To All My Single Ladies…

[*Girly Post Alert]

Is it just me, or have you ever felt like every human being in the world is getting engaged, getting married, or making babies right in front of your eyes on your Facebook Newsfeed – while you’re just trying to survive (in Africa), struggling to find a reason to shave your legs, and barely finding the time to take a shower.

…Anyone? No?  Just me?

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Let’s be honest.  Being single is hard, in fact, it’s harder than hard – and it’s something that I’ve been battling with since the 6th grade, when my parents told me I wasn’t allowed to date until I turned 35.  Not to mention, as a maturing Christian woman who desperately wants to do the “right thing” when it comes to dating and marriage, the struggle has been exponentially real.  This journey has been full of twists and turns, victories and failures, and butterflies and face-plants.  I know that I am not the only female in the universe who struggles with this issue, so I thought it may be encouraging to share some of the nuggets of wisdom and revelations that the Lord has been teaching me throughout this faith adventure.  I still have a lot to learn, but here are a few points that have helped me thus far…

Sex isn’t bad – and neither is wanting it.  This may gross you all out, but I need to give a quick shout out to my amazing parents for showing me how beautiful and fun love can be.  My mom and dad were always super affectionate around the house ( they still are to this day), and it used to make me and my sister roll our eyes in disgust.  Now however, I’ve learned to really appreciate how they celebrate love in our home.  My parents showed me that they aren’t ashamed to express their love for one another, that it’s a wonderful gift they get to enjoy, and that it keeps them bonded as a couple (even in front of their kids).  That’s the kind of intimacy that I want to experience with my future husband one day (especially with the goal of grossing out my children).

One thing however, that my parents did a not so good job of was giving me “the sex talk.”  In fact, I don’t think “the sex talk” actually ever happened – our conversation at the time sounded more like “Sam, don’t even think about it, and if you do think about, you better be engaged to be married, and if you are engaged to be married, you better use protection, but DONT EVEN THINK ABOUT IT.”  I don’t blame my parents for that at all, because I was the first born “trial and error” child, so they were doing their best to figure things out.  Plus, the Word of God wasn’t exactly a significant part of my life until I turned about 18 years old, and by then, my mind was already warped due to sexual abuse, pornography, and religious guilt.  Over the course of these past few years though – through friends, spiritual mentors, and some seriously good books (including Intended for Pleasure, Get Lost, Pulling Back the Shades, Captivating, Redeeming Love, and the Bible amongst others), the Lord has taught me so much about sex, relationships, and my sexuality as a woman.

The first thing that He taught me was that He created it.  The second thing He taught me was that everything He creates is good.  Sex is beautiful, sacred, holy, and exciting – and it’s meant to be used to glorify God, celebrate unconditional love, create intimacy, and unify two people in a bond that should last a lifetime.  God instilled in us desires for sex and intimacy because He created us to be relational beings – and that is not something for us to be ashamed of.  Rather, it’s something we should protect, appreciate, and cultivate as we walk with the Lord (and with our future spouses).  I used to think sex was dirty, scary, and ungodly, and I remember praying for God to take away my sex drive because I thought it was a bad thing – but that’s because I wasn’t using the word of God to discern truth from lie.  My sex drive is a gift, I just need to use it properly – and not abuse it outside the safety net of marriage.  It’s something I should praise God for, because it’s a blessing – not a curse.

It’s not about giving 50/50, it’s about giving 100/100.  I’ve heard it so many times that a relationship is about putting in “50/50” for each other – when God actually calls us to give our 100% (…100% of the time).  But here’s the thing, if you are functioning at 80%, how can you give someone else your 100%?  Until I know how to be completely content and secure with who I am in Christ and completely free from the bondage and brokenness of my past – how can I expect to give my entire self to another?  So instead of using the cliché, “You complete me” to our significant others, we should actually be saying, “You compliment me” – because God made us complete all on our own.

The Lord must first make me whole before I can wholly love someone else with joy, surrender, sacrifice, and purity.  No one is perfect, and I am not saying that God must first make me into the perfect woman before I can get married – no way.  He will however, want to prepare me for marriage, and sometimes this will require breaking bad habits, renewing my mind, or building me up in Him as His beloved and accepted daughter first.  This has been tough for me to swallow because it means two big things – patience and trust.  I have to put all of my faith in the fact that the Lord can redeem the broken pieces of my heart and rebuild me into a woman who is after His own heart.  I also need to trust that He knows what is best for me, which could mean a marriage one day (soon or far off), or a super awesome single life filled with adventure and exclusive intimacy with Him.  Either way, He is good, and He has my best in mind.

Porn wont fix your loneliness problem – and neither will one-night hook ups.  No, seriously.  In the moment, those things may feel like they will satisfy you and build you up emotionally, but they won’t.  I don’t care what the media says, what MTV says, or what Cosmopolitan magazine says.  Take it from my personal experience, I had to fight for years to undo all of the damage that a serious porn addiction had on my life – and every now and then, the dirty residue will crop up inside my imagination and I’ll have to spray it away with my “spiritual windex.”  Porn is not real, and it does not depict sex in the beautifully intimate and accurate way that God actually wants it to be.  Porn is staged, it is edited, it is misleading, it is abusive, and it is incredibly impersonal.  It dehumanizes women into sex toys, while teaching men that sex is merely a physical act when it actually encompasses the heart, soul, mind, and body of both people involved.  Real life hook-ups are the same.  They may feel good in the moment, but after the night is over, you’ll be left feeling insecure and empty – unable to satisfy the feelings of loneliness and the feelings of desperately wanting to be loved inside and out (unconditionally).  These are counterfeit measures that will slowly kill you from within the deep and dark recesses of your heart.

