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The Moment Called Today

Bamboo Forest with pathThe Moment Called Today, by Lydia Floren

The last time (OK, the only time) Andrew and I went to Hawaii, we went to a medical conference on the island of Maui, a land of extreme contrasts.  Mountain and sea, lava and jungle, sunshine and rain. Maui is a unique place.

One morning we were drinking coffee at the meeting place, and chatting with some friends. They told us about a great snorkeling spot on the north shore that they’d heard about. It was little hard to get to, but supposedly worth the trouble. So we decided to play hooky for the rest of the day.  We went home, gathered some stuff.  They gave us the directions, and we would meet up at the water.  After a short drive in our rented convertible  Andrew and I parked, gathered our things, and then set out to hike the rest of the way in.

An unusual path

Our path took us through a forest of bamboo. The dense foliage seemed to close in and shut us off from the rest of the world.  Surrounded by these towering stalks, we had no view of our destination, and the trail was so curvy that at times that we couldn’t see but a few feet in front of us.  And even though the surf crashed nearby, all we could hear was the breeze swishing through leaves.  For a half hour or so we enjoyed a hushed stroll through these shadowy walls of cane, and then emerged to a breathtaking landscape of soaring cliffs and crashing sea.  One minute we could see for 5 feet, yet the next we were gazing for 50 miles.

Bay in the sea, with a lush green coastline

Uncertainty

In this life, there is a lot of not seeing.  We often don’t know where our journey will take us, and what we will encounter along the way. We can either chafe against this not-knowing, or focus on the beauty before us, right now, as we travel along.

Peace

When I choose to fret or worry about what is (or isn’t) coming next, I miss the moment called Today.  I forget that, whether I see clearly or not, I am still safe. Still loved.  God is still guiding. When I do remember these things, I can be at peace in the middle of uncertainty, resting in God’s arms, trusting His wisdom and leading. I am able to enjoy the moment called Today.

Joy

Choose to live in the moment called Today. Choose to be content in your circumstances. When your view is not clear, and even when it is, savor the beauty of life you have been given today.

No need to fret.  Eventually you will reach a place you can see for miles, a place that will truly take your breath away.

“I will lead the blind by a way they do not know, In paths they do not know I will guide them. I will make darkness into light before them and rugged places into plains…”  Isaiah 42:6

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” Phil 4:4

Rocky coast with blue water and white caps

I Love You

Sunset over the Gulf of MexicoI Love You, by Lydia Floren

“I love you.”  God says these three words to us over and over again, every single day. He did it yesterday, and He’s doing it right now. He’ll keep on doing it, tonight and tomorrow and the day after that.  But just because He is saying “I love you,” doesn’t mean we hear it, or that the meaning of those words sink in.

Our hearts have to be tuned in, to listen for that sweet message.

How God says “I love you”

God’s “I love you” might be a beautiful song, a stunning sunset, the encouraging words of a friend.  He may say “I love you” through a great conversation, a belly laugh,  a good night’s sleep. Or, an “aha” moment when a truth strikes home. Sometimes, He just whispers “I love you” in the stillness of our minds. And if we ask, he will help us to understand just what that means.

This is a little conversation I had with God recently:

“I love you.”

Thank you. But what do You mean when you say “I love you”?  And why does it matter?

I

I am the most powerful being in the universe. I made up love. I define it. I am only good. There’s no evil in me at all. I am patient, kind, faithful, generous–and present. I created you, and everything else in this world, and beyond. I wanted you with me always, and I sacrificed greatly to make this possible. I know everything. I am the only person that will ever completely know, and unreservedly love, you. I see you now, exactly as you are.  

I love you.

Love

I cherish you. I enjoy your company. I want the best for you. I’m here, and I’m not going anywhere. I see exactly what’s going on, and I’m guiding you. I’ve got your back. I’m providing for you. I’m healing your heart from the faulty thinking that has kept you in bondage. And, I’ve already forgiven every wrong thing you have done, and will do, to me. I adopted you. I respect you, and I am protecting you.

I love you.

You 

You are my precious creation. Before you were even born, I chose all the qualities that would make you uniquely yourself. And that hole in your heart? That is an incompleteness that can only be filled by me.  And I am filling that hole.  You belong with me.  You are wanted. You are loved. You are my beloved child.

I love you.  

I

LOVE

YOU.

I LOVE YOU.

I love you with an everlasting love.  Jeremiah 31:3

Blue pansies with the words "I love you"

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

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

Stepping Back

stepping backStepping Back by Lydia Floren

There always seems to be a lot going on in my life. Yours too, probably. Until recently I was working on a book project (Beloved Adventure), blogging, practicing medicine, helping to lead a small group, and preparing for a major house renovation. But a few months ago, I felt God leading me to put a few of these projects on hold and take some time for deep healing from some things in my past.

This is not on my five-year plan. Anywhere.

