Saturday, December 24, 2016

Immeasurably More!

Hard year. Yes, that... it truly has been that.

In big and small ways. In expected and unexpected ways. In joy-filled and profoundly sad ways. 

In ways immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine...

Yet, in all of these different ways, one thing remained sure and certain in this hard year... and that is God showing up in ways immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine!

In hindsight, I shouldn't have been surprised? After all, the One Word that God impressed upon my heart to focus on this year is: Brave.
When you are brave, you give yourself the gift of facing and touching the torn places. The places where we're torn to pieces can be thin places where we touch the peace of God." ~ Ann Voskamp, The Greatest Gift.
And all year, this has been my anthem: "You make me brave. You call me out beyond the shore into the waves. No fear can hinder now the promises You've made.

Through tears, both happy and sad ones, I've sung those words countless times.


And this is what I've come to realized: Through each hard thing, God's gifted us with this wild joy that surpasses all understanding.     

And the realization that these words are truer than ever before:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. ~ 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.
And with these realizations came the tenacity and resolve to keep doing the hard things — the important things, the things that stand for Hope:
Because when we’re unbending in what is important — endings aren’t the thing that is important.

Because if we don’t always fiercely stand for Hope, regardless of risk, cost, or ending — we steal all future Hope.
Because if Hope isn’t worth it, no matter how it turns out — then it turns out, that nothing is actually worth it.

Because when we say that one life has worth — we’re saying that all lives have worth.
And a life that believes in the worth of all lives — is the only kind of life that’s really worth living.
~ Ann Voskamp, from this must-read blog post.
As we celebrate Christmas, it truly is with deep gratitude that I write this blog post and share our family's year-end newsletter which lists our Top Ten news and hightlights.

To read our family's year-end newsletter, please click here.

As we look to 2017, the words from Ephesians 3:14-21 form my prayer, not only for our family, but for all of you as well:
It is for this reason that I bow my knees before the Father, after whom all families in heaven above and on earth below receive their names, and pray:
Father, out of Your honorable and glorious riches, strengthen Your people. Fill their souls with the power of Your Spirit so that through faith the Anointed One will reside in their hearts. May love be the rich soil where their lives take root. May it be the bedrock where their lives are founded so that together with all of Your people they will have the power to understand that the love of the Anointed is infinitely long, wide, high, and deep, surpassing everything anyone previously experienced. God, may Your fullness flood through their entire beings.
Now to the God who can do so many awe-inspiring things, immeasurable things, things greater than we ever could ask or imagine through the power at work in us, to Him be all glory in the church and in Jesus the Anointed from this generation to the next, forever and ever. Amen.
From our family to yours, 
Merry Christmas & a joy-filled New Year!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

A Letter to Haiti on this Thanksgiving Weekend...

Dear Haiti,

Simmering on my stove top is a huge heavy pot of my grandma's signature dish, her braised pork hocks in soy-caramel sauce, which I am attempting to make for the first time today because my dad is missing his mama's home-cooked meals.

Holidays have their way of making one's heart miss departed loved ones. This weekend, it's Thanksgiving here in Canada.

Soon, my sisters and their families will arrive at my house with even more food... and we will gather around the table to feast.

So will many fellow Canadians throughout this entire weekend. We will eat and we will overeat and we will fill our stomachs... and come Tuesday, many of us will hit the gym to shed those excess calories gained over the weekend.

Because that's how we are in the first world. 

We have way more than what we know what to do with.

The entire house is starting to smell delicious with the salty-sweet liquid slowly braising and the aroma of star anise and garlic fills our nostrils. I think I've successfully made my grandma's signature dish! Soon, we will be eating to our hearts' content.

Yet, somehow... eating and feasting is the last thing on my mind on this Thanksgiving weekend.

Because, YOU ARE.

You see, just over a month ago... my family and I stood on your soil and found new friends. 

Today, my heart aches for them.














  


On this Thanksgiving weekend, news is just starting to trickle out about how you fared after Hurricane Matthew hit you with its full force earlier this week.

You... still recovering from the devastating 2010 earthquake... were the subject of Hurricane Matthew's wrath. 

