Friday, February 27, 2015

You Can #EndIt... with simple everyday choices!

It's #ShineALightOnSlavery day today...
Social media has lit up with countless selfies of people with a red X on their hand. I posted one earlier this morning too. Here it is...

Did you know that...
27 million people are still in slavery today? This quote is from the End It Movement website: " Can you imagine being forced to work without pay, trapped, unable to walk away, subject to violence or the threat of violence, by another person as they control you? Own you? Isolated, yet hidden in plain sight. This is reality for those trapped in slavery today. In the year 2015. Slavery is illegal in every single country in the world. Yet it still exists."

This morning, I prayed this prayer...
A prayer of repentance... for today and for these 40 days of Lent. In repentance, of loving myself too much... and loving God so little.

A few years ago, I came to realize that things like our clothing, our chocolate, our coffee and our smartphones {among many other things} depend on slave labour to be produced cheaply. Our family resolved to do and consume things differently.

Do you love baking with or eating chocolate or drinking hot chocolate? Watch this to see where chocolate comes from. Similarly, coffee and sugar cane are in the list of common agricultural goods produced with child labour.

How about the clothes we wear everyday? Do we know their source... where they are made and by whom? Watch this trailer to see a glimpse of the realities that many garment labourers are living in today.

{Watch the entire series of this documentary here.}

And it's not limited to that. Many people today are trafficked into slavery. Many more are in bonded and forced labour. 27 million of them! This should be enough reason to prompt us to do and consume things differently.

Friends, let's do more than just draw a red X on our hand today... 
Let's be freedom fighters everyday!!! I know that this is a big problem... but rather than being overwhelmed by it, why not join in and effect change by taking small steps, one step at a time?

Did you know that you can be a powerful and an effective freedom fighter from the comforts of your own home simply by making small changes in the things that you do and buy everyday?

I'd like to share a few ideas with you all... a few things that we do and choices that we make as a family, in order to help in the fight against modern-day slavery:

1. Buy Fair Trade
Buying fair trade basically ensures that you are not consuming something that has been produced with slave labour. It has become easier and easier to buy fair trade products in recent years. We started with the items that we consume regularly such as coffee, chocolate and sugar... but we also try to look for the fair trade symbol as much as possible when grocery shopping.

My most favourite place to buy fair trade products is Ten Thousand Villages. They have a flat rate shipping of $7 or free when you buy $100. It is super convenient to shop from home and their delivery is super fast!

The photo on the left is my favourite coffee. This is my favourite hot chocolate and I love this chai tea and this is the brown sugar and cane sugar that I buy.

Another food item we consume regularly that is also on the list of common agricultural goods produced with slave labour is rice. To this day, I have yet to find a fair trade source for rice.

2. Buy Local
Another way to ensure that we aren't consuming something that has been produced with slave labour is to buy local.

This includes food items such as fruits and vegetables and meats and dairy products... especially paying attention to reading labels during the colder months when local produce are harder to find.

Locally grown bouquets and flowers are a good idea as well because of slavery that exists in flower farms such as this one.  

I can't wait for the local farmers' market to start back up again... just three more months to go! ;)

3. Buy Less and Want Less
Sometimes, it is virtually impossible to avoid buying things produced with slave labour. I am talking about things such as clothing and electronics.

Free2Work is an awesome resource providing consumers with information on forced and child labour. I use this website to check how certain brands rate when it comes to trafficking and other labor abuses.

For instance, for the garment industry, I now know that H&M is rated A, Adidas and Levi's are rated B+ while Forever21 and Skechers are rated D-. This informs me on where I should be shopping. In the electronics industry, there is no one brand rated above a B+. Among the top rated brands are Microsoft, LG, Nokia and Apple.

These ratings tell me that sadly there is hardly anything today in the apparel and electronics industry that have been produced without slave labour. Our family's solution to this dilemma is to buy less and to want less.   

This means owning just enough pieces of clothing for our needs and wearing them until they are worn out. I admire my boy's commitment to this. He owns just enough clothes that he has to do his laundry every weekend in order to have clean clothes to wear. He also only owns one pair of running shoes and one pair of boots.

When it comes to electronics, this means that we are mindful of not always wanting the newest gadgets and only owning the bare minimum for what we need and using them mindfully to prolong their lifespans. Computers and smartphones are used until they die {even if a free upgrade is available}. Tablets aren't replaced the minute a new one is released in the marketplace. The same goes with most, if not all, of our household electronics and appliances.     

4. Do Something
Lastly, we can all do something. Might I suggest a few initiatives that you can consider?

1. Freedom Creations
My girl started a social enterprise called Freedom Creations in October 2013. In her own words: "Freedom Creations was birthed from a passion for social justice, a want to do something to help end modern-day slavery and a love for knitting and creating. I so believe that each and every one of us was created with a purpose and made for freedom."

