The amazing, unglamorous race

Some of “my” kids. Love them (most days). ūüôā

I haven’t always joyfully¬†pounced on¬†the purpose God laid out for me. One example: teaching. Even though all signs pointed to “teacher” from an early age—oh, the times I made my siblings play school with me—there was initial resistance as shinier¬†options offered¬†more status, money, or comfort. Oh, and I cannot forget the dozens who warned me against¬†majoring in¬†education¬†(many of them, sadly,¬†educators themselves).

But somehow in my spirit, I knew God¬†made me to teach. The job was (still is)¬†challenging, to be sure, and most days it’s definitely not shiny. It’s in that classroom, though, where every bit of me realizes why I’m still breathing. I understand why God¬†placed within¬†me a love for language, a soft spot for the underdog, and an optimism that borders on annoying. God created me to spend my days, knowledge, and gifts—especially the annoying optimism, ha—with¬†a bunch of typical¬†teenagers.

A couple of times I left the classroom. Burnout ensued (it’s a real thing, y’all), opportunities arose, and rest called. And during those years of hiatus, some pretty cool things happened,¬†circumstances that God directed. I was grateful.

In the end, however, those other¬†pursuits¬†just weren’t me. I’m not built to supervise, travel, or network. I’m not an extrovert, a¬†competitor or a visionary. Someone else is, and that’s where they need to be. But that’s not the race God’s asked me to run.

He has, though, set up a lane for me in an amazing but¬†low-key¬†race. I mean, really, who notices a tired teacher rushing down the hallway with a stack of essays? Maybe nobody except Him, the One I want to please. The One who gave a wide-eyed girl big dreams of a little classroom. The One who’ll help her next autumn, God willing, take one more lap around the track.

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“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of faith . . . .” ¬† Hebrews 12:1-2

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I’m not afraid of the dark.

The view from my computer as I wrote this blog. Darkness may imprison, but Light overcomes.

After a week of battling demons—when I say this, I’m literally not even kidding—God took me to the soothing words¬†of 1 John. Today¬†a verse leapt off the page: “The¬†darkness is passing away, and the true Light is already shining (2:8, emphasis mine). Right away in my journal I wrote in big letters: WHAT AM I WAITING FOR?¬†LIGHT IT UP, GIRL!¬†I’VE ALREADY WON, PRAISE JESUS!

Yet some questions remained: what was I waiting for, hunkered down for days in darkness? Why do Light-exposed Christians falter, even temporarily, under the attacks of evil? Because when Jesus walked out of that tomb alive, darkness became obsolete. No more waiting for Satan to lose ground. No more hoping for the Son.

So here’s¬†a new¬†say-out-loud anthem based on scriptures bubbling up in my heart. Here’s today’s¬†bright, shiny weapon for victorious warfare.¬†¬†I hope it’s yours, too:

I hereby declare that I have no fear, for Thou art with me. I go boldly as a light shining brightly, unashamedly on a hill; there’s no waiting for a turnaround¬†of sunny circumstance,¬† no wringing of the hands on¬†a weary battlefield. Just one¬†torch held high¬†will do the trick. Just one¬†unshakeable Jesus Light.

And the darkness threatening my joy? Nice try, enemy of mine. With the promise of my Savior, what can man do to me? Nothing permanent, that’s for sure. I’m unaffected by your arrows and strengthened by God’s armor, so let’s face the facts: you lose, and we both know it.

My radiant Jesus, the Light of the world! He lives actively, boldly, and assuredly in me. Today that’s my warrior’s truth. I turn my face toward the Shining Son, and nothing¬†will¬†douse¬†His flame.

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When small talk smothers

My journal musing this morning, a musing which became a blog. ūüôā

Confession: I’ve grown weary of¬†small talk among us believers. The obligation to keep a superficial conversation going,¬†an¬†unsaid expectation¬†to keep¬†things light . . . . Lately, the very¬†thought exhausts me. Please don’t misunderstand—I’m not¬†anti-small talk; it truly helps to know about someone’s career¬†or where they’re from. But at a Sunday School class/church retreat/Christian softball game/youth bonfire¬†filled with believers meeting for one reason—to gather with likeminded Christians—shouldn’t those initial niceties¬†eventually lead to¬†something else?¬†To Someone else?¬†I mean, are¬†we ever going to stand around¬†those dozens of doughnuts/bunkbeds/dugouts/s’mores and talk one-on-one about¬†Jesus?

