But Why Does My Heart Still Hurt?

Forgiveness.

This word makes me want to throw my arms up in a fit of joy and throw up my lunch all at the same time.  I can’t even handle this word.  I don’t really understand it, I can’t really comprehend it, and yet my entire faith walk is supposed to be based upon it.  It hurts, it heals, and it frees.  It renews, it restores, and it redeems.  If given in grace, it can build up and strengthen; if withheld in anger, it can torment and lead to condemnation.

Forgiveness is one of the most powerful things in the entire universe.  (Besides love, and maybe chocolate covered key lime pie on a stick.)

So let’s get free.

I messed up.  Big time.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I mess up multiple times a day, but many months ago I decided to take it to a whole different level.  That happens sometimes when Sam decides that her way is better than God’s way.  It also happens when Sam is scared or insecure or not trusting in the truth of God’s Word.  So here’s the thing.  If there was a trophy for the “Christian Hide-and-Go-Seek Sin Champion of the World,” I would have five of them stacked proudly on my shelf, because I always had a knack for keeping my sins hidden in the dark.  But luckily for me,  God has supernatural high-powered night vision goggles, and nothing gets past Him (wink wink).  Thankfully, I am loved (and will always be loved) by a God who wants to turn my darkness into the light.

Psalm 32: 3-5  “When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long.  Day and night Your hand of discipline was heavy on me.  My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.  Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt.  I said to myself, ‘I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.’ And You forgave me!  All my guilt is gone.”  

God, in all of His mercy and loving-kindness, called me to confess and to repent,  Jesus showed me how, and the Holy Spirit gave me the strength to follow through and actually do it.  So I reached out to the people that God told me to confess to, and let me just tell you… it was more painful than stepping on a Lego…barefoot.

Some of the responses to my confession were seasoned with grace and love, while others seemed to be seasoned with cyanide.  That hurt too.  But you know what, I was finally free.  My heart was right with God, I stopped hiding, and I spoke truth.

…So why did my heart still hurt so badly?  Why did I still feel like I was suffocating?

This is the question I asked God, and faithfully, He answered.  “Sam, you’ve forgiven others, you confessed, and you’ve asked for forgiveness from Me and from the people around you for your mistakes.  But there are a few things that you are forgetting, sweet girl.  My opinion of you is the only thing that matters, and when I say you are forgiven, YOU ARE FORGIVEN… but you have yet to forgive yourself.  And that my child, is a choice.”

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Dang.  God is never wrong.  I want you all to know that I have yet to master the art of “forgiving myself.”  It’s something that I am learning how to do more and more each day.  It’s something that requires complete humility and complete dependence on a gracious God who means what He says.  It requires me to let go of any hopes that I can ever save myself, and it requires me to let go of the pride in my heart that tells me I don’t deserve to be pardoned.  If the God of the Universe says that I am forgiven, then let it be so.

So on the days when my heart (or the devil himself) tells me one thing and my Lord tells me another, I need to remind myself of the truth.  I will never stop desperately needing to hear the truth of the Gospel—and that’s not a weakness, that’s a strength.  Since the Lord’s promises are true (and because God never lies), I can forgive myself and let go of my feelings of shame and hurt and guilt because His words say that Jesus already nailed those things to the cross when He died to set me free.  He loves me in spite of my mess.  He loves me in my darkest moments.  He loves me at my worst, and He loves me at my best.  He knew exactly what He was doing when He took my place and my punishment at Calvary, and He still knows what He’s doing when He vouches for me before the Father—standing up for me, advocating for me, and rebuking the accusations of the enemy.

We have all fallen short, but we also have a God who has picked up the slack and filled up the gap on our behalf.  So as we love God and love one another (on both the good and bad days), let’s try to remember that…

Isaiah 44:21-22  “I, the Lord made you, and I will not forget you.  I have swept away your sins like a cloud.  I have scattered your offenses like the morning mist.  Oh, return to me, for I have paid the price to set you free.”  

Junk in the Trunk: A Missionary’s Misconception

So I just read an awesome blog entitled, Things I Would Not Say to a New Missionary, and let me just tell you that the post was so wonderfully accurate.  I laughed so hard because I knew exactly what this lady was talking about.  Her post inspired me to get real about a few “missionary misconceptions” that I’ve struggled with in my own life.  As I have said so many times before, I am not a “cookie-cutter Christian,” nor am I a “cookie-cutter missionary.”  I don’t ever want to fit into a stereotypical Christianese box – it limits God and it limits me.  So, I realized that it might be time to demolish a few stereotypes and send some encouragement your way.