Every time I’ve fallen into one of those traps, the Lord reminds me that the heartbreak and the painful (and sometimes humiliating) consequences are definitely not worth it.  I’ve lost confidence, self-worth, friendships, and many hours of sleep crying over the mistakes I’ve made in the past because of lust and wanting to be intimate with someone who was simply not right for me.  I’ve tried to force relationships and compromise my standards to satisfy an urge that cannot be satisfied outside of the will of God.  I’ve learned that the enemy has a way of presenting a temptation or a sin in such a beautifully attractive package that it draws us in while simultaneously hiding the “terms and conditions” in a place where we can’t find them – until it’s too late.  We are presented with a seemly wonderful opportunity without being presented with the blatantly painful consequences of our actions.  Our only hope in conquering these situations and fighting back is with – Truth.

Now, one last thing…

To the girl like me who has already messed up… don’t fear.  If you’ve had sex already, have or had a struggle with porn, or are dating a guy who you know needs walk his boots right out your front door – you are not alone, you are still loved, and there is still hope.

I will tell you from experience that the journey will not be easy – it will require sacrifice, trust, and learning from your mistakes, but it’s possible to heal and to come out on the other side as an overcomer.  The Lord adores you, and if you desire to turn back and do things His way, He definitely won’t condemn you.  I’ve made my fair share of mistakes, and I will probably make even more mistakes in the future, but with every mistake – I make it a point to run back to God with a repentant heart instead of wallowing in my sin and shame.  His word says that you are precious in His sight and He loves you – He wants to see you whole and He wants to bless you with every good gift from above.  But to be blessed and to heal, we first need to be obedient.

Find someone to be vulnerable with, share life with, pray with, and be accountable with (a female friend if you’re a girl) who you can trust and depend on to lead you in righteous living.  Then do your research, discover how God truly feels about sex, about your womanhood – and why.  Prayerfully let the Lord undo all of the damage that has been done in your heart and mind from incorrect teachings, traumatic experiences, or lies that you’ve been told throughout your life.  Make every effort to learn about your body and the way you are wired, learn about what godly relationships are supposed to look like from older couples who you admire and from examples in Scripture – don’t be afraid to get educated by seeking out wisdom and knowledge.

And, mostly importantly, enjoy the season of singleness that you’re in because it may not last forever – and it may come to an end before you know it.  God has us in this season for a reason, and it should be embraced, appreciated, and enjoyed.  Make the most of it.  Find yourself, find God, and grow in a sweet and deep intimacy with Him while you have Him all to yourself (and while He has you all to Himself).  Let Him mold you and shape you, and let Him prepare you for every single adventure that He has in mind.

And always remember, sweet friend, that your value and worth and beauty are not defined by a boy.  You are defined by God – so hold on to that and start believing and behaving like the princess warrior that you are.

Being You-er Than You

2 + 2 equals  4… but so does 3 + 1…

Just because someone may do things a little bit differently than you, doesn’t mean they are doing it wrong.  This has taken me years to understand, and I think I’m just beginning to scratch the surface of what this truth actually means.

I used to want to fit in for such a long time.  Before I became a Christian, I would buy the right clothes from the right stores, wear the right hairstyles, and pierce the right body parts.  I’d listen to all the top hits on Y100.7, speak the American slang, and dive deep into the popular teen magazines.  I did whatever it took to blend in with the cool kids and be “one of them.”

Funny thing is… when I became a Christian, that didn’t stop.  I still was desperate to fit in.  I exchanged my “American slang” for “Christianese,” and I swapped out my Brittany Spears CD’s for Bethel Worship Music.  I still tried to wear the right clothes – you know, nothing to “skimpy” but also nothing to “amish,” and I even tried to wear a purity ring.  (Which lasted a whole five seconds, by the way.)  My first few years of going to a new church and trying to figure out how to be a “good normal Christian” was incredibly intimidating.  I still didn’t feel like I fit in even after I received my salvation card—not to mention, I was super unhappy because I wasn’t free to be myself.

Sometimes we swap one seemingly harmless costume for another without even realizing it.  I had swapped my punk rocker skater chick look for the perfectly clean, prim and proper church girl look.  Neither of those costumes actually represented who I was, and neither of those costumes actually brought glory to God.  They were fake, false projections of who I thought the world wanted me to be.  They were easy to hide behind and they kept me safe.  All the while, I was compromising the girl that God accepted long ago and the daughter He took great pride in.

My identity crisis stemmed from fear.  The fear of being unloved and rejected by the world around me.  I didn’t believe that God’s love and stamp of approval over my life were good enough or powerful enough to overcome my insecurities.  But they were…

But they are.

So now, I’m learning to embrace Sam.  And not just Sam, but Samantha Lynn Stokesberry.  I say that because I used to hate my name – and my family and friends knew it well.  (My mom only called me Samantha Lynn when I was in trouble. If I heard that name in the house, I knew it meant one thing: run for your life.)  I thought my name was way too long and way too girly.  But when I was born, my parents declared this name over me with great pride and joy, and the Lord gave me this name when He breathed life into me.  My name has a bunch of different meanings.  In Hebrew it means, “God Heard or Told by God.”  In Aramaic it means, “Listener or One Who Listens.”  In Greek it means, “Flower.”  My name is a representation of who I am, it’s a promise that has been spoken over my life, and it’s where my identity first takes root.

