Category Archives: Seasonal

Shoes At My Door

Shoes At My Door

by Lydia Floren

When we first moved to Wisconsin, I was surprised to find that, when people came to visit, they always left their shoes at my door. I soon learned that Wisconsinites shed their shoes, just like they do their coats, when they enter someone’s home. Children learn to do this almost before they begin to walk. In fact, around here, taking your shoes off when you cross a threshold ranks right up there with the “yes ma’am’s” and “no ma’am’s” of the South: good when you do it, really rude when you don’t.

At first this shoe-at-the-door thing didn’t make much sense. But that was because we moved up here in July. By December, the reason became obvious: snow. Well, not just snow –  the sand and slush and salt and mud that accompany the winter months. Taking shoes off keeps everyone’s houses from being dirtied by the outside mess. This is such an ingrained habit in our Northwoods culture that, even when the weather is nice and the streets are clear, everyone still sheds their footwear when they come inside.

We each have some mud on our lives, especially this time of year.

Extra commitments, financial concerns, worry about family, renewed grief, loneliness. Some of the stuff is obvious while other parts – like the stirrings of old hurts –  stay hidden beneath the surface.

As we step into each other’s lives, wouldn’t it be cool if we would remember to first take off our “muddy shoes”? That might mean setting aside happenings from earlier in the day: a difficult circumstance, or unpleasant encounter, or hurry or stress. Maybe it means withholding judgment, extending grace, forgiving, getting out of our own perspective and choosing to enter theirs.

This holiday season we are going to have many distractions.

And we are going to step into a lot of lives.

May we remember to set aside our stress and tread gently, giving others (and ourselves) extra grace.

BTW, wouldn’t it be wonderful if this “extra grace-giving” became a habit we practiced all year long?

But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. Psalm 86:15

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:32

Love is patient, love is kind. 1 Corinthians 13:4

Choose Life

3:25:16 Choose Lifeby Lydia Floren

Easter is all about life. Nothing says “life” like budding flowers, and chirping birds, and greening leaves, so it makes perfect sense to celebrate Easter in the spring. “I came,” Jesus said, “that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 19:10) This abundant life is not just about heaven. God invites us to experience this rich life now. Today. Everyday.

Because of Christ’s sacrifice, we have the option of living an abundant life. But God doesn’t force this on us. We get to choose whether to embrace God’s love and follow Him, or to continue on our own destructive path.

This is a choice between life and death, as Deuteronomy 30 points out:

I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him. For the Lord is your life. Deut. 30:19-20

This Easter, choose life: live the life you were created to live.
Resolve to

  • Love God
  • Listen to His voice
  • Hold tight to Him

And then keep making that choice over and over again. Because the Lord IS your life.

Real life begins with Him. Real life can only be found in Him.

The Miracle

12:22:15 SM The Miracle

“Whenever I have seen God’s wondrous work, …the thing that has always impressed me the most was the absolute quietness in which it was done.”   -A.B. Simpson

When God drew His first breath as a human being, it wasn’t to great fanfare or a noisy celebration. nHis entrance into this world was a relatively quiet affair.  It was eventful, yes, in the “Oh my gracious the baby is coming” sort of way.  Painful.  Messy.  Joyful.  It was an ordinary – albeit always extraordinary – birth.

And yet it was also miraculous.  Jesus’  birth marked the first time that God lived within a person.  As a Person.

Thirty-three or so years later, this extraordinary God-man named Jesus was murdered.

Jesus died, but He was not defeated.   Jesus overcame the grave, and the power of evil in this world, and returned home.  And then He sent back a gift to every person willing to accept it:  the gift of Himself.

And so the miracle continues.  Immanuel.  God with us.  God living within us, transforming our ordinary lives with His extraordinary presence.

Don’t miss a moment of it, obsessing about something you think you want, and then trying to figure out how to get it.

The truth is, all you or I ever truly want or need is right here with us, within us.
Loving us.
Healing us.
Guiding us.
Giving us the deep soul-satisfying life that can only come from Him.

A miracle. THE Miracle.  Immanuel—God with us.

Celebrating Immanuel – God With Us

12:4:15 Immanuelby Lydia Floren

I made a new friend at a conference last summer, a writer named Letitia Suk.  In her wonderful book Rhythms of Renewal,  Tish mentioned her practice of recording a few things everyday in a thanksgiving journal.  I was inspired.  I started a thanksgiving journal of my own.  (I’m still a bit spotty, but the habit is taking hold.)

As I mentioned last week, it is easy for me to forget to actually give thanks TO God.  In the same way, I can also neglect to give thanks FOR God.  Like the prodigal and his brother, in focusing on the Father’s gifts, I can overlook His greatest gift:  Himself.