Awhile back, a guest Bible teacher¬†visited¬†our¬†class at church. I’d never met him. After ten minutes of us chatting about hometowns and Florida weather, something came over me; I suddenly craved more¬†than surface chat. So to the surprise of my husband and maybe even myself, I blurted out, “How did you come to know Jesus?” And just like that, something inside me came home. I’m telling you, those next few minutes did more to lift my spirits than a thousand¬†little conversations from¬†years prior:¬†his childhood with alcoholic parents,¬†the local church who literally and spiritually rescued him, a lifelong walk with his best friend Jesus even through grief. . . .THIS fed my starving soul! THIS was hearty¬†fellowship! THIS was why we¬†had gathered! (Right?)

In that moment, ¬†I realized where I’d gone wrong. There’d be no more¬†chatting about everything but¬†the¬†Topic of topics, the LORD of all topics. Thankfully and joyfully, Jesus has since¬†breathed new life into my faith-based relationships. He has sweetly but clearly¬†shown me that¬†if we are growing in Christ; if we are seeking His presence in¬†the day-to-day; if we are transparent about ourselves¬†and understanding of¬†others, then the gathering of authentic saints¬†will be undeniably marked by the¬†outpouring of transformative Jesus. I’m talking real, meaty, energizing¬†fellowship. The kind that buoys, not burdens. The only kind that matters.

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“What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us.” ¬†~1 John 1:3

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When worship is a kayak

Our new kayaks ready for the maiden voyage!

It was everything I’d hoped for. And between you and me, I’d built it up like crazy. For the past nine months—ever since posting a blog about my craving¬†to purchase a¬†kayak¬†—the thought of being on the water seemed like the¬†logical¬†answer to any stressor. Not an answer, mind you. THE answer, without question.

Then today it happened: two kayaks actually ¬†belonging to us¬†pushed off from shore,¬†and suddenly¬†my husband and I were in the midst of everything beautiful.That’s how I felt, anyway.¬†No more spectating from afar, no siree. Waves rippling, fish jumping, herons soaring—we¬†were now¬†up close and personal,¬†practically part of them. And it was cool. Really, really cool.

My view as Bill paddled ahead of me.

As Bill paddled ahead of me (he¬†craves exercise; I do not understand this), the peace of God washed over me. His goodness, realized in this simple, picturesque setting,¬†was overwhelming. I was close to¬†grateful¬†tears. Why? Not sure. But before I’d rounded the first bend of that bayou, prayers of thanks flooded my head: God’s love (it’s so BIG); His forgiveness (it’s so PERMANENT); and His faithfulness (it’s so REASSURING) were as¬†real to me as a¬†blue April sky¬†.

Then it hit me: This desire for a kayak didn’t come from me. It wasn’t¬†a¬†hankering for fun or¬†a¬†distraction from stress. For almost a year,¬†the Lord Himself had steadily called me to these waters. He was inviting me for one reason: life-giving, God-honoring worship. And it was good. Really, really good.

The scenery on our first kayak excursion was breathtaking!

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“The LORD is a great God and a great King above all gods, in whose hand are the depths of the earth. . . . The sea is His, for it was He who made it, and His hands formed the dry land. Come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker, for He is our God.” Psalm 95:3-7

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Want to check out my first kayak post from nine months ago? Here you go: https://worthydaughters.wordpress.com/2016/06/20/a-nap-is-not-a-kayak/

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Bittersweet beauty

A foggy back yard catching my eye on 1/18/2017.

A foggy back yard catching my eye on 1/18/2017.

The fog this morning was heavenly. So peaceful, so quiet. I could¬†sense my weary¬†soul¬†waking up to God’s goodness and presence. Mostly, though, was that bittersweet, faith-shaping memory.

On a similar morning long ago—I was a high school junior—fog rolled in like blankets. Taking it in, thanksgiving poured out of me. I gushed about God’s creation,¬†care, and love.¬† It was a simple prayer prompted by simple weather. By simple, breathtaking fog.

At the same time, unbeknownst to me, a friend named Calvin¬†was driving¬†his motorcycle to school. Fog was thick, and roads were busy. Either Calvin didn’t see the bus, or the bus didn’t see Calvin. Long story short, a kind young man met Jesus that day¬†on a stretch of Florida highway.

The evening news blamed poor visibility. I blamed Someone else.

For longer than I’d like¬†to admit, Calvin’s death messed with me. After all, the very thing I’d praised God for was the very thing that took my friend. For years, I wondered if my prayers that morning had¬†greeted Calvin’s entrance into Heaven. For certain, the fog would always connect us: We’d both met with God because of it. But little else in those days made sense.

Some of it—young death,¬†a good God when bad things happen—still boggles the human mind. But now,¬†decades after mourning¬†that first tragic loss, the fog has largely lifted. And I’ve learned¬†two things: Wrestling with my Lord over hard things is necessary. And leaning in—not pulling away—is the only path to healing.

