Alive

thankful

 

I had plans of making this really beautiful collage of photos. Photos that represented people, places, things and experiences I am thankful for. I had plans, but then I decided to be with those people, to talk about those experiences, and to add to the list of places I’m thankful for. I spent the day with my sister, and then joined my dad in the tractor and relived a bit of my childhood. I realized today that the smell of a John Deere tractor never really does leave the memory space in your brain. In traveling, I’ve come to really appreciate this time of year. Yes- it is beautiful and cozy with sweaters and scarves and leaves changing colours, but it’s the holiday of Thanksgiving that is so beautiful. A day dedicated to making you stop and reflect on the things you’re thankful for. Here’s my list, in no particular order, and totally incomplete. I could be here for a while if I listed them all.

Thankful for:

A country like Canada to call home. It’s vast, it’s beautiful, it’s safe, and it holds so many of my memories. I’m thankful that I can contact my local MP to help me out with legalizing forms, that we have a government that cares about us (really, we do), that our backyard is nearly a national park, and that I can really hear people yelling “Thanks for stopping by, eh!” I love it.

I am thankful for handmade cards and letters, transformation, music, tea, thrift store finds, the smell of a field, living in a new place, and my bed.

Travel. It has opened my eyes, and my mind, completely. Traveling the world has helped me see my home with new eyes, to see “familiar” people groups with a new understanding, more compassion, and a more simplified mindset. Although traveling has opened my eyes to a lot of pain, it has showed me that simplicity is incredibly beautiful. I’m thankful for the ability and privilege it is to travel the way I do, with the people I do, and how it is making me a better version of myself.

I am thankful for my people. I could say family and friends, but really, you’re one in the same. I’m thankful that no matter where I live, God brings people into my life that challenge me, bless me, and teach me. You make me laugh uncontrollably, cry at your pain, shake my head around when I’m becoming too selfish, and question my beliefs in a great way. My people come in all different shapes and sizes, and as young as 2 to as old as 85. My life would be pointless, boring, and quite lifeless without you, and I am blessed beyond belief to have such incredible people to invest in me.

I am thankful for food, sunshine, tea, handmade journals, scarves made by my mum, nap times, toddlers learning new words, biographies.

I am thankful for the challenge and blessing of loving deeply and letting go. I am thankful for it because each time I do, each time I allow my heart to cling to another, my eyes are opened to a new perspective. I am thankful for it because each and every person on this earth deserves to be loved, and in that moment, He has chosen me to be the one to love them. I am thankful (and must choose this one daily) to let go of the ones I love. Thankful because, by being loved, they now have the ability and knowledge to love others well. By letting go, I release them to go where they are being led, and His love gets to be spread to more people. I’m thankful this is a challenge, because I grow most when I’m challenged, although I never desire the challenge.

I’m thankful for education, for Canada’s health care system, for a strong Dutch-Canadian heritage, tea, nail polish, tax returns, beautiful nieces and finding money on the ground.

I’m thankful for the past 10 months. When I look at the state of my heart on January 6, I can’t help but realize a softening, a maturing, and a subtle growth in myself. I walked into this journey quite naive, and although I still believe I’m naive, my eyes have been opened. God has opened them to more of what He sees, which is pain, brokenness and evil, but even more joy, hope and restoration than my small mind could ever comprehend. I’m thankful that I said yes when He asked me to pack that first suitcase, no matter what or who it meant I was leaving behind. I’m thankful that He is more committed to my plans than I am, and I’m thankful that He led me gently as I resisted so often the destination He was guiding me to.

I’m thankful for harvest, Thanksgiving, fog in the morning, old and new friends, hopes of a new camera, Amsterdam, road trips and brothers that make me laugh until I cry.

Take a page in your journal and write out what you’re thankful for. And if you don’t journal, start. I’m serious. The way I’ve seen God answer prayers, provide miraculously, teach hard lessons, and bless incredibly is all recorded for the past 3 1/2 years. Each time I read them, I stop and thank Him for how beautiful He is, and for how He uses me and blesses me along the way. I’ll add that to the list. Journalling. I’m thankful for the reminder it brings that He is good, all the time.

What are you thankful for?

With Strength that is not my own. Sam

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La Vie en Togo

 

 

Different

It’s the word we choose when we try to compare our lifestyles. Different because we don’t struggle with the same things. Different because of the things we have or don’t have. Different because of the languages we speak, or the way we express affection or anger. Different.

