You Are a Warrior, Are You Not?

This week I learned something new about myself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In and Out of Season

As an athlete, nothing feels more satisfying than sore and achy muscles after a tough workout—especially after leg day.  You know that you’ve worked hard when you can’t sit down on the toilet without wincing or falling over in pain.  (Sorry for the potentially disturbing visual.)

When I head back to South Africa, my soccer season will begin and I am sooooo excited to get back onto the field with my teammates.  Funny story though, my season literally begins the weekend I arrive.  With that being said, I needed to get my butt whipped into shape… like several months ago.  But hey, better late than never, right?

These past few weeks have been full of tight glutes, smelly gym clothes, and awkward sports bra tan lines.  My days have been filled with interval sprints, squat racks, and plyometrics – and let’s not forget about the actual soccer part.  Cone drills and cruyff cuts have invaded and taken over my dreams at night, but honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The coolest part about my training regimen is that God shows up and joins me every time I step into the weight room or out on the field.  I’ll be in the middle of doing interval sprints and then BAM, “Oh hey God, what are you doing here?”  It amazes me that He can use strength and conditioning workouts to teach me valuable and spiritual life-lessons.  I never knew that interval sprints could be so insightful (and painful, but mostly insightful).  It’s one of the things that I absolutely love about God.  He really does have His hand in everything, and He can use anything to teach us, shape us, and grow us outside of our comfort zones.  Whether it’s a sport, a job, a chore, or a family member.  He’s super creative that way.

So, while my legs were shaking and my pulse was racing, God was busy teaching and convicting.  He taught me two things that I’d love to share with you guys:

  • Firstly… God asked me why I don’t exercise my spiritual muscles the way I exercise my physical ones?  Eventually, I am going to get old and wrinkly, and at about 80 years old, I highly doubt that I will be worried about having a “bikini body.”  In fact, I think my biggest concern will be having a body that works well enough to get me to the refrigerator and then back to the couch.  So why am I spending so much time investing in what is “temporary” instead of investing in what is “eternal?”  Boom. Heart check.  When I meet God face to face, I want Him to know me.  I want Him to call me by my nicknames, and I want to be able to joke with Him about all of those awkward and glorious moments when we cried and sang and laughed together.  He’s not going to care about how fast I could run or how flat my abs were.  So, I realized in that moment, that it’s all about balance.  I need to keep my body (my temple) holy, pure, and in tip-top shape… but I also need to keep my prayer life and my relationship with the Lord in tip-top shape as well.  Plus a sobering thought: He gave me this body, so He can always take it away!
  • Secondly… God reminded me that I need to see this pre-season training and this “waiting” period (before I fly out to South Africa) as a HUGE blessing.  Let me be honest… I am one of the most impatient people in the universe.  No, really.  It’s terrible.  So when God told me to wait a few more months before returning to the mission field, you can assume that I wasn’t too “keen.”  In other words, I was a tad bit pissed off.  But as always, God had a reason.  He knew that I would need to prepare my body, my heart, my spirit, and my mind for the challenges and adventures that I would be facing in the future.  He knew that I would need the three days a week on the track and the two days a week in the weight room to get my body into the best shape possible, so that I would be able to glorify Him to the best of my ability on the soccer field.  He knew that there would be so much more for me to learn before I go—that there would be more money for me to raise, more people for me to meet with, more blogs for me to write, and more time for me to spend with my family.  I wanted to rush out, but God needed me to stay.  So this specific season is meant to prepare me and to glorify Him — whether that’s through my fitness training, my writing, my prayer and worshiping, my relationship building, or my Netflix watching.  My only responsibility is to make the most of this time while I have it, because once it’s gone, I can’t get it back.

So a word of advice… wherever you are in life, no matter how boring or how stressful this season may seem, make the most of it.  Embrace it for all that it has to offer, and trust that God has you exactly where you are for a reason and a purpose.  It may not make sense now, but I can promise you that when you look back days, months, or years later… everything will make sense.  He has all of our days laid out before Him, so He can see things that we can’t see yet.  I know it’s hard, because I struggle with it daily, but try to find comfort in that!

