Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas... this weary world rejoices!

This Christmas, more than ever... I am seeing everywhere and feeling in me the lyrics of this beautiful Christmas song O Holy Night --- "A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices..."

This photo blog illustrating the Christmas story is resonating with me more than ever. Haunting. Poignant. True.

Friends, our world is weary and broken. There are wars. People are displaced and oppressed. Extreme poverty is still a reality. Children starve. Mothers cry. Fathers are absent.

This Advent, more than ever... I am understanding its meaning in the truest sense as our family, alongside our church family, await the imminent arrival of our two sponsored Syrian refugee families. Each additional day we are required to wait is another day they endure living in a refugee camp somewhere in Lebanon...

Yet, this... this is why I still dare to hope.
Gaining hope, I remember and wait for this thought:
How enduring is God’s loyal love; the Eternal has inexhaustible compassion.
Here they are, every morning, new! Your faithfulness, God, is as broad as the day.
Have courage, for the Eternal is all that I will need. My soul boasts, “Hope in God; just wait.”
It is good. The Eternal One is good to those who expect Him, to those who seek Him wholeheartedly.
It is good to wait quietly for the Eternal to make things right again.
- Lamentations 3:21-26, The Voice.
O Holy Night goes on with these lyrics...
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!
:: :: :: 
Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we;
Let all within us praise His holy name.
And so we sing sweet hymns of joy, because our Jesus, He shines --- "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. (John 1:5, NLT)"

And we continue to find ways to be His hands and His feet in this broken and weary world.
How shall I come before Yahweh, and bow myself before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
Will Yahweh be pleased with thousands of rams? With tens of thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my first-born for my disobedience? The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O man, what is good. What does Yahweh require of you, but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?
- Micah 6:6-8, World English Bible (emphasis mine).
Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year from our family to yours! {Our year-end family update can be found here.}

May you sense God's peace and His love, more than ever, this Christmas and throughout this coming New Year.

Click here to read our Christmas letter.

Friends, will you sing this beautiful Christmas carol with us?
O holy night! The stars are brightly shining; it is the night of the dear Saviour's birth!
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we; let all within us praise His holy name.

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

Monday, December 14, 2015

Nodding YES leads to beautifully sacred places...

I wrote this at the start of the year... yet, never in my wildest imagination would I have envisioned what God would have for our family this year:
... 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.
Little did I know just how many yeses this resolve-to-seek-God would entail... and just how wild the joy is that would follow them. All year, this quote by Kristen Welch resonated with me:
Our yes to God should scare us.
Not to keep us immobile, but to keep us dependent on the One who asks us to say it in the first place.
Fear keeps us moving towards God.
Yes, there is fear in obedience. But peace keeps us on the journey.
And the joy that follows our yes to God is wild.
One out-of-my-comfort-zone YES was followed by another and another and another...

In the spring, we saw these two adorable boys through open-heart surgeries and experienced that wild joy of seeing a beautiful mama choose Jesus as Lord of her life! They are now back to their life in Mongolia.

In the summer, we found ourselves in Guatemala and seeing a story unfold not exactly the way we expected it to, yet finding joy in knowing God is in control of everything.

In the fall, we found ourselves unexpectedly spear-heading a committee at our church to sponsor two refugee families from Syria to come settle in Toronto. We are currently eagerly anticipating the news of our first family's imminent arrival!

this is a creeper photo at its finest but I just felt that I needed to capture this moment. you see, these are my parents. up way-too-early on a saturday morning (sleep-in day!), up to their ears in emails and to-dos and paperwork... all because in a few weeks, our church family will be at the airport to welcome one, then two, refugee families into our city and our lives. but when those instagrams of happy new beginnings get posted on airport day, I wanted this one to exist. the one of these two people up on a Saturday morning, working tirelessly together in the PJs, so that that airport day can happen. this is the example that I am so thankful has been set before me for my entire life. also, this is what #refugeeswelcome looks like in the everyday - it's not a retweet or a fb post or lobbying our gov't. it is stinkin' hard work - work that I've seen not only my parents, but so many people in our church community put in already and I know I will only see increase after airport day. literally countless individuals giving up Saturday mornings, Tuesday evenings, Sunday afternoons or even their own vacation days from work to apartment search, make budgets, source furniture, meet translators, and so.much.more. this is what all those news reports and big numbers like 25000 look like in real life - it's not always glamorous and super warm and fuzzy. sometimes it's Saturday morning paperwork in your PJs. if you're still reading this, I'm wrapping up - promise. I'll just say this: the advocate in me wrote this post to give a small snapshot into what refugee sponsorship looks like in the everyday. but the daughter in me wrote it to say this: I captured this photo because I am so incredibly blessed.thankful.proud to call these two people my parents. #realrelationshipgoals #prouddaughter #wewelcomerefugees
A photo posted by alyssa (@_godsgal4ever) on

Yet, the biggest YES that God is asking our family to say was still coming and it would come in the form of a big change for me... in the form of a new job.

