Walking the Walk

“Just because you go to church doesn’t mean you’re a Christian. I can go sit in the garage all day and it doesn’t make me a car.”  – Joyce Meyer

It’s finally here—the time when I get to put feet to my faith.

I think this is one of strangest days of a missionary’s life.  D Day.  The Day just before Departure.  Imagine being filled with sadness, excitement, joy, anticipation, uncertainty, and bewilderment all at the same time.  Now multiply that by a hatred for packing and a lack of sleep from anxiety.  Now multiply that times 10.  Perfect.  Now you can understand how I feel.

It’s been about four months since I came home from South Africa, and the time has flown.  I spent time catching up with old friends, hanging out with my awesome family, doing ministry in Canada, growing with the Lord, training for soccer, worshiping at my church, and strategizing for this coming year.  It’s been a jam-packed season filled with laughter, stress, tears, and lots of Chipotle burrito bowls.  I’m grateful for it all.

I don’t think there will ever be a time when I feel “perfectly equipped” or “ready” to serve God.  Because let’s face it, I’m a hot mess.  Thankfully, all of my equipping, preparing, molding, and shaping is being done by the Spirit of God who loves to make masterpieces out of mistakes and messy hearts.  All I had to do was answer God’s call for me to go.  Which sounded something like… “God, are you serious?  Because I’m kind of freaking out a little bit over here.  I really don’t think I’m qualified for this.  I barely know how to do my own laundry.  What about EBOLA?  I’m only 24.  But if You’re sure and if You promise to go with me… then I’ll go.”

It’s so easy to talk the talk.  Believe me, I did it for years.  It’s easy to sing worship songs played by a live band in a comfy air-conditioned building surrounded by familiar faces, praising God with one hand while you hold your Starbucks coffee in the other.  It’s easy to attend bible studies, to write blog posts, and to pray for people on your “nice list.”  It’s easy to say that you trust God for provision when you live in a safe neighborhood, when you have a steady income, and when there’s plenty of food in the fridge and a car in the driveway.

But I am going to get real with you guys, I don’t want easy.  I want dirty.  I want challenging, and on some days… I want dangerous.  I want to see God show up (partly because my faith grows weak at times and I need Him to show up, and partly because I love being blown away by God’s awesomeness).  I want to fail and fall so that I can grow and change.  I want to give generously, to speak boldly, and to love recklessly—no matter what the cost.  Because if Jesus could give up everything (including His life) to rescue and love someone like me, then I should be able to do the same for others.

And let me tell you this very second, I already know that there will be days when I regret writing the paragraph above this one.  (And you guys will probably hear about it, so brace yourselves.)  Yes, the Lord promises that those days of discouragement and trouble will come, but more importantly, the Lord promises that He will forever be faithful.  Any trouble or trials that I may face have already been conquered by Christ and nailed to the cross.

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So tomorrow I leave to embark on a new adventure, and I want to ask you for prayer.  Prayers for open hearts and open doors.  Prayers for strength and courage.  Prayers for love and grace to flow out of my heart and into the lives of everyone I meet.  Prayers for dependency on the God who never fails nor abandons me.  Prayers for my family: that they will be comforted and at peace as I travel 7,000 miles away.  And lastly, prayers for the people of South Africa: for young girls to be set free from insecurities, fears, lies, and oppression—and for them to be strengthened and built up as princess warriors who are loved by the King of Kings.

Love you all.  Flight leaves tomorrow, Monday at 9:30 pm.  Let’s do this.

But Why Does My Heart Still Hurt?

Forgiveness.

This word makes me want to throw my arms up in a fit of joy and throw up my lunch all at the same time.  I can’t even handle this word.  I don’t really understand it, I can’t really comprehend it, and yet my entire faith walk is supposed to be based upon it.  It hurts, it heals, and it frees.  It renews, it restores, and it redeems.  If given in grace, it can build up and strengthen; if withheld in anger, it can torment and lead to condemnation.

Forgiveness is one of the most powerful things in the entire universe.  (Besides love, and maybe chocolate covered key lime pie on a stick.)

So let’s get free.

I messed up.  Big time.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I mess up multiple times a day, but many months ago I decided to take it to a whole different level.  That happens sometimes when Sam decides that her way is better than God’s way.  It also happens when Sam is scared or insecure or not trusting in the truth of God’s Word.  So here’s the thing.  If there was a trophy for the “Christian Hide-and-Go-Seek Sin Champion of the World,” I would have five of them stacked proudly on my shelf, because I always had a knack for keeping my sins hidden in the dark.  But luckily for me,  God has supernatural high-powered night vision goggles, and nothing gets past Him (wink wink).  Thankfully, I am loved (and will always be loved) by a God who wants to turn my darkness into the light.

Psalm 32: 3-5  “When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long.  Day and night Your hand of discipline was heavy on me.  My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.  Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt.  I said to myself, ‘I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.’ And You forgave me!  All my guilt is gone.”  

God, in all of His mercy and loving-kindness, called me to confess and to repent,  Jesus showed me how, and the Holy Spirit gave me the strength to follow through and actually do it.  So I reached out to the people that God told me to confess to, and let me just tell you… it was more painful than stepping on a Lego…barefoot.

Some of the responses to my confession were seasoned with grace and love, while others seemed to be seasoned with cyanide.  That hurt too.  But you know what, I was finally free.  My heart was right with God, I stopped hiding, and I spoke truth.

…So why did my heart still hurt so badly?  Why did I still feel like I was suffocating?

This is the question I asked God, and faithfully, He answered.  “Sam, you’ve forgiven others, you confessed, and you’ve asked for forgiveness from Me and from the people around you for your mistakes.  But there are a few things that you are forgetting, sweet girl.  My opinion of you is the only thing that matters, and when I say you are forgiven, YOU ARE FORGIVEN… but you have yet to forgive yourself.  And that my child, is a choice.”

