You Are a Warrior, Are You Not?

This week I learned something new about myself.

I hate doing things that I am not good at doing.  

For example:  Don’t ask me to sing in a public place.  I will run away.  I am not a great singer, so singing in public, in front of tons of people, would be… mortifying.  (There would also be a chance that those people would walk away with significant hearing loss.)  Also, don’t ask me to play golf.  I’ll leave that to my Dad and my little brother, Brian.  Let’s just say that the only time I tried to play golf was with my little brothers’ golf clubs when I was 16.  (Take note, I’m left handed and my little brother is not.  That should tell you something…)

But ask me to climb a tree, sketch a picture, or make french toast, and I will do it gladly.

So this week, I have been faced with several different challenges that have made me feel really inadequate, weak, and uncomfortable.  Let me lay it out for you.

Firstly:  My new friend Petunia and I had an amazing breakthrough with an idea for a ministry opportunity.  We want to work with girls ages 13-20 in the Kayamandi Township, mentoring them and empowering them through small group discussions, discipleship, bible teachings, life skills, and spoken word lessons.  We want these girls to see themselves the way God sees them, as precious and priceless young women who are loved and cherished.  We want them to take ownership of their testimonies so that they can heal from their past hurts and share their stories with the world through writing and spoken word.  This is all very exciting.  Except for the fact that these girls don’t speak very good English, nor do they speak very good Afrikaans.  They speak Xhosa.  I have no idea how to speak Xhosa.  I am going to have to learn a completely new language (with click sounds) completely from scratch.

The thought of not being able to communicate with these girls is frustrating.  So I have two options.  I can sit and pout about it, and work in a different location, or I can “woman up” and learn this new language—clicks and all.  Yes, I am incredibly weak in this area, and yes, I will probably look and sound like a fool when I first start learning.  In spite of that, I know the rewards will be worth all the embarrassment and struggles.  When I was preparing to come back to South Africa this past December, I prayed that God would keep me humble and dependent on Him.  Looking at where I am now, it’s obvious that He’s answering my prayer.  (Disclaimer: be careful what you pray for.)

Secondly:  I am playing a new position on my soccer team.  Now, this isn’t the end of the world.  Thanks to my Dad, I’ve been playing soccer since I was 4 years old, so I have a solid understanding of the game and it’s tactics.  However, I have been playing in the same position on the field for the past 13 years.  Center back.  This season, I am playing in a new position that I haven’t played in since I was 11 years old.  This is intimidating, especially at this level of play.  This week at soccer practice, I felt really dumb.  I felt like I had no idea what the heck I was doing, and it was so frustrating.  I couldn’t execute anything properly, so my confidence pretty much disintegrated into thin air.  God and I had a nice little chat about it on the car ride home.  (And by “nice little chat,” I actually mean that I had an emotional breakdown and threw a temper tantrum in the car because I was completely humiliated.)

I am an incredibly competitive individual.  If you doubt this, just ask my parents—they’ve experienced my wrath during Family Game Night’s.  So, when I fail and don’t perform as well as I want to, I get discouraged and depressed.  I do not like to be perceived as weak.  I think it’s a pride thing (that I need to get over).  But there’s an upside to this story:  When I spoke to my coach about it after practice, he responded to all of my complaining with, “You are a warrior, are you not?”

Holy Bananas.  I almost felt over.  Nothing pierces the heart more than having the truth you’ve been preaching to yourself for years being preached back in your face during a time of doubt and struggle.  His words couldn’t have been more perfect (or more convicting).  My coach was right, I am a warrior, and I love a challenge.  Where did my strength go?  Where did my boldness go?  What happened to my confidence?  It only took a few difficult challenges to forget who I am, and that’s unacceptable.  So what if I look stupid or sound stupid for the next few weeks or even the next few months?  If I practice and learn, then I will get better and grow.  It’s that simple.  I will reap what I sow.

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Last night, God reminded me of 2 Corinthians 12:9-10:  “Each time He said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.  That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Instead of being scared of feeling weak or “not good enough,” I am going to work on giving my all in everything I do.  I realized that if I do my best and offer my best, no matter how flawed it may be, it is enough.  I am constantly having to remind myself that God doesn’t love me because of my soccer skills, my writing skills, or my ability to understand Afrikaans.  He loves me because I am His.  He loves me because He chooses to freely and unconditionally love me every single day, and honestly, that’s a hard thing for me to grasp.  But each day, as the Lord walks with me on this faith journey, I discover a little more about Who He is and about what it means to be His daughter.  And as each adventure and challenge unfolds before me, I am drawn one step closer into His loving and merciful arms.

