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!

The Quiet Time Conundrum

I never liked “time-outs.”  I never ever liked to take afternoon naps as a kid, and I never ever liked “quiet times.”  I was always on the move, causing both a ruckus and a headache for my parents and teachers one day at a time!  I was so terrible at sitting still and I talked so fast that the words coming out of my mouth couldn’t actually keep up with the thoughts flying through my head.  My parents thought I had ADD, while my grandma on the other hand, believed that my “motor-mouth” problem was due to my heightened intelligence and elevated IQ (way to go, Grandma).  Some days, mom would look me straight in the eyes with a serious face, and she’d put her hands on either side of my head and she’d say, “Sam, FOOOOCUUUS.”  And after laughing and doing a few “cool down laps” around the house, I would finally focus.

Honestly, not much has changed since then.  (Except for the naps thing, I actually enjoy taking naps now.)  But this week, I got to housesit for my aunt and uncle, and I got to spend some awesome quality time with my cousin (when she wasn’t spending the whole day in school).  That meant tons of time alone… in an empty house… with not much to do… and an overactive brain that doesn’t know when to shut itself off.  OH, THE HORROR. Little did I know, God had a purpose and a plan for me in this “quiet time” madness.

If I can manage to pray for more than 5 minutes in one sitting, it’s a big deal… because it never happens.  Usually my prayer life consists of short random prayer thoughts throughout the day, like, “Oh Lord, where did I put my keys? I know that You know where they are… Father, give me patience to drive in this flippin’ Miami traffic, the worship music playing in my car isn’t helping anymore, and I am about to bust out of here and walk home…. God, I pray for the kid’s in my moms first grade class, please calm them down and keep them FOCUSED because she might murder one of them, and I don’t want my mom to go to jail because she’s a great teacher… Father, thank you for hot showers and comfy beds and yummy food.  Love you Lord, In Jesus name, Amen.”

Yeah.  The second I try to go deep with God, I blank out.  I forget the names of all of my friends and family members who may or may not need prayer, I forget all of the bible verses that I had memorized, and I forget all of the things that I needed to talk to God about in the first place.  The struggle is real.  To help me combat this struggle of distraction and forgetfulness, I began journaling my prayers.  That helped a ton because I love to write and it keeps me focused.  It also allows me to go back and cross off prayers that God has answered which is super encouraging!  I also stopped trying to come up with fancy words while I pray, which really made a difference in my prayer life because my prayers ended up making more sense and they began to sound like a real life conversation between two people (with real people words).  Lastly, I told fear and shame to go “take a hike” because they were hindering me from being able to get real with God.  Fear and faith can’t both thrive in the same place.  So I said, Sayonara and Adios to those lies from Satan.  This week, I got real with God.  (So real, that it got to the point where I cried multiple times on my aunt’s carpet and spent some quality time in fellowship with their pet peacock, Kevin who didn’t judge me for my puffy red eyes or for my runny nose.  Thanks, Kevin. Mad respect.)

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Also, God showed me a few cool things that I really want to share with you guys because maybe I’m not alone – and maybe you struggle with this stuff too?

The power of prayer has nothing to do with me or my fancy words.  God is the powerful one in this relationship. He makes things happen and He sets things in motion.  He brings freedom, understanding, clarity, and wisdom.  He comforts and protects and provides.  All He wants is for me to trust Him enough to muster up the courage to actually say something to Him about what I need (and what I am thankful for).  My help comes from Him, not from how eloquent my prayers sound.  Once I realized that my prayers weren’t about me, I finally had stuff to pray about.  I could praise Him, thank Him, and ask Him for things.  It freed me up to enjoy God without worrying about being judged for how I sounded.

