When Life Gets a Little Messy

Every New Year’s Eve, I ask God to give me one specific thing to focus on for the year.  Sometimes He gives me a verse, a word, or a phrase.  That way, no matter what the year has in store or how messy life seems to get, I can always go back and remind myself of that one simple truth.  Last year was a tough year, so tough in fact that God had to prepare me ahead of time with two of the hardest words in the dictionary – persevere and trust. (I was hoping He’d give me the words smile and doughnuts, but yeah, that didn’t happen.)

This year, God gave me the word faithful.

I’m not entirely sure if I like this word.  Faithfulness and faith require trust, and trust requires dependence, and dependence requires humility, and humility is not something that I’m very good at.  Yet.  So if God wants to teach me about His character and nature using the word faithful, then I will definitely have to stretch and strengthen my very own faith muscles in the process.  And that’s hard.

On my way to South Africa, my flight from London was delayed an hour and twenty minutes because a sick passenger had to get off the plane.  Due to the delay, I had to sprint “Usain Bolt” style through the Johannesburg airport because I was three minutes from missing my flight to Cape Town.  Then, I arrived at the baggage reclaim area only to learn that my checked-in luggage wasn’t in Cape Town.  It was left behind in Joburg.  Once I got to my flat, I discovered there was no electricity or hot water because of a power outage across parts of the city.  Finally, to make matters even worse for a highly emotional human being like myself, all of this happened during shark week.  (Men, that’s code, if you’re confused just ask a lady friend.)

IMG_0157.jpg

Do you want to hear what the worst part of the story is?  I hardcore panicked.

I had friends praying for me, flight attendants helping me, and members of my family trying to make a plan from 7,000 miles away.  None of that calmed me down.  It’s so easy for me to have faith when everything is going smoothly, but once my life takes a little detour – my faith has a tendency to flip out.  This time, it took me less than a day to squish God into a tiny box with the label “You Can’t Fix This” written on the front.  I underestimated Him big time.

Don’t worry, I saved the good news for last.

Do you want to hear what the best part of the story is?  It all worked out.

Every tiny detail was sorted out within 24 hours.  I didn’t miss my flight (and managed to squeeze in a sweet cardiovascular workout in the process), my suitcase was delivered to my friend’s house in Stellenbosch the evening of my arrival, and I had electricity in my flat the following afternoon.  My panicking got me absolutely nowhere, my stress didn’t solve any of my problems, and God was 100% faithful to provide for me every single step of the way – through friends, family, strangers, and a small cup of really delicious hazelnut coffee.  Things may not have worked out the way I thought they would’ve, but they did work out completely.

The Lord reminded me (again) that even in the changing seasons, the delayed flights, the canceled plans, the missing suitcases, and the unpredictable predicaments – He is always faithful (and He is always with me).  God’s character does not change, and He never breaks a promise.  He is Sovereign over my obstacles, my detours, and my mishaps.  He is greater than my greatest mistakes, my emotional breakdowns, and my irrational fears.  Whether I’m worshiping in a church on a Sunday morning, running to catch a plane on the tarmac of a busy airport, or rescuing a human trafficking victim on the streets of Africa – I can put my trust in Him because He is worthy of my trust.  I googled the word faithful and some of the definitions that came up are loyal, reliable, constant, and steadfast.  How perfect is that?  In this crazy world where nothing seems to be certain, God is. 

I find it a good practice to try and search for the “silver lining” amidst the messes of this life because let’s be honest, life is a mess.  But if I think back to my childhood (or to yesterday because who am I kidding), some of my fondest memories and greatest adventures happened when I was knee deep in some sort of a mess.  Usually, that mess involved mud, paint, bubbles, or bloody grass-stained body parts – but it always involved fun.  Well, almost always.

So instead of trying to live an unrealistic and uninterrupted “mess free” life, I’m going to try my best to make the most out of my mess by inviting Jesus right into it – mud, bubbles, emotional breakdowns, and all.

Because He is faithful.

Is It Well With My Soul?

I have always loved the classic hymn, It Is Well With My Soul.  It’s a beautiful [and famous] song that’s sung in most Christian churches around the globe.  It’s filled with lyrics that speak of surrender, peace, and complete trust in a God Who is good and sovereign.  One verse says, “When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.”