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Dang.  God is never wrong.  I want you all to know that I have yet to master the art of “forgiving myself.”  It’s something that I am learning how to do more and more each day.  It’s something that requires complete humility and complete dependence on a gracious God who means what He says.  It requires me to let go of any hopes that I can ever save myself, and it requires me to let go of the pride in my heart that tells me I don’t deserve to be pardoned.  If the God of the Universe says that I am forgiven, then let it be so.

So on the days when my heart (or the devil himself) tells me one thing and my Lord tells me another, I need to remind myself of the truth.  I will never stop desperately needing to hear the truth of the Gospel—and that’s not a weakness, that’s a strength.  Since the Lord’s promises are true (and because God never lies), I can forgive myself and let go of my feelings of shame and hurt and guilt because His words say that Jesus already nailed those things to the cross when He died to set me free.  He loves me in spite of my mess.  He loves me in my darkest moments.  He loves me at my worst, and He loves me at my best.  He knew exactly what He was doing when He took my place and my punishment at Calvary, and He still knows what He’s doing when He vouches for me before the Father—standing up for me, advocating for me, and rebuking the accusations of the enemy.

We have all fallen short, but we also have a God who has picked up the slack and filled up the gap on our behalf.  So as we love God and love one another (on both the good and bad days), let’s try to remember that…

Isaiah 44:21-22  “I, the Lord made you, and I will not forget you.  I have swept away your sins like a cloud.  I have scattered your offenses like the morning mist.  Oh, return to me, for I have paid the price to set you free.”  

In and Out of Season

As an athlete, nothing feels more satisfying than sore and achy muscles after a tough workout—especially after leg day.  You know that you’ve worked hard when you can’t sit down on the toilet without wincing or falling over in pain.  (Sorry for the potentially disturbing visual.)

When I head back to South Africa, my soccer season will begin and I am sooooo excited to get back onto the field with my teammates.  Funny story though, my season literally begins the weekend I arrive.  With that being said, I needed to get my butt whipped into shape… like several months ago.  But hey, better late than never, right?

These past few weeks have been full of tight glutes, smelly gym clothes, and awkward sports bra tan lines.  My days have been filled with interval sprints, squat racks, and plyometrics – and let’s not forget about the actual soccer part.  Cone drills and cruyff cuts have invaded and taken over my dreams at night, but honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The coolest part about my training regimen is that God shows up and joins me every time I step into the weight room or out on the field.  I’ll be in the middle of doing interval sprints and then BAM, “Oh hey God, what are you doing here?”  It amazes me that He can use strength and conditioning workouts to teach me valuable and spiritual life-lessons.  I never knew that interval sprints could be so insightful (and painful, but mostly insightful).  It’s one of the things that I absolutely love about God.  He really does have His hand in everything, and He can use anything to teach us, shape us, and grow us outside of our comfort zones.  Whether it’s a sport, a job, a chore, or a family member.  He’s super creative that way.

So, while my legs were shaking and my pulse was racing, God was busy teaching and convicting.  He taught me two things that I’d love to share with you guys:

  • Firstly… God asked me why I don’t exercise my spiritual muscles the way I exercise my physical ones?  Eventually, I am going to get old and wrinkly, and at about 80 years old, I highly doubt that I will be worried about having a “bikini body.”  In fact, I think my biggest concern will be having a body that works well enough to get me to the refrigerator and then back to the couch.  So why am I spending so much time investing in what is “temporary” instead of investing in what is “eternal?”  Boom. Heart check.  When I meet God face to face, I want Him to know me.  I want Him to call me by my nicknames, and I want to be able to joke with Him about all of those awkward and glorious moments when we cried and sang and laughed together.  He’s not going to care about how fast I could run or how flat my abs were.  So, I realized in that moment, that it’s all about balance.  I need to keep my body (my temple) holy, pure, and in tip-top shape… but I also need to keep my prayer life and my relationship with the Lord in tip-top shape as well.  Plus a sobering thought: He gave me this body, so He can always take it away!
  • Secondly… God reminded me that I need to see this pre-season training and this “waiting” period (before I fly out to South Africa) as a HUGE blessing.  Let me be honest… I am one of the most impatient people in the universe.  No, really.  It’s terrible.  So when God told me to wait a few more months before returning to the mission field, you can assume that I wasn’t too “keen.”  In other words, I was a tad bit pissed off.  But as always, God had a reason.  He knew that I would need to prepare my body, my heart, my spirit, and my mind for the challenges and adventures that I would be facing in the future.  He knew that I would need the three days a week on the track and the two days a week in the weight room to get my body into the best shape possible, so that I would be able to glorify Him to the best of my ability on the soccer field.  He knew that there would be so much more for me to learn before I go—that there would be more money for me to raise, more people for me to meet with, more blogs for me to write, and more time for me to spend with my family.  I wanted to rush out, but God needed me to stay.  So this specific season is meant to prepare me and to glorify Him — whether that’s through my fitness training, my writing, my prayer and worshiping, my relationship building, or my Netflix watching.  My only responsibility is to make the most of this time while I have it, because once it’s gone, I can’t get it back.

So a word of advice… wherever you are in life, no matter how boring or how stressful this season may seem, make the most of it.  Embrace it for all that it has to offer, and trust that God has you exactly where you are for a reason and a purpose.  It may not make sense now, but I can promise you that when you look back days, months, or years later… everything will make sense.  He has all of our days laid out before Him, so He can see things that we can’t see yet.  I know it’s hard, because I struggle with it daily, but try to find comfort in that!

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“So let us not get tired of doing what is good.  At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.”  

– Galatians 6:9

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.  And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.  And this hope will not lead to disappointment.  For we know how dearly God loves us, because He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love.”