Jesus promised that troubles and tribulations would come, but He also promised to help us overcome them all.  I learned that having a nervous breakdown every now and then (especially while talking to God) is okay.  There’s no law that says Christians aren’t allowed to be upset or angry from time to time (just don’t let that lead to sin).  In fact, the Bible says that God keeps track of our sorrows and tears, and that He records those moments in His book (Psalm 56:8).  This just means that God is very aware of our meltdowns, and He doesn’t condemn us for them, He sympathizes with us instead.  Believe it or not, God gets it.  He is big enough to handle my mood swings, He is loving enough to walk me through the rough patches of my life, and He is gracious enough to not take my “moments of emotional weakness” personally or hold it against me.  I love God for that.  When I learned how to cry in front of Him, I also learned how to let Him love me in those moments.  When I get free, He freely comforts me and He strengthens me by reminding me of how strong He is on my behalf.  Then my meltdown stops because I remember who my Father is.  If God (the Mighty Warrior and Creator of the Universe) is on my side, then what the heck do I need to worry about?

When I am weak, He is strong.  No, but for real.  There have been so many times when I’ve tried to hide my weaknesses from God because I thought that He’d be disappointed in me.  I was ashamed of my sinfulness, and I didn’t think that the Holy of Holies would want to even look at me – let alone converse with me – but, I was so wrong.  The Lord showed me that His light shines through my cracks.  In the areas of my life where I am weak, God is strong for me.  He’s supposed to get the glory in those moments, but if I try to hide my cracks and my flaws, that makes me a hypocrite and it makes God a liar.  He chose me as His own before I was even born – already knowing who I would become and what I would do.  He took into account my wrong turns and my mess ups before they even happened, and He said, “I still want you despite all of that.  I’ll clean you up and make you righteous in time, but I want you as you are now.  I love you and you are so precious to Me.”  That kind of love is hard to wrap my mind around, but it also compels me to go out and tell the world about it.  Unconditional love is a gift that no human being should ever have to miss out on.

So, this week was full of me, myself, and My King.  At first I was so intimidated by the copious amounts of quite time that I had to endure, but God slowly began to change my heart and my mind about it.  Now, I’m really starting to appreciate the quiet moments in my day.  Way back when (like two weeks ago, ha), I couldn’t pray for more than 5 minutes at a time, but now I sometimes skip lunch because I get so consumed with talking to God about anything and everything in my “jam-packed” brain that I actually forget to eat.  That’s unheard of.  I love food, almost as much as I love my family (but not quite).  The coolest part is that as I pray and read God’s word, He answers.  Whether it’s through a verse, an overwhelming peace in my spirit, or through a phone call or text from a friend that comes at just the right time (shout out to Jocelyn for your perfectly timed messages). He always answers.

Will I still shoot up random short prayers to God throughout the day?  Heck yeah.  All the time.  Because I need Him all the time, and because He’s always with me.  When you love someone and want to get to know them better, you spend more time with them… and my relationship with my Heavenly Dad should be no different.  It’s a learning process and there are hard days when I don’t want to open my journal or my mouth, but the more I learn about how awesome my God is and about how much He cares for me… the more it makes me want to talk to Him.

I think the most challenging part of this love walk/prayer journey is going to be letting God speak while I just sit and listen.  (Still working on that with my momma too.)  Luckily for me, love is patient…

 

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/

[Be]loved – A Poem

Hi all.  I wrote a little poem for you (but mainly for me).  Sometimes it’s easy to forget that our past mistakes do not define us, so I wrote this as a little wake up call.  I wrote this poem to remind me of my name, which is Beloved.  And I wrote this poem to remind others of who God has redeemed them to be … which is loved and blameless.

(*I need to get free real quick: This poem comes from the deep places of my heart, so it’s a bit scary sharing it with the world.  Literally sweating as I sit here typing this, haha.  My hope and prayer is that God will be stronger than my weaknesses, and that He will use these words to make an impact, even if it’s only for one person.  Enjoy it.)

 

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[Be]loved

Oh lust, my old infatuation, my persisting temptation,
I can still remember the way that you tasted.
So sweet on my lips, but your taste was short lived – I continually craved it.
I could never get enough of you.
You dominated my thoughts, you would catch me off-guard, and you had me persuaded.
You coerced me with your words while seducing me with your eyes,
And you know what, it worked – I was fascinated.
Constantly hooked on a feeling that penetrated me deeply, it was so stimulating.
You made me feel things that I’ve never felt before,
Igniting sparks within me that made me want more.
And together we explored a new world that was full of adventure and so much allure,
But what I remember the most… was feeling remorse.

