s love. Acknowledge the truth that even though you don’t deserve it, God loves you in this mind-blowing, all-encompassing way.

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails;    

1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

  1. Experience the reality of God’s love. Knowing something, in your head, is the starting place, but experience is what solidifies the truth in your heart and spirit.  Only when you make the decision to trust God’s love, will you experience the reality of it.  What does that look like?  It means letting go, and accepting His help/grace. Letting go of the need for control, of self-hatred, or guilt, or hurt, or fear, or self-centeredness, or self-protection – whatever has been dominating your life, and holding you captive. And then, grabbing on to the truth that He will take care of you, and lead you in the way you need to go. It means resting in the truth that you are loved, cared for, valued, important, wanted. That you belong. That you are safe.
  2. Live in the reality of God’s love. Living in the reality of God’s love for you, is simply this:  practicing steps 1 and 2, over and over again, until they become a deep habit that marks the fabric of your life.

The more we live in the reality of God’s love for us – the more we acknowledge the truth of it, and then choose to trust it – the more power we have to love others in the same way.

We love because He first loved us.  1 John 4:19

Meme with "be loved, love.  Soak in God's love & shine."

Superhuman Part 1: The Need for Super Power

red heart with the word superhuman imposed on it.by Lydia Floren

Our family has always been enamored with superheroes.  Ever since our boys were little our home has been populated with superhero toys, games, comic books, movies and costumes.

child in a batman costume                    little boy in a Robin costume

One of the kids even had a superhuman theme for homecoming one year.

crowd of teenagers in superhero costumes

And how many people do you know that have a Thor-sized hammer in their garage?

Why are superheroes so popular?  Because they have super powers, of course. All of us, at one time or another, have wished for some type extraordinary ability, haven’t we?  Maybe we dreamed of having

  • Photographic memory, so that we could get an “A” on every test.
  • Time travel, so that we could see the future (and maybe win the lottery).
  • Instant tele-transportation, so that we wouldn’t be late to an appointment (although I am not sure that would totally cure my tendency toward lateness).

I have often thought that following God requires supernatural strength, especially in the most fundamental thing God asks us to do: to love. “Oh that’s not so hard,” you might say, Everyone knows how to love.”  Well maybe, if you think that the love God wants us to give others is just sappy sentimentalism, or electrifying passion, or dutiful good deeds. But the love God wants us to give others goes far beyond this. Here’s what 1 Corinthians 13 says love really looks like (my paraphrasing):

Love is…

Patient.

Kind.

Trusting.

Understated.

Respectful.

Gracious.

Selfless.

Unflappable. (Has a long fuse.)

Love…

Forgives easily and often. (Doesn’t hold grudges.)

Celebrates the good.

Bears all things.

Believes all things.

Hopes all things.

Endures all things.

Love never fails.

Impossible.

Loving like this is hard, isn’t it? It’s particularly difficult when you try to love a person who is rude, or selfish, or arrogant or fickle.  And it’s near impossible to do when that person has deeply hurt you, or someone you love.

And why would we want to love someone like that? Some people don’t deserve to be loved…do they?

No. Some people don’t deserve to be loved. But, let’s be honest. There are times when each of us is hard to love – much less like. Haven’t we all at one time or another been rude, selfish, arrogant, and fickle – and probably worse? It’s funny how little we remember the hurt we inflict, and how often we recall the pain others cause us. Truthfully, no one – not one of us – deserves to be loved the way that 1 Corinthians describes it.  But God loves us like that anyway.

Still, being around a difficult person is, well…difficult. So how do we get past the distaste, the offense, the hurt? How do we release the pain so that we can love someone in the way God asks us to love them?

Super strength for super love.

Godly love requires God’s power. Only with the help of God can we set aside our own feelings and love others like God calls us to love – bearing, believing, hoping, enduring all things. God-Who-Is-Love has given us His super-strength to love others in a way we could never do on our own.  Our job is not to conjure up love, but to access God’s rich store of love, already present in our hearts.

Are you finding it difficult – maybe even impossible – to love someone in your life?  You are not alone. And you are not on your own. God gives us the ability to love others with superhuman, life – changing love.

Which, by the way, is the same way He loves each of us.

We love because He first loved us.

