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”

The Blog Post That Everyone Hated

I’m warning you now—you are not going to like this blog post.

This blog post is not filled with politeness or political correctness.  It is not filled with flattery or superficial clichés that are meant to keep you comfortable.  It is not a “feel good” post to boost your self-confidence, and it is not a post that will stroke your ego.  This post is meant to tear you apart from the inside out.

You will not like this post because it will convict you, it will hold you accountable, and it will force you to look at yourself in a way that might offend you.  So if you dare… read on. Continue reading “The Blog Post That Everyone Hated”

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”

Embracing Your Sheepish Side

Have you ever heard someone use the word “sheepish” in a conversation?  Maybe you’ve even used it yourself, saying something like, “wipe that sheepish grin off of your face, child.”  Lord knows I’ve heard phrase that plenty of times in my life…

Well, I just discovered that the definition of sheepish is: to show or feel embarrassment because of an act of foolishness; or to resemble a sheep in timidity, meekness, or stupidity.  

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So, check this out.  Last week, I spent a few days in a quiet little garden town called Greyton.  I went hiking (and totally got lost) in the mountains, I frolicked through the grassy meadows (after frantically running away from a swarm of bees), and I stumbled (literally) upon a peaceful river.  I couldn’t have asked for a better place to spend some quality time alone with Jesus.  It was perfectly serene, and I honestly didn’t want to leave.  While I was there, the Lord reminded me of Psalm 23.  You probably know it because it’s one of the most famous passages in the bible, but just incase you’re unfamiliar… here’s what it says: Continue reading “Embracing Your Sheepish Side”

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”

Don’t Be Afraid to Fall on Your Bum

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” 
― Winston S. Churchill

I heard the coolest analogy the other day…

Picture a baby who is learning to walk.  When that baby takes their first steps, they are almost guaranteed to fall right on their bums.  Probably more than once, too.  Now picture the parents.  What is their reaction when their child takes a few steps and then falls?  Do they yell at the baby or reprimand their child for falling?  Do they tell the child how disappointed they are—that the kid failed to take more steps and walk properly?  Do they give up and say, “forget it, you’ll never walk…I quit?”

No freaking way.

The parents would whip out their cell phones and call every single family member on the planet to share the good news of those first steps.  They would hastily pick up their baby, wrap the child in their arms, and rejoice over that sweet moment.  They would become filled with joy and pride that their little chubby-cheeked kid was able to take a step forward, even though that same chubby-cheeked kid fell right on their bum seconds later (more than once).

Well, guess what…

We are God’s chubby-cheeked kids, and when we take a step forward—even if it’s only a tiny baby step followed by a stumble—He rejoices.  He laughs and smiles and sings over us when He sees that our heart’s desire is to please Him.  He doesn’t condemn or rebuke, He encourages and comforts.  When we fall on our bums (or on our faces), He lifts us up and wraps us in His big and strong and heavenly arms.

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I am my own worst enemy, so when I try to take a step and then fail, I have a tendency to get really disheartened.  I worry that God will be upset with me for failing, and I worry that He will be disappointed in my stumbling.  But what I don’t do in that moment of failure… is remember that the Lord considers me to be His precious little one.  I forget that I am loved unconditionally for who I am and not for what I do.  I forget that I am accepted and welcomed into His family because of Christ’s sacrifice for me.  And that truth will always trump how I may feel.

I mean, honestly… ask my Dad.  (By the way, have you guys met my Dad?  He’s awesome, he’s incredible at soccer, and he has a knack for grilling the perfect steak.  He also tells great jokes even though my mom doesn’t think he’s funny.  I had to take this quick opportunity to gush on him because I don’t do it enough.  Dad, if you’re reading this… I love you.)  Anyways, my Dad has tons of footage on his video camera of me doing dumb things as a kid.  Mostly, it’s video clips of me at birthday parties and Christmas dinners doing mean things to my little sister (sorry Melis), but that’s not the point.  My dad was proud of me, and he wanted to make sure that he recorded all of those sweet little moments on camera.  As small and as insignificant as those moments may seem now, they meant something to him.  Despite all the times I threw broccoli across the dinner table, and pushed my sister off the swing-set, I brought my parents so much joy.  And they wanted to make sure that I always knew that to be true.

The same goes for God.  When He see’s us wanting to move forward in faith, He becomes overjoyed.  And when we stumble, He is right there to pick us back up so we can try another time.  No rejection.  No condemnation.  No judgement.  Just His unfailing love and mercy.