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“So let us not get tired of doing what is good.  At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.”  

– Galatians 6:9

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.  And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.  And this hope will not lead to disappointment.  For we know how dearly God loves us, because He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love.”

– Romans 5:3-5

Finding My Identity In the Midst of Idolatry

“Your pain could be God prying open your life and heart to remove a gift of His that you’ve been holding on to more dearly than Him.”  – Tullian Tchividjian

Let go.

Two words that are simple to understand and simple to write.  Two words that can change a life – for better or for worse.  Two words that have caused me to lose countless hours of shut eye during these past few weeks (maybe even months). Two words that instill a deep desire within me to sing a particular song from a particular Disney movie at the top of my lungs.  “Let it go, Let it go…” 

Letting go is hard.  It almost always requires a step of faith, a burst of courage, and a heck of a lot of discipline.  Three things that are nearly impossible for this 24 year old girl living in South Africa to muster up simultaneously.  So what’s the big deal?  Why is the struggle so real?  Well, God has asked me to let go of the one thing that I love most.  The one thing that I may have started to love more than Him…

Soccer.

Agh.  Just typing that word out on this page gives me a nasty stomach ache.  I’ve played soccer since I was 4 years old; it fills my life with passion, purpose, and pride.  It’s a part of who I am.  I am “Sam, that girl who plays soccer.”  But you see, that’s the problem…

About halfway through my soccer season this year, I started compromising.  My identity became: athlete.  My value was being measured by what my coaches and teammates thought of me, and my worth was determined by how well I performed in each game.  My standard of integrity declined to appease my friends, and I had forgotten the real reason why I stepped out onto the field in the first place.  Not to prove myself.  Not to please my parents or my peers.  Not to impress my coach or the spectators.  Not even to stay in shape.

I played to worship.

So, God challenged me with a question, “Samantha, my beloved daughter, who do you play for?”

My response:  “Not You, God, at least… not anymore.”

His response: (*with a smile and a gentle nudge) “So what are you going to do about that, My child?”

My honest response: “Agh…”

I used to think idols were artifacts of the past.  Golden statues that people bowed down to and danced around, but little did I know, idols are alive and well today (especially in my own life).  It’s so easy for me to idolize people, meaning that I depend on them to fulfill my needs for love, security, comfort, and affirmation.  I didn’t realize that my Heavenly Dad (who already offered me all of those things perfectly) was being replaced by counterfeits, by things and people that can never satisfy me.  And I think this truth hurts Him more than it hurts me.  He has a love for me that is so wide and so vast.  He has a desire for me to know who I am according to Him and not according to the fleeting opinions and imperfect judgements of this world.

My friend Rencia shared some wise words with me the other day.  We both were fighting this same battle around the same time, and she spoke these words to me with humility and conviction, “Sam I haven’t just been committing idolatry with God, I’ve been committing adultery against Him.” 

Woah.  Her words hit me hard. If am supposed to be in a committed love relationship with the Lord, then He is supposed to be my everything: my source of joy, my provider, and my strength.  And I’ve been cheating on him with men that can’t love me unconditionally and with material things that can never satisfy.  Not to mention, I’ve been taking the abilities and talents He freely gave me, and I’ve been using (and abusing) them for my own selfish gain.  These things have taken God’s place in my heart, and it’s left me feeling insecure, empty, and desperate (things He never intended for me to feel).

So, with 5 games left in the season, I have to walk away.  Do I struggle with the thought that I can just “tough it out, suck it up, and finish?” Yep.  Do fears and worries  constantly flood my mind as I step out in faith? Oh, yes.  And as I battle with the concerns that my teammates will hate me, that I’ll be deemed a quitter, and that I will regret my decision to step back, I also know that God is faithful and that His promises are true.  So, during this season of separation and extra spare time, I will walk hand in hand with the God of the universe who calls me His.  I may try to run ahead of Him when I think I know the right way to go, and I may try to unlink my interwoven fingers from His when I want to go faster or further than He intends, but I find rest in knowing that He will always be patient enough to put up with my rebellious shenanigans.  

