A little bit of glory

A little bit of God's glory in my own backyard, 2013.

An impressive display of God’s glory in my own backyard, 2013.

Isn’t it just like God to announce His presence when we least expect it? To demonstrate His clear power on an ordinary Thursday? Or in the midst of what’s dreary and downright depressing? In my humble opinion, it’s one of His sweetest attributes. And it happened to me this morning.

You see, life lately has been a tad gloomy. And like many reading this blog, more questions abound than answers. But as I heard long ago, when we’re not sure what to do, we must do what we know. And what I know is that God’s Word is life.

So around 6:00 I opened my Bible. Next up in my “Read It in a Year” plan? Chapters 42-43 of Ezekiel. Silent sighs. Ezekiel’s vision of a man measuring the future Temple continued, and I’m admittedly uninspired by numbers. Regardless of today’s content, though, I readied myself for more Temple stats.

Then it hit. From seemingly nowhere, in the middle of architectural minutiae like “the area was 875 feet on each side with a wall around it,” the Glory hit. Glory with a capital G, and besides an undeniable encounter in my own living room (more on that shortly), Ezekiel saw it, too: “Suddenly, the glory of the God of Israel appeared from the east. The sound of His coming was like the roar of rushing waters, and the whole landscape shone with His glory….I fell face down on the ground” (43:2-3).

That “face to the ground” posture is familiar. It’s how believers respond when the Glory comes. The reverence, the worship, the sheer gratefulness that a Sovereign God sees us—simply overwhelming. Is He always there? Yes. Is He always working on our behalf? Yes again. But sometimes, in the middle of our dry-and-despondent days, we need extra-special, Spirit-filled reassurance. And He’s all too willing to shine.

Ezekiel got glimpses of Glory. I did, too. Today, as the words of this Old Testament encounter sank in, another thought suddenly emerged. My eyes blurred with tears. Now, think what you will, but this internal dialogue happened next:

God: “Do you trust Me?”

Me: “Yes, Lord.”

God: “Have I ever let you down?”

Me. “No, Lord. You’ve always seen me through.”

God: “Will you stop trusting me now?”

Me: “Why would I, Lord? Your plan is perfect. You’re all I have.”

God: “Then focus solely on Me.”

And just like that, I was back. Well, face down in worship, but I was back. Still full of questions, still facing day-to-day stuff, but different: Serene. Steady. Strong.

I picked up my Bible to finish today’s reading. Little known fact: did you realize that gutters around the future Temple altar will be 21 inches deep and 21 inches wide? (Ezekiel 43:13).🙂 Better yet, do you realize that God’s glory is available to all? That He’ll show Himself to you? Even in the drab—especially in the darkness—His radiance permeates all.


For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

(2 Corinthians 4:6-9)


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The insecure ship of shallow

olivia 2When the words of A Daughter’s Worth poured out of me, the purpose felt loud and clear. Girls were seeking value in boys, popularity, body image. They were struggling to matter. They were drowning in the fight. And I knew the answer to their angst was a loving Heavenly Father.

Strange thing is, as the book took off, God revealed what I probably already suspected; those teen insecurities can linger. Twenty-somethings who taught the study began emailing about their own Christ-worth being challenged. It happened to me as well. As I discussed A Daughter’s Worth with hundreds of teens, my own issues bubbled up. And I was forty-something.

No matter the age, two scriptures can soothe wounded self-esteem: One says that God heals the heart (Psalm 34:18). Another, that we are special to Him (2 Corinthians 6:18). These verses reassure my own worth; they should. But in light of these assurances, there’s a responsibility to go deeper: If we believe God, then why would we stay in insecure waters? Why wouldn’t we leave the me-focused shore to dive, strong and steady, into Christ-centered purpose?

Granted, most new believers wade through a “who am I now?” adjustment. It’s a necessary journey, trying to comprehend that despite a life of swimming in sin, we’ve now been washed clean. We are gloriously, miraculously His. We are forever changed—for the better.

But when we long-time followers truly transform, then insecurities diminish.  We find confidence and contentment in who God says we are. We find purpose and passion in God’s empowerment of regular, imperfect us. Granted, we may not be the prettiest, smartest, or wittiest in the room. But that’s fine. It’s not an issue. Because when we go deep, He’s all we need.