This morning I remembered that our church youth group sang at Calvin’s funeral, a rendition of “We’ll Understand It Better By and By.” Back then there were sobs. Today, without heaviness,¬†I hummed¬†that¬†old¬†tune. I thanked God for my friend. And I praised Him for beautiful fog.

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Angel encounter

angel-picI believe in angels. I believe in the Bible’s description of them.¬†Angels look different from the world’s view—no cute, cherub faces. No humans-turned-angels, ever. These warriors and worshippers, created by God, are formidable foes¬†against evil. They do the Lord’s work at His bidding, most times without our knowledge. But sometimes—and more than once in my life—I’ve felt their sure presence. Here’s one account:

My mom¬†and I were on an unfamiliar, isolated, and overgrown country road; I was driving. We had no idea that a train was just ahead,¬†approaching¬†our path¬†at lightning speed—no crossing bar, flashing light, or visibility. Just tall, thick¬†weeds blocking¬†the view. So as it barreled toward us, Mom and I chatted, laughed, and motored on at¬†fifty miles an hour, completely unaware.

I wonder now about something else we couldn’t see: An¬†Ephesians 6¬†battle¬†between light and dark at that very railroad crossing.

Just as we neared the¬†hidden tracks, an object¬†hit my foot. Hard.¬†I thought it was a¬†heavy Coke bottle or textbook sliding under the seat. I remember thinking, “That’s weird. We aren’t on a hill; why are things moving around on the floorboard?” To check it out, I stomped on the brake to look down, coming to an almost-stop when a fast moving train blew by in front of our faces, not twenty feet from the stopped car.

Mom and I sat in dead silence. The only¬†sound filling our ears was the roar of a Death Beast just missing us. Above our heads, I believe another sound filled the invisible air, angels rejoicing at victory:¬†“God will command His angels concerning you….They will lift you up in their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone” (Psalm 91:11-13).

In the following moments as our almost-demises set in, Mom said two things I’ll never forget. One: “God sent His angels to save our lives.” Amen, Mama. Amen.¬†Two: “Aren’t you glad I was with you? The Lord clearly has more work for me to do.” Humor in any situation. Praise the Lord for laughter. ūüôā

After the train passed, we searched the floorboard for that lifesaving object nudging my foot. Nothing was there. Not even a gum wrapper. The only evidence? A lingering sensation on my ankle. And breath. Merciful, God-honoring breath.

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Straight from my journal, without much fuss (or much editing). ¬†God’s sweet truth often¬†reveals itself with my Bible open, pen in hand. And more and more frequently, I’m prompted to share and encourage, even though the thought of putting myself “out there” without carefully crafting a piece is uncomfortable. But isn’t that what growth in Christ is all about? And doesn’t hope shine through¬†no matter¬†how eloquently it’s stated?¬†All signs point to “yes.”

 

When the enemy barks

journal-picFriday, January 13, 2017

The enemy—I don’t like saying his name, but to be clear, I’m referring to Satan—sure thinks a lot of himself. Sure, he’s tricky, and yes, he’s a havoc-maker, but he’s not the big dog.¬† Not even close.

While reading John 13 just now, I noticed that when Jesus talks about the upcoming crucifixion, He’s still calling the shots. There’s no hint of Christ as a victim, a helpless saint¬†tossed around by Satan¬†like a chew toy.¬†Not only is¬†my Lord¬†well aware of the evil coming, but He also ultimately annihilates it.

Case in point: When Jesus hands a piece of bread to Judas as confirmation of the betrayer (verses 11-27), the Lord knows¬† full well¬†what’s ahead. He looks at Judas and says, “What you must do, do quickly.” Is this the statement of a clueless someone in the dark? Of¬†my Christ¬†at the¬†mercy of a formidable enemy? Praise the Lord, no!

It’s not until that moment—a moment Jesus clearly¬†orchestrates—that¬†Satan enters Judas and begins the road to Gethsemane. It’s God’s call, not Satan’s. So you see, nothing that evil dreams up can ever (EVER) trump the foresight, will, or triumph of our Lord.

Whew! I needed this truth today. As a¬†Jesus follower who sometimes feels¬†“beat up, chewed up, and spit out” in a world gone crazy, here is my steady hope: I’m not¬†threatened by¬†that old dog of an enemy; I’m a confident conqueror in Christ.¬†¬† ~Ava Sturgeon

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Straight from my journal, without much fuss (or much editing). ¬†God’s sweet truth often¬†reveals itself with my Bible open, pen in hand. And more and more frequently, I’m prompted to share and encourage, even though the thought of putting myself “out there” without carefully crafting a piece is uncomfortable. But isn’t that what growth in Christ is all about? And doesn’t hope shine through¬†no matter¬†how eloquently it’s stated?¬†All signs point to “yes.”