Different has a way of poisoning us. What is really just a word turns into a barrier, a wall, a separation between what “we” do against what “they” do. Somewhere along the lines, our way becomes better than theirs, but we won’t admit to believing that, we just say “we’re just different.”

I’d like to challenge that. I’d like to challenge the belief that we all seem to have and say that even though the circumstances may not be identical, that our lives are made of the same things. I’ve been in many places, and I’ve seen the same things. Joy, life, excitement, frustration, boredom, anger, confusion, sadness- these things are everywhere. When we choose to open our eyes, we can see that, but there’s that magic word- choose.

Take a moment and look outside yourself. Look at the people around you and see the way they do things. Is it different? Quite possibly, yes. But can you relate to them? Can you relate to the mum who is visibly frustrated with her children, whether she portrays it the way you would or not? Can you relate to the teacher who is so proud of all of his students, regardless of whether they meet national standards or not? Can you relate to the father who would do anything to provide for his family, even if he works a different job than you?

What I saw in Togo was different than what I saw in Canada, or Australia, or Papua New Guinea. What I saw in West Africa is even different from what I saw in South Africa, but do you know what tied it all together? There’s a common theme in all of these places, something that, when I chose to look for it, I could relate to? It’s people, doing life, right where they are. I smile because they are beautiful, and they smile because they’ve never felt hair like mine before. I cry because they deserve more than just trying to survive, and they cry because someone is hearing their story. I laugh because they are unashamed, and they laugh because I dance and look ridiculous doing it.

You see, we’re not that different. There is no “us” and “them” in my eyes. I am a girl of 22, seeing life and death, joy and pain, new and old, all over the world. She is a girl of 22, seeing the exact same things, but through her own eyes, her own perspective, her own experiences. We all laugh. We all cry. We all sing. We all dance. We all live.

So let’s live. Let’s live as if there were no barriers. We need to look past our differences and realize that He created us to live this life together, with Him. Look inside and ask yourself where you have created those barriers, the fences that keep you on different sides. Ask yourself where you’ve used the word different in place of better. It’s not an easy process, but you have to do it. Walls and fences and barriers make for a lonely life, one full of comparisons, loneliness and pride.

So breathe. Laugh. Cry. Dance. LIVE.

Live life out loud, knowing that the only differences that keep us apart are the ones you choose to hide behind.

What if…

“Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me.

All day long I put my hope in You.”

Psalm 25:5

I’m going to ask you a question, but first I must set the stage. I love prayer. I love the way God communicates to us through prayer, I love how it unites us as brothers and sisters, and reminds us that He is in control. I love prayer, but I have one question.

What if  YOU were the answer to your prayers?

This question is mostly for me, as I’ve been assessing my prayer life, the things I’ve been asking God for and to do. Over the last few months I’ve been blasted with these huge issues- children being raised without fathers, girls getting sold/taken/forced into sex slavery, forced abortions, malnutrition- the list keeps going. As I’ve faced these issues, I’ve just built up this anger almost. “God, why is this happening?? Why isn’t anyone doing anything?? GOD, please DO SOMETHING!”

rustling

There was no booming voice. I didn’t see an angel or get struck to the ground, but He spoke, and it was clear as day. “Sam, you keep asking me to do all these things, but I want you to go. I want you to act. I want you to be part of this, to do this together with me. I’ve asked others before, but they continued with the same prayer you’re praying. Well, now’s the time. YOU go. Be an answer to your own prayer.”

What if, instead of asking, “God, would you please do something to stop this?”, we asked “God, what can I do to help?” Instead of looking at the big picture and getting overwhelmed at the thought of it, we just went to see one person. Instead of seeing the figures of 132 million orphans and saying “I can’t change that by myself”, you took on the call from countless Scriptures and said “I can take care of at least one. At least.”

God is looking for a partnership here, He’s looking for a daily relationship. He cares about the in’s and out’s of your day- every single detail. He is a good Father, He doesn’t favour any one of His children over the other, so why do we? It keeps hitting me that because of His grace I was born in the family I have, but so easily I could be the 12 year old in Togo who can’t afford her $10 school fees, and as a result gets sold by her parents into prostitution. It could have been me, but it’s not, so what am I going to do about it? I am a strong believer that we are blessed so that we can bless others, so let’s do this. Please excuse me if my posts start asking more of you, if they make you uncomfortable by asking you to look at uncomfortable things, but this is my heart. I’ve noticed such a shift in my focus since the day I landed here, and I’m letting that be a beautiful thing. I’m choosing to see change in a new light. Will you do that with me?

