Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Lent Ponderings {Start of Holy Week}

Last night at Home Church...
In reflection of God's great love for us and to prepare our hearts to celebrate this Holy Week, we broke bread together, in Holy Communion, around the table of thanksgiving.
And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them... ~ Luke 22:10, NIV.
It was a beautiful time... us all reflecting on the immense significance and impact of Grace, of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross, for us as individuals and for humankind as a whole... and us all sharing, around that table of thanksgiving, the things that we have to be thankful for, even for those hard things and for those broken places in our lives!    

From page 32, One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.

We read excerpts from the book One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp. It is no secret to those who know me personally and to those who read this blog regularly that this book has impacted me in a very deep way and has changed me for the better.

Since Ann's words on pages 32 and 33 are so relevant for this Holy Week, I wanted to share a snippet with our Home Church family last night:
Deep chara joy is found only at the table of the euCHARisteo - the table of thanksgiving.
Is the height of my chara joy dependent on the depths of my eucharisteo thanks?
As long as thanks is possible, then joy is always possible. Joy is always possible.
The joy wonder could be here! Here, in the messy, piercing ache of now, joy might be - unbelievably - possible! 
Charis. Grace.
Eucharisteo. Thanksgiving.
Chara. Joy.
"The greatest thing is to give thanks for everything. He who has learned this knows what it means to live... He has penetrated the whole mystery of life: giving thanks for everything."
Last night's communion around the table of thanksgiving with our Home Church family was just the boost I needed to jump-start this Holy Week. It was life-giving, joy-inducing, soul-lifting!

During this season of Lent...
As I go through daily readings from A Place At The Table by Chris Seay, I have been reminded once again that we really do have so much to be thankful for... and that it is utterly important for us as Christ-followers to live out our faith, to live out our thanks, to be bread for those in need... to give, to bless, to sacrifice.

For God loved the world so much that He gave... 

Jesus is our ultimate example. With outstretched arms, nail-pierced hands, thorn-pierced head... He suffered and gave us the greatest gift... a life abundant!

So, shouldn't we live fully? In response to Grace? 

Shouldn't we live out thanks? As an expression of our faith?
What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well” — but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. {Read more from James, chapter 2.}
:: :: ::

As I continue to count grace-gifts, with unending thanks... these are the things I am thankful for... #3189 - #3207:
:: Our Home Church family! ♥ 
:: Abundant life in and through Christ Jesus!
:: Reading letters from our Compassion children.
:: Getting new passports... even before knowing that God is sending us on another wild adventure this summer. {More on this in a future blog post.} 
:: Access to free and world-class, top-notch medical care... a normal brain MRI result for my girl... and hopefully a confirmation of a diagnosis for eye migraines.    
:: Our whole family at a live Raptors game to celebrate my girl's 17th birthday
:: My new cast-iron pot!
:: March Break... and a short getaway to Montreal, for a speed-cubing competition {for my boy} and to visit a university {for my girl}.
:: Another successful AIDS Care season at our church!
:: Visiting our friends at Camp Freedom and touching base about some summer plans.
:: Another sandwich run for the homeless... and the opportunity to partner with my boy's school on packing the care packages.
:: A lunch with some girlfriends.
:: Tax returns filed on time! Phew!
:: Celebrating a family wedding.
:: A great team of leaders to serve alongside with at our church. Blessed! ♥
:: Spring update from our Lead Pastor... thankful that God chooses to partner with us to build His Kingdom.
:: Coffee time with my sister... 
:: A great youth retreat for my kids just this past weekend.
:: God's peace in the midst of our stresses, worries and troubles. 
In counting grace-gifts...
I am learning to let be and be still... and to pay more attention to my Jesus... and to be ready to act on the things that He has in store for me to do... because "all there is to see is Jesus."
Gratitude is the only appropriate response to Grace.

For more One Thousand Gifts blog posts... 

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

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Lent Ponderings {First Feast Sunday}

It's feast day...
Yes, it is... and a chicken is currently roasting in my oven as I compose this blog post. For this season of Lent, I am taking on the challenge of cooking all of our family's meals and refraining from eating out or buying take-out, even during feast days. On feast days, I have decided to make special meals instead... thus the roast chicken!

You see, we love eating out... and at times, it has become excessive... many, many, many dollars spent in restaurants that can be and should be spent helping the least of these. Now, don't get me wrong... I am not saying that eating out is wrong. What I am saying is that, at times it can be!

When it becomes "I deserve to..." or "I am entitled to..."

It has also become mundane... un-special. We eat out and consume without even giving it a second thought anymore... like it's a normal part of life... when in fact, it isn't!