Who knows?  Next season is an entirely different story, and by that time, my heart may be in the right place to play again.  God knows the desires of my heart:  to serve, to marry, to play, to teach, to laugh, to adventure, and to grow (just to name a few things).

So for now, while I am confronted with this difficult season of sacrifice, I will do my best to “let go” of the fears and worries that come from this world, and I will choose to hold on to these unshakable truths instead:

Psalm 37:4 Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Deuteronomy 31:8 Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.”

A Season in the Slammer

“The Lord gets His best soldiers out of the highlands of affliction.”  -Charles H. Spurgeon

When I used to think about things that were holy, pure, and lovely, my mind never drifted to prisons.  I never associated the love of God with a criminal or a place of worship with a jail cell bathroom.  My distorted understanding of purity and holiness revolved around vintage church pews, slow organ music, and priests who wore funny outfits that looked like tablecloths.

Then God broke my heart and renewed my perspective.  My hands and my feet first needed to get dirty and sore before I could experience love in it’s truest, purest, and freest form. He had to send me to some dark places in South Africa to finally wake me up to the truth of the gospel, and one of those places happens to be a venue where freedom isn’t supposed to exist.

One of my favorite sayings as of late is, “Hey, sorry friend, I can’t hang out today because I’m going to prison,” and then I savor the look of surprise and concern on their face before I explain why.  I love going to prison.  I love it because it makes me feel uncomfortable and vulnerable.  I love it because every time I am willing to get in my car and drive 40 minutes to meet with the boys, God goes before me to pave the way for something amazing.   I love it because I’ve gained a bunch of new brothers to do life with, and I love it because even though I go with the intention of teaching and pouring out my own wisdom and knowledge, I am the one being taught and poured into by the boys.

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When I spend time with the guys, I am surrounded by so much love to the point where it’s almost overwhelming.  I get to witness changed lives, freedom from past mistakes, and hope.  Hope Academy (the name couldn’t be more appropriate) is only one small section of Drakenstein Prison, and before I am able to go into the boy’s room where we do bible studies and life skill sessions, I have to walk through another section of the prison first.  It’s usually in that place where I am faced with some loud whistling and hollering by the other boys who aren’t staying in the Academy.  But once I cross over into where our team stays, I am greeted with respect, gentleness, and kindness.

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The boys in Hope Academy are a part of the Ambassadors Football program.  They teach and uphold important values that focus on Faith, Football, and Future.  Most of these guys know Jesus, and when I walk into their room, I can feel it and see it in the smiles on their faces.  I get to leave that prison each afternoon with a full heart because it’s a place where grace and forgiveness reign supreme.  I am humbled to have the privilege of building relationships with men who were once known as murderers, robbers, and gangsters, but are now godly warriors and men of integrity.  Playing football (aka. soccer for the Americans) with them twice a week on their rocky and uneven field in the back of the jail is an honor and a joy (even though I can barely keep up with them).

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I have been asked by a few friends if I am ever afraid to go into the prison, and my answer is always the same.  No, I’m not afraid because love always casts out fear.  If love is present, then God is present (because God is love), and that means there is nothing for me to be afraid of.  I think it’s so cool that someone I might have feared or steered clear of in the past can now be called my South African brother (from another mother).  It’s beautiful, it’s redemptive, and it’s eye opening.

The team of guys at Hope Academy remind me that no one is beyond the reach of our God.  No one is too far gone to be healed or forgiven.  No one is too broken, too dirty, too sinful, or too guilty to be known and loved by the Creator of the universe.  And I’ll be honest, that truth punches me in the gut every now and then because I can be so quick to judge others for their mistakes.  Not only am I hard on others, I can also be incredibly hard on myself.  So, lately, I’ve asked God to strip me of my judgements, my stereotypes, my criticisms, and my generalizations.  I have asked Him to help me see the world (including myself) through His loving and perfect eyes.

And I must admit, so far … He’s been faithful every step of the way.

