...Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,
fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith...

Hebrews 12:1-2

Thursday, August 23, 2012

So... now what?

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, 
“plans to prosper you and not to harm you, 
plans to give you hope and a future."
Jeremiah 29:11

The 17th of August marked one year since I had left for Ireland and one month since I have been home. It is so strange to think about. In some ways, Relay seems like a distant dream. But there are other days when I wake up thinking I'm in my bedroom in Cork and that I'm going to hang out with my Irish friends that day. It's a strange feeling, to say the least.

In one month, my Irish-ish accent has faded quite a bit, but certain phrases still slip out. I still get surprised at how hot it is and I get quickly annoyed by American accents/loudness when I'm in busy places. And, surprisingly enough, I STILL have to question whether I'm driving on the correct side of the road when I'm driving at night. Reverse culture shock has not exactly been a picnic.

To be perfectly honest, coming home has been really sucky in a lot of ways besides the little cultural things. A lot of the social dynamics of my friend groups have changed. I have found that hanging out with some of my friends has been downright awkward or uncomfortable because our lives have changed so much. Some old friends have left and there are a plethora of new people to meet. For weeks I was anxious going to church because there were so many new people to meet and I was afraid of the awkwardness of seeing people I hadn't heard from in a year. No one truly knows what I'm going through and no one really seems to care all that much. Driving home from church in tears has become a regular Sunday event. For a while I was questioning why I decided to come back home at all and was thinking about all the "what-ifs" of if I had stayed in Ireland. It's been pretty miserable. 

I'm usually not this candid or "angsty" in my blog posts, so forgive me. But I think it is important that people get some sort of idea of what missionaries go through when they come home. When you've been working in full time ministry, made new friends, acclimated to a different culture, and made that place your home, coming "home" feels more like opening a book at chapter 9 without reading chapters 4 through 8. You're not coming back to the same place and people. You're starting all over again.

But, alas, not all hope is lost! While this has been a very trying time, God is oh so good! I have been blessed with some very special friends whom you could not speak to for ages and yet hanging out with them is like nothing has changed. He has put me in a church that preaches the truth and nearly every sermon I've heard since I've been home has spoken comfort, reassurance, and confirmation straight to my heart. 

God knew that this season was going to be hard on me, so He's provided me with the truth that wherever I am, He has me there for a reason and is going to use me. He has me here for a purpose. Two days after I got home, I was offered an internship to work part time with one of the campus ministries run by my church. The internship also requires me to be a student. So, when I'm asked the question, "So...now what?", I say that I am doing college ministry at Temple University Ambler (a mere 2 minute drive from my house), I'm taking a class at Palmer Theological Seminary, and I'm substitute teaching part time. Wow! God is so good! He totally dropped this opportunity in my lap. I knew that I wanted to do all three of these things but didn't know how to make it all work... but God always works it out! He takes care of His children!

So I urge you, whether you are a missionary who has returned home, a student headed off to college for the first time, or are just going through a rough transitional period, remember God's promises. If you are willing, He will use you for His purposes wherever you are! He will not leave you hanging and He won't resign you to live in sorrow. He provides a way and loves to lift His children up! Rest in Him!

Did I want to come home? No. Do I wish I was back in Ireland? Yes. But God has me here for a reason: for my own good and His glory. So I will do the work that has been placed in front of me with joy and humility, fixing my eyes on Jesus... and I'll try not to complain in the meantime...

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, 
who have been called according to his purpose." 
Romans 8:28

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Sam in the States: Adventures in Reverse Culture Shock and Other Surprises

I'm back in the States! It's all very surreal to be home. A lot of things haven't changed but there are so many things I am just not used to anymore. After living in Ireland for almost a year, I knew I was bound to have a bit of culture shock. While a lot of it is subconscious and I can't really explain how I feel, there are some things that I can really notice, even though it's only been two days. Rather than tweeting all of these things as they happen (because it would be really annoying to constantly blow up your news feed), I figured I'd write a blog post about it. I may add more as they come up, but here are a few things I've written down that have surprised me:

On the plane flying into New York:
  • There are so many highways, cars, trees, houses, and baseball fields!
  • There's also a very loud, proud New Yorker sitting behind me whose voice is really grating my nerves. Sir, I cannot handle your accent right now. Please shut up.