– Romans 5:3-5

Junk in the Trunk: A Missionary’s Misconception

So I just read an awesome blog entitled, Things I Would Not Say to a New Missionary, and let me just tell you that the post was so wonderfully accurate.  I laughed so hard because I knew exactly what this lady was talking about.  Her post inspired me to get real about a few “missionary misconceptions” that I’ve struggled with in my own life.  As I have said so many times before, I am not a “cookie-cutter Christian,” nor am I a “cookie-cutter missionary.”  I don’t ever want to fit into a stereotypical Christianese box – it limits God and it limits me.  So, I realized that it might be time to demolish a few stereotypes and send some encouragement your way.

First things first, I need all of you to know that after one year of being a missionary… I still have no idea what the heck I am doing.  No, you think I’m joking, but I’m so serious.  This is a very important fact because before I became a missionary, I thought that I needed to have my perfect, holy, and blameless life together before I could go out into the world to serve God and others.  I was so wrong.  When I read back through God’s Word, I quickly discovered that not a single person God chose to use for His glory had their lives in order.  In fact, most of them screwed up before, during, and after they were called and sent out to serve and love God.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:27-29 that, “God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.  God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important.  As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God.”

Is Sam foolish? Check. (Just ask my parents, I make dumb decisions all the time.)

Is Sam weak? Check.  (Especially when it comes to keeping my thought life clean.)

Is Sam unable to boast about how fantastically holy and perfect she is? Quadruple Check. (I am constantly in repentance mode like every five seconds.)

Well, now that we’ve established that…  I hope you feel more qualified to do big things for God because as I’ve discovered over the course of these past few years – my “success” as a missionary is not dependent on my abilities to maintain a perfect track record or get an entire country saved.  (Because honestly, sometimes I can’t even muster up the energy to take a shower or do my own laundry.)  My “success” is entirely dependent on God’s ability and His desire to use a broken vessel like me.  God only requires me to be available and to be willing to move my feet (and to perhaps open my mouth when the time is right).  If His light can shine brightly through my cracks and flaws, then I’m a happy camper.

I’ve had so many people tell me that I am an inspiration to them, and I think that’s a very beautiful thing.  But I really want to stress that I am no different than anyone else.  I am not more holy, more perfect, or more qualified.  Fun fact: Even while I was in South Africa, I sinned.  I know, I know, whip out the holy water and get your pointer finger of shame and judgment ready…

Just kidding about the holy water, but I wasn’t kidding about my sin.  I have never done this “missionary” thing before.  I am learning every single day what it looks like and feels like and sounds like to be a follower of Jesus.  I love Him with my whole entire heart, and I need Him desperately every single day, but that doesn’t mean that my life will be a perfect one.  However, it does mean that it will have to be a dependent one.  That was a huge and humbling lesson that God needed to teach me while I was in South Africa last year.

The standards that I had for myself were “Jesus Standards of Perfection.”  Which, incase you didn’t know… are unreachable standards.  I didn’t cut myself any slack and I really struggled with my own guilt and unforgiveness because I was so fearful of letting everyone down: God, my family, my church, my friends, and anyone else that knew about my journey.  I had to learn that God loved me before I even knew who He was.  He called me to go and love the girls who were (and still are) fighting against the same struggles that I’ve had to fight against, because they need to know what it feels like to be loved and forgiven – just like I needed to know what it feels like to be loved and forgiven.

I have a bad habit of making some of my sins appear worse than others on my “God Scale of Wrath.” I seriously need to throw that thing away, because it’s totally unbiblical and unbalanced.  For example, I’ll pray for a long time about my lustful thinking and how I need to stop cursing in front of my little brother when I drive in Miami’s ridiculous traffic, but I won’t spend much time praying about my pride or my jealousy towards another girl.  In God’s eyes, it all separates me from Him and it’s all equally wrong.  So when I feel like a failure for one “seemingly big” sin in my life, God looks down at me with compassion and says, “Sam, crazy girl, if you think that’s bad, wait until I show you the rest of the junk that’s hiding in your heart.  There’s stuff deep down in there that you don’t even know about yet.”  YOH.  Ouch.  But it’s a holy and purifying ouch, so I dig it.  Because just after the rebuke, comes God’s reminder that I shouldn’t feel shame or guilt or resentment – but instead, I need to remember that He has already nailed all of my sins to the cross.  They are dealt with, it is finished.  He already knew about all of the mistakes I was going to make, and He sent me and called me to be a warrior in His army anyways.  His patience and love and grace know no bounds.  If I am willing to bring Him all of my “junk” and lay it down at His feet, then He will always be willing to deal with it for me.  Without condemnation. Without hate.  Without disdain.

In fact, I think God gave me this job of serving His people because of all of my junk.  I had to walk through some crappy and embarrassing and hurtful things in my life, and those things have given me a heart that is so full of compassion and love and understanding.  When I see someone else struggling through what I experienced, I can look them in the eyes and genuinely sympathize because I’ve been there.  That’s a gift.  Because of my junk-filled past, I get to share a hope-filled future with the people I meet all over the world.  All a missionary really is – is a person who loves Jesus that decides to walk out of their front door and into the world with faith instead of being bound up in fear.  It’s that simple.  I may be living the Christian life in South Africa, but that doesn’t make being a missionary in your backyard any less significant.  All lives matter, everyone deserves the opportunity to receive love and hope through our actions and our words.  Compassion is contagious. (It’s scientifically proven. Don’t worry, I checked.)

So this blog is just a little reminder that we are all equally imperfect, but we are also all equally valuable and useful to God (in the little things and in the big things).  The purpose and the power remain with Him, but the choice to step up and walk in faith remains with us.  So don’t fear failure, instead, have faith.  And if (and when) you make mistakes, run back to God and let Him cover you in His grace.

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A Saving Grace or a Slippery Slope?