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 

does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into 

account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth;

bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 

Love never fails;   1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

Tasting God’s Kindness

Apples on a tree, with caption "tasting God's Kindness"by Lydia Floren

“…if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.”  1 Peter 2:3

I eat fast. Really fast.  My husband, Andrew, does too.  Often when we are out to dinner, and the waitress breezes by to ask, “How are the first few bites tasting?”, Andrew is reaching for his wallet and I am asking for a “to go” box.  Those of you who have shared a meal with us are nodding and smiling, aren’t you?

In our defense, we come by this food-shoveling habit honestly. It was a survival skill we each developed during our medical training. Here’s a typical scenario of dinner as a resident-on-call:

After multiple visits to the ER, two admissions and a crisis in the ICU, our four-to-five-member on-call team, finally catches a break. Uniformed in scrubs and stethescopes, we head down to the cafeteria, to stack our trays with the free hospital food. After settling into orange vinyl seats and tasting the first few bites, a beep-beep-beep sounds. And then, another one joins in. As everyone reaches for their pagers, an announcement drones overhead:  “Code Blue, 4th floor, west wing… code blue, 4th floor, west wing.” Collectively we groan, and then grab our gear and rush upstairs to see about the emergency.   Often – no, usually – by the time we make it back down to the basement to try to salvage the remainder of our cold meal, we find the cafeteria is dark,  its doors bolted shut. Sigh. Another night of vending machine supper.

In residency, it became clear that you’d better eat fast, or you may not get to eat at all.  Food wasn’t to be savored, just consumed, because the main point of eating was not enjoyment, but sustenance. Enjoying the taste of food was a luxury one could not afford, with such an unpredictable schedule.

Andrew and I have learned over the years that normal people don’t gulp or shovel.  Normal people take their time, and actually seem to enjoy the taste of their food. They savor. They actually enjoy what they are eating.  When I eat dinner with these folks, I find that I appreciate the flavor of my food  more than I ever would on my own.

1 Peter talks about tasting the kindness of the Lord.

I love that word picture, because in order to taste something, you have to slow down and pay attention to what you are eating.  Don’t we find ourselves rushing through life, consuming the blessings God gives us, but never taking time to savor them?  In order to taste God’s kindness, we have to be willing to let go of our tendency to hurry, and embrace a more  leisurely, thoughtful approach to life. Let’s face it:  most of our rushing around is not because of life or death emergencies.  It is primarily caused by an accumulation of commitments or desires – some important, some not so important.

So today, choose to not simply consume God’s kindnesses without really appreciating them.  Instead, choose to taste God’s kindness.  Take the time to notice the many wonderful ways He has, and is now, blessing you.  Savor His loving presence always with you and within you. Enjoy!

Snowballs and Forgiveness

Picture full of evenly spaced snowballs, with the words "Snowballs & Forgiveness" superimposed.Snowballs and Forgiveness

by Lydia Floren

I mess up.  In big and little ways.  I can judge people. Disrespect their boundaries. Poke my head in where it doesn’t belong. I can be inconsiderate and rude.  Selfish. Unforgiving. I can neglect my health, Indulge myself in a pity party. Waste time…You get the idea. I mess up. A lot.

And, when I realize I’ve screwed up, I make it all worse by beating myself up.

“Why did you do that? you know better than that? What’s wrong with you?”   And then, I pile on the guilt of past misdeeds, like I’m wagging a finger at myself.  “That’s just like the last time…will you ever learn?…” And I have just started on my general sorry-ness.  My favorite phrase at this stage of the self-guilt-trip is, “I am not enough.”  I am not good enough, kind enough, considerate enough, productive enough, forgiving enough, _______ enough,.    My accusations snowball into a huge mound of negative thinking that rolls over my hope. Pretty soon, I have convinced myself that, “I am a bad person. I will never change.”

This dirty snowball that has barreled down the hill of my past failures, finally rolls to a stop at God’s feet.  I look up into His gentle, kind eyes.

“I’ve done it again, haven’t I Father?”, I say. (He nods) “I’ve messed up, and then made it all worse by beating myself up, instead of remembering that I am forgiven and loved. Thank you, that You came to set me free of this condemnation.  Remind me again, please, of who I am, and who You are.”