100% of Freedom Creations' proceeds are donated to International Justice Mission Canada. To date, over $2000 have been donated

If you are looking for an awesome hand-knitted hat or a warm and cozy scarf, be sure to shop at Freedom Creations! :)

2. International Justice Mission:
Support the work of IJM directly. IJM’s mission is "to protect the poor from violence by rescuing victims, bringing the criminals to justice, restoring survivors to safety and strength, and helping local law enforcement build a safe future that lasts."

IJM works to "combat slavery, sex trafficking, property grabbing, police abuse of power and sexual violence in nearly 20 communities throughout Africa, Latin America and South and Southeast Asia."

IJM's vision is "to rescue thousands, protect millions and prove that justice for the poor is possible."

Here is a heart-warming story of rescue:

3. Compassion International:
Last, but not least... sponsor a Compassion child today in order to give them a safe haven and to protect them from the traps of modern-day slavery!

Here is how your sponsorship works:

Friends, if you are still reading...
Thank you! Thank you for bearing with me today and reading to the end of this super-long blog post. I hope that I have inspired you to jump in and do something... however small. 

Each act, each choice, each step we take... will bring the end of slavery that much closer to becoming a reality for these 27 million of our global brothers and sisters, each one of them as precious and as valuable as we are as a human being, each one infinitely loved by our Heavenly Father.

Friends, let's do something today. Let's #EndIt for them!   
By Grace, today, I will fast from wanting more, instead of Giving More. We repent, Lord, that our clothing, our chocolate, our coffee, and our smart phones depend on slave labour for producing these goods cheaply, so we have more money in our wallets regardless of how much life and soul it costs someone else. Today, we will give thankfully -- so others can thankfully live. ~ Ann Voskamp.
Brothers and sisters, God has called you to freedom! Hear the call, and do not spoil this gift by using your liberty to engage in what your flesh desires; instead, use it to serve each other as Jesus taught through love. ~ Galatians 5:13.

Compassion is a command, an act of worship, a song of thanks to Him.
Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Thoughts on Lent...

Lent kind of crept up on me this year...
Ash Wednesday fell on the same day as this young lady's 18th birthday. We celebrated this milestone birthday by going out to dinner at a fairly new Korean-style restaurant in town. {Side note: Korean Cowboy is a must-try if you are a foodie.}

As we started chowing down on kimchi fries, mocha pork belly and Korean tacos... it dawned on me that it was already Ash Wednesday. In fact, Ash Wednesday was almost over by that time.

The day before, on Shrove Tuesday, I read this blog post by Ann Voskamp and posted this excerpt on my Facebook wall:
On this Shrove Tuesday before the start of ‪#‎Lent‬... this is my prayer and the confession of my heart...

People are dying for the faith we take for granted, that we take and hide under a bushel, that we take and paint vanilla so we don’t get persecuted.
Are we people who humbly take up the Cross and take our faith seriously — or people who seriously take and hide our faith under a humble bushel?
That’s what we get to decide and carry home, carry in our heads, carry around in what we read, what we watch, what we support, what we cheer: Cheap Plastic Commercialized Feel-Good Love?
Or Wood Passionate Cross Made-New Love? Worth humbly laying down our lives for.
I want that — I want to be counted as People of the Cross, carrying around the Cross in my head — because that’s the only way there will be real love in my hands and feet and heart.
So the People of the Cross will pray that our faith in our Saviour is worth laying down our life for our Saviour. We will pray that we don’t live lives of cheap grace but of costly Christianity.
Too long The People of the Cross have crusaded for safe lives, too long we’ve wished for comfortable lives, too long we’ve wanted easy lives of Vanilla Love instead of Cross-shaped Love.
But the People of the Cross — we are done with safe lives of comfort instead of living dangerous lives that speak of the comfort found in Real Love who hung on a Cross."
~ Ann Voskamp.
We read the entire blog post as a family after eating hubby's home-made pancakes for dinner... because that's what you're supposed to do on Shrove Tuesday right? Eat pancakes for dinner. :)

As I read aloud, in my heart I said, "Yes! Yes, I want to be counted as one of the People of the Cross..."

Early the next day, on Ash Wednesday, I read Ann's next blog post, one meant to kick-off this season of Lent... The Call for the Next 40 Days: To the Nations and People of The Crossbut I didn't take the time to really absorb its message due to the busyness of that day.

In fact, it has been such a busy season... that I hadn't even thought about what we should be doing as a family for Lent this year.

