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.  

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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”

The Golden Rule

I hate cliches.

They frustrate me, mostly because there is so much truth to them—but also because they are overused and thrown around by people to the umpteenth degree.

But hey, everything happens for a reason, right?

Over the course of these past few months, evil has reared it’s ugly head all over the globe.  People have pointed fingers and pointed guns.  Loved ones have passed away and so have our  standards for morality.  We gawk, feel remorse, stand bewildered, and then go on our merry way.  We post Facebook status updates saying, “pray for this and pray for that,” but our actions remain uninfluenced (while our judgments and opinions run rampant).  We complain about the hatred and racism and prejudice all over the world, but we can’t even manage to love the guy who cuts us off in traffic or the waitress who messed up our Starbucks coffee order.

There’s a very well known quote that says, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  Theres another famous quote that says, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you.”  The first quote was spoken by Gandhi, and the second quote was spoken by Jesus.

And they both come down to love.

Sometimes, I tend to overcomplicate things.  I try to “do” too much—and for what?  Jesus had one mission in life: to seek and save the lost by making His Heavenly Father’s love known.  He came to redeem, to restore, to heal, to help, and to revive—but all of those things stemmed from His ultimate purpose which was to love.  The word disciple simply means, “to be a follower.”  So if we are to make disciples of Jesus and if we are to be disciples ourselves, then we must follow His lead.  We must love like He loved—no exceptions, no conditions, no restrictions.

Imagine for a second if we all took responsibility for our own actions (I know, crazy thought right?)—if we stopped worrying about what our neighbor is (or isn’t) doing, and if we just focused on our own behavior, thoughts, and actions.  Imagine the impact that could have on the world.  Instead of feeling overwhelmed and rendered powerless by all of the brokenness across the globe, I think we’d feel much more empowered and enabled to deal with the issues in our very own backyards.  I think radical change would happen.

Some of you may already know that I decided to learn how to speak Xhosa.  It’s a beautiful language that the black South African’s speak.  So far I can only say a few phrases and words, but I know enough to greet people, to tell them I only speak a little bit of Xhosa, and I know how to say thank you.  There’s still a ton of racism lingering around in South Africa, and the language barrier (due to the cultural gaps during apartheid) is one of the greatest factors that prevents intercultural relationships from being built between the whites, blacks, and coloreds.  So, I decided to kick that barrier in the FACE—Sam style.

Yesterday at the grocery store, I met a woman who was working at the till (the cash register), and she was a lovely black Xhosa woman and her name was Nthombi.  As she finished putting my groceries in the plastic bags, I put on my best Xhosa accent, looked her in the eyes, and said, “Enkosi sissy.”  Her face lit up.  She smiled so big and began to laugh.  Then she promptly responded with, “Wamkelekile, sissy.”  It was a simple and yet beautiful exchange of, “Thank you sister.  You’re welcome sister.”  Love does that.  It breaks down barriers, it brings joy, it unites, and it casts out fear.  I was able to laugh with a woman who I had never met prior to that moment, all because I made a small effort to reach out to her and love her within the confines of her own comfort zone.

Sometimes it’s the little things in life that leave the greatest impact.  For example, my mom has been a school teacher since I was born—and whenever I see some of her old students, they always tell me that my mom was one of their all-time favorite teachers.  Why?  Because my mom loved her students, she respected them, and she gave them the freedom to be themselves.  Don’t get me wrong, my mom wasn’t perfect, and she definitely had her moments, but she went out of her way for those kids, and they remembered her for it—even many years later.  My dad and both of my grandparents are the same way.  They know how to love people exceptionally well, and I have always admired them for that.

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So I want to leave you with a challenge.  When your Facebook Newsfeed fills up with stories of trauma and tragedy, don’t lose heart.  Love those who are hurting, go out of your way for those in need, and hold fast to the hope that you have in Christ.  As Christians, we need to remember that this world is not heaven, and it will never be heaven.  It’s a broken place affected by sin and marred by the pangs of death, so we shouldn’t be shocked by the tough times occurring all around us—in fact, those tough times are guaranteed.  But God is still in control, and He is still on the throne.  We may lose some battles now, but the war has already been won—and we are on the side of victory.