“You are, My precious child,” He responds, “so precious and valuable to Me that I was willing to give My life for you to be with me in eternity.  Never forget that.  I am more powerful than every evil in this world, and I love you.  I have already paid for every single one of your transgressions—past, present and future.  Instead of trying to fix yourself, just leave this all at my feet, every day, and follow me.

“Start again, today, right now.  Enjoy this day I have given you, and be at peace.  Know that as you walk with me, I am healing you day by day. I am exposing Satan’s lies and accusations and bringing you into increased truth in your life. So you can live as you were born to live:  connected to me, accepted by me, made perfect by me, and used by me to love those who cross your path.”

Under the heat of God’s truth-light, my snowball of condemnation melts away,

until all that remains is a little patch of dirt.  He reaches out with His foot and scuffs it away, and then His gaze meets mine.

“Where are your accusers?”, He asks.

“Gone,” I say.

He nods, and then responds. “Sin no longer has power over you.  I have broken that power. I have set you free from its hold.   Walk in that freedom.  Go and sin no more, remembering that I am right beside you every minute, protecting and guiding you in your journey.”

We share a smile. Then He throws His arm over my shoulder, and together we step back onto our path, talking and laughing as we stroll along.

Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.  Matthew 11:28

You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free. John 8:32

A small pool of dirty water in a parking lot, with melting snow adjacent.  Caption says, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  Romans 8:1

A Gift That Keeps on Giving

Red flowers with the words, "Kindness:  a gift that keeps on giving"Kindness:  A Gift That Keeps on Giving

by Lydia Floren

It’s cold up here in Wisconsin, so when the weather finally warms up, most of us folks try to stay out of doors as much as possible.  For me, that means spending lots of time in my garden.

Map of the United States, with growing zones highlighted in different colors

Gardening is different in the Northwoods.  We are in the “3b” USDA cold hardiness zone.  The little purple stripe on the tippy top of the map.

What that means is that the growing season is short, and only certain types of plants will survive. I have learned that perennials – flowers that come back every year – are the way to go. Several friends and neighbors have shared extras perennials with me over the years (and most of them I have managed to keep alive).  For example, Liz gave me some hostas, and my neighbor across the road some angel’s wings. Rhoda donated some bee balm and a rose bush I can’t kill (I am quite good at killing roses!).  Lori contributed a bunch of day lilies and ferns, and I think some purple iris (was that you, Lori?).

Perennial blessings

Anyway, the explosive color in my yard summer after summer is in largely due to these dear folks’ kindness. These flowers bless me and my family every year, and many others who happen by, for some reason or another.  Often they remind me of the friends who contributed so generously to my garden, the memories prompting me to give thanks for the friend.

Memorable kindness

Gifts that keep on giving can come in all kinds of packages.  They might be plants, or tangible presents people have given, like the afghan Karley crocheted for me, or the little pillow Debra gave me for my birthday one year.  But the kindnesses that I most vividly remember are often the ones I can’t see or touch.  Terri, for example, taking an afternoon  to shop for clothes just for me.  Karen sending her boys over to help me sod the backyard, before Michael and Kiley’s wedding reception.  John Larson making me feel like a part of the team, when I started practice in Bloomer.  Ms. Paula patiently listening, as I tearfully shared some small concern about my kindergartener. John Markquart rescuing me on the side of the road, where I was stuck in the snow.

And my sister, Becky, painting my toenails while I was flat on my back after surgery.

Two sisters, heads close together, smiling

Kindness endures

Kindness endures.  It lasts long after the ground freezes over, the polish wears off, the clothes are discarded.  A kindness – especially an intangible kindness – is remembered and shared and multiplied, traveling far beyond where you think it has gone. And, while many can be touched by it, kindness invariably blesses the giver most of all.

So, if you feel that nudge to share an extra smile, or go out of your way a a bit, or give away some of what you have, do it. Kindness is never wasted. It truly is a gift that keeps on giving.

Be kind and compassionate to one another.  Eph. 4:32

What memories do you have of someone being kind to you?  Please share. We would love to hear from you.

Ferns, with the caption Kindness lingers long after it is given.

Distraction Detours

Two directional signs in the woods.by Lydia Floren

We all get distracted from time to time, especially those of us with ADD. Here is an example of what I call a “distraction detour” from my life recently:

I am finishing a task in the kitchen before I head out to run errands, and realize I need something from upstairs, so I run up to get it.  I walk into the spare bedroom, and immediately notice that it is a mess. I pick up a book and put it on its shelf. And then I rearrange the shelf a little. And before I know it I have completely organized the room.