And They Will Know We Are Christians By Our … Slidetackling?

Sports will always play a significant roll in my life.  Whether it’s bonding with my family over some Publix subs before a Miami Dolphins football game, or being coached by my dad on the sidelines of a stressful soccer match

… sports will always have a special place in my heart.

I love it all; the competition, the passion, the hard work, the determination, the adrenaline, the teamwork, the winning, and the sacrifice.  When we were kids, my sister Melissa and I would turn anything and everything into a sport.  For example, when Mom wanted us to put the dirty laundry away, you can bet your bottom dollar that we would roll those clothes into tight balls and see how many hamper “shots” we could make by the time the buzzer went off.

However, sport can also bring out the worst in someone.  I’m sure one way or another, we’ve all experienced it.  I’ve heard plenty of football fans curse and condemn their home teams after a big loss (and too many beers), I’ve listened to parents and coaches fight with a referee because of a terrible call, and I’ve personally witnessed one of my teammates getting tackled by an ill-intentioned opponent during a soccer game (which led to her having a torn ACL).

Having said that, I am no saint either.  I’ve made quite a few “questionable plays” on the field, I’ve cursed at a ref (under my breath because I didn’t have the guts to do it to his face), and, yes, I’ve even cheated by pretending that my team didn’t kick the ball out of bounds when we totally did. Whoops.

So, as a Christian athlete … where does Jesus fit in?  How can I love like Christ and play a sport at the same time?  I think the key is examining the heart.  The Bible says that man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.  The heart is the “why” behind everything we do.  It’s where our motivations and intentions begin to take root and flourish.  So when I play soccer, why do I play?  Do I play to satisfy my own ego or do I play for a greater purpose?  Do I try to set an example in love and truth on the field or do I leave my values and integrity on the sidelines?

I’ll be honest with you guys.  I can’t sing or play guitar, but I can kick the heck out of a soccer ball.  I can’t dance or paint with watercolors, but I can surely sprint down a field as if my life depended on it.

I know that when I step out onto the field, Jesus steps out there with me.  He doesn’t get banned from the bleachers, He doesn’t get left in the car, and He doesn’t disapprove of my love for the game (unless it becomes greater than my love for Him).

So, when I go in for a 50/50 ball, you will never see me cringe in fear or apologize for using my body’s strength to fight for possession.  I will face my opponents head on, and I will play with passion, vigor, and intensity.  When a teammate messes up, I will show grace and mercy because no one is perfect and we all make mistakes.  When my teammates succeed, I will build them up and affirm them because I am called to be an encourager.  When an opponent fouls me, I will shake her hand with sincerity, and I will show her forgiveness because I am commanded to love those around me.

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My faith and my competitive spirit do not have to contradict each other.  God can be glorified in any setting if I simply invite Him into it.  It’s my choice whether or not I want to represent Him.  I can give in to the many pressures of the “mainstream sports culture,” or I can decide to stand firm in who God created me to be as His daughter. (His loud, energetic, aggressive, competitive, compassionate, silly, kind, faith filled, and athletic daughter.)

As a captain or as a bench warmer, I have purposed in my heart to love, to serve, and to play with the best of my ability.  Will I screw up? Definitely.  I’m bound to make a bad tackle and eventually lose my cool on the field.  I’m human, so that stuff will happen, but God is big enough to take even those messed up moments and turn them into something beautiful … and I love Him for that.

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The FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) has a Competitors Creed that sums up my thoughts in this blog post quite nicely, and I stand by it wholeheartedly.  Check it out by clicking this link:

http://fcaendurance.com/the-competitors-creed

Uncharted Territory

“There are three kinds of men. The ones that learn by reading.  The few who learn by observation.  The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.”   ― Will Rogers

(In case you were wondering,  I’m the kind of woman who needs to pee on the electric fence to learn a proper lesson. Stubborn is my middle name.)