Jesus says in John 16:33, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in Me.  Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.  But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

So while we wait and long for the day when we can spend eternity with our Creator and the Lover of our souls—speak life, share hope, and show love.  Who knows what kind of mark that might leave…

Don’t Be Afraid to Fall on Your Bum

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” 
― Winston S. Churchill

I heard the coolest analogy the other day…

Picture a baby who is learning to walk.  When that baby takes their first steps, they are almost guaranteed to fall right on their bums.  Probably more than once, too.  Now picture the parents.  What is their reaction when their child takes a few steps and then falls?  Do they yell at the baby or reprimand their child for falling?  Do they tell the child how disappointed they are—that the kid failed to take more steps and walk properly?  Do they give up and say, “forget it, you’ll never walk…I quit?”

No freaking way.

The parents would whip out their cell phones and call every single family member on the planet to share the good news of those first steps.  They would hastily pick up their baby, wrap the child in their arms, and rejoice over that sweet moment.  They would become filled with joy and pride that their little chubby-cheeked kid was able to take a step forward, even though that same chubby-cheeked kid fell right on their bum seconds later (more than once).

Well, guess what…

We are God’s chubby-cheeked kids, and when we take a step forward—even if it’s only a tiny baby step followed by a stumble—He rejoices.  He laughs and smiles and sings over us when He sees that our heart’s desire is to please Him.  He doesn’t condemn or rebuke, He encourages and comforts.  When we fall on our bums (or on our faces), He lifts us up and wraps us in His big and strong and heavenly arms.

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I am my own worst enemy, so when I try to take a step and then fail, I have a tendency to get really disheartened.  I worry that God will be upset with me for failing, and I worry that He will be disappointed in my stumbling.  But what I don’t do in that moment of failure… is remember that the Lord considers me to be His precious little one.  I forget that I am loved unconditionally for who I am and not for what I do.  I forget that I am accepted and welcomed into His family because of Christ’s sacrifice for me.  And that truth will always trump how I may feel.

I mean, honestly… ask my Dad.  (By the way, have you guys met my Dad?  He’s awesome, he’s incredible at soccer, and he has a knack for grilling the perfect steak.  He also tells great jokes even though my mom doesn’t think he’s funny.  I had to take this quick opportunity to gush on him because I don’t do it enough.  Dad, if you’re reading this… I love you.)  Anyways, my Dad has tons of footage on his video camera of me doing dumb things as a kid.  Mostly, it’s video clips of me at birthday parties and Christmas dinners doing mean things to my little sister (sorry Melis), but that’s not the point.  My dad was proud of me, and he wanted to make sure that he recorded all of those sweet little moments on camera.  As small and as insignificant as those moments may seem now, they meant something to him.  Despite all the times I threw broccoli across the dinner table, and pushed my sister off the swing-set, I brought my parents so much joy.  And they wanted to make sure that I always knew that to be true.

The same goes for God.  When He see’s us wanting to move forward in faith, He becomes overjoyed.  And when we stumble, He is right there to pick us back up so we can try another time.  No rejection.  No condemnation.  No judgement.  Just His unfailing love and mercy.

Moral of the story: Don’t be afraid to fall (or fail) because your Heavenly Father is for you and not against you, He will be there every step of the way—guiding your steps and holding you up.

I want to end with a few encouraging scriptures—these have been gems for when I get discouraged, so I hope you can find some encouragement from them as well!

2 Corinthians 3:18 (MSG) – “…And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.”

Psalm 37:27 – “Though he stumbles, he will not fall down flat, for the LORD will hold up his hand.”

Isaiah 41:10 (NLT) – “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”

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.

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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

Denial: Not Just a River in Egypt

It’s been a little while since I’ve “gotten free,” so here it goes.  While I was having a little one-on-one chat with God the other day, He prompted me to tell Him the truth about something that I’ve been in denial about for yeeeeears.  So, I had to stand there all “awkard-like” and confess this:

“Pops, I really like to sin.”

