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?!

IMG_8965.JPG

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.)

IMG_9074.PNG

IMG_9053.JPG

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.)

IMG_8849.jpg

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…

 

Hindsight 20/20

Is anybody else (besides me) afraid of the unknown?

I think my fear of the unknown greatly surpasses my other fears – like
spiders, sharks, and creepy clowns that laugh obnoxiously in your face (and try to give you lingering and unwanted creepy clown hugs).  When I was younger, every time I entered into a new and unknown situation – like soccer tryouts, a new job, or my first day of school – my palms would start to sweat, my stomach would get all tingly with butterflies, and I would talk my mom’s ear off about how nervous I was until she finally “woman-ed up” and kicked me out of the car (because that’s what awesome moms do).

Before I moved to South Africa, I was a planner, I was a strategist, and I was a woman who always tried to think ahead. Well – ever since I left Florida – that side of me has vanished into thin air.

God and I used to have these little “heated discussions” every now and then that sounded something like, “Lord, I seriously have no idea what the heck I’m doing. What do You want me to do?  Where should I go?  Can You just yell Your answer loud and clear in my ear or write it on a billboard sign next to the highway?”  Then the Lord would lovingly say, “Oh Samantha, My fearful and anxious little child, relax and be still.  Walk with Me, and I will lead you in the way you should go.  Listen for My voice.”  Then I would say, “…but Lord, how will I know when the time is right?  What if I miss it?  Will I have enough money to even work in ministry? This is stressful.  I don’t like this.  What if something bad happens?  How will I know what Your voice even sounds like?”  Then the Lord would respond, “My daughter, why do you have such little faith? It’s all going to work out, just like it always does.  Have I ever let you down before?  I am the same God Who was with you from the beginning.  Take one step at a time, I will be with you wherever you go, and I will never leave you.  Be strong and courageous.  Trust Me, and you will not be put to shame.”

Then, after pouting like a 5 year old for several minutes, I’d finally humble myself enough to thank God for His patience, grace, and love towards me (despite my stubborn and hardheaded ways), and I’d go about my day.

I used to hate “not knowing” until I realized that God has used it as a way of protecting me.  It also encouraged me to spend a lot more time talking with Him, because when I didn’t know the next step… God did.  Here’s an example of what I mean: if God would have told me ahead of time that I was going to fracture my wrist, that I was going to suffer from some long nights of homesickness, that I was going to work in a men’s prison, and that I was going to join the heart-wrenching and dangerous fight against human trafficking, I probably wouldn’t have gone to South Africa.  No, seriously.

Knowing the future would have prevented me from living out God’s incredible plan for my life.  There were so many things that happened while I was in South Africa – some that caused me great pain both emotionally and physically, and some things that caused me to erupt with laughter and joy.  To miss out on those amazing adventures because of fear would have been a huge disappointment.  During my time in South Africa, Romans 8:28 (AMP) started to make sense.  It says, “And we know [with great confidence] that God [who is deeply concerned about us] causes all things to work together [as a plan] for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His plan and purpose.”  The words “all things” really mean ALL THINGS.  The good things, the bad things, the happy things, and the sad things – they all worked together for my good.  Every experience I went through has molded and shaped me into the person I am today, and for that I am incredibly grateful.

Alright, let’s fast forward to now.  I’ve been home for about a week, and I have no idea what these next few months have in store, but I do know that God’s still in control.  He’s in control of my finances, my health, my family, my friends, and even my persisting jet-leg.  He has an awesome plan that’s already been set in motion – a plan that I don’t know much about (yet).  However, I do know that I can trust Him, and I know that He will lead me in the right direction.

IMG_7941

In moments of uncertainty and doubt, God tells us to remember.  He wants us to remember the moments when He’s provided, He’s been faithful, He’s comforted, He’s healed, He’s spoken, and He’s conquered.  When I recall all of those times in my life, I am encouraged because He’s never let me down.  God has stepped up and proved Himself worthy every single time!  When I didn’t have a car or a place to live, He provided through friends and family.  When I didn’t have enough money to pay my flat rent, a donation would show up in my bank account.  When I needed an emergency wrist surgery, the Lord made sure the doctor had stable hands and that it was a complete success.  When my visa didn’t arrive in the mail, the Lord hand delivered it to me by a good friend just hours before my flight.

Even though I don’t know what these next few months have in store, and even though my emotions and stress sometimes get the best of me, I will wait and I will worship.  I will do my best to make the most of where I’m at in the moment, and I will enjoy the people that I am spending those moments with.

And finally, over these next few weeks, as I take some time to readapt to the Miami traffic, the Spanish language, and the American football games on T.V., I will try to show myself patience and grace… because that’s what the Lord has chosen to show me.

(To donate: http://ssmfi.org/missionary/samantha-stokesberry/)