It wasn't until Thursday when I really had the time to sit down and absorb this powerful, powerful, powerful Lenten message...
On an Ash Wednesday, The People of the Cross repent of wanting to be greatly known for anything other than for loving greatly.
The People of the Cross repent of loving our agendas more — instead of interrupting our agendas because we love Jesus most.
We repent of loving You, Lord, so little because we have loved ourselves too much.
What if the next 40 days is asking The People of the Cross to do more than Give Up something — but to Take Back something?
Take Back taking up our Cross,
Take Back our time so we can turn back to our First Love,
Take Back our hypocrisy and our complacency and our apathy and Love Lavishly,
Take Back our excuses for not committing to Give Back every day in some tangible, real way — to the local food bank, to a woman’s shelter, to the refugees and the foreigners and the Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists and to the forgotten neighbour next door with her meowing stray cat.
Maybe now is the time —
Now is the time to Take Back what it means to humbly and genuinely live the love of The People of the Cross.
~ Ann Voskamp.
Ah, yes... yes, I do know it... I do! Lent is not going through the motions of the supposed-to-dos... of eating pancake dinners and of reading devotionals and of giving up something.

It is more than that. Way more than that...

It is praying this prayer... it is repenting of loving God so little because we love ourselves too much.

{Please press the "play" button to hear this powerful prayer.}

Perhaps it's a blessing in disguise that Lent kind of crept up on me this year. There are no meal plans prepared. There are no devotional plans ready. There are no plans to give up anything. There are no plans of any sort lined up at all.

Except for the above prayer. A call to repentance...

One I am badly needing to pray. Everyday, for the next 40 days of Lent. In repentance, of loving myself too much... and loving God so little.

Refreshed anew with the right perspective on Lent...
Our family got ready to head out for the weekend. We were scheduled to serve as Compassion Advocates at two events over the weekend, including a huge conference for youth and youth workers.

#1000gifts ~ This SUNSHINE as we drive across the city to represent Compassion Canada at the Today's Teens conference this weekend!

Upon arriving at the event on Friday night, we were surprised to learn that my girl has been invited to speak the next day about Compassion's ministry and to promote their upcoming youth curriculum, True Story {#TrueStorySeries}, of which she is the host.

#1000gifts ~ Excited to be promoting @compassionCA #TrueStorySeries at Today's Teens conference this weekend! Check out to watch the trailer. You just might recognize someone. :) #proudmama

As I watched my girl share her heart with hundreds of her peers that day and as I thought about why we have chosen to spend our entire weekend advocating for children living in extreme poverty, it dawned on me that this, this is exactly what it means to observe Lent and to live as People of the Cross... {and I am paraphrasing Ann Voskamp}:

When we want to be greatly known for nothing else but for loving greatly.

When we interrupt our agendas because we love Jesus.

When we repent of loving God so little because we love ourselves too much.

When we take back taking up our Cross.

When we take back hypocrisy and complacency and apathy and Love Lavishly.

Let it be so... 
Let me be counted as one of the People of the Cross... one who acts justly, loves mercy and walks humbly with the God of Justice everyday and in all of my ways. This is my prayer.

I recently came across this song, God of Justice by Tim Hughes. I love these words...
We must go, live to feed the hungry,
Stand beside the broken, we must go.
Stepping forward, keep us from just singing,
Move us into action, we must go.
To act justly everyday.
Loving mercy in every way.
Walking humbly before You God.
Have a listen here...

Compassion is a command, an act of worship, a song of thanks to Him.
Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Eighteen Candles!

18! 十八! Napulo ug walo! Dieciocho! Dix-huit!
That's right, e-i-g-h-t-e-e-n. My baby girl, this child who made me a mama, celebrates her eighteenth birthday today!!! Just where has all that time gone to and why has it flown by this swiftly?

Time truly flows like a relentless river... I am very much undeserving of such wild grace, this immensely beautiful gift and sacred privilege of being mama to this amazing and beautiful young lady... and for this, I am humbled... and deeply grateful to my Heavenly Father for His extravagant love and unending grace. He truly gives beautiful gifts.
Every good gift bestowed, every perfect gift received comes to us from above, courtesy of the Father of lights. ~ James 1:17
Hubby and I found out we were expecting just mere days before I graduated from the University of Toronto's School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (now Daniels Faculty). I had my eyes set on a career as an Urban Planner, motherhood far from my mind. I was surprised by this gift... surprised by motherhood!

As my belly started to swell and stretch and this life started to visibly grow within that hollow space inside of me, I marvelled at the miracle of life. I was surprised by this gift... surprised by motherhood!

On that cold and wintry February day, when my body signalled to me that the time had arrived for us to meet this baby face to face... and when after twenty-six hours of intense labour, this loud yet breathtakingly beautiful baby girl joined our family, I fell in love in a way that I didn't know I could. I was surprised by this gift... surprised by motherhood!

When my eyes gazed upon the face of this sweet cherubic little human and I knew right then and there that the only way to spend my days is to raise her up to be truly great... and when, right at that very moment, becoming an Urban Planner suddenly no longer seemed important to me... and when, right at that moment, I set my heart on being at home and chose to become a full-time mama, my heart skipped a beat. I was surprised by this gift... surprised by motherhood!