If you were to ask me about what I’ve learned so far while living in South Africa, I would tell you these two very important things:

  1. Be Flexible
  2. Fail

Fail?  Yep.  I said it.  Fail.  I am what some professionals like to call “an experiential learner.”  I like to learn by “trial and error.”  I take a step, I fail, I learn, I change, and then I try to do it better the next time.  The concept seems simple enough, but, in the moment of realization, it can be pretty heart wrenching.  Messing up isn’t fun.  It hurts.  It takes humility to admit a wrong, and it can leave scars and memories that seem to only fade with time.  Not to mention, our culture has an awful way of reinforcing the broken idea that we must constantly strive for perfection, and if we fail to reach it, we should just crawl into a hole and let someone else give it a shot.  It’s why we hide our weaknesses, it’s why we are ashamed of our flaws, and it’s why some of the most successful businessmen in the world are the greatest liars.

But hey, there’s good news.  Jesus gave me the freedom to fail.  In fact, I have the freedom to screw up BIG TIME over and over and over again.  My identity isn’t in my volunteer work, it isn’t in my soccer playing abilities, or in the number of bible verses I have memorized.  My worth and my value don’t come from my accomplishments.  God could take all of those things away from me, and I would still be deemed precious in His sight.  His love doesn’t change when I fail.  His love isn’t conditional or dependent on me.  His love and approval do not come with a disclaimer.

So when I go through a trial, how do I respond?  Do I sulk and give up?  Or do I learn and grow?  Do I beat myself up? Or do I choose to move forward and try again?

Quick example.  Today, I had to pull the plug on my high school futsal team.  I love those girls (and I also hate feeling like a quitter), so it wasn’t an easy task for me.  I had to humble myself enough to admit that the program wasn’t going in the direction that training4changeS needed it to go.  I had to swallow my pride and admit that it simply wasn’t working…. but that’s okay.

Now, I move forward. I learn from this experience, and I choose to become a better coach.  I adjust my strategy, I adapt to my environment, and I appreciate the trials and the challenges that I have walked through over these past few months.  As a training4changeS team, we went back to the drawing board and we decided to target a new age group.  We are hoping to develop a girl’s futsal program within the local primary schools instead of the high schools.  We’ve realized that the world is changing fast.  To make a lasting impact, we need to start teaching, loving, and coaching younger aged kids.  By the time these girls enter into high school, their habits and lifestyles are so deeply engrained into their minds and hearts that change just doesn’t stick.  The chance for long term impact decreases more and more with each birthday.

So, I am venturing down a new road that will lead me into uncharted territory.  I am going to start traveling down this “one of a kind” path that God has so graciously paved for me.  This path could very well be full of sharp turns, steep hills, and some potential thunderstorms, but I am willing and ready to face the elements.  I am willing and ready to have my roadmap torn to shreds, my travel plans tossed out the window, and my destination expectations rerouted.

I know that I’d much rather trek up a dangerous and scary mountain trail with my Creator, than sit in the comfort of a palm tree without Him.

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We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. 

Romans 5:3-5 (NLT)

According To Plan

I have to admit, I never thought that I’d need to type a blog post with one hand, I never thought that I would’ve fractured my wrist playing soccer, and I never thought that my best friend would need to wash my hair for me over the side of a bathtub.

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I thought that my journey was going “according to plan,” but then it hit me… according to who’s plan? My plan? My boss’s plan? My parent’s plan?   If I genuinely believe in a Sovereign and Loving God who is in complete control of everything, including the tiny details of my personal life, then I have to trust that everything is going exactly according to His plan (whether I like it or not.)

I never saw this coming, but God did.  I was caught completely off guard, but God wasn’t.  So, with that in mind… I step forward.  Without seeing or knowing the bigger picture, I walk forward with my two healthy and completely uninjured legs, and I keep my eyes fixed on the One who sees and knows everything.

One of my prayers lately has been to embrace God as my Dad.  To see Him as full of grace and love and mercy.  I used to view God as a “recorder of my wrongs,” and as a scary guy who was constantly disappointed in me, but that’s not who He is.  He is faithful, and I know that through this experience, however painful it may be, He will use it.  It’s been two short days, and I have already received so much love and encouragement from my friends and family all over the world.  The word “grateful” just doesn’t cover it.

