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.

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?”

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”

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”

Late Nights, Drunk Girls, and Fuzzy Blankets

I have always struggled to believe in coincidences.

When I was growing up, I found it easier to believe in a perfectly orchestrated world where everything happened for a reason (even when I didn’t understand why) and nothing happened by chance.  Over the years, trusting in a faithful and sovereign and loving God has made that small and innocent belief flourish into a confident hope and expectation.

But every now and then, I forget.  I forget who God is, and I forget that He’s ultimately in control.  Sometimes, I even forget how deeply and intimately He loves me.  And when I forget, the Lord is always gracious to remind me… Continue reading “Late Nights, Drunk Girls, and Fuzzy Blankets”

When a “Good Christian Girl” Has a Bad Day

Have you ever had one of those days when everything seems to go wrong?

Maybe you caught every single red light while running late to a meeting, maybe a bottle of your favorite red nail polish spilled all over your white carpet, or maybe you were planning on buying groceries—but the amount of money left in your bank account said, “Ha ha, not today friend, you’re on your own…”

Yeah.  Those days are the worst.

It’s when every little thing seems to go wrong.  It’s when stuff breaks, things get lost, and there seems to be no justifiable reason as to why.  It’s when the quality of our character and the quality of our faith get tested the most, and it’s in those split seconds when you truly discover where your hope and your peace lie.  And let me tell you…  I am the queen of messing those moments up. Continue reading “When a “Good Christian Girl” Has a Bad Day”

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”

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

 

Finding My Identity In the Midst of Idolatry

“Your pain could be God prying open your life and heart to remove a gift of His that you’ve been holding on to more dearly than Him.”  – Tullian Tchividjian

Let go.

Two words that are simple to understand and simple to write.  Two words that can change a life – for better or for worse.  Two words that have caused me to lose countless hours of shut eye during these past few weeks (maybe even months). Two words that instill a deep desire within me to sing a particular song from a particular Disney movie at the top of my lungs.  “Let it go, Let it go…” 

Letting go is hard.  It almost always requires a step of faith, a burst of courage, and a heck of a lot of discipline.  Three things that are nearly impossible for this 24 year old girl living in South Africa to muster up simultaneously.  So what’s the big deal?  Why is the struggle so real?  Well, God has asked me to let go of the one thing that I love most.  The one thing that I may have started to love more than Him…

Soccer.

Agh.  Just typing that word out on this page gives me a nasty stomach ache.  I’ve played soccer since I was 4 years old; it fills my life with passion, purpose, and pride.  It’s a part of who I am.  I am “Sam, that girl who plays soccer.”  But you see, that’s the problem…

About halfway through my soccer season this year, I started compromising.  My identity became: athlete.  My value was being measured by what my coaches and teammates thought of me, and my worth was determined by how well I performed in each game.  My standard of integrity declined to appease my friends, and I had forgotten the real reason why I stepped out onto the field in the first place.  Not to prove myself.  Not to please my parents or my peers.  Not to impress my coach or the spectators.  Not even to stay in shape.

I played to worship.

So, God challenged me with a question, “Samantha, my beloved daughter, who do you play for?”

My response:  “Not You, God, at least… not anymore.”

His response: (*with a smile and a gentle nudge) “So what are you going to do about that, My child?”

My honest response: “Agh…”

I used to think idols were artifacts of the past.  Golden statues that people bowed down to and danced around, but little did I know, idols are alive and well today (especially in my own life).  It’s so easy for me to idolize people, meaning that I depend on them to fulfill my needs for love, security, comfort, and affirmation.  I didn’t realize that my Heavenly Dad (who already offered me all of those things perfectly) was being replaced by counterfeits, by things and people that can never satisfy me.  And I think this truth hurts Him more than it hurts me.  He has a love for me that is so wide and so vast.  He has a desire for me to know who I am according to Him and not according to the fleeting opinions and imperfect judgements of this world.

My friend Rencia shared some wise words with me the other day.  We both were fighting this same battle around the same time, and she spoke these words to me with humility and conviction, “Sam I haven’t just been committing idolatry with God, I’ve been committing adultery against Him.” 