So I have an idea for advent:  each time I write in my thanksgiving journal, I will try to include at least one attribute of God that I am particularly thankful for.  For example:

Thank you Father, for


  • Your kindness
  • Your wisdom 
  • Your sense of humor
  • Your beauty
  • Your grace 
  • Your strength 
  • Your consistency
  • Your faithfulness
  • Thank you for the ways I have seen You and known You more this year

Thanking God for Himself.   What a wonderful way to celebrate Immanuel – God with us!

What a wonderful way of welcoming in advent!

Share with us:  What qualities of God are you particularly thankful for?

Porch Time

Porch Time10:17:15by Lydia Floren

It is hard to say goodbye to summer, especially up here in the North Woods.

Summers in Wisconsin are exquisite, and we Wisconsinites spend as much time outdoors as possible  this time of year.  For the Floren family, this means a lot of porch-time.

Our back porch, extending from our house’s second story, is surrounded by woods. Sitting on the porch is kind of like perching in a treehouse:

Light filters through the trees. Multicolor greens drape the woods. Birds chatter song in surround sound, as a breeze whooshes through the branches. A chipmunk skitters across the deck, and a chickadee lands on the bird-feeder only to flit off a moment later.

It is easy to appreciate God’s beauty when enjoying the outdoors, but God’s beauty is more profound than just the lush green of a Wisconsin summer.  God’s true beauty shines in His character.

  • His goodness. The utter lack of evil in His existence.
  • His power to overcome evil.
  • His grace to forgive, and to replace lies with truth.
  • His commitment to stay with us/within us now and for all eternity.
  • His gentle care for each of us, accepting us right where we are, and providing what we need, not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well.
  • His direction, leading us in the next step.
  • His compassion, tenderly cherishing each of us, and consistently loving us no matter what.
  • His companionship, providing company for us through our day.

We’ve said goodbye to summer up here in the cold, cold north, but we need never say goodbye to the One who created it.  In every season His beauty shines within us, and all around us.

Spring In The North Woods

Title

by Lydia Floren

Spring is different in the North Woods, more than any other place I have lived.  It is greatly anticipated by all who live here (especially a southerner like me) but still arrives unexpectedly.

One day it is winter.

Winter

The next day, spring.

Spring

Overnight—or so it seems–tulips bravely push past the cold. Green grass peaks through melting snow.

Flowers

The woods blush with leaf-buds.

tree

And then apple trees blossom.

Apple Blossom

And lilacs.

Lilacs

Wisconsin spring is beautiful.  And brief. Almost in the blink of an eye the flowers fade, the woods unfurl a startling array of greens.

Green Trees

Summer.

Wisconsin summers take my breath away.  The days are warm, but not scorching. The grass is a lush carpet, caressing my bare feet.  The cool evenings stretch until 9:30 or 10, inviting me to linger on the back porch to watch the dusk settle, feel the breeze, listen to the fading echoes of children at play.

I am ashamed to say that even in summer, I can become inured, and then immune to the season’s magnificence. But the change of seasons in the North woods stops me in my tracks. Every year. Every season. The shifts–winter to spring to summer to fall–shout God’s greatness, His creativeness, His startling sense of beauty.

I can’t help but wonder. And awe. And give thanks, not only for the beauty surrounding me, but for the God who made all of this—who made each of us, His pinnacle creations.

I will give thanks to you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well.

Happy summer!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be Still and Know that I am God.

be-still-recby Lydia Floren

Be still and know that I am God.  Psalm 46:10

In the swirl and stress of the holidays, or just daily living, God often uses these 8 words restore my soul.

Be still and know that I am God.

The simple acts of being and knowing free us from the Twilight Zone of Anxiety, the Abyss of Never Enough:

Be still and know that I am God.

Be.

  • Just be.
  • Be aware of being alive. Appreciate that you have a beating heart, and air to breathe.
  • Settle into the truth that
    • You are fearfully and wonderfully made.
    • You are wanted. Treasured. Valued. Loved.
    • You are known and you are loved.

Be still.

  • Just stop. Rest. Take a breath. Or two. Be still.
  • Be still on the inside, as well as the outside.
  • Release all those thoughts swirling around in your head.
  • Take your mind off your responsibilities, your concerns, those things in your head that are nagging you.
  • Let go right now, and just be still.

 And know.

  • Let truth sink in.
  • Be aware of what is real, and what is not.
  • What is beyond seeing and understanding—and in the realm of just knowing.

Know that I

  • Know the Person who made you,
  • Who knows you better than you know yourself.
  • Who loves you with an everlasting love, which is in no way dependent on what you do or don’t do.
  • Who lives within you.
  • Who has your back.
  • Who has shown, and will show you how to live.
  • Who will never steer you wrong.
  • Who goes after you when you stray—deliberately or unintentionally–and brings you back to the path of life and joy.
  • Who restores your soul, leads you into the light and away from the darkness.
  • Who will never leave you or reject you.
  • Who keeps you safe—protects your identity, value, belonging and calling—for all eternity.

