Death Grip: Letting Go of the Rope

Did you ever play the game Tug-O-War as a kid?

If you haven’t, it’s a game where you and some friends stand on opposite sides of a long heavy rope, gripping it and “tugging” on it as hard as you can until one team manages to pull the other over a designated line.  Once the team crosses the line by giving way to your brute strength and unrelenting resolve, you win!  Yay, game over.  Simple enough.

Every time I played this game as a feisty and incredibly competitive eight-year-old girl, my hands took a beating.  Callouses and cuts covered my palms as I’d grip that rope as tightly as I could, right up until the moment of sweet victory or the moment when I crossed over the “loser line.”  No matter how hard it was to pull and tug and cling – I refused to let go.  Call it stubbornness or “commitment;”  I didn’t want to give up.

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As an adult, I still tend to grab onto things and refuse to let go – and sometimes the things I hold onto are the wrong things.  The approval of others, feelings of anger, old shame lies, comfortable sin habits, and the need for control being just a few of those things.  I cling to them firmly, hoping to find the love, the justification, the happiness, or the self-inflicted punishment that I am looking for (and feel I deserve).  I’m not ashamed to say that I love to win, but in a situation like that, the only way to truly win is to let go.

When it comes to my relationship with God, I also cling, but if I am completely honest, most times I don’t cling because of hope or love.  I cling because of fear.  It’s a fear that whispers, “If I let go of God, He will leave.  If my grip slips or if my hands grow tired, He will walk away.  If I let Him go, then He will most definitely let me go.”  I’ve always thought that the secret to walking in righteousness and faithfulness was to hold on as steadfastly to God as I could.  I was trying to hold on for dear life, and I was dying in the process.  There were moments when I’ve thought to myself, “If only I grip hard enough, if only my fingers start bleeding, if only I pass out from sheer exhaustion – then I’ll be okay and only then will I be deemed worthy of love.”  At least, that’s what I thought.

But it was on the days when I was weak that I learned the truth about God’s power and strength.  God’s love was never dependent on how tightly I gripped onto Him.  Instead, His love was and will always be entirely dependent on how tightly He grips onto me.  And the beauty of that statement is found in the simple fact that He will never let me go.  (And He will never let you go, either.)

Agh. Thank you, Jesus.

God does not want me to play Tug-O-War with Him.  He doesn’t want me to waste my life trying to win over His love and affections and approval and acceptance through own human strength or ability.  I don’t need to prove myself to Him or win Him over through my performance, my athleticism, my service, or my sparkling personality.  The “loser line” has already been crossed, and here’s the major plot twist you guys – we weren’t the ones who crossed it.  Heck, we weren’t even playing.  We were sitting on the sidelines while Jesus willingly “took one for the team” and sacrificed Himself to become our champion, and His win was enough for all of us.  The game is over.

When my trust and hope are in God and not in myself, I find the freedom (and the permission) to let go.  The crazy part is that it’s actually in the letting go that my faith muscles begin to grow.  My identity rests in the fact that God has my back, that He fights my battles, and that He won’t ever stop loving me (because His love never depended on me in the first place).  He begins to increase, as I decrease.  He becomes greater, as I become less.  I need to believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am enough, not because of how hard I try to be enough, but because my Heavenly Father already says that I am enough.  As those truths start to sink deep into the dark recesses of my spirit and my soul – the shame, the fear, the performance anxiety, and the endless and pointless striving begin to cease.

Then the real post-game celebration begins.  And that’s when the hardened callouses on my hands (and the hardened callouses on my heart) fade away, as I revel in the fact that it is finished.

Hebrews 13:5 – “For He has said, ‘I will never [under any circumstances] desert you [nor give you up nor leave you without support, nor will I in any degree leave you helpless], nor will I forsake or let you down or relax My hold on you [assuredly not]!'”

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.

Blow-Up Mattresses and Broken Promises

You guys need to meet my mom.

My mom is a supremely gifted and creative human being, especially when it comes to interior design and home staging.  She can turn any poorly decorated room into a beautiful work of art with just a few lamps, some rearranged furniture, and a freshly painted accent wall.  In fact, my mom is so creative that she managed to find a way to turn our family’s dining room area into a makeshift bedroom for yours truly.  The final touches included my very own clothing rack, a comfy blow-up mattress, and the privilege of being seven whole steps away from the refrigerator.  Midnight snacks never tasted so good.

