Confident, not confused

mountains-nature-sunny-bridge-largeI can picture them now, young women with open Bibles and worried faces. They’re anxious, searching for advice on their next life move: which so-and-so to choose, when to do this-or-that, how to talk with you-know-who about you-know-what. And their stressed-out expressions reveal these concerns:

  • What’s God’s plan for me?
  • How will I figure it out?

Great questions, ones every Jesus follower asks. But the quest for answers, sad to say, can make us nervous wrecks. We’re listening for God’s voice, but we’re petrified of hearing Him wrong—or not at all. Then when we do sense His nudging, we hesitate. In short, we’re scared of messing up some gigantic cosmic plan. We become spiritually paralyzed, fearing that one tiny misstep will ruin His will and our future.

But these fears are unfounded. They’re lies from the evil one, actually.

Here’s the truth about our good God: He’s not a manipulative trickster whose plans are tough to untangle. He’s not waiting to pounce when we make a “wrong” choice. And I promise you this: If, for some reason, we select Option A when B eventually makes more sense, the God of Creation can certainly correct it.

If you’re all-in for Christ, then God promises to guide your steps. He directs, even when you’re not sure. He puts stuff into place, even before you realize it’s out of order. He lays out a plan to relieve you, not burden you. In short, He’s in control.

So what’s your contribution to unraveling the Ultimate Life Plan? Here’s what scripture teaches us:

  1. We must spend time in prayer. The Bible is full of God’s people who faced huge decisions and made prayer the priority. They retreated from distraction, fasted while seeking, and asked God for answers. (Philippians 4:6, James 1:5)
  2. We must consult Godly people. When you share concerns with others, they join you in prayer and encourage you. They also make sure your options align with God’s Word. (Proverbs 1:5, Proverbs 11:14)
  3. We must learn to listen. I cannot explain the intimacy that comes from earnestly seeking God’s plan. Just know that the Holy Spirit will sharpen your spiritual senses. He’ll not only reveal the next step at the right time, but He’ll give you absolute peace about it. (John 14:26, 1 Corinthians 2:10)
  4. We mustn’t miss today’s agenda. You can live right smack in the middle of God’s will today: Give Him glory. Love Him deeply. And share His love with others. (Matthew 22:37-39, Colossians 3:17)
  5. We must walk in faith. When God has given you (at least part of) an answer, any wavering over action must cease. It’s time to trust that either you heard Him right or that He’ll graciously stop you if wires are crossed. He is faithful. He is sovereign. And when you’re seeking the beautiful will of God, nothing but good comes of it. (Psalm 43:3, Colossians 1:10-11)

Walk in confidence, my fellow Jesus follower. When you seek Him with all your heart, He guarantees a straight path.


Want to know more about hearing God’s voice? Here’s the link to a previous blog on the topic:


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God’s good despite our pasts (amen)

blog picHey, Jesus followers: I keep hearing some phrases about our messy pasts that have me thinking. They’re meant to be uplifting, but a closer look makes me kinda uncomfortable. Here are a few:


  • I have no regrets.
  • If I could do it all again, I wouldn’t change a thing.
  • I’m not ashamed of my past. Every bad choice made me who I am.

Maybe the intention is good, a positive outlook on a negative past. And I get that—Some terrible choices by yours truly have needed a sunny spin. But sayings like these do a disservice to God, implying that bad things are necessary prerequisites for good things to evolve—that our Lord somehow relies on evil beginnings to hatch His ultimate plan.

We must be careful (and Biblical) here: Evil has never partnered with good. God alone causes good, oftentimes stepping into a heartbreaking (and regrettable) situation to create good despite the bad—but never because He’s indebted to it.

Another consideration in sayings like these are two seemingly interchangeable words, regret and shame. I often see them used as equally harmful emotions. But again, cling to truth: Regret is not the enemy of moving past pain; shame is.