The goal isn't to not set foot in a restaurant ever again. Far from! Rather, the goal is, that after this season of Lent is over, we will see eating out as a treat... as something that is special, to be enjoyed, to be thankful for... and to be mindful of many of our brothers and sisters who are the least of these, who don't even know what a restaurant is, let alone set foot in one!

As I read through A Place at the Table these past four days and practiced the discipline of cooking simple meals at home each and every day... I have become very aware of my own vulnerabilities. As Chris Seay wrote on Day 1:
... when we strip away the many comforts of our dietary pleasures, we may not like what we see in ourselves. 
In time it will become painfully clear that we are not the pilots of this ship. Submissions to our King is the only way forward.  
The only way forward...
Yes, in just four shorts days, I have realized that submissions to our King is truly the only way forward. As Chris puts it, "How will you stand up to your Pharaohs on this journey?"

Yes, we are slaves to many Pharaohs... including to our many comforts. The thing is... there are many of our brothers and sisters who are the least of these who, not unlike us, still live in slavery today... yet, there is no way they can stand up to their Pharaohs without our help.

I sincerely believe that it is through our submissions to our King, through our daily giving up of our many comforts, through our standing up to our Pharaohs... that we can, in turn, effectively help to free our brothers and sisters from the slavery that they are prisoners of.  

Chris writes about this on Day 2: 
When I look at the shelves of chocolate in my local convenience store, I know that much of the cacao farmed across the globe comes from children who are forced into labor due to unjust debt. But I ignore it.
Modern-day slavery --- it is what's been pressing on my heart these past few days. Cacao farming is just one example of many forms of slavery. How about the coffee and tea we drink? The sugar we sweeten our coffee and tea with? The clothes we wear? Let's not even talk about human trafficking for the purpose of prostitution and pornography!

Friends, modern-day slavery is real. A crisis and an atrocity that we can no longer ignore! 

The thing is...
There are extremely simple things that each and everyone of us can do to help in the fight to eliminate modern-day slavery.

Such as buying only the chocolate products listed here. The Camino products are regulars in our home and I highly recommend them!

Such as switching to this coffee... a staple in our house or this tea... one I tried just this week and loved and this sugar! All three products are imported into Canada by Level Ground Trading, a company not only committed to "investing in job creation and organic initiatives," it also "provides school scholarships for over 200 children."

Such as checking this website first to learn how our favourite brands relate to trafficking and other labor abuses. I've found this website to be extremely helpful when buying clothing and footwear. Speaking of which, how about wearing our clothes and shoes until they are totally worn out before buying more so as to minimize our slavery footprint?

And how about human trafficking?
Just last week, on February 27, was Shine a Light on Slavery Day organized by End It Movement.

Personally, I once thought that human trafficking is just too big a battle to fight... that I cannot somehow do anything significant.

But, my girl has shown me the flaw of my thinking! In the Fall of 2013, she started an initiative called Freedom Creations. In this blog post, she writes about how Freedom Creations was born!

Because of Freedom Creations, my girl has taught this mama how to knit... for freedom! Last week, on End It Day, I posted this photo on social media... it made my heart skip a beat as I realized that there is nothing too small... nothing too mundane... nothing too insignificant that one can do to help in the fight for freedom!

Even something as small as one stitch... can fight for freedom!

You see, Freedom Creations in its short six-months of existence has raised over $1400.00 for International Justice Mission Canada! Yes, that's over $1400.00 to fight for freedom... all done one stitch at a time!!!

This is from Day 3 of A Place at the Table:
When we begin to take courageous steps to end poverty, modern-day slavery, and the water crisis, our actions easily multiply because of our influence on the people in our lives. When entire churches begin to feel a truly familial connection with the least of these, the world will never be the same.
The world becoming a better place... that, friends... is my prayer! Is it yours, too?

By the way, friends... this blog post has taken longer to write than anticipated. In between the time that it took to start and finish up this blog post, our family has had an awesome time of worship with our church family, celebrated with a brother-in-Christ who got baptized, and had the yummiest roast chicken we've had in a long time!

Chris wrote in today's reading...
... it will be a beautiful day of worship and an important part of our fasting journey.
Yes, today certainly was that... and more!

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

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Lent Ponderings {Day 1}

During Lent this year...
I will be reading through Chris Seay's book, A Place at the Table: 40 Days of Solidarity with the Poor, with my fellow Compassion Coordinators from over 15 different sites of our church, The Meeting House.

I love this community of Compassion Coordinators, all of us volunteering our time, passionate about and committed to leading and encouraging our church family into being the hands and feet of Jesus to people living in the margins of our society, both right here at home and globally.