  • So many big cars, SUVs, and pickup trucks on the road!
  • I keep trying to get in the wrong side of the car. 
  • Being a passenger is scary because I keep thinking we're turning on the wrong side of the road.
  • Driving takes A LOT of concentration. It's not so bad on busy roads where I have other cars to follow, but I have to constantly ask myself, "Am I driving on the correct side of the road? This does not feel right...".
  • I drove down the street on the left side yesterday in my friend's neighborhood. I didn't realize what I was doing until I saw the stop sign on the right side of the road. Oops. 

  • There are so many channels and so many commercials! 
  • The drug commercials are particularly weird. 
  • I need to catch up on a lot of shows... 

At home:
  • I keep trying to use plug adapters for my appliances... oh yeah... don't need those. 

  • Sitting in a restaurant and being surrounded by intense Philly accents. Where am I!?!
  • Friends asking me to repeat everything I say and pointing out my "Irish" accent. I'm sorry but I don't realize I'm doing it and I may phrase things differently and use strange words but please stop pointing  it out. "Half 2", "craic", "sound", "so", and "like" are perfectly acceptable expressions, thank you very much. 

Joyful Surprises:
  • Goldfish!!! I missed those cheesy suckers!
  • Rediscovering my wardrobe! I had forgotten how many clothes I had and summer clothes are my favorite! Gotta love my 6 pairs of sandals!
  • Heard Olly Murs on the radio! I didn't realize he had hit the States. I found myself singing along to "My Heart Skips a Beat" in the car and then remembered I wasn't in Ireland. 
  • Realizing I don't need to pick out a cardigan to go with my outfit because it's literally 100 degrees (37.8 C) outside.
Update on other things I've noticed....
  • Eggs are white... weird
  • The grocery store has way too many options. Who needs 50 different spaghetti sauce options!? 
  • No Glenisk yogurt here :( 
  • On a positive note, you can now buy Dairy Milk here and Hershey's chocolate syrup is only $1.99!?! That sure beats 6 euro...
  • Still forgetting I'm in America when I hear people with American accents
  • A week later and no one understands what I'm saying. Trying to speak like an American is like having marbles in my mouth and hurts my ears... I must find some Irish locals before I pull my hair out...
More updates....
  • I keep typing ".ie" on the end of web addresses
  • I have to stop myself from saying "euro" and force out the obligatory "bucks"

Culture shock is quite the adventure...

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


It is my last week of life in Ireland. Up until this point I've been trying to ignore the fact that I have to go back to Philly, but I can no longer use my defense mechanism of pretending its not happening. I've had a few weeks after Relay to reflect on this year and how its changed me as a person, and when I was thinking of how to possibly sum it all up, I thought of something that happened a couple of weeks ago:

I was at the Peters' house for a Tuesday night dinner with a bunch of people. Some of my new American friends were teasing me that when I talk to Irish people I suddenly sound Irish myself. (I am aware that this happens but I promise you I don't do it on purpose... it's just what happens when you live in a different country for a year). So when Abigail (an Irish student) sat down to talk with us, suddenly all eyes (ears) were on me to hear my accent change. Knowing they were listening, I refused to speak more than a couple of words at a time, much to the frustration of the Americans in the room. Zach filled Abigail in on our conversation about my accents and asked her if she heard it. Her response, though not intended to be profound in any way, really struck a chord with me. She said, "I don't hear Irish or American. It's just Sam." 

I am neither Irish nor American (or maybe I'm both). I don't belong here nor there (or maybe I belong in both places). I am just Sam.

More importantly, my nationality is "child of God" and my citizenship is in God's Kingdom. I can live anywhere in the world and have any profession but my adoption as God's child will not change. My identity is secure in Him. This world will crumble and fade away, but my home in heaven will always be there.