What I didn’t know is that the author of this song – Horatio Spafford – wrote this hymn nearly a week or so after his wife and four daughters set sail on a luxury steam liner to Paris for holiday in 1873.  While he stayed behind to finish up some last minute work, the rest of his family boarded the ship.  After a short time at sea, their steam liner was rammed by a British iron sailing ship and had sunk in the middle of the ocean.  Horatio’s wife was rescued after being found unconscious – but his four daughters drowned and were killed.  Once Horatio got word from his wife about the tragedy via telegram, he boarded a boat to reunite with her.  As he sailed across the exact spot where the steam liner sank (and where his daughters were killed) – he penned the words to It Is Well With My Soul.

maxresdefault.jpg

Hectic.  The tragedy that Horatio faced while writing the lyrics to this song gives it an entirely new and significant meaning.  Every time I listen to the lyrics play over my iPhone speakers – I am greatly challenged by this man’s faith, and I am greatly confronted with the lack of my own.

Continue reading “Is It Well With My Soul?”

When God Gives You More Than You Can Handle

This may come as a surprise to most of you, but… I love grocery shopping.

Well, actually wait.  Let me rephrase that.  I love food.

In all seriousness though, I love getting to stroll through the aisles of Publix while basking in the vastness of flavored ice creams, dinosaur chicken nuggets, and super unhealthy breakfast cereals.  I love the smells of freshly baked breads and birthday cakes in the bakery section, and I love the beautiful sights of the rainbow colored fruits in the produce area.

grocery-shopping (1).jpg

But most of all, I love trying to carry all of my grocery bags from my car to my flat in one trip – even if it means sacrificing a groin muscle or a pinky finger in the process.  I know it’s silly – but I do it every single time, and every single time I am left with bruises on my thighs and painful red indent marks across my forearms.  Some would say, carrying all of those grocery bags in one trip is more than I can handle… but I say… try me.

Continue reading “When God Gives You More Than You Can Handle”

Dance in the Rain

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

Beautiful-Flowers-in-rain-Latest-Wallpaper.jpg

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 downpours!  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.) Continue reading “Dance in the Rain”

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. Continue reading “Naked and Afraid”

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… Continue reading “Late Nights, Drunk Girls, and Fuzzy Blankets”

Embracing Your Sheepish Side

Have you ever heard someone use the word “sheepish” in a conversation?  Maybe you’ve even used it yourself, saying something like, “wipe that sheepish grin off of your face, child.”  Lord knows I’ve heard phrase that plenty of times in my life…

Well, I just discovered that the definition of sheepish is: to show or feel embarrassment because of an act of foolishness; or to resemble a sheep in timidity, meekness, or stupidity.  

IMG_5399.JPG

So, check this out.  Last week, I spent a few days in a quiet little garden town called Greyton.  I went hiking (and totally got lost) in the mountains, I frolicked through the grassy meadows (after frantically running away from a swarm of bees), and I stumbled (literally) upon a peaceful river.  I couldn’t have asked for a better place to spend some quality time alone with Jesus.  It was perfectly serene, and I honestly didn’t want to leave.  While I was there, the Lord reminded me of Psalm 23.  You probably know it because it’s one of the most famous passages in the bible, but just incase you’re unfamiliar… here’s what it says: Continue reading “Embracing Your Sheepish Side”

Uganda: Loving Simply and Simply Loving

Did you know that missions trips have a lot in common with surprise birthday parties?

Yeah, me neither.  Until now.

Think about it.  Sometimes the events of the day catch you totally off-guard, sometimes you experience anxiety, excitement, and fear all at the same time, sometimes you stay up until the wee hours of the night enjoying great conversations with great friends, and sometimes you just can’t wait for everyone to leave so you can be alone to sleep.

Oh, and sometimes there’s cake.

I just got back from my trip to Uganda, and it was totally like a surprise birthday party—full of excitement, exhaustion, and every other emotion you can possibly imagine. Continue reading “Uganda: Loving Simply and Simply Loving”

Ants in My Pants

Before I even jump into this next blog post, I’d like to quickly open up with a little disclaimer.

(What I am about to say is not to throw myself a pity party, nor is it to make you guys feel bad for me.  It’s to share the real “ins and outs” of my brain when it comes to being a girl in ministry.  My heart’s desire has always been to be real and vulnerable with you all… so here it goes.)

Last year in South Africa, I was living in a flat with one of my very close friends and two days after my arrival, we hit the ground running with “mission work.”  Saying that I was “busy” last year would’ve been a huge understatement.  This year, I am living alone and I have yet to find my “niche.”  I came to South Africa with a ministry plan, but so far nothing has really worked out.  You’d think that I’d be used to that by now because of the way God is constantly flipping my life upside down…

Well, surprise, I’m not. 