It is not my first time reading through this book. In fact, this will be the third time! I had to really sort out in my heart that I wanted to do this again... not because I have to, just because my fellow Compassion Coordinators are doing so. And, I've come to the conclusion that... yes, I want to do this again! What I am most excited about, in addition to reading it in community this year, is the fact that God transforms me in a fresh way each and every time. Exciting!

Another reason why I love this book is Chris Seay's partnership with Compassion International in writing this book. It's no secret to those of you who are regulars on here that my family and I love the ministry of Compassion. In fact, all four of us are fully trained Advocates!

What Lent isn't...
So, in pondering whether or not I wanted to go through this book again for Lent this year, it really helped me to think through what Lent isn't.

I've found this blog post by Eugene Cho to be most helpful in sorting out the motives of my heart. The title of the blog post makes me chuckle, every single time:
Umm, I didn’t ask you to give up coffee. I asked you to give up your life to me.” ~ God.
Witty, yes! But honestly... soul-searchingly well-said!

And Eugene posted this on Facebook yesterday:
What we need isn’t more religion.
We need Gospel.
And by Gospel, I’m not speaking of a self-help, pop spiritual psychology, but a Gospel that cuts into the heart of humanity with a grace that compels us to not just merely salvation but a life committed to justice, reconciliation, and redemption.
Isaiah 58 speaks of fasting but fasting that God is not pleased with. It’s a fasting that caters to our own eyes, flesh, and pleasure but not the kind of fasting that God invites us to:
a life broken and transformed by the things of God.
Yes, that is why I am observing Lent this year, yet again... it is to cultivate a life broken and transformed by the things of God... to be that pencil in His hand.

So, here's to the start of 40 days of solidarity with the poor.
Will you join me, friends? I love what Lysa Terkeurst writes in the Foreword...
... this journey isn't about our power, strength of character, or self-control. It is a journey of surrender to God that will usher us from rut dwelling to transformed living. 
In the process of being transformed, we will become more and more aware not just of our hunger but of the hunger of the world. 
We will sit down at the table more eager to ponder those we might serve instead of pouncing on the plenty to which we've grown so accustomed. So very tragically accustomed. God help us. 
A place at the table. Indeed, a place at the table for God and for remembering those less fortunate. But even more so, a place to stop the rut of constant inhale. Taking in, taking in, taking in. It clogs the soul. So for 40 days, let us learn to exhale with great thanksgiving. 
For pondering what God might bring close during this fast. For this place where our souls breathe and dream once again.
That, friends... is my prayer too! Join me?

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

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

When God Writes A Story

This quote...
We are a pencil in the hand of God. It's not about us. ~ Fred Katagwa, as quoted in the book What's Your Mark? by Jeremy Cowart.
I've been chewing on it this last little while... a pencil in the hand of God... like God writing a story. What does that exactly look like?

Two weeks ago, my favourite blogger Ann Voskamp, who is also a friend and fellow Compassion Advocate... together with her hubby, took their whole family on a trip to Guatemala. The story she wrote from there gripped me. It's breathtakingly beautiful... looks exactly like a story God writes when a family takes that step to be a pencil in the hand of God.

The Voskamp family's story so resonated with me because it is, in many ways, very similar to our family's story... of a thousand God-things happening when we don't even realize it...
Of a Compassion Child Development Centre being the end result of our very meager offerings {and quite beautifully, with Ann playing a part of our family's story as well}...
Of God choosing to use weak and unqualified people for Kingdom purposes...
Of a family forever damaged and forever changed and being the most blessed in the process, just because we're willing to be a pencil in the hand of God
A few days after reading Ann's story from Guatemala... 
A film crew from our church descended upon our house. They're filming curriculum material and wanted to share our family's story... of how it feels and what it means to be a pencil in the hand of God.

As the cameras rolled and words came out of my mouth... 
My heart simultaneously filled with deep gratitude and immense joy, with endless thanks to our Heavenly Father, who relentlessly pursues us and is so amazingly gracious in all His ways... 

Because, you see... perhaps just merely six short years ago, I wouldn't have recognized this family whose story I am telling in front of the cameras! Yes, this wasn't always our family's story!

Photo Credit: Natalie Frisk

While we were involved with both global and local missions and were serving the "least of these" here and there a couple of times each year, we were too comfortable and were missing something very important and were stricken with "affluenza" and were suffering from entitlement

We didn't know first-hand what it means to crave a life that tastes like Christ. We were full of faith but weren't obedient. We were addicted to comfort and were indifferent and unconcerned.
Rebel against your own indifference. ~ Bono.
But God is always good...
And He never let go nor gave up on us, and is, even as I type this, still perfecting the good work that He has began in our family.

We have been forever changed... broken and damaged, yet it is the most blessed place to be.