During these past few months at home, things have been ‘n bietjie deurmekaar (as they say in Afrikaans).  Hectic, crazy, confusing, and pretty much “all over the place” sum it up quite nicely.  It started with a jetlag-induced emotional breakdown which then led to several weeks of slowly readjusting back to a relatively normal American lifestyle.  Then just for kicks, let’s throw in Thanksgiving with the family, several radio interviews, a high school human trafficking awareness presentation, my Grandma’s Birthday, an exciting weekend church fundraiser, Christmas shenanigans, a few biblical counseling sessions, dinner dates with old friends, New Years Eve firework watching, last minute sleepovers, oh… and breathing.  Let’s not forget breathing.

By the grace of God I’ve somehow made it to January 1st, 2018, and while the world is striving to make their New Year’s Resolutions, I’m just trying to muster up the motivation to make my bed in the morning.  While the world is trying to make promises and end bad habits, I’m just trying to find the energy to shampoo my hair.  The truth is—if I had the time to jot down a bunch of promises to keep for this new year—Jesus knows I’d probably just break them anyway.

On one hand, my brain thinks to itself, “Yes Sam, do the workout, pray the prayer, skip the dessert, read the book, get the sleep.”  On the other hand, my heart shoots back with, “Sam, what were you thinking?  That workout will make your legs burn for weeks and who really needs sleep?  Not you, you’re a superhero!  By the way, that thought you had last night about eating doughnuts for every single meal is a top-notch idea!  Do it.”  The struggle, people.

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So in the midst of this new and unpredictable season of life, I’ve decided to do things a little bit differently.  I’ve decided to take the pressure off of myself to perform.  Instead of making promises that I will most definitely break, I’ve decided to simply aim for progress.  Instead of planning for perfection, I’m choosing to embrace interruption.  That way, when things go wrong, timetables get adjusted, or blunders get made, I can brush the dirt off my knees, look for the teachable moment, and get up to try again.  (Pangs of guilt and shame no longer included courtesy of Jesus.)  Overall, I want this new year to be a season of learning how to walk by faith, a season of learning how to grow through mistakes, and a season of learning how to receive God’s undeserved and unconditional grace.  I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get so caught up in my shortcomings and in never reaching “the proverbial mark” that I forget to look back at how far God has brought me, and I forget to be thankful for the moment that I’m in now.

So my friends, while we (both awkwardly and enthusiastically) stumble together through this new and fresh 2018 year—let’s take a gigantic leap of faith, go against the flow, and cut ourselves a little bit more slack.

You are loved.

Shockproofing Sin: One F-Bomb at a Time

There’s a question thats been floating around in my head these past few days…

It’s been driving me crazy, and it demanded an answer.

Why are Christians so shocked when a fellow sinner… sins?  I mean, think about it.  Say you’re sitting in church, and the guy next to you reeks of weed and bad life decisions.  Or say you overheard your bible study friend admit to fantasizing about a guy she saw on her soap opera. I’d bet 9 times out of 10 you’d avoid eye contact and silently intervene in prayer for the person’s salvation.  But what if that person was already saved?  What if they loved the Lord?  How would you feel then?  Shocked? Disappointed? Angry? Continue reading “Shockproofing Sin: One F-Bomb at a Time”

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”

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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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.”  

The Mighty Morphin Protestant Ranger

“I love doing preposterous things,” He replied.  “Why I don’t know anything more exhilarating and delightful than turning weakness into strength, and fear into faith, and that which has been marred into perfection.”

-The Shepherd (Hinds Feet and High Places Novel)

 

As a little girl, I loved watching The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers on TV.   If you don’t know who the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers are, then you probably weren’t a 90’s kid from America – and you probably didn’t wake up at 6am every Saturday to make sure that you didn’t miss an episode (like me).  Call me obsessed if you must, I’m not ashamed.

I loved dreaming about what it would be like to have superhuman powers.  In fact, I still love pondering the thought.  I wanted to know what it would feel like to change the world, to make a difference, to be strong and brave, and to fight off evil villains (and to fly of course… but I digress).  Little did I know – that being a Christian is very similar to being a Power Ranger – just take away the skintight bodysuits and the fake alien monsters, and BAM we’ve got ourselves a party!

But in all seriousness, my dream of wanting to be a superhero also had it’s downsides.  Growing up, I was a sore loser, I didn’t like being told that I couldn’t do something, and I really struggled to make room in my life for failure and defeat.  I was constantly trying to prove myself and my worth to others – both to kids my age and adults alike.  Until Jesus got a grip on me.  Then things began to change.  I will still admit, however, that I don’t enjoy losing.  (Just ask my teammates after a soccer game or call my parents for a play-by-play on family game night.  It can get ugly if my heart isn’t lined up with God’s.)  The struggle is still real, and the fall still hurts when it happens, but at least now I have Someone to catch me when I stumble and make a mess of things.

