Blow-Up Mattresses and Broken Promises

You guys need to meet my mom.

My mom is a supremely gifted and creative human being, especially when it comes to interior design and home staging.  She can turn any poorly decorated room into a beautiful work of art with just a few lamps, some rearranged furniture, and a freshly painted accent wall.  In fact, my mom is so creative that she managed to find a way to turn our family’s dining room area into a makeshift bedroom for yours truly.  The final touches included my very own clothing rack, a comfy blow-up mattress, and the privilege of being seven whole steps away from the refrigerator.  Midnight snacks never tasted so good.

During these past few months at home, things have been ‘n bietjie deurmekaar (as they say in Afrikaans).  Hectic, crazy, confusing, and pretty much “all over the place” sum it up quite nicely.  It started with a jetlag-induced emotional breakdown which then led to several weeks of slowly readjusting back to a relatively normal American lifestyle.  Then just for kicks, let’s throw in Thanksgiving with the family, several radio interviews, a high school human trafficking awareness presentation, my Grandma’s Birthday, an exciting weekend church fundraiser, Christmas shenanigans, a few biblical counseling sessions, dinner dates with old friends, New Years Eve firework watching, last minute sleepovers, oh… and breathing.  Let’s not forget breathing.

By the grace of God I’ve somehow made it to January 1st, 2018, and while the world is striving to make their New Year’s Resolutions, I’m just trying to muster up the motivation to make my bed in the morning.  While the world is trying to make promises and end bad habits, I’m just trying to find the energy to shampoo my hair.  The truth is—if I had the time to jot down a bunch of promises to keep for this new year—Jesus knows I’d probably just break them anyway.

On one hand, my brain thinks to itself, “Yes Sam, do the workout, pray the prayer, skip the dessert, read the book, get the sleep.”  On the other hand, my heart shoots back with, “Sam, what were you thinking?  That workout will make your legs burn for weeks and who really needs sleep?  Not you, you’re a superhero!  By the way, that thought you had last night about eating doughnuts for every single meal is a top-notch idea!  Do it.”  The struggle, people.

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So in the midst of this new and unpredictable season of life, I’ve decided to do things a little bit differently.  I’ve decided to take the pressure off of myself to perform.  Instead of making promises that I will most definitely break, I’ve decided to simply aim for progress.  Instead of planning for perfection, I’m choosing to embrace interruption.  That way, when things go wrong, timetables get adjusted, or blunders get made, I can brush the dirt off my knees, look for the teachable moment, and get up to try again.  (Pangs of guilt and shame no longer included courtesy of Jesus.)  Overall, I want this new year to be a season of learning how to walk by faith, a season of learning how to grow through mistakes, and a season of learning how to receive God’s undeserved and unconditional grace.  I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get so caught up in my shortcomings and in never reaching “the proverbial mark” that I forget to look back at how far God has brought me, and I forget to be thankful for the moment that I’m in now.

So my friends, while we (both awkwardly and enthusiastically) stumble together through this new and fresh 2018 year—let’s take a gigantic leap of faith, go against the flow, and cut ourselves a little bit more slack.

You are loved.

Facebook, I’m Breaking Up With You

“When something becomes so important to you that it drives your behavior and commands your emotions, you are worshipping it.” – J.D. Greear

“Please hear me, Girl: The world has enough women who know how to do their hair.  It needs women who know how to do hard and holy things.” – Ann Voskamp

Dear Facebook,

I’ve been meaning to write you this letter, but it’s taken me some time to woman up about it.  I can honestly say that we’ve been through a lot together  – the good, the bad, and the ugly.  I remember when we first started spending time together back when I was fresh out of my adolescent years.  You were there when I first entered high school – still naïve to the party scene but determined to fit in.  You were there when I fell in love and got engaged to my fiancé – and you were there several months later when we broke up and parted ways.  You were there when I graduated from UCF with my bachelors degree in Sports and Fitness – ready to take on the fitness industry with zeal.  And you were there to celebrate with me – every single year on my birthday (making sure that no one ever forgot).  So thank you.  Continue reading “Facebook, I’m Breaking Up With You”

Being You-er Than You

2 + 2 equals  4… but so does 3 + 1…

Just because someone may do things a little bit differently than you, doesn’t mean they are doing it wrong.  This has taken me years to understand, and I think I’m just beginning to scratch the surface of what this truth actually means.

I used to want to fit in for such a long time.  Before I became a Christian, I would buy the right clothes from the right stores, wear the right hairstyles, and pierce the right body parts.  I’d listen to all the top hits on Y100.7, speak the American slang, and dive deep into the popular teen magazines.  I did whatever it took to blend in with the cool kids and be “one of them.”