Oh lust, you betrayed me.
You served me your glorified lies on a fancy plate of strife, and I digested them gladly.
I believed you when you said you loved me,
But that was nothing but a fantasy, a fake idolized reality.
While I was sharing my heart, you were shamelessly committing perjury.
You stole a piece of me and that piece was never yours to keep.
Incomplete and lonely,
That’s how you left me – haunted by those old and dark memories.

You got bored, said farewell, and you left me to fend for myself.
But I have news for you lust, Someone else found me…

That’s when You showed up, dearest Love.
You set me free and You confronted my lust,
You uprooted the lies that were planted in my head,
And You watered my soul with the truth instead.
“I will be faithful and make you Mine,” You said.
“I will show you mercy and grace despite your mistakes,
And wrapped tightly in My arms, you’ll always be safe.
I will call you precious, beloved, and treasure – My very own design.
And My love for you will endure until the very end of time.”

So I asked my dearest Love, “Why did You choose me?
I’ve been broken and used and I’m terribly sorry,
But no matter how hard I try to get clean, my body feels shameful and filthy.
How can you love me, a girl marred by impurity, worn down and weary?
How can you want me?  I feel so guilty… so unworthy…”

Then You spoke, dearest Love, and I heard Your voice.
You spoke gently and softly, but clearly.

“How beautiful you are My darling, how beautiful!
You have captured my heart – it’s indisputable.
Nothing can separate My love from thee, not lust, not doubt, nor the deepest depths of the sea.”

Then my dearest Love said to me, “Tell the world and share our story.”
So there it is, my testimony – written in rhyme, bold yet brief
About a girl who was lost, but came to believe.

And if you’re someone who is struggling to see
Why a perfect God would love an imperfect girl like me,
It’s simply because of His Son who died on the tree.

A death He died so lovingly – unlocking the chains… setting me free.

Road Trips, Relationships, and Rental Cars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If You’re A Sinner and You Know It, Clap Your Hands

Do you remember the old catchy tune that goes, “If you’re happy and you know it then your face will surely show it, if you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.”  Well, Pastor Steve Brown did a little remix of this childhood classic, and it goes something like this, “If you’re a sinner and you know it, then your life should surely show it, own it, and use it for the glory of God.”

…Say what?  

When I first heard Dr. Brown sing that song, I thought he might’ve drank a little too much “somethin’ somethin’” before he went up to preach at the pulpit.  I mean, why on earth would I want anyone to see my nasty, dirty, ugly sin?  I thought Christians were supposed to brag about how they sin less and less every day, and how they no longer need to hear the juvenile Gospel message because they finally got their “crap together.”  Honestly, I’d much rather take the easy way out and hide my insecurities and flaws behind a false Christian persona who utters things like, “Bless your heart dear child, praise Jesus, glory hallelujah, the sun is shining and the birds are singing hymns, amen.” (Add southern accent for full effect.)

This week I have been reading through the book of Romans in the New Testament.  That book gives the legalist in me anxiety.  It was written for (you guessed it) the Romans, and it was written by the apostle Paul, a law abiding Jew and murderer of Christians who seemed to have everything going for him according to the world’s standards.  That is, until Jesus met him on a journey, wrecked his world completely, and put it back together a hundred times more beautifully.  Let me tell you why this letter from Paul makes me cringe.  To sum it all up, Paul explains that God’s finger of judgement, righteousness, and wrath, the finger that was pointed directly at me, has been redirected.  That finger now points directly at Jesus. Everything I deserved, Jesus got.   The punishment, the hate, the death, the persecution.  All of it.  Jesus freely and willingly took my place on God’s judgement stool, and because of that, my debt to the King of King’s is completely satisfied.  Because Jesus acted on my behalf as a substitute, I have life, forgiveness, and freedom.

I haven’t told you guys this yet, but… I’m an outlaw.

