Late Nights, Drunk Girls, and Fuzzy Blankets

I have always struggled to believe in coincidences.

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

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

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

Hustled By A Homeless Lady

It’s story time with Sam.

Last Sunday, I had an interesting encounter with a homeless woman. Her name was Joanne, and she hustled me hard.

Let me set the scene. I don’t know about you guys but, when I am feeling a bit “bleh,” sometimes it just takes a little bit of coffee to get the “spiritual juices” flowing.  So Sunday evening before church, I decided to make a quick coffee run at one of the petrol stations in town.  I put my car in park, and before I could even unbuckle my seatbelt, there was a woman standing next to my door.  For those of you who have never traveled to the Western Cape of South Africa, this is happens all the time.  There are homeless people everywhere, and it’s honestly one of the most heart breaking things you’ll see.

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This lady begins to approach me, asking for money in Afrikaans.  Immediately I told her, “no ma’am, I’m sorry but I can’t give you money.”  (I have a policy that unless the Lord specifically asks me to give someone cash, I won’t.  Mostly because that money is usually spent on drugs and alcohol which is what got the person into this difficult situation in the first place.  It may sound harsh, but the pattern is real.)  So, I went inside the shop, got my coffee, and walked back to my car.

The lady was waiting for me, and wouldn’t let me leave the parking lot without trying to convince me one last time to help her out.  I prayed, “Lord, I really don’t know what you want me to do right now.”

I asked her if she spoke English, because the rapid and angry yelling in Afrikaans just wasn’t working for me, and unfortunately, she didn’t.  However, as I was unlocking my car door, I managed to understand enough of her blitsvinnig Afrikaans to realize that she had no money, she was trying to feed her daughters who were at home with her sister, and she was really hungry and just wanted food.  Then the Lord said, “Sam, go buy her food.”  That’s when I flippantly reminded the Omniscient God of the Universe that, “I’m living off of donation money, the cash in my wallet was supposed to be for my TITHE, and I am already running late for church.”   (Priorities. Ha.)

Anyways, I decided to do it God’s way (this time).  I proceeded to leave my coffee in the car, and I went back inside the store with the woman who’s name I finally discovered was Joanne.  She asked if she could pick out a loaf of bread.  “Cool.”  Then she asked if she could buy a box of chicken legs.  “Sure.”  Then with a wry smile on her face she asked if she could get a big package of potato chips to bring to her daughters.  “You can get a small bag Joanne, I’m not Daddy Warbucks over here. Let’s not get crazy.”

I paid. We left.

I asked her if she needed a lift, and she said no because she was going to stay to beg for more money to bring home for her daughters before heading back to Cloetesville.  I said okay, wished her well, and got back into my car.  Then I watched her.  She took the food and walked around the corner.  She met up with a man who had been sitting alongside the curb, he unzipped his backpack and took the food from her, and then stuffed it inside his bag.  Who was this guy?  Her pimp?  Her baby daddy?  Her brother?  Her friend?  Was he even going to share the food with her?  I honestly didn’t know, but I realized that the food I had bought for Joanne to bring home to her daughters was now being given to this guy.  The guy she conveniently forgot to mention.  The guy who was obviously taking advantage of the fact that Joanne was a woman (because he knew that she would probably get more money and food than he would from begging at petrol stations).  The guy who was spending his time sitting on his lazy bum watching this whole encounter take place.

I was angry.  I felt hustled.  I wanted to walk over there and take the bread right out of that guy’s backpack and smack him across the face with it.  But I didn’t.  But I wanted to…

I was roughly 60 rand in the hole, I was running late for church, I was manipulated by a homeless lady, and worst of all—my coffee was getting cold.

But before I could even drive out of the parking lot, the Lord began to address the angry thoughts that were running through my head, and He reminded me of some hard, humbling truths.

“Sam, I have called you to be My hands and feet. I have called you to feed and clothe the homeless, the orphaned, the needy, and the sick.  I have called you to love those who are difficult to love.  All of them.  I never promised that you would receive praise, gratitude, or rewards for those things.  I never asked you to give based on what you would receive in return.  I have shown you what to do by My own example, so follow Me.  Since when was My love ever conditional or earned?  Give generously and cheerfully.  Be merciful and gracious.  Joanne is my priority.  I know her struggles and her needs, and I will provide for her just like I have provided for you.  I love her.  Do the same, and let Me take care of the rest.”