Leaving Ireland is sad. This has been my home for the past 11 months. I've made friends and family here. But I know that whether I'm in Cork, Philly, or somewhere else in the world, my citizenship is in heaven. Whether I feel Irish or American, or whether I speak in a Cork or Philly accent, I am first and foremost a Christian.  No matter where I am or what I'm doing, I can take comfort in knowing that I am in Christ.

"But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ"
Philippians 3:20

"But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,  to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir."
Galatians 4:4-7 

Friday, June 29, 2012

Time to Pass the Baton

I can't believe this is my last day of Relay. It seems like just yesterday I arrived in Cork with too many suitcases and felt entirely overwhelmed with the prospect of living and doing ministry in a foreign city. But here I am, 10 months later, an entirely different person.

There are so many things to say. I know I'll forget to say a lot of it and you'll just have to ask me about it more later, but I'm going to try to tie things up.

This year has been absolutely incredible - probably the best year of my life.
  • I grew in my personal relationship with God.
  • I grew in my knowledge of who He is. Studying theology has helped me actually understand and articulate what I believe and why I believe it.
  • I saw God provide in amazing ways! Support raising isn't exactly what I'd call "great craic" but God continued to prove how He cares for His children over and over. 
  • I saw students grow in faith, develop as leaders, overcome strongholds, "get it", and come to know Jesus! 
  • I worked. As much as college ministry might seem like a cush job, it is really difficult! Constantly preparing 121 Bible studies, talks, reports, essays, etc. while maintaining sincere relationships is very challenging! But God totally grew me in these areas! 
  • I rested. I learned how to balance work and rest and how to do both well. 
  • I saw God answer prayer! I can't count the prayers He has answered this year: finances, family, health, housing, boldness, wisdom, friends, students, etc. 
  • I ran with perseverance (spiritually and physically)! God has carried me through this Relay year to help me finish this leg of the race in my life. (And I ran in a marathon! 7.2 miles, baby!).
  • I danced: singing and dancing to "All the Relay Ladies" at RelayVision, doing the twist at the Grease Party, connecting with my housemates through nights out dancing, and ceroc dancing with great friends at Relay 3.
  • I laughed. I made some amazing friends this year in Cork, on the IFES Ireland team, and with fellow Relays and I cherish every moment together!
  • I worshiped. Studying the theology of worship opened my eyes to what truly worshiping God with my whole life should look like, and it transformed the way I approach singing and playing guitar. 
  • I soaked in God's beauty. His character is reflected everywhere in creation, and living in a place as beautiful as Ireland, you cannot help but stop and breathe Him in. 
  • I experienced God's grace. 
I could go on but it would take ages.

Thanks to everyone who has prayed for me and supported me, either financially, emotionally, or spiritually. Brothers and sisters (especially missionaries) need their siblings to encourage them, hold them accountable, and cheer them on in the race. I thank you all for "holding the rope" for me as I "went into the pit".
Thanks to the CUs at CIT, UCC, UL, LIT, and WIT for being amazing. You all inspire me so much. I've learned much from you. Thank you for welcoming me in as one of your own.
Thanks to the other "Reladies" of IFES Ireland for being some of the best friends I could ever ask for: for making me laugh when I was sad, for making me cry from so much laughter, and for being super awkward. I love you girls. 
Thanks to my Staff Workers Peter Kenny and Esther Drihem for helping me learn and grow in every possible way. You both know how much you mean to me.

Well, I guess this is it. I'll be sticking around Cork for a few weeks and I'll probably post another blog before I head home. This month has been a crazy emotional time of ups and downs, of saying hello to new friends and goodbye to old ones.

As a wise man at Relay 3 once said, "It doesn't end here. Once a Relay, always a Relay." But for now, it's time to pass the baton! 