I don’t live by the law, because I can’t keep the law.  Ask my mom, she’ll tell you first hand.  I break the ten commandments every day, I sin in my sleep, and I have a tendency to yell profanities out of my car window when I drive (If you live in Miami or South Africa, you should be able to sympathize.)  I am rebellious, I want to do the exact opposite of what I’m told to do, and I like to be in control.  So, needless to say, the book of Romans doesn’t exactly sit well with my human nature because I can’t justify or fix myself. My need to punish myself for bad behavior gets nullified and tossed out the window. I’ll give you a quick taste of what I mean:

Romans 3:20 says, “For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands.  The law simply shows us how sinful we are.”

But then Romans 3:27 says, “Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God?  No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law.  It is based on faith.  So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.”

And finally Romans 8:1 says, “So now there is no condemnation of those who belong to Christ Jesus.”

So what does this have to do with “owning my sin and clapping my hands?”  Well, when I try to appear good, I actually cheapen God’s grace.  The greater a sinner I reveal myself to be, the more amazing God’s grace becomes.  God is glorified when I stop trying to be like God, and I start being honest about my need for God.  I mean, look at Paul.  The guy was a cold-blooded murderer, and yet, God loved him and chose him to preach the good news everywhere.  Who better to do the job of sharing God’s grace with the world than the undeserving guy who called himself the “chief of sinners!”  If anyone understood the life changing power of mercy and grace, it was Paul.

So, it’s Easter season and, to be honest, I didn’t celebrate “lent” because it would have turned into another legalistic rule following game that could have ended in one of two different ways: I screw up and feel guilty that I didn’t last 40 days with my sacrifice of choice, or I would have had an ego trip for lasting 40 days without messing up my sacrificial promise to God.  Either way, it would have had nothing to do with Jesus and everything to do with me.  I am also a firm believer of purposing to give 365 days of my life to the Lord instead of just allotting Him 40 “really good ones.” (But it’s a heart issue, and I digress.)

Thinking about this season, I am reminded of one of the men who was nailed next to Jesus on the cross.  He wasn’t baptized, he didn’t receive any of the sacraments, He didn’t go to church, He never attended a bible study, He didn’t have a checklist of good deeds or accomplishments, He didn’t do a penance, He didn’t evangelize or save thousands of non-Christians…

He just believed in his heart that Jesus was Lord and he was saved. 

Just like that. On the spot. Right before he died.

The man deserved to die by crucifixion. He was a criminal and he messed up big time, but Jesus, while being wrongly accused and tortured on the cross, accepted and loved that man beside Him without any hesitation. The forgiveness wasn’t earned, but Jesus poured it out him anyways.  That’s grace.

Grace is reckless, it’s unfair, it’s unlimited, it’s unbiased, and it’s unconditional.

But most importantly… it’s free.

When I die, more than anything, I want to be known as an imperfect girl who lived according to that saving grace and shared it freely with the world.

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So I end with the wise words of Dr. Steve Brown, “If you’re a sinner and you know it, then your life should surely show it, own it, and use it for the glory of God.”

Why Terrible People Make Excellent Missionaries

I was listening to a sermon this past week and heard this quote:

“Christianity is beggars telling other beggars where to find bread”  -D.T. Niles

What a profound quote for a struggling legalist like me to hear.  News flash: I am not a baker of christianese flavored breads (even though sometimes I’d like to think so), I am merely a beggar amongst a variety of other beggars seeking out a piece of bread from the only Baker who can offer it. The best part: the bread is free. (And who doesn’t like free bread, I mean really?)

My thought process used to go like this:  I was Sam the girl who struggled, but now that I know Jesus, I am Sam the girl who doesn’t really struggle anymore. I am Sam the girl who is “saved,”so I should sin less, fail less, and ask forgiveness… less.

What a complete load of junk. 

My initial thoughts on being a missionary involved me needing to get my life together, needing to be good enough, holy enough, or wise enough to serve in another country.  Because if I had the nerve to want to go and tell hurting and bad people about Jesus, I needed to do my best to be like Jesus…

I had it completely backwards.  It will always be impossible for me to be the “Professional Spiritual Chick Who Never Screws Up.”  To be a good missionary, I need to be bad.  Does that mean that I go out and seek ways to purposefully sin like a maniac?  No, I do that just fine on a day to day basis without even trying.