When I embrace all of me, I better represent Christ.  Now, that may sound a bit strange because Christ embodied perfection and I definitely do not, but its true.  God made every single one of us uniquely, and He loves us uniquely, so when I express myself and love myself – I glorify God.  His uniqueness and beauty gets reflected through who I am.  His creative skill, His personality, and His workmanship are all revealed in and through me (and you).  His nature is seen and heard in my voice, my actions, my behavior, and my thoughts.  When I try to hide that or change that, then a part of God’s nature, the nature that He chooses to display through me, gets lost.  He needs me to be me, so that His love and essence can be seen.  And He needs you to be you, because no one is you.  In the words of Dr. Seuss, “Today you are you! That is truer than true! There is no one alive who is you-er than you!”  Get it?  Good.

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I’ll describe this wonderful phenomenon one simple word:  freedom.  When we embrace who we are (flaws and all), we are able to walk and live in the complete freedom of Christ.  I am free to cry, free to laugh, free to wear my hair up in a bun on the top of my head, and free to walk out into the world without any make up on.  I am free to play sport, free to dance, free to ride a motorcycle, and free to sing along to every single Disney movie soundtrack that I own.  I am free to celebrate my strengths, free to admit my failings, and free to stumble and try again – while simultaneously being free of any guilt or shame.  Because as it is pointed out so eloquently in John 8:36 (MSG version), “…if the Son sets you free, you are free through and through.”

The condemnation we feel when we act like ourselves doesn’t come from God.  Those feelings come from the enemy, who is afraid of God.  He knows that the Spirit of Christ lives in us, and when we walk in that authority and freedom—it scares the bejeebers out of him.  Those feelings of condemnation and judgement can also come from some of the people around us who just don’t quite get this message of freedom yet.  And that’s okay, because they are learning too.  Our job is to shake off the hate and keep loving.  Now quick disclaimer, do any of these points give us an excuse to continue to live in patterns of sin, say for example, if we have bad habits or enjoy doing things contrary to God’s word because it’s who we are?  Nope.  That’s a negative ghost rider, but nice try…

So moral of this blog post…

By loving and embracing ourselves (with our shortcomings and all), we will be better equipped to love and embrace our neighbor – just like Christ did.  The bible talks about how we are all different parts of one body, with different strengths, weaknesses, and roles.  We were each created with a specific purpose and plan in mind—a purpose and plan that only you can fulfill.  So instead of trying to fit ourselves into tiny cookie-cutter like molds, and instead of trying to be more like that girl or that guy who appears to have it all together, let’s step out of our comfort zones and into our own skins.  And while you are being you, don’t hate on your brother or sister for being them.  Remember, just because someone is a little bit different from you, doesn’t mean that they are wrong.

Unless they don’t like Nutella.  Then we’d need to have a conversation…

Dance in the Rain

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass; it’s about learning to dance in the rain”

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I don’t know about you, but I’m so ready for April to be over.

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, April showers bring May flowers?  Well, forget April showers, because this month came fully-loaded with torrential rainstorms!  It’s been a month full of lost keys, acne breakouts, sinus infections, dangerously low bank account balances, and broken break lights.  The struggle has been so deliciously real.  (Deliciously, because I have never had to eat this many packages of super cheap 2-minute ramen noodles in my entire life.)

But despite the many frustrations and challenges that have materialized during these past 30 days, this month has also been full of beautiful sunsets, incredibly generous friends, words of encouragement, hot cross buns, and The Lord of the Rings movie marathons.  Still, when battling through storm after storm on a daily basis, it’s easy to pass over these blessings and take them for granted.

My mom reminded me that sometimes when we face difficult challenges or situations that make us overthink and overreact—we should serve.  When I turn my focus from inward to outward, my problems appear smaller and my compassion for others becomes greater.  When I build others up through generosity and kindness, I am helping to bear someone else’s burden, while being relieved of my own at the very same time.  My mom is a wise woman.  (I should listen to her more.)

My dad had another perspective.  He reminded me that the enemy is always on the prowl, ready to attack at a moment’s notice.  When the Lord is doing a redemptive and powerful work in my life, the enemy will do whatever it takes to prevent the Lord’s will from unfolding in a fruitful way.  Maybe that looks like sending a bunch of super hot guys down my path when I promised the Lord that I wouldn’t date until 2018?  Maybe it looks like a sickness that prevents me from attending football training for a week?  Maybe it’s car trouble that hinders me from presenting a human trafficking awareness message on a local radio station?  I’ve learned that the enemy will use pretty much anything (and anyone) to distract and deter me from living out God’s plan for my life.  My dad reminded me to keep focus, to remember the truth, and to continue to push forward.  He’s pretty wise too.

Now God on the other hand—instead of simply giving me some sweet words of wisdom like my wonderful parents usually do, He has a habit of throwing me straight out of the bird’s nest and head first into the wild blue yonder.  “Fly, Sam, fly.”  Splat.  “Take two, let’s try this again, Daughter! This time don’t do it your way, do it My way.  Trust Me!”  Splat.  “Sam, I said My way…”

That’s usually how it goes…

But let’s quickly back up a step.  A few months ago I prayed for the Lord to help me find my joy in the storms of this life.  I asked for the Lord to help me be content and grateful even in when difficult circumstances come my way.  (Dearest friends, a little disclaimer… don’t pray this kind of prayer unless you want the storms of this life to start showing up on your doorstep.)  The God we worship has a knack for answering our prayers, but sometimes those prayers are lovingly answered with hurricane force winds.

Now this is one of my greatest struggles—finding joy in trials.  It’s easy for me to identify a trial when it comes my way—but having the right attitude amidst those trials is a whole different story.  I usually barely make it out alive, grumbling and complaining the entire way through until I finally manage to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  (Dramatic, I know.)  When in reality, my attitude should reflect the attitude of Christ—which is peace.