 Know that I am God.

Know that this person–your heavenly father, your friend, your one and only guide in life, your creator—is God.

He is God.

He is

  • 100% good.
  • The most powerful being in the universe.
  • Wise
  • Trustworthy
  • Present
  • compassionate
  • understanding
  • forgiving
  • uncondemning
  • full of life and joy
  • available
  • ready to show you a better way to live
  • Committed to walking with you on that way.

Be Still and Know that I AM GOD.  Psalm 46:10

How has this truth changed your life?  Please share with us!

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  Matthew 11:28-30

Escaping the Twilight Zone of Anxiety

Escaping the Twilight Zone of Anxietyby Lydia  Floren

In the holiday season it is easy to get stressed.  Anxiety can slip up on you–or just slam you– but it always keeps you from enjoying life.  When we are anxious, we are fretful, not fruitful. We frown. We are easily annoyed. With all the activity and stress of this time of year, it is doubly important to recognize the signs that you may be entering the Twilight Zone of Anxiety.

 It starts with The Coulds.

I think we all have a little ADD.; it’s hard not to get distracted, given the world we live in.  And any tendency our minds might have to wander will kick into overdrive at the holidays.  We think about The Coulds.

There are so many things we COULD do.  We COULD entertain like Southern Living, decorate our home like Architectural Digest, create gifts like Martha Stewart, dress like Vogue, bake cookies like Good Housekeeping.   We COULD attend the office party, the theatre production, the carol sing, the sleigh ride.   We COULD do all the things we didn’t do last year, that we promised ourselves we would do “next year for sure.”  These “coulds” don’t order themselves into a neat list; they swirl around in our heads like a thick fog on a stormy night.

 Then come The Shoulds

Once The Coulds establish themselves, The Shoulds creep in.  We SHOULD make this gift.  We SHOULD call so-and-so.  We SHOULD attend that event, buy this present, send that special card, call that person, volunteer for this cause. SHOULDS go very deep in our psychy.  Beneath the layer of things we SHOULD DO, is the even more corrosive/destructive layer of the things we SHOULD BE.  We SHOULD BE more loving, and caring, and patient, and giving, and thoughtful, and organized, and disciplined.  Between the Coulds and the Shoulds, everything in our heads becomes a muddled mess.  

The Abyss of Never Enough

Eventually, we are forced to face the fact that we don’t have enoughof anything.  We don’t have enough time, or energy, or resources, or even compassion–to do what we think we SHOULD do, much less what we COULD do.  At first we might complain (whine) “if I just had more _______”  Or we might try whipping those around us  (usually less than enthusiastic family members) into action to help us  get some of those Shoulds off our backs.   Finally we get it. We admit to ourselves: “There is never enough–and there is never going to be enough–of me to do all these Shoulds, no matter how hard I try.”

While this truth should be freeing , it is not. Not yet.  We aren’t finished sliding down into the pit, and we do this by saying to ourselves “somehow this is all my fault.  I SHOULD have done this, I SHOULD have planned that.”  We get frustrated, depressed, and twice as stressed, beating ourselves up for every missed opportunity, every less-than-perfect outcome. When we reach the SHOULDS of REGRET, we have tumbled headlong into the Abyss of NEVER ENOUGH.  Here we are truly at a standstill.

 Escaping the Twilight Zone of Anxiety

The way to freedom from all this anxiety and stress is 180 dgrees opposite the busy road we have been traveling.  Our freedom comes when we decide to quit focusing on ourselves, and our little corner of the universe, and turn our eyes to Jesus.   Jesus said “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father but through me.”   When we spend our efforts connecting with the Maker of the Universe we get to know Truth—in Person.  That Person also said “You shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you free.”

I find when I choose to make time with God my top priority—more important than anything else on my schedule—everything changes.  The fog clears. I start to see the world more from His perspective.  The things I was worried about don’t seem as important. And other things—things that weren’t even on my radar before—take precedence. The hymnist Helen H. Lemmel expressed  it this way:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus.                                                                                                                  Look full in His wonderful face,                                                                                                              and the things of earth will grow strangely dim,                                                                                in the light of His glory and grace.

The psalmist David said it another way:

…I waited patiently for the LORD; And He inclined to me and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, And He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God… Isaiah 40:1-3

What ways has God freed you?  We’d love to hear from you!

For more on staying focused at the holidays, watch for upcoming blogs.

For more reflections about the holidays, check out  Perfect Holidays, Shine your Heart, or   Crunch Time.

God Showing Off: The Master at work

god-showing-off-title

by Lydia Floren

The fall colors have been spectacular this year in Eau Claire.

