When standing ain’t easy

girlieHey, little sister in Christ: I’m asking you to do a hard thing. I’m asking you to go against the crowd, away from the noise of the norm. I’m asking you to move toward Truth in an all-out sprint and then hold on with everything you’ve got. Your very life depends on it.

Promise, I’m not being melodramatic. Every day, every decision, every consequence is real, and it forms who you are: What kind of friend you are now, what kind of mom you’ll be later. One thing does lead to another, and regret can be hard to shake. Believe me, I know.

So I’m asking you—begging you, actually—to do the hard thing: Stand tall with Jesus, even when you’re standing alone. Be His light, even when you’re lonely. Or teased. Or disappointed. It’s difficult, yes. But it’s temporary and oh, so worth it.

Have you noticed that the enemy doesn’t do hard? What’s impulsive, what’s immediate, what’s easy—That’s his trap. And he lies, you know. Says you deserve this-or-that right now. Says so-and-so won’t matter in the long run. Then before too long, you’re caught up in the easy—Easy mistakes, easy guilt, easy emptiness.

Unfortunate. And unnecessary.

But standing with Jesus….Wow. For starters, you don’t stand alone; He helps you do the hard things. And even when it’s hard, you know there’s a reason—a good one. He’ll get the glory, and you’ll feel complete. Believe me, I know.

Is it always hard, standing with Jesus? Not always. Sometimes friends prop you up with encouragement. Sometimes you’re so full of His strength you could stand forever! And sometimes you get a sweet glimpse of what He’s up to—Of your purpose. Of His blessings. So little sister, will you stand with Jesus and me? Let’s do hard together, regardless of the cost.

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“Stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:18
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Stopped in my tracks

traffic lightI’m going to be late. Again. Hurrying to my car, I hope that maybe, just maybe, the traffic lights will be green. Lord, please make them green! Oh, how I need this little favor today. Please?

Within minutes I see a potential blessing ahead: A ripe, red light has just changed into that beautiful shade of “come on through, sweet thing. Here’s your reward for being awesome.” For me, God? Don’t mind if I do.

But then it happens. Just as I approach the intersection…RED! Now I’m red. Can you believe it? Everything bad happens to me. Here I am, doing the best I can, asking for the tiniest thing. What’s the deal?

Maybe God is teaching me patience. Or perhaps it’s a slap on the wrist; after all, I do need to get up earlier. Or come to think of it, maybe God is saving my life! I heard about a woman delayed in traffic, only to realize later she avoided a pile-up. That could be the reason.

But—and this is a novel idea—what if it’s not about me at all?

There’s a mini-van on the intersecting street. Inside a woman smiles at her green light. She’s weary from the midnight shift. Silently she prays, “Lord, guide me home safely. I haven’t known you long, but I hear you care for my needs. Right now I need a safe, clear path on these streets. Will you help me?”

On the corner is a man selling newspapers. Unbeknownst to anyone, he needs $20 for his daughter’s field trip. But it’s been raining, and no one’s buying. Just as the light turns red, though, he sees a break in the clouds. And the car behind me produces a hand waving a twenty out the window. “Keep the change,” says a voice in the car. “And have a blessed day.”

The teen in a truck beside me is also stopped. He’s never noticed that cross on the billboard. Funny, he’s been thinking about church lately and decided just this morning to visit one nearby. What he doesn’t know (yet) is that he’ll find Jesus next month and start a new legacy of Christian men in his family. In fact, his grandson—who won’t be born for decades—will lead thousands of teens to the Lord.

So here I sit, a tiny cog in the beautiful wheel of God’s glory in motion. This appointed pause in time has little to do with me. And that’s a good thing.

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The solitary road

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASometimes it’s a journey for two: Just one willing Jesus girl and the God she trusts. Maybe she asked to be on this road. Maybe she didn’t. But here she is, walking hand-in-hand with Holiness. It’s quiet and unsure and probably scary. But it’s necessary. Very, very necessary.

Don’t get me wrong about this trip for two: Observers are nearby. They pray for her, advise her. They share similar travels, encourage her to trust and embrace and breathe. But their journey is not the same. And the Spirit in her leads the way. So when it comes to setting out—doing the thing He’s put in her heart—it’s just one girl and her Lord.

I meet many young women on solitary roads. Most paths are temporary, some seem hard, while others are promising. Several girls chase dreams. A few return from self-propelled detours. They ask for direction, so I point them to Scripture. Then I mention the gift of going solo.

But some prefer traveling in groups. They ask me to join the road trip, to translate their prayers and God’s whispers. They want me to fix things (and sometimes I’d like to). I understand their requests: They’re unsure about traveling alone with Him. They’re afraid of messing things up.

