Desperate

We all have a story.

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

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

Is It Well With My Soul?

I have always loved the classic hymn, It Is Well With My Soul.  It’s a beautiful [and famous] song that’s sung in most Christian churches around the globe.  It’s filled with lyrics that speak of surrender, peace, and complete trust in a God Who is good and sovereign.  One verse says, “When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.”

What I didn’t know is that the author of this song – Horatio Spafford – wrote this hymn nearly a week or so after his wife and four daughters set sail on a luxury steam liner to Paris for holiday in 1873.  While he stayed behind to finish up some last minute work, the rest of his family boarded the ship.  After a short time at sea, their steam liner was rammed by a British iron sailing ship and had sunk in the middle of the ocean.  Horatio’s wife was rescued after being found unconscious – but his four daughters drowned and were killed.  Once Horatio got word from his wife about the tragedy via telegram, he boarded a boat to reunite with her.  As he sailed across the exact spot where the steam liner sank (and where his daughters were killed) – he penned the words to It Is Well With My Soul.

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Hectic.  The tragedy that Horatio faced while writing the lyrics to this song gives it an entirely new and significant meaning.  Every time I listen to the lyrics play over my iPhone speakers – I am greatly challenged by this man’s faith, and I am greatly confronted with the lack of my own.

Continue reading “Is It Well With My Soul?”

Facebook, I’m Breaking Up With You

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

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

Dear Facebook,

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

Naked and Afraid

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

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

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

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

Let’s Get Dirty

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

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

Love is… dirty.

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

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

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…

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

But the Greatest of These Is Love…

It’s always funny scrolling back through my old blog posts, reminiscing about the trials and the triumphs that I’ve had to walk through over these past few years.  It’s cool to see how far I’ve come, and it’s humbling to see how far I still have to go.  There are some lessons that I’ve been able to check off my “done and dusted” list, while some other lessons are still in the “under construction” pile.

Just the other day I sent out an email update to my supporters and my church back home.  It contained a bunch of sentences filled with anxiety, joy, fear, and uncertainty.

As I was typing out my feelings and my concerns, I became so wrapped up in my shortcomings and my doubts about being back in South Africa.  Can I really make a difference?  Am I enough?  Am I really supposed to be here?  And as I was typing, I tried to remind myself of the importance of holding on to truth, the importance of focusing on God, and the importance of prayer.

(*I don’t know if you guys realize this, but I actually write these blog posts for myself, because the Lord knows that for this stuff to actually sink into my thick skull, I need write it down—sometimes more than once.  Also, the Holy Spirit has me write it all down in a public setting, because He has a serious sense of humor and because it makes you all witnesses to the up’s and down’s of my faith walk.  This is what happens when you ask God to keep you humble, folks.)

Anyways, after I sent out the update, I got an email response from one of my pastors…

It was short, sweet, and smacked me across the face with truth:

“Sam, When all else fails simply LOVE”

Woah.  It’s only been 14 days in this foreign country, and I’ve already forgotten the most important thing about why I came here in the first place.  To love.

Yes, planting churches is important.  Building orphanages is awesome.  Educating children is special.  Street evangelism is excellent.  Feeding the homeless is great.  Hosting bible studies is wonderful.

But loving people…and I mean really loving people—that takes courage, that takes vulnerability, that covers sin, that casts out fear, that brings unity, that speaks volumes, and that changes lives.

It would be pretty sweet to have a long list of accomplishments and success stories added to my “missionary résumé,” but if all of those things were done without love—then it would all be meaningless.  Absolutely meaningless.

When I got to know the real Jesus at the age of 17, my life was changed forever.  It wasn’t because someone told me I would go to hell if I didn’t stop screwing up, it wasn’t because I got a fancy degree in theology, and it wasn’t because I joined a new church that played awesome worship music.

It was because I was loved…  I was loved in my mess.  I was loved in spite of my flaws, my weaknesses, and my misunderstandings.

Someone (Alexandria Rogan, you know who you are) chose to love me when I thought I was unlovable.  She decided that I was worthy of being loved and she decided that I was worthy of being found—and that changed my life.  She didn’t accuse me or judge me or try to fix me.  She just loved me, and that was enough to leave a mark that would impact my life forever.  And the coolest part?  She was able to love me, because she already knew exactly what it felt like to be loved in her own life.

But hey, that’s the gospel isn’t it? That while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  That although we’ve fallen short, we can have hope and salvation.  That, even though I am far from perfect, Jesus covers me in His perfection so I can be accepted and welcomed by God.

So to put it simply (and to sum all of this up)…  that’s why I’m here.  And that’s why you are exactly where you are right now.  To love.  So when you all see me having me a nervous breakdown or a crisis of faith, because it is likely to happen again, smack me in the face with truth.  Heck, send me this blog post.  I’ll thank you for it.

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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.”