Headlines read...
Hurricane Matthew: Haiti south '90% destroyed'
Hurricane Matthew: Food, Water Shortages Threaten Haiti Victims
Haiti Grapples With Cholera After Deadly Hurricane Matthew Hits
My heart aches as I await word on how our friends are, our family really: our Compassion sponsor children, Bradley and Linsey and their families; our host and translator Pastor Ephraim and his family.

How about George and Remy and Arnold who all live along the shoreline and peddle local crafts for a living? I wonder how they are?






On this Thanksgiving weekend, I am desperately wanting, more than ever, to turn my thanksgiving into thanks-living.
Thanksgiving for God’s love always seeks to become thanks-living – a living and giving of His love.
Christian hands never clasp and He doesn’t give gifts for gain because a gift can never stop being a gift — a gift is always meant to be given….
God calls me to do thanks. To give the thanks away. That thanks-giving might literally become thanks-living. That our lives become the very blessings we have received.
~ Ann Voskamp.
My dear Haiti, you see... those of us who live in this first world have been abundantly blessed with much materially. We have so much to be thankful for and it shouldn't, it cannot, end at merely mouthing our thanks.

If we call ourselves Christ-followers, the next step absolutely needs to be taken and that is the living out of this thanks...

Because to whom much is given, much will be required.

Because living out a sacrificial life of grateful holiness is the only appropriate response to grace.
Go through His gates, giving thanks; walk through His courts, giving praise. Offer Him your gratitude and praise His holy name. Because the Eternal is good, His loyal love and mercy will never end, and His truth will last throughout all generations. ~ Psalm 100:4-5.
Brothers and sisters, in light of all I have shared with you about God’s mercies, I urge you to offer your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice to God, a sacred offering that brings Him pleasure; this is your reasonable, essential worship. ~ Romans 12:1.
I will not make an offering to the Eternal One, my True God, that has cost me nothing. ~ 2 Samuel 24:24.
My dear Haiti, on this Thanksgiving weekend... I am thankful for an organization called Compassion International, a ministry my family and I love. Compassion has been in Haiti since 1968. Today, they are partnering with more than 270 of your churches and together they take care of about 80,000 of your beautiful children and their families, including our Bradley and our Linsey!


They will rebuild Haiti again after Hurricane Matthew. I know they will. 

My dear Haiti, on this Thanksgiving weekend... my prayer is that, as fellow Christ-followers in this vast country of ours sit down to feast on their Thanksgiving meals, you will be forefront in their minds.

Just like you are in mine.








As I sit down shortly to enjoy those slow-braised pork hocks with its mouth-watering soy-caramel sauce... please know that you will not be far from my heart, my dear Haiti.

On this Thanksgiving weekend, I am remembering you, my dear Haiti... because setting foot on your soil and finding friends there and seeing how beautiful you are in your brokennes has re-membered me in ways that are profound.
Because when we remember how He blesses and loves us, when we recollect His goodnesses to us — our broken places re-collect. We re-member. We heal. In the remembering to give thanks, our broken places are re-membered — made whole.
~ Ann Voskamp.
:: :: ::

Help Compassion rebuild Haiti after Hurricane Matthew:

Sponsor a Compassion child in Haiti:

Monday, August 22, 2016

On living a life of God-worship...

When I first became a mama, my greatest desire was to give my baby girl and her little brother the best that this world could offer.

Because I wanted the absolute best for them. Only the absolute best will do.


During the early years, hubby and I pursued this for our kids. Relentlessly and religiously pursued this. Because... only the best would do.

From babyGap clothes to StrideRite shoes. From Oxford Learning pre-school to Gymboree classes. From Disney vacations to Registered Education Savings Plans. 

You get the picture. We're stellar parents raising stellar children! Or so we thought...

We entertained thoughts of moving from our nice neighbourhood into an even nicer neighbourhood with better schools, better than the already pretty awesome public school that's within walking distance from our more than adequate home.

We sought to top last summer's vacation with an even awesomer one next time.

We strove for more income because only then can we provide our kids with the absolute best.

It was the pursuit of more. But... although we considered ourselves Christ-followers, we weren't living a life of God-worship.