Side Note: Here are two of my all-time favourite quotes on what it means to raise truly great kids, not as the world would define greatness to be, but what being great for God's Kingdom looks like...
True greatness is a passionate love for God that demonstrates itself in an unquenchable love and concern for others. ~ Dr. Tim Kimmel, Raising Kids for True Greatness.
Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither. ~ C.S. Lewis.
Even though I eventually started working from home soon after my son was born, I've cherished this gift of being able, all these years, to work yet be at home both at the same time... being the first to kiss boo-boos, the first to see first steps, the first to hear first words, the first to be happy and to be sad with them... and many, many, many countless other firsts. I was surprised by this gift... surprised by motherhood!

From late-night feedings to early-morning wake-ups, from diapers to potty-training, from sleep-training to tummy-time, from mushy cereals to table foods...

From bedtime stories to good-morning cuddles, from ballet lessons to piano lessons, from meal-time struggles to bath-time giggles, from tangled hair to braided hair...

From disappointing basketball try-outs to celebrating straight-A report cards, from the first day of Kindergarten to the last day of elementary school, from the first day of high school to choosing universities...

From cheering loudly at basketball games to applauding proudly at concerts and recitals, from the first loose tooth to wearing braces, from a trike to a bike, from triple-jumps at track and field days to roller-blading down the neighbourhood sidewalks...

From a provincial writing award to a regional humanitarian award, from doing the hard thing to grappling with brokenness, from an adorable baby girl to a super-talkative toddler, from a strong-willed little girl to a determined young woman who is beautiful both inside and out...

From holding her hand to releasing her to fly... through it all, this mama has been utterly surprised by this gift... surprised by motherhood!

My prayer for this girl since the day she was born has been the verses from Isaiah 61:1-3... that, as an image-bearer of her Heavenly Father, she will be Jesus' hands and feet... to proclaim good news to the poor, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release prisoners from darkness, to comfort all who mourn... that she will be an oak of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendour.

These eighteen years have been pure gift, wild grace... a blessing! Motherhood has been the single hardest, yet most fulfilling, thing I have ever done. I wouldn't trade it for anything else...
Bend the knee and be small and let God give what God chooses to give because He only gives love, and whisper surprised thanks. This is the fuel for joy's flame.
Happy Birthday, Alyssa!
I am forever grateful and count it as pure joy that God gave you to me, a daughter... a precious gift! You continually inspire me as you courageously and humbly live each day as an "oak of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendour."

I love you very much... more than words can ever express {whether in person or right here on this blog}! 

I can't wait to see the brave and beautifully radical God-things waiting for you as you embark on pursuing an education, and eventually a career, in International Development {entering the University of Toronto as a President's Scholar of Excellence this Fall, at my alma mater no less! #proudmama :)}, to live out your passion to speak out for those who are denied a voice.

A photo posted by alyssa (@_godsgal4ever) on

When your daddy and I first gazed upon your beautiful face in those small hours before that dawn of day 18 years ago, we wouldn't have dared to imagine that this is what your life's work and passion would shape into. Yet seeing all that God has accomplished in your life so far, I am in awe realizing that this is the path that your Heavenly Daddy has prepared in advance for you to walk... because He is One who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine!
For we are the product of His hand, heaven’s poetry etched on lives, created in the Anointed, Jesus, to accomplish the good works God arranged long ago. - Ephesians 2:10
My beloved daughter...
As you step into adulthood, your mama can't help but beam with pride... deeply grateful for God's grace at work in your life. As you pursue God's calling and continue to embrace all that He has in store for you... may this be always true of you:
May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. ~ Galatians 6:14
{Please pause the playlist on the sidebar of this blog as you watch this video.}
"The words leave my lips: 'When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace. For I am Yours, and You are mine.' I'm painfully aware of what I'm saying." ~ Alyssa{Video background music: "Oceans" from Brad Guldemond's "Lord I Need You EP"}

Compassion is a command, an act of worship, a song of thanks to Him.
Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Come Meet This Man With 50 Kids!

Last week I wrote about...
... what it looks like to live a counter-cultural way of life, a life lived the Jesus-wayThis radical way to live out my every-days has hugely been on my heart and mind since our return from the Philippines this past summer.

I have come to see that... it is the only way to live as Christ-followers, not because of obligation or duty, but because... it is the only way we can live out that freedom for which Jesus sacrificed His very life for

It is saying YES to living this counter-cultural and radical way of life and saying NO to the patterns of this world.
Brothers and sisters, God has called you to freedom! Hear the call, and do not spoil this gift by using your liberty to engage in what your flesh desires; instead, use it to serve each other as Jesus taught through love. For the whole law comes down to this one instruction: “Love your neighbor as yourself..." - Galatians 5:13-14.
Today, I would like you to meet a man who lives this life...
I first came across David Chalmers' story during my wanderings on the Internet one day. I started watching this video that I stumbled upon and was really inspired by this man's story. A man who, like me and the rest of my family, is an avid Advocate for Compassion International. I quickly gathered the whole family and had them watch the video as well.