"You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 
 And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, 
commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also."
2 Timothy 2:1-2 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Worship Blog

As you may or may not know, this year on Relay we are required to do an elective study and I have been looking at the theology of worship. One of the challenges with doing so much theological study is that it is difficult to put it all together to make sense in your mind and then let it affect your heart. I thought that studying worship would be easy because it's something that I have a real heart for. But it has been quite challenging to let what I've learned personally affect my relationship with God. I thought that one of the ways I could piece all of what I've learned together is to write about it on my blog! (Better late than never). So here ya go. I'm starting off with some of my random-ish thoughts on things that have come up while studying. Feel free to comment, ask questions, and challenge me so I can dig deeper! This is just a little taster of what I've been learning and I hope to go deeper into some of this stuff later! Enjoy!


"Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
    praise him in his mighty heavens! 
Praise him for his acts of power;
    praise him for his surpassing greatness! 
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
    praise him with the harp and lyre,  
praise him with timbrel and dancing,
    praise him with the strings and pipe,  
praise him with the clash of cymbals,
    praise him with resounding cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!"
-Psalm 150

It has been an ongoing debate since the Old Testament. How should we properly worship God? Most of the argument in recent years has centered on music style: Should we sing hymns or contemporary music? Should it be an organ and choir or a band? How loud should it be? (Does this thing go up to 11?)

But worship isn't just music. Actually, I'd go so far as to say that worship isn't music at all. (Shocking, coming from me, I know). Worship is an offering we bring to God (1 Chronicles 16:29). It is how we express to God that we love, adore, and revere Him (Psalm 29:2). It is an act of self-sacrificial service (Hebrews 12:28). It is bowing low before Him (Psalm 95:6, Revelation 19:10).

In short, it is a matter of the heart.

But for some reason we focus on music as the main means of worship. I'm not saying there is anything wrong with worshiping through music (I love doing it and it's something we're commanded to do in the Bible! Psalm 47, 150, etc.). I just think that we as a church (the body of believers) put too much emphasis on music. When we consider our church's worship we should be thinking about the entire service from start to finish and everything outside of Sunday morning.

If a church is going to make worship its priority, it needs to start with Jesus. Everything the church does (inside and out of Sunday morning) should start with, and be focused entirely on, Jesus. If we start making the King the priority, our worship will naturally become deeper. If we build up our congregations in the knowledge of Christ, their worship will be transformed far beyond what louder sound, the latest tunes, or sweet lighting can do.

Worship is not about the type of music we sing.

That's kind of a big statement for me. If you know me, you know that I rock out to bands like Relient K, The Wedding, and The O.C. Supertones when I'm cruisin' in my car, and I only really prefer traditional music if I'm in a concert hall. But in studying the theology of worship for the past nine months, my perceptions of worship have changed. Now, I still have my preferences, don't get me wrong, but I've come to the realization that if a church sings traditional hymns on a Sunday it doesn't mean they're a dead church. That may seem like a no-brainer to some of you (and I may have just offended some people - sorry) but as someone who used to go to a dead church that sang traditional hymns, my brain has automatically associated the two for far too long, and this has been a big step for me!

But I think it's important for everyone to realize, whatever church background you come from, that the type of music doesn't necessarily dictate the liveliness of a church or the people's devotion to Jesus. You can have churches that sing the newest contemporary worship songs and only thrive off of feelings and atmosphere rather than the doctrine of Christ. And you can have traditional, hymn-singing, organ-playing churches that are entirely focused on a heart for the Lord. Guess which one's worship is acceptable to God? (Hint: Its the second one).

Don't judge a book by its cover. Don't judge a church by its music.