Paul has some wisdom to share on this topic too.  He writes in Philippians 4:6-7, “Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything.  Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done.  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.  His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

I think we humans like to complicate things, but I’ll speak for myself.  I love to complicate things.  God says, “love one another,” and I say how, where, who?  God says, “trust me,” and I say why, when, how?  God says, “I will provide for you,” and I say are you sure, really, how often?

I wonder what would happen if I simply obeyed God?  I wonder how much joy I would find in my trials if I prayed about everything and gave thanks to the Lord for all He has already accomplished in my life?  I wonder how much peace I’d experience if I stood firm on His Word rather than on my fluctuating feelings?  I wonder what would happen if I just… trusted Him?

And I wonder what would happen if I decided to start now?

There is one more wise man that I am going to quote before ending this blog post.  Gandalf the Grey once said, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”  So, my friends, the time is now.  What will I decide?  What will you decide?

Together, as we journey through the storms of this life with the Lord by our side and the Holy Spirit in our hearts, let’s learn to dance in the rain…  and find our joy.

Naked and Afraid

We’ve all experienced it at least once in our lives.

That embarrassing moment you just can’t seem to shake out of your mind.  Maybe it was that moment when you were spending quality time with friends, telling them a fantastic joke or sharing an impressive story—when all of a sudden someone interrupts you and points out the large piece of “something green” stuck in your teeth.  Uhhh, embarrassing.  How long was it there for?  Who noticed?  Awkward…

Or maybe it was when you were in 3rd grade and you took a quick bathroom break, only to return to your classroom unaware that part of your uniform skirt was stuck in the waistband of your Minnie Mouse underpants.  It happens, believe me… it happens.

We’ve all felt it.  Shame.  Embarrassment.  Fear.  Rejection.

We’ve all had people speak into our lives at some point or another, whether it’s our parents, teachers, our grandparents, or even our friends.  Sometimes those words spoken over us (and to us) are a blessing—words that build us up and propel us forward into greatness.  Other times, those words become scars that we wear on the walls of our hearts and minds that constantly remind us of our short-comings and failings—that nothing we do will ever be enough.  Words are powerful—they can ignite a spark of empowerment or extinguish a passionate flame within a person’s spirit.  Jesus knew the power of words—He used a few simple ones to cast out countless demons and to calm a raging storm.  But He’s not the only one.  The enemy is also an experienced orator.

This week a friend of mine reminded me of a specific passage from the Genesis story.  She knew I was battling with finding my true identity and worth in Christ (because hey, we all have those moments).  She knew I was believing the lies that the enemy had been speaking into my life for so many years—the lies that said I was still guilty, that I wasn’t loved, that I was alone, that I failed, that I’ve been rejected, that I needed to make up for all of my past mistakes.  I was falling into a trap of lie after lie and I was forgetting the simple truth of who I am in Christ.  So, my friend stepped in at just the right time to remind me of a significant truth.  The mind is a battlefield, and the battle for my identity began at the beginning of time… before I was even born.  The war has been won, but the battle still rages on—and it’s time I fought back.

You all know the Genesis story—God said “don’t do that” and man did that.  Whoops.  The enemy had shown up to infuse man’s mind with doubt (like he aways does) by asking, “did God really say…,” and man fell for it.  After Adam and Eve royally screwed up in the Garden of Eden, they felt shame and they hid because they realized they were naked.  (Quick reminder—up until this point, man walked with God openly and freely and totally stark butt naked without any issues.)  Then God shows up (as He always does), and asks, “Where are you?”  Adam answers Him by saying, “I heard you walking in the garden, so I hid.  I was afraid because I was naked.”

Now check this out… this is very important.  God responds to Adam’s comment by saying, “Who told you that you are naked?”

Did you guys catch that? If you didn’t, read it again…

Who.  Who told you.  Someone told them.  Someone spoke and filled man’s mind with shame and guilt and fear.  Someone made them doubt.  Someone made them feel less than worthy because of their nakedness.  Someone condemned Adam and Eve.  Someone made them feel inadequate… someone made them hide.  Who… 

There’s a quote that says, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  Well, the enemy’s been using the same old tactics he’s always used from the beginning of time—because they work.  Except instead of telling us that we are naked—he tells us that we are useless, guilty, and flawed human beings incapable of being worthy of any sort of love.  And in the process, not only are we blaspheming who God says we are—we are also blaspheming the Creator Himself since we were created in His image.  We are a reflection of our Creator—we express and display His qualities and characteristics inside and out.  Everything we are… is because of who He is.

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So what do we do?  How do we stop falling for this trap of deception?  How do we fight back?  Well, to identify a lie—we must be able to discern the truth from the lie.  We must renew our minds and renew our focus.  The unshakable truth that we hold onto as Christians is found in the Word of God, which is also called “the sword of the Spirit” by Paul in Ephesians 6.  So if we want to counterattack the enemy—we can’t just carry our weapon around limply in our hands, we must use it to fight back with boldness and confidence.  When we look to the Scriptures (our sword), we discover the reality of who God says we are in Christ.  Here are just a few truths that we can hold on to when we are faced with deception and doubt:

We are precious.  We are royalty.  We are forgiven.  We are justified.  We are accepted and approved.  We are beautiful.  We are known.  We are never alone.  We are worthy.  We are blameless and righteous.  We are beloved.  We are protected.  We are chosen, not rejected.  We are His.  

No take backs.  No expiration dates.  No undo button.  All because of Jesus.  