I am grateful that God, in His infinite grace, found us early on in our parenting journey and removed the blinders from our eyes. He opened our hearts' eyes to see that the goal isn't to raise stellar human beings, but truly great children... ones whose lives exude Kingdom greatness and ones whose hearts break for the things that break God's. 

He impressed upon our hearts that the way to true greatness isn't via wanting what the world dictates is the absolute best for our children...

... because in giving of the world's best to our children, we are in fact giving them a whole lot of the detrimental gift of entitlement and afflicting them with affluence.
Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or —worse!— stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being. ~ Matthew 6:19-21, The Message.
We grappled with questions such as...
How is true greatness defined after all?
What do great kids look like?
How do we make sure we are raising our kids to be great?!?
The decision to live a life of God-worship wasn't easy, definitely counter-cultural... yet, I wouldn't trade it for anything! When confronted with research results such as the one I'm quoting below, I am especially grateful that God's grace confronted us very early on in our parenting journey:
In 2003, George Barna wrote in his research that a child's moral development is set by the age of nine. He wrote, "Habits related to the practice of one’s faith develop when one is young and change surprisingly little over time. The older a child gets, the more distracted and vulnerable he or she becomes to nonfamily influences."
Barna found that children who accepted Christ before their teen years are more likely to remain "absolutely committed" to Christianity. He stated, "It is during those pre-teen years that people develop their frames of reference for the remainder of their life." Source: Wikipedia.

Over the years, since our family started answering God with this wild nod of a yes to live a life of God-worship, it is changing many things.

In fact, it is changing everything.... from how we celebrate Christmas and birthdays, to how we view corporate worship; from how we buy clothing and food, to the decisions we make when buying bigger tickets items such as vehicles; from the way we save money for the future, to the way we give.

I have come to love this quote by C.S. Lewis...
I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc, is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them. ~ C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.
And also this quote by Joshua Becker...
Excessive consumption leads to bigger houses, faster cars, trendier clothes, fancier technology, and overfilled drawers. It promises happiness, but never delivers. Instead, it results in a desire for more… a desire which is promoted by the world around us. And it slowly begins robbing us of life. It redirects our God-given passions to things that can never fulfill. It consumes our limited resources. And it is time that we escape the vicious cycle. ~ Joshua Becker, 10 Reasons to Escape Excessive Consumerism.
Among other things, this decision to live a life of God-worship has changed the way we spend our vacation time... that's for sure!

This year is no different.

As I wrote in my previous blog post, we are headed to Haiti at summer's end

Tomorrow, we will fly into Port-Au-Prince... and this week, we will spend a couple of days with our two Haitian Compassion children.

As Jennie Allen so eloquently wrote in this must-read guest post on Ann Voskamp's blog:
... something is happening — not a feeling or love of adventure or desire for glory but something within us that is from God, a call to more: to die — to live. My heart is bleeding and I can’t make it stop. So we are praying and willing and dreaming of living for heaven instead of the American dream, and it is changing everything. And I am strangely okay with that.
Yes, I am indeed strangely okay... strangely okay with this.







My baby boy, now a young man and almost a whole head taller than me, said to me the other day that he is grateful we chose to raise him and his sister in this way, to live a life of God-worship...

... because if not, he doesn't know if he would come to the point of choosing it for himself.  

Profoundly thought-provoking statement which made this mama's heart swell with joy! I am deeply grateful and deeply glad.

Just last week, my kids and I spent a few days soaking up the Inspire Hope Conference at Muskoka Bible Centre. Compassion Canada's President/CEO, Barry Slauenwhite, said this during one of his teaching sessions:
Children are either afflicted by poverty or afflicted by affluence.
Ah, yes! This statement is profoundly true. 

Being afflicted by affluence, the poverty of having too much, is what God saved both our children from when His grace found us during those early years of our parenting journey and I will forever be grateful.

Turns out, my kids did get what's absolutely best for them. The absolute best thing... lives exuding Kingdom greatness and hearts broken for the things that break God's. 

A photo posted by Aimee Esparaz (@mama2greatkids) on

I'll be honest... some days, this journey is hard. Many days, the struggle is real and the sacrifices tough to swallow.