DSC01769 As i was wandering the neighborhood taking picture after picture I thought:

        God has really been showing off this year.

DSC01512 - CopyDSC01606 (2)Showing off?  No, not really.

Fall colors in Wisconsin—like spring flowers in South Carolina—are just napkin-doodles            for The Master Artist.

God showing off?    How ’bout

Angels singing in the air.

             God inhabiting a human body.

                   And a world transformed.

Now that there is some serious artwork.??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????How has He transformed you?  Please share!

 

The Perfect Holidays

“Hon, how bout I take care of Thanksgiving dinner this year?”  Andrew asked me a couple of weeks before this year’s holiday.   I gave him “the look,” of course–the “are you crazy?” look. I know what his question meant.  If he “takes care” of Thanksgiving dinner it means we will go out, very likely to Burger King, his (I’m not lying) favorite restaurant.  And then I smiled, because I knew that underneath his question—and he was quite sincere in his offer, BTW–what he was really doing was asking me to remember to not stress out over the fast-approaching holidays.

perfect Thanksgiving

Being a mom, especially at the holidays, is hard.  You are the producer for the “biggest show on earth,” creating “memories for a lifetime”.  And you also happen to be the director, writer, actor, stagehand, caterer, props person, sound and lighting tech, cameraman, set maker, stylist, promoter, event planner, waitress, cook…  and of course, custodian.   You have expectations, and you have standards—your own and Martha Stewart’s—for what “success” at the holidays must look like.  And year after year you throw yourself into the fray, trying yet again to achieve the elusive “perfect memory.”

I have chased perfection many holidays:  ribbon-decorated baskets filled with homemade treats for the neighbors, wrapped gifts mailed to 20 (count ‘em) different relatives, Christmas cards–complete with letter, personal note and family picture—sent to 100 of our closest friends and family, 2 dressed turkeys with all the trimmings, matching sweaters for the Christmas Eve service, a personally cut tree piled high with gifts, a lovely party for the office and another for a few friends, the school play and the church musical. Unfortunately I also know the cost of such “perfection”—stress, anxiety, exhaustion, short tempers.

Perfection is an ever-changing specter that vanishes just when you close your hand around it.   The irony is, when you chase after it, you are certain not to achieve it.  Because what happens—and believe me, I know from many years of experience—is that you will miss joy altogether.

I suspect that what you really want this holiday, as I do, and as I am sure your family does, is not really perfection, it is joy. Don’t make the mistake I have often made, chasing perfection to try to achieve joy.  The two are in completely opposite directions.   As you neglect everything else in your drive to attain perfection, what you do is stress yourself out, and then stress out the people around you.  Somewhere in your head you reason those you love must see how near and important the “perfect holiday” is, and must do everything in their power to help you accomplish it, just as you are. It is “for them,” after all.  But is it? For them?  Or for you, so that you can feel good about yourself for one brief moment in time?

In your drive to “succeed” you are choosing to fail in what you really want most, and certainly what your family wants most—joy, fun, contentment, peace-for your family, and yourself.

If you are not careful, the holidays will become something they dread (as you often do) instead of something they look forward to.  What you dread is the never-ending to do list, the nagging sense of not ever doing enough, or doing it right.  What they dread is the tension, the crabbiness, the rush to finish and do and go and see.

The Perfect Holidays

So choose to change your goal this season.  Change your goal of what “the perfect holiday” is.  Change your belief.  And then change your plans.  It won’t be easy. If you thought trying to achieve perfection was hard work, try the work of changing your expectations.  It takes intentional

reprogramming after years of data entry from Southern Living, Real Simple [boy is that an oxymoron of a magazine], and every TV commercial you have ever watched in the months of October thru December.  But this is effort that truly has dividends.

It helps to remember that a “joyful holiday” is not perfect.  It is the lopsided tree you got from the lot this year that someone forgot to water, and turned brown before Christmas, tinkling needles every time someone brushed up against it.  It is the turkey that looks great on the outside, but is hard as a rock—still frozen– when you tried to slice it. It is the sweet potato casserole lighting on fire.  It is homemade presents and paper chains on the tree. It is ordering takeout on Christmas Eve. It is everyone going to church in whatever outfit they happen to have on.  It is the camera not plugged in, and the Christmas letter mailed out in January (if it gets mailed out at all). It is gifts from the thrift store, a puzzle with a missing piece, planning meals around football games. Inviting someone new to dinner.  Or going out.  For dinner.  (At least considering the idea.)  It is a mom who is relaxed and laughing and having fun. Because just as “when momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” the converse is also true:  when momma is happy, everyone else tends to be happy too.

Burger King for Thanksgiving?  No, it didn’t happen this year.  Not quite there yet. But I am getting closer.