So, take that back to hell and choke on it, Satan…

Let’s Get Dirty

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”    – C.S. Lewis

The word “love”—along with it’s many definitions—is splattered all over the pages of the bible.  You won’t have to look very hard to discover that love is patient and kind or sacrificial and selfless.  But this week, the Lord has been teaching me about another way to define love that isn’t spelled out as clearly in the scriptures.

Love is… dirty.

And just to be clear, I’m not talking about the bow-chicka-wow-wow kind of love…but nice try.

This kind of love is messy and uncomfortable.  It inconveniences you and it requires you to take risks.  It’s a love that suffers, that gives, and that exhausts you day after day.  It’s hard and time consuming—and it will most definitely cost you something.  It’s also important to note that this kind of love isn’t about you—it’s about them.  And to be honest, when I see opportunities to give and receive this kind of love—I prefer to yell “fire” and run as fast as I can in the opposite direction.

I don’t know about you, but whenever I pray for something, the Lord usually answers my prayer in a way I least expect.  For example, two years ago I prayed for faith—and the Lord decided to strengthen my faith by recruiting a friend of mine to fetch and deliver my visa just hours before my flight left for South Africa.  (I still haven’t fully recovered from that day’s panic attack.)  Well, lately, I’ve been praying for the Lord to “teach me how to get my hands and feet dirty for His kingdom.”  It’s a simple and seemingly harmless prayer that I have prayed for the past 2 years.  Ever since then, God has been completely destroying my perception of what “being dirty for His kingdom” looks like.  (And let me just say, it’s not what I thought.)

I’ve learned that if I want to get my hands and feet dirty for His kingdom, I must be willing to love dirty—and I’ve never stumbled across a more challenging thing in my entire life.  It’s filthy and messy and beautiful all at the same time.  It stings and burns and purifies like salt water on a wound.  It feels like an emptying of yourself to fill someone else up…

It’s your Mom kissing you on the forehead and bringing you rainbow sorbet when you’re sick—just minutes after you’ve vomited all over her blue couch.

It’s your 80-year-old Grandparents sacrificing their time and money every single day to take care of a dying elderly woman who can barely walk, hear, or make it to the bathroom on her own.

It’s going out of your way to hug that homeless man who’s been struggling to find work—even when he smells like he hasn’t showered in over three weeks.

It’s lending a desperate friend money who won’t be able to pay you back—when you already know that you can barely afford food or petrol for the rest of the month.

It’s forgiving your abusers without ever receiving an apology.

It’s your Dad driving you to soccer practice every Tuesday and Thursday—in rush hour traffic, an hour away from home… after he’s already had a long day at work.

It’s supporting and praying for the girl in prostitution who says she wants to get out of the business—but keeps showing up on the street corner night after night like clockwork.

Love is… dirty.

Jesus was dirty.  He touched people who were deemed unclean and banished by the religious people, He ate and drank at the same table with the defiled, and He loved people who would never ever love Him back.  He took risks, He sacrificed, and He gave.  He didn’t let inconvenience or suffering or heartache scare Him away, in fact, He chased after those things with His whole being.  Jesus was willing to give up His reputation, His comfort, His family, His home, and His throne—for the sake of love.  He became broken and forsaken—so we would become whole and forgiven.  Jesus stopped at nothing to make sure that we knew how much we meant to Him.

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Do I love like that?  Most of the time—I don’t.  But I want to…

1 Samuel 6:17 says, “…but the Lord looks at the heart.”  

My inadequacy to love and my inability to walk in perfection won’t stop God from using me to share His perfect love with the world—nothing is too hard for Him.  In fact, He loves using broken people like me, because it’s through my dents and bruises and cracks that His light shines through the brightest.  It’s through the moments of pain and hurt and sacrifice when His love speaks the loudest.  So if we are willing… He is able.

Let’s get dirty.

Shockproofing Sin: One F-Bomb at a Time

There’s a question thats been floating around in my head these past few days…

It’s been driving me crazy, and it demanded an answer.

Why are Christians so shocked when a fellow sinner… sins?  I mean, think about it.  Say you’re sitting in church, and the guy next to you reeks of weed and bad life decisions.  Or say you overheard your bible study friend admit to fantasizing about a guy she saw on her soap opera. I’d bet 9 times out of 10 you’d avoid eye contact and silently intervene in prayer for the person’s salvation.  But what if that person was already saved?  What if they loved the Lord?  How would you feel then?  Shocked? Disappointed? Angry?

Well, God’s been ministering to my heart about this—and His response to my question came while I was driving home from Aventura Mall.  (For those of you who don’t know anything about Aventura, it’s where Satan lives.  Just kidding.  It’s just a really busy fancy area near Miami where there’s tons of backed up traffic, rich vacationers, and retired old people from Canada.)

So I was driving, and I was having a great day thus far.  I was in a wonderful mood, I had Jesus music playing on my radio, the sun was shining, and I got all of my morning shopping done at the mall without stabbing anyone.  It really was a great day.  Until I got stuck behind a black Volkswagen with a handicapped sticker dangling from the rearview mirror.  Lord, have mercy.  Don’t get me wrong, I love old people.  (Grandma I know you’re reading this, I love you so much. You make the best oatmeal cookies.)  But, when it comes to driving behind an old handicapped gentleman who can barely see over the steering wheel… I tend to lose my temper.

After 10 minutes of driving behind this man who was going 25mph in a 40mph zone—I yelled at the top of my lungs, “For f***k’s sake dude, driiiiivvveeeeeee!”  Yes.  You read that correctly.  This Christian missionary who loves the orphan, feeds the homeless, speaks at youth groups, and tithes at church… yelled out a very loud F-bomb at an old handicapped gentleman.