Yet, I will not have it any other way. Because this abundant life in Christ is worth the hard days and the struggles and the sacrifices.

I would not exchange this deep gladness with anything else.

As we prepare to travel to Haiti for yet another one of our family's summer pilgrimages, these song lyrics have been constant in my heart and mind...
You live among the least of these | The weary and the weak | And it would be a tragedy | For me to turn away | All my needs You have supplied | When I was dead You gave me life | So how could I not give it away so freely?
And I'll | Follow You into the homes of the broken | Follow You into the world | Meet the needs for the poor and the needy God | Follow You into the world
Use my hands and use my feet | To make Your kingdom come | To the corners of the earth | Until Your work is done | Faith without works is dead | On the cross Your blood was shed | So how could we not give it away so freely?
And I give all myself | I give all myself | I give all myself to You
Have a listen to this beautiful song, friends...

Monday, August 15, 2016

At summer's end...

Quiet blog. Quite full life. So... life has definitely been anything but quiet since God called me into this full-time ministry role with Compassion at the start of this year, taking care of Ministry Relations in the Greater Toronto Area for this amazing organization.

The song You Make Me Brave has been my anthem... because since starting this role, I've had to wake up each day and ask God to help me with being brave.
I have heard You calling my name
I have heard the song of love that You sing
So I will let You draw me out beyond the shore
Into Your grace
Your grace
You make me brave
You make me brave
You call me out beyond the shore into the waves


And He has done just that. He makes me brave!

I can say that stepping into this ministry role is, by far, the hardest "job" I have ever said YES to.

Yes, the word "job" is in quotation marks. Because this truly doesn’t feel like a job. Truly, it doesn’t. 

I feel so blessed to be working at Compassion… never in a million years would I have imagined that this would be the path God would lead our family on. Each day, I give thanks to Him for putting me in this role. It is such a privilege!


Yet, it is not easy. It is downright hard. Everyday.

It comes with difficult losses and hard sacrifices and dictates changes to our family's life and our well-oiled routines...

but it also comes with lots and lots of amazing wins and astounding joys!

I wouldn’t trade it for anything... because I know that we are working for a greater purpose --- to see children and families released from all forms of poverty in Jesus’ name.

It has definitely required a lot of being brave. This is the truth.


So each day I draw on that fount of grace and choose braveness as my anthem. 

Each day I choose to do the hard thing and choose to stay hungry for fruitfulness.

Each day I pray and ask for God's favour and stand amazed that broken me is useful to Him.

Each day I put my hand to the plow, embrace new patterns of living and have since found this prayer to be intensely and fiercely true...
May we put our hand to the plow and work as those who have a higher calling. In the days that come, Lord, reveal to us new patterns of living where our spiritual lives and work lives become an integrated whole. May all that we do be worship to You.
We acknowledge that out of the ashes of our lives You are bringing shalom. We believe You are calling us to be a part of Your shalom work in our own cities and across the globe. We ask You to lead us and guide us. We are called to be Your hands and feet. As representatives of Christ we believe we should carry Your message of love and grace into the dark places You came to restore, the places where disease and illness plague people. Lord, do not allow us to seek safe havens, to hide the news of Your gospel; instead, call us out so that Your Good News will be evident to all.
- Chris Seay, A Place at the Table.

The more I grow in this role, the more I realize my need to fully be dependent on God and His all-encompassing grace.

It is what sustains. It is what rejuvenates. It is what restores.

I have also come to realize that, more than ever, I need God to keep the eyes of my heart open. To see and to be reminded about the bigger picture...

because it can be too easy to get sucked into the daily grind and the numbers and the spreadsheets.

I have come to realize that our family's summer pilgrimages are all the more important now.

These summer pilgrimages have played a vital role in keeping our hearts' eyes open and continually aware... to those things that break the heart of God. It has shown us that "mutual embrace of life as it can be."

It is a truly beautiful, sacred thing.