First things first, I need all of you to know that after one year of being a missionary… I still have no idea what the heck I am doing.  No, you think I’m joking, but I’m so serious.  This is a very important fact because before I became a missionary, I thought that I needed to have my perfect, holy, and blameless life together before I could go out into the world to serve God and others.  I was so wrong.  When I read back through God’s Word, I quickly discovered that not a single person God chose to use for His glory had their lives in order.  In fact, most of them screwed up before, during, and after they were called and sent out to serve and love God.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:27-29 that, “God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.  God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important.  As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God.”

Is Sam foolish? Check. (Just ask my parents, I make dumb decisions all the time.)

Is Sam weak? Check.  (Especially when it comes to keeping my thought life clean.)

Is Sam unable to boast about how fantastically holy and perfect she is? Quadruple Check. (I am constantly in repentance mode like every five seconds.)

Well, now that we’ve established that…  I hope you feel more qualified to do big things for God because as I’ve discovered over the course of these past few years – my “success” as a missionary is not dependent on my abilities to maintain a perfect track record or get an entire country saved.  (Because honestly, sometimes I can’t even muster up the energy to take a shower or do my own laundry.)  My “success” is entirely dependent on God’s ability and His desire to use a broken vessel like me.  God only requires me to be available and to be willing to move my feet (and to perhaps open my mouth when the time is right).  If His light can shine brightly through my cracks and flaws, then I’m a happy camper.

I’ve had so many people tell me that I am an inspiration to them, and I think that’s a very beautiful thing.  But I really want to stress that I am no different than anyone else.  I am not more holy, more perfect, or more qualified.  Fun fact: Even while I was in South Africa, I sinned.  I know, I know, whip out the holy water and get your pointer finger of shame and judgment ready…

Just kidding about the holy water, but I wasn’t kidding about my sin.  I have never done this “missionary” thing before.  I am learning every single day what it looks like and feels like and sounds like to be a follower of Jesus.  I love Him with my whole entire heart, and I need Him desperately every single day, but that doesn’t mean that my life will be a perfect one.  However, it does mean that it will have to be a dependent one.  That was a huge and humbling lesson that God needed to teach me while I was in South Africa last year.

The standards that I had for myself were “Jesus Standards of Perfection.”  Which, incase you didn’t know… are unreachable standards.  I didn’t cut myself any slack and I really struggled with my own guilt and unforgiveness because I was so fearful of letting everyone down: God, my family, my church, my friends, and anyone else that knew about my journey.  I had to learn that God loved me before I even knew who He was.  He called me to go and love the girls who were (and still are) fighting against the same struggles that I’ve had to fight against, because they need to know what it feels like to be loved and forgiven – just like I needed to know what it feels like to be loved and forgiven.

I have a bad habit of making some of my sins appear worse than others on my “God Scale of Wrath.” I seriously need to throw that thing away, because it’s totally unbiblical and unbalanced.  For example, I’ll pray for a long time about my lustful thinking and how I need to stop cursing in front of my little brother when I drive in Miami’s ridiculous traffic, but I won’t spend much time praying about my pride or my jealousy towards another girl.  In God’s eyes, it all separates me from Him and it’s all equally wrong.  So when I feel like a failure for one “seemingly big” sin in my life, God looks down at me with compassion and says, “Sam, crazy girl, if you think that’s bad, wait until I show you the rest of the junk that’s hiding in your heart.  There’s stuff deep down in there that you don’t even know about yet.”  YOH.  Ouch.  But it’s a holy and purifying ouch, so I dig it.  Because just after the rebuke, comes God’s reminder that I shouldn’t feel shame or guilt or resentment – but instead, I need to remember that He has already nailed all of my sins to the cross.  They are dealt with, it is finished.  He already knew about all of the mistakes I was going to make, and He sent me and called me to be a warrior in His army anyways.  His patience and love and grace know no bounds.  If I am willing to bring Him all of my “junk” and lay it down at His feet, then He will always be willing to deal with it for me.  Without condemnation. Without hate.  Without disdain.

