When Life Gets a Little Messy

Every New Year’s Eve, I ask God to give me one specific thing to focus on for the year.  Sometimes He gives me a verse, a word, or a phrase.  That way, no matter what the year has in store or how messy life seems to get, I can always go back and remind myself of that one simple truth.  Last year was a tough year, so tough in fact that God had to prepare me ahead of time with two of the hardest words in the dictionary – persevere and trust. (I was hoping He’d give me the words smile and doughnuts, but yeah, that didn’t happen.)

This year, God gave me the word faithful.

I’m not entirely sure if I like this word.  Faithfulness and faith require trust, and trust requires dependence, and dependence requires humility, and humility is not something that I’m very good at.  Yet.  So if God wants to teach me about His character and nature using the word faithful, then I will definitely have to stretch and strengthen my very own faith muscles in the process.  And that’s hard.

On my way to South Africa, my flight from London was delayed an hour and twenty minutes because a sick passenger had to get off the plane.  Due to the delay, I had to sprint “Usain Bolt” style through the Johannesburg airport because I was three minutes from missing my flight to Cape Town.  Then, I arrived at the baggage reclaim area only to learn that my checked-in luggage wasn’t in Cape Town.  It was left behind in Joburg.  Once I got to my flat, I discovered there was no electricity or hot water because of a power outage across parts of the city.  Finally, to make matters even worse for a highly emotional human being like myself, all of this happened during shark week.  (Men, that’s code, if you’re confused just ask a lady friend.)

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Do you want to hear what the worst part of the story is?  I hardcore panicked.

I had friends praying for me, flight attendants helping me, and members of my family trying to make a plan from 7,000 miles away.  None of that calmed me down.  It’s so easy for me to have faith when everything is going smoothly, but once my life takes a little detour – my faith has a tendency to flip out.  This time, it took me less than a day to squish God into a tiny box with the label “You Can’t Fix This” written on the front.  I underestimated Him big time.

Don’t worry, I saved the good news for last.

Do you want to hear what the best part of the story is?  It all worked out.

Every tiny detail was sorted out within 24 hours.  I didn’t miss my flight (and managed to squeeze in a sweet cardiovascular workout in the process), my suitcase was delivered to my friend’s house in Stellenbosch the evening of my arrival, and I had electricity in my flat the following afternoon.  My panicking got me absolutely nowhere, my stress didn’t solve any of my problems, and God was 100% faithful to provide for me every single step of the way – through friends, family, strangers, and a small cup of really delicious hazelnut coffee.  Things may not have worked out the way I thought they would’ve, but they did work out completely.

The Lord reminded me (again) that even in the changing seasons, the delayed flights, the canceled plans, the missing suitcases, and the unpredictable predicaments – He is always faithful (and He is always with me).  God’s character does not change, and He never breaks a promise.  He is Sovereign over my obstacles, my detours, and my mishaps.  He is greater than my greatest mistakes, my emotional breakdowns, and my irrational fears.  Whether I’m worshiping in a church on a Sunday morning, running to catch a plane on the tarmac of a busy airport, or rescuing a human trafficking victim on the streets of Africa – I can put my trust in Him because He is worthy of my trust.  I googled the word faithful and some of the definitions that came up are loyal, reliable, constant, and steadfast.  How perfect is that?  In this crazy world where nothing seems to be certain, God is. 

I find it a good practice to try and search for the “silver lining” amidst the messes of this life because let’s be honest, life is a mess.  But if I think back to my childhood (or to yesterday because who am I kidding), some of my fondest memories and greatest adventures happened when I was knee deep in some sort of a mess.  Usually, that mess involved mud, paint, bubbles, or bloody grass-stained body parts – but it always involved fun.  Well, almost always.

So instead of trying to live an unrealistic and uninterrupted “mess free” life, I’m going to try my best to make the most out of my mess by inviting Jesus right into it – mud, bubbles, emotional breakdowns, and all.

