Oh, the beloved comfort zone.
The place where everything is simple and cozy and warm. The place where you aren’t stressed out, afraid, or anxious. It’s a place where nothing catches you by surprise and everything remains the “same old, same old.” For this American, it’s a place that has completely disappeared into thin air ever since I stepped onto South African soil. No, seriously.
Question: What’s more uncomfortable than public speaking?
Answer: Public speaking about sex to a group of teenagers in a church.
(Are your palms sweating yet?)
Sometimes I just have to sit down and laugh at God’s ridiculous sense of humor (but this usually happens after I bang my forehead against the wall repeatedly in exasperation). I was 17 when I made the decision to follow Him anywhere and everywhere. There are times when it’s fun and exciting, and then there are times when it makes me want to run very far in the opposite direction (like back to Miami). Prisons, street corners, soccer fields, and schools have all been a part of my exciting journey. But honestly, this week’s challenge of “sex talk in a church” was probably the hardest thing that I’ve had to endure yet.
Some of the darkest moments of my life revolve around love, lust, and relationships. Whether it’s sexual abuse, pornography, addiction, cheating, or just plain heart break … I’ve been there. I’ve felt the guilt, the shame, and the dirtiness associated with sexual immorality and low self-esteem. It hurts, and it’s definitely not something that simply “rolls off the tongue” during day-to-day conversations. (Exhibit A: “Hi, nice to meet you. I’m Sam, I enjoy long walks on the beach, singing along to the Pitch Perfect soundtrack, and for years I’ve struggled with pornography and people pleasing. What’s your favorite color? Do you have any pets?”) Yeah, no. That would never happen.
However, as I reminisce about the adventures I’ve had, I can see how the Lord has taken those hated moments of my history and used them for “His glory,” and that’s a pretty incredible thing. It says so much about who God is and so little about my need to measure up. In fact, Jesus tells me clearly that I don’t need to measure up. That part was never in my job description; it was in His. There’s a quote by Martin Luther that sums up this idea quite nicely. It says, “Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly.” Preach it, brother.
I am in love with a God who calls Himself Redeemer, Healer, and Savior. This means that all of those guilt-ridden moments in my past represent promise and vindication. I have been given the privilege of bearing scars that tell a beautiful story of grace, mercy, growth, forgiveness, and unconditional love. Don’t get me wrong, I used to hate my story and I used to hide those “metaphorical” scars. But each time I share pieces of my past with someone else, it brings hope and healing to the listener (and also to me, the speaker). I have found that there is freedom in confession and grace in vulnerability. With each honest and transparent conversation, my feelings of fear and insecurity fade. My hope is that when a girl notices my “metaphorical” scars, she would know that she’s not alone. My hope is that she would be able to look me in the eye without shame and say to me, “wow, Sam, I have one on my heart shaped just like that too!” … and vise versa.
I am not the same person that I used to be (2 Corinthians 5:17), my screw ups are no longer counted against me (Romans 8:1), and because of that, I’m no longer scared to share my story (2 Timothy 1:8a). My eyes have been opened to how the Lord uses our testimonies to protect, encourage, and liberate others. His plan is so much greater than anything my mind’s understanding can grasp. Every now and then, I am blessed with a quick glimpse of His bigger picture, and it motivates and encourages me to keep moving forward (even into the scary places). So instead of focusing on the mistakes that follow me and the weaknesses within me, I can focus on the strength and the perfect love of the One Who stands before me.
Dr. Steve Brown says it best, “The only people who get better, are the people who know that, if they never get better, God will love them anyway.”