In fact, I think God gave me this job of serving His people because of all of my junk.  I had to walk through some crappy and embarrassing and hurtful things in my life, and those things have given me a heart that is so full of compassion and love and understanding.  When I see someone else struggling through what I experienced, I can look them in the eyes and genuinely sympathize because I’ve been there.  That’s a gift.  Because of my junk-filled past, I get to share a hope-filled future with the people I meet all over the world.  All a missionary really is – is a person who loves Jesus that decides to walk out of their front door and into the world with faith instead of being bound up in fear.  It’s that simple.  I may be living the Christian life in South Africa, but that doesn’t make being a missionary in your backyard any less significant.  All lives matter, everyone deserves the opportunity to receive love and hope through our actions and our words.  Compassion is contagious. (It’s scientifically proven. Don’t worry, I checked.)

So this blog is just a little reminder that we are all equally imperfect, but we are also all equally valuable and useful to God (in the little things and in the big things).  The purpose and the power remain with Him, but the choice to step up and walk in faith remains with us.  So don’t fear failure, instead, have faith.  And if (and when) you make mistakes, run back to God and let Him cover you in His grace.

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A Saving Grace or a Slippery Slope?

The time has come.

After sipping my Caramel Macchiato from Starbucks while simultaneously basking in uncertainty over the topic of my new blog post, I have decided to write about one of my biggest insecurities.  Let the thoughts about picture posting, friend following, and ridiculous hash-tagging begin!

Social media can be difficult.  It’s an awesome tool, but it can be used in some very un-awesome ways.  It’s an incredible resource for staying in touch with people, raising awareness (and funds), sharing photos with family and friends, and above all else – networking.  It’s a fantastic tool for building relationships (and maintaining those relationships) with people all over the world.  I can personally vouch for all of this! But social media also has it’s downsides, and I can honestly say that I’ve experienced those too.  It’s a place where insecurity, discontentment, and comparison thrive.  It’s a place where bullying and shaming occur daily, and it’s a place where someone’s value can depend on how many “likes” they get.  Been there done that, folks.  And let me tell you, putting your value and worth into the hands of other people who can tear you apart with a single word or phrase… really sucks.  It’s time to get free.

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When I have compared my life to the lives of other people (especially via Facebook or Instagram), I usually felt one of two ways:

  • I end up feeling totally inadequate – like my life doesn’t measure up or even matter to other people around me.
  • I end up sitting atop my high horse (in all my arrogance and pride) trampling down on the small peasants who didn’t quite reach my standard of awesomeness due to their own mediocre lifestyle choices.

(Hypocrite much?)  Neither of those things are good things to feel.  In fact, they are terrible things to feel.  No, seriously.  It’s a complete waste of time.  Believing the enemy’s lies that give birth to those feelings of self-pity and pride… don’t benefit anyone.  So let’s snap[chat] ourselves out of it.  (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Paul talks about this issue of comparing ourselves to others in Scripture.  In Romans 12:6a he says, “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them…”  I love that.  Quick example: I love to speak and write.  I enjoy inspiring and encouraging people with words of honesty and affirmation.  That’s a gift God has given me.  Now, my friend Ilse is also really gifted, but to my knowledge, she doesn’t write poetry or speak in front of large groups of people on a day-to-day basis.  Instead, she makes these amazing stuffed bears called iBears (Click for Website), and she pours her heart and soul out into every single teddy bear she makes.  She even makes teddies to bring to the children in the hospital that are battling with cancer.  She is super creative at sewing and she knows how to use fabric like a boss.  I’m pretty sure she can sew almost anything.  (Let’s just call her the MacGyver of sewing.)  If I made one, my bear would most likely scare the cancer right out of the children because it would probably end up looking more like an evil monster.  I can’t sew to save my life (nor to even clothe myself).  Thank God for Target and the Nike Store.

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My point is that our Creator has made us all different for a reason – and yes, I know I say this all the time, but if we were all the same, it would limit God’s reach and creativity.  It would limit the positive impact we can make on our world.  He is using our passions and dreams and joys to bring life to the people around us.  Arts and crafts, music, sports, drama, writing, speaking, tattooing, dancing, medicine, building, stamp collecting, or whatever other hobby you can possible think of – if you have it, embrace it!  The things that come naturally to us were ingrained into us for a reason.  We shouldn’t be jealous or envious of others for their talents or gifts because those same people will also have their own unique battles to fight.  The grass is not greener on the other side.  Instead of envying our fellow human beings, we should praise them, build them up, and spur them on.