Our story... is a grace-story, one only possible because of God's amazingly beautiful wild Grace. Being a pencil in the hand of God... it isn't always easy, yet it is the most blessed place to be!

Because, when it's all said and done, it's not about us... it's God's story!
It doesn't matter who you are, how big your audience or your bank account, you can make a mark. You can do it. Jesus did. He is the example, the eternal Truth we love because he loved us first. We serve because he served first. ~ Jeremy Cowart, What's Your Mark?
:: :: ::

As I continue to count grace-gifts, with unending thanks... these are the things I am thankful for these past two weeks... #3171 - #3188:
:: The many opportunities to be a pencil in the hand of God! 
:: Great end to my boy's basketball season, quite possibly his last one.
:: Serving at Coldest Night of the Year with our church family.
:: God's answer to prayer regarding some turmoil and uncertainties surrounding one of hubby's business contacts.
:: AIDS Care season at our church in full swing right now!
:: Grad photo day for my boy... where did the time go?!?
:: God's strength and healing touch as we endured a few weeks of colds and flu in this household.
:: A great deal on a pair of new winter boots for me. Yes, winter is hanging around much longer around these parts this year.
:: March! A new month... and Spring is just around the corner!
:: My boy demonstrating his speed cubing skills at a birthday party and getting "paid" in the form of a donation to Compassion Canada's Philippine Disaster Fund! So awesome! 
:: An opportunity for me to help a friend create some digital marketing graphics and, same as my boy, getting "paid" in the form of the same donation to Compassion Canada!
:: Another opportunity for hubby to advocate for Philippine Haiyan relief by speaking on behalf of Habitat for Humanity Canada at a Social Justice Series event held during Lent at a local church.
:: Another Compassion child sponsored via our family's advocacy. 
:: Several opportunities to engage our church's littlest ones and to teach them about being the hands and feet of Jesus! Such an awesome privilege!
:: Tax season... despite all the paperwork that comes with it.
:: Sunny winter days... makes the cold a little bit more bearable!
:: God's faithfulness, even in times when we are not. ♥
:: Writing letters to our Philippine Compassion daughters, Rechelle and Florianlyn!

In counting grace-gifts...
I am learning to let be and be still... and to pay more attention to my Jesus... and to be ready to act on the things that He has in store for me to do... because "all there is to see is Jesus."
Gratitude is the only appropriate response to Grace.

For more One Thousand Gifts blog posts... 

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

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A Special Girl is 17 Today!

Are those cobwebs I see?
Well, hello there... blog! It's been a while, hasn't it? This place has been neglected lately, to say the least. I suppose these past six weeks have turned into an unplanned blogging break around here.

You see, the New Year arrived and was off to a speeding start. Life became quite hectic and busy! Then, I caught a flu bug and have been feeling nasty for almost two weeks now.

This weekend, I finally started feeling better! Last night, I slept through the night for the first time in two weeks... all night long without a coughing fit. Boy, it felt awesome to get a good night's sleep again!

And, we had a long weekend... the Family Day holiday... which gave me some time to rest, relax and recuperate... giving me some motivation and inspiration to write again. So... I guess it's time to clean up the cobwebs around here and publish some blog posts again!

And, what better occasion to break a blogging fast than this...

Today, we are celebrating a very special girl turning seventeen!!! Yes, you read that right... SEVENTEEN!!!

Time truly flows like a relentless river, never slowing down to wait. Just like a blink of an eye, my baby girl is suddenly seventeen! How did that happen?!?

Seventeen holds a special place in my heart. I was seventeen when my parents decided to move our family from the Philippines to our new home here in Canada.

It was the year I was plunged into a new beginning. 
It was the year I went from child to grown-up. 
It was the year I learned to cling to God. 

Because, you see... even though my parents moved our whole family to our new home here in Canada, they didn't stay. They went back to the Philippines to take care of the family business because it was the only way they knew how to support our life here.

So, even though our grandma and our aunt lived with us... at seventeen, I suddenly had to grow up... and be mainly responsible for my two younger sisters, who were just fifteen and twelve at that time. I was responsible for many things that normal 17-year-old girls don't normally have to worry about, such as buying groceries and getting the car serviced, such as home repairs and paying bills.

All that to say... one can really be a grown-up at seventeen!

So, in more ways than one... seventeen, to me, is a milestone birthday!
As I ponder upon my girl turning seventeen, I am suddenly hit with this realization that she is now a grown-up! It is time for me to let go... to help unfurl her wings and let her fly!

Oh, this mama-heart just can't seem to believe that the time has come...

Yet, as I look back at my girl's life this past year... I can clearly see God's hand in the many details, both big and small... and I can see that, indeed, He has readied her wings and she is ready to fly!