But I cannot come. To do so would cripple them, compromise their paths. To do so would rob them of LIFE. Instead, I share the blessings of my first solitary journey:

Growing a real relationship. God became personal—like someone with skin!—when we were one-on-One.
Learning to hear God clearly. I heard Him—really heard Him!—during the quiet.
Realizing His bigger, better plan. God showed me the splendor of Plans B, C, and D.
Enjoying sweet things. He spoiled me with simple, smile-inducing reminders of His presence.
Treasuring secrets too precious to tell. Some parts of our intimate travels are still between God and me.

It’s your journey, Worthy Daughter. Yours and His. Walk it with confidence, knowing He’ll guide you in unimaginable ways. It’s a grown-up path for growing travelers. But you can do it. And this road makes all the difference.

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To love Him is to know Him

coraWhat do you wish were different about 2013? I have a few regrets—always do, since this body and brain of mine keep ruining my good intentions. There was sadness too, some of which I couldn’t control. Oh, and that to-do list I made last January 1st? Just found it, untouched, in a pile of unopened mail.

Goodbye, 2013. Whatever you brought me, here’s what God says about the past 365 days:

1)   He knew about every one of them. Beforehand, even!

2)   He loved me through them. Even the bad ones I caused myself.

3)   He promises to use them for good. If I’m devoted to Him, that is.

So now, as 2014 peeks its squeaky clean self around the corner, I’m ready for anything! How about you? May I suggest something that’s promising? Better yet, want to hear God’s advice to me about the new year? I heard it in my head while reading scripture:

“Make just one goal for 2014. Get to know me. Really know me. And then you’ll really start living.”

Gotta admit, my first reaction was, “That’s it, Lord? Just one resolution? But what about those ten extra pounds, the messy desk, my whole ‘gonna be nicer’ carryover from 2013? We’re talking good things, necessary things.”

“Nope. Take your eyes off the list,” I heard in my gut. “For now, focus on the words of John 17:3,  Jesus’ simple, sincere prayer to Me: ‘This is the way to have eternal life—To know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth.’”

Confession time: I thought I knew Him (well enough) already. But then I studied the definition of “know.” Uh oh:

KNOW

Verb: To be aware of, conscious of, informed. Synonyms: To sense, realize.

Verb: To develop a close relationship through spending time with; to be familiar or friendly with.

What part of the definition gets your attention? For me, it was almost every word. I know Him, but do I sense His presence? I know Him, but am I informed of His Word? I know Him, but is our relationship intimate? Oh, Lord, I want to know you!

The benefits of this resolution seem endless. Eternal, even. And I can’t help thinking that a single, sincere focus on Him will take care of other things. :) Happy New Year, worthy daughters. I pray we know Him in 2014.

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Invisible blessings

snowflakesMy sister texted me something pretty special the other day. It was unusual but smile worthy, in a quiet kind of way. And honestly, I couldn’t wait to share it with you.

The Oklahoma afternoon was icy, cold, and dangerous to drive. My sister Andrea sat warm and toasty in her Honda at the high school waiting on Jackson. Suddenly, movement caught her eye. It was a man. A man in freezing temperatures walking toward a certain car in the student parking lot. What in the world was he up to?

Andrea’s text can take it from here:

text five

World’s coolest Dad! (No chilly pun intended.) I replied to the text, noting that the image of him scraping ice with freezing hands brought me to tears. And Andrea was perceptive in posing this question: Did his child even consider the selfless, generous gesture? Or did he go about his merry way, oblivious to the gift of sacrifice, protection, and love?

And that’s when my sis Andrea concocted the perfect analogy. Here’s her follow-up text:

text three

Boy, was she on to something! How many times has Father God been my heroic ice scraper? How often has He quietly gone before me to smooth the road, clear the path, make a way? Maybe I noticed. More likely I didn’t. Just got in my car and rushed off to the next adventure, oblivious to the One standing there.

Lord, make me aware of your blessings. Help me notice your goodness. I want to be thankful in all seasons, but especially when cold winds blow.

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She gave all

giftI like her a lot, this young woman I know. She makes me laugh, she has lots of friends. But her family is in trouble. Money is tight, daddy has left, and there are several mouths to feed.

So an idea was born among friends: Let’s take care of Jenny and her family. We’ll collect clothes to share, raise funds for the holidays. No one should know who she is (Don’t worry—I’ve changed the name here, as well as some details). No one needs to know how much is needed (And believe me when I say that any donation was welcomed).