Augh.  My heart was so ridden with filth, and the Lord exposed me.  Lovingly, He exposed my selfishness, my critical attitude, and the judgement in my heart.  He exposed my insecurity of being perceived as a fool, and He exposed my fear of not having enough money for myself.  I didn’t trust God in that moment.  It shouldn’t have mattered what happened to the food I purchased for Joanne because the Lord only asked me to be obedient to His prompting to buy it for her.  The rest was always in His hands.

Joanne didn’t owe me anything.  She didn’t owe me gratitude or praise.  She didn’t even owe me the truth.  My giving shouldn’t have been dependent on anything except the command of Christ to give.  Jesus tells me to love my enemies, my friends, and everyone in between.  He commands me to bless those that persecute me, to serve one another radically, and to give generously.  His only condition: It should all be done freely—without expectation, limit, or constraint.

That day, I learned a hard and important lesson.  

Love others—Period.

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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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.

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

Junk in the Trunk: A Missionary’s Misconception

So I just read an awesome blog entitled, Things I Would Not Say to a New Missionary, and let me just tell you that the post was so wonderfully accurate.  I laughed so hard because I knew exactly what this lady was talking about.  Her post inspired me to get real about a few “missionary misconceptions” that I’ve struggled with in my own life.  As I have said so many times before, I am not a “cookie-cutter Christian,” nor am I a “cookie-cutter missionary.”  I don’t ever want to fit into a stereotypical Christianese box – it limits God and it limits me.  So, I realized that it might be time to demolish a few stereotypes and send some encouragement your way.

First things first, I need all of you to know that after one year of being a missionary… I still have no idea what the heck I am doing.  No, you think I’m joking, but I’m so serious.  This is a very important fact because before I became a missionary, I thought that I needed to have my perfect, holy, and blameless life together before I could go out into the world to serve God and others.  I was so wrong.  When I read back through God’s Word, I quickly discovered that not a single person God chose to use for His glory had their lives in order.  In fact, most of them screwed up before, during, and after they were called and sent out to serve and love God.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:27-29 that, “God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.  God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important.  As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God.”

Is Sam foolish? Check. (Just ask my parents, I make dumb decisions all the time.)

Is Sam weak? Check.  (Especially when it comes to keeping my thought life clean.)

Is Sam unable to boast about how fantastically holy and perfect she is? Quadruple Check. (I am constantly in repentance mode like every five seconds.)

Well, now that we’ve established that…  I hope you feel more qualified to do big things for God because as I’ve discovered over the course of these past few years – my “success” as a missionary is not dependent on my abilities to maintain a perfect track record or get an entire country saved.  (Because honestly, sometimes I can’t even muster up the energy to take a shower or do my own laundry.)  My “success” is entirely dependent on God’s ability and His desire to use a broken vessel like me.  God only requires me to be available and to be willing to move my feet (and to perhaps open my mouth when the time is right).  If His light can shine brightly through my cracks and flaws, then I’m a happy camper.

I’ve had so many people tell me that I am an inspiration to them, and I think that’s a very beautiful thing.  But I really want to stress that I am no different than anyone else.  I am not more holy, more perfect, or more qualified.  Fun fact: Even while I was in South Africa, I sinned.  I know, I know, whip out the holy water and get your pointer finger of shame and judgment ready…

Just kidding about the holy water, but I wasn’t kidding about my sin.  I have never done this “missionary” thing before.  I am learning every single day what it looks like and feels like and sounds like to be a follower of Jesus.  I love Him with my whole entire heart, and I need Him desperately every single day, but that doesn’t mean that my life will be a perfect one.  However, it does mean that it will have to be a dependent one.  That was a huge and humbling lesson that God needed to teach me while I was in South Africa last year.

The standards that I had for myself were “Jesus Standards of Perfection.”  Which, incase you didn’t know… are unreachable standards.  I didn’t cut myself any slack and I really struggled with my own guilt and unforgiveness because I was so fearful of letting everyone down: God, my family, my church, my friends, and anyone else that knew about my journey.  I had to learn that God loved me before I even knew who He was.  He called me to go and love the girls who were (and still are) fighting against the same struggles that I’ve had to fight against, because they need to know what it feels like to be loved and forgiven – just like I needed to know what it feels like to be loved and forgiven.