First of all, she became a licensed driver. Enough said. ;) Lord, calm my anxious heart!

In March, she was honoured with a provincial writing award for a piece she wrote on the courage of Malala Yousafzai.

She then experienced God answering her "break my heart for what breaks Yours" prayer as she served at UrbanPromise Wilmington during her March Break.

The summer brought the start of her scary, recurring vision losses which continue to this day. As we waited for answers and thoughts of more serious illnesses crossed our minds, her response and mind-set have totally floored me... she has always chosen faith over fear. This is from her blog post...
What if his plan was for me to become blind?
No really - serious question. What if he called me to serve Him without my sight?
Would I say yes?
I said it to my mom later in the week - "I hope if God called me to be blind, I'd be ok with that."
Not just ok, though. I hope my lips would praise Him still, and my life would continue to be His.
Because everything we have is only because of Him.
And how quickly He could take it all away - really.
But our loving God - he doesn't.
He gives. Continually, He gives us only His best.
Because - the biggest thing I was reminded of through all this:
All is grace. All.
And, on a lighter note, this year she officially became The Shorter Sibling and the shortest member of our family! ;)

In October, she launched Freedom Creations, in order to join in the fight against modern-day slavery... and has single-handedly taught me how to knit! That, in itself... is a huge accomplishment! 

In November, she was honoured by being awarded the YMCA Peace Medallion... opening many opportunities for her to speak publicly about her faith and how it is the foundation for her passion for social justice!

Her wisdom astounds me... evident in such places as this recent blog post she wrote about Justin Bieber, which has now become her most-read blog post! Wisdom beyond her years... truly God's grace at work in her life!

So, you see... at seventeen, my baby girl is more mature than I was at age seventeen... in more ways than one!

I can say much more... 
And this proud-mama has much more that she can say... but this much is evident, by God's grace, my baby girl has grown God-wings to fly... all that is needed for this mama to do is to help her unfurl them and to see her soar! 

Happy Birthday, my baby girl!
My heart gives thanks to God, our Heavenly Father, as I see you live life as "a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor." I am blessed beyond measure and super proud to be your mama! ♥

:: :: ::

As I continue to count grace-gifts, with unending thanks... these are the things I am thankful for these past 6 weeks... #3153 - #3170:
:: God's grace so evidently at work in my girl's life.
:: The gift that my girl is to us... seventeen years of blessings!
:: Watching my boy play basketball.
:: God's peace, surpassing all understanding... during this time of turmoil and uncertainties surrounding one of hubby's business contacts.
:: New-found joy in knitting!
:: Serving dinners, together with our church family, to our homeless and hungry brothers and sisters.
:: The many opportunities for us to slow down and befriend a few homeless/in-need people... and the opportunity to bless them with even just a meal or some grocery gift cards or even just a cup of coffee. 
:: Top-notch and accessible healthcare for us to investigate my girl's vision problems... and an almost-sure diagnosis of eye migraines.
:: God's strength, for busy seasons.
:: His grace, for times when life is hard.
:: A great first semester at school for my girl... and a great start for this brand-new semester.
:: A baby shower to bless some moms experiencing crisis pregnancies.
:: Serving at a few Compassion events and seeing many children sponsored
:: Our church family... where we can belong and serve and love God together with.
:: A Friday night at a hockey game with our friends from UrbanPromise Toronto!
:: The launch of another AIDS Care season at our church!
:: Writing letters to all of our sponsor children!
:: A new Compassion Correspondent Child, Patrick from Rwanda!

In counting grace-gifts...
I am learning to let be and be still... and to pay more attention to my Jesus... and to be ready to act on the things that He has in store for me to do... because "all there is to see is Jesus."
If living eucharisteo is the key to unlocking the mystery of life, this I want. I want the hunt, the long sleuth, the careful piecing together. To learn how to be grateful and happy whether hands full or hands empty. This is a secret worth spending a life on learning.
~ Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts.

For more One Thousand Gifts blog posts... 

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

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Brrrrr... It's Cold Outside!

It's cold indoors too...
The temperature this morning!
In fact, I haven't ventured outside today yet... and I sit here in my home office with the heat on full blast, wearing thick socks, plus my down-feather-filled vest, plus long-johns under my jeans... you get the picture... and still my toes are cold!

You see, much of North America is currently under a deep freeze in what they are calling a polar vortex!

Can you imagine how cold it must be outside?!? How about if outside *is* your home?

Today, my thoughts went to a group of men...
A group of men whose home *is* outside, whom our family met last Saturday. How are they surviving this bitterly cold and frigid day? Where did they sleep last night?

Our upside-down Christmas tree.