Yes, I have a past. We all do. I’ve dealt with it, prayed over it, experienced healing from it.  I really don’t want to go there again. Ever. “Besides,” I grumbled to God, “I’m too old for this.”

But God kept tapping me on my shoulder saying “You need to go here. It is important. It is your next step forward, for growth and healing. There are things that linger there, that  now you have the strength and understanding to deal with.  Things that still affect you, that cause you to be anxious, to over react in certain situations, to distrust. I want to perform a deeper healing, to give you a new perspective, to bless you with increased joy and freedom.”

It took a few such “conversations,”  before I acquiesced.  I reluctantly set aside (for the third time) the kitchen/bathroom project, the work on Beloved Adventure and a few other things.  And I began cautiously following My Loving Father in a different direction.

It takes a lot more courage and energy for me to step back than it does to step forward. It’s scary. There is rejection and hurt and mistakes and regret back there. It is a place I only dare go with my Loving Father at my side. And He has stayed close, protecting, providing, encouraging.  He led me to counselor that I trust, and a couple of friends I can decompress with.  He has given me a husband who understands and friends who are praying.

So far, It’s been messy and revealing. And yes, freeing and healing. But it has not been easy.

We can always know that God’s way will be one of healing and growth, freedom and joy. But what’s hard to grasp is that, on occasion, His way may also take us in an unexpected direction, a retrospective—even painful—one.  But He knows that difficult past experiences can seep through and stain our current perspective, despite many coats of paint-years layered on top. So, there are times God may (and probably will) ask us to dig deep. Unearth unpleasant memories. Allow Him to reprocess them in the light of His love.

Are you willing, no matter what your age or stage in life, for God to lead you to take a step back?  To set aside some projects, so that you have the time and energy to follow Him there? Are you ready to trust Him to create a new frame of reference, one untainted by past hurts? Even if the healing process will be painful at times?

If/when you are, I think you will find that stepping back can be remarkably freeing.  As God heals damaged emotions from the past, He enables us to claim more fully His loving embrace in the present.

You might find, as I have, that sometimes the best way–maybe even the only way—to move forward is by stepping back.

Those who wait for the lord will gain new strength…” Isaiah 40:31

Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” Psalm 139:23-34

sometimes stepping back is the best way to move forward.

Getting Away

12216-getting-awayGetting Away

by Lydia Floren

I  remember first getting away by myself when I was a resident in Jacksonville, Florida.  Medical training was pretty intense, and I found myself needing a true break. So, periodically, I would pack an overnight bag, and head to the nearby beach, where I’d rent a cheap mom-and-pop type hotel room for a night or two. Other than the usual essentials, I would take only my Bible and my journal.  I’d sleep for long stretches, take walks by the ocean, praying to the sound of crashing waves.  It was truly restorative.

A few years later, when I was married and mostly staying at home with little ones, I’d occasionally talk my husband into childcare duty and check into a nearby B and B.  I was amazed at how different a night or two would make me feel—refreshed, renewed, settled. Resting and reconnecting with God (and myself) did that for me. My husband noticed the difference too, and started to encourage me to take some personal time, on occasion. In fact, just a couple of weeks ago he pulled me aside and asked   “Hon, do you need to get away for a couple of days?”

The location and timespan of these little solo retreats has varied over the years, but some things have remained pretty constant.  Rest. Solitude. Silence (including all electronics). Prayer (both talking and listening). Bible reading. Journaling.

Until recently, I’d never met anyone else who did this sort of thing.  Well, Jesus did it.  And while writers such as Henri Nouwen and Brennan Manning have mentioned their own such experiences in passing, I had never seen, much less read, a whole book dedicated to this topic.

Until now. My dear (and fairly new ☺) friend Tish just published a wonderful book about taking a personal retreat called Getaway with GodI met Tish at a writer’s conference (Write to Publish) a couple of years ago. I liked her immediately. Tish is a gentle, Godly woman, and her book reflects her heart. It also provides some great resources and insights into planning your own personal retreat.

Getting away with God–the Person who knows you best and loves you most. Doesn’t that sound amazing? Especially this time of year? Maybe it’s time to give yourself a gift.  Mark your calendar and make your own plans for some personal rest and renewal.  (And maybe pick up a copy of Getway With God while you are at it.)

Best. Christmas present. Ever.

PS. For the chance for a free signed copy of Tish’s book, just respond to this post on the blog Belovedlove.org/reflections, message or post on our Facebook page @ Belovedlove, or on Twitter @bebelovedlove!

p.s.  I took the above picture at my friend’s Northwoods cabin. The one below is from another friend’s low-country retreat in South Carolina.

12216-restores-my-soul

A Summer’s Rain by Lydia Floren

102816-a-summers-rain

[Note: I wrote this in the summer (obviously). It is the intro to a book I am writing called “Beloved Adventure.”  Hope you like it…]

It is raining outside. I am safe and dry, in our tree-house-like back porch, and it is raining. The water taps against the leaves, gurgles from the downspout.  The moist breeze brushes coolness on my face, and tickles my nose.  It rains, and I remember.

