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.”

 

Death Grip: Letting Go of the Rope

Did you ever play the game Tug-O-War as a kid?

If you haven’t, it’s a game where you and some friends stand on opposite sides of a long heavy rope, gripping it and “tugging” on it as hard as you can until one team manages to pull the other over a designated line.  Once the team crosses the line by giving way to your brute strength and unrelenting resolve, you win!  Yay, game over.  Simple enough.

Every time I played this game as a feisty and incredibly competitive eight-year-old girl, my hands took a beating.  Callouses and cuts covered my palms as I’d grip that rope as tightly as I could, right up until the moment of sweet victory or the moment when I crossed over the “loser line.”  No matter how hard it was to pull and tug and cling – I refused to let go.  Call it stubbornness or “commitment;”  I didn’t want to give up.

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As an adult, I still tend to grab onto things and refuse to let go – and sometimes the things I hold onto are the wrong things.  The approval of others, feelings of anger, old shame lies, comfortable sin habits, and the need for control being just a few of those things.  I cling to them firmly, hoping to find the love, the justification, the happiness, or the self-inflicted punishment that I am looking for (and feel I deserve).  I’m not ashamed to say that I love to win, but in a situation like that, the only way to truly win is to let go.

When it comes to my relationship with God, I also cling, but if I am completely honest, most times I don’t cling because of hope or love.  I cling because of fear.  It’s a fear that whispers, “If I let go of God, He will leave.  If my grip slips or if my hands grow tired, He will walk away.  If I let Him go, then He will most definitely let me go.”  I’ve always thought that the secret to walking in righteousness and faithfulness was to hold on as steadfastly to God as I could.  I was trying to hold on for dear life, and I was dying in the process.  There were moments when I’ve thought to myself, “If only I grip hard enough, if only my fingers start bleeding, if only I pass out from sheer exhaustion – then I’ll be okay and only then will I be deemed worthy of love.”  At least, that’s what I thought.

But it was on the days when I was weak that I learned the truth about God’s power and strength.  God’s love was never dependent on how tightly I gripped onto Him.  Instead, His love was and will always be entirely dependent on how tightly He grips onto me.  And the beauty of that statement is found in the simple fact that He will never let me go.  (And He will never let you go, either.)

Agh. Thank you, Jesus.

God does not want me to play Tug-O-War with Him.  He doesn’t want me to waste my life trying to win over His love and affections and approval and acceptance through own human strength or ability.  I don’t need to prove myself to Him or win Him over through my performance, my athleticism, my service, or my sparkling personality.  The “loser line” has already been crossed, and here’s the major plot twist you guys – we weren’t the ones who crossed it.  Heck, we weren’t even playing.  We were sitting on the sidelines while Jesus willingly “took one for the team” and sacrificed Himself to become our champion, and His win was enough for all of us.  The game is over.

When my trust and hope are in God and not in myself, I find the freedom (and the permission) to let go.  The crazy part is that it’s actually in the letting go that my faith muscles begin to grow.  My identity rests in the fact that God has my back, that He fights my battles, and that He won’t ever stop loving me (because His love never depended on me in the first place).  He begins to increase, as I decrease.  He becomes greater, as I become less.  I need to believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am enough, not because of how hard I try to be enough, but because my Heavenly Father already says that I am enough.  As those truths start to sink deep into the dark recesses of my spirit and my soul – the shame, the fear, the performance anxiety, and the endless and pointless striving begin to cease.

Then the real post-game celebration begins.  And that’s when the hardened callouses on my hands (and the hardened callouses on my heart) fade away, as I revel in the fact that it is finished.

Hebrews 13:5 – “For He has said, ‘I will never [under any circumstances] desert you [nor give you up nor leave you without support, nor will I in any degree leave you helpless], nor will I forsake or let you down or relax My hold on you [assuredly not]!'”

When Life Gets a Little Messy

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

This year, God gave me the word faithful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because He is faithful.

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.

Is It Well With My Soul?

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

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

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

Continue reading “Is It Well With My Soul?”

When God Gives You More Than You Can Handle

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

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

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

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

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

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”

Dance in the Rain

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

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I don’t know about you, but I’m so ready for April to be over.

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, April showers bring May flowers?  Well, forget April showers, because this month came fully-loaded with torrential downpours!  It’s been a month full of lost keys, acne breakouts, sinus infections, dangerously low bank account balances, and broken break lights.  The struggle has been so deliciously real.  (Deliciously, because I have never had to eat this many packages of super cheap 2-minute ramen noodles in my entire life.) Continue reading “Dance in the Rain”

Naked and Afraid

We’ve all experienced it at least once in our lives.

That embarrassing moment you just can’t seem to shake out of your mind.  Maybe it was that moment when you were spending quality time with friends, telling them a fantastic joke or sharing an impressive story—when all of a sudden someone interrupts you and points out the large piece of “something green” stuck in your teeth.  Uhhh, embarrassing.  How long was it there for?  Who noticed?  Awkward…

Or maybe it was when you were in 3rd grade and you took a quick bathroom break, only to return to your classroom unaware that part of your uniform skirt was stuck in the waistband of your Minnie Mouse underpants.  It happens, believe me… it happens.

We’ve all felt it.  Shame.  Embarrassment.  Fear.  Rejection. Continue reading “Naked and Afraid”

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”