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”

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”

But the Greatest of These Is Love…

It’s always funny scrolling back through my old blog posts, reminiscing about the trials and the triumphs that I’ve had to walk through over these past few years.  It’s cool to see how far I’ve come, and it’s humbling to see how far I still have to go.  There are some lessons that I’ve been able to check off my “done and dusted” list, while some other lessons are still in the “under construction” pile.

Just the other day I sent out an email update to my supporters and my church back home.  It contained a bunch of sentences filled with anxiety, joy, fear, and uncertainty.

As I was typing out my feelings and my concerns, I became so wrapped up in my shortcomings and my doubts about being back in South Africa.  Can I really make a difference?  Am I enough?  Am I really supposed to be here?  And as I was typing, I tried to remind myself of the importance of holding on to truth, the importance of focusing on God, and the importance of prayer.

(*I don’t know if you guys realize this, but I actually write these blog posts for myself, because the Lord knows that for this stuff to actually sink into my thick skull, I need write it down—sometimes more than once.  Also, the Holy Spirit has me write it all down in a public setting, because He has a serious sense of humor and because it makes you all witnesses to the up’s and down’s of my faith walk.  This is what happens when you ask God to keep you humble, folks.)

Anyways, after I sent out the update, I got an email response from one of my pastors…

It was short, sweet, and smacked me across the face with truth:

“Sam, When all else fails simply LOVE”

Woah.  It’s only been 14 days in this foreign country, and I’ve already forgotten the most important thing about why I came here in the first place.  To love.

Yes, planting churches is important.  Building orphanages is awesome.  Educating children is special.  Street evangelism is excellent.  Feeding the homeless is great.  Hosting bible studies is wonderful.

But loving people…and I mean really loving people—that takes courage, that takes vulnerability, that covers sin, that casts out fear, that brings unity, that speaks volumes, and that changes lives.

It would be pretty sweet to have a long list of accomplishments and success stories added to my “missionary résumé,” but if all of those things were done without love—then it would all be meaningless.  Absolutely meaningless.

When I got to know the real Jesus at the age of 17, my life was changed forever.  It wasn’t because someone told me I would go to hell if I didn’t stop screwing up, it wasn’t because I got a fancy degree in theology, and it wasn’t because I joined a new church that played awesome worship music.

It was because I was loved…  I was loved in my mess.  I was loved in spite of my flaws, my weaknesses, and my misunderstandings.

Someone (Alexandria Rogan, you know who you are) chose to love me when I thought I was unlovable.  She decided that I was worthy of being loved and she decided that I was worthy of being found—and that changed my life.  She didn’t accuse me or judge me or try to fix me.  She just loved me, and that was enough to leave a mark that would impact my life forever.  And the coolest part?  She was able to love me, because she already knew exactly what it felt like to be loved in her own life.

But hey, that’s the gospel isn’t it? That while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  That although we’ve fallen short, we can have hope and salvation.  That, even though I am far from perfect, Jesus covers me in His perfection so I can be accepted and welcomed by God.

So to put it simply (and to sum all of this up)…  that’s why I’m here.  And that’s why you are exactly where you are right now.  To love.  So when you all see me having me a nervous breakdown or a crisis of faith, because it is likely to happen again, smack me in the face with truth.  Heck, send me this blog post.  I’ll thank you for it.

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Road Trips, Relationships, and Rental Cars

A wise woman (who I refer to as mom) once told me, “If you can drive in the streets of Miami, Florida, you can drive anywhere!”

Well mom, I’ll see your Miami and raise you a South Africa.

It’s a magical land where few people stop when the robot is red (robots = traffic lights for my American friends), and even fewer people decide to look both ways before sprinting wildly across the middle of the road.  Thankfully, I am accustomed to those people who drive way below the speed limit, I am familiar with getting cut off in traffic, and I am no stranger to the lovely folks who refuse to put on their blinkers when they frantically decide to switch lanes (blinkers = indicators for my South African friends).  It’s been about a week so far driving my rental car (on the left side of the road), and I have yet to crash into anyone.  Hallelujah.

Overall, I am most grateful for the quality time spent with my courageous passengers (who are willing to risk their lives by driving with this crazy American … but I digress).