And that was the moment when God decided to speak.  Ha, His timing gets me every time.  It was only a few seconds after those five words escaped my lips, that the “Christian guilt trip” and feelings of inadequacy and failure started to settle in.  But the Lord wouldn’t have it.  He stopped me in my tracks.

The Holy Spirit nudged my heart saying, “Sam, when has your sin ever gotten in the way of My love for you?  Why do you still feel guilt and shame when you stumble or make a mistake?  Remember when you used to curse every single day in high school?  Remember when you were addicted to porn and lied to your parents night after night?   Remember when you thought I wasn’t even real?  Did you already forget that I loved you just as much then as I do now?  Your sin has already been paid for, so live free.  You’ve already been forgiven and nothing (not even your sin) can separate you from My love—not anymore.  You were saved by My grace, not by your own goodness—so let it go… and let’s keep moving forward.  I love you, my spunky child.  I’m proud of you for just being my daughter.” 

Man.  God is love, He is grace, and He wasn’t shocked by my sin—not at all.  I realized in that moment that I still tend to hold myself to a higher standard of perfection… a standard that I will never reach.  I forget that the Lord is the one who makes me holy, not the other way around.  I forget that faith in Jesus is what saves me, not my own self-righteousness or good behavior.  I used to be a legalist.  This means that daily guilt trips, self-shaming, and penance were commonplace in my life.  I tried to make myself good enough (even perfect enough) for God, but I was more concerned with breaking God’s rules than I was with breaking God’s heart.  But the Lord didn’t give up on me.

As Christians, we are called to live holy, obedient, and sacrificial lives—but that doesn’t happen by trying to walk in perfection.  First off, try it—I dare you.  It’s nearly impossible for me to get through an entire hour without having an impure thought or idolizing something in some way.  Perfection was Jesus’ job, ours is to walk by faith—and even faith is a gift from God.

Once we accept the fact that Jesus never called us to be perfect, we will be free to be good.  We will be free to love Him and enjoy Him and rest in His presence—which is exactly what our Father in heaven wants His children to do.  He wants us to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are loved and accepted by just believing in His Son.  When we know that our sins have been forgiven, and that Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection were enough—freedom happens.  And when that happens… change happens.

You will start to feel different, speak different, and maybe you’ll even look different.  Maybe you’ll curse less and you’ll pray more.  You’ll feel peace instead of anxiety.  You’ll start to feel compassion towards your enemies and you’ll give more generously.  And your sin won’t keep you in the bondages of shame, it will drive you closer into your Father’s arms in repentance.  Why?

Paul said it perfectly in 2 Corinthians 5:14, “Christ’s love has moved me to such extremes. His love has the first and last word in everything we do.” (MSG)

When you know that you’re loved, you will be free to love back.  It’s a beautiful thing, really.

So to bring this rather lengthy post full circle:  Why are Christians so shocked when a fellow sinner… sins?  Because we forget the Gospel of grace.  We forget that we are loved just as we are because God chooses to love us.  We forget that we are His, and that His love covers all of our sins.  We forget that we have already been forgiven and that the price for our sinful lives has already been paid in full.

So always remember who you are—a new creation.

And never forget Who you belong to…  the One who calls you My Beloved.

Late Nights, Drunk Girls, and Fuzzy Blankets

I have always struggled to believe in coincidences.

When I was growing up, I found it easier to believe in a perfectly orchestrated world where everything happened for a reason (even when I didn’t understand why) and nothing happened by chance.  Over the years, trusting in a faithful and sovereign and loving God has made that small and innocent belief flourish into a confident hope and expectation.

But every now and then, I forget.  I forget who God is, and I forget that He’s ultimately in control.  Sometimes, I even forget how deeply and intimately He loves me.  And when I forget, the Lord is always gracious to remind me…

Last night I had soccer training.  Everything was great—the technical drills, the shooting practice, and the small-sided scrimmage we played to end off the session.  But during the scrimmage, I injured my ankle.  At the time, I thought nothing of it, so I simply stretched it out and tried to “rub some dirt in it.”  After practice, I met up with a few of my friends for dinner.  We chatted, laughed, and snacked on steak and potato salad until the wee hours of the morning.  And when I say, “wee hours”—I mean, like three a.m.  (Whoops.)

Around that time, my ankle started killing me.  It was swelling and stiffening up, and I knew I had to get home, but I couldn’t drive myself because of my injury.  So, one of my friends offered to take me back to my flat.  As we approached my gate, there was a woman sitting in her car—not moving, not driving, not doing anything.  We soon discovered that she was—to put it kindly—highly intoxicated, hammered, sozzled, and completely and utterly befuddled.  She was stuck sitting at the gate because she couldn’t find her keys.  Luckily, I had mine.  So we followed her into the complex (after waking her up by knocking on the car window) and we prayed that she wouldn’t crash into any cars or people or tiny animals on the way.  She managed to only hit a small street lamp next to the dirt road—so I’d say our prayers were pretty successful.

Once safely in the parking lot, I approached her driver’s side window, and I asked if I could help her get home, but she said, “No, no it’s fine, it’s way to cold outside, but thanks.  I’ll stay here.”  I knew there was no way she was making it back to her flat by herself.  Her car was still in reverse with the parking break up and she couldn’t figure out how to get the key out of the ignition or turn her car headlights off.  After my unsuccessful attempt at getting this lady out of her car, my friend suggested that we get her a blanket from my flat.  Brilliant.  So he brought out one of the fuzziest blankets I owned.  (Not to mention, it was the only blanket I owned).  I approached her car again, this time with my fuzzy blanket in hand.  I decided to knock softly on the car window this time, so she didn’t think I was trying attack her.  Because let’s be honest, when there’s a strange American girl standing outside your car window (dressed in sweaty soccer clothes) at three in the morning in South Africa—you ask questions.