How did our family encounter these men, you might ask? Well, it all started with this idea of an upside-down Christmas... when our family decided that:
We’re hanging Christmas upside down this year so real love falls out of it.
We’re hanging Christmas upside down this year because we’re giving the whole Christmas season to Jesus and His Upside Down Kingdom, not just some tossed crusty edge off of it.

We decided that there wouldn't be the traditional gift exchange among ourselves this year. We decided that, instead, we would use the equivalent gift money to bless those who are in dire need. We decided that we would focus on people who call the streets of Toronto their home.

While we intended for this upside-down Christmas project to happen during the week of Christmas... because of some unforeseen circumstances that made the week of Christmas a little less than picture-perfect, it didn't.

Christmas break was fast coming to an end. We were determined to make this happen! We had one last weekend and we decided that it was then or never! {Okay... a bit of an exaggeration there... but you know what I mean, life takes over... work and school start back up again... and we'd forget about our upside-down Christmas project!}   

With everyone in tow, plus my girl's good friend who was sleeping over that night... we headed for the local shopping mall on Friday night. We had a great time shopping for all the items on our list in order to put these homeless care packages together.

Toques, socks, toothbrushes and tubes of toothpaste. Gift cards to Tim Hortons. Ingredients for sandwiches. Fruits cups, granola bars, snacks and sweets. Juice boxes. Pillows and blankets.

Then, we headed out the next day, on Saturday... praying that God would cross our paths with the very people who need these care packages the most.

We headed to The Danforth, to a grocery store where I sometimes shop... where I often see a homeless couple sitting outside on the same spot each and every time. The woman is the same one I blogged about here a while back. Sure enough, the man was there.

Hubby parked by the curb. The kids and I jumped out of the car and approached the man. He was very happy to see us and even happier that we had a care package for him. He shook our hands, said thank you and "Happy New Year!"... but before we turned to leave, he asked if we had some more care packages because his friends are across the street.  

I glanced across the street. Sure enough, on the front steps of St. Barnabas Anglican Church, a group of men were gathered together.

Photo Credit: Google Maps Street View

We had just the enough number of care packages left for the number of men in the group! Hubby lingered and chatted with them a little bit... learning that they spend their nights sleeping in a nearby school yard. 

This is where they sleep.

Now you know why I am thinking of them today.
The blankets we gave them wouldn't even be warm enough. The sandwiches and snacks are now long gone. Would three pairs of socks each even keep their feet warm enough? 

I don't know. I don't have answers. But this I do know... that every day should, no... not should, must, that every day *must be* an upside-down Christmas... where real love falls out of it, where we think of ourselves less and think of those in need more.

As this tweet from our Teaching Pastor so beautifully states:

As this New Year starts up...
I want to express that kind of love... a love that wills the good of another, especially the ones whom the Bible calls the least of these. I want to let love lead.

:: :: ::

As I let love lead and continue to count grace-gifts in this New Year, with unending thanks... these are the things I am thankful for these past months... #3138 - #3152:
:: The many opportunities to let love lead.
:: My girl's Freedom Creations initiative taking off and seeing $840 donated to International Justice Mission (Canada) in 2013.
:: A beautiful Christmas! Truly beauty in the broken.
:: My boy's Robotics Team's great finish!

:: The many Compassion events that our family has had the opportunity to volunteer at these past couple of months!

:: Our Home Church sorting Christmas toys at the local Salvation Army. 

:: An awesome Christmas dinner at an inner-city ministry... serving together with our church family.

:: Christmas baking!
:: An inspiring Christmas Eve service.
:: Seeing family and friends over the Christmas break.
:: Celebrating with our Lead Pastor as he got married.
:: Spending some time with my parents as they visited.
:: 2013 reflections...
:: A New Year... a new word.
:: Joining in The Jesus Project and memorizing selected verses from the Book of John, chapters 1-10, this year. Hopefully, with the whole family.
The Jesus Project. #memoryproject2014

On this first week of the New Year...
I am learning to let be and be still... and to pay more attention to my Jesus... and to be ready to act on the things that He has in store for me to do... because "all there is to see is Jesus."
It is one thing to choose to take the grace offered at the cross. But to choose to live as one filling with His grace? Choosing to fill with all that He freely gives... with glory and grace and God? 
It is a choice.
~ Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts.

For more One Thousand Gifts blog posts... 

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

Thursday, January 2, 2014

On Being Still...

On this second day of the New Year...
It is time, once again, to give this New Year a name.... a word, because you see, for the past two 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, my One Word was surrender... 

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

Words starting with the letter "S" must resonate with me a lot... 
... because my One Word for this year is: STILL 

In the days leading up to Christmas, I felt God saying to me, "Be still, and know that I am God!" --- it is the verse from Psalm 46:10 (NLT).