I have always struggled with “being still” because I used to think it was a waste of time—and it made me feel guilty.  (I know, ridiculous.)  It takes everything in me to sit still on my couch for longer than 5 minutes at a time, unless of course I am eating or binge-watching Netflix.  I hate feeling like I am doing nothing of value and I hate feeling like I am wasting my time.  I’d much rather be on the move in some way or another.  You name it, I’ll do it.  But ask me to sit still in a quiet room for longer than 5 minutes… and I just may lose my mind.

So far (during these 2.5 months) I’ve been writing frequent blog posts, I’ve been playing football for Maties three days a week, I’ve been attending STOP meetings, I’ve been writing and filming spoken words, and I’ve been building some great relationships with new friends and ministry partners.  But none of that feels like it’s “enough.”  Which is making me wonder, “Enough for who, Sam?”  For me?  For God?  For my donors?  For my church?  For my friends?  For social media?

You guys should know this by now, but incase you are new to reading my blogs there are two things that you should know about me:  My two biggest struggles are “performing to earn love” and “people pleasing.”  Whew, glad I got that out.   The struggles are real.  I must say though, God has made me very aware of these struggles and He’s been helping me to overcome them every single day.  His patience and grace constantly overwhelm me, but the struggles are still very real.

It’s special to know that I am loved by an incredible God Who accepts me for who I am.  When He tells me that I don’t need to do anything to earn or keep my salvation, I believe Him.  When He tells me that He will never abandon me and that nothing will ever be able to separate me from His love, I believe Him.  But when it comes to my relationships with people… that’s an entirely different story.  There are days when my faith is overcome by the fears that I will get rejected if I don’t accomplish enough, that I will get judged if I don’t fit into a proper mold, and that I will get cast aside if I don’t live up to the expectations of others.

I think those fears are valid.

So why am I telling you this?  Honestly, I am telling you this because you’re “my people.”  I know (without hesitation) that I can say, “Hey, my people, I need help.  I am feeling alone.  I am feeling vulnerable and insecure, and I need a little extra love this week.  Please say a few extra prayers for me.”  

And I know you’ll do it.

Because that’s how love works.

We stick together, no matter how rough and tough things get.

God has been teaching me that truth and honesty, especially in regards to the hard stuff that none of us like to talk about, are crucial when it comes to doing life with one another.  Being honest about our weaknesses, flaws, and failures helps to glue us together as a family.  It puts us all on the “same level.”  I am not better than anyone reading this blog, nor am I worse than anyone reading this blog.  I may make different mistakes than you, but we are all equal in the eyes of the God who decided that we were worthy of unconditional love and eternal redemption.  Ba-bam. 

If I am not honest about my struggles or my shortcomings over here in South Africa, then the next girl who decides that she wants to become a missionary might feel too inadequate or unqualified to take the leap of faith.  I don’t want that.  I want her and everyone else to see that “perfection” isn’t a requirement when it comes to living a life of love and following hard after Jesus.  He has already taken care of the perfection part.  We are only responsible for the availability part.

FullSizeRender.jpg

So there it is.  I know this season of my life has it’s purpose, and I know it’s necessary for my growth, but as I journey with the Lord during this strange time of “stillness,” I’d really love some prayer.  Mostly prayer to make the most out of this time, to embrace it with all that I am, and to make God’s priorities… my priorities.

Oh, and above all else, please pray that I will love at all times and in every circumstance (because there’s no better ministry than that)!

Your Friendly Neighborhood Missionary,

Sam

Hustled By A Homeless Lady

It’s story time with Sam.

Last Sunday, I had an interesting encounter with a homeless woman. Her name was Joanne, and she hustled me hard.

Let me set the scene. I don’t know about you guys but, when I am feeling a bit “bleh,” sometimes it just takes a little bit of coffee to get the “spiritual juices” flowing.  So Sunday evening before church, I decided to make a quick coffee run at one of the petrol stations in town.  I put my car in park, and before I could even unbuckle my seatbelt, there was a woman standing next to my door.  For those of you who have never traveled to the Western Cape of South Africa, this is happens all the time.  There are homeless people everywhere, and it’s honestly one of the most heart breaking things you’ll see.