I have a bad habit of making some of my sins appear worse than others on my “God Scale of Wrath.” I seriously need to throw that thing away, because it’s totally unbiblical and unbalanced.  For example, I’ll pray for a long time about my lustful thinking and how I need to stop cursing in front of my little brother when I drive in Miami’s ridiculous traffic, but I won’t spend much time praying about my pride or my jealousy towards another girl.  In God’s eyes, it all separates me from Him and it’s all equally wrong.  So when I feel like a failure for one “seemingly big” sin in my life, God looks down at me with compassion and says, “Sam, crazy girl, if you think that’s bad, wait until I show you the rest of the junk that’s hiding in your heart.  There’s stuff deep down in there that you don’t even know about yet.”  YOH.  Ouch.  But it’s a holy and purifying ouch, so I dig it.  Because just after the rebuke, comes God’s reminder that I shouldn’t feel shame or guilt or resentment – but instead, I need to remember that He has already nailed all of my sins to the cross.  They are dealt with, it is finished.  He already knew about all of the mistakes I was going to make, and He sent me and called me to be a warrior in His army anyways.  His patience and love and grace know no bounds.  If I am willing to bring Him all of my “junk” and lay it down at His feet, then He will always be willing to deal with it for me.  Without condemnation. Without hate.  Without disdain.

In fact, I think God gave me this job of serving His people because of all of my junk.  I had to walk through some crappy and embarrassing and hurtful things in my life, and those things have given me a heart that is so full of compassion and love and understanding.  When I see someone else struggling through what I experienced, I can look them in the eyes and genuinely sympathize because I’ve been there.  That’s a gift.  Because of my junk-filled past, I get to share a hope-filled future with the people I meet all over the world.  All a missionary really is – is a person who loves Jesus that decides to walk out of their front door and into the world with faith instead of being bound up in fear.  It’s that simple.  I may be living the Christian life in South Africa, but that doesn’t make being a missionary in your backyard any less significant.  All lives matter, everyone deserves the opportunity to receive love and hope through our actions and our words.  Compassion is contagious. (It’s scientifically proven. Don’t worry, I checked.)

So this blog is just a little reminder that we are all equally imperfect, but we are also all equally valuable and useful to God (in the little things and in the big things).  The purpose and the power remain with Him, but the choice to step up and walk in faith remains with us.  So don’t fear failure, instead, have faith.  And if (and when) you make mistakes, run back to God and let Him cover you in His grace.

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It Takes A Village (To Raise a Missionary)

There is an old African proverb that says, “It takes a village to raise a child.”  But, over this past year, I’ve realized that it also takes a village to raise up and send out a missionary (especially a crazy and injury prone one like me).

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I was raised by a hard working, soccer playing, and joke telling dad who always has a knack for putting others before himself.  I was raised by a generous and caring mom, a teacher who has such a great love for her children – both blood and in her classroom – and who has an incredible ability to influence and inspire the people around her.  I have grandparents that taught me how to serve, how to pray, and how to go above and beyond for those in need.  I grew up in a community where your skin color didn’t determine your worth, where everyone spoke a different language, and where little girls could play sports with the big boys.  I was constantly surrounded by people that loved me, and I was given plenty of opportunities to succeed.  None of that had anything to do with me.  I didn’t pick my parents, I didn’t pick my neighborhood, and I didn’t pick my talents.  (Lord knows that I wish I could sing.  Unfortunately, for those who ride in the car with me – I can’t.)

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So, my job is to make the most of what I’ve been given.  It’s my responsibility to use my gifts, talents, and abilities for God’s glory.  He gave me everything I have, and He gave it to me freely, in love.  So how can I show my gratitude and how can I give back to a God who already has everything?  I ask myself daily what it would look like to live a life surrendered to God, and I think 1 Peter 4: 8-11 sums it up quite nicely,

“Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.  Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay.  God has given each of you a gift from His great variety of spiritual gifts.  Use them well to serve one another.  Do you have the gift of speaking?  Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you.  Do you have the gift of helping others?  Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ.”

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Frederick Buechner eloquently said that, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”  I’ve learned that my life isn’t just about me.  My experiences, my wisdom, my failings, my abilities, and my successes are all meant to be shared with others – to bring growth, freedom, wisdom, love, understanding, and friendship.  Every single one of us is unique, we all come with a variety of strengths and weaknesses, gifts and talents, and passions and desires.  Not to mention, we are all created in God’s image.  So when I meet someone new, I am given the opportunity to experience God in a whole new way as well.  While I grow closer with others, I also grow closer with Him.  I get to see a different side to who He is, and I get to learn something about His heart that I never would have known before.

