Believe me, we see you

Dress-up day. One of my students wore a life jacket. I think we all need one.

I used to call them rude; maybe some of them are. But lately—largely in part, I’m sure, because God gave me His eyes and not mine—the perspective is shifting. Now when they ignore those “good mornings” or avoid eye contact or stare blankly at playful banter . . . . the reason may transcend insolence. Or self-centeredness. Or pesky teenage hormones.

In this moment, it’s as clear as day  that my students—someone’s children—all of our futures—shoulder a daily, unimaginable burden of detachment. Rejection. Invisibility.

And it’s costing us greatly.

Please know that this blog is one of personal reflection on my responsibility to care for each human in my path. It’s not, however, a declaration of blame, solutions, or criticisms on school violence. I’m not that smart. Or even that informed. But one thing I do know after decades in the classroom and even longer than that following Jesus’s teachings: In order to help each other, we must first see each other.

Many teachers like me get an eyeful every day:

We may allow students to choose their own groups for activities. One kid nervously scans the room, not knowing which to join. So we jump in, asking the members of Group A to pull up a chair for so-and-so. They do so respectfully enough but then essentially ignore him. I’m not suggesting it’s on purpose. But why is that?

We notice isolated students in hallways and during lunches, perhaps masking the awkwardness via earbuds or cell phones. Hundreds walk past—kids and adults—but no one acknowledges the Lone Wolves’ presence, not even with a hello, because they obviously prefer alone time. But do they?

We read the essays, attend the parent conferences, consult the guidance counselors, observe the abyss. . . . and feel our students’ heaviness. We want to take them home. (But we can’t.) We want to whisper to a nice group of kids, “Invite her along.” (But we don’t dare.) We want to write little notes to the warriors: the kids who show up day after day, even though they feel different, misunderstood, unnoticed. (Maybe we should.)

Big or small, grown or getting there, we all want to belong. To matter. And helping teens find their way is increasingly difficult. But Heavenly wisdom abounds, and every day that I ask Him, God shows me a clear way to connect. Just this week, for instance, after seventeen weeks of smiling and trying in vain to make conversation with a student, I finally got a “hi” and a grin. Joy overflowed with this breakthrough; in fact, I almost hugged her! Maybe next time, God willing, I will.


As those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another and forgiving each other . . . just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.”

Colossians 3:12-14


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Turkey, small-talk, and the single girl

My partly decorated Thanksgiving table awaiting good conversation.

When I was young and single, those Thanksgiving dinner conversations could really stress me out. Now, I’m not a shy person, and there’s nothing I enjoy more than catching up with family; I love them, really I do!

But sometimes, back in the day, a few sweet, well-meaning relatives would begin an innocent line of questioning that would send me into an internal  tailspin. You may know what I’m talking about: various inquiries about my choices, my goals, my life. Honestly, I was barely hanging on in all these areas, so when an elderly great aunt, for example, asked about my ex-boyfriend, the “Happy Thanksgiving Jig” was up. Behind that pleasant (fake) reply and cheery (also fake) disposition, my twenty-year old brain was suddenly panicked: “Where am I going with my life? I used to have a plan; the plan didn’t work. I NEED A NEW PLAN!”

So in case you’re an experienced (old—there, I said it) woman like me and find yourself seated beside a young lady with anxious-looking eyes, maybe we could agree to avoid the following questions. 🙂 And if you happen to be the anxious-looking young lady at the table, then I feel you, girl. Just know that you’re not only loved and treasured by the family sitting near you but also by a Heavenly Father with a perfectly orchestrated, fail-proof future.

Now for the questions that used to cause me heartburn:

1) Are you seeing anybody? Also the close cousins to this question: Why doesn’t a pretty thing like you have a boyfriend? Did you know that when I was your age, I was changing two sets of diapers? (My twenty-year old truth: I’d love to have a boyfriend, but I’m not gonna settle. Yes, I know the clock is ticking, but God numbers my days. And yes, I do feel pretty cute even as a single girl. 😊)

2) Are you sure about the career you’ve chosen? Also the close cousins to this question: Do you realize that you’ll always be poor as a teacher? Why would anyone want to spend all day with teenagers? (My twenty-year old truth: God clearly led me to teaching. He will provide all my needs. And sometimes teenagers are much easier than adults. 😬)

3) So you haven’t moved out yet? Also the close cousins to this question: Does living with your parents affect your social life? Aren’t you ready for new adventures? (My twenty-year old truth: Saving money at my age is smart. Living with people who love and care for me is even smarter. And new adventures can happen in very familiar places.)

Happy Thanksgiving chit-chat to the young single girlies! Here’s to uplifting, meaningful, sincere conversation. And if you’re a bit anxious about those long term plans, take it from someone who’s been there: follow Him daily and savor every single step; it’ll all work out just fine.


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When it’s time for “when”

My sweet grandma spent a lifetime alone with scripture. Look at that worn Bible!

Check out this opening line: “When you get alone with your Bible….” Does anything here stand out? Because I was listening to a pastor on YouTube, and his statement sent me reeling. That one tiny adverb—the harmless word “when”—struck a little nerve. Because you see, Francis Chan didn’t say “if” you’re alone with your Bible. He said, matter of factly, “when.” (As in, “Of course you get alone with the Word. You’re a Jesus follower; you’re a ‘when’ person.”)

So Chan assumes we Christians are all reading scripture in solitude. (As in, “I’m heading to the beach with my blanket and my Bible. No interruptions, please.”)

It does make logical sense. After all, we hold the Bible as a sacred book. We proclaim its power to comfort, transform, convict, reveal. So we fight for time alone to ponder it, memorize it, study it. Right? I sure hope so.

Maybe, though, some of us aren’t quite “when” people. I can relate; I’ve been there. But what might happen if we all decided to get alone with our Bibles? To shut out the world and discover the words for ourselves? In my experience, we’d find that faith comes alive. (As in, “My eyes are suddenly opening; I sense purpose, passion!  I see joy in the simple. And I’m dazzled by His glory!”)

If you’re in for the “when,” may I offer a suggestion? Alone time with the Bible is free of outside influences. It’s just you and scripture. Sure, sermons, studies, and devotionals have their places–don’t give these up—but also make time for an intimate, faith-growing party of two. So get a Bible and head outside. Or stay inside. But allow God to speak to you, reading straight from the source. You’ll be amazed at the intimacy awaiting.

Where to start? Perhaps the Psalms or Philippians or John or Acts. How to spend your time? Feel free to go slowly; maybe “chew” on just a handful of verses.  Or journal a summary or a question. I sometimes read verses aloud or pray them back to God. Other times I just sit and meditate on the Creator behind the words. The point is, God’s Word is speaking. I’m listening. And the right time is “when.”


“The unfolding of Your Word gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (Psalm 119:130).

“Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation” (1 Peter 2:2).


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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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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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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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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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