With Strength that is not my own, Sam

You have a choice

So I read James today, and not even the whole thing. I got about 4 verses in before I had to stop and start journalling. When you’re looking for truth, it seems to jump out at you. Want something good? Here it is:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds,because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4

I put my Bible down and let it sink in for a minute. So Jesus, let me get this right. You want me to view the hard days, the ones where I want to run away from confrontation, when I want to curl up in a ball and either cry or sleep, the days that I am misunderstood, attacked, trash talked, demoted and unappreciated- you want me to take those days and consider that as joyful? If I stop at that verse, I’ve missed it. I’ve lost the point, and I’ve lost the reward of doing such an insane thing, because what is the reward?

Perseverance: steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., especially in spite of  difficulties,obstacles, or discouragement.

All this rolls together at the end of the day. You learn how to persevere. You learn that even in the middle of your struggle there is grace offered, there are words ready to be spoken to encourage you, there is always One waiting and helping you along. At the end of the day you will be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

How bold is that? You won’t lack anything. Is James crazy? How can I, a weak human, not lack anything? The thought seems impossible, even a bit unbiblical, until I realize that everything is given to me in the form of Jesus. Everything we need- comfort, encouragement, strength, faith, salvation, provision, safety- it’s all in Jesus.

When I was graduating from 8th grade they asked for our favourite Bible verse. I, naively, chose this verse to be read out as I gracefully walked to receive my diploma. “Consider it joy when you face trials”. I’m not going to say I’ve had the worst life ever, by all means I have been undeservingly blessed, but trials have still come my way. I won’t look back and say I handled them all in a Christ like manor, but I will say that I have developed character from them. But it all came from a choice, which is the point I’ve been trying to get to today. I had a choice when I was struggling to get through my bad days, to either keep carrying it alone, or to open up and let others help me, to let God help me. I had a choice, we all have a choice.

I had a choice to see struggle, or a chance to grow in Jesus.

I had a choice to see pain, or the platform for joy.

I had a choice to carry it alone, or to carry it with my family, my friends, and my sweet Saviour.

God continues to amaze me (and I pray this never stops) in the way He shows Himself to me. Each day, when I’m actually turning my eyes to Him, He has something new to say, a new treasure for me to unfold, but will I choose it? Will I choose to say “Yes, God, today I give you my day, even though it’s already Yours to take.” Will I let go of my life, in order to gain eternity?

It all starts with a choice. And how gracious of Him, how patient and kind and merciful of Him, to offer this gift in the form of a man that every one of us can relate to on some level.

Can I challenge you, sweet reader, to lay your choices down to Him today? The choices of who to love, where to work, which words to speak, and which songs to sing? Each choice that we make daily can glorify and honour Him, or it can do the exact opposite. I don’t mean to scare you or make you feel guilty with that, just sharing what He has made me aware of recently.

Oh, and ps.- If you lay it down to Him, He’ll always help you make the right choice.

beautifulthings

With Strength that is not my own, Sam

Freestyle

No alarm clock. Waking up naturally, to a bird or two. But beautiful sunlight streaming in, that’s a must. Even in the basement.

My favourite Australian breakfast. Eggs, bacon and grilled tomato. Add a tall glass of orange juice, and perfection is reached.

A long, drawn out walk in the middle of nowhere in flip-flops. Add my I-pod, with all sorts of music. But enough silence to get me thinking.

Writing a letter to my pen pal, Laurie G. Getting to reminisce on our adventures and beautiful moments.

Having my little baby nephew grace me with his presence. His smile is infectious. Who knew you could be so blessed by someone that can’t give you anything but love?

Spending hours in a book store, perhaps alone, perhaps with a friend who is very patient, and also a lover of books.

Pouring myself out into my journal, learning something new about myself, and coming into a new knowledge of God, and the amazing, selfless things He has done for me. Selfish little me.

Being called on by friends out of many areas… for help, for understanding, for another side of wisdom, for someone who will listen. This is one of the best things I could ask for.

Listening to my new favourite song, I wonder, by Leeland. What about them could you dislike?

Jumping in Pip (my car), and blasting the stereo as loud as I can stand, singing like a crazy person, looking like a crazy person, loving every second of it.

Being ridiculous with my family at dinner time. As much as my mom hates it, it makes me smile every time.