I looked up a few versions of the same verse and liked what I read...
Let be and be still, and know (recognize and understand) that I am God. - Amplified Bible.
Our God says, “Calm down, and learn that I am God!" - Contemporary English Version.
Let go of your concerns! Then you will know that I am God. - God's Word Translation.
Cease striving and know that I am God. - New American Standard Bible.
Be still, be calm, see, and understand I am the True God. - The Voice.
Give ye attention, and see ye, that I am God. - Wycliffe Bible.
By the Christina River, Wilmington (Delaware). Summer 2013.
Being still and capturing the beauty of God's creation on camera.

I love creating beautiful images to post on Instagram. I've learned that to capture beautiful images, one must be still. Similarly, I think... in order for me to not miss the beautiful moments in my every-days, I must learn to let be and be still... and recognize and understand that He *is* God!

Then, beautiful God-stories will unfold as a result.

This tweet by Eugene Cho says it quite eloquently...

Yes, it's my move!
I am looking forward to being still and paying more attention to God... to my Jesus... and seeing beautiful stories unfold as a result this year.

As Ann Voskamp articulated so beautifully in her blog post earlier today...
The most important life skill to have in 2014 is to live aware that Jesus is the only life I have.
The most important skill to have in 2014 is paying attention to Jesus — nothing else is worth spending your one beautiful year on.
Just be with Jesus. Listen to Jesus. Rest in Jesus. Wait for Jesus. Be Loved by Jesus. Wonder over Jesus. Live through Jesus.
When who Jesus is overwhelms you — nothing that happens can overcome you.
Steep your soul in Jesus and nothing is too steep to overcome.
All there is to see is Jesus.
For others to see Jesus in me. For me to see Jesus in others.
And I couldn't agree more. Yes, it's my move. 2014, here I come!

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

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


Happy New Year, friends!
Twenty fourteen already! Just how did that exactly happen?!? 2013 has truly gone by way too fast, flowing like a relentless river. In some ways, it has been like a blink of an eye... with many beautiful moments, sprinkled with some not-so-beautiful moments. But, as Ann Voskamp wrote in this blog post on New Year's Eve, "So I’m a mess and we’re all failures — at least all the honest are."

Needless to say, I wholeheartedly agree... and desperately cling on to that most beautiful thing called Grace... God's grace.

2013 has been marked by Grace... not sure how our family could have journeyed the year were it not for grace. I am deeply grateful.