In and Out of Season

As an athlete, nothing feels more satisfying than sore and achy muscles after a tough workout—especially after leg day.  You know that you’ve worked hard when you can’t sit down on the toilet without wincing or falling over in pain.  (Sorry for the potentially disturbing visual.)

When I head back to South Africa, my soccer season will begin and I am sooooo excited to get back onto the field with my teammates.  Funny story though, my season literally begins the weekend I arrive.  With that being said, I needed to get my butt whipped into shape… like several months ago.  But hey, better late than never, right?

These past few weeks have been full of tight glutes, smelly gym clothes, and awkward sports bra tan lines.  My days have been filled with interval sprints, squat racks, and plyometrics – and let’s not forget about the actual soccer part.  Cone drills and cruyff cuts have invaded and taken over my dreams at night, but honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The coolest part about my training regimen is that God shows up and joins me every time I step into the weight room or out on the field.  I’ll be in the middle of doing interval sprints and then BAM, “Oh hey God, what are you doing here?”  It amazes me that He can use strength and conditioning workouts to teach me valuable and spiritual life-lessons.  I never knew that interval sprints could be so insightful (and painful, but mostly insightful).  It’s one of the things that I absolutely love about God.  He really does have His hand in everything, and He can use anything to teach us, shape us, and grow us outside of our comfort zones.  Whether it’s a sport, a job, a chore, or a family member.  He’s super creative that way.

So, while my legs were shaking and my pulse was racing, God was busy teaching and convicting.  He taught me two things that I’d love to share with you guys:

  • Firstly… God asked me why I don’t exercise my spiritual muscles the way I exercise my physical ones?  Eventually, I am going to get old and wrinkly, and at about 80 years old, I highly doubt that I will be worried about having a “bikini body.”  In fact, I think my biggest concern will be having a body that works well enough to get me to the refrigerator and then back to the couch.  So why am I spending so much time investing in what is “temporary” instead of investing in what is “eternal?”  Boom. Heart check.  When I meet God face to face, I want Him to know me.  I want Him to call me by my nicknames, and I want to be able to joke with Him about all of those awkward and glorious moments when we cried and sang and laughed together.  He’s not going to care about how fast I could run or how flat my abs were.  So, I realized in that moment, that it’s all about balance.  I need to keep my body (my temple) holy, pure, and in tip-top shape… but I also need to keep my prayer life and my relationship with the Lord in tip-top shape as well.  Plus a sobering thought: He gave me this body, so He can always take it away!
  • Secondly… God reminded me that I need to see this pre-season training and this “waiting” period (before I fly out to South Africa) as a HUGE blessing.  Let me be honest… I am one of the most impatient people in the universe.  No, really.  It’s terrible.  So when God told me to wait a few more months before returning to the mission field, you can assume that I wasn’t too “keen.”  In other words, I was a tad bit pissed off.  But as always, God had a reason.  He knew that I would need to prepare my body, my heart, my spirit, and my mind for the challenges and adventures that I would be facing in the future.  He knew that I would need the three days a week on the track and the two days a week in the weight room to get my body into the best shape possible, so that I would be able to glorify Him to the best of my ability on the soccer field.  He knew that there would be so much more for me to learn before I go—that there would be more money for me to raise, more people for me to meet with, more blogs for me to write, and more time for me to spend with my family.  I wanted to rush out, but God needed me to stay.  So this specific season is meant to prepare me and to glorify Him — whether that’s through my fitness training, my writing, my prayer and worshiping, my relationship building, or my Netflix watching.  My only responsibility is to make the most of this time while I have it, because once it’s gone, I can’t get it back.

So a word of advice… wherever you are in life, no matter how boring or how stressful this season may seem, make the most of it.  Embrace it for all that it has to offer, and trust that God has you exactly where you are for a reason and a purpose.  It may not make sense now, but I can promise you that when you look back days, months, or years later… everything will make sense.  He has all of our days laid out before Him, so He can see things that we can’t see yet.  I know it’s hard, because I struggle with it daily, but try to find comfort in that!

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“So let us not get tired of doing what is good.  At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.”  

– Galatians 6:9

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.  And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.  And this hope will not lead to disappointment.  For we know how dearly God loves us, because He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love.”

– Romans 5:3-5

And Let Us Run with Endurance

Yesterday, I ran my first trail race.

I can describe the experience in two words: terribly wonderful.  “Terribly” because it was freezing and I could barely breathe the entire time.  “Wonderful” because of the adrenaline rush, the incredible views, and the satisfaction of finishing 5th out of 40 women.  