This is why... next week, at summer's end, we will pack our bags and we will head to Haiti... and we look forward to the mutual embracing of life with our two Haitian Compassion children, Bell Bradley and Linsey...

where the mystery of God intertwining our family's story with theirs will be savoured...

where we will embrace the hard and the broken, as He calls us deeper still... 

where we will see afresh the reality of our own brokenness...

where we will continue to draw on that fount of grace and continue to choose braveness as our anthem...

where we will know anew that He truly is a good, good Father... perfect in all of His ways to us.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Good Friday Reflections...

Since the New Year, blogging has definitely been relegated to the back burner as I stepped full-time into the role of Compassion Canada's Ministry Relations Representative for the Greater Toronto Area.

It's Good Friday today and I'm thinking that one way to reflect on this day and why it is called good is to blog my reflections.


It is called good because... "'Tis mercy all, immense and free; for, O my God, it found out me!"

Salvation, yes. But, in His most loving and extravagant way, our God doesn't stop there. He pursues. Relentlessly pursues. Wildly pursues. All because He wants that abundant life for us.

The other day I had an epiphany. I said to hubby, "I think I remember now the first time my heart broke for the things that break God's."

He and I just started dating. Exactly 25 years ago now. I was back in the Philippines for the summer and we found ourselves as part of a church visitation team. We were assigned to visit this man and his family. Because it was still the pre-Instagram days, I don't have a photo... but the image is still vivid in my mind.

I don't remember the man's name or even what he looks like, but I remember very vividly what his home looked like. Much like this one, our Compassion daughter Florianlyn's home.


Even though I grew up in the Philippines, up until that point in time, I've never been inside a "shanty" before. It broke me. I remember not being able to sleep well that night and feeling utterly broken the days that followed.

Then I came home to Canada.

And promptly forgot about that jarring experience.

My Heavenly Father... He was showing me that He's called His followers to so much more, that there's this abundant life to live, yet I chose the mediocre life --- content to have just my salvation.

I am deeply grateful that He is patient and didn't give up on hubby and me and our family.

Life took over and 15+ more years would pass before we were jolted out of living the mediocre life.

It has been a beautiful journey of discovering this abundant life that God calls each and every one of His followers to live.

It took travelling around the globe visiting our Compassion children for us to be wrecked and broken again and again and again.












Like a full-circle moment, even though I didn't realize it then... God brought me back to that place where, as a 20-year-old young woman, my heart first broke for the things that break His. 

It was back there in the broken places where our family together heeded the call to embrace the abundant life.

On this Good Friday, I am reminded yet again that God is still in the business of redeeming brokenness. This is why this day is called good.

Broken me, redeemed. You, too.

'Tis mercy all, immense and free; for, O my God, it found out me!


On that cross, Jesus said, "It is finished." 

I am deeply grateful that, on that cross, Jesus already redeemed everything. All He asks us, His followers, to do is to live it out... to live each and every day as redeemed people, as People of the Cross.

To live the life of true fasting...
... if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
This abundant life... it's not an easy one to live. In fact, it's excruciatingly hard... with heartache, tears and lament. Sometimes, I just want to go back to that time when I didn't know better...

But, I don't... and I soldier on. Because we all only have this one life to live and it would be a shame to choose comfort and to coast through it with mediocrity. 



May this be our prayer, not just on this Good Friday, but always:
God, we thank You for being near in a world filled with selfish ambition, where too often our tendency is to turn inward and contemplate our own desires despite the suffering that surrounds us. We live surrounded by a wealth that defies the imagination of our poorer brothers and sisters, yet we live with the fear that we will never have enough. Expand our hearts, Lord, that we may learn to truly love.

May we put our hand to the plow and work as those who have a higher calling. In the days that come, Lord, reveal to us new patterns of living where our spiritual lives and work lives become an integrated whole. May all that we do be worship to You.
We acknowledge that out of the ashes of our lives You are bringing shalom. We believe You are calling us to be a part of Your shalom work in our own cities and across the globe. We ask You to lead us and guide us. We are called to be Your hands and feet. As representatives of Christ we believe we should carry Your message of love and grace into the dark places You came to restore, the places where disease and illness plague people. Lord, do not allow us to seek safe havens, to hide the news of Your gospel; instead, call us out so that Your Good News will be evident to all.
- Chris Seay, A Place at the Table.