Regret, simply put, is to express disappointment about something that happened. In other words, whatever was done or said probably hurt someone. And hurting someone is never good, so we’re sorry. And Biblically speaking, we should be. In fact, the Bible says a lot about our need for sincere regret. We need to learn from the past, grow from it, move past it. Regret is necessary to the joyful, maturing Jesus life.

Shame, though, is a different animal. The dictionary calls it a “painful feeling of humiliation caused by wrong or foolish behavior.” Shame lingers like quicksand, not only keeping us stuck with guilt but also sinking us ever deeper. It not only stunts our spiritual growth but also attacks our peace. It’s paralyzing. It’s deadly.

So, Jesus girls, let’s rephrase these phrases. If I were Queen of All Sayings, here’s how I’d revise:

  • Sure, I have regrets: Sincere sorrow changes me for the better, leading me to God and to relief from guilt and shame. (2 Corinthians 7:10)
  • If I could do it all again, I’d change some things: Thankfully, though, God works out everything for my good—even those regrettable mistakes—when I walk closely with Him. (Romans 8:28)
  • Bad choices, all me. Good stuff, all Him. But the best part? Shame all gone: The Lord answered my cries and delivered me from my past. My face is now radiant, not ashamed. (Psalm 34:4-5)

Knowing God’s forgiving heart, there’s no need for haunting shame. It’s called mercy. And although I have regrets, it was Jesus—not the bad things—that made beauty from ashes. It’s called grace. And praise the Lord, He is always, always good! It’s called love. God’s abiding love.


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A special kind of kindness

chair (2)I’ve been thinking about kindness lately—how there’s not much of it, how I could show it better. I’ve also been wondering how many of the nice things I do are out of obligation and not sincerity. The answer? Well, it’s a tad embarrassing; let’s just say there’s still some growing up to do.

Someone asked recently about the kindest act ever done for me. There’ve been several, but one stands out because it was the shock of my young career. I was a rookie high school teacher pretending to know what I was doing. One class in particular was, well, just plain horrible. Every day during lunch break I’d dread the afternoon, sure that my next group of students would do me in.

I must have looked especially pitiful one day because just as class started, Mr. Inkel, a seasoned guidance counselor, came to my door. “I’ll teach your students today,” he said. “You need a break. I’ve placed a chair for you outside on a patch of grass. It’s pointed toward the sun. Enjoy the fresh air, and I’ll see you in an hour.”

I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t. This man saw my need, determined how to meet it, then became personally (and unnecessarily) involved. Who does this? Who moves past a brief observation of “poor girl, she’s struggling” and takes action—an inconvenient sacrifice of time and energy—all for a casual acquaintance? Mr. Inkel did. Pure, humbling kindness.

This memory has resurfaced lately, challenging my own treatment of others. Am I nice? Am I kind? Do I pursue sincere, warmhearted gestures, even when the cost is costly? Sometimes.

Sadly, though, my motive for kindness isn’t always genuine. I sometimes do good things for unsavory reasons:

  • Because it’s socially expected.
  • Because it makes me look good.
  • Because it makes me feel needed.
  • Because Christians are supposed to.

But a new kind of thought occurred to me today: “Doing nice things doesn’t make me like Jesus. Only Jesus makes me like Jesus.”

Thankfully, He’s the sure way to real kindness! Colossians 3 is now fueling my prayer as Christ refocuses my heart: “As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience….And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all in perfect unity” (12-14).

Now that’s a request our Lord will answer. He’ll give us sincerity. He’ll show us opportunity. And kindness will surface at just the right time, like an unexpected chair in a patch of green grass, pointed toward the Son.


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The Night I Grew Up


Hurricane Ivan. Pensacola, FL, 9/16/2004.

Hurricane Ivan. Pensacola, FL, 9/16/2004.