And then I look at the clock.

 Two hours. I’ve been up here two hours. How in the world did I get started on this?  Oh yeah, I came up here looking for something…what exactly was I looking for?

I shrug my shoulders, and hurry back down to the kitchen.  As I enter, my eyes fall on a T.J. Max bag sitting on the counter. Oh yeah, the baby shower gift. That’s why I went upstairs: I needed a gift bag.   I turn around and climb back up the stairs muttering “gift bag, gift bag, gift bag” with every step, so I won’t forget why I came upstairs this time, and end up getting side-tracked all over again.

Sigh. Distractions happen. And occasionally–more for some of us than others– they sidetrack us. An unplanned two hour detour in a busy day, shoots a hole in our careful plans, and keeps us from accomplishing as much as we had hoped.  But we don’t have to let these DD’s ruin our day.   When my day is disrupted by a Distraction Detour, I get frustrated with myself for letting it happen. All too often, I will continue ranting at myself for the rest of the day every time I think about it.

What is wrong with you? Can’t you even go upstairs and find a stupid gift bag in under two hours?  Look at the time! Even if I hurry the rest of the day, I’ll never get everything done now!

Distraction detours impact our plans, but they don’t have to steal our joy.

So what’s a person to do when you recognize you have a DD?  And how do you keep a Detour from turning into a Disaster? Here’s a few things I have learned in my long experience with DD’s:

PUSH THE RESET BUTTON.

As soon as you realize what is happening, stop.  Take a deep breath. Give thanks. As my friend Denise often reminds me, “There is always always always something to be thankful for.”  Next, walk through the rest of the GRACE pneumonic we’ve talked about before (see Living GRACE)—Give thanks, Release, Accept, Continue, Enjoy.

Give thanks. Thank You, God, for my mind, no matter how scattered it gets. For Your love and patience, for the way You made me. Thank You that You multiply my time, and will help me to do what is most important without worrying. And thank you for what I got done these last 2 hours, even if it wasn’t on today’s to do list.

Release. I give all my time to you, and all my plans. I release myself from the expectation of perfection.   Please show me how to give myself grace, and lighten up a little (or a lot). And help me to quit “shoulding on myself.

Accept. Here’s where I am now, Father. It’s __o’clock. I have ___ hrs left in the day.  As I regroup, show me what is most important. Help me to eliminate and concentrate.  

[You might make a short to-do list, 3-5 things, depending on how much time is left.]

Continue.  Start out fresh, right where you are, as if it was the beginning of the day,

Enjoy  the rest of the day, free of worry and minus the self-guilt trip. God understands, and he loves us just like we are. So lighten up.  Laugh a little, and then a lot.

Distraction detours happen to all of us. Don’t let them highjack your joy. Be kind to yourself. Step back, regroup, handle them with GRACE.  Laugh a little (and then a lot) and move on!

Don’t remember the former things; don’t dwell on things past. Isaiah 43:18

Rejoice in the Lord always. Phil 4:4

Waiting for Directions

Weathervane showing North, South, East, West, with a horse on top of an arrow

This week’s post  is from a guest writer, Rebekah Lowe:

Waiting is hell. Okay, it isn’t, but it is really, really hard.

I have just come through a time of waiting, and it was no day at the beach. Unless it is a day with sunburn, sand in your shorts, and lots of jellyfish.  Waiting is hard. Even when I know all the things. Like, that I don’t want to rush ahead of God’s best choice for me. And that I can trust that there is a good reason that I am waiting.  And that He always thinks up better solutions for me than I do for myself.  And that He will take care of me in the meantime, while I wait.  Still…

We were going to sell our house and move.  Not just for fun.  But because we needed to reduce our expenses.  It took us awhile to face facts, to understand that a move was necessary.  But we came to realize it, researched best options to sell, and put the house on the market.  In terms of real estate markets, we live in a hot neighborhood, in a hot city, and it was Spring.  The triple threat, right?  We thought we would sell the house in a couple of days, for near asking price.  Everyone said so.  We had watched God sell houses with remarkable speed for us several times before.  I was fond of saying, “God does real estate!”, and He certainly does, just as he does anything He chooses to do for us.