I asked her if she’d like to have my fuzzy and warm blanket.  She did.  Thank goodness.  As I wrapped her in the blanket, I told her that she lived in the flat just behind me, and that I’d be happy to help her get home.  She said yes, so we were able to put the car in park, shut off the headlights, and turn off the engine—finally.  I walked her to her front door, placed all of her belongings and keys on her dining room table, and made sure she was safe.  She thanked us for our help, and managed to get herself ready for bed.

When I walked around the corner to my flat, I became so incredibly overwhelmed.  What would have happened to her if I came home straight after soccer practice before she arrived to the gate?  What would have happened if I stayed out all night and didn’t come home at all?  What would have happened if my ankle wasn’t hurting and I didn’t need to come back at that exact moment to get ice?  What would have happened if my friend didn’t recommend giving her my blanket?  What would have happened if we left her in the car in the parking lot? 

I cried.  I cried because I still don’t believe in coincidences.  I cried because in that exact moment, God reminded me of how incredible He is.  He reminded me that He is in complete control and that He is completely faithful to protect the kids whom He loves most.  I realized that the Lord had allowed all of the events of the evening to take place exactly as they did—for the sake of this one girl.  The Lord allowed me to experience the pain of a hurt ankle, He allowed me to stay up super late eating delicious food with my friends, and He allowed me to cross paths with this woman just months before—so that I’d know her name… for this purpose.

The Lord orchestrated everything so perfectly, and it was all done to show this woman how much He loved her.  And that blew my mind.  She might not even believe in God, I mean, who knows?  But that didn’t stop Him from making sure that she was safe, loved, and protected at three in the morning—all wrapped up in a warm and incredibly fuzzy teal blanket.

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This experience taught me that loving people the way Christ did—can be uncomfortable and inconvenient.  It’s not always roses and butterflies, and sometimes, those acts of love will happen without anyone there to appreciate them.  But it also taught me that God loves lavishly, that He cares deeply, and that He chooses to use us mightily.  And He does it all unconditionally—freely without expectation of repayment and sometimes without even receiving any thanks.

So like Father like daughter… let’s walk in His footsteps.

The Blog Post That Everyone Hated

I’m warning you now—you are not going to like this blog post.

This blog post is not filled with politeness or political correctness.  It is not filled with flattery or superficial clichés that are meant to keep you comfortable.  It is not a “feel good” post to boost your self-confidence, and it is not a post that will stroke your ego.  This post is meant to tear you apart from the inside out.

You will not like this post because it will convict you, it will hold you accountable, and it will force you to look at yourself in a way that might offend you.  So if you dare… read on.

Firstly, go stand in front of your bathroom mirror and take a long and hard look at yourself.  Don’t just look at your physique—look deep.  What do you see?  Who do you see?  Do you see any shred of pride, fear, jealousy, judgement, hatred, or bitterness?  Do you see any animosity, resentment, greed, unforgiveness, deceit, or selfishness?  Do you see self-righteousness or maybe even self-pity?  Is there a single imperfection within you?  Even a tiny sliver of wrongness? Think about your answer—then wait…

Wait for the realization to kick in.

The realization that you, my friend, are not a perfect person.  The realization that no matter how good you may think you are, you are still not good enough to reach the standard of perfection.  Wait for the realization that you have flaws and that you’ve made your fair share of mistakes.  The realization that maybe—just maybe—you are a part of the problem.  And if you think that last sentence was harsh, then you’ll have to go back to the mirror and look again—because you probably didn’t stare long enough.  Stare until the cold, hard, and ugly truth becomes the only thing staring back at you.  Then wait…

Wait for the moment when you realize that your actions and your words and your behavior are (and have always been) your responsibility—no one else’s.  Wait for the realization that you are the only person liable for what flows out of your heart, your mind, and your mouth.  You are responsible for the words that slip so eloquently and/or so carelessly off of your tongue.  You are responsible for the selfless and/or self-centered deeds performed by your hands and your feet every single day.  You are responsible for the way you treat the people all around you—from the plumber who fixes your toilet to the person who pays your salary.

So once we’ve stripped ourselves down to the naked core of who we really are—what do we do next?

We can change.  We can repent.  We can start over.  We can forgive.  We can love.

We can stop attacking each other, and we can start building each other up.  We can stop dividing people by race, gender, and skin color—and we can start coming together as one race of human beings.  We can stop judging each other for the mistakes we’ve made, and we can start forgiving each other because everyone has messed up at least once in their lifetime.  We can stop hating each other because of our differences, and we can start loving and appreciating each other for our strengths.  We can stop seeing each other as threats, and we can start seeing each other as family.  And it starts with you—and it starts with me.

Yes, we are imperfect and flawed human beings, but that doesn’t make us useless.  We all have the opportunity to make a difference—but the difference has to start inside of us first.  The change has to begin within the boundaries of our own hearts before it can begin in the world around us.  Start small.  Respect your parents, love your wife, forgive the guy who cut you off in traffic, apologize when you’ve done something wrong, tell the truth, show compassion, and don’t compromise your integrity at any cost.  It will require humility and honesty.  It will require vulnerability and transparency.  But it will be worth it.