I miss the luxury of time. (Don’t we all?) Now that I grade essays around the clock, blogging is rare. But tonight, as I sit here tuckered out from a day with high schoolers, I’m compelled to write—but without the energy to edit. Do I dare? Turns out, yes! As much as publishing a very rough draft goes against the English teacher grain, the bigger pull—the Voice within—tells me to do it anyway. So here is my raw, uncut musings of September 16, 2004:

Eleven years ago today my Christian faith changed forever. Every anniversary of Hurricane Ivan takes me back to a fierce internal struggle on a seemingly eternal night. It was around 2:00 a.m. in Mom’s dark hallway when I realized my belief was naive and shallow. As the winds howled and the house shook, I wanted God’s assurance that our roof would hold and that we would be fine. I wanted to proclaim aloud, with unwavering faith, that no harm would come.

But did I believe it? Saints throughout history had surely begged for mercy that eluded them—on this side of Heaven, anyway. Even Jesus asked God to spare Him death, and we all know how that turned out. My brain was spinning like those windblown boats. And I was scared.

The fear was honestly more about my shaky faith than my well-being. Did I really know God at all? What if He said “no” to what I desperately wanted? Was He still good? Was He mad at me?

Ugly thoughts. Ugly hours. But necessary ones.

When morning finally came, an intimate, uncomfortable journey toward mature faith began. Over the next few months, I forced myself to dig into the Word, tears flowing. My heart was breaking; I felt betrayed by a God I hardly knew. But my Heavenly Father, in His tender love, was patient. He began giving me fresh understanding, new perspective, and deeper relationship. He helped me grow up.

My prayer since that time has focused on aligning my desires with His—which, biblically speaking, are mostly about showing His glory and sharing His love, not guaranteeing my earthly comfort. Pointing toward the Risen Lord is the goal, always. There really is no other reason to live—or die. And I hope, with all my heart, that every storm hereafter finds me in this mindset: “[Jesus said], ‘In this world you will have trials and troubles, but take heart: I have overcome the world.'” John 16:33


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Words that are worth it

blog picI was thirteen, at a ballgame with Lindsey. She was a knock-out, and all the boys agreed. In fact, two “older men”—tenth graders sportin’ driver’s licenses—approached us with eyes for my bestie. Then one of them pointed at me and said in his best swagger, “I know why Lindsey hangs around ugly girls. ‘Cause it makes her even prettier.” Still a cringe-worthy scene, so imagine my braces-and-freckles reaction.

Fast forward to age twenty, as I spoke with my college professor. He’d not been kind in the past, and this day was no exception. During our conversation, he dropped a self-esteem hammer: “You’re average at best,” he began. “You’re not unique and never will be. But you’ll be a decent citizen and have a fairly nice life.” B-r-u-t-a-l.

Now before your heart breaks for me, please know there were positive encounters, too. And life has surpassed “fairly nice.” But how unfortunate when painful words linger; sadder still is our tendency to believe them.

Not sure when it hit me, but I once journaled these questions. And I’m telling you, they were a literal Godsend:

    • Why let boys decide my value?
    • Why blindly believe anyone’s opinion of me?
    • Why spend time with people who degrade me?
    • Why not believe who God says I am?

I’ve grown up hearing God’s description of me and you, too: We were made in His image. He formed us uniquely—with awe, even. He has plans for us, good ones. And these truths aren’t just temporary pick-me-ups. They are life changing.

By life changing, I mean more—way more—than feeling better about ourselves. Of course, God’s words soothe the soul: With Him on our side, who cares what men say? But validation isn’t the only benefit and honestly, it’s not the main one.

When you truly embrace who you are in God’s eyes, some interesting shifts can happen:

  1. Distractions fade. Stressing over what others think is exhausting. (It’s actually self-centered.) I wonder what God could do with a girl who frees her mind and focuses on Him.
  2. Purpose emerges. God has stuff for you to do—fulfilling stuff that’ll bring you to life, make each day matter. So ask Him for the bigger picture. And then live big.
  3. Faith becomes personal. You were born with God’s love. But you weren’t His child yet, not ‘til you followed Jesus. Once that happened, though, you gained a best friend, a wise advisor, and a perfect role model. (Want to know more? Message me for life changing details.)