Just yesterday I journaled this thought: “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.”


This post is a revision of 2015’s “An eye for deeper waters.” ~Ava Sturgeon

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What God can do (when I can’t)

rabbit-1372928413BYnOnce again, I awoke at 3:30 a.m. with a heavy heart. The room was dark and still, but my mind was racing: current events ending tragically, personal issues seeming complicated. It was too much for a tired, typically optimistic Jesus girl.

As I lay there feeling the weight of several burdens, a prayer—almost a reflex-like response to sadness—escaped my lips. It was simple but desperate: “Lord, help me. I don’t know what to do. But you can fix this. Show me how, God. Please show me.”

Such a downtrodden demeanor is new for me. My usual “propensity for sunshine,” as a friend calls it, has dimmed of late, but even within this temporary state of gloom, God is giving it purpose. One, I’m clinging to the Savior more frequently, more intimately. Two, He is lavishing me with tender, sweet confirmation of His love and presence.

Like this morning, for example. I headed out for what looked like a rainy walk but didn’t get far before hearing in my head, “Go back and get your phone.” The wording, urgency, and peculiarity of this thought (I never take my phone when exercising) meant only one thing: the still, small voice of God was nudging, and a spiritual encounter was coming. Needless to say, I obeyed.

Five minutes later, phone in hand, this happened—dark storm clouds I’d noticed earlier had been outshone with golden, glorious sky art covering the horizon. It simply had to be photographed. As I took the picture with my phone, another thought—as if Someone were speaking directly to my weary soul—settled in: “Guess what I can do that you can’t? Form clouds.” No doubt about it; God and I were on quite the chatty walk, and boy, was I listening.


Rounding the corner, the cloud thing still resonating, a group of trees caught my eye. The undergrowth was thick and daunting, but a big ball of sunlight was breaking through the darkness. What a photo that’d make! No sooner had I captured the image than it seemed as if Someone were talking to me, although all was quiet: “Know what I can do that you can’t? Tell the sun to rise.” I was beginning to get the picture.


There’s not room here to recount all the photos or conversations God brought to me on that walk, but just know that a tiny bunny and annoying crow were involved.🙂 And a gentle breeze that calmed my anxious spirit—“And when they climbed into the boat with Jesus, the wind died down” (Matthew 14:32).

At some point during what reminded me of a holy ground moment, I hummed the old hymn “How Great Thou Art.” No idea where that came from; it’s not a song I hear often. But soon my burdens lifted. My perspective shifted. And I’m reminded that while I can’t do the hard things, He can. While I don’t have a plan, He does. And when questions linger, it’s okay: The Sovereign One with answers walks with me.


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Murphy’s law of hope

My great-grandparents on their wedding day, June 7, 1903.

My great-grandparents on their wedding day, June 7, 1903.

Yesterday a man named Lewis got into my head; he’s still there. I knew his wife Mattie pretty well, actually, but I never met Lewis. Turns out, that’s a crying shame. After hearing about him from my dad, it’s clear that I missed out on a hardworking, Jesus loving role model. Lewis died far too young, in 1943. He was my great-grandfather.

As Dad relayed story after story, I pictured the faces of rural Alabama poverty and considered relatives I’d not given much thought; suddenly, though, Lewis and Mattie intrigued me. As I listened, it seemed that if anything could go wrong for them, it did. But these were salt-of-the-earth, faith-filled survivors. And I’m realizing that in many ways, they made me.

Lewis had a wife, a farm, and a house full of children. He loved his God. He honored his family. And the farm, even though a Great Depression was looming, hung in there. But then a child got sick, really sick. His name was Fountain, and by the time they got him to a hospital, the appendix had already burst. Prayers and doctors saved the boy. In light of medical costs, however, saving the farm was less promising.

A short time later, as Fountain was healing, his sister Navalou became ill. Recognizing the symptoms, Lewis and Mattie sought medical care before the appendix burst. But surgery was needed, and by then the financial writing was on a debt-filled wall: Lewis must sell the farm.

So he did, and with Mattie and a bunch of children, they left their land, their home, their security. After being offered a rundown, two-room structure, the family moved in and made do. Blankets were laid on the floor for sleeping and then taken up each morning. Rats were frequent visitors.