Then there’s my best friend, Rencia.  She has to live with my flaws and she has to  witness my shortcomings every single day.  Not to mention, she gets the wonderful privilege of experiencing me in my stubborn and “hangry” moments (hangry = hungry and angry.)  For anyone that doesn’t know this about me, if you ever notice that I seem “hangry”… run for your life before it’s too late.

Now that I can only use one arm for anything that I do, Rencia has to help me with pretty much everything.  It’s a huge blow to my pride.  I can’t help cook, cut up my own food, or braid my own hair.   Yet, she lovingly and willingly helps me do it all with no expectation of receiving anything in return. John 15:13 that says, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Rencia is daily “laying down her life” for me, and to be honest, I can’t stand it.  It hurts and it’s not fair and I argue with her about it all the time… but Grace isn’t fair either.

When Jesus died for me, I didn’t deserve it.  I mean, heck, He took my sins with Him to the cross before I even knew who He was.  He gave up everything for me, and now nothing can separate me from His unconditional love.  So when I see how Rencia goes out of her way to love and serve me, it shows me a beautiful picture of the love of Jesus.  The love of a Father who wants nothing more than to spoil His children.  It makes no sense, and it goes against everything that I know about our human-made scale of “Reward and Punishment Love.”

So when I prayed for this truth to be make clear in my life, I didn’t know that I’d end up needing surgery. I didn’t think that my arm would need to be put in a sling, but it’s okay because Romans 8:28 says, “we know that God causes everything (*the great things and the bad things) to work together for the good of those who love Him…”

So, as I am fighting hard to let go of my pride, I am simultaneously learning to hold onto truth.  It’s the absolute truth that gently whispers over and over, “Sam, your identity and your value does not rest in what you do, your identity and your value rest in the fact that you are Mine.  Nothing you do or don’t do will cause Me to love you any less.  No one can take you away from Me because I have engraved your name on the palm of My hands and I have placed My Spirit in your heart.  Sam, you are loved solely because I have chosen to love you.  Now, let Me love you.”

My surgery is Monday morning.  God has already gone ahead of me to prepare the way, so in the meantime, I am going to rest and enjoy the quiet before they knock me out and put screws in my wrist.  I am going to cheer on my soccer team from the sidelines, and I am going to coach my players to the best of my ability.  Last but not least, I am making the conscious decision not to worry,

AND I am going to let Rencia wash my hair…

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.

Striving For Excellence

10 Coaches.  4 Days.  1 Purpose.

As I lay on my bed with cramps in my calves and dark circles under my eyes… my heart is full.

These past few days came and went, but the lessons I learned and the friends I made will last a lifetime.

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The training4changeS coaches training camp kicked off with team building challenges that pushed our limits and broke down our trust barriers.  We led, we served, we opened up, we followed, we supported, and we bonded.  As coaches from multiple cultures and walks of life, we learned how to love each other and how to simultaneously grant each other the grace and freedom to be themselves.  We strengthened our teammate’s weaknesses and we took advantage of their strengths.  We shared our stories and our passions, and we connected on a deeper level.

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Then we took it up notch (more like 50 notches, actually).  The National Futsal Coach of South Africa and the training4changeS Director of Coaching, Quinton Allies, taught us the fundamentals of playing and coaching futsal.  Using the sole of the foot, proper body positioning, and communication were just three of the tools we learned to implement while playing this fast paced and intense sport.  About eleven hours of futsal sessions later, I can’t walk or feel my legs…. but more importantly, I have gained significant insight into the game of futsal and I have developed the skills necessary to be a successful coach.