Tired of hurtful words? Ready to send them packing? Cling to who you are. Cling to whose you are. I promise, God is worth it. Thanks to Jesus, you are too.


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An eye for deeper waters

olivia 2


Don’t get me wrong: God’s directive was clear when I wrote A Daughter’s Worth. The topic was biblical and timely. It still is. But lately it’s given me pause.

From page one, my heart ached for young women seeking value in boys, popularity, body image. I watched girls struggling to matter. I saw them drowning in the fight. And I knew the answer to their angst was a loving Heavenly Father.

Strange thing is, God soon showed me that insecurities linger. Twenty and thirty-somethings began using the book for their Bible studies. Even as I taught A Daughter’s Worth to hordes of teens, my own issues resurfaced. And I was forty-something.

After this unexpected generational appeal, I began to wonder: Why haven’t we grown-up girls moved past the pain? Is some hurt especially crippling? Are we just now addressing it? Or, God forbid, are we stuck?

Two comforting scriptures have always soothed my wounded self-esteem: One says that God heals the heart (Psalm 34:18). Another, that I’m special to Him (2 Corinthians 6:18). These verses help my feelings; they should. But faith-altering questions loom in light of these assurances: What is God healing me for? When will I accept my identity in Christ and stop circling these same emotional waters? Am I missing real depth by floundering in shallow pools of “me-focused” Christianity?

Granted, new believers—and most teens I’ve met—wade through a “who am I now?” adjustment. It’s a necessary period of self-awareness. I mean, it takes a minute to comprehend that despite formerly swimming in sin, we’ve now been mercifully washed clean. We are His!

But if we long-timers are truly transforming, then where’s the “more of Him and less of me” growth? Some of us are still nurturing shame instead of praising our Forgiver. Some of our Bible studies devote more time to bemoaning personal issues than understanding (or applying) scripture. Some of us pray solely for easier circumstances but never for God’s glory through trials.

Please know I’m speaking to myself here. Just yesterday I journaled this: “I’ve belonged to God for decades. It’s time to trade shallow, self-absorbed faith for the holy esteem of King Jesus. All eyes on Him ‘cause I’m sick of looking at me.”

Want to stop swimming in circles of self? Me too. Here’s my prayer: “Lord, I need a mature faith. I want the adult swim. So it’s time to look squarely on you, the Savior beckoning me to deeper waters. Please show me how to get there. Please give me wisdom, endurance, power, purpose. Give me more of you. And don’t let me return to shore, Lord. ‘Cause that ship of shallow has sailed.”


Jesus said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

Peter replied, “Lord, if it’s You, tell me to come to You on the water.”

“Come” He said.

Matthew 14:27-29


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The near and the good

Want a sweet, feel-good Bible verse for your kitchen? I used to recommend this one: “As for me, the nearness of God is my good” (Psalm 73:28). But lately, the words unsettle me. Truth be told, they’ve kept me up at night.

The crux of the struggle is this: Being near to God has taken a “life is too busy” backseat. And that’s no good at all. For the record, morality is safely intact, prayers are still muttered, and church is attended. But I’ve missed relationship. I’ve missed contentment. I’ve missed what this verse embraces: The writer’s fulfillment—everything that’s good and right—is understood through unrushed, one-on-one God time. No wonder I’ve been lacking.

The first part of Psalm 73 sounds more like me of late. Asaph, the author, has been through the ringer of injustice, frustration, and loss. Also like me, he does his share of complaining. But by the last verse of this chapter…. Oh, boy. This is where Asaph shows me a thing or two: After all the belly aching, and despite continued hardships, he takes his weary self to the Lord’s feet.  Because when God is close, says Asaph, then all is good.

