New Me, Who Dis?

Raise your hand if you have already broken your New Year’s Resolution?
Just kidding…

I mean, what human being in the world wouldn’t want to better themselves?  Who wouldn’t want to feel better, look better, save $$$ better, and sleep better?  We all have specific goals and dreams and desires for our lives.  But each time January 1st rolls back around, many of us tend to fall into that same old habit of trying to muster up as much superhuman strength, willpower, and self-control as we possibly can to radically change our lives for good (and for the entire year).

And each year, we think that strategy will work, but it never does.

I struggle with rules.  (Mostly because I have a tendency to find loopholes, push boundaries – or break them entirely.)  So when I create a bunch of rules and resolutions that I force myself to follow or a list of to-do boxes that I have to tick, it usually takes me about a month-or-so to break one of those rules, forget to tick a box, and ultimately call it quits on the whole “bettering myself” endeavor.  The resolutions that were meant to help me flourish and thrive – end up becoming some of my worst enemies.  During my post-resolution fail, I end up feeling more discouraged and more hopeless than before I even began.

Does this kind of thing ever happen to you?

I thought more about this “new year, new me” dilemma that I was having, and I asked my Heavenly Father for a solution.  The key phrase that He gave me while I was praying was “mindset change.”  To develop healthier habits and to make those habits last, I need to have a proper mindset change.  My mindset must also be rooted in truth.  So what could that potentially look like for you or me?  Let me give you a quick example.

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One of my resolutions last year was to eat more vegetables.  Simple right?  Wrong-o.  I failed at this goal miserably.  Each day that I “forgot” to eat my veggies, I felt more and more guilty.  I knew I was breaking my own rule and it made me feel like a failure.  That guilt spun me into a seemingly endless cycle of shame that caused me to eat even fewer vegetables than before I began my new year’s resolution.  Crazy, right?  So this year, rather than trying to create a rule to eat more vegetables, I asked Father what to do instead.  His response was, “Samantha, simply resolve to love yourself.”  Woah, okay. Wait what, how?

Then I thought about it.  Someone who loves and cherishes their body will naturally want to treat it well.  They will eat healthy foods, sleep better, stay hydrated, drink less alcohol, and workout to keep fit.  Someone who loves their body will go out of their way to take good care of it because they value it.  Changing my mindset shifts my focus from the rule itself (eating veggies) to the condition of my heart (loving myself).  That shift is what promotes a positive attitude based on a positive truth, a healthier mindset, and long-lasting change.  This mindset change also corrects any “wrong thinking” attitudes I may have had when I made the resolution in the first place.  If my motives were wrong or my perspective was skewed (body image issues, eating disorders, trying to people please, etc.), then it will be easier to identify where I am struggling with those “wrong thinking lies” and adapt if necessary.  Problem solved, but wait… there’s more.

Resolutions can also reignite the “perfectionist” in us.  How will you know if this dynamic is happening to you?  Well, check your heart when you break a rule or give up on a particular resolution.  Do you feel shame, guilt, or defeat?  Do you feel like a complete failure or a fraud for not measuring up to the standard you set for yourself?  Or do you shake it off, show yourself grace, and try again next time?  The first response depicts someone who is striving for a level of perfection that can never be attained, and the second response depicts someone who is focused on gradually progressing and growing over time (mistakes, setbacks, and lots of grace included).  So who do you want to be?  Who does God want you to be?

(I’ll give you a hint. It’s not the first one.)

We all have this new year to start fresh, but before we begin to dig into 2019 let me warn you that this year will not be immune to imperfections.  Mistakes will be made, setbacks will be had, and lessons will be learned – and let’s be honest, there will probably be a day when you skip your workout at the gym to watch an entire series on Netflix while binging hard on a box of Krispy Kreme glazed doughnuts. (No judgement, I’ve been there).

Here’s a word of advice from someone who is learning how to take her own advice:  Don’t let imperfections stop you from growing, progressing, and learning – and don’t let imperfections shame you into the paralysis of old comfort zones (where humans go to die).  A failure is not a failure if you learn from it, and progress – no matter how big or small – will always trump perfection every single time.

We are on a life-long journey of “figuring it all out,” and it’s quite a beautiful, messy thing.  So maybe this year isn’t about achieving that particular number on the scale or eating a certain amount of vegetables per day or acing every single exam through college.  Maybe it’s about learning how to give and receive grace, love, and forgiveness.  Maybe it’s about focusing more on the condition of your heart and a bit less on the gray hairs sprouting on your head.  Maybe it’s about learning how to value your body – or someone else’s.  Maybe it’s about slowing down and learning how to make the most of your time, your energy, and your finances.

Maybe this year is simply about experiencing growth, and whatever that word means for you.

So do that.  Grow, make progress, and learn – and do it all at your own pace.  Practice cutting yourself some slack, and while we are on this topic, let’s also cut the people around us some slack too (because life is hard and sometimes society, culture, church, and social media make life even harder when it doesn’t need to be that way).