In this uncomfortable and scary place, Mattie sometimes cried. (Who wouldn’t?) Worry was a dark cloud as finances and food supplies dwindled. Even her faith sometimes wavered. Lewis stood strong, though, riding the waves for both of them: “The Lord’s still on the throne,” he’d say when Mattie was anxious. “We’ll make it.”

And they did. Lewis and Mattie got through that storm and eventually found cozier quarters. Their marriage was solid, and Fountain and Navalou rebounded. More children were born. And all these children—more than ten fingers could count when Baby Phil arrived—were hard working, Jesus loving folks.

But storms have a way of circling back. And when it rains, it pours. In 1935, another illness blew in and took a daughter, Hallie Glyn, when she was thirteen. They buried her in the same cemetery where two stillborn sons lay. Eight years later, Lewis joined them.

Now, in 2016, these real-life, heartbreaking struggles have me reeling: How does a marriage survive such repeated loss? Is my heart prepared for hard winds? When times get tough, what message will I send my own family?

I’m listening, Lord. And You’re teaching me through a man whose faith tread above murky waters. I love that he loved You. And I love that when troubles mounted, he chose hope over circumstance: “The Lord’s still on the throne. We’ll make it.”

Thank you, Great-Granddaddy Murphy. Your lessons still hold water. Your testimony still resonates. And those buckets of blessings live on.


We put our hope in the LORD; He is our help and our shield. In Him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in His holy name. Psalm 33:20-21


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The one thing I’d say

I snapped this photo of college student Elena spending time alone with her Lord.

I snapped this photo of college student Elena spending time alone with her Lord.

“What’s one piece of advice you’d give Christian girls in their teens or young twenties?” Tough question, even for someone like me who’s spent decades sharing Bible wisdom. And honestly, deciding how to answer the email proved tough; after all, scripture is filled with life-changing truth for Jesus-following girlies. So which one spiritual nugget did I choose to say?

First, two likely contenders that didn’t make the cut:

I almost said this one thing: Believe it when God says you’re valuable, a treasure. You are beautifully clean and worthy, thanks to Him, so ignore the world’s lies and cling to God’s acceptance.

But I needed to add some caution: Yes, we Jesus girls are worthy because of His sacrifice. But we could unintentionally make this truth more about us than Him. If we spend too much time pursuing validation that’s already been given, then we become distracted, self-serving. The question of our value is settled; we’re just fine, thanks to Christ. So let’s keep the focus where it belongs, on the One who made us worthy.

Then I almost said this thing: Everything will work out as it’s supposed to; ask God for direction, and He’ll come through.

But I felt the need to clarify: Yes, God has a good plan and will guide us in realizing it; but it’s His good plan. So what does He desire? According to scripture, God wants us to know Him intimately and to give Him glory. He wants us to love Him and others. And He promises strength, joy, and contentment, even when life gets hard. So when we pray for direction, here’s what happens: He comes through by placing us where these good things will flourish—even when that place looks different than we imagined.

I finally did say this one thing: With all that’s in you, embrace your own faith, a growing, authentic relationship with Jesus that’s steady and strong and satisfying.

Here’s why I chose to say it: At some point—hopefully now—you realize that observing the faith of your pastor or parents is not enough to sustain you. You see, there’s a difference between an obedient spectator going through the motions and an imperfect but sincere Jesus girl connected to her Lord. I wish I could tell you face-to-face how much He wants to awe you with His presence, blessings, and purpose. The secret? It’s really no secret at all: get your own authentic faith.

Maybe you aren’t sure how to connect personally to a Holy God. Start by asking Him to show you. Sounds simplistic, but it’s a prayer He’s sure to answer. Then get alone with God. Grab a Bible. Talk to Him in your own voice, as with as friend, about anything. Join a Bible study (or start one yourself) with those who want a living, breathing faith; then pray for scripture to come alive.

Christ offers to be a real, intimate presence in your life, the One who truly matters. Everything hinges on this promise; I’m praying you take Him up on it.


Biblical references for this blog: Jeremiah 29:11, Matthew 22:36-39, Romans 8:26-28, Galatians 5:22-25, Philippians 1:9-11, James 1:5-6, and 1 John 4:15-19.