I have to tell you guys—the “legalistic and insecure” Christian in me is dying right now from having typed those words out on paper.  But it’s true.  If we are going to be 100% honest with each other, we should all be able to look at ourselves in the mirror and say, “Hey, Good Lookin’… I need to get free:  I like to sin.  It feels good, it tastes good, it smells good, and it’s even fun to fantasize about.”  But for some reason (and I’ll speak for myself here) I’ve been so afraid of admitting that truth out loud.  I’ve been terrified of admitting that I don’t always hate sin, that I don’t always want to run from it, and that I don’t always say “no” when I am supposed to say “no.”  

I used to deny this little nugget of information because I was so ashamed of it.  Plus, I really didn’t want to get kicked out of the “Cool Christian Club.”  What Christian wants to admit that they love sinning?  I mean, how incredibly “ungodly” of me.  (Shame on you, Sam. Go pray.)  But it’s true.  If sin wasn’t attractive, we wouldn’t want anything to do with it, right?  If sin wasn’t pretty to look at or fun to think about, we wouldn’t have a problem walking down the straight and narrow road rebuking the lies of Satan left and right.   I don’t know about you, but even though I love Jesus with my whole heart—sin is still a daily struggle for me.

But all of this led me to another truth: There’s power in honesty and there’s freedom in taking accountability for your struggles.  For example: If I continue to deny the fact that I secretly love watching Game of Thrones when I’m alone in my flat at night, then I am not going to get anywhere when it comes to my relationship with the Lord.  This is especially true since God already knows that I love watching Game of Thrones and that I don’t fast forward the sex scenes.  To Him, it’s no secret.  He just wants me to be honest with Him about it.  And hey, that makes perfect sense because all real relationships are built on honesty, trust, and open communication.  So why would my relationship with God be any different?

I’m stubborn.  I like to push boundaries, cross lines, and dance near cliffs.  It’s kind of my thing.  Luckily, the God of the Universe is unconditionally loving and incredibly patient, and He is willing to trek through those valleys of difficulty and hardship with me—holding my hand every step of the way and even stopping to rest when I get too tired of moving forward.

When I admit my struggles to God, I am giving Him the power and the freedom to actually DO something about those struggles.  Proverbs 28:13 in The Message version of the bible says it in such an awesome way, “You can’t whitewash your sins and get by with it; you find mercy by admitting and leaving them.”  The New Living Translation says it this way, “People who conceal their sins will not prosper, but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy.”  Being honest about my sin, and handing my struggles over to God, means that the enemy can no longer control me with his guilt and shame tactics.  Then I can move past those things and walk in the light instead of hiding in the darkness.  It gives me the assurance that I am loved and accepted by my Heavenly Father despite my imperfections.  But if I keep pretending like nothing is wrong, then the Holy Spirit can’t freely work in me.

And to be honest, when I really sit and think about it, God’s character and His relationship with me through Jesus are enough to make me want to stop doing stupid stuff.  Judgement doesn’t make me want to stop, fear doesn’t make me want to stop, and even condemnation doesn’t make me want to stop—but love… that changes things.  It’s hard to purposely hurt the people you love (or the people who love you) and God is no different.

The Lord loves me and has my best interests in mind.  So when He says, “Sam it isn’t a good idea to watch this show because it will put lustful and violent thoughts in your head, not to mention you probably won’t be able to sleep because zombies have always given you nightmares.  I know how you think, so trust Me on this one, sweet girl”—I should probably listen to Him because He is trying to protect me.

Lastly, I got myself an accountability partner because being honest with God is only the first step towards complete freedom and life full of abundant joy.  I found a girl who I can be real and honest with about my struggles.  She is the person I can call at 3am when I am tempted to do something stupid, she is the person who is willing to pick me up when I fall flat on my face, and she is the person who will pray for me when I am too discouraged to even pray for myself.  There’s no judgement or ridicule or fear in this partnership, just love.  Neither of us are perfect, but we both want our hearts and lives to glorify God.  I highly recommend getting an accountability parter to anyone and everyone who wants to push past their comfort zones and grow closer to the Lord—because doing life alone is hard.

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So get free, walk in the light, and keep trusting that the Lord only disciplines and directs us in love, not anger.  If you take any tidbit of info out of this blog, it’s this:  You are never alone in your struggles, you are always loved, and freedom in Christ is yours for the taking (if you want it).

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.

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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.

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.”  

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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