This week I have had the privilege of spending some sweet time in the car with my good friend Ashulita.  She coaches with me at training4changeS, and she is one of the strongest women I have ever met.  I have so much admiration for her as a mother, as a coach, and as an athlete.  Like so many other girls who live in homes where their parents are indifferent and/or out of the picture, Ash was told that she wouldn’t amount to anything in life.  However, each time an obstacle stood in her way, she would conquer it.  She never gave up, she never gave in, and she never gave a HOOT about what her “haters” thought.  She is a wonderful example of hope and perseverance to her adorable 7 year old daughter and to the young soccer players she coaches at Luckhoff High School.  When I think about Ashulita’s character, there are three words that specifically come to mind:  selfless, strong, and driven.

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You would never know about the many trials this incredible woman is facing at home, unless she personally told you about them.  She is full of joy and laughter, she doesn’t let tough circumstances get her down, and she can tear up a soccer pitch like nobody’s business.

It’s truly a beautiful experience when someone unlocks the door of their heart to let you inside.  Ashulita has given me that honor, and it has already influenced me in so many ways.  She has graciously allowed me to love her, and that’s quite a big deal.  By loving and serving Ash, my messy heart is slowly learning how to receive that same kind of love from others.  It’s contagious and powerful, and when it begins to flow from the inside out … it’s unstoppable.

I found out several days ago that Ashulita’s grandmother is dying.  Yesterday, I had the privilege of driving with her to the hospital to pick up the medications that her grandmother needed for the week.  Ash didn’t care how much the meds would cost or how long the wait would be; she had purposed in her heart to do whatever it would take no matter the sacrifice.

And it made me think…  Do I love like that?  Am I willing to go the extra mile and inconvenience myself for another?  Would I sacrifice my own comfort, security, money, and time for someone who needed help … even if they couldn’t give me anything back in return?

If I die tomorrow, I want to be known as someone who knew how to love well.  Genuinely, completely, and recklessly.  Without limitation, without judgement, and without a “return and exchange” clause.  My love will always be ridden with imperfection, but there is one who’s love is so much greater than my own.  Jesus loved the unlovable.  He reached out and touched the untouchable.  He got His hands and feet dirty for the sake of those who couldn’t get themselves clean, and that is the kind of person I want to be.  I am just as dirty as anyone else, but Jesus chose to love me for who I am AND for who I am not.  He knew exactly what He was getting Himself into long before He began stumbling down the long road to Calvary.  He knew about my bad habits, my insecurities, and my failures.  He knew that I would never be able to love Him back the way that He freely and completely loves me, yet He chose to call me His own anyways.

That’s a mind blowing kind of love.  It’s a love that covers a multitude of wrongs, it casts out all fear, and it is 100% unconditional.  There’s a deep peace that comes from knowing that nothing can separate me from God’s love.  It allows me to love without fear of rejection and/or fear of isolation.  As I draw closer to the people around me through a variety of life experiences and relationships, I am able to embrace and rest in the fact that love is (and will always be) … the most excellent way.

According To Plan

I have to admit, I never thought that I’d need to type a blog post with one hand, I never thought that I would’ve fractured my wrist playing soccer, and I never thought that my best friend would need to wash my hair for me over the side of a bathtub.

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I thought that my journey was going “according to plan,” but then it hit me… according to who’s plan? My plan? My boss’s plan? My parent’s plan?   If I genuinely believe in a Sovereign and Loving God who is in complete control of everything, including the tiny details of my personal life, then I have to trust that everything is going exactly according to His plan (whether I like it or not.)

I never saw this coming, but God did.  I was caught completely off guard, but God wasn’t.  So, with that in mind… I step forward.  Without seeing or knowing the bigger picture, I walk forward with my two healthy and completely uninjured legs, and I keep my eyes fixed on the One who sees and knows everything.

One of my prayers lately has been to embrace God as my Dad.  To see Him as full of grace and love and mercy.  I used to view God as a “recorder of my wrongs,” and as a scary guy who was constantly disappointed in me, but that’s not who He is.  He is faithful, and I know that through this experience, however painful it may be, He will use it.  It’s been two short days, and I have already received so much love and encouragement from my friends and family all over the world.  The word “grateful” just doesn’t cover it.

Then there’s my best friend, Rencia.  She has to live with my flaws and she has to  witness my shortcomings every single day.  Not to mention, she gets the wonderful privilege of experiencing me in my stubborn and “hangry” moments (hangry = hungry and angry.)  For anyone that doesn’t know this about me, if you ever notice that I seem “hangry”… run for your life before it’s too late.