Lastly, as I end by quoting from the timeless Disney masterpiece High School Musical, let’s all make an effort to remember that in this 2019 new year –

“We’re all in this together.”

 

When a “Good Christian Girl” Has a Bad Day

Have you ever had one of those days when everything seems to go wrong?

Maybe you caught every single red light while running late to a meeting, maybe a bottle of your favorite red nail polish spilled all over your white carpet, or maybe you were planning on buying groceries—but the amount of money left in your bank account said, “Ha ha, not today friend, you’re on your own…”

Yeah.  Those days are the worst.

It’s when every little thing seems to go wrong.  It’s when stuff breaks, things get lost, and there seems to be no justifiable reason as to why.  It’s when the quality of our character and the quality of our faith get tested the most, and it’s in those split seconds when you truly discover where your hope and your peace lie.  And let me tell you…  I am the queen of messing those moments up. Continue reading “When a “Good Christian Girl” Has a Bad Day”

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

Lord, Give Me Patience

How many of you have ever prayed the well-known and regularly recited prayer that goes a little something like, “LORD, GIVE ME PATIENCE?!”

Yeah, I thought so. Me too.

As most of you may already know, I am a go-getter, a super impulsive decision-maker, and a “let’s do it without taking into account the potential risk” taker.

Needless to say, I am as impatient as it gets.  Luckily, God loves me anyway.  And thankfully, He loves me too much to leave me this way forever.  So He’s been teaching me a ton about patience—and there are two things that He’s specifically taught me that I would love to share with you all.

God is patient.  No, but for real. It may sound cliché and simple, but let that little nugget of truth sink deep into your being.  The New King James Version of the Bible even translates the word patience into “long-suffering.”  God literally suffers with us—for as long as it may take.  Meanwhile, I can barely suffer for 5 minutes in heavy traffic (or for the 1 minute and 30 seconds that my Kraft Macaroni and Cheese takes to heat up in the microwave).  Even better, the two Greek words in Scripture that make up the word “long-suffering” are “long” and “temper.”  This basically means that God is not quick to blow His proverbial fuse—He’s slow to anger.  He stays calm and He suffers alongside us through our bad decisions and rebellious ways.  He doesn’t give up on us nor does He give in to frustration. Instead, He gives us the grace and mercy that we need to keep pushing forward—because He loves us that much.

If God is patient, then I need to be patient.  Whoop, there it is.  This is the hardest part of the lesson.  It’s so wonderful to hear that God is patient with me and that He is willing to constantly put up with all of my (let’s just be honest and call it) crap, but the second I need to be patient with someone else, all hell breaks loose.  If I am going to love people genuinely, and if I am going to be the woman that I am called to be (which is God’s daughter, a Christ ambassador, and a Truth spreader), then I need to treat others the way God treats me—with patience in love.  That’s hard.  But isn’t that the best way to share the Gospel with someone?  By living it?  Let’s be real.  Patience is hard to come by these days.  Everywhere you look, whether it’s on TV or in magazine ads, you’ll find messages about “instant gratification.”  We want results and rewards and retribution, and we want it now.  But the Lord calls us to be set apart from this world, He calls us to do things His way.  Slow and steady wins God’s race…

And I am seriously the worst though.  Whether its trusting in God for a husband, for a job, or for six-pack abs… I am as impatient as it gets.  And when it comes to dealing with people, the struggle doesn’t get any realer.  I got “saved” before my parents did, and when they didn’t understand or grasp my new beliefs right away, I got incredibly frustrated with them.  I wanted them to “get it,” and I ended up throwing away my love and my patience for them in the process.  It took me a long time to realize that their faith walk with the Lord was their own—and that my faith walk was…mine.  That was about 8 years ago, and God is still teaching me this lesson with friends, co-workers, and family members today.

He’s also teaching me to be patient with myself.  Who else struggles with this one?  Yeah, I thought so, you’re not alone.  Romans 8:1 says, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.”  In the Sam’s Paraphrased Version of the Bible it says this, “Dude, cut yourself some spiritual slack.  God sent Christ Jesus for a reason, and that reason is: you are impatient (along with so many other things) and you were in need of a perfect Savior to come to your rescue.  You’re loved unconditionally and you’re accepted in spite of your sins.  Now stop beating yourself up, and put a smile on that beloved face.”  When I make mistakes, I need to show myself the same grace that God commands me to show others—and I need to show myself the same grace that God continuously shows me every single day.  It’s not an easy task, but I’ve found that learning it and embracing it is worth all of the blood, sweat, and tears.

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So take home message:

When you accidentally snap at someone in a moment of weakness and they respond with, “Hey now, don’t you know that patience is virtue”—instead of smacking that smug smile off their face and getting angry, take a few deep breaths and thank God for how His patience and love toward you never… ever end.