Storm lessons

A sudden storm arises. The disciples, on a boat at sea, are scared out of their minds. This crisis is not a “what if” worry but an “it’s actually happening” high alert. With each gale of wind that hits them in the face, another fierce wave threatens to sink them. It’s not looking good.

Then they remember that Jesus is on the boat with them. (He happens to be sleeping, a detail deserving of its own musings.) Maybe if they ask, He can do something about this storm. So they do, in a not-so-nice, panicked kind of way. But Jesus understands the desperate tone; He gets it. And He also gets credit for what happens next:

“The wind ceased, and there was great calm.”

Disaster averted, Jesus style.

The disciples are of course awed, but there’s now a soul-searching lesson to be learned. Jesus challenges them point blank, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

Those are questions for myself as well. Why am I ever afraid when Jesus is with me? When I think about all the storms He’s brought me through (every one of them, but who’s counting?), then why would I assume He’d sleep through the latest crisis? That’s not His history. That’s not His nature. Not ever.

The most critical of circumstances bow before Him. The scariest of possibilities cringe at His feet. Jesus is His powerful name, and I will trust in Him.

(See Mark 4:35-41 for this biblical account.)

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Tornado treasures

She hurried down the stairs, crossed the lobby, and walked right up to me. On her hip was a disabled son, his long, thin legs hanging close to the floor. He wore only a diaper. In the boy’s arms was a toy machine gun, locked and loaded. I smiled widely to put him at ease. The return stare was so intense that it bored a hole right through me.

“What should we do?” the mom asked me. “We’re not from here.” Well, neither was I. Just five minutes earlier, two Florida residents—my mom and I—had been sleeping soundly on the fourth floor. Then suddenly a tornado was tearing through the Oklahoma night near our hotel, and split-second decisions mattered.

“Y’all come over here, into this bathroom alcove,” I instructed. “We’ll move to the restroom if needed.” She moved quickly toward shelter, still carrying what I assume was her greatest treasure. I wondered if he could walk. I wondered how old he might be. Most of all, though, I wondered about his mom: what was life like for her? What toll would this present crisis take?

I imagined her, moments earlier, scooping him up from the hotel bed and calculating the risk of dressing her son—nope, no time. I pictured her grabbing the plastic gun as they bolted from the room, knowing this toy would make tense moments easier. I saw her, in my mind, speaking softly in that stairwell to prevent a scary echo. And now, as she held her boy and waited stoically for what might come next, there was not one sign of distress.

Before long, the tornado moved on. Sadly, damage proved deadly elsewhere. But not at this hotel. Not on this night. So we gratefully returned, safe and sound, to our rooms and our lives. Back to normalcy, right?

Well, probably not for her. And certainly not for me—something weighty, something important now stirs my soul; I cannot forget this mother and son.

They stay with me, an imprint of resilience despite odds.

They remind me of a parent’s protection, a child’s trust.

They challenge me to face fear, to cherish hope.

They inspire me to love more fiercely, inclusively.

They remind me of Jesus, His transformative truths.

United, determined, impervious, victorious, 

They make me want Him more.

“Be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that [you] may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that [you] may know the mystery of God, namely Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

Colossians 2:2-3

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Sand Dollar Favor

Six sand dollars found on Pensacola Beach, Dec. 25, 2018.

The moment I see one, time freezes. It’s like my brain can’t comprehend that finally, after looking and looking, what I’m searching for is right there. All I have to do is reach down and gently (ever so gently) scoop up the fragile sand dollar. And when it happens—no exaggeration here—pure joy floods my soul.

Today, on a sunny Christmas at the beach, broken shells lined the shore. My husband and I combed the crunchy landscape for one (just one, please, Lord) unbroken sand dollar. It’s always my hope, often my disappointment.

But after a season of difficult days both physically and emotionally, I got bold and asked God for extra favor: “Jesus, today is all about You: Your birth, Your sacrifice, Your glory. The awe is overwhelming! I know You love me, and I sure don’t need a sand dollar to prove it. If there’s one around, though, would you please point me to it?”

Minutes after this prayer–I’m telling the whole truth here—guess what the God of All Sand Dollars lavished on me?

Not one. Not two,

Nor three. Nor four,

Or Five.

But six.

SIX beautiful sand dollars.

The first one was teeny enough to make me stand like a statue and quietly process that there, beside my foot, was a perfect gem in a sea of shards. This jewel had been waiting patiently for me to notice, a small but faithful treasure.

The second was found just moments later, mostly because my eyes now knew where to look. I’ve seen it so many times: where one blessing lies, another soon follows, especially when I anticipate it.

Third time was a charm. Walking farther from the water, I noticed a gleaming circle of white: a BIG sand dollar washed far onto the beach, bleached from sun and time. How had something so fragile survived the surf which brought it here? How had no one’s feet crushed it? What resilience! Much stronger than I would guess.

Number four was almost hidden, barely noticeable under seaweed and sand. But beauty, no matter how seemingly invisible, is always seen and valued.