So when I share about my life on social media, I want it to inspire and encourage.  I want it to radiate hope, because I strongly believe that hope brings life.  I want everyone to see that there is no such thing as a “cookie cutter Christian” – quite the opposite is true, really.  We are all unique individuals who have a unique purpose in this life.  For me, instead of holding others back, I want to help them get ahead, at any cost to my own ego or success.  And believe me, that was harder to type than you may think.  The Bible says in James 3:16, “For wherever there is jealousy [envy] and contention [rivalry and selfish ambition], there will also be confusion [unrest, disharmony, rebellion] and all sorts of evil and vile practices.”  And I don’t want that for anyone.

I used to be on social media for approval and validation.  I really wanted those likes and I wanted to be “known” by others.  Little did I realize, I was already approved, validated, befriended, and known.  Someone way more important than anyone on my social media feeds was already calling me worthy and I hadn’t even done anything to deserve it.  Once I realized that, I didn’t need to earn “likes” from the world anymore because I already had unconditional love from my Savior.  This wonderful truth gives me the freedom to share my story with anyone and everyone who might be interested.  It gives me the opportunity to be completely myself without fear of judgement or rejection from people.  If my value is rooted in God’s opinion of me, then I don’t ever need to be afraid of man’s opinion of me.  (Again, easier typed than lived, but I’m willing to speak it out in faith even if my feet struggle to follow along with this truth from time to time!)

I have the freedom to be me – to play soccer, to make friends, to sketch, to learn a new language, to climb mountains, to write spoken word poetry, to wear muscle tee’s, to sleep with a moose pillow named Chauncy, and to speak boldly about Jesus in front of thousands of high school students in South Africa.  The beauty is that I get to do all of those fun and exciting things with the joy and peace in my heart that come from knowing that I am loved and that I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

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Psalm 139:13-16
“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body, and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.”

The Quiet Time Conundrum

I never liked “time-outs.”  I never ever liked to take afternoon naps as a kid, and I never ever liked “quiet times.”  I was always on the move, causing both a ruckus and a headache for my parents and teachers one day at a time!  I was so terrible at sitting still and I talked so fast that the words coming out of my mouth couldn’t actually keep up with the thoughts flying through my head.  My parents thought I had ADD, while my grandma on the other hand, believed that my “motor-mouth” problem was due to my heightened intelligence and elevated IQ (way to go, Grandma).  Some days, mom would look me straight in the eyes with a serious face, and she’d put her hands on either side of my head and she’d say, “Sam, FOOOOCUUUS.”  And after laughing and doing a few “cool down laps” around the house, I would finally focus.

Honestly, not much has changed since then.  (Except for the naps thing, I actually enjoy taking naps now.)  But this week, I got to housesit for my aunt and uncle, and I got to spend some awesome quality time with my cousin (when she wasn’t spending the whole day in school).  That meant tons of time alone… in an empty house… with not much to do… and an overactive brain that doesn’t know when to shut itself off.  OH, THE HORROR. Little did I know, God had a purpose and a plan for me in this “quiet time” madness.

If I can manage to pray for more than 5 minutes in one sitting, it’s a big deal… because it never happens.  Usually my prayer life consists of short random prayer thoughts throughout the day, like, “Oh Lord, where did I put my keys? I know that You know where they are… Father, give me patience to drive in this flippin’ Miami traffic, the worship music playing in my car isn’t helping anymore, and I am about to bust out of here and walk home…. God, I pray for the kid’s in my moms first grade class, please calm them down and keep them FOCUSED because she might murder one of them, and I don’t want my mom to go to jail because she’s a great teacher… Father, thank you for hot showers and comfy beds and yummy food.  Love you Lord, In Jesus name, Amen.”

Yeah.  The second I try to go deep with God, I blank out.  I forget the names of all of my friends and family members who may or may not need prayer, I forget all of the bible verses that I had memorized, and I forget all of the things that I needed to talk to God about in the first place.  The struggle is real.  To help me combat this struggle of distraction and forgetfulness, I began journaling my prayers.  That helped a ton because I love to write and it keeps me focused.  It also allows me to go back and cross off prayers that God has answered which is super encouraging!  I also stopped trying to come up with fancy words while I pray, which really made a difference in my prayer life because my prayers ended up making more sense and they began to sound like a real life conversation between two people (with real people words).  Lastly, I told fear and shame to go “take a hike” because they were hindering me from being able to get real with God.  Fear and faith can’t both thrive in the same place.  So I said, Sayonara and Adios to those lies from Satan.  This week, I got real with God.  (So real, that it got to the point where I cried multiple times on my aunt’s carpet and spent some quality time in fellowship with their pet peacock, Kevin who didn’t judge me for my puffy red eyes or for my runny nose.  Thanks, Kevin. Mad respect.)

