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.

Desperate

We all have a story.

We all have a past that is full of joy, hurt, sin, triumph, and brokenness.  Our stories define who we are today, they shape our personalities and our characters, and they guide us down different paths.  I’ve had the privilege of listening to a lot of stories this year.  (It’s one of the perks of the job.)  Some bold and glorious, and some destructive and heartbreaking.  I’ve also had the privilege of sharing my own story – filled with it’s own up’s and down’s.

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This year I met a girl in South Africa who watched her mom commit suicide when she was a toddler, who has scars all over of her arms from the deep cuts of razor blades, and even more scars on her heart from years of selling her body in prostitution. Continue reading “Desperate”

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?”

Facebook, I’m Breaking Up With You

“When something becomes so important to you that it drives your behavior and commands your emotions, you are worshipping it.” – J.D. Greear

“Please hear me, Girl: The world has enough women who know how to do their hair.  It needs women who know how to do hard and holy things.” – Ann Voskamp

Dear Facebook,

I’ve been meaning to write you this letter, but it’s taken me some time to woman up about it.  I can honestly say that we’ve been through a lot together  – the good, the bad, and the ugly.  I remember when we first started spending time together back when I was fresh out of my adolescent years.  You were there when I first entered high school – still naïve to the party scene but determined to fit in.  You were there when I fell in love and got engaged to my fiancé – and you were there several months later when we broke up and parted ways.  You were there when I graduated from UCF with my bachelors degree in Sports and Fitness – ready to take on the fitness industry with zeal.  And you were there to celebrate with me – every single year on my birthday (making sure that no one ever forgot).  So thank you.  Continue reading “Facebook, I’m Breaking Up With You”

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”

Dance in the Rain

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass; it’s about learning to dance in the rain”

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I don’t know about you, but I’m so ready for April to be over.

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, April showers bring May flowers?  Well, forget April showers, because this month came fully-loaded with torrential downpours!  It’s been a month full of lost keys, acne breakouts, sinus infections, dangerously low bank account balances, and broken break lights.  The struggle has been so deliciously real.  (Deliciously, because I have never had to eat this many packages of super cheap 2-minute ramen noodles in my entire life.) Continue reading “Dance in the Rain”

Naked and Afraid

We’ve all experienced it at least once in our lives.

That embarrassing moment you just can’t seem to shake out of your mind.  Maybe it was that moment when you were spending quality time with friends, telling them a fantastic joke or sharing an impressive story—when all of a sudden someone interrupts you and points out the large piece of “something green” stuck in your teeth.  Uhhh, embarrassing.  How long was it there for?  Who noticed?  Awkward…

Or maybe it was when you were in 3rd grade and you took a quick bathroom break, only to return to your classroom unaware that part of your uniform skirt was stuck in the waistband of your Minnie Mouse underpants.  It happens, believe me… it happens.

We’ve all felt it.  Shame.  Embarrassment.  Fear.  Rejection. Continue reading “Naked and Afraid”

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”