My husband found the last two of our day. Interestingly enough, he doesn’t love sand dollars like I do. But he patiently helps me search and enjoys finding them for me. With both in hand, he brought them to me like a gift. Like a favor, actually.

Two people searching. Six treasures waiting. One God lavishing.

And on this day, like every other, blessings too numerous to count.

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Thursday miracle: strangers, grace, and a root canal

The following story seems unlikely in today’s self-serving world but is 100% true. I had a front row seat, and observing it in real time reminded me that God works through His children, always. Names have been changed because no one is seeking applause—they simply ask God to direct their actions, and then He does.

Also, please understand that before last Thursday, most of these believers had never met. But God, in a very God-like way, was about to knit them together:

Elena     10:00 a.m.   A toothache has been plaguing her for months, but the past few days have been unbearable. She needs an expensive root canal but has no insurance. She also needs a dentist who’ll see her pronto. So far, no luck. And as each minute passes, Elena—a new believer in Christ—is truly suffering.

Denise     10:45 a.m.   Praying for people is nothing new to Denise; she’s talked with Jesus for decades. On this morning, she is asked to pray for a stranger, a hurting new believer—tooth issue. She asks God to somehow intervene. She is out of ideas on how to resolve it but believes He is able to alleviate the pain and cover the cost.

Leah     11:25 a.m.   Leah used to live in Florida—the location of the aforementioned tooth crisis—but has moved to another state. She hops on Facebook and sees a Florida friend’s question: “Which local dentist will see non-patients ASAP?” Leah remembers a contact from days gone by and quickly messages the number of her former dentist.

Amy     12: 10 p.m.   On Thursdays, Amy leaves her job at the dentist’s office around 2:00. But today before she heads out, a call comes in for a last-minute appointment. Amy listens carefully and shares with the dentist several significant issues: new patient, intense pain, lack of funds, expensive procedure. They squeeze in a 1:30 appointment.

Charles     3:30p.m.   Charles has known Jesus for longer than he’s been a dentist. He is a good man, a compassionate man—and today he finds himself looking a lot like the Savior he worships. As Charles finishes up a two-hour, much-needed root canal on a new patient without insurance, the next step is divinely clear: on the bill, Charles deems the procedure “paid in full.”

Yep, the entire cost for the now pain-free Elena is zero. Goose egg. Zilch.

Who DOES this kind of thing? Well, Jesus. And a man who’s following his Master. But it’s not just a dentist thing: this root canal miracle is a sweet song of grace that all God’s children hear:

  • Elena weeps, overcome by His awe.
  • Denise rejoices, confident of His faithfulness.
  • Leah gives thanks, grateful for His timing.
  • Amy reflects, sensing His urgency.
  • Charles smiles, aware of God’s providence.

Just a regular Thursday, I guess, in God’s kingdom: average people—God’s people—open to His plan. And intertwined by amazing grace for all eternity.

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The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.

Romans 8:26-28

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The rescue we need

This reminder hangs above my office desk. I’m out the pit, praise God!

There’s just something about an underground rescue. Since June 23, the whole world has felt the suffocating horror of twelve boys and their soccer coach trapped in a claustrophobic cave. We’ve held our breath as real-time news has flooded us with anxious faces, pitch-black conditions, and the sobering reality of what it’d take to get them out.

But now we’ve witnessed thirteen unlikely but miraculous salvations from the pit. Suddenly we rejoice! We thank God for answered prayers, and we smile at new hope. I don’t know about you, but each time a boy was taken alive out of that cave, my knees hit the floor in gratitude. I was overwhelmed.

What is the draw, exactly, to stories like these? Why do we clamor for the latest updates and then find ourselves awake at 2:00 a.m. praying for complete strangers? Then why do we dance like kids at Disney when they’re brought out alive?

It happened in 1987 when Jessica McClure, just a toddler, fell twenty-two feet into a Texas well. For fifty-eight hours an entire country begged God to save a little girl. We watched the news for days, and then, when she came out of that grave into the light, an entire nation wept.

Then those trapped Chilean miners in 2010 made all of our hearts stop. Thirty-three men, surviving 2,300 feet underground, endured months of entombment. But they lived! And when the news came of their long-awaited rescue, we felt rescued, too.

I happen to believe that we all, Jesus followers or not, intrinsically respond to two truths:

  • Darkness is deadly.
  • Rescue is miraculous.

And somewhere, deep inside, we want our own cave rescue.

There are no better examples of pit resurrections than those we see in the Bible. When Joseph was thrown into a deep hole by his brothers, the end story was new life in Egypt (Genesis 37-50). When Jonah was literally swallowed in darkness, he found himself on dry land breathing life into a lost city (Jonah 2-3).

And when Jesus was carried into a sealed-up tomb, well, you probably know the rest. That’s pit resurrection on a whole new level: “O, death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55).