Here's what matters in worship:
  • Are you offering worship from your heart to the Creator and Savior of the world?
  • As a church, are you facilitating this heart-worship? Or are you more focused on emotional reaction? Are you showing people Christ?
  • As a worship coordinator, are you choosing songs based on sound? Key? Taste? Or doctrinal significance? (Hint: The last one is the one that matters the most). 
  • As a worship leader, are you desiring to reflect Christ and help people enter into worship? Or are you looking to shine for your own glory?
  • Do you personally worship every day in every aspect of your life (Psalm 34:1)? Or just on Sunday during the 30 minute music set?
These are some of the questions I've been asking of myself, my church, and my worship team over the past nine months. I'm not saying that I have it all together (that my church is perfect - it's not- and my pride is low -it isn't) but I'm working on it. And I hope that I can use what I've been learning to push my church in the right direction of what worship in church should be. Will we ever have it perfect? No. Not this side of heaven. But can we try to make it better? Yes. By God's grace, our worship can be acceptable to Him.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Journal Entry from Dingle

A few weeks ago I took a little break from everyday life in Dingle, County Kerry. I can confidently say it is the most beautiful place I have ever been. I found myself a "spot" where I sat every day to talk to God, read the Word, and just be. I wrote this journal entry within the first hour of being in Dingle. While its quite personal in content, I believe it carries a few lessons that are good for all to be reminded of. I pray it blesses you as my time in Dingle so greatly blessed me. I pray you find joy and contentment with wherever you are in life.

I'm sitting here looking out on Dingle Harbour, taking in the majesty that is God's creation. There are no words. I've never choked up at being somewhere new. But tears prick at the back of my eyes as I look out over the calm water and green hills of this place. The Kerry mountains loom through the fog to the south as sheets of rain move out to sea. Mount Eagle basks in the sun to the north, the light and shadow exaggerating every ridge and crevice. Seagulls call out as they swoop over the water, and then all I hear is the quiet lapping of the current, the water slowly making its way out to sea.
I don't cry because I'm traveling alone and would love being here with my lover. I don't cry because I may never see this place again. (Although those would both be sufficient reasons to cry). I cry because I'm so full of joy for having been able to see this place, to have this experience.
I cry because God has revealed an inch of His beauty in creating this place, and He has allowed me to see it. He has chosen to put me right here to be with Him and have a glimpse of His glory. That is worth all the tears in the world. Tears of joy, gratitude, and awe. Tears you cry when you're so in love that you think your heart will burst if it gets any fuller.
I wish I could say that all that love is for God. But I must admit that some of it is for this land. As much as I adore Eire and wish I could stay forever, that is reason enough to go. I cannot let this place become my idol. I must praise God with my whole heart.
I don't want to go. But God knows the plans He has for me. He will use me wherever I go. If I'm meant to come back, He will make a way.
But for now, I will resolve to soak it all in - not just Dingle, not just this country, but my God. I will soak Him up, breathe in His Holy Spirit, and be filled with my Lord.

Just one incredible view from my "spot"

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A "Brother Andrew" Moment

"Every good and perfect gift is from above, 
coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, 
who does not change like shifting shadows." 
James 1:17

My friend Sarah recently lent me a book called "God's Smuggler" by Brother Andrew. Its a true story of how a Dutchman smuggled thousands of Bibles behind the Iron Curtain through God's guidance and provision. There are many accounts in the book of times when Andy needed money or supplies and no way of getting it. In every one of those instances, God provided. In the Christian community we hear stories like that all the time: "I needed $17.35 and there was exactly $17.35 in my bank account where before there was $0!" or "My car died and so-and-so gave me their car for free!" After hearing several of those stories, its easy to think to yourself, "That's really cool that God's providing!" but we don't let it affect our hearts or the way we live our lives. And then this happened to me...

Monday morning, I was in the kitchen making a batch of much-needed coffee after a long weekend at the CU Annual Conference (which was amazing, by the way) when my doorbell rang. My initial thought was that it must be the postman with a package I'm expecting. Still in my pajamas, I answered the door to see an elderly woman who I didn't know on my doorstep. She smiled and said, "Does an American girl named Sam live here?" Thinking that maybe she was a neighbor who got my package on accident, I replied, "Yes, that's me." She took my hand in both of hers and said, "I'm sorry its not in an envelope" and walked away with a wave and a smile. I looked in my hand and there sat a crumpled 20euro note. I stuttered out a "Thank you" as she walked away, then closed the door and immediately started crying like a baby. 