The time has come.

After sipping my Caramel Macchiato from Starbucks while simultaneously basking in uncertainty over the topic of my new blog post, I have decided to write about one of my biggest insecurities.  Let the thoughts about picture posting, friend following, and ridiculous hash-tagging begin!

Social media can be difficult.  It’s an awesome tool, but it can be used in some very un-awesome ways.  It’s an incredible resource for staying in touch with people, raising awareness (and funds), sharing photos with family and friends, and above all else – networking.  It’s a fantastic tool for building relationships (and maintaining those relationships) with people all over the world.  I can personally vouch for all of this! But social media also has it’s downsides, and I can honestly say that I’ve experienced those too.  It’s a place where insecurity, discontentment, and comparison thrive.  It’s a place where bullying and shaming occur daily, and it’s a place where someone’s value can depend on how many “likes” they get.  Been there done that, folks.  And let me tell you, putting your value and worth into the hands of other people who can tear you apart with a single word or phrase… really sucks.  It’s time to get free.

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When I have compared my life to the lives of other people (especially via Facebook or Instagram), I usually felt one of two ways:

  • I end up feeling totally inadequate – like my life doesn’t measure up or even matter to other people around me.
  • I end up sitting atop my high horse (in all my arrogance and pride) trampling down on the small peasants who didn’t quite reach my standard of awesomeness due to their own mediocre lifestyle choices.

(Hypocrite much?)  Neither of those things are good things to feel.  In fact, they are terrible things to feel.  No, seriously.  It’s a complete waste of time.  Believing the enemy’s lies that give birth to those feelings of self-pity and pride… don’t benefit anyone.  So let’s snap[chat] ourselves out of it.  (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Paul talks about this issue of comparing ourselves to others in Scripture.  In Romans 12:6a he says, “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them…”  I love that.  Quick example: I love to speak and write.  I enjoy inspiring and encouraging people with words of honesty and affirmation.  That’s a gift God has given me.  Now, my friend Ilse is also really gifted, but to my knowledge, she doesn’t write poetry or speak in front of large groups of people on a day-to-day basis.  Instead, she makes these amazing stuffed bears called iBears (Click for Website), and she pours her heart and soul out into every single teddy bear she makes.  She even makes teddies to bring to the children in the hospital that are battling with cancer.  She is super creative at sewing and she knows how to use fabric like a boss.  I’m pretty sure she can sew almost anything.  (Let’s just call her the MacGyver of sewing.)  If I made one, my bear would most likely scare the cancer right out of the children because it would probably end up looking more like an evil monster.  I can’t sew to save my life (nor to even clothe myself).  Thank God for Target and the Nike Store.

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My point is that our Creator has made us all different for a reason – and yes, I know I say this all the time, but if we were all the same, it would limit God’s reach and creativity.  It would limit the positive impact we can make on our world.  He is using our passions and dreams and joys to bring life to the people around us.  Arts and crafts, music, sports, drama, writing, speaking, tattooing, dancing, medicine, building, stamp collecting, or whatever other hobby you can possible think of – if you have it, embrace it!  The things that come naturally to us were ingrained into us for a reason.  We shouldn’t be jealous or envious of others for their talents or gifts because those same people will also have their own unique battles to fight.  The grass is not greener on the other side.  Instead of envying our fellow human beings, we should praise them, build them up, and spur them on.

So when I share about my life on social media, I want it to inspire and encourage.  I want it to radiate hope, because I strongly believe that hope brings life.  I want everyone to see that there is no such thing as a “cookie cutter Christian” – quite the opposite is true, really.  We are all unique individuals who have a unique purpose in this life.  For me, instead of holding others back, I want to help them get ahead, at any cost to my own ego or success.  And believe me, that was harder to type than you may think.  The Bible says in James 3:16, “For wherever there is jealousy [envy] and contention [rivalry and selfish ambition], there will also be confusion [unrest, disharmony, rebellion] and all sorts of evil and vile practices.”  And I don’t want that for anyone.

I used to be on social media for approval and validation.  I really wanted those likes and I wanted to be “known” by others.  Little did I realize, I was already approved, validated, befriended, and known.  Someone way more important than anyone on my social media feeds was already calling me worthy and I hadn’t even done anything to deserve it.  Once I realized that, I didn’t need to earn “likes” from the world anymore because I already had unconditional love from my Savior.  This wonderful truth gives me the freedom to share my story with anyone and everyone who might be interested.  It gives me the opportunity to be completely myself without fear of judgement or rejection from people.  If my value is rooted in God’s opinion of me, then I don’t ever need to be afraid of man’s opinion of me.  (Again, easier typed than lived, but I’m willing to speak it out in faith even if my feet struggle to follow along with this truth from time to time!)

I have the freedom to be me – to play soccer, to make friends, to sketch, to learn a new language, to climb mountains, to write spoken word poetry, to wear muscle tee’s, to sleep with a moose pillow named Chauncy, and to speak boldly about Jesus in front of thousands of high school students in South Africa.  The beauty is that I get to do all of those fun and exciting things with the joy and peace in my heart that come from knowing that I am loved and that I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

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Psalm 139:13-16
“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body, and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.”

Putting the Fun in Fundraising

Hi Friends!

This is a little video to help raise awareness about my trip back to South Africa. I am going back to be a full time missionary, and I am so excited to see what the Lord is going to do while I am overseas. He was faithful to impact the lives of so many last year, and I know that this year will be even better. I am going to continue to partner with some incredible nonprofit organizations and ministries in ZA that are fighting against human trafficking and against the prostitution of women. I want the next generation of young girls to know that they are beautiful, respectable, valuable, and worthy. I want to remind them that no matter what they have done or what difficult things they have been through – they are princess warriors at heart. My priority is to remind these women that they’re loved more than they will ever know by Someone who died to know them.

