Monday, October 31, 2011

Dark Mornings...

Wow, 7AM is getting dark these days! It's been tougher for me to wake up for sure. I can't wait for Daylight Savings Time to end this coming weekend so that mornings will be bright again.

The good news is... I am keeping up with my HelloMornings Challenge each day, in spite of the darkness. The verses that I read brighten my morning... a welcome balm for the soul as the sun rises at the same time.

It's been another busy week for our family... an out-of-the-ordinary one for me as I had to venture out of the house a few times for meetings... which made for an interesting, but jam-packed week.

The verses I read this morning are a good reminder... to be thankful... even for jam-packed weeks:
Always be joyful and never stop praying. Whatever happens, keep thanking God because of Jesus Christ. This is what God wants you to do. ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 CEV
With that in mind, this week's 1,000 Gifts list continues with #1072 - #1090, grace-gifts which have no end...

~ Two of my Compassion Child Packs got sponsored... just before expiring!
~ Time to finish reading the book Fast Living... a must-read!
~ My girl auditioning for the Music Team at church... and got in. :-)
~ Insurance covering my acupuncture treatments.
~ Tea time and catching up with a friend.
~ Empty Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes leaving my garage!
~ My girl's team winning basketball games, after losing so many.
~ Breakfast with a dear friend.
~ Learning more about the missions initiatives of our church... and,
~ Getting a firmer understanding of how I can contribute more effectively... and,
~ Feeling excitement about what we can accomplish together as a church!
~ Helping a sponsor fill out paperwork to sponsor a Compassion child.
~ Shopping for items to fill our 50 empty shoeboxes.
~ Our whole family packing shoeboxes together... fun times!
~ Saturday brunch with Tony Campolo at the Pregnancy Care Centre.
~ Unplanned visit to friends' home resulting in a Compassion child sponsorship!
~ Our whole family volunteering at a Compassion event.
~ A smooth-sailing work week in spite of it being jam-packed with other things.
~ Grace that sustains... nourishes... gives strength.

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Are You Still Munching on Potato Chips?

{Fast Living by Scott C. Todd, A Book Review}

I just finished reading the book Fast Living by Scott C. Todd. One word: inspiring! I am resolved to do more... much more... to end extreme poverty in our lifetime. I want to live the fast of Isaiah 58!

First of all, let's define what the book refers to as extreme poverty. It is defined by the World Bank as life on less than $1.25 per day. As of 2005, the World Bank estimates there were 1.4 billion people in that condition.

In the last generation {from 1981 to today}, we have seen the extreme global poverty rate fall from 52% {of the world's population} to 26%. It is believed that we can continue that downward trajectory in this generation {from today to the year 2035}... from 26% to zero!

Did you read that correctly?
Yes! Zero. Zero percent!
Inspiring, isn't it?

So, who can participate in this fight? You! And, me! If you are reading this blog post, you are in a position to join in the fight. If you make $25,000 per year, you are wealthier than 81% of the people in the world... therefore, you can join the fight! 

So, how will we do it? The book suggests that eliminating extreme global poverty can be done when Christians effect change by practicing the true fast of Isaiah 58... living simply so others may simply live.