Any little annoyances in my life at that moment seemed so insignificant and trivial. I suddenly had real, tangible evidence of God's provision. He has been providing for me throughout my entire life and that provision has been most obvious during this Relay year where all of my living and ministry expenses are coming from God through my supporters. But here was tangible evidence of the way God speaks, ordains things, intertwines peoples' lives, and works out all things for the good of those who love Him (Rom 8:28). I don't know who this woman was, how she knew my name, where I lived, or that I needed money, but God knows all of these things and He must have made the way for all of this to happen. Perhaps God spoke to her directly, maybe he used another one of His children to tell her. But whatever the means, God made it happen.

God's provision is just one of the many lessons I've been learning on my Relay year, but its also probably the most significant. My things are not my own (Psalm 50:9-12). Everything comes from God and belongs to God (James 1:17). He provides for His people exactly what they need (2 Kings 4:1-7). We are to live in light of those truths by using our money, possessions, and resources for the good of God's kingdom. Furthermore, we should always listen for God's voice and follow wherever the Spirit leads us no matter how seemingly scary or uncomfortable. He has a reason and purpose for everything, even if you cannot see or understand the effects your faithful actions may have.

I pray that this story doesn't result in an apathetic response on your part but that it does indeed affect your heart and the way you live your life and spend your money. I also pray that I would never forget this incredible moment or become discontent with the things God has so generously given me.

"I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, 
for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. 
I know every bird in the mountains, and the insects in the fields are mine. 
If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it." 
Psalm 50:9-12

Friday, March 9, 2012

Ask a Christian @ UCC

"Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another."
Proverbs 27:17

Sorry it has been so long since my last post! Life over the past few months has been pretty crazy: home for 2 weeks for Christmas, study week and Relay 2 in January, and more recently team days in Belfast and mission weeks at UCC!

Last night UCC CU held an event called "Ask a Christian" as part of their mission/events weeks. The Atheist Society on campus has held "Ask an Atheist" events in the past so the CU decided to respond with their own event! Great idea, right?! Unfortunately we were competing with the Societies Ball so turn-out was quite low, but it was still a success!

Last week I was terrified of being on the panel for the event, but once I started reviewing my notes and doing more research, God gave me such excitement for this opportunity! Studying in itself was a great learning experience but the event was even more of a blessing!

The panel consisted of four of us, all with different (but over-lapping) areas of "expertise". Because most of the people in attendance were Christians, we ended up answering a lot of difficult Bible-based questions and clarifying things they had been asked by their non-Christian friends. Some of the questions were: "Why is there suffering?" "Can someone lose their salvation?" "What does 'working out your salvation' mean?" "How can Christians associate with the American Republican Party if it condones the death penalty and use of fire-arms?" (Luckily there were 2 Americans and a Canadian, and 2 of us historians, on the panel to answer this one!)

It was such a blessing to be able to answer people's tough questions that they struggle with and things they've just always wanted to know the answer to.  I'm confident that the answers I gave were from God because I don't think I'd be able to come up with some of those answers on my own! We also worked well as a panel, clarifying and expanding on each others' answers so that hopefully people weren't confused.

There was talk afterward about doing these events more regularly so the tough questions could be talked through, and so the word would eventually spread and draw in more unbelievers. I was a little disappointed that there weren't more non-Christians in attendance but I know that God used the event to stretch the Christians in attendance and clarify things for the people who are "on-the-fence".

There were still many questions after the event and I pray that people wouldn't stop asking! I used to just shrug off the tough questions because they hurt my brain and I assumed they were just things we weren't supposed to know. But since I've been on Relay I've studied those tough questions and find that I'm more able to think through and communicate the truth about those things. (In some ways I felt like this event was my mid-term or final exam for everything that I've studied on Relay so far!) So I hope that others wouldn't just shrug off the tough questions but have the guts to research and think and pray through them.  I feel so honored that God would chose me to be a part of this event and I thank Him for growing me intellectually and practically through it!