Wild-Bean-Cafe-Main-Page-Image.jpg

This lady begins to approach me, asking for money in Afrikaans.  Immediately I told her, “no ma’am, I’m sorry but I can’t give you money.”  (I have a policy that unless the Lord specifically asks me to give someone cash, I won’t.  Mostly because that money is usually spent on drugs and alcohol which is what got the person into this difficult situation in the first place.  It may sound harsh, but the pattern is real.)  So, I went inside the shop, got my coffee, and walked back to my car.

The lady was waiting for me, and wouldn’t let me leave the parking lot without trying to convince me one last time to help her out.  I prayed, “Lord, I really don’t know what you want me to do right now.”

I asked her if she spoke English, because the rapid and angry yelling in Afrikaans just wasn’t working for me, and unfortunately, she didn’t.  However, as I was unlocking my car door, I managed to understand enough of her blitsvinnig Afrikaans to realize that she had no money, she was trying to feed her daughters who were at home with her sister, and she was really hungry and just wanted food.  Then the Lord said, “Sam, go buy her food.”  That’s when I flippantly reminded the Omniscient God of the Universe that, “I’m living off of donation money, the cash in my wallet was supposed to be for my TITHE, and I am already running late for church.”   (Priorities. Ha.)

Anyways, I decided to do it God’s way (this time).  I proceeded to leave my coffee in the car, and I went back inside the store with the woman who’s name I finally discovered was Joanne.  She asked if she could pick out a loaf of bread.  “Cool.”  Then she asked if she could buy a box of chicken legs.  “Sure.”  Then with a wry smile on her face she asked if she could get a big package of potato chips to bring to her daughters.  “You can get a small bag Joanne, I’m not Daddy Warbucks over here. Let’s not get crazy.”

I paid. We left.

I asked her if she needed a lift, and she said no because she was going to stay to beg for more money to bring home for her daughters before heading back to Cloetesville.  I said okay, wished her well, and got back into my car.  Then I watched her.  She took the food and walked around the corner.  She met up with a man who had been sitting alongside the curb, he unzipped his backpack and took the food from her, and then stuffed it inside his bag.  Who was this guy?  Her pimp?  Her baby daddy?  Her brother?  Her friend?  Was he even going to share the food with her?  I honestly didn’t know, but I realized that the food I had bought for Joanne to bring home to her daughters was now being given to this guy.  The guy she conveniently forgot to mention.  The guy who was obviously taking advantage of the fact that Joanne was a woman (because he knew that she would probably get more money and food than he would from begging at petrol stations).  The guy who was spending his time sitting on his lazy bum watching this whole encounter take place.

I was angry.  I felt hustled.  I wanted to walk over there and take the bread right out of that guy’s backpack and smack him across the face with it.  But I didn’t.  But I wanted to…

I was roughly 60 rand in the hole, I was running late for church, I was manipulated by a homeless lady, and worst of all—my coffee was getting cold.

But before I could even drive out of the parking lot, the Lord began to address the angry thoughts that were running through my head, and He reminded me of some hard, humbling truths.

“Sam, I have called you to be My hands and feet. I have called you to feed and clothe the homeless, the orphaned, the needy, and the sick.  I have called you to love those who are difficult to love.  All of them.  I never promised that you would receive praise, gratitude, or rewards for those things.  I never asked you to give based on what you would receive in return.  I have shown you what to do by My own example, so follow Me.  Since when was My love ever conditional or earned?  Give generously and cheerfully.  Be merciful and gracious.  Joanne is my priority.  I know her struggles and her needs, and I will provide for her just like I have provided for you.  I love her.  Do the same, and let Me take care of the rest.”

Augh.  My heart was so ridden with filth, and the Lord exposed me.  Lovingly, He exposed my selfishness, my critical attitude, and the judgement in my heart.  He exposed my insecurity of being perceived as a fool, and He exposed my fear of not having enough money for myself.  I didn’t trust God in that moment.  It shouldn’t have mattered what happened to the food I purchased for Joanne because the Lord only asked me to be obedient to His prompting to buy it for her.  The rest was always in His hands.

Joanne didn’t owe me anything.  She didn’t owe me gratitude or praise.  She didn’t even owe me the truth.  My giving shouldn’t have been dependent on anything except the command of Christ to give.  Jesus tells me to love my enemies, my friends, and everyone in between.  He commands me to bless those that persecute me, to serve one another radically, and to give generously.  His only condition: It should all be done freely—without expectation, limit, or constraint.

That day, I learned a hard and important lesson.  

Love others—Period.