The first weekend came and went, with many lookers, but no offers.  We  visited another possible home for us, and began to calculate what we might offer for that place.

hourglass with red sand

The first month came and went, with many lookers, but no offers.  We dropped the price a little, and I made my first of many spreadsheets, so I could analyze what we might net, at any given price.

I’m sorry to say, the first year came and went.  Year!!!  By then, I was just about at my wit’s end.  Price drops, a different real estate company, nothing seemed to help.  I still knew, just knew, that I dare not try to wrest control back from God.  Not that He wouldn’t let me, He would have.  God is a gentleman, as Lydia Floren says.

Rather, I knew whatever options I could manufacture would never live up to whatever He was waiting for.  AND, it seemed pretty evident that factors that made sense in this world, like market strength, price points, and selling strategies were not the barriers.

So, I waited.  Not without complaint.  Not all that patiently.  With the encouragement of my friends, I waited.  With pleas for Him to do whatever needed doing, I waited.  With Him meeting our needs all along the way, I waited.

And last week, He sold the house.  I still don’t know why we were waiting, God and me, but I know that good things came from it.

  • During the last year, I went from reluctantly selling the house to being thrilled that the house sold:  God gave me plenty of time to get used to the idea.  Maybe He knew I wasn’t ready.
  • I remembered what it is to wait without knowing what we are waiting for.  May I never blithely comfort a friend who is waiting again!
  • I learned yet again that God will continue to meet my needs, one step at a time.  Apparently, I have to relearn this regularly.  Maybe this will help me with a much harder problem down the road.
  • We found a wonderful new home that wasn’t available when our house went on the market.  Maybe someone in that neighborhood needs me, or maybe I need them.  Or, maybe God just thought it was a cute place for us.

So, if you are waiting, you have my full understanding, and buckets of empathy.  If you belong to God, what I cannot give you is sympathy.  Because, despite how it feels, good things are in the works for you, and you are being cared for all along the way.  This interminable waiting will end, and end well.

And remember the quote from the movie, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel?”  The hotel manager is reassuring a guest and says, encouragingly, “Everything will be all right in the end. If it’s not all right, it is not yet the end.”  So true for God’s people:  if it is not yet all right, it is not yet the end.  Just you wait.

Rebekah Lowe

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you. when you walk through fire you shall not be burned.  and the flame shall not consume you.  Isaiah 43:2

Praying for Patience

The words Praying for patience on a background of a purple petunia

“Whatever you do, don’t pray for patience!”

Have you ever heard someone say that? I know I have. It seems to be a common half-joking-but-more-serious warning, that Christians sometimes give each other. But why not pray for patience?  Isn’t patience one of the fruits of the Spirit? Isn’t it a great asset in our relationships and our faith? Why shouldn’t we pray for patience?  Here’s the reasoning:

“Don’t pray for patience,” people say, “because if you do, God’s going to send you a heap of trouble.”

But is that really true? Does God punish you for asking Him for patience? Does praying for patience give God a cart blanche to “Job-ify” your life by bringing you hardship?

No. Of course not.

Troubles are a part of life 

In fact, Jesus made it very clear that difficulties are a part of life, including (and sometimes especially) for believers.  “In the world you shall have tribulation” he said in John 16:33  If we think living a life of following God is trouble-free, we haven’t been reading our Bibles. Trials are a reality in each of our lives and they’re going to keep coming. Count on it.

An Opportunity

As far as I can tell, “praying for patience brings trouble” logic is based in a misunderstanding of Romans 5:3-4

“And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation works patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope.”  Romans 5:3-4 (AKJV)

Notice that Paul doesn’t say, “Pray for patience and God will bring tribulations (troubles).” He says glory – or be thankful – in your trouble, seeing it as an opportunity for good – patience – to come from the hardships.

Our Choice

Hard times are acomin’, and they will keep on coming. We have no choice about that.  But we do get to decide how we respond to adversity, and our choice will either make us bitter or better.

When we decide to give thanks (glory) in the middle of every situation, we are reminded that our difficult circumstance is not for nothing. At the very least it will strengthen our ability to be patient, and endure it with grace.

by Lydia Floren