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.”

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“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.”

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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.

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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.

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Want to know more about hearing God’s voice? Here’s the link to a previous blog on the topic: https://worthydaughters.wordpress.com/2015/03/29/god-whispers-reprint/

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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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A boomerang in the desert

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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