Funny thing is… when I became a Christian, that didn’t stop.  I still was desperate to fit in.  I exchanged my “American slang” for “Christianese,” and I swapped out my Brittany Spears CD’s for Bethel Worship Music.  I still tried to wear the right clothes – you know, nothing to “skimpy” but also nothing to “amish,” and I even tried to wear a purity ring.  (Which lasted a whole five seconds, by the way.)  My first few years of going to a new church and trying to figure out how to be a “good normal Christian” was incredibly intimidating.  I still didn’t feel like I fit in even after I received my salvation card—not to mention, I was super unhappy because I wasn’t free to be myself. Continue reading “Being You-er Than You”

Let’s Get Dirty

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”    – C.S. Lewis

The word “love”—along with it’s many definitions—is splattered all over the pages of the bible.  You won’t have to look very hard to discover that love is patient and kind or sacrificial and selfless.  But this week, the Lord has been teaching me about another way to define love that isn’t spelled out as clearly in the scriptures.

Love is… dirty.

And just to be clear, I’m not talking about the bow-chicka-wow-wow kind of love…but nice try.

This kind of love is messy and uncomfortable.  It inconveniences you and it requires you to take risks.  It’s a love that suffers, that gives, and that exhausts you day after day.  It’s hard and time consuming—and it will most definitely cost you something.  It’s also important to note that this kind of love isn’t about you—it’s about them.  And to be honest, when I see opportunities to give and receive this kind of love—I prefer to yell “fire” and run as fast as I can in the opposite direction. Continue reading “Let’s Get Dirty”

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”

The Blog Post That Everyone Hated

I’m warning you now—you are not going to like this blog post.

This blog post is not filled with politeness or political correctness.  It is not filled with flattery or superficial clichés that are meant to keep you comfortable.  It is not a “feel good” post to boost your self-confidence, and it is not a post that will stroke your ego.  This post is meant to tear you apart from the inside out.

You will not like this post because it will convict you, it will hold you accountable, and it will force you to look at yourself in a way that might offend you.  So if you dare… read on. Continue reading “The Blog Post That Everyone Hated”

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…

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

 

But the Greatest of These Is Love…

It’s always funny scrolling back through my old blog posts, reminiscing about the trials and the triumphs that I’ve had to walk through over these past few years.  It’s cool to see how far I’ve come, and it’s humbling to see how far I still have to go.  There are some lessons that I’ve been able to check off my “done and dusted” list, while some other lessons are still in the “under construction” pile.

Just the other day I sent out an email update to my supporters and my church back home.  It contained a bunch of sentences filled with anxiety, joy, fear, and uncertainty.

As I was typing out my feelings and my concerns, I became so wrapped up in my shortcomings and my doubts about being back in South Africa.  Can I really make a difference?  Am I enough?  Am I really supposed to be here?  And as I was typing, I tried to remind myself of the importance of holding on to truth, the importance of focusing on God, and the importance of prayer.

(*I don’t know if you guys realize this, but I actually write these blog posts for myself, because the Lord knows that for this stuff to actually sink into my thick skull, I need write it down—sometimes more than once.  Also, the Holy Spirit has me write it all down in a public setting, because He has a serious sense of humor and because it makes you all witnesses to the up’s and down’s of my faith walk.  This is what happens when you ask God to keep you humble, folks.)

Anyways, after I sent out the update, I got an email response from one of my pastors…

It was short, sweet, and smacked me across the face with truth:

“Sam, When all else fails simply LOVE”

Woah.  It’s only been 14 days in this foreign country, and I’ve already forgotten the most important thing about why I came here in the first place.  To love.

Yes, planting churches is important.  Building orphanages is awesome.  Educating children is special.  Street evangelism is excellent.  Feeding the homeless is great.  Hosting bible studies is wonderful.

But loving people…and I mean really loving people—that takes courage, that takes vulnerability, that covers sin, that casts out fear, that brings unity, that speaks volumes, and that changes lives.

It would be pretty sweet to have a long list of accomplishments and success stories added to my “missionary résumé,” but if all of those things were done without love—then it would all be meaningless.  Absolutely meaningless.

When I got to know the real Jesus at the age of 17, my life was changed forever.  It wasn’t because someone told me I would go to hell if I didn’t stop screwing up, it wasn’t because I got a fancy degree in theology, and it wasn’t because I joined a new church that played awesome worship music.

It was because I was loved…  I was loved in my mess.  I was loved in spite of my flaws, my weaknesses, and my misunderstandings.

Someone (Alexandria Rogan, you know who you are) chose to love me when I thought I was unlovable.  She decided that I was worthy of being loved and she decided that I was worthy of being found—and that changed my life.  She didn’t accuse me or judge me or try to fix me.  She just loved me, and that was enough to leave a mark that would impact my life forever.  And the coolest part?  She was able to love me, because she already knew exactly what it felt like to be loved in her own life.

But hey, that’s the gospel isn’t it? That while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  That although we’ve fallen short, we can have hope and salvation.  That, even though I am far from perfect, Jesus covers me in His perfection so I can be accepted and welcomed by God.

So to put it simply (and to sum all of this up)…  that’s why I’m here.  And that’s why you are exactly where you are right now.  To love.  So when you all see me having me a nervous breakdown or a crisis of faith, because it is likely to happen again, smack me in the face with truth.  Heck, send me this blog post.  I’ll thank you for it.

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