This past week in Vancouver, on my week long mission trip with Calvary Chapel and XXXchurch, I got sick.  (Like “nasty cough and boogers” kind of sick.)  I didn’t plan for this, I was not happy about it, and I felt like I was going to burden my entire team rather than bless them.  How could I possibly please God on this mission trip if I was sick?  How could He use me if my voice was gone and my throat was sore?  Needless to say, I was frustrated.  But once I actually took the time to listen to what God had to say about my weakness and sickness during that week, I ended up learning quite a lot.

  • It’s not about me.  It’s always been about Him.  Yes, God created me with my personality, my looks, my passions, my abilities, and my talents.  Yes, He made me with a purpose – but I mustn’t ever forget the very crucial fact that HE MADE ME.  I cannot take credit for who I am, all the glory must go to my Creator.  He provides me with opportunities, with relationships, and with second chances.  He’s the one who found me when I was lost and who planted my feet back onto the right path.  He doesn’t need me, but He wants me.  He already had a Son, but He chose me to be His daughter – to inherit all that He has to offer.  Every word of inspiration and love that flows out of me is because of God – He puts breath into my lungs.  (He also invented the cough which gets the nasty stuff out of my lungs, yay God!)  Every step of faith I take is because He gives me the strength to move forward.  I can do nothing apart from Him.  All of that testifies to His character and to His righteousness, not my own.  I’m the vessel.  I’m the clay pot and He’s the potter who molds me according to His pleasure.  And THAT takes the weight off of my shoulders – no longer do I need to feel obligated to perform or to please the world around me.  I have an audience of One.
  • When things don’t go my way, trust God anyway.  I was sick the day I arrived in Canada with the team.  I wanted God to heal me immediately (because I am so flippin’ impatient), but He didn’t.  Why?  Only He knows the real reason.  Did God make me sick? No. God is good and God is love.  He is a live-giver, not a life-taker.  But was He glorified in my sickness? Heck yeah.  Once I humbled myself enough to let Him deal with me, my pride, my fear, and my insecurity – He was glorified.  During prayer one morning with the team, the Lord spoke to me, He said, “Sam, my sweet child, if I don’t heal your sickness, if the trials continue to come, and if you feel as though I have forsaken you… will you still trust Me?  Will you still know that you are Mine and that you are loved?”  In that moment, I cried.  I cried because my answer was no.  I didn’t trust God or His plans for me.  I didn’t and couldn’t understand why He wouldn’t make me better so that I could go and do all these awesome things I had planned to do for Him.   I mean, that’s what He wanted from me, right?  Psshhhh, wrong.  After grumbling for a few days, I realized that all God wanted was me… not my good intentions or my good deeds.  He just wanted me.  I had to have the kind of faith that could say, “I am enough to please my Heavenly Dad, even without my works.”
  • My worth doesn’t come from my actions, it comes from who I am.  I have said this and written about this so many times, but for some reason – it still hasn’t seeped down into my thick skull.  God loves me because He made the decision to love me before I was even born and before my parents even knew what my name would be.  Before I took my first breath, He picked me, all of me – and He knew that I didn’t come with a return or exchange policy.  (Now, that’s commitment.)  He chose me to be a part of His family, knowing full well about my crazy antics and my big mouth.  So when I had to miss one of the outreaches this week in Canada because I was stuck in bed with the “cold from hell,” I should have felt contentment and peace instead of inner turmoil and agitation.  Why was I so upset?  Who was I to complain anyways?!

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Looking back, I was able to attend the porn expo all three days with XXXchurch where I met so many amazing individuals – some who knew Jesus and some who didn’t.  (Cool story, 8 people got saved inside the porn conference at our booth which is absolutely ridiculous and absolutely amazing all at the same time.  That just doesn’t happen at sex expos.)  I was able to spend quality time in one-on-one conversations with my teammates, and we got to exchange stories and testimonies that spoke of how wonderful and faithful our God has been throughout our lives.  I was able to share toiletry filled gift bags with some of the women who were living on the streets of Vancouver, and I was able to bond with one special girl named Laura who taught me about overcoming and keeping a positive attitude despite tough circumstances.  The Lord spoiled me with adventures and blessings.  So even though the trip had some added surprises and difficulties, it ended up being better than I ever could have imagined (cough, boogers, and all.)