Moral of the story: Don’t be afraid to fall (or fail) because your Heavenly Father is for you and not against you, He will be there every step of the way—guiding your steps and holding you up.

I want to end with a few encouraging scriptures—these have been gems for when I get discouraged, so I hope you can find some encouragement from them as well!

2 Corinthians 3:18 (MSG) – “…And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.”

Psalm 37:27 – “Though he stumbles, he will not fall down flat, for the LORD will hold up his hand.”

Isaiah 41:10 (NLT) – “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”

Lord, Give Me Patience

How many of you have ever prayed the well-known and regularly recited prayer that goes a little something like, “LORD, GIVE ME PATIENCE?!”

Yeah, I thought so. Me too.

As most of you may already know, I am a go-getter, a super impulsive decision-maker, and a “let’s do it without taking into account the potential risk” taker.

Needless to say, I am as impatient as it gets.  Luckily, God loves me anyway.  And thankfully, He loves me too much to leave me this way forever.  So He’s been teaching me a ton about patience—and there are two things that He’s specifically taught me that I would love to share with you all.

God is patient.  No, but for real. It may sound cliché and simple, but let that little nugget of truth sink deep into your being.  The New King James Version of the Bible even translates the word patience into “long-suffering.”  God literally suffers with us—for as long as it may take.  Meanwhile, I can barely suffer for 5 minutes in heavy traffic (or for the 1 minute and 30 seconds that my Kraft Macaroni and Cheese takes to heat up in the microwave).  Even better, the two Greek words in Scripture that make up the word “long-suffering” are “long” and “temper.”  This basically means that God is not quick to blow His proverbial fuse—He’s slow to anger.  He stays calm and He suffers alongside us through our bad decisions and rebellious ways.  He doesn’t give up on us nor does He give in to frustration. Instead, He gives us the grace and mercy that we need to keep pushing forward—because He loves us that much.

If God is patient, then I need to be patient.  Whoop, there it is.  This is the hardest part of the lesson.  It’s so wonderful to hear that God is patient with me and that He is willing to constantly put up with all of my (let’s just be honest and call it) crap, but the second I need to be patient with someone else, all hell breaks loose.  If I am going to love people genuinely, and if I am going to be the woman that I am called to be (which is God’s daughter, a Christ ambassador, and a Truth spreader), then I need to treat others the way God treats me—with patience in love.  That’s hard.  But isn’t that the best way to share the Gospel with someone?  By living it?  Let’s be real.  Patience is hard to come by these days.  Everywhere you look, whether it’s on TV or in magazine ads, you’ll find messages about “instant gratification.”  We want results and rewards and retribution, and we want it now.  But the Lord calls us to be set apart from this world, He calls us to do things His way.  Slow and steady wins God’s race…

And I am seriously the worst though.  Whether its trusting in God for a husband, for a job, or for six-pack abs… I am as impatient as it gets.  And when it comes to dealing with people, the struggle doesn’t get any realer.  I got “saved” before my parents did, and when they didn’t understand or grasp my new beliefs right away, I got incredibly frustrated with them.  I wanted them to “get it,” and I ended up throwing away my love and my patience for them in the process.  It took me a long time to realize that their faith walk with the Lord was their own—and that my faith walk was…mine.  That was about 8 years ago, and God is still teaching me this lesson with friends, co-workers, and family members today.

He’s also teaching me to be patient with myself.  Who else struggles with this one?  Yeah, I thought so, you’re not alone.  Romans 8:1 says, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.”  In the Sam’s Paraphrased Version of the Bible it says this, “Dude, cut yourself some spiritual slack.  God sent Christ Jesus for a reason, and that reason is: you are impatient (along with so many other things) and you were in need of a perfect Savior to come to your rescue.  You’re loved unconditionally and you’re accepted in spite of your sins.  Now stop beating yourself up, and put a smile on that beloved face.”  When I make mistakes, I need to show myself the same grace that God commands me to show others—and I need to show myself the same grace that God continuously shows me every single day.  It’s not an easy task, but I’ve found that learning it and embracing it is worth all of the blood, sweat, and tears.

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So take home message:

When you accidentally snap at someone in a moment of weakness and they respond with, “Hey now, don’t you know that patience is virtue”—instead of smacking that smug smile off their face and getting angry, take a few deep breaths and thank God for how His patience and love toward you never… ever end.

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

 

You Are a Warrior, Are You Not?

This week I learned something new about myself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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