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”

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”

Embracing Your Sheepish Side

Have you ever heard someone use the word “sheepish” in a conversation?  Maybe you’ve even used it yourself, saying something like, “wipe that sheepish grin off of your face, child.”  Lord knows I’ve heard phrase that plenty of times in my life…

Well, I just discovered that the definition of sheepish is: to show or feel embarrassment because of an act of foolishness; or to resemble a sheep in timidity, meekness, or stupidity.  

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So, check this out.  Last week, I spent a few days in a quiet little garden town called Greyton.  I went hiking (and totally got lost) in the mountains, I frolicked through the grassy meadows (after frantically running away from a swarm of bees), and I stumbled (literally) upon a peaceful river.  I couldn’t have asked for a better place to spend some quality time alone with Jesus.  It was perfectly serene, and I honestly didn’t want to leave.  While I was there, the Lord reminded me of Psalm 23.  You probably know it because it’s one of the most famous passages in the bible, but just incase you’re unfamiliar… here’s what it says: Continue reading “Embracing Your Sheepish Side”

Uganda: Loving Simply and Simply Loving

Did you know that missions trips have a lot in common with surprise birthday parties?

Yeah, me neither.  Until now.

Think about it.  Sometimes the events of the day catch you totally off-guard, sometimes you experience anxiety, excitement, and fear all at the same time, sometimes you stay up until the wee hours of the night enjoying great conversations with great friends, and sometimes you just can’t wait for everyone to leave so you can be alone to sleep.

Oh, and sometimes there’s cake.

I just got back from my trip to Uganda, and it was totally like a surprise birthday party—full of excitement, exhaustion, and every other emotion you can possibly imagine. Continue reading “Uganda: Loving Simply and Simply Loving”

The Only Way out Is Through

Several years ago, my lovely sister Melissa (aka: Angel Princess) got a tattoo in Arabic that says, “the only way out is through.”  Most of our family’s ethnicity is rooted in the Syrian and Lebanese cultures, so I thought the tattoo was really awesome.  But I’ll be honest, I never gave much thought to it’s meaning…  until now.

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I’m an American, and after traveling to multiple countries across the world, I’ve realized that Americans have a stigma for being task-oriented, fast-paced, and overly-confident individuals.  We like to get things done, and we like to get those things done quickly (even if that means sacrificing quality for quantity and/or our health for immediate results).  The South Africans i’ve met in the Western Cape have more of a people-oriented, chilled out, “it will get done when it gets done” kind of vibe to them.  People will always tend to think and act differently from one another, so I’ve had to learn to embrace those differences (just like people have learned to embrace mine). Continue reading “The Only Way out Is Through”

The Golden Rule

I hate cliches.

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

But hey, everything happens for a reason, right?

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

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

And they both come down to love.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Be Afraid to Fall on Your Bum

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

I heard the coolest analogy the other day…

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

No freaking way.

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

Well, guess what…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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