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We are all different, and I want to stress that different doesn’t mean wrong, it just means different.  (Hallelujah for that!)  We all have something to bring to the table, something of value to be shared and spread far and wide.

Now to bring this blog full circle…

I am going back to South Africa.  I am going to put my feet to my faith, and actions to my words.  I want to make a difference, I want to change lives, and I want to bring hope and love to the people in this world that need it most.  But like I said earlier, I can’t do this alone.  I need your help.

As a missionary, my mission is my job, my donations become my salary, and my workplace becomes my home.  It’s a 24/7 lifestyle that doesn’t have an expiration date.  It’s risky and exciting, and I couldn’t imagine doing life any other way!

So here come the logistics.  I have a charity visa that allows me to do volunteer work in South Africa, but that means my only source of income must come from the money I raise here via donations.  Before I am allowed to head back overseas in March, I need to have at least 50% of my total required amount to live for a year in SA in the bank.  (Just to give you guys a quick example, it costs $25 to pay for electricity, $35 to buy groceries, and $450 to pay for my rent… every single month.)  I will need about $1,000 monthly to cover absolutely everything to live in South Africa for this next year, which is pretty incredible because of the exchange rate.  So any amount helps – big or small, even if it’s a $5 monthly donation or a one time gift of $15- I can put it to good use!

I always struggled with guilt when it came to asking others for money, but I quickly learned that if I don’t ask, I won’t receive.  Wayne Gretzky was right when he said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”  I also learned that by asking, I am giving others a chance to participate in the awesome work that is happening in South Africa and the awesome things that God is doing (rather than selfishly keeping the experiences to myself), and that’s pretty cool too!  The Lord has taught me so much about His faithfulness through the donations that I have received.  It’s been a challenging experience for me, but it’s one that has grown my faith and trust in Him in more ways than I can describe.

So I am taking a shot, and I’m humbly asking…  Will you come alongside me on this journey?  Will you walk with me through the dark places?  Will you help me to share hope and love and grace with the brokenhearted and hurting in South Africa?  If so, let’s do this together, as a village and as a family.  Even though you may not be with me physically on the mission field, you play a significant role in everything that happens there.  Through prayer, donations, and encouragement, things get done – great and life changing things!

I want to thank you all for the love and support that you’ve continued to give me as I walk this journey.  Through all of the up’s and down’s and triumphs and difficulties, I have never once felt alone.  Thank you.  Lastly, I want to end this super long blog post with a passage from one of Paul’s letters (Philippians 4:10-17).  His words connect with all of the emotions and thoughts racing through heart and mind so perfectly, and my hope is that it will connect with you as well.  He writes:

How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Even so, you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty.  As you know, you Philippians were the only ones who gave me financial help when I first brought you the Good News and then traveled on from Macedonia. No other church did this. Even when I was in Thessalonica you sent help more than once. I don’t say this because I want a gift from you. Rather, I want you to receive a reward for your kindness.

If you would like to make a donation online, please visit:

http://ssmfi.org/missionary/samantha-stokesberry/

If you want to donate by mail, then please make a (tax decidable) check payable to Shepherds Staff and write my account number #6020 in the memo section, then mail it to:

Shepherd’s Staff Mission Facilitators

6739 Academy Road NE, Suite 320

Albuquerque, NM 87109

 

To Sin Less or to Be Sinless: That Is the Question

Sometimes, I get so tired of being a Christian.  Literally, I get exhausted to the point of needing multiple power naps a day.

This week I finally decided to sit down and ask myself, “Why the heck do I feel this way?”  If the Christian life is supposed to bring freedom and abundant joy, then why do I constantly feel worn out and enslaved?

I finally got the answer.

For so long, I believed that being a Christian meant that it was my duty to “sin less.”  I don’t know if anyone else has tried that, but for me, “sinning less” is absolutely draining.  It usually lasts about 5 whole seconds from the moment I wake up, and then it’s all downhill from there.  Heck, I’m pretty sure I even sin in my sleep.

But here’s what I learned (and this may sound radical so bear with me).  Jesus never ever asked me to “sin less.”  He asked me not to sin at all.  Jesus never demanded progress, He demanded perfection.  After Jesus taught the famous beatitudes, He said in Matthew 5:20, “But I warn you — unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Oh, snap.  If my salvation is dependent on my level of perfection and my good works, then I am in big trouble.  (Houston, we have a serious problem.)  I can tell you right now that, even as a missionary who’s walked with the Lord for just over 8 years, I do NOT measure up.  I will fail the test of righteousness every single time, and that’s a promise.  So if Jesus demands perfection, (and if I am an imperfect person) then how is the Gospel “good news?”