Friends, you can watch the video for yourself here:

{Please pause the playlist on the sidebar of this blog as you watch this video.}

Soon after coming across David's story on the Internet, we got connected on Facebook and I learned that he was spending the year (2014) in the Philippines serving at an orphanage called Ruel Foundation.

It is no secret that the Philippines is very near and dear to our family's heart. It is not only the land of hubby's and my births, it is also where we have four Compassion children and where the building-that-Eucharisteo-built now stands and where True Story was filmed, Compassion Canada's first-ever youth curriculum video series of which my girl is the face and voice of. {Side note: We are extremely excited for the upcoming launch of True Story. I can not wait to share it with you all!}

Needless to say, David's connection to the Philippines hugely piqued my interest!

As I started following David's journey...
I quickly found out that he had a book in the works and was soon going to be a first-time author. The topic of the book excited me even more... yes, he's writing about his extensive experiences with the ministry of Compassion International as a result of sponsoring the many children that he does and his travels to visit many of them!

I could not wait to get my hands on this book!

David visiting his Compassion children in the Philippines.

Friends, this book was released earlier this month and I've had the honour of reading one of the very first copies of Go Into All The World. Here are a few of the many quotes that gripped me:
One thing I love about being a servant of God is that it doesn't matter who you are, if you make yourself available and are willing, He will use you to do amazing things for the good of His kingdom. I am proof of that.
I want people, when they see my life of sacrificial generosity, to see God in me.

I was left with the profound realization that when everything else is stripped away and we're left with nothing but complete and utter dependence on God, that's when He does His best and most powerful work. 
One day we will all be accountable to God for the way we have used what He has given us. He has also given us free will. This is a double-edged sword: we have a choice to make, and with that choice comes consequences that affect ourselves and others. You can choose to use what you have been given to fund a lifestyle of comfort, convenience, security and ease for yourself. Or you can choose to make your life count on earth and in eternity by using your time, money and resources to help and invest in other people.
Aside from the gems of wisdom found in many places in the book much like the quotes above, I think the most valuable part of the book lies in the wealth of information that David shares, outlining details of his travels to visit several different Compassion projects in several different countries such as Bolivia, Colombia, El Salvador, Brazil, Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador, Nicaragua and of course, the Philippines!

If you sponsor a child with Compassion and wonder about what it looks like to visit your child or if you ever wonder about how a Compassion project is run or if you would like a sneak peek into the daily life of your Compassion child, this book is for you!

If you are looking to start sponsoring a child but have unanswered questions about Compassion's ministry, this book will answer all your questions and will inspire you to start your journey!

If you are still a skeptic and are still not quite sure about child sponsorship or about Compassion's ministry for that matter, I can assure you that this book will make you a believer!

You can read more of David's personal story on his blog. You can also check out his YouTube channel where many of the videos from his visits to Compassion projects all over the world are posted. Finally, you can also interact with David on the book's Facebook page.

So, what are you waiting for?
Friends, this is a must-read book. It is eye-opening and thought-provoking both at the same time. It will surely change your life... or at the very least, how you live your every-days.

Trust me... you will be freer and more alive and more joy-filled living with the counter-cultural and radical version of yourself! :)

There are several options to buy a copy. Get yours today!

Compassion is a command, an act of worship, a song of thanks to Him.
Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

On This Path Towards Counter-Cultural Living

What does it look like anyway?
Yes, this path towards counter-cultural living, the Jesus-way --- what *does* it look like? This thought has hugely been on my heart and mind since our return from the Philippines this past summer.

With our Compassion child, JD and his family. It's so cute that JD would only hold my boy's hand. ♥

"When the worlds of poverty and wealth collide, the resulting powerful fusion can change the world."
~ Shane Claiborne.

Yet, there are days, like this past Sunday at church, when I could hardly sing these words as they flashed on the screen because the sheer intensity of their meaning almost consumed me...
Take my silver and my gold, not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect and use every power as You choose.
Take my will and make it Thine, it shall be no longer mine.
Then, Author and Professor Mark Buchanan, the guest teacher at church this past Sunday, started teaching on these verses from Romans 12:1-2:
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life — your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life — and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
Yes, those verses. In fact, the entire twelfth chapter of Romans is pretty counter-cultural. Well, the entire Gospel is pretty counter-cultural! But let's just start with reading Romans 12 today, shall we?

You see, this is the thing --- the beautiful thing about this whole counter-cultural way of life is this... 
Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.
Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good.
Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.
Mark Buchanan pointed out to us that, as Christ-followers, we are called to be radically generous, to be radically hospitable and to be radically kind.

He said...
Radical generosity is... going further than just giving our stuff, our money and our time. It is making our life the very gift.
Radical hospitality is... going further than just inviting people over. It is inviting people to share in our very lives.
Radical kindness is... going further than just practising charity. It is overcoming evil by the good that we do.
We get to say an unconditional YES to God, because He said an unconditional YES to us.
We get to see the world through the heart of Jesus.
This is the thing that got me... the utterly beautiful thing that gripped me to the core: We get to do this. We get to live this. We get to say YES to God. This *is* the counter-cultural way of life!