To donate please visit:   http://ssmfi.org/missionary/samantha-stokesberry/

 

The Mighty Morphin Protestant Ranger

“I love doing preposterous things,” He replied.  “Why I don’t know anything more exhilarating and delightful than turning weakness into strength, and fear into faith, and that which has been marred into perfection.”

-The Shepherd (Hinds Feet and High Places Novel)

 

As a little girl, I loved watching The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers on TV.   If you don’t know who the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers are, then you probably weren’t a 90’s kid from America – and you probably didn’t wake up at 6am every Saturday to make sure that you didn’t miss an episode (like me).  Call me obsessed if you must, I’m not ashamed.

I loved dreaming about what it would be like to have superhuman powers.  In fact, I still love pondering the thought.  I wanted to know what it would feel like to change the world, to make a difference, to be strong and brave, and to fight off evil villains (and to fly of course… but I digress).  Little did I know – that being a Christian is very similar to being a Power Ranger – just take away the skintight bodysuits and the fake alien monsters, and BAM we’ve got ourselves a party!

But in all seriousness, my dream of wanting to be a superhero also had it’s downsides.  Growing up, I was a sore loser, I didn’t like being told that I couldn’t do something, and I really struggled to make room in my life for failure and defeat.  I was constantly trying to prove myself and my worth to others – both to kids my age and adults alike.  Until Jesus got a grip on me.  Then things began to change.  I will still admit, however, that I don’t enjoy losing.  (Just ask my teammates after a soccer game or call my parents for a play-by-play on family game night.  It can get ugly if my heart isn’t lined up with God’s.)  The struggle is still real, and the fall still hurts when it happens, but at least now I have Someone to catch me when I stumble and make a mess of things.

This past week in Vancouver, on my week long mission trip with Calvary Chapel and XXXchurch, I got sick.  (Like “nasty cough and boogers” kind of sick.)  I didn’t plan for this, I was not happy about it, and I felt like I was going to burden my entire team rather than bless them.  How could I possibly please God on this mission trip if I was sick?  How could He use me if my voice was gone and my throat was sore?  Needless to say, I was frustrated.  But once I actually took the time to listen to what God had to say about my weakness and sickness during that week, I ended up learning quite a lot.

  • It’s not about me.  It’s always been about Him.  Yes, God created me with my personality, my looks, my passions, my abilities, and my talents.  Yes, He made me with a purpose – but I mustn’t ever forget the very crucial fact that HE MADE ME.  I cannot take credit for who I am, all the glory must go to my Creator.  He provides me with opportunities, with relationships, and with second chances.  He’s the one who found me when I was lost and who planted my feet back onto the right path.  He doesn’t need me, but He wants me.  He already had a Son, but He chose me to be His daughter – to inherit all that He has to offer.  Every word of inspiration and love that flows out of me is because of God – He puts breath into my lungs.  (He also invented the cough which gets the nasty stuff out of my lungs, yay God!)  Every step of faith I take is because He gives me the strength to move forward.  I can do nothing apart from Him.  All of that testifies to His character and to His righteousness, not my own.  I’m the vessel.  I’m the clay pot and He’s the potter who molds me according to His pleasure.  And THAT takes the weight off of my shoulders – no longer do I need to feel obligated to perform or to please the world around me.  I have an audience of One.
  • When things don’t go my way, trust God anyway.  I was sick the day I arrived in Canada with the team.  I wanted God to heal me immediately (because I am so flippin’ impatient), but He didn’t.  Why?  Only He knows the real reason.  Did God make me sick? No. God is good and God is love.  He is a live-giver, not a life-taker.  But was He glorified in my sickness? Heck yeah.  Once I humbled myself enough to let Him deal with me, my pride, my fear, and my insecurity – He was glorified.  During prayer one morning with the team, the Lord spoke to me, He said, “Sam, my sweet child, if I don’t heal your sickness, if the trials continue to come, and if you feel as though I have forsaken you… will you still trust Me?  Will you still know that you are Mine and that you are loved?”  In that moment, I cried.  I cried because my answer was no.  I didn’t trust God or His plans for me.  I didn’t and couldn’t understand why He wouldn’t make me better so that I could go and do all these awesome things I had planned to do for Him.   I mean, that’s what He wanted from me, right?  Psshhhh, wrong.  After grumbling for a few days, I realized that all God wanted was me… not my good intentions or my good deeds.  He just wanted me.  I had to have the kind of faith that could say, “I am enough to please my Heavenly Dad, even without my works.”
  • My worth doesn’t come from my actions, it comes from who I am.  I have said this and written about this so many times, but for some reason – it still hasn’t seeped down into my thick skull.  God loves me because He made the decision to love me before I was even born and before my parents even knew what my name would be.  Before I took my first breath, He picked me, all of me – and He knew that I didn’t come with a return or exchange policy.  (Now, that’s commitment.)  He chose me to be a part of His family, knowing full well about my crazy antics and my big mouth.  So when I had to miss one of the outreaches this week in Canada because I was stuck in bed with the “cold from hell,” I should have felt contentment and peace instead of inner turmoil and agitation.  Why was I so upset?  Who was I to complain anyways?!

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Looking back, I was able to attend the porn expo all three days with XXXchurch where I met so many amazing individuals – some who knew Jesus and some who didn’t.  (Cool story, 8 people got saved inside the porn conference at our booth which is absolutely ridiculous and absolutely amazing all at the same time.  That just doesn’t happen at sex expos.)  I was able to spend quality time in one-on-one conversations with my teammates, and we got to exchange stories and testimonies that spoke of how wonderful and faithful our God has been throughout our lives.  I was able to share toiletry filled gift bags with some of the women who were living on the streets of Vancouver, and I was able to bond with one special girl named Laura who taught me about overcoming and keeping a positive attitude despite tough circumstances.  The Lord spoiled me with adventures and blessings.  So even though the trip had some added surprises and difficulties, it ended up being better than I ever could have imagined (cough, boogers, and all.)