Now here’s the part that you’re going to hate the most.  You won’t be able to make lasting change on your own.  You will fail and fall, and your ability to love will be limited if you try to fight this battle in your own strength—because as we have already established, no one is perfect.

But there is Someone who is perfect and who knows how to love perfectly, and He wants to fight for you and with you.  He is Someone who knows the dark truth about how filthy your heart is, He knows how many mistakes you’ve actually made, and He knows about all of the hurts that you’ve had to face.  And guess what—despite all of those inadequacies—He understands and He loves you anyway.  In fact, there isn’t a person on this earth He doesn’t love.  He’s the One who can give you the power to forgive others, to overcome adversity, and to love your enemies.  He’s the One who can show you how to be humble in a world full of arrogance and selfish ambition, and He’s the only One who can save us from ourselves.

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His name is Jesus—and I want you to know something.  His goodness and mercy and love is not defined by His followers.  His followers are flawed and His followers will let you down—so do not put your trust or your hope in them.  Follow Him, and let your trust be rooted in the truth of who He really is.  He is the only One who won’t let you down when everyone and everything around you seem to be falling apart.  He’s the only One who can give you peace and freedom in a world obsessed with keeping it’s inhabitants locked up in bondage.  Nothing is to hard for Him.

So give it a shot.  Look at yourself in the mirror, and risk taking off the mask.  Expose yourself to the raw truth of what might be hidden within the confines your heart, and dare to chase after the light… following it wherever it may lead you.

“For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

When a “Good Christian Girl” Has a Bad Day

Have you ever had one of those days when everything seems to go wrong?

Maybe you caught every single red light while running late to a meeting, maybe a bottle of your favorite red nail polish spilled all over your white carpet, or maybe you were planning on buying groceries—but the amount of money left in your bank account said, “Ha ha, not today friend, you’re on your own…”

Yeah.  Those days are the worst.

It’s when every little thing seems to go wrong.  It’s when stuff breaks, things get lost, and there seems to be no justifiable reason as to why.  It’s when the quality of our character and the quality of our faith get tested the most, and it’s in those split seconds when you truly discover where your hope and your peace lie.  And let me tell you…  I am the queen of messing those moments up.

Just the other day, I broke a glass bowl that didn’t even belong to me.  I was washing it in the sink when it slipped out of my hands and dropped onto the countertop.  Ka-Bang!  Shattered.   The first few seconds following that unfortunate event were filled with profanities being yelled in multiple languages, clenched fists, and lots of indistinguishable angry grunting noises—all of which didn’t appear very Christian-like.  Whoops.

I was angry and annoyed for the rest of the entire day because of a stupid glass bowl.  Heck, I even went through the 5 stages of grief.  First, I denied that it even happened, then when I realized there was no coming back from my mistake, I got angry.  Next, I tried to bargain with God—begging Him to perform a holy miracle to put the broken pieces of this glass bowl back together.  (I know it sounds ridiculous, don’t judge me).  After that, I got depressed because I knew that I didn’t have the extra money in my bank account to buy a new bowl, since this one was now doomed for the trash can.  And finally, I decided to accept the fact that “it is what it is” and in 5 years this whole thing won’t even matter.

Once I found time to process this whole event (and to come to my senses), I remembered John 16:33.  In that verse, Jesus makes a promise to us saying, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  So, if I believe this verse to be true, and if troubling times are guaranteed, then how am I supposed to react to these difficult circumstances in a way that glorifies God?

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Well, if we read the verse again, Jesus calls us to “take heart.”  A few other bible translations change that phrase to, “be of good cheer and/or take courage.”  So boom, there it is.  When life throws nasty stuff our way that doesn’t seem to be fair or make sense—we need to “take heart.”  Now, let’s be real.  A broken bowl isn’t the end of the world, but many of us are faced with troubles and trials that seem monumental.  Maybe it’s cancer, a car accident, a death of a loved one, or even unemployment?

Well, I hate to be the one to say it, but… we are called to handle these big challenges in the same way that we are called to handle the small ones.  Why?  Because Jesus didn’t say, “Alright people, try to take heart when the little insignificant challenges comes your way, but make sure you get angry, throw a temper tantrum, and completely lose your faith in Me when a big difficulty comes your way.  I can only help you overcome the small stuff, so you’re on your own for the big problems!  Good luck!”  

Yeah, no.  Jesus never said that.  Jesus overcame the world—which means that He also overcame everything in the world.  Nothing is too hard for Him to handle, and nothing is too impossible for Him to sort out.  With God, there is no such thing as a hopeless situation.

We must keep our hope in Christ, we must trust the process even if it doesn’t seem fair, and we must maintain a heart of gratitude at all times.  This is way easier said than done, though.  As I mentioned earlier, I am constantly failing in this area of my life.  There are days when I am ruled by my emotions, and those days are when I waiver in my faith and stumble through a bad attitude.  But, the bible also says in 1 John 3:20 that, “if our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything.”  

So lastly, don’t be afraid to be imperfect and don’t condemn yourself when those imperfections rise to the surface (like when multilingual profanities slip out of your mouth unannounced after you break a glass bowl on your countertop).  When gold is refined in the fire, all of it’s impurities (which are called dross) rise to the surface and are skimmed away.  When the fire heats up and this process takes place, the gold is purified.  God does the same thing with His kids.  Through every circumstance (good and bad) our character and our faith are being refined, and the Lord promises to use everything we face in our lives for our good—and for His glory.  Some of those “refining moments” may hurt, some may cause pain, and some may be humiliating—but the Lord promises that He will always have our best interests in mind because He loves us.

So, moral of the story:

Invite God into your daily mess, and trust Him to handle the rest.