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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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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God’s good despite our pasts (amen)

blog picHey, Jesus followers: I keep hearing some phrases about our messy pasts that have me thinking. They’re meant to be uplifting, but a closer look makes me kinda uncomfortable. Here are a few:

 

  • I have no regrets.
  • If I could do it all again, I wouldn’t change a thing.
  • I’m not ashamed of my past. Every bad choice made me who I am.

Maybe the intention is good, a positive outlook on a negative past. And I get that—Some terrible choices by yours truly have needed a sunny spin. But sayings like these do a disservice to God, implying that bad things are necessary prerequisites for good things to evolve—that our Lord somehow relies on evil beginnings to hatch His ultimate plan.

We must be careful (and Biblical) here: Evil has never partnered with good. God alone causes good, oftentimes stepping into a heartbreaking (and regrettable) situation to create good despite the bad—but never because He’s indebted to it.

Another consideration in sayings like these are two seemingly interchangeable words, regret and shame. I often see them used as equally harmful emotions. But again, cling to truth: Regret is not the enemy of moving past pain; shame is.

Regret, simply put, is to express disappointment about something that happened. In other words, whatever was done or said probably hurt someone. And hurting someone is never good, so we’re sorry. And Biblically speaking, we should be. In fact, the Bible says a lot about our need for sincere regret. We need to learn from the past, grow from it, move past it. Regret is necessary to the joyful, maturing Jesus life.

Shame, though, is a different animal. The dictionary calls it a “painful feeling of humiliation caused by wrong or foolish behavior.” Shame lingers like quicksand, not only keeping us stuck with guilt but also sinking us ever deeper. It not only stunts our spiritual growth but also attacks our peace. It’s paralyzing. It’s deadly.

So, Jesus girls, let’s rephrase these phrases. If I were Queen of All Sayings, here’s how I’d revise:

  • Sure, I have regrets: Sincere sorrow changes me for the better, leading me to God and to relief from guilt and shame. (2 Corinthians 7:10)
  • If I could do it all again, I’d change some things: Thankfully, though, God works out everything for my good—even those regrettable mistakes—when I walk closely with Him. (Romans 8:28)
  • Bad choices, all me. Good stuff, all Him. But the best part? Shame all gone: The Lord answered my cries and delivered me from my past. My face is now radiant, not ashamed. (Psalm 34:4-5)

Knowing God’s forgiving heart, there’s no need for haunting shame. It’s called mercy. And although I have regrets, it was Jesus—not the bad things—that made beauty from ashes. It’s called grace. And praise the Lord, He is always, always good! It’s called love. God’s abiding love.

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