Woah.  Her words hit me hard. If am supposed to be in a committed love relationship with the Lord, then He is supposed to be my everything: my source of joy, my provider, and my strength.  And I’ve been cheating on him with men that can’t love me unconditionally and with material things that can never satisfy.  Not to mention, I’ve been taking the abilities and talents He freely gave me, and I’ve been using (and abusing) them for my own selfish gain.  These things have taken God’s place in my heart, and it’s left me feeling insecure, empty, and desperate (things He never intended for me to feel).

So, with 5 games left in the season, I have to walk away.  Do I struggle with the thought that I can just “tough it out, suck it up, and finish?” Yep.  Do fears and worries  constantly flood my mind as I step out in faith? Oh, yes.  And as I battle with the concerns that my teammates will hate me, that I’ll be deemed a quitter, and that I will regret my decision to step back, I also know that God is faithful and that His promises are true.  So, during this season of separation and extra spare time, I will walk hand in hand with the God of the universe who calls me His.  I may try to run ahead of Him when I think I know the right way to go, and I may try to unlink my interwoven fingers from His when I want to go faster or further than He intends, but I find rest in knowing that He will always be patient enough to put up with my rebellious shenanigans.  

Who knows?  Next season is an entirely different story, and by that time, my heart may be in the right place to play again.  God knows the desires of my heart:  to serve, to marry, to play, to teach, to laugh, to adventure, and to grow (just to name a few things).

So for now, while I am confronted with this difficult season of sacrifice, I will do my best to “let go” of the fears and worries that come from this world, and I will choose to hold on to these unshakable truths instead:

Psalm 37:4 Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Deuteronomy 31:8 Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.”

Tis The Season

Oh, sweet December.  A month full of joyful Christmas music, sparkling lights, and pine tree scented Yankee Candles.

To make things a little more interesting, lets throw in two major sinus surgeries, a pending visa, no income (no job), and some moving jitters. Sounds like a party.

Now, there are two ways I can look at this:

1. Tis the Season to freak out, cry, and overreact  OR

2.  Tis the Season to trust in the Lord and move forward in faith

I have learned through numerous trials and errors, that the second option is the much better one.  No matter how crazy things get, God will always be in control.  Always.  Nothing throws Him for a loop or sneaks up on Him unnoticed.  Nothing makes Him scratch His chin in bewilderment or confusion. I don’t always know what the future holds, but He knows.

Throughout this process of planning and preparing for my trip, I’ve been learning that 97.8% of the things I plan don’t work out. However, I’ve realized something of vital importance. God’s ways have never been and will never be my ways.  My tiny brain is limited to the now and to the yesterday, but God has no limitations.  He sees it all: the beginning, the end, and everything in between.  So when the South African Embassy NEVER answer my phone calls about my visa, I can choose to get angry and threaten the heck out of them or I can trust that God is working it all out behind the scenes (update: He sorted it out perfectly). When my sinus surgery almost gets canceled because of an insurance mistake, I can either throw myself a pity party or I can wait patiently and let God step in at the last minute to fix everything (update: The surgery was successful and I am all healed up). The one beautiful thing I discovered from my doubts and worries is that they do not effect God’s faithfulness.  Even when I am flipping out about “who knows what,” God is still faithful to do what He has promised.

He’s promised to comfort, to heal, to provide, to love, to lead, to strengthen, and to protect.

And nothing I do will mess that up!  Can I get an AMEN?!?!

I’ve discovered that one of the biggest weapons against my own doubt is gratefulness.  When I remember the things God has done and how He has provided in the past, all of my worries and fears just disappear. If He has never let me down before, then why would He start now? The way He chooses to provide may look very different from what I had in mind, but that keeps me on my toes.  When He steps in last minute to provide for my surgery or uses someone that I least expected to write me a check for over $1000 for my move to South Africa, there’s just no way I can take the credit.

So now that all of my anxieties have been handed over to the One who is strong enough to deal with them, I have the freedom to enjoy this season to it’s maximum potential.  I have the freedom to celebrate, to laugh, to dance, to eat, to sing, and to cry (tears of joy of course).

I have the freedom to forgive, I have the freedom to extend grace, and I have the freedom to not worry about anything!

But above all else during this hectic Christmas season, I have the freedom to love and to be loved in return because love is the most excellent way.