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I learned that the condition of my heart was more important to God than the condition of my work and the condition of my health.  God’s priorities are usually way different than mine, and sometimes taking a step back is necessary before taking the next few steps forward.  He’s such a gracious God.  I love that He loves me, even when I am cranky and tired and have boogers dangling out of my nose.  (Sorry, gross, I know.)  So the point and summary of this post is that the Lord was very present in Vancouver.  The mission trip was a huge success, and it was all because of His faithfulness, patience, grace, and love.  Many lives were changed, and many people were set free…  one of those people being me.

…And being a part of God’s beloved family beats being a Power Ranger any day!

The Quiet Time Conundrum

I never liked “time-outs.”  I never ever liked to take afternoon naps as a kid, and I never ever liked “quiet times.”  I was always on the move, causing both a ruckus and a headache for my parents and teachers one day at a time!  I was so terrible at sitting still and I talked so fast that the words coming out of my mouth couldn’t actually keep up with the thoughts flying through my head.  My parents thought I had ADD, while my grandma on the other hand, believed that my “motor-mouth” problem was due to my heightened intelligence and elevated IQ (way to go, Grandma).  Some days, mom would look me straight in the eyes with a serious face, and she’d put her hands on either side of my head and she’d say, “Sam, FOOOOCUUUS.”  And after laughing and doing a few “cool down laps” around the house, I would finally focus.

Honestly, not much has changed since then.  (Except for the naps thing, I actually enjoy taking naps now.)  But this week, I got to housesit for my aunt and uncle, and I got to spend some awesome quality time with my cousin (when she wasn’t spending the whole day in school).  That meant tons of time alone… in an empty house… with not much to do… and an overactive brain that doesn’t know when to shut itself off.  OH, THE HORROR. Little did I know, God had a purpose and a plan for me in this “quiet time” madness.

If I can manage to pray for more than 5 minutes in one sitting, it’s a big deal… because it never happens.  Usually my prayer life consists of short random prayer thoughts throughout the day, like, “Oh Lord, where did I put my keys? I know that You know where they are… Father, give me patience to drive in this flippin’ Miami traffic, the worship music playing in my car isn’t helping anymore, and I am about to bust out of here and walk home…. God, I pray for the kid’s in my moms first grade class, please calm them down and keep them FOCUSED because she might murder one of them, and I don’t want my mom to go to jail because she’s a great teacher… Father, thank you for hot showers and comfy beds and yummy food.  Love you Lord, In Jesus name, Amen.”

Yeah.  The second I try to go deep with God, I blank out.  I forget the names of all of my friends and family members who may or may not need prayer, I forget all of the bible verses that I had memorized, and I forget all of the things that I needed to talk to God about in the first place.  The struggle is real.  To help me combat this struggle of distraction and forgetfulness, I began journaling my prayers.  That helped a ton because I love to write and it keeps me focused.  It also allows me to go back and cross off prayers that God has answered which is super encouraging!  I also stopped trying to come up with fancy words while I pray, which really made a difference in my prayer life because my prayers ended up making more sense and they began to sound like a real life conversation between two people (with real people words).  Lastly, I told fear and shame to go “take a hike” because they were hindering me from being able to get real with God.  Fear and faith can’t both thrive in the same place.  So I said, Sayonara and Adios to those lies from Satan.  This week, I got real with God.  (So real, that it got to the point where I cried multiple times on my aunt’s carpet and spent some quality time in fellowship with their pet peacock, Kevin who didn’t judge me for my puffy red eyes or for my runny nose.  Thanks, Kevin. Mad respect.)

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Also, God showed me a few cool things that I really want to share with you guys because maybe I’m not alone – and maybe you struggle with this stuff too?

The power of prayer has nothing to do with me or my fancy words.  God is the powerful one in this relationship. He makes things happen and He sets things in motion.  He brings freedom, understanding, clarity, and wisdom.  He comforts and protects and provides.  All He wants is for me to trust Him enough to muster up the courage to actually say something to Him about what I need (and what I am thankful for).  My help comes from Him, not from how eloquent my prayers sound.  Once I realized that my prayers weren’t about me, I finally had stuff to pray about.  I could praise Him, thank Him, and ask Him for things.  It freed me up to enjoy God without worrying about being judged for how I sounded.

Jesus promised that troubles and tribulations would come, but He also promised to help us overcome them all.  I learned that having a nervous breakdown every now and then (especially while talking to God) is okay.  There’s no law that says Christians aren’t allowed to be upset or angry from time to time (just don’t let that lead to sin).  In fact, the Bible says that God keeps track of our sorrows and tears, and that He records those moments in His book (Psalm 56:8).  This just means that God is very aware of our meltdowns, and He doesn’t condemn us for them, He sympathizes with us instead.  Believe it or not, God gets it.  He is big enough to handle my mood swings, He is loving enough to walk me through the rough patches of my life, and He is gracious enough to not take my “moments of emotional weakness” personally or hold it against me.  I love God for that.  When I learned how to cry in front of Him, I also learned how to let Him love me in those moments.  When I get free, He freely comforts me and He strengthens me by reminding me of how strong He is on my behalf.  Then my meltdown stops because I remember who my Father is.  If God (the Mighty Warrior and Creator of the Universe) is on my side, then what the heck do I need to worry about?