If someone doesn’t see the need for Jesus in my own life, then why would they want to invite Jesus into theirs?  I must be honest about my sin, because if I’m not then I have no right to talk about the Savior who came to die for it.  As Paul (the chief of sinners) so eloquently puts it in Romans 3:23: All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Confession time.  Every now and then, I really enjoy pulling out my “Measuring Stick of Holiness” to measure the differences in how short I fall compared to how short others fall.  Well guess what, the distance I have fallen from God is no different than the drunk guy down the road, the murderer on death row, the guy who cheated on his wife, the pope, or Mother Theresa (yeah, the last two are sinners who need Jesus desperately too).  We have all fallen equally short, I am no less or greater of a sinner than anyone on this earth.

When I was addicted to porn and sexual immorality I needed Jesus, when I struggled with alcohol, lying, cursing, and self esteem issues I needed Jesus, but here’s the kicker: Even though I am a Christian now, I STILL need Jesus.  I will never stop needing Jesus.  So, when I walked into Calvary Chapel Ft. Lauderdale for the first time when I was 17 years old, I was openly admitting to the world that I had some serious sin issues.  I walked into that church because I was a terrible person who needed help. I had finally found a place where no one had their lives together, no one was blameless or worthy, and no one claimed to be holier than thou. It was my new dysfunctional family.  But as I journeyed deeper into the Christian faith, I realized that everyone, myself definitely included, began to hide behind masks of fake perfection. When I attended church on Sunday (Holy Hour), I was on my best behavior.  I tried to meet everyone’s expectations by pretending that everything was fine and dandy when deep down I was falling apart. I would think to myself, “I know Jesus, so why am I still sinning? Why am I not fixed yet? Why am I not perfect?”

The church, the 10 commandments, and short term mission trips were never supposed to fix me.  I was never meant to be “fixed,” I was meant to be saved.

Jesus came to rescue me. He loves me, period. End of story.

It’s not “Jesus loves me BUT….” or “Jesus loves me ONLY IF I DO X,Y, and Z…”

No.  I am perfectly loved, I am completely forgiven, and I am rescued… period.

Here in South Africa, this means that people need to hear me confess.  As a daughter of the King this makes me unique because I have the ability to confess without fear since nothing can separate me from His love, not even my own sin (thanks to Jesus.)  They don’t need to hear me say things like “Oh bless your heart dear child let me pray for you.” They need to hear me say things like, “Yeah, I understand, I lived it, I struggle with the same thing.”  The truth brings freedom, and when I am honest about who I really am (which is a girl who is still a hot mess and who still needs saving from Jesus every second of every day), then it becomes less about me and more about the Savior of the world.  In my own life, the men and women who left the greatest impacts on me were the ones that took off their masks and showed me who they really were from the inside out. They showed me their sin, their flaws, and their need.

When I take off my mask, Jesus doesn’t freak out or run away.  He is not ashamed of me. He already knew what He was in for the moment He took my sins with Him on the cross.  He knew, and He chose to follow through with it.

There is a girl in Cloetesville that I am about to journey with who desperately needs to discover Jesus, but she doesn’t need Jesus any more than I need Him.  I plan on walking beside her and pointing her to the one who saved me from myself.  I plan on getting my hands and feet dirty because, hey, Jesus loves dirty people. I have no idea what this adventure will look like, but I am willing to take off my mask and get real with this girl.  I am willing to admit that I don’t have my life together, just like her, and that it’s okay! Jesus never said that I needed to get my life together.  He just asks me to come as I am and He asks me to believe that He is enough.  He asks me to trust Him and know that He is Good, that He is Gracious, and that He is God.… and with all of this being said:

Pray that I can peel back the many layers of my life, that I can meet this girl where she is at, and that I can point her to the One who rescues. Pray that I can see her the way God sees her, as my equal. Pray that Jesus will use me despite myself to love on this girl, and finally, pray that He will be glorified, in whatever way that looks like…