Here’s where I got my answer.

In Matthew 5, Jesus was preaching to the Jewish people.  He knew His audience from the inside out.  He knew their thoughts, their hidden agendas, their traditions, and their mindset.  Jesus knew exactly what He was teaching, and it must have sounded insane to those with listening ears.  The Pharisees were some of the most legalistic, religious, and obedient people alive in that day and age.  Jesus knew that no one could be as righteous as them in terms of lifestyle.  They set the tone for perfection.  The Jewish Pharisees were only concerned with the external appearance of their actions, but Jesus wasn’t stupid.  It is written in 1 Samuel 16:7, “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him.  The Lord doesn’t see the things the way you see them.  People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’” 

Jesus was making a point.  He saw what was hidden in their hearts.

Their obedience to the law wasn’t good enough.  They still fell short because their hearts were impure; every good thing they did was tainted with nasty sin.  But before I get prideful and start judging those guys for being so ridiculous, Paul makes it very clear in the book of Romans that we all fall short of the glory of God too.  In Galatians 2:21, Paul says, “I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless.  For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.”

Halle-flippin-lujah.  There’s hope!

Then it hit me (like an overly pumped up soccer ball to the face).  I realized why I had been so tired.  I was trying to live in perfect obedience to a law that I was never required to keep.  The law condemns me every time I try to live up to it.  All it does is reveal how sinful I am.  I was trying to work harder, seem wiser, look purer, be better… and sin less.

When Jesus died on the cross, He said, “It is finished,” and Jesus always means what He says!  If He says is it finished, then it’s actually finished!  It’s done.  I like to think of it this way:  Imagine me walking up to Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and finger-painting smiley faces all over it.  Then imagine me looking him straight in the eye and saying, “Check this out Leo!  Doesn’t your painting look so much better now?  Talk about a masterpiece!  Those smiley faces are flawless!”  I could’ve just as easily slapped him in the face.  (And I do the same thing to God every day when I try to add to the finished work of the cross.)

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Does that mean that my salvation is a “get out of jail free card?”  No, God is (and will always be) a representation of perfect justice.  Someone had to pay the price for my disobedience and my unrighteousness; a debt was still owed.  Jesus took the punishment that I deserved by living a perfect life that I couldn’t live.  He fulfilled the law that I could never fulfill (Romans 3:23).  He nailed my sins to the cross (Colossians 2:14) and died a terrible and shameful death in my place (2 Corinthians 5:21).  He loved me enough to meet my unreachable requirements of perfection, knowing ahead of time that it would cost Him everything.  This is the Gospel.  This is good news.  This is love.

Let me share one last thing that convicted me this week about the character of God.  The man on the cross next to Jesus in Luke 23: he didn’t have a holy resumé to hand over to Jesus, he didn’t try and convince Jesus that he was good enough to enter heaven, and Jesus never gave Him a penance requirement before he died.  The man’s belief was enough.  The man recognized his sin and his need for a Savior, he acknowledged Jesus as his only hope, and he called out to the Lord in faith.  And Jesus saved him.  That is grace.

Just like the criminal on the cross, I was justified (undeservingly), and now I am being sanctified.  The good works that I do now are not what make me righteous before God.  Instead, those good works are responses to the love and mercy and grace that I have received from Him.  They aren’t the means of my salvation, they are the outflow of it.  God loved me while I was a mess.  He saved me when I had nothing to offer Him, and that’s what makes grace so amazing.  C.S. Lewis said it this way, “The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.”

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So now, instead of wasting my time trying to “sin less,” God calls me to believe that I am sinless.  And instead of growing tired and worn out from failing to measure up, God calls me to rest in the fact that Jesus measured up for me.  I’ll end with one of my favorite quotes from Dr. Steve Brown:

“The good news is that Christ frees us from the need to obnoxiously focus on our goodness, our commitment, and our correctness. Religion has made us obsessive almost beyond endurance. Jesus invited us to a dance… and we’ve turned it into a march of soldiers, always checking to see if we’re doing it right and are in step and in line with the other soldiers. We know a dance would be more fun, but we believe we must go through hell to get to heaven, so we keep marching.” 

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