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A nap is not a kayak.

kayak“I never have fun anymore.” This sudden declaration of gloom isn’t what you’d expect during a scenic drive along the bay. But that’s just what happened, and no one was more surprised than I because it came out of my own mouth. Just bubbled up from somewhere deep, and poor Bill—my amazing husband who’s actually a lot of fun—wasn’t sure what to say. But because he’s a great guy (and because he probably wondered where this was going), he wanted details. At the moment, though, I didn’t have any.

All I knew was that I’d just spotted two people kayaking, and that’s where I wanted to be. And for the life of me, I could not remember anything recently that made me feel the joy of those kayakers (of course I’m projecting my own storyline into these people. For all I know, they were fighting with choppy waves and each other. But from a distance, trust me: they were the picture of fun).

So for weeks now, I’ve been thinking: what in the world happened to me? When did I start mistaking the concept of fun for un-fun things like naps? Naps, for crying out loud. Okay, maybe I crave a nap—or a lot of them. But it’s probably more of a sign that my life needs some tweaking in the departments of rundown, overworked, or stressed. But fun? No. A nap is restorative. But a nap is not a kayak.

Neither is productivity. Or the feeling of accomplishment we all desire. Yes, crossing off a long list of projects is a good day, and reaching a goal is the stuff of high-fives. But achievement is still work mode; it’s a laborious means to a methodical end. For example, I’ve cleaned out three closets since summer began. And I’ve started running again. But while productivity gives me a sweet sense of well-being, my thirsty, fun-deprived soul craves more. You probably already know that clean closets aren’t that exciting. And running for sure ain’t fun.

For now, I can’t say what uplifting, soul-satisfying fun looks like. It’s been a while. But I’ve asked God to restore this simple joy, to help me embrace an abundant life where there’s “time to laugh” and “time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). And He’s helping me, even through penning this blog. I do love to write.

Now back to that drive across the bay. Bill asked, “If you could do anything right now, what would it be? What kind of thing would excite you?” Maybe it’s easier to find than I think; maybe it’s simply the blissful abandon my heart remembers: playing the piano, painting a picture, hiking to a waterfall. Or kayaking. Yes, most definitely kayaking.


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When grown-up faith gets real

faith blogSince childhood, I’ve known just one way to handle crisis: Lay it all out to God. A lost flute in seventh grade? “Lord, show me where it is!” (He did.) A friend’s death my sophomore year? “Father, help the memories bring smiles, not tears.” (He did.) A career path at eighteen? “Jesus, align my desires with clear purpose.” (He did.)

But as I got older, life somehow got harder. And the adage “give it to God” suddenly seemed easier said than done. In my twenties, there was resistance to submit to an unseen Entity—and to an unknown future. Then my thirties brought gut-wrenching disillusionment when prayers went seemingly unanswered. And more than once my forties found me begging, “Lord, come to my rescue! And help my unbelief!” But through every decade of sometimes fickle faith, here’s what brings me to grateful tears: The Faithful One, my loving Jesus, has always propped me up, not torn me down, through every struggle. Not once has He ever shamed me for hesitating or punished me for questioning. He is, even still, patient with my sincere but occasional squirrely growth.

Now here I sit embracing my fifth decade, still growing. Here’s where I consistently want to be: Relying on Him unconditionally. Resting in Him peacefully, confidently. Focusing on things eternal and fluffing off, well, fluff. And enjoying a spiritually mature faith that transcends circumstance. So I’m praying. I’m believing. He is helping me get there.


What inspired these faith-filled musings: Recently as the church choir sang, several faces caught my eye, sweet souls who’ve walked through unimaginable heartaches and ongoing crises—some tragedies still new, still raw. But as they lifted their voices to God, there was no sign of distress! Only worship. And real-life, grown-up trust that despite what this fallen world cruelly deals, He is always enough:

  • One raised both hands in praise; a loved one recently died. The lyrics she sang? “Praise the name of the Lord our God.”
  • Another wiped tears; her personal struggles are mounting. The lyrics she voiced? “Praise His name forevermore.”
  • A man closed his eyes in worship; he endures physical pain. The lyrics he whispered? “For endless days we will sing Your praise, Oh Lord, Oh, Lord, Our God.”

Praise the Lord for real-life giants of faith with eyes on the Faithful One. Makes me smile to think of it, keeps me inspired to grow.


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