Now that I can only use one arm for anything that I do, Rencia has to help me with pretty much everything.  It’s a huge blow to my pride.  I can’t help cook, cut up my own food, or braid my own hair.   Yet, she lovingly and willingly helps me do it all with no expectation of receiving anything in return. John 15:13 that says, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Rencia is daily “laying down her life” for me, and to be honest, I can’t stand it.  It hurts and it’s not fair and I argue with her about it all the time… but Grace isn’t fair either.

When Jesus died for me, I didn’t deserve it.  I mean, heck, He took my sins with Him to the cross before I even knew who He was.  He gave up everything for me, and now nothing can separate me from His unconditional love.  So when I see how Rencia goes out of her way to love and serve me, it shows me a beautiful picture of the love of Jesus.  The love of a Father who wants nothing more than to spoil His children.  It makes no sense, and it goes against everything that I know about our human-made scale of “Reward and Punishment Love.”

So when I prayed for this truth to be make clear in my life, I didn’t know that I’d end up needing surgery. I didn’t think that my arm would need to be put in a sling, but it’s okay because Romans 8:28 says, “we know that God causes everything (*the great things and the bad things) to work together for the good of those who love Him…”

So, as I am fighting hard to let go of my pride, I am simultaneously learning to hold onto truth.  It’s the absolute truth that gently whispers over and over, “Sam, your identity and your value does not rest in what you do, your identity and your value rest in the fact that you are Mine.  Nothing you do or don’t do will cause Me to love you any less.  No one can take you away from Me because I have engraved your name on the palm of My hands and I have placed My Spirit in your heart.  Sam, you are loved solely because I have chosen to love you.  Now, let Me love you.”

My surgery is Monday morning.  God has already gone ahead of me to prepare the way, so in the meantime, I am going to rest and enjoy the quiet before they knock me out and put screws in my wrist.  I am going to cheer on my soccer team from the sidelines, and I am going to coach my players to the best of my ability.  Last but not least, I am making the conscious decision not to worry,

AND I am going to let Rencia wash my hair…

My Mal Beste Vriendin (My Crazy Best Friend)

“Friendship isn’t about whom you’ve known the longest, its about who came by your side and never left”

Two Peas in a Pod

I have a few confessions to make. I hate talking on the phone, I am terrible at remembering time zone differences, and I have a tendency to forget Skype dates.  But despite these weaknesses, I have managed to become best friends with a girl who lives 8,034 miles away.  I met her only a few years ago, but it feels like we’ve been friends forever. Our friendship began over a cup of coffee and some shepherds pie (herders pastei) in the country of South Africa. We bonded over our favorite sport and how silly our accents sounded to each other, and the rest is history.

And if being best friends with this incredibly athletic, beautiful, and driven girl wasn’t enough, I have officially received word that when I move to South Africa in January to become a missionary… I will get to move in with her!

It really is true that God knows exactly what we need when we need it, and His plans are greater than any plans we ever could come up with on our own.  To be able to coach soccer, share the Gospel, travel across the world, and love on kids is a dream come true.  And just when I thought that God was done spoiling me, He decides to throw my best friend in the mix as my roommate! It’s icing on the cake.

With Rencia… When I am weak, she is strong.  When I have doubts, she has faith.  When my ego gets too big, she reminds me to break it down. When my jokes aren’t funny, she tells me.

Our friendship has survived miles and miles of distance, a 7 hour time difference, and let’s not forget the time when I went to “Patmos” for 4 months and couldn’t use my phone.

Our God really knows how to give good gifts to His children.  Moving in with this amazing woman of God will not only be a blessing emotionally and spiritually… it will also be a blessing financially.  Having someone to do missionary life with every day will help cut the cost of my monthly support for the both of us.  Did I mention how God knows exactly what we need when we need it?

From the moment we became best friends, we made a promise that our friendship would never just be for ourselves.  This friendship is so much bigger than the both of us.  It is meant for so much more.  Our prayer is that the Lord takes this relationship and uses it for His glory, to impact the lives of young girls everywhere.

“Rencia, this friendship we have is such a gift and I am so thankful that you’ve come alongside me to preserve it and fight for it and strengthen it.  I can’t wait to serve with you, live with you, and tackle you to the ground with a huge bear hug.  Ek is lief vir jou”

Kayamandi Township, ZA