While I was striving and struggling to put one foot in front of the other (without tripping over rocks or getting lost), I had some revelations.  The first revelation was, “Dang, I definitely should not have tied my shoelaces this tight because I can’t feel my toes,” and the second revelation was, “Life is just like a long distance trail run.”

Throughout the race, God was reminding me of bible verses that perfectly correlated with what I was going through over these past few weeks.

Psalm 18:32-36 – God arms me with strength, and He makes my way perfect. He makes me as surefooted as a deer, enabling me to stand on mountain heights. He trains my hands for battle; he strengthens my arm to draw a bronze bow. You have given me Your shield of victory. Your right hand supports me; Your help has made me great. You have made a wide path for my feet to keep them from slipping.

The hardest parts of the trail run were the single tracks that weaved back and forth up the mountainside.  Only one person could travel up the path at a time because of it’s narrowness, and it was much harder to see where you were going because the path wasn’t straight.  When I ran on the single tracks, I couldn’t look up to enjoy the view of the vineyards because I was too scared that I would twist an ankle or take a wrong turn.  I ran with hesitation and I doubted my ability as a seasoned athlete.  But I was reminded that in the moments when I am weak, God is strong on my behalf.  When my feet falter and my legs grow tired, He carries me and establishes my steps.

As I pushed the branches out of my face and carefully eyed every step, I was also reminded of how important it is to focus on being “in the moment.”  Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”  If I spent too much time trying to find the next turn sign past the endless amounts of shrubbery, I probably would have fallen flat on my face or stubbed my toe on a rock.  I needed to be content with focusing on one thing at a time by making the most of my situation in that moment.  I have to laugh because I am such a planner (aka: control freak).  I love to think ahead and strategize about the future,  so this part of the race not only slowed me down… it convicted me as well.

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Proverbs 4:11-12 – I will teach you wisdom’s ways and lead you in straight paths. When you walk, you won’t be held back; when you run, you won’t stumble.

Just call me Samantha “Stumbling” Stokesberry.  Ask my mom, I am a klutz.  I broke my toe by tripping into a wall for goodness sake. How does that even happen?  Anyways, I probably rolled my ankle 4 or 5 times during this run.  The track was a dirt road that went through a vineyard and up a mountainside, so it was full of gravel, dips, and tree roots.  I honestly don’t know how I didn’t face plant.  I’m sure the woman running behind me wondered the same thing.  I somehow managed to “catch” myself before I twisted an ankle, and each time I would let out a nervous chuckle under my breath followed by a, “Whew, thank you Jesus that was a close one.”

There have been so many times in my life when I deliberately chose to take a wrong step in a very wrong direction, and the Lord was always there to meet me in those moments.  He has never met me with anger or judgement.  Instead, He continually rescues me with love and mercy.  I’ve lost count of how many “close ones” I have encountered overall, but I can say that I’ve grown and matured through all of them.  Every time I make a mistake, God is there to teach me wisdom and to set my wandering feet back on His straight path.  Sometimes, it takes multiple mistakes for His wisdom to sink into my thick skull, but eventually… it resonates.

My favorite parts of the run were the sections where the single tracks opened up into broad and smooth downhill roads.  I could run without holding back, I could pick up speed without difficulty, and I could look up to admire the beautiful landscape in front of me.  In those moments, I was reminded of God’s grace.  There will always be tough times in life when we are forced to trek up a steep and hazardous incline (uncertain of what we will face once we get to the top), but God is also gracious enough to give us the easy and exciting downhill portions to enjoy as well.  I believe both types of circumstances are meant to be savored and cherished, and we should praise Him for them all.  I mean, how can we ever really appreciate the good in life without having experienced the bad?

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Lastly,  I realized that “how I run my race” plays a significant role in how I finish.  I could have cheated and cut corners, I could have turned back around when things got difficult, or I could have pushed one of my competitors into the lake next to the trail so they wouldn’t beat me to the finish line (I may or my not have considered all three of those options by the time the race was over).  The “long distance trail run” of life is where we are meant to grow and develop.  It’s where our character is reveled, where the steadfastness of our spirit is tested, and where we face challenges and victories of all kinds.  It’s where we learn from what is behind us and look forward to what lies ahead.

So, my conclusion: Above all else, I want to be known as someone who ran her race well.  Someone who ran with integrity, passion, love, and grace.  Someone who finished strong and someone who helped others to do the same. Who’s with me?!

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Hebrews 12:1-2a  Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.  We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.

To Donate towards my mission in South Africa: http://ssmfi.org/missionary/samantha-stokesberry/