I have always loved this quote by Frederick Buechner: "The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet."

And, that's just where He has asked me to say YES!

A photo posted by Aimee Esparaz (@mama2greatkids) on

I am beyond excited to share that, in the New Year, I will be stepping into the role of Ministry Relations Representative for the Greater Toronto Area for Compassion Canada, an organization that our family so dearly loves and supports!

I am still pinching myself... as sometimes I still think that this can't be really happening. It is a huge gift to be able to work for an organization where I can live out Micah 6:8 in the most tangible and realest way.

This decision definitely didn't come easy... only after much prayer, contemplation and soul-searching.

It is a scary YES, but also equally exciting!

In the early days of considering this opportunity, these verses from Ephesians 3:7-21 have been paramount as God used them to speak to me:
This is my life work: helping people understand and respond to this Message. It came as a sheer gift to me, a real surprise, God handling all the details. When it came to presenting the Message to people who had no background in God’s way, I was the least qualified of any of the available Christians. God saw to it that I was equipped, but you can be sure that it had nothing to do with my natural abilities.
And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ. My task is to bring out in the open and make plain what God, who created all this in the first place, has been doing in secret and behind the scenes all along. Through followers of Jesus like yourselves gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels!
All this is proceeding along lines planned all along by God and then executed in Christ Jesus. When we trust in him, we’re free to say whatever needs to be said, bold to go wherever we need to go. So don’t let my present trouble on your behalf get you down. Be proud!
My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.
God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.
There were also many markers, allowing me to see God's hand in all.of.this. upcoming change... markers that God seemingly put in place to let me know that He's got this!

Little details such as the verse from Leviticus 23:22, the verse we found bookmarked, highlighted and underlined in our beloved Papa's Bible as we sifted through his earthly belongings after his home-going to heaven.

We have since sought to live out the meaning of this verse in our family's everyday life.
When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the Lord your God.
And I don't think it's a coincidence that this very verse is the explanation behind Compassion International's blue corner. I was absolutely blown away when I recently realized the connection. 

Or little details such as this video of Wess Stafford's story. Wess, or Papa Wess as he is fondly known to many, is President Emeritus of Compassion International. In the video, he invites everyone to join him as advocates for childrenall children. He says, "Maybe it's joining us at Compassion..." and "together, we can make the world a better place for these children."

His story caused me to look back to my childhood and it resonates strongly with me... once a damaged child, now entrusted with a ministry serving the world's most vulnerable children... evidence that God is in the business of transfiguring brokenness into something beautiful! 

And that question at the end of the video... "What about the rest of them?" That question fuels me. It is the reason our family tirelessly advocates for Compassion for many years now.

Or little details such as God's hand in ensuring that the transition from my current job is done well and that I leave with a good testimony.

This is of paramount importance to me as my manager has been such a blessing to me all these years. I absolutely count these thirteen years that I've worked for her as pure gift because it has allowed me to stay home for my children during their most formative years. Not many mamas have had the same opportunity!

I have been utterly blown away at how impeccable the timing is and how seamless the transition has been. Only God could have arranged those details... for which I will forever be grateful!

Now, a new God-adventure is on the horizon... one that is beyond what I've asked for or even imagined, just like the verse from Ephesians 3:20 says.

How awesome is it that I get to have my family along (sometimes!) with me at work? How awesome is it that they are all equally as passionate about Compassion's mission as I am? How awesome is it that we acknowledge this as God's calling on our entire family, and not just for me?

So breathtakingly awesome. More than words can even express. 

I am utterly humbled and deeply grateful... can't wait to see what God has in store!

Our most favourite thing to do together as a family!

This photo is special to me because it was taken at my last official event as an Advocate, just last weekend...
but, once an Advocate, always an Advocate! I will always, always, always be an Advocate at heart!

And did I mention that I get to work with this amazingly crazy bunch of people?
This awesome team represents Compassion Canada across this vast country of ours.
This photo was taken just last week at this year's Christmas Party.
They graciously invited this newbie and her hubby even though I don't officially start in my role until the New Year!
I am blessed. I can bless. Imagine! I could let Him make me the gift!
I could be the joy!
In an endless cycle of grace, He gives us gifts to serve the world. This is how to make a life great and eucharisteo embarks us on the path: "Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave" (Matthew 20:26-27).
It's the fundamental, lavish, radical nature of the upside-down economy of God.
Empty to fill.
Here I can become the blessing, a little life that multiplies joy, making the larger world a better place.
God can enter into me, even me, and use these hands, these feet, to be His love, a love that goes on and on and on forever, endless cycle of grace.

~ Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts.

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