The tricky thing is, Jenny heard about the collections for this anonymous family. We run in the same circles; it was bound to happen. So one chilly night, she showed up at my door with a wallet. I’ll bet you can guess what happened next.

She pulled out a twenty-dollar bill and two quarters. “Here, Mrs. Ava,” she said very seriously. “I heard about the people who need help. I’ve gotten lots of extra hours at work lately. So put this money toward that.”

I didn’t know what to say, but truth be told, everything in me was figuring out a way to return that Andrew Jackson. “Why don’t you just give me your change?” I asked. “We have lots of donations, so two quarters would be icing on the cake.” Blank stare. So I kept going.

“Jenny, you worked hard for that twenty-dollar bill! Hold on to it. I’ll let you know if we come up short on funds.” Blank stare turned to frustrated frown.

“Mrs. Ava,” she said with conviction, “I want to give twenty dollars and fifty cents. I know what it’s like to go without. And this is the right thing to do.”

There are no words for what happened next. But since this is a blog and words are required, I’ll do my best: Jenny left without a cent in her wallet. I stood at the door with a tear-stained twenty and a couple of quarters. And I realized, through this tender young Jesus follower, the reciprocal gift of sacrifice.

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 Jesus sat near the collection box and watched as crowds dropped in their money. Many rich people put in large amounts. Then a poor widow came and dropped in two small coins. Jesus said to His disciples, ‘This poor widow has given more than all the others. They gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, gave everything….” Mark 12:41-44

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What I’ll miss most

Oh, how she loved Pensacola Beach! I remember several good talks with her there.

Oh, how she loved Pensacola Beach! It’s the perfect place for some nice, leisurely Jesus talk.

My heart is breaking. A vibrant young woman left this earth suddenly, tragically. There is no shortage of tears. There is no perspective yet. Too raw, too soon. But years of memories, they bring smiles. And tons of talks, they bring closure. So if you don’t mind, it’ll do me good to share them.

“Now, Mrs. Ava, you know how I am. If someone tells me a stove is hot, I won’t listen. For some reason, I have to touch it.” That’s my Ashlee. Honest, grounded, perceptive. Sure, there may have been an occasional blister from getting too close to the fire. But no serious burns, thank goodness, because she learned quickly. Quickly and passionately and transparently.

“Well, Mrs. Ava, I’ve learned something. When ladies get older, they don’t always get smarter.” How this made me laugh! Ashlee wanted to join me for a women’s Bible study, even though she was just nineteen. She was hungry to see mature, spiritual giants in action. But what she observed, in her words, were “the same insecurities I have now. How old are y’all, like, forty? I thought the more mature we are in Christ, the less we worry about ourselves.” Needless to say, Ashlee taught me that night.

“Oh, Mrs. Ava! I’ll keep this forever. For-EV-ver!” After I finished my second Bible study, Ashlee couldn’t wait till the release date. “Nine months? It takes nine months to get a book out? You might as well have a baby!” So when she popped into town, I gave her a hard copy of the rough draft, tied with a bow. Ashlee beamed, acted like I’d given her a Tiffany Blue box (which she would also have loved, by the way). And that hug. Boy, she could hold on tight.

“Hey, Mrs. Ava, we need to catch up.” That’s the last text I got from Ashlee. She was in town briefly, but our schedules didn’t connect. So now, in this fresh grief, I’m wishing we had. But I’m grateful that my mourning is not hers. She’s feeling fine. Actually, she’s perfect. (If you were blessed enough to know Ashlee, can you imagine that face when she first saw Jesus? How she’s talking up a storm? How she’s eating up the pure, continuous worship? This makes me break into a grin.)

I love you, sweet Ashlee. I’ll keep you close to my heart. I’ll keep your words in my head. And we’ll continue our little chats soon, in the presence of our Lord.

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When God’s path is a U-turn

My handwritten desk reminder that God knows what He's doing.

My handwritten desk reminder that God knows what He’s doing.

“Right back where I started,” Annie said in a text. “Thought I’d left that situation, but here I am again. Who’d have guessed it? Who knew?”

I’ll tell you who knew: God, the foolproof navigator of U-turns! Recently, His path took me back to a place I never planned to revisit. Was I surprised? Oh, yes. Did I misinterpret my inner GPS (God’s Perfect Spirit)? No way.

I taught high school for over two decades, then felt God leading me out of it. So I resigned from my job, wrote books/blogs, and volunteered at church. Now, logic would suggest that when God closed that door of teaching, He’d keep it tightly shut.