It’s a basic tenet of scripture, I realize. Believers are comforted in the presence of an attentive, ever-present Savior. So why am I not enjoying Him? Has the adage “God is with me” become rhetoric? Or, God forbid, trite? I know better. What’s good for me is nearness to Him. Being near to Him is goodness for me. So to jumpstart my spiritual reset, I paraphrased the verse in several ways:

* I don’t care if the world says that _____ defines contentment: Being near God is all I need.

* Everyone else may have blinders on, but I appreciate a good thing when I see it: God loves me. He wants relationship. And He’s not going anywhere.

* The good life has mercifully come my way: God (through Jesus—I’m adding some New Testament flavor here) wants closeness with me. With me! What else could I possibly desire?

I’m not quite there yet, this getting reacquainted with an intimate Lord. But I want to be. I’m asking God to show me more of Himself. I’m asking for the wisdom to simplify, to rest. And I’m already thinking differently. Here’s a prayer that’s crept into my Jesus time. Chances are, I’ve prayed this for you; feel free to pray it for me:

“Lord, you are good. You are light, joy, justice, and purpose. You are forgiving and loving, provider and sustainer. And you, Father, are near. Please help me [or whomever] sense it, desire it, treasure it, share it. And Lord, I’m thankful that your good presence is always good enough.”


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God whispers (reprint)

sun raysYou’ll never believe it! (Or maybe you will.) I, a regular, somewhat level-headed human, just tuned in to the Voice. No, not the TV show—way better than that. The Voice, as in Almighty God Inside My Head. Undeniably His. And undeniably cool.

It happened at 7:00 a.m. during a bit of anxiety. I was worried about friends, family, money, you name it. And as I peeked into the bathroom mirror, a clear-as-day thought flashed across my brain: “Just focus on Me. Look My way, and you’ll be fine.”

Now, a couple of things need to be said here: Number one, I was not dreaming. And number two, it did NOT come from me.

Believers often say God talks to them. I understand being moved through songs, sermons, sunsets. Most of us have seen a Bible verse leap off the page and into our hearts. That’s God, no doubt. And it’s special.

But can thoughts coming out of a human brain actually be the Voice of God? And if so, how do we know they’re His? Like today. I was certain, squinting in that mirror, that God spoke into my ear: “Just focus on Me. Look My way, and you’ll be fine.” Here’s what convinced me:

1)   It sounded exactly like something He’d say. And it sounded nothing like me.

Throughout the Bible, God says to focus on Him. And His presence calms our inner storm. (Remember Peter’s walk on water?) As for me and my natural M.O, I’m more of a “We’re all gonna drown!” kind of girl. Thank God for His thoughts, not mine. And His Voice is always scripturally sound.

2)   It was a grammar thing.

I distinctly heard, “Focus on ME,” a first person reference to the One speaking. Now, if my brain were talking to itself, it would say, “Focus on HIM,” or “Focus on God.” See the difference? When my thoughts on God switch from thinking ABOUT Him to speaking FOR him (first person I, Me, My, Mine), it’s time to take notice.

3)   I was primed and ready for good reception.

During a recent sermon, God nudged me to clean “house” for Holy chats: Praise songs on, TV trash off. Prayer life fed, gossip starved. Verses memorized, wrongs forgotten. The Bible calls it the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16). I call it, “Jesus, invade my brain.”

So listen up, fellow Christ followers. He’s searching for ears to hear. And the words He chooses are true, clear, life-changing: “[Jesus said], ‘My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow Me’” (John 10:27).


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A boomerang in the desert


I haven’t written in months. One, I’m overwhelmed with perpetual stacks of ungraded essays. Two, I’m struggling with my own Jesus walk, sometimes feeling inadequate and unspiritual (lies of the enemy, by the way, that I’m vehemently resisting).

Then last night my own encouraging words returned to me. A young woman who’d asked for advice in 2012 emailed a report of Christ’s faithfulness. And with that report, she inadvertently attached my initial message to her. She had no idea (but God did) just how much I needed it now. So thanks, K, for recycling the truths originally intended for you. Today they’ve returned for me (and maybe for others, too).