When I am weak, He is strong.  No, but for real.  There have been so many times when I’ve tried to hide my weaknesses from God because I thought that He’d be disappointed in me.  I was ashamed of my sinfulness, and I didn’t think that the Holy of Holies would want to even look at me – let alone converse with me – but, I was so wrong.  The Lord showed me that His light shines through my cracks.  In the areas of my life where I am weak, God is strong for me.  He’s supposed to get the glory in those moments, but if I try to hide my cracks and my flaws, that makes me a hypocrite and it makes God a liar.  He chose me as His own before I was even born – already knowing who I would become and what I would do.  He took into account my wrong turns and my mess ups before they even happened, and He said, “I still want you despite all of that.  I’ll clean you up and make you righteous in time, but I want you as you are now.  I love you and you are so precious to Me.”  That kind of love is hard to wrap my mind around, but it also compels me to go out and tell the world about it.  Unconditional love is a gift that no human being should ever have to miss out on.

So, this week was full of me, myself, and My King.  At first I was so intimidated by the copious amounts of quite time that I had to endure, but God slowly began to change my heart and my mind about it.  Now, I’m really starting to appreciate the quiet moments in my day.  Way back when (like two weeks ago, ha), I couldn’t pray for more than 5 minutes at a time, but now I sometimes skip lunch because I get so consumed with talking to God about anything and everything in my “jam-packed” brain that I actually forget to eat.  That’s unheard of.  I love food, almost as much as I love my family (but not quite).  The coolest part is that as I pray and read God’s word, He answers.  Whether it’s through a verse, an overwhelming peace in my spirit, or through a phone call or text from a friend that comes at just the right time (shout out to Jocelyn for your perfectly timed messages). He always answers.

Will I still shoot up random short prayers to God throughout the day?  Heck yeah.  All the time.  Because I need Him all the time, and because He’s always with me.  When you love someone and want to get to know them better, you spend more time with them… and my relationship with my Heavenly Dad should be no different.  It’s a learning process and there are hard days when I don’t want to open my journal or my mouth, but the more I learn about how awesome my God is and about how much He cares for me… the more it makes me want to talk to Him.

I think the most challenging part of this love walk/prayer journey is going to be letting God speak while I just sit and listen.  (Still working on that with my momma too.)  Luckily for me, love is patient…

 

It Takes A Village (To Raise a Missionary)

There is an old African proverb that says, “It takes a village to raise a child.”  But, over this past year, I’ve realized that it also takes a village to raise up and send out a missionary (especially a crazy and injury prone one like me).

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I was raised by a hard working, soccer playing, and joke telling dad who always has a knack for putting others before himself.  I was raised by a generous and caring mom, a teacher who has such a great love for her children – both blood and in her classroom – and who has an incredible ability to influence and inspire the people around her.  I have grandparents that taught me how to serve, how to pray, and how to go above and beyond for those in need.  I grew up in a community where your skin color didn’t determine your worth, where everyone spoke a different language, and where little girls could play sports with the big boys.  I was constantly surrounded by people that loved me, and I was given plenty of opportunities to succeed.  None of that had anything to do with me.  I didn’t pick my parents, I didn’t pick my neighborhood, and I didn’t pick my talents.  (Lord knows that I wish I could sing.  Unfortunately, for those who ride in the car with me – I can’t.)

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So, my job is to make the most of what I’ve been given.  It’s my responsibility to use my gifts, talents, and abilities for God’s glory.  He gave me everything I have, and He gave it to me freely, in love.  So how can I show my gratitude and how can I give back to a God who already has everything?  I ask myself daily what it would look like to live a life surrendered to God, and I think 1 Peter 4: 8-11 sums it up quite nicely,

“Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.  Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay.  God has given each of you a gift from His great variety of spiritual gifts.  Use them well to serve one another.  Do you have the gift of speaking?  Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you.  Do you have the gift of helping others?  Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ.”

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Frederick Buechner eloquently said that, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”  I’ve learned that my life isn’t just about me.  My experiences, my wisdom, my failings, my abilities, and my successes are all meant to be shared with others – to bring growth, freedom, wisdom, love, understanding, and friendship.  Every single one of us is unique, we all come with a variety of strengths and weaknesses, gifts and talents, and passions and desires.  Not to mention, we are all created in God’s image.  So when I meet someone new, I am given the opportunity to experience God in a whole new way as well.  While I grow closer with others, I also grow closer with Him.  I get to see a different side to who He is, and I get to learn something about His heart that I never would have known before.

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We are all different, and I want to stress that different doesn’t mean wrong, it just means different.  (Hallelujah for that!)  We all have something to bring to the table, something of value to be shared and spread far and wide.

Now to bring this blog full circle…

I am going back to South Africa.  I am going to put my feet to my faith, and actions to my words.  I want to make a difference, I want to change lives, and I want to bring hope and love to the people in this world that need it most.  But like I said earlier, I can’t do this alone.  I need your help.

As a missionary, my mission is my job, my donations become my salary, and my workplace becomes my home.  It’s a 24/7 lifestyle that doesn’t have an expiration date.  It’s risky and exciting, and I couldn’t imagine doing life any other way!

So here come the logistics.  I have a charity visa that allows me to do volunteer work in South Africa, but that means my only source of income must come from the money I raise here via donations.  Before I am allowed to head back overseas in March, I need to have at least 50% of my total required amount to live for a year in SA in the bank.  (Just to give you guys a quick example, it costs $25 to pay for electricity, $35 to buy groceries, and $450 to pay for my rent… every single month.)  I will need about $1,000 monthly to cover absolutely everything to live in South Africa for this next year, which is pretty incredible because of the exchange rate.  So any amount helps – big or small, even if it’s a $5 monthly donation or a one time gift of $15- I can put it to good use!

I always struggled with guilt when it came to asking others for money, but I quickly learned that if I don’t ask, I won’t receive.  Wayne Gretzky was right when he said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”  I also learned that by asking, I am giving others a chance to participate in the awesome work that is happening in South Africa and the awesome things that God is doing (rather than selfishly keeping the experiences to myself), and that’s pretty cool too!  The Lord has taught me so much about His faithfulness through the donations that I have received.  It’s been a challenging experience for me, but it’s one that has grown my faith and trust in Him in more ways than I can describe.

