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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When birds and shadows preach

The little country church that warmed my heart on Easter 2018.

This morning, just after sunrise, I found myself in a small country church celebrating Easter. If you had been with me—and especially if you’re a Little House on the Prairie fan—then we’d have smiled with familiarity: unpainted wooden walls and ceilings; clear-paned windows with trees peeking through; and just five pews on each side of the aisle. Intimate, earthy, beautiful.

The songs were nostalgic, too, for this girl raised in a tiny-but-thriving Alabama church. Do you happen to know “Up From the Grave He Arose”? It’s a classic for any self-respecting, old-school Southern Baptist, beginning slowly like a funeral march because of the crucifixion but then catapulting suddenly into a peppy chorus tempo because Jesus got up! Every piano note, every pause, every crescendo was exactly as it should have been. Reverent, sincere, celebratory.

As the sermon got underway—spoken clearly and emphatically by a young pastor just getting his feet wet—a bird began its own early morning worship outside a nearby window. I’m not talking a quick “tweet tweet” before the duties of nest building or worm hunting or whatever birds do on Sundays. No, this feathered friend was bringing it! If I hadn’t known better, I would’ve sworn that all creation was in on the news, that every bird, rock, and ray of sunshine announced Risen Jesus. Alive, victorious, eternal.

It was the shadow, though, that got me. Oh, how I wish you had seen it! (Somehow, snapping a pic during the sermon didn’t seem appropriate or Little House-like. So let me describe it with words.) As the pastor stood near the pulpit and held his Bible with one hand, an early morning sun saturated the wall behind him. On the wall, up high, was a wooden cross. And you guessed it—the cross was covered in light.

Then beneath this cross—just at the foot of it—was the pastor’s shadow, a full-length silhouette. As the shadow’s owner preached truth, the wall image became its own sermon. “Oh, Lord!” my full heart realized. “I too am a rescued shadow who is awed by an empty cross. My existence was once dark and dismal—but You welcomed me into Your warmth. My ego once craved selfish fame—but Your hope became the spotlight. My identity used to be nameless—but now You call me Your own.”

Birds rejoice! Shadows proclaim! And a Savior is lifted high.

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The “along” way home

I just heard something completely wrong, and God used it to set me straight. As a podcast played during my run, a Christian speaker stated, “I had to get alone with God.” Now keep in mind that she clearly said it; I know this because I went back later to listen.

But as I huffed and puffed on mile two, here’s what my brain registered instead: “I had to get along with God.” That one little word swap stopped me in my tracks, literally and figuratively. For the rest of my run—iPod turned off and soul searching turned on—I pondered the unlikely, two-way relationship between a forgiven but needy human (me) and a merciful but Sovereign Savior (King Jesus, praise His name).

You see, I talk with God every day. He speaks through His Word just as often. And for reasons I’ll never comprehend, He allows me to do His good work.

But—and here’s the part that brought me to tears—do we actually get along?

Please don’t think I’m being glib about my walk with Christ. And please don’t think I’m suggesting that a Holy God and I are “besties” on the same buddy-buddy level. Even typing this clarification feels uncomfortable.

What I am saying, though, is that when I think on my Savior’s attributes—holy, merciful, loving, and sovereign—am I okay with how He employs them? Or do I find, buried deeply, the human-but-ugly “relationship killers” of resentment, fear, and betrayal? Simply put, do I trust Him? Because that’s what real friends do.

Here’s what I realized this morning (it’s not pretty): Sometimes I pretend, even to myself, that God and I are getting along. But we’re not—not really—because on my end of things, I’m doubting, conniving, striving, pouting. It’s the very definition of relationship sabotage. It’s ugly. Mostly, though, it’s a slap in the face to the truest Friend I’ll ever know.

So as of today—thanks to a divinely appointed word swap— I’m done with my one-sided, fair-weather commitments. Jesus, I’m all in. Help me mirror the attributes of Your character. Help me mean them. May Your purpose for my life be welcomed. May Your name in my struggles be glorified. And may I become the faithful friend who’s trusted you all along.

Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.

Proverbs 19:21

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When God dabbled in real estate

Our new house not long after we moved in, complete with a rainbow blessing.

I learned a big faith lesson nine years ago. The story I’m about to tell is unflattering (to me) but encouraging (for me). It’s the tale of me being a big baby and doubting God’s goodness when things went south. It’s also a story of Him not giving up on my big baby ways. Thank you, Lord, for your care of this blubbering child.

My husband Bill and I had saved and planned for years with a dream: building a new home after the boys got through college. When the time finally came, though, I got nervous about selling our old one. You see, the market was tanking, and our house was smaller and dated, a sweet but unassuming option for buyers. But maybe, just maybe, with a little razzle-dazzle staging (I’d been watching lots of HGTV), this place could sell! And let me just say that when all was fixer-uppered, our house was pretty dang cute.

So cute, in fact, that despite the scary housing crisis of 2008, our little house sold in less than ONE WEEK! Can you say “Miracle of a Mighty God”? He did it! And He did it with lightning-fast timing! Isn’t that just like Him? That’s our God right there!

Then, just two days before closing on the sale, those buyers backed out. All our furniture was already in storage. All our walls were bare. All our energy was sapped. Mostly, though, I was spiritually depleted, stunned in disappointment and overcome with confusion. I’d been bragging like crazy about God’s quick provision. Couldn’t He see that yanking away this blessing was embarrassing to me? To Him? And why would He seemingly give us the desires of our hearts—almost teasing us, in my fragile estimation—and then leave us high-and-dry with new construction we couldn’t pay for and an old house we couldn’t sell?

I’m not proud of those untrue, narrow-minded, childish thoughts. They stunted me spiritually for awhile.

But then God . . . .

As Bill and I sat silently on the floor of our empty breakfast nook, the phone rang. Our realtor wanted to show the house—our unstaged, unattractive, unsellable house. Hours later, we suddenly had a solid offer that went through without a hitch. And the back-out buyers? Their non-refundable deposit paid the exact amount of our storage fees. (I’m smiling now to think of that little detail, a God wink for sure.)

Maybe I’m spiritually smarter now; I’d like to think so. Not long after settling into our dream home, I did make a list of lessons learned. Here are a few:

  1. God doesn’t need my house staging or my stress-filled attempts at perfection in order to do His thing. It’s not up to me; I find this truth reassuring.
  2. God doesn’t get black eyes when our prayers seem unanswered. He is always good. A seemingly unanswered prayer is simply because the story is not yet over.
  3. God does indeed lavish His love even when we’re unlovable. He sees our weaknesses. He grows us up tenderly. Even when we’re big babies.

Bill and I touring our new house under construction. I was about to learn a big lesson of God’s sweet care.

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.

clouds

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.

sunrise

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.

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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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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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