Because He is faithful.

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”

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.”

Ants in My Pants

Before I even jump into this next blog post, I’d like to quickly open up with a little disclaimer.

(What I am about to say is not to throw myself a pity party, nor is it to make you guys feel bad for me.  It’s to share the real “ins and outs” of my brain when it comes to being a girl in ministry.  My heart’s desire has always been to be real and vulnerable with you all… so here it goes.)

Last year in South Africa, I was living in a flat with one of my very close friends and two days after my arrival, we hit the ground running with “mission work.”  Saying that I was “busy” last year would’ve been a huge understatement.  This year, I am living alone and I have yet to find my “niche.”  I came to South Africa with a ministry plan, but so far nothing has really worked out.  You’d think that I’d be used to that by now because of the way God is constantly flipping my life upside down…

Well, surprise, I’m not. 

I have always struggled with “being still” because I used to think it was a waste of time—and it made me feel guilty.  (I know, ridiculous.)  It takes everything in me to sit still on my couch for longer than 5 minutes at a time, unless of course I am eating or binge-watching Netflix.  I hate feeling like I am doing nothing of value and I hate feeling like I am wasting my time.  I’d much rather be on the move in some way or another.  You name it, I’ll do it.  But ask me to sit still in a quiet room for longer than 5 minutes… and I just may lose my mind.

So far (during these 2.5 months) I’ve been writing frequent blog posts, I’ve been playing football for Maties three days a week, I’ve been attending STOP meetings, I’ve been writing and filming spoken words, and I’ve been building some great relationships with new friends and ministry partners.  But none of that feels like it’s “enough.”  Which is making me wonder, “Enough for who, Sam?”  For me?  For God?  For my donors?  For my church?  For my friends?  For social media?

You guys should know this by now, but incase you are new to reading my blogs there are two things that you should know about me:  My two biggest struggles are “performing to earn love” and “people pleasing.”  Whew, glad I got that out.   The struggles are real.  I must say though, God has made me very aware of these struggles and He’s been helping me to overcome them every single day.  His patience and grace constantly overwhelm me, but the struggles are still very real.

It’s special to know that I am loved by an incredible God Who accepts me for who I am.  When He tells me that I don’t need to do anything to earn or keep my salvation, I believe Him.  When He tells me that He will never abandon me and that nothing will ever be able to separate me from His love, I believe Him.  But when it comes to my relationships with people… that’s an entirely different story.  There are days when my faith is overcome by the fears that I will get rejected if I don’t accomplish enough, that I will get judged if I don’t fit into a proper mold, and that I will get cast aside if I don’t live up to the expectations of others.

I think those fears are valid.

So why am I telling you this?  Honestly, I am telling you this because you’re “my people.”  I know (without hesitation) that I can say, “Hey, my people, I need help.  I am feeling alone.  I am feeling vulnerable and insecure, and I need a little extra love this week.  Please say a few extra prayers for me.”  

And I know you’ll do it.

Because that’s how love works.

We stick together, no matter how rough and tough things get.

God has been teaching me that truth and honesty, especially in regards to the hard stuff that none of us like to talk about, are crucial when it comes to doing life with one another.  Being honest about our weaknesses, flaws, and failures helps to glue us together as a family.  It puts us all on the “same level.”  I am not better than anyone reading this blog, nor am I worse than anyone reading this blog.  I may make different mistakes than you, but we are all equal in the eyes of the God who decided that we were worthy of unconditional love and eternal redemption.  Ba-bam. 

If I am not honest about my struggles or my shortcomings over here in South Africa, then the next girl who decides that she wants to become a missionary might feel too inadequate or unqualified to take the leap of faith.  I don’t want that.  I want her and everyone else to see that “perfection” isn’t a requirement when it comes to living a life of love and following hard after Jesus.  He has already taken care of the perfection part.  We are only responsible for the availability part.