Dear K,

It sounds as if you’re in the desert, parched with disappointment and shriveled in faith. I have been there too. Please let me encourage you with the hope of Jesus. I’ve learned several lessons walking through my own dry places, lessons that healed my heart by aligning it with God’s:

1) Cling to Scripture no matter how bleak your circumstances seem. Remind yourself of God’s presence continuously, creatively: Post-it notes on a mirror, Bible apps on your phone, praise music in the car. Say the truths out loud as if they were critical for your heart to hear. (They are.) And even when you don’t feel like it, do it anyway. That part is key.

2) Refuse to believe the enemy’s lies. Satan knows you’re wilting, and he’s erected some dangerous mirages to get you off course: Confusion, doubt, blame, bitterness. Don’t let these pools of poison near you; they can be lethal. So how can you, the weary one, go up against the tricky one? You can’t. But He who is in you is greater than any trickster. Ask God for strength. And when the enemy tempts you with desert-sized lies, send him packing.

3) Realize that the desert can be necessary. Maybe you were headed the wrong way. Maybe you needed another perspective. Maybe it’s time for you and God, together with no one else. Whatever the reason, God is with you. And there is an upside to this difficult journey, a heightened, sweet and unexplainable spiritual intimacy. You will be blessed. Encouraged. Changed. Then when you finally cross the desert, you’ll proclaim—I’ll guarantee this one—that the difficult trip was worth it.

4) Expect to trust more and question less. When this desert is just a memory (and it will be), God may or may not reveal the purpose. And while not every “why?” is answered this side of Heaven, eventually you’ll trust God even when questions linger. You’ll have mind-blowing proof of His faithfulness. You’ll begin to see that God’s greater purpose is bigger than your dreams. And He loves you enough to satisfy—especially in the desert.

The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. . . . They will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God.

Isaiah 35:1-2


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It could be worse

It just doesn't get any better than Pensacola Beach, Florida. :)

It just doesn’t get any better than Pensacola Beach, Florida.:)

Granted, I was complaining. To my credit the woe-is-me talk was harmless, sarcastic humor—pretty funny stuff too, I might add—but regardless, there was belly aching. And on this particular day, in this particular place, my grumbling didn’t sit well with someone nearby. She glared at me and exclaimed, “It could be worse!”

She was right.

Ever since, I’ve been borderline obsessing over those four words. Was she scolding me? After all, blessings do indeed abound, and I should be more grateful. Was she helping me look at the bright side? If so, it’s uncomfortable to feel relief when someone else suffers more. Regardless of her intention, the sentiment was accurate: It could be worse. So what am I supposed to do with that?

First and foremost, this revelation: I could be afraid of what happens when this life runs out. But I’m not. I could lie awake wondering what my purpose is, why I was born at all. But I don’t. I could run myself ragged trying to be good enough for God to notice me, to love me, to save me from myself. But I don’t have to.

Thanks to Jesus, it couldn’t be better. And I am eternally grateful.

So why think twice about one comment? I’m honestly not sure. Can’t help believing, though, that it’s making me grow. Since the “could be worse” encounter, I’ve been praying about the real Ava—who she is on the inside, whose hope she shows to others. Here’s what God’s been teaching me:

  • Struggles are temporary. And to rise above the earthly bad, I must consciously focus on the heavenly good (Philippians 4:8).
  • Emotions can blind me with grief, regret, insecurity, and self-pity. I need at least one safe person—a wise, Jesus follower who knows my heart—who’ll let me vent but won’t let me stay there. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)
  • I shouldn’t complain to anyone and everyone within earshot. I may be misunderstood. (Philippians 2:14)

More than anything, I’m learning that—like it or not—my outside should match my inside. I’m praying for infectious joy, that a smile is found on my face. That the smile is 100% real. And that all my words please Him.


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