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Also, God showed me a few cool things that I really want to share with you guys because maybe I’m not alone – and maybe you struggle with this stuff too?

The power of prayer has nothing to do with me or my fancy words.  God is the powerful one in this relationship. He makes things happen and He sets things in motion.  He brings freedom, understanding, clarity, and wisdom.  He comforts and protects and provides.  All He wants is for me to trust Him enough to muster up the courage to actually say something to Him about what I need (and what I am thankful for).  My help comes from Him, not from how eloquent my prayers sound.  Once I realized that my prayers weren’t about me, I finally had stuff to pray about.  I could praise Him, thank Him, and ask Him for things.  It freed me up to enjoy God without worrying about being judged for how I sounded.

Jesus promised that troubles and tribulations would come, but He also promised to help us overcome them all.  I learned that having a nervous breakdown every now and then (especially while talking to God) is okay.  There’s no law that says Christians aren’t allowed to be upset or angry from time to time (just don’t let that lead to sin).  In fact, the Bible says that God keeps track of our sorrows and tears, and that He records those moments in His book (Psalm 56:8).  This just means that God is very aware of our meltdowns, and He doesn’t condemn us for them, He sympathizes with us instead.  Believe it or not, God gets it.  He is big enough to handle my mood swings, He is loving enough to walk me through the rough patches of my life, and He is gracious enough to not take my “moments of emotional weakness” personally or hold it against me.  I love God for that.  When I learned how to cry in front of Him, I also learned how to let Him love me in those moments.  When I get free, He freely comforts me and He strengthens me by reminding me of how strong He is on my behalf.  Then my meltdown stops because I remember who my Father is.  If God (the Mighty Warrior and Creator of the Universe) is on my side, then what the heck do I need to worry about?

When I am weak, He is strong.  No, but for real.  There have been so many times when I’ve tried to hide my weaknesses from God because I thought that He’d be disappointed in me.  I was ashamed of my sinfulness, and I didn’t think that the Holy of Holies would want to even look at me – let alone converse with me – but, I was so wrong.  The Lord showed me that His light shines through my cracks.  In the areas of my life where I am weak, God is strong for me.  He’s supposed to get the glory in those moments, but if I try to hide my cracks and my flaws, that makes me a hypocrite and it makes God a liar.  He chose me as His own before I was even born – already knowing who I would become and what I would do.  He took into account my wrong turns and my mess ups before they even happened, and He said, “I still want you despite all of that.  I’ll clean you up and make you righteous in time, but I want you as you are now.  I love you and you are so precious to Me.”  That kind of love is hard to wrap my mind around, but it also compels me to go out and tell the world about it.  Unconditional love is a gift that no human being should ever have to miss out on.

So, this week was full of me, myself, and My King.  At first I was so intimidated by the copious amounts of quite time that I had to endure, but God slowly began to change my heart and my mind about it.  Now, I’m really starting to appreciate the quiet moments in my day.  Way back when (like two weeks ago, ha), I couldn’t pray for more than 5 minutes at a time, but now I sometimes skip lunch because I get so consumed with talking to God about anything and everything in my “jam-packed” brain that I actually forget to eat.  That’s unheard of.  I love food, almost as much as I love my family (but not quite).  The coolest part is that as I pray and read God’s word, He answers.  Whether it’s through a verse, an overwhelming peace in my spirit, or through a phone call or text from a friend that comes at just the right time (shout out to Jocelyn for your perfectly timed messages). He always answers.

Will I still shoot up random short prayers to God throughout the day?  Heck yeah.  All the time.  Because I need Him all the time, and because He’s always with me.  When you love someone and want to get to know them better, you spend more time with them… and my relationship with my Heavenly Dad should be no different.  It’s a learning process and there are hard days when I don’t want to open my journal or my mouth, but the more I learn about how awesome my God is and about how much He cares for me… the more it makes me want to talk to Him.

I think the most challenging part of this love walk/prayer journey is going to be letting God speak while I just sit and listen.  (Still working on that with my momma too.)  Luckily for me, love is patient…