Crawling in bed at the end of it all, and taking in all I’ve learned, all I’ve been taught, all the people who have blessed me, and thinking about doing it all over again the next day.

-Clearly my version of a perfect day is different based on where I am living. If you placed me by the ocean, it’d be much different. More like.. waking up to the waves crashing, sitting myself on the beach in the salty wind, with my Bible and some water. And that’s it. I’d stay there all day. If I were back in Atherton, I’d be walking through those narrow country roads, watching the grass sway in the wind, singing at the top of my lungs, knowing I’m the only one for miles. And if I was back in Africa, I’d drive back to Theocentric, sit on the red sand with those beautiful babies and learn as many handshake games as they could teach me.

What does your perfect day look like? What can you do today to make this day look more like your favourite day?

I know, this isn’t my usual style, this blog. But I’m feeling light and refreshed today. I guess God does that sometimes. Knowing His children He knows when they just need simple, uninterrupted beauty. And today I had a whole download of that. So I hope you’ve still enjoyed this. If not, I guess we’ll try again next time. Thanks for sticking with me.

Much love,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With Strength that is not my own, Sam

At the end of it all, I wanna be in your arms

Not everyone who calls out to me, “Lord! Lord! will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in Heaven will enter. *On judgement day many will say to me, “Lord! Lord! We prophesied IN YOUR NAME and cast out demons IN YOUR NAME and performed many miracles IN YOUR NAME.” But I will reply, ‘I NEVER KNEW YOU. Get away from me, you who break God’s law.”  

Matthew 7v12-23

It breaks my heart and instills this immense sense of urgency to KNOW God. Not to speak AT Him, or to do things primarily in His name, but to know HIM. To enlist His wisdom in hard situations, decisions and plans. To take His command to love seriously, and to wake up each day asking “What will you teach me today?” (even though sometimes the answers scare me)

Maybe it’s out of fear. Fear of hell? Maybe. Fear of all this “hard work” I’ve (kind of) been doing, going to waste. I mostly think it’s fear of a life without God. No God= no love. No God= no purpose. And seeing that God IS life, no God= no life. All my “good deeds” are pointless if I don’t KNOW Him. And what a beautiful picture that is.

We serve a God who wants you to know Him more than He wants your actions. Imagine going to those gates and instead of hearing Him say “You didn’t donate enough, you lied too much, and you didn’t serve others enough, you may not enter.” He says, “You lived a great life. You  improved the lives of many! You’re one of my most self-sacrificing creations, always loving and including others. You tied my name to it all, but I don’t remember ever hearing from you. I’ve wanted to know you completely for so long, but you never returned to me. I gave you any opportunity I could think of, but you ignored every one of them. I’m sorry to say it, but I don’t know you. And since whoever is not for me is against me, I’m pained to say there is another spot for you somewhere else.”

It sounds awful, it really does. But think of the opposite conversation He could have with you.. “You had a rough go down there! I could see that you were being attacked from all sides, and my most favourite part of our story is when you called on me for help. You didn’t know if I was real, but you asked for me, specifically, and did I ever take delight in helping you, my beloved. And from that moment, you invited me in, you wanted me there with you. Yes, you had your moments, you still struggled with some things, but you knew where your strength was coming from to get through it. And when you spoke to others about me, oh, I was so proud. You could confidently tell them about me, and you were so right, too! And how? Because you knew me. And although there were things you couldn’t understand about me, you still sang my name. And now, my most beloved Child, you may know me completely.”

That verse has always scared me, but for good reasons. To spend my entire life doing what I think are good things, only to walk up to Jesus and hear Him say “I don’t know you, get away from me.” For a long time it didn’t make sense. How could a good, loving God say that to His child? I guess it just puts it into perspective how much He desires a relationship with us above our good deeds.

 I guess we as humans are the same way, interestingly enough. I personally don’t know anyone who has a best friend that they never speak to. We can bump into someone that we used to know and catch up on old times, old memories, old..old..old. But if we don’t maintain those relationships, that’s all it stays.. old. God’s got a fresh new page for us just waiting to be devoured every single morning, but it’s up to us to turn the pages. The good thing about God though, is that even as forgetful and lazy and unmotivated as we get, He’s still there, totally ready to work with us. My cry to you is to turn the page today. Now. Don’t let yourself get to the gate, and have an ever loving God stare blankly at you saying “I never knew you”. Empty. Ah, makes me feel so empty.

With Strength that is not my own, Sam