Let's look back at the year that was, shall we?
I started off the year with my One Word... which is surrender. And surrender I did... by His grace, to His perfect will, learning the beauty of living a life surrendered to following His will. I am deeply grateful.
In January, on Human Trafficking Awareness Day, our newest Compassion child, Esperanza, came into our family's life in the most beautiful, God-ordained way. I must say that this is our first tangible action, as a family, to join in the fight to eliminate modern-day slavery! 
Also, did I already mention that her two given names, Luisa Esperanza, closely resembles hubby's dad's name? Such an awesome God-orchestrated coincidence, don't you think?
Just a month after, God heightened our awareness on human trafficking even more as we participated in an event called "Coldest Night of the Year." Later in the year, my girl launched Freedom Creations... which donates 100% of the proceeds to International Justice Mission!
God continued to stretch us and mold us, sending us places outside our comfort zone, waayyy outside... like to places where we unexpectedly found ourselves washing the feet of homeless people, to leading our church family in serving meals for the homeless community. All throughout, His grace has been abundant for which I am deeply grateful. 
In February, my girl turned 16! Yes, sixteen!!! I am continually amazed at God's grace at work in her life. Each day, I learn lessons from this amazing young lady. I am deeply grateful and deeply honoured for the privilege of being her mama.
My boy continued to improve and excel in the skill of speed-cubing... reaching the finals in a few of his events! How does he remember all those algorithms? If you'd like to see him in action, be sure to check out his YouTube channel... I promise you'll be amazed! 
God continued to have me practice surrendering to His will. In February, I surrendered and said "no" to an awesome job opportunity... one I thought was right for me. Clearly, God was telling me that it wasn't the right time yet... for which I am deeply grateful.
In March, my girl became a published writer! It was such a proud-mama-moment seeing her give all glory to God.
In April, my boy had an opportunity to participate in a rally marking "1,000 Days To Go" before the deadline for the fulfillment of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG). I was a proud mama as I watched and listened to him deliver his speech, a letter he's written to the Prime Minister of Canada... where he passionately spoke about his faith being his motivation for ending extreme poverty.
In June, my boy got baptized! The day was made even more special as hubby had the awesome privilege of being the one to baptize him. Tears still well up in my eyes as I reflect on how amazingly God's grace has been at work in my boy's life leading up to his baptism. He has grown up to be a young man after God's own heart... something I am deeply grateful for! Truly thankful!
Just a week or so after his baptism, God arranged for us to encounter a homeless man named Roger. This encounter deeply impacted my boy for which I am deeply grateful.
We said goodbye to our very trusty Subaru Legacy station wagon after 16 years... but not before my girl has had a chance to drive it for herself as a licensed driver! Why is this significant? You see, this was the same vehicle that brought my baby girl home from the hospital after she was born! Ah, now I'm becoming sentimental! 
Then, God so generously provided us with a new-to-us Subaru Legacy which we are happily driving now!
In July, a report from Compassion Canada was sent to us regarding the completion of the six-classroom building in the Compassion Development Centre in Masbate, Philippines where our Compassion daughter, Florianlyn, belongs to... which we raised funds for in September 2012.
This truly is a story of God multiplying meager offerings by a thousand fold! It is an experience that our family will forever remember, one that I am deeply grateful for!
July also saw us continuing to serve "the least of these" locally here in our city. We had the opportunity to join a unique service opportunity, painting homes for people living in government housing. It was a lot of fun!
My boy attended another speed-cubing competition. This time, it was the Canadian Open held at my Alma Mater, the University of Toronto! This competition gave him the opportunity to improve his rankings. He is now among the top 20 speed-cubers in Canada!
The summer months were eventful, to say the least. We went through a scary experience with my girl losing her vision temporarily. She is still experiencing symptoms on and off... and we have another doctor's appointment lined up this month. The agreed upon diagnosis seems to be ocular migraine or migraine with aura. We are praying and trusting... knowing that we have an all-powerful Heavenly Father.
We also enjoyed over a week of vacation time... part of it spent with my extended family. It was a refreshing time of rest amidst a very busy year!
In September, my boy turned 13 and officially became a teenager! It is truly an honour to be this boy's mama. Each day, he makes me want to be a better mom. He has truly made me a better version of myself... for which I am deeply grateful!
The Fall months were busy... and God's grace continued to be evidently at work in our lives for which I am deeply grateful! He so graciously orchestrated beautiful moments where our lives intersected with both the broken and the beautiful.... such as this story of why my hubby is a keeper, such as reaching and surpassing our church's goal of 1,000 pounds for our Thanksgiving Food Drive, such as celebrating Thanksgiving and living out thanks, such as being re-inspired and re-ignited to release more children from poverty in Jesus' name!

November was a big month for my girl as she was awarded the YMCA Peace Medallion for our region! This mama's heart swelled with joy as she, time and time again, gave glory to her Heavenly Father... His grace evident in her life! I am deeply grateful.
At the same time, we were heart-broken as Super Typhoon Haiyan heaped devastation on our beloved Philippines. We worried for the safety of our many relatives and friends and our beloved Compassion daughters and their families. We rejoiced upon hearing news of their safety... but to this day, our hearts still cry out for the many others who are still suffering. Recovery will take many years... if you are looking for a way to help, please visit Compassion Canada's Haiyan Recovery information page on their website.  
In December, my boy and his Robotics Team competed in his last FIRST Lego League Competition as he will be starting high school next year. It was bittersweet as it also marked the end of my five-year stint as his team's coach. Although we didn't qualify for the Provincial Tournament this year, this last competition ended sweetly with the team winning two of the most coveted awards, the Robot Design Award and the Robot Performance Award!
As I blogged yesterday, leading up to Christmas wasn't the most picture-perfect this year... yet God's grace is relentlessly present in both the broken and the beautiful... for which I am deeply grateful!
Family photo for our Yearend Newsletter.

Our Home Church sorting Christmas toys at the local Salvation Army.

Our church family serving at UrbanPromise Camp Freedom's Christmas Dinner.

Our upside-down Christmas tree.

After the Ice Storm of 2013.

After the ice storm, icicles everywhere!

Surprised by their Christmas presents as they thought
we weren't doing presents at all this year! #SantaDidItAgain

Photo booth fun at our Lead Pastor's wedding.

Wow! Thanks for looking back at 2013 with me, friends! 
Our God truly is gracious and He truly loves relentlessly. As I reflected on the year that has been, I am amazed anew... for He truly is faithful and His promises are always sure and true!

Happy New Year, friends!
As I look towards 2014, I am filled with anticipation for the things God has planned for our family... and my hope is in The One who makes all things new!
I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward — to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.
~ Philippians 3:13-14.
And, coming tomorrow... my One Word for 2014! Friends, may you bask in the goodness and grace of our loving Heavenly Father, not only on this New Year's Day, but throughout this New Year as well!

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