In the days after the calendar turned to the New Year...
Our family has had a few opportunities to literally live this out. I can honestly tell you that, when push came to shove, it certainly did not come naturally nor was it easy... but one thing is sure and true: Obeying God and walking the Jesus-way is always life-giving and joy-inducing!

For how can it not be life-giving and joy-inducing when this mama sees her girl obey Jesus and follow Him right into a certain community where oceans rise {though it was intensely heart-wrenching to release her to fly}... and we end up welcoming this little boy from that very same community into our lives on the first week of this New Year, into our Compassion family?

For how can it not be life-giving and joy-inducing when both my kids earmark all of the money they received as gifts at Christmas towards sponsoring this little guy and two others in our Compassion family?

Johnrel from the Philippines, my girl's 2nd Compassion child.

For how can it not be life-giving and joy-inducing when, after writing to this boy for almost one whole year, he becomes available for sponsorship... and even though it means tweaking our family budget once again, we welcome yet another child into our growing Compassion family... for how can we not embrace him and call him our very own?

Patrick from Rwanda, our newest Compassion child.

For how can it not be life-giving and joy-inducing when hubby and I take our kids to drop by Matthew House, a home for refugee youth, because they would like to give away the movie gift card they received at Christmas so that these refugee youth can have a fun afternoon out together... something they rarely have?

Near where the Matthew House youth home is located.

For how can it not be life-giving and joy-inducing when our family can spend the first Sunday of the New Year volunteering at a Compassion Sunday event, even though it meant missing worship with our own church family... and as a result, seeing 55 children released from poverty?

The drive to the Compassion Sunday event.

For how can it not be life-giving and joy-inducing when we get to share in the lives of our Compassion children through the letters they write to us and we get to spend a Friday night writing letters back to them?

Letters from our Compassion children!

For how can it not be life-giving and joy-inducing when my kids choose to spend their Saturday afternoon at Matthew House with their youth leaders to learn more about the youth's stories and to befriend them?

Matthew House's youth home.

Life-giving and joy-inducing... for how can it not be?
For this is what it means to be a Christ-follower... it is to offer our very lives as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.

For it is living, in pure grace, and embracing that what God does for us is the best thing we can do for Him --- it is the way to worship Him

For it is the only way to live as Christ-followers, not because of obligation or duty, but because... it is the only way we can live out that freedom for which Jesus sacrificed His very life for. It is saying YES to living this counter-cultural and radical way of life and saying NO to the patterns of this world.
Brothers and sisters, God has called you to freedom! Hear the call, and do not spoil this gift by using your liberty to engage in what your flesh desires; instead, use it to serve each other as Jesus taught through love. For the whole law comes down to this one instruction: “Love your neighbor as yourself..." - Galatians 5:13-14.

Compassion is a command, an act of worship, a song of thanks to Him.
Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Hello there, 2015!

10 days into this brand new year...
And I'm just logging into this space for the very first time. Well, Happy New Year, friends! I hope you all had a great Christmas, one full of hope and meaning and joy and peace.

Just the other day, we were reflecting on our Christmas and the whole family whole-heartedly agreed that it was one of the best ones we've had in recent memory! Not only were we able to have a quiet and restful couple of weeks, we were also blessed to have been able to celebrate it in an others-centred and counter-cultural way!

And, in case you missed it... here is our family's year-end newsletter.

New Year's Eve family selfie.

On this Saturday after the first week back to school and work...
I am sitting here at almost two o'clock in the afternoon not wanting to get out of my pajamas! I guess I am missing the relaxed pace that we had over the Christmas holidays and I'm wanting to recreate and relive it. :)

The quiet and rest during the Christmas break also afforded me much time to think and to reflect... it was a balm to the soul for this introvert mama! I used much of that time reflecting on Bible verses to find one that would serve as a guide for me in this New Year... where a One Word can be found which would give this New Year a name.

You see, for the past few years...
I've chosen to focus on a One Word at the start of each new year and God has used each year's One Word to guide and steer me... for which I am truly grateful!

My One Word for 2012 was soar...

Soaring birds. Downtown Toronto, Summer 2011.

For 2013, it was surrender... 

In a reflective mood and deep in thought. ~ Cape Cod, Summer 2012.

And it was still for 2014...

By the Christina River, Wilmington (Delaware). Summer 2013.
Being still and capturing the beauty of God's creation on camera.

This year, it is once again an "S" word... 
I am starting to wonder what my fascination is with words starting with the letter S?!? :)


In my quiet reflection, I felt God saying to me, "When you seek me in prayer and worship, you will find me." --- from the verses found in Jeremiah 29:13-14.

Saint Joseph's Oratory of Mount Royal, Montreal. Thanksgiving Weekend, 2014.