My first panic attack happened the day before I started my residency. I had struggled the first 2 years of med school, wrestling with a massive amount of material, never feeling like I mastered it very well. It finally started to make sense my last two years, and on the eve of beginning my residency, I was ready for a fresh start.  I desperately wanted to make a good impression with my new colleagues.

On that eve before my first day as a “real doctor,” I was alone, sitting on the hand-me-down couch of my new apartment.  It had started to rain, gently at first, and then with massive sheets pounding the pavement. I was fretting. Despite my prayers, my anxious thoughts multiplied. My skin broke out in a cold sweat. My heart raced. The room seemed to close in.  I felt like I was suffocating.

In my panic, I jumped up, threw open the front door, and flung myself out into the storm. And stopped. I just stood there for I don’t know how long, soaked to the skin, water dripping down my face and limbs and puddling in my shoes. At some point I remember raising my hands to the sky and declaring  “God, if You can do this – if You can make rain appear from the sky and water the earth – you can take care of me in this residency.”

As I stood there with my hands raised, God responded. He didn’t speak audibly, unless you count the drumbeat of the rain. Yet, He answered me clearly, as He settled His peace deep into my spirit, and  gently washed my fears away.

Today, many years later, I am safe and dry on my back porch.  And I am enjoying the sights and sounds of a summer shower watering the lush Wisconsin greenery.  At moments like this, when I am quiet enough to notice the rain, I smile to myself.  On that night long ago God met me at my point of need, and He has done so many times since.  Each time I reach out to Him He meets me, and answers by raining His love and mercy down on me.

In Psalm 37:25, David said “Once I was young, and now I am old. Yet, I have never seen the Godly abandoned or their children begging for bread.”  NLT

Like David, I’m older now. I have practiced medicine, married, raised a family. I’ve pulled up roots and put down new ones. I have experienced joy and pain – and yes, a few more panic attacks.

God has never left me. He has filled in the cracks of all my imperfections with His unfailing love. And I know from years of experience, that each time I step into His presence, God gently washes my fears away.

Waking Up With a Smile

8:4:16 Waking up

by Lydia Floren

“Father in heaven, when the thought of Thee wakes our hearts, let it not awaken like a  frightened bird that flies about in dismay, but like a child waking from its sleep with a heavenly smile.”  –Soren Kierkegaard

Our Heavenly Father loves us unconditionally. When we turn to God, we always have a warm welcome.  His arms are open wide. We can run into His embrace, and unburden our cares and worries, leaving them at His feet. Once we are settled and at peace, He’ll give us a big hug, tousle our head, and send us on our way with a smile.

Being in God’s presence reassures us that He is with us, and will guide us through whatever difficulty we face.

We can always turn to God with complete trust and confidence.

       When I awake, I am still with You.  Psalm 139:18

8:4:16 When I Awake

8:4:16 Every Smile

Wait

7:8:16 Waitby Lydia Floren

Sometimes, life spins out of control. We have so much to do that we don’t know what to do next. We make “to do” lists of our “to do” lists. We are busy, but we don’t seem to be going anywhere. Finally, we get so overwhelmed, we hit a wall, and turn back to God. Here is a conversation with God, based on Isaiah 40:27-31:

“Help!! I’m dying here, God. Don’t you get it?”
“Oh yeah, I get it, alright. I’ve seen this a lot.”
“Well, what should I do about it?”
“You really want to know?”
“Of course.”
“You are not going to like this.”
“Try me. I’m drowning here.”
“OK, here is what you need to do:  wait.”
“Really? That’s the best you got?”
“Yup, the very best I have. Waiting will get you where you need to go more than all that running around you are doing.”

Wait? That seems like the last thing we need to do when we are overwhelmed. But waiting is different than we think. It is not tapping our foot nervously, glancing at our watch. It is not reciting our problems expecting instant solutions. Waiting on God is the practice of stilling our minds and hearts and spirits. Giving thanks. Connecting. Savoring His word. Listening.

When we stop. And still ourselves. And just focus on God, appreciating who He is and what He is about, everything becomes clear again.

In His presence, God gives us

  • Perspective: When we are in God’s presence, He helps us see what is truly important.
  • Wisdom: When we wait, God gives us wisdom and discernment about how to move forward.
  • Power: Focusing on God, and being restored gives us new energy. It empowers us to take the next step.

The most important time to wait – to spend time in God’s presence – is when we don’t “have the time.”  When we do, we step into our day at peace, settled, confident. Pretty soon we are trotting, then running, and before we know it, our feet lift off the ground, and we soar.

“Yet, those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength;
they will mount up with wings like eagles,
they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.” Isaiah 40:31