I, Ava Sturgeon, have my own rescue story. My life was headed nowhere, a dark chasm of guilt and shame. Then Jesus, the Light of the world, shone His love in my direction. I took the lifeline. And my future has never been brighter.

How about you? Are you stuck in a pit of your own? ‘Cause Jesus knows the way out; in fact, He’s the only way.  And if you’re not sure how to find Him, rest assured that He already sees you. Call out His name. Consult His scripture. Or send me a private message, and we’ll chat about sweet rescue. Who knows? Today could be the lifesaving miracle you’ve been waiting for.

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From death to life: What my ailing hibiscus taught me

From a leafless tree to full-on flowers. There’s a lesson here.

My hibiscus plant should have felt, by all accounts, confused. It had once enjoyed Belle of the Ball status. Thick and luscious, it had quickly become the showcase of our front porch. People commented, “What a gorgeous potted tree! How do you take care of it?”

“Just the basics,” I always replied. Because sometimes greatness doesn’t require more than a little water, sunshine, and soil; it simply flourishes. That was my hibiscus last summer. But then something happened.

A few leaves fell, then a dozen more, and pretty soon the Jewel of Front Porch Plants took an ugly turn. Within a month it deteriorated into an eyesore I hardly knew: bare, flowerless, forlorn. The cause? Unknown. The remedy? Unsure. As its caretaker, I faced three possible actions:

One, throw it out. Although my little tree wasn’t quite ready for the landfill, anyone could see that resurrection was unlikely. It was in trouble.  And tossing the entire kit and kaboodle—giving up on it, truthfully—might be easier than tackling the problem.

Two, hide it. Trust me, this pile of sticks in plain view wasn’t helping my reputation. Maybe moving it to the back yard—away from anyone who might witness (and comment on) such a pitiful display—would keep my sad little secret.

Three, ride it out. I once heard this practical wisdom: “When you don’t know what to do, do what you know.” And what I knew about my hibiscus was that it still needed tried-and-true care. So perhaps if I continued the simple things, then my plant would, in time, right itself.

In the end, I chose option three. And that made all the difference.

Weeks passed, and one morning as I walked onto the porch, something red caught my eye. Many something reds, actually. Blooms! Beautiful, lush, hibiscus blooms!

Granted, the tree was still fragile. Green leaves, some clinging to puny twigs, were scarce. And the shape of the plant had changed. But even in this altered state—not despite its ordeal but perhaps because of it—flowers like rubies dripped in abundance.

Big flowers. Healthy flowers. Victorious flowers.

“Look at you, all front porch ready,” I said aloud. “Where did you find the strength?” But inside I knew. God made the hibiscus to flourish. He did the same for us. And for each precious soul we fight for.

So let’s not give up when it’s ugly. Let’s not struggle in secret. Let’s do what we can, trust in God’s timing, and believe in a Savior who restores in spades–and sometimes, when you least expect it, through twelve hibiscus blooms.

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When sisters become friends

Two peas in a pod on Christmas morn, Andrea with Big Sis Ava.

We shared a bedroom—not only the room but the bed as well—for over eighteen years. After all that time of snuggling, confiding, and squabbling, you know a person. And I know Andrea pretty well. She’s my younger sister, the always-been-there one who’s shaped my life as much as anyone.

I wish this next paragraph gushed about my kindness to her. But the truth is that Andrea would do anything for Bossy Big Sis, and I took full advantage. For example, when we played church, I led the music, another kid preached, and Andrea accepted her role which was, by my decree, church custodian. Yes, she cleaned up after us, and no, we did not let her enter the “church” until our service was completed. Here’s the craziest part of this outlandish story: she complied without question.

Other times, thankfully, Protective Ava showed up. When we played wiffle ball, for instance, I’d pray so hard when Andrea batted:  “Lord, help her get a hit!” Just the thought of my baby sister striking out in front of the big kids broke my heart. And because she was shy, my blood boiled when grown-ups asked her something open-ended. I’d swoop in to speak for Andrea on a variety of topics in a variety of places. And you know what? She humbly let me do it.

Decades later, I’m 100% Proud Sis because as far as moms, wives, daughters and aunts go, Andrea is killin’ it! She listens and forgives. She gives thoughtful gifts, offers solid advice, and supports big dreams. She talks me off ledges, reminds me of blessings, and challenges me spiritually. The best part about her is this: she does these things with ease.

So why the Ode to Baby Sis? For one, it’s her birthday, and she’s so stinkin’ far away. 😦  But mostly, I’m encouraging everyone who’s still reading to touch base with her sister-friend-type, the lifeline who may or may not share DNA. After all, a friend like this is the one who knows us best; the one with whom transparency is as automatic as breathing; and the one who’s never stopped being important. Maybe your sister could use a belly laugh down memory lane. Actually, maybe you both could. Happy birthday, Andrea. I love you lots. May today be a whopping home run.

Grown up sisters and best friends with our awesome Mom.

“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed.  If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.”

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

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