But this time, my One Word didn't just get highlighted in one verse during my reflections. The word seek jumped out at me in Matthew 6:33 too, where it says --- "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."

And in Matthew 7:7 where it is written --- "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you."

Seek... seek... seek... 
- attempt to find (something).
- attempt or desire to obtain or achieve (something).
- ask for (something) from someone.
Yes, upon reflecting on the meaning of my new One Word... I've come to realize that it truly is what my heart and soul is craving to do this year.

2014 had been a year of many revelations, awakenings and changes...
- Work, for both hubby and me, has taken on new normals... new normals that we are still trying to embrace and understand.
- My girl is finishing high school, has started driving and will to go university this September. My boy started high school and is now quite an independent young man. My days as a work-from-home and stay-at-home-mama looks vastly different these days.
- God continued to write our family's story in ways that are vastly higher than our own... leading us to places where we wouldn't dare go ourselves.
- With our beloved Papa's home-going to heaven, we've been reflecting on the brevity of life... even when one departs this life having lived 85 beautiful years!
- God continually challenged us to keep our eyes open and to be brave... and He went on to show us more brokenness and more beautiful things and what our role in all of this should be!
- And He continued to write some more of our story and used it in a way that blew us away... such wild grace!
... and I have suddenly found myself, at the start of this New Year, in a place of seeking what God's next steps are for us this year and for the longer term.

And so, I will seek... because...
"When you seek Me in prayer and worship, you will find Me available to you. If you seek Me with all your heart and soul, I will make Myself available to you," says the Lord.    

Compassion is a command, an act of worship, a song of thanks to Him.
Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Our Annual Family Christmas Letter... {and the decision to still publish it}!

Merry Christmas!
It's just a few more days before Christmas now. It has truly been a beautiful season of Advent as our family read together from Ann Voskamp's new book, Unwrapping The Greatest Gift.

It has helped us to slow down each day, even just for a few minutes, in order to think about and reflect on Christmas and its true meaning.

This year, I had decided early on that I would not send out our annual Christmas letter. I would still write one for my own purposes, but I was not going to send them out or publish it publicly.

Writing our Christmas letter is a Christmas tradition of sorts for me. It is something that I have done every single year since hubby and I got married. Recently though, I had started to wonder if anyone even reads it anymore or at all, hence the decision not to send out or publish one this year.

But something happened which made me change my mind...
As I wrote our letter yesterday, another letter arrived in our mailbox. Just as I was wrapping up our letter, I started to read this other letter that had just arrived.

With this letter came a cheque for a large sum of money... intended for my girl to use towards projects she is involved with to further the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, with a preference to put the money towards Compassion International's ministry. The donor chose to channel this money through my girl because of how she dedicates her time and passion for God's work.

This letter brought tears to this mama's eyes and immense joy to my heart! Isn't God's grace just the most extravagant of all?

Maybe it's through our telling of stories and the sharing of our lives on social media that this person came to choose my girl as an instrument of God's peace to a world in need. Maybe it's through the reading of our Christmas letters over the years... 

So, yes... yes, yes!
If our family's annual Christmas letter, our telling of stories and the sharing of our lives on social media causes just one more person to join the journey --- to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God, then I will continue to tell the story of God's grace at work in our family's life. Yes, I will!

Your calling is radically this: Gloriously hijack every darkness with grace. To love mercy and do justice and follow Christ means to be The Revolutionary Guerrillas of Grace — radically turning the fallen world Upside Down.
~ Ann Voskamp, A Holy Experience.
Christmas... a thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices!
Merry Christmas... my dear blog readers, family and friends! Because I want to be a revolutionary guerrilla of grace, radically turning the fallen world upside down, you can now find our 2014 Christmas letter published here or you can click on the image below to read it.

Related Readings:
Archives of our family's Christmas letters from the past few years: 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013

Compassion is a command, an act of worship, a song of thanks to Him.
Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God!

Monday, December 1, 2014

On this first day of December...

The month of December always seems to have a life of its own, doesn't it? Our calendars get booked up way too quickly and it seems like there just isn't enough time to accomplish everything that needs to be done.

We decorated our home over the weekend.

Everyone is hurried... lost in the hustle and the bustle of the season.

For several years now, our family has intentionally tried to do Christmas counter-culturally... the upside-side way! Doing so isn't always easy... but doing so has reinforced in our hearts and minds what Christmas is really all about.

They grow up too fast! This girl is hanging her "Baby's First Christmas" ornament up.
This will be her last Christmas as a child... as she turns 18 shortly after the New Year!

To continue reading, please join me today over at the blog Compassion Family... I would love to see you over there!

Compassion is a command, an act of worship, a song of thanks to Him.
Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Memories of Christmases Long Ago...

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas...
I learned this well-known Christmas tune when I was just a child. Yet, I always wondered what the words meant. White Christmas? Just like the ones I used to know? Tree tops glisten? Sleigh bells in the snow?