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Next comes the theory.  Sylvester and Quinton taught us about child protection, the history and rules of futsal, and the power and influence that a coach has on and off the futsal court.  Children will “follow the leader,” and they are not biased to whether the one leading them is a good or bad influence.  Our goal as training4changeS coaches is to stand out as positive role models for the kids we coach.  We want to provide a safe place for them to grow and learn by teaching them core values and life skills that will lead to their success and well-being like: discipline, encouragement, forgiveness, teamwork, love, communication, sharing, acceptance, and determination.

training4changeS has taught me that futsal is so much more than a sport.  It’s an incredible tool for impacting the lives of the next generation.  If we can make a difference in one life, then that one life can impact even more lives down the road.

As we, the futsal coaches, reach out to these young and talented athletes, our hope is that one day those athletes will become the coaches (and players) of the next generation.  Their example and lifestyle will set the new standard for the South African culture, and change will happen.

But one step at a time…  

SCAS (Sport For Christ Action South Africa) Director Hein Reyneke shared some wisdom with us when he said that we should, “Strive for Excellence, Not For Perfection.”  I am bound to make mistakes along the way, and there’s nothing shameful about that because my mistakes will become the stepping stones for my improvement.  This will be a long journey, but I am ready and willing to do whatever it takes, mistakes included.

Lastly, I have to give a shout out to you all: my family, friends and supporters who have been following my adventures and encouraging me every step of the way.  There’s no way I would be here without your help.  Thank you all for believing in me, thank you all for motivating me, and thank you all for having enough trust in my vision to support me financially.  I am BEYOND grateful.

The Lord has used you guys in a big way to strength my faith, and He has proved His faithfulness to me through all of the support and provision that I have received.  I don’t deserve any of it, but He is so good.  I am simply an imperfect girl in desperate need of a perfect God who has overwhelmed me with His perfect grace.

And for some CRAZY reason, He chose me to be an ambassador to share His truth all over the world, and my hope is that a tiny bit of Sam and a whole lot of Jesus will rub off on the wonderful kids I coach.

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Let’s keep making things happen! The season has just begun!

My Mal Beste Vriendin (My Crazy Best Friend)

“Friendship isn’t about whom you’ve known the longest, its about who came by your side and never left”

Two Peas in a Pod

I have a few confessions to make. I hate talking on the phone, I am terrible at remembering time zone differences, and I have a tendency to forget Skype dates.  But despite these weaknesses, I have managed to become best friends with a girl who lives 8,034 miles away.  I met her only a few years ago, but it feels like we’ve been friends forever. Our friendship began over a cup of coffee and some shepherds pie (herders pastei) in the country of South Africa. We bonded over our favorite sport and how silly our accents sounded to each other, and the rest is history.

And if being best friends with this incredibly athletic, beautiful, and driven girl wasn’t enough, I have officially received word that when I move to South Africa in January to become a missionary… I will get to move in with her!

It really is true that God knows exactly what we need when we need it, and His plans are greater than any plans we ever could come up with on our own.  To be able to coach soccer, share the Gospel, travel across the world, and love on kids is a dream come true.  And just when I thought that God was done spoiling me, He decides to throw my best friend in the mix as my roommate! It’s icing on the cake.

With Rencia… When I am weak, she is strong.  When I have doubts, she has faith.  When my ego gets too big, she reminds me to break it down. When my jokes aren’t funny, she tells me.

Our friendship has survived miles and miles of distance, a 7 hour time difference, and let’s not forget the time when I went to “Patmos” for 4 months and couldn’t use my phone.

Our God really knows how to give good gifts to His children.  Moving in with this amazing woman of God will not only be a blessing emotionally and spiritually… it will also be a blessing financially.  Having someone to do missionary life with every day will help cut the cost of my monthly support for the both of us.  Did I mention how God knows exactly what we need when we need it?

From the moment we became best friends, we made a promise that our friendship would never just be for ourselves.  This friendship is so much bigger than the both of us.  It is meant for so much more.  Our prayer is that the Lord takes this relationship and uses it for His glory, to impact the lives of young girls everywhere.

“Rencia, this friendship we have is such a gift and I am so thankful that you’ve come alongside me to preserve it and fight for it and strengthen it.  I can’t wait to serve with you, live with you, and tackle you to the ground with a huge bear hug.  Ek is lief vir jou”

Kayamandi Township, ZA