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I learned that the condition of my heart was more important to God than the condition of my work and the condition of my health.  God’s priorities are usually way different than mine, and sometimes taking a step back is necessary before taking the next few steps forward.  He’s such a gracious God.  I love that He loves me, even when I am cranky and tired and have boogers dangling out of my nose.  (Sorry, gross, I know.)  So the point and summary of this post is that the Lord was very present in Vancouver.  The mission trip was a huge success, and it was all because of His faithfulness, patience, grace, and love.  Many lives were changed, and many people were set free…  one of those people being me.

…And being a part of God’s beloved family beats being a Power Ranger any day!

Preparing for a Porn Conference: This Christian’s Walk on the Wild Side

I never thought these words would ever come out of my mouth, but here it goes… In exactly one month, I will be attending a porn conference in Vancouver, Canada.  

Now before anyone freaks out – or rushes over to their cell phones to call my parents and tell them that their 24 year old daughter has fallen off the deep end – let me tell you why I will be attending this conference.

First things first: Jesus loves porn stars.  No, really – He’s crazy about them.  He doesn’t just like them, He loves them.  And you know what else?  Jesus loves people who watch porn too.  Yes, you read that correctly.  While I was in South Africa this past year, my faith and knowledge of “who God is” was challenged immensely.  I realized that His love ran deeper than I ever could have imagined and that His healing power was greater than I ever could have anticipated.  He is a God of inclusion, and His arms are always open to receive anyone who runs to Him (no matter how dirty or how sinful that person might be).  Isaiah 59:1 says, “Listen! The LORD’s arm is not too weak to save you, nor is his ear too deaf to hear you call.”  

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Jesus had a talent for drawing in the people that everyone else pushed away.  The whores, the murders, the diseased, the liars, the cheaters, the arrogant, and even the dead.  Not only did he draw them in, He made it a point to chase after them.  When the religious leaders looked at a deadbeat or a criminal, they saw a waste of space – but when Jesus looked at them, He saw a daughter or a son who needed restoration and freedom.  If Jesus, brimming with perfect holiness, was willing to walk into the most dimly lit and shameful places of the world to find the people who needed Him desperately, then I must be willing to do the same.

Only God can turn our ashes into a thing of beauty.  The Lord has an amazing way of redeeming our pasts.  He can take something that was once ugly and disgraceful and He can turn it into something worthy and full of hope.  It’s my turn to get free with ya’ll.  I had a really bad porn addiction in high school, and I had an incredible talent for hiding it from the people closest to me (which meant that no one knew I needed help).  I used porn as an escape, as a coping method, and as a way to “take the stress away” until it finally began to consume me.  Some serious damage was done.  My perception on love, sex, and “healthy relationships” became completely disfigured, I felt so much shame and guilt that I started to lash out on my family members and I distanced myself from God, and I started buying into the lies that I was worthless, broken, and most definitely gross.

BUT GOD.  Those are two of my favorite words in the universe.  But God… put me back together.  He reached out to me when I was deep in my self-made pit of despair, and He pulled me out and grabbed ahold of me (despite the fact that I had no strength at the time to hold onto Him).  Romans 5:8 says, “But God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”  He cleaned me up, set me free, healed my hurts, and He told me who I was in His eyes: valuable, beautiful, righteous, blameless, cherished, loved, and most importantly… His.  He’s given me a heart to reach out to those who struggle like I did, to reach out to the women who think they aren’t worth something (or someone) of value, and to reach out to the brokenhearted and abused.  He had taken the messed up pieces of my past, and He redeemed them for His glory and for my benefit, and let me tell you… it’s the greatest feeling in the world! Now, I get to find others who are in need of hope and healing.  I get the opportunity and the honor of sharing the love of Christ with those who have never experienced love before, and it’s all because of His mercy and grace.

Even though this trip (with Calvary Chapel Ft. Lauderdale and xxxchurch) will only last for a short week in February, my mission to create change and to bring hope and love to others will last for my entire life.  It’s not going to be an easy journey.  It will be dark one, a dangerous one, and the fight will be a spiritual one.  Sex trafficking, prostitution, and pornography are all over the world.  The battle is a big one, and it’s one that ends in death, both spiritually and physically, for so many.  I was recently challenged with the thought… “What would happen if I loved those people (the johns, the strippers, the porn stars, the addicts, and the pimps…) as much as Jesus loves them? How might the world be different?  

I’ve decided to give it a go and find out.  Partner with me in prayer and with steps of faith.  Let’s be bold together as a community (all over the world) and as a united church.  We are commanded by God – Who is the Mighty Warrior fighting on our behalf – to not be afraid, so let’s be strong and courageous, and let’s inspire change. Jeremiah 32:17 says, “Nothing is to hard for Him.”

If you’d like to donate and support me in this fight, please visit:

http://ssmfi.org/missionary/samantha-stokesberry/