Truths, Testimonies, and Tattoos

“Ek het jou lief selfs in jou donkerste tye” – Afrikaans

“I loved you even in your darkest times”

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Romans 5:8 (NLT) which says, “But God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”

What an amazing testament of how loving and gracious our great God and Father is!  When I was still wallowing in my sin (acting a fool) with my back facing God, He loved me.  That’s just insane.  It’s amazing and beautiful, and it has absolutely nothing to do with how holy or righteous I am.  I thank God for that because I am a mess; perfection is not a word in my vocabulary… but Jesus is.

Yesterday I made the decision to get a new tattoo (see Afrikaans quote at top of page).  Tattoos can be a touchy subject, especially in the church.  They come with stereotypes and judgements and condemning stares, but in my opinion, they can be beautiful works of art that have the potential to start deep conversations and reveal hidden truths about a person.  In some cases, they can even be tools for sharing the Gospel. Some people don’t like tattoos and some people do.  So what does that mean?  It means Grace.  It means that we as Christians have the freedom to develop personal and intimate relationships with the Lord, and if it does not go against His Word, then any decision we make becomes a heart issue between us and Him.  We have the freedom by grace to be set free from the laws of old, and we get the opportunity to now live in a grace filled and loving relationship with God through Christ.  How awesome is that?

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1 Samuel 16:7 (NIV) says, “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

This past week I made the Stellenbosch Maties Professional Women’s Soccer Team in the SASOL league in South Africa.  When God says that He knows the desires of our hearts, He really means it.  I came to South Africa to coach, but my Heavenly Dad has also given me the chance to play for one of the best women’s teams in the country! Getting to join this team means so much more than using my God given gifts and talents to win games.  I have the chance to play in an environment that is full of racism, drugs and alcohol, sexual immorality, and discrimination.

2 Corinthians 4:6-7 says this: 

For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.  We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.

When I showed up to soccer practice yesterday with my new tattoo, I got to talk about Jesus (in the funny Miami accent that I apparently have).  My tattoo is written in Afrikaans, and most of the girls on my team speak Afrikaans, so when three of the girls saw my tattoo and read it…I was able to share the meaning behind it.  Working and living in a non-Christian environment can make it hard to share the Gospel, especially if you’re not allowed to speak about religious things.  The tattoo on my arm opened a door that God could use to reveal Himself.  I think it’s amazing how the Lord can find His way into any and every situation He pleases, it says a lot about His sovereignty.

I tend to put God in a box, but He is constantly showing me every day that He doesn’t belong in a box.  God isn’t limited to just Sunday morning services or slow organ worship music.  He is bigger than that.  He can use anyone and anything to get the word out about His love, and I think that is so cool.  He can use Christian Tattoo shops like Disciple Ink in Stellenbosch, He can use sports (even ones like the MMA that Calvary Chapel Ft. Lauderdale partnered with to put on an outreach last year), and He can use breweries like J Wakefield Brewing in Miami (run by an loving and awesome Christian family) to reach out to the lost and hurting.

I love that our God is so creative… In fact, He is the Creator which makes Him the source of any and all creativity within us.  Our abilities, talents, skills, passions, and gifts all come from our Heavenly Father, and He has assigned them to us for a purpose. Our job is just to use them, and that in a sense makes us into mini “creators” just like Dad (we were made in His image and likeness.)

So, I get to use my athletic ability to glorify God on and off the field through my playing, though my coaching, and through the relationships I build with my coaches and teammates.  I get the privilege of being a light in a really dark place.  Will I be a perfect Christian? Nope, that term “Perfect Christian” doesn’t actually exist (it’s an oxymoron…like jumbo shrimp)… but Jesus is perfect enough for me.  He continually chooses to use broken and weak people for His plans and purposes.  This way, there will be no question that God should be the one to get the praise and honor.

This week I’ve had a realization.  The breath in my lungs that I speak, run, sing, pray, and laugh with is a gift from my Father, so I will fight hard to glorify Him with every single ounce of it.

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.