Hmmm... what might those words mean? I didn't know! Because... you see, I grew up in the Philippines and all our Christmases were green, sunny and warm!

Christmas Paróls. Photo Credit: Wikipedia
Christmas meant decorating our home with these colourful star-shaped paper lanterns, called paról, which we bought from vendors who came knocking at the gate of our house.

Christmas also meant carolers frequenting our house to sing Christmas tunes right outside our gate... many of them children who live in poverty, in hand are their makeshift instruments made from aluminum bottle caps strung on a wire, looking to make a few extra pesos during the Christmas season.

Christmas also meant parties... with special yummy food reserved only for occasions such as birthdays and Christmases. Foods like the famous lechón (roast pig) of Cebu; like the delicious dessert known as food for the godsand of course, the Filipino-style Christmas ham!

Thinking back...
My most favourite Christmas memory hands-down, more than the decorations and the carolers and the food, would be helping my mom shop for and wrap Christmas presents! 

My sister and I, a 70s Christmas!
You see, my parents owned a factory back then and there were hundreds of people who worked for them. Each and every one of them were on my mom's Christmas list! 

Come Christmas-time, my mom became Santa! She made sure to start her list early and checked it twice... and oftentimes, I was her trusty elf... er, I mean assistant! :)

After the shopping was all done, she and I would stay up late for at least a week and wrap presents. I remember taking the time to wrap each present nicely, making each one special with a bow and hand-labeling each card.

As a young child, to me Christmas became all about giving... and not at all about getting.

Every Christmas, I looked forward to the big Christmas party where all of our factory workers and their families were invited to! My favourite memory of those parties is when I got to help hand out the Christmas presents!

When I was a teenager...
My parents moved our family to Canada... right before the Christmas of 1988. That was when I experienced my first white Christmas... when I finally knew what glistening tree tops look like and what sleigh bells sound like!

My two younger sisters and I. Our first white Christmas!
That was also when Christmas became all about getting.

It was so easy to get sucked into the commercialization of Christmas that this first-world society so readily promotes.

The flyers. The sales. The promos.

The crowds. The hustle. The bustle.

And Boxing Day. Yes, that! Upon arriving in this country a mere few days before Christmas, we were quickly schooled about Boxing Day... not about its true origin and meaning, but about its commercialization and how we are to participate in it!

It's The Day everyone goes shopping, we were told. Bargains and amazing deals will be hard to resist, we were told. You have to beat the crowds and head to the mall early, we were told.

And that we did. We did what we were told. We didn't question one bit where the true meaning of Christmas disappeared to...

Even after hubby and I got married... after our girl came along... even after our boy joined our family, we did Christmas no differently. We were totally sucked into the whole commercialization of Christmas!

Oh yes, all those years we packed Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes and volunteered at dinners for the homeless... but at the same time, we also used Christmas as an excuse to lavish extravagant gifts upon ourselves.

We weren't celebrating Christmas meaningfully and we weren't giving generously. Sadly, Christ wasn't at the centre of our Christmas. 

But God's grace...
It relentlessly pursued us and slowly changed our hearts. Today, Christmas for our family looks much different than the Christmases of long ago. It has done a total about face. We now celebrate an upside-down Christmas...
Be brave enough to return the fake CHRISTmases and only bring home the real one that has CHRIST at the center of it.
Be brave enough to return any Christmas too small for the size of your soul — and only wear a Christmas large enough for real joy.
Be brave enough to turn Christmas upside down because this coming Christ ushered in the Upside Down Kingdom where
less is more and
weak is strong and
least is greatest and
consumers can get consumed and
giving is greater than getting.
~ Ann Voskamp, A Holy Experience.
The true meaning of Christmas...
It has come to stay at our house... and we are grateful that it has! It is upside-down, it is counter-cultural, it is cross-shaped. It is how Christ-followers are designed to celebrate Christmas!

It is looking more like the Christmases from my childhood days... where consumers aren't consumed and giving is greater than getting; where doing justice and loving mercy is at its core and where walking humbly with God is key.

Friends, will you join us? 
In making Christmas an upside-down one this year? Here are a few ideas...

:: Buy a Gift of Compassion and give it as a Christmas gift. {Hint: this is a great teacher gift!}
:: Check out Advent Conspiracy... because Christmas can still change the world.
:: Give the Gift of Mentorship... a gift for our friends at UrbanPromise, a gift that will keep on giving!

Because... one of the above idea just might transform someone's dark Christmas into one that is merry and bright... in turn making your Christmas truly merry and bright!

Your calling is radically this: Gloriously hijack every darkness with grace.
To love mercy and do justice and follow Christ means to be The Revolutionary Guerrillas of Grace — radically turning the fallen world Upside Down.
~ Ann Voskamp, A Holy Experience.

Compassion is a command, an act of worship, a song of thanks to Him.
Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God!