But as of August, I’m back in the classroom. What? (Yeah, that’s what I said.) After prayer, though, and a peace I can’t explain, my life has returned to essays and grammar. There’s something interesting I’ve noticed, however: The job is the same. But I’m not.

  • With God’s wisdom, I’m more equipped now than before.
  • With Jesus’ example, I’m more loving now than before.
  • With the Spirit’s power, I’m more at peace now than before.

You see, a U-turn of obedience is not humdrum backtracking. It’s not returning to former circumstances out of convenience, habits, laziness, or fear. And it’s not doing the same old thing the same old way.

It is God’s beautiful plan of second chances, of resurrecting fresh promise within familiar turf. And it’s an exciting prospect, ‘cause when you round that learning curve in the U, there’s just no turning back.

Do you find yourself saying, “Here I am again”? Well, maybe it’s the right place to be. In the U-Turn Hall of Fame, you’re in great company: Naomi headed back to Bethlehem, Paul returned to Philippi. And then there’s the ultimate “been there, done that,” when Jesus will come to earth again and lovingly scoop up His own.

So don’t fear the path, wherever it leads. God holds your hand, lights the way, and goes before you—even when He takes you back to fresh, familiar ground.

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And then Jesus

woman-above-white-boardWe’re more alike than you think. No matter what your story is, I can relate—really! ‘Cause you see, when it comes to Jesus throwing out the life-preserver, we’re all in the same boat.

I used to think that gut-wrenching tales of life before Jesus were better than mine; intense drama just seemed more interesting. One, the contrast between then and now got everyone’s attention. (Let’s face it: My “saved as a kid” story never wowed the masses.) And God’s love for a former drug addict, for example—“He cherished her, even in her rebellion!”—was a beautiful picture of Christ’s sacrifice.

So what’s my version of Ava before Jesus? Once upon a time I would have said, “Life’s always been good to me. Boring, actually. Christian parents, lots of love, no childhood traumas.” But lately I’m sharing a much more accurate story. One that’s a lot like yours.

Before I met Jesus, my future was dark. God was not yet my Father, Christ was not yet my hope. Sickness inside me festered, continuing to spread. What kind of sickness, you ask? Same as everyone’s: Sin. And like everyone else, I couldn’t stop the disease, no matter how I tried. I was literally dying from it.

And then Jesus.

Sickness is gone, healed from my plight.

Darkness flees in the presence of Light.

Unworthy before, now worthy in Christ.

So what’s your story? Guaranteed, the first chapter’s like mine. I hope, though, that a subsequent page starts with, “And then Jesus,” when the Savior scooped you up, cleaned you up, and set you up on a grace-filled adventure. What a testimony! (And a crowd pleaser, for sure.) So let’s get to talking: If yours is not a story worth telling, then I don’t know what is.

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“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by His great mercy that we have been born again because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation….”

1 Peter 1:3

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Letting go of “let it go”

woman threeHey, churchy girl! You and I, we have something in common: A churchy language all our own. But sometimes religious words are confusing, not only to newbies but also to us. And this could be a problem.

Last week a young woman messaged me a churchy word question I’d never thought of. And she was right on target! Thought you’d like to eavesdrop, so here’s our conversation:

Dear Worthy Daughters,

I’m having a problem. When someone says to let go and forget your past, how does that work exactly? How can I completely let go and forget about my mistakes? Some of my choices from way back still affect me. Even though I’m a Christian, I don’t understand how to pretend they didn’t happen.

Thanks so much,

Jess

I must ask you, blog readers: Have you ever said something like “let go and let God” or “leave the past behind”? Granted, there’s nothing Biblically wrong with words like these. God does promise to handle our problems. He’s also big on guilt-free, fresh starts. (Praise the Lord for that!) But even a churchy girl can find this confusing.

Here’s my reply to Jess:

Hi, Jess! I see where you’re coming from. Christians often say to let go of the past, but you’re right: It’s impossible to forget what we’ve been through. From what I see in the Bible, though, remembering is okay. Many believers talked about their former lives (Paul, for example), which helped them appreciate and share God’s forgiveness and hope.

But for Christ followers, even though we remember our mistakes, we’re not haunted by them. God wants us to look ahead, knowing we’re free and clear through Jesus’ sacrifice. Now, does every consequence disappear the moment we believe? Sadly, no. But God is greater than even consequences, and He can use any situation—even the stuff that still hangs around—for His glory!

So when people say to “let it go,” they probably mean to move past the paralyzing guilt of old mess-ups and to embrace the promise of now. Hope is in the room; shame is asked to leave, and new life with Christ is good—really, really good.

Free through Christ from my not-forgotten past,

Ava Sturgeon

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