So I am taking a shot, and I’m humbly asking…  Will you come alongside me on this journey?  Will you walk with me through the dark places?  Will you help me to share hope and love and grace with the brokenhearted and hurting in South Africa?  If so, let’s do this together, as a village and as a family.  Even though you may not be with me physically on the mission field, you play a significant role in everything that happens there.  Through prayer, donations, and encouragement, things get done – great and life changing things!

I want to thank you all for the love and support that you’ve continued to give me as I walk this journey.  Through all of the up’s and down’s and triumphs and difficulties, I have never once felt alone.  Thank you.  Lastly, I want to end this super long blog post with a passage from one of Paul’s letters (Philippians 4:10-17).  His words connect with all of the emotions and thoughts racing through heart and mind so perfectly, and my hope is that it will connect with you as well.  He writes:

How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Even so, you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty.  As you know, you Philippians were the only ones who gave me financial help when I first brought you the Good News and then traveled on from Macedonia. No other church did this. Even when I was in Thessalonica you sent help more than once. I don’t say this because I want a gift from you. Rather, I want you to receive a reward for your kindness.

If you would like to make a donation online, please visit:

http://ssmfi.org/missionary/samantha-stokesberry/

If you want to donate by mail, then please make a (tax decidable) check payable to Shepherds Staff and write my account number #6020 in the memo section, then mail it to:

Shepherd’s Staff Mission Facilitators

6739 Academy Road NE, Suite 320

Albuquerque, NM 87109

 

Preparing for a Porn Conference: This Christian’s Walk on the Wild Side

I never thought these words would ever come out of my mouth, but here it goes… In exactly one month, I will be attending a porn conference in Vancouver, Canada.  

Now before anyone freaks out – or rushes over to their cell phones to call my parents and tell them that their 24 year old daughter has fallen off the deep end – let me tell you why I will be attending this conference.

First things first: Jesus loves porn stars.  No, really – He’s crazy about them.  He doesn’t just like them, He loves them.  And you know what else?  Jesus loves people who watch porn too.  Yes, you read that correctly.  While I was in South Africa this past year, my faith and knowledge of “who God is” was challenged immensely.  I realized that His love ran deeper than I ever could have imagined and that His healing power was greater than I ever could have anticipated.  He is a God of inclusion, and His arms are always open to receive anyone who runs to Him (no matter how dirty or how sinful that person might be).  Isaiah 59:1 says, “Listen! The LORD’s arm is not too weak to save you, nor is his ear too deaf to hear you call.”  

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Jesus had a talent for drawing in the people that everyone else pushed away.  The whores, the murders, the diseased, the liars, the cheaters, the arrogant, and even the dead.  Not only did he draw them in, He made it a point to chase after them.  When the religious leaders looked at a deadbeat or a criminal, they saw a waste of space – but when Jesus looked at them, He saw a daughter or a son who needed restoration and freedom.  If Jesus, brimming with perfect holiness, was willing to walk into the most dimly lit and shameful places of the world to find the people who needed Him desperately, then I must be willing to do the same.

Only God can turn our ashes into a thing of beauty.  The Lord has an amazing way of redeeming our pasts.  He can take something that was once ugly and disgraceful and He can turn it into something worthy and full of hope.  It’s my turn to get free with ya’ll.  I had a really bad porn addiction in high school, and I had an incredible talent for hiding it from the people closest to me (which meant that no one knew I needed help).  I used porn as an escape, as a coping method, and as a way to “take the stress away” until it finally began to consume me.  Some serious damage was done.  My perception on love, sex, and “healthy relationships” became completely disfigured, I felt so much shame and guilt that I started to lash out on my family members and I distanced myself from God, and I started buying into the lies that I was worthless, broken, and most definitely gross.

BUT GOD.  Those are two of my favorite words in the universe.  But God… put me back together.  He reached out to me when I was deep in my self-made pit of despair, and He pulled me out and grabbed ahold of me (despite the fact that I had no strength at the time to hold onto Him).  Romans 5:8 says, “But God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”  He cleaned me up, set me free, healed my hurts, and He told me who I was in His eyes: valuable, beautiful, righteous, blameless, cherished, loved, and most importantly… His.  He’s given me a heart to reach out to those who struggle like I did, to reach out to the women who think they aren’t worth something (or someone) of value, and to reach out to the brokenhearted and abused.  He had taken the messed up pieces of my past, and He redeemed them for His glory and for my benefit, and let me tell you… it’s the greatest feeling in the world! Now, I get to find others who are in need of hope and healing.  I get the opportunity and the honor of sharing the love of Christ with those who have never experienced love before, and it’s all because of His mercy and grace.

Even though this trip (with Calvary Chapel Ft. Lauderdale and xxxchurch) will only last for a short week in February, my mission to create change and to bring hope and love to others will last for my entire life.  It’s not going to be an easy journey.  It will be dark one, a dangerous one, and the fight will be a spiritual one.  Sex trafficking, prostitution, and pornography are all over the world.  The battle is a big one, and it’s one that ends in death, both spiritually and physically, for so many.  I was recently challenged with the thought… “What would happen if I loved those people (the johns, the strippers, the porn stars, the addicts, and the pimps…) as much as Jesus loves them? How might the world be different?  

I’ve decided to give it a go and find out.  Partner with me in prayer and with steps of faith.  Let’s be bold together as a community (all over the world) and as a united church.  We are commanded by God – Who is the Mighty Warrior fighting on our behalf – to not be afraid, so let’s be strong and courageous, and let’s inspire change. Jeremiah 32:17 says, “Nothing is to hard for Him.”

If you’d like to donate and support me in this fight, please visit:

http://ssmfi.org/missionary/samantha-stokesberry/