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So there it is.  I know this season of my life has it’s purpose, and I know it’s necessary for my growth, but as I journey with the Lord during this strange time of “stillness,” I’d really love some prayer.  Mostly prayer to make the most out of this time, to embrace it with all that I am, and to make God’s priorities… my priorities.

Oh, and above all else, please pray that I will love at all times and in every circumstance (because there’s no better ministry than that)!

Your Friendly Neighborhood Missionary,

Sam

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

 

Walking the Walk

“Just because you go to church doesn’t mean you’re a Christian. I can go sit in the garage all day and it doesn’t make me a car.”  – Joyce Meyer

It’s finally here—the time when I get to put feet to my faith.

I think this is one of strangest days of a missionary’s life.  D Day.  The Day just before Departure.  Imagine being filled with sadness, excitement, joy, anticipation, uncertainty, and bewilderment all at the same time.  Now multiply that by a hatred for packing and a lack of sleep from anxiety.  Now multiply that times 10.  Perfect.  Now you can understand how I feel.

It’s been about four months since I came home from South Africa, and the time has flown.  I spent time catching up with old friends, hanging out with my awesome family, doing ministry in Canada, growing with the Lord, training for soccer, worshiping at my church, and strategizing for this coming year.  It’s been a jam-packed season filled with laughter, stress, tears, and lots of Chipotle burrito bowls.  I’m grateful for it all.

I don’t think there will ever be a time when I feel “perfectly equipped” or “ready” to serve God.  Because let’s face it, I’m a hot mess.  Thankfully, all of my equipping, preparing, molding, and shaping is being done by the Spirit of God who loves to make masterpieces out of mistakes and messy hearts.  All I had to do was answer God’s call for me to go.  Which sounded something like… “God, are you serious?  Because I’m kind of freaking out a little bit over here.  I really don’t think I’m qualified for this.  I barely know how to do my own laundry.  What about EBOLA?  I’m only 24.  But if You’re sure and if You promise to go with me… then I’ll go.”

It’s so easy to talk the talk.  Believe me, I did it for years.  It’s easy to sing worship songs played by a live band in a comfy air-conditioned building surrounded by familiar faces, praising God with one hand while you hold your Starbucks coffee in the other.  It’s easy to attend bible studies, to write blog posts, and to pray for people on your “nice list.”  It’s easy to say that you trust God for provision when you live in a safe neighborhood, when you have a steady income, and when there’s plenty of food in the fridge and a car in the driveway.

But I am going to get real with you guys, I don’t want easy.  I want dirty.  I want challenging, and on some days… I want dangerous.  I want to see God show up (partly because my faith grows weak at times and I need Him to show up, and partly because I love being blown away by God’s awesomeness).  I want to fail and fall so that I can grow and change.  I want to give generously, to speak boldly, and to love recklessly—no matter what the cost.  Because if Jesus could give up everything (including His life) to rescue and love someone like me, then I should be able to do the same for others.

And let me tell you this very second, I already know that there will be days when I regret writing the paragraph above this one.  (And you guys will probably hear about it, so brace yourselves.)  Yes, the Lord promises that those days of discouragement and trouble will come, but more importantly, the Lord promises that He will forever be faithful.  Any trouble or trials that I may face have already been conquered by Christ and nailed to the cross.

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So tomorrow I leave to embark on a new adventure, and I want to ask you for prayer.  Prayers for open hearts and open doors.  Prayers for strength and courage.  Prayers for love and grace to flow out of my heart and into the lives of everyone I meet.  Prayers for dependency on the God who never fails nor abandons me.  Prayers for my family: that they will be comforted and at peace as I travel 7,000 miles away.  And lastly, prayers for the people of South Africa: for young girls to be set free from insecurities, fears, lies, and oppression—and for them to be strengthened and built up as princess warriors who are loved by the King of Kings.

Love you all.  Flight leaves tomorrow, Monday at 9:30 pm.  Let’s do this.