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?”

To All My Single Ladies…

[*Girly Post Alert]

Is it just me, or have you ever felt like every human being in the world is getting engaged, getting married, or making babies right in front of your eyes on your Facebook Newsfeed – while you’re just trying to survive (in Africa), struggling to find a reason to shave your legs, and barely finding the time to take a shower.

…Anyone? No?  Just me?

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Let’s be honest.  Being single is hard, in fact, it’s harder than hard – and it’s something that I’ve been battling with since the 6th grade, when my parents told me I wasn’t allowed to date until I turned 35.  Not to mention, as a maturing Christian woman who desperately wants to do the “right thing” when it comes to dating and marriage, the struggle has been exponentially real.  This journey has been full of twists and turns, victories and failures, and butterflies and face-plants.  I know that I am not the only female in the universe who struggles with this issue, so I thought it may be encouraging to share some of the nuggets of wisdom and revelations that the Lord has been teaching me throughout this faith adventure.  I still have a lot to learn, but here are a few points that have helped me thus far… Continue reading “To All My Single Ladies…”

Being You-er Than You

2 + 2 equals  4… but so does 3 + 1…

Just because someone may do things a little bit differently than you, doesn’t mean they are doing it wrong.  This has taken me years to understand, and I think I’m just beginning to scratch the surface of what this truth actually means.

I used to want to fit in for such a long time.  Before I became a Christian, I would buy the right clothes from the right stores, wear the right hairstyles, and pierce the right body parts.  I’d listen to all the top hits on Y100.7, speak the American slang, and dive deep into the popular teen magazines.  I did whatever it took to blend in with the cool kids and be “one of them.”

Funny thing is… when I became a Christian, that didn’t stop.  I still was desperate to fit in.  I exchanged my “American slang” for “Christianese,” and I swapped out my Brittany Spears CD’s for Bethel Worship Music.  I still tried to wear the right clothes – you know, nothing to “skimpy” but also nothing to “amish,” and I even tried to wear a purity ring.  (Which lasted a whole five seconds, by the way.)  My first few years of going to a new church and trying to figure out how to be a “good normal Christian” was incredibly intimidating.  I still didn’t feel like I fit in even after I received my salvation card—not to mention, I was super unhappy because I wasn’t free to be myself. Continue reading “Being You-er Than You”

Let’s Get Dirty

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”    – C.S. Lewis

The word “love”—along with it’s many definitions—is splattered all over the pages of the bible.  You won’t have to look very hard to discover that love is patient and kind or sacrificial and selfless.  But this week, the Lord has been teaching me about another way to define love that isn’t spelled out as clearly in the scriptures.

Love is… dirty.

And just to be clear, I’m not talking about the bow-chicka-wow-wow kind of love…but nice try.

This kind of love is messy and uncomfortable.  It inconveniences you and it requires you to take risks.  It’s a love that suffers, that gives, and that exhausts you day after day.  It’s hard and time consuming—and it will most definitely cost you something.  It’s also important to note that this kind of love isn’t about you—it’s about them.  And to be honest, when I see opportunities to give and receive this kind of love—I prefer to yell “fire” and run as fast as I can in the opposite direction. Continue reading “Let’s Get Dirty”

Late Nights, Drunk Girls, and Fuzzy Blankets

I have always struggled to believe in coincidences.

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

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

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”

The Golden Rule

I hate cliches.

They frustrate me, mostly because there is so much truth to them—but also because they are overused and thrown around by people to the umpteenth degree.

But hey, everything happens for a reason, right?

Over the course of these past few months, evil has reared it’s ugly head all over the globe.  People have pointed fingers and pointed guns.  Loved ones have passed away and so have our  standards for morality.  We gawk, feel remorse, stand bewildered, and then go on our merry way.  We post Facebook status updates saying, “pray for this and pray for that,” but our actions remain uninfluenced (while our judgments and opinions run rampant).  We complain about the hatred and racism and prejudice all over the world, but we can’t even manage to love the guy who cuts us off in traffic or the waitress who messed up our Starbucks coffee order.

There’s a very well known quote that says, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  Theres another famous quote that says, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you.”  The first quote was spoken by Gandhi, and the second quote was spoken by Jesus.

And they both come down to love.

Sometimes, I tend to overcomplicate things.  I try to “do” too much—and for what?  Jesus had one mission in life: to seek and save the lost by making His Heavenly Father’s love known.  He came to redeem, to restore, to heal, to help, and to revive—but all of those things stemmed from His ultimate purpose which was to love.  The word disciple simply means, “to be a follower.”  So if we are to make disciples of Jesus and if we are to be disciples ourselves, then we must follow His lead.  We must love like He loved—no exceptions, no conditions, no restrictions.

Imagine for a second if we all took responsibility for our own actions (I know, crazy thought right?)—if we stopped worrying about what our neighbor is (or isn’t) doing, and if we just focused on our own behavior, thoughts, and actions.  Imagine the impact that could have on the world.  Instead of feeling overwhelmed and rendered powerless by all of the brokenness across the globe, I think we’d feel much more empowered and enabled to deal with the issues in our very own backyards.  I think radical change would happen.

Some of you may already know that I decided to learn how to speak Xhosa.  It’s a beautiful language that the black South African’s speak.  So far I can only say a few phrases and words, but I know enough to greet people, to tell them I only speak a little bit of Xhosa, and I know how to say thank you.  There’s still a ton of racism lingering around in South Africa, and the language barrier (due to the cultural gaps during apartheid) is one of the greatest factors that prevents intercultural relationships from being built between the whites, blacks, and coloreds.  So, I decided to kick that barrier in the FACE—Sam style.

Yesterday at the grocery store, I met a woman who was working at the till (the cash register), and she was a lovely black Xhosa woman and her name was Nthombi.  As she finished putting my groceries in the plastic bags, I put on my best Xhosa accent, looked her in the eyes, and said, “Enkosi sissy.”  Her face lit up.  She smiled so big and began to laugh.  Then she promptly responded with, “Wamkelekile, sissy.”  It was a simple and yet beautiful exchange of, “Thank you sister.  You’re welcome sister.”  Love does that.  It breaks down barriers, it brings joy, it unites, and it casts out fear.  I was able to laugh with a woman who I had never met prior to that moment, all because I made a small effort to reach out to her and love her within the confines of her own comfort zone.

Sometimes it’s the little things in life that leave the greatest impact.  For example, my mom has been a school teacher since I was born—and whenever I see some of her old students, they always tell me that my mom was one of their all-time favorite teachers.  Why?  Because my mom loved her students, she respected them, and she gave them the freedom to be themselves.  Don’t get me wrong, my mom wasn’t perfect, and she definitely had her moments, but she went out of her way for those kids, and they remembered her for it—even many years later.  My dad and both of my grandparents are the same way.  They know how to love people exceptionally well, and I have always admired them for that.

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So I want to leave you with a challenge.  When your Facebook Newsfeed fills up with stories of trauma and tragedy, don’t lose heart.  Love those who are hurting, go out of your way for those in need, and hold fast to the hope that you have in Christ.  As Christians, we need to remember that this world is not heaven, and it will never be heaven.  It’s a broken place affected by sin and marred by the pangs of death, so we shouldn’t be shocked by the tough times occurring all around us—in fact, those tough times are guaranteed.  But God is still in control, and He is still on the throne.  We may lose some battles now, but the war has already been won—and we are on the side of victory.

Jesus says in John 16:33, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in Me.  Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.  But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

So while we wait and long for the day when we can spend eternity with our Creator and the Lover of our souls—speak life, share hope, and show love.  Who knows what kind of mark that might leave…

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.