In Chapter 8, entitled True Fast, the author paints a poignant picture. The following paragraphs are chunks of direct quotes from that chapter... the thoughts are too important to paraphrase, too vital to just summarize.
Imagine a young couple in the labor and delivery room experiencing the birth of their first child. Hear her groans, see the sweat, and feel the anxious tension. Now place a bag of potato chips in the husband's hands and picture him munching away as he watches his wife give birth. As if it were on TV. It's just wrong!
... in sacred moments, we do not eat. It seems wrong to eat.
... fasting is a natural response. Like not eating during your wedding vows because the moment is too sacred. Like not eating as you look into the casket at a funeral because the moment is too grievous.
... fasting is a response to a very serious situation, not a device to take us from a good level to a better level. It's something you do when circumstances are bad enough that you don't want to eat and it would seem wrong to do so. Or when circumstances are incredible enough that you don't even think about food.
We're living in a grievous sacred moment.
Grievous because over twenty-thousand children continue to die every day from preventable causes. Grievous because we give far less that 1 percent of our personal income to anti-poverty work. Grievous because our nation allocates only 0.17 percent of its budget to help the poor. It feels like we are munching potato chips while staring into the casket.
It is a sacred moment because our generation has the unprecedented and history-making opportunity to eradicate extreme poverty from earth. This is our moment. And if we feel the trembling possibilities of this moment, we won't even be able to think of munching down the chips.
When we feel in our gut what God feels when hungry children die while those who claim His name spend millions on worship centers, we will physically respond. We will be compelled to drill water wells in Africa, fright government corruption, and ensure that children don't go hungry.
If we are serious about living the True Fast, then we will be serious about our thinking, use of resources, and even our habits. We will create a culture of effective Christian generosity with the objective of ending extreme global poverty.
That, my friends... is how the true fast should be practiced, how it is to be lived!

Furthermore, as a mom... three thoughts from the book resonated very well with me.

Thought #1: Increasing our donation dollars and volunteer hours, and directing them towards organizations with objectives of ending extreme global poverty. The book states that "moms are often the ones making charitable decisions and forming the volunteer force of local churches."
Christian relief and development organizations operate over five billion dollars per year in anti-poverty work. (page 146)
Thought #2: One of the other ways we can fight global poverty is simply with the purchasing decisions we make each and every day. The book suggests that moms have the greatest power to create a new market for social good simply because "women make 85 percent of America's purchasing decisions." A few examples of these purchasing decisions would be: buying fair trade food {even if it costs us more}... for example coffee, chocolate and banana; supporting companies that source sustainable products.
American Christians have been made stewards to $2.5 trillion per year in income, and we will go shopping with it. We can create powerful new markets for social good focused on ending extreme poverty. (page 145)
Reward companies that champion social causes, such as clean water, education, combating preventable disease, sustainable agriculture, and many other poverty-fighting efforts. Buy fair trade. Don't worry about whether companies are using these efforts as "marketing gimmicks." They are marketing gimmicks and we want these gimmicks to work. (page 146) 
Thought #3: Our children will be the ones to finish the job of eliminating extreme global poverty. As parents, we have a responsibility to live out our faith and this new normal in such a way that it will be what our children want to be characterized by. Young people have an incredible power to change the world. 
Ending extreme global poverty is a twenty-five year endeavor. Today's fifteen-year-olds will be turning forty as we run the last (and most difficult) mile, and they will be carrying the baton. How hard they will run then depends on their engagement today. (page 174)
If we intend to raise up an army of Christ-followers who will pursue justice for the oppressed and who will fight the adversary in a world afflicted by poverty, then we must begin training our youth for that fight. They are our greatest asset. They are young and full of energy. They are uncompromising idealists and they actually believe that God is all-powerful. (page 178)
Food for thought, don't you think?
Are you still munching on potato chips?
Or are you inspired to act now?

Yes? Awesome! You can start by checking out one of the following organizations:

What do you say? Together, we can do this! I, for one, am looking forward to the year 2035 when...
Famine and hunger are permanently abolished. Children born in Africa are just as likely to have a fifth birthday party as children born in America. School completion and literacy rates are above 90 percent. Death by mosquito is eradicated. The invisible terrorists in African drinking water are disarmed, eliminated, or rendered harmless. (paraphrased from page 186)
Let's stop munching on potato chips and start living the true fast! Now. Today. This very moment. It's time to Live 58!!!

Unwrapping more of His love in this world.
Act justly.  Love mercy.  Walk humbly with God!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Full, Crazy Week...

Our family's been *sharing* a nasty flu bug these past couple of weeks... we've been taking turns getting sick. I think we are all finally at the tail-end of it as we start this brand-new week, so thankful for God's sustaining grace! (#1058)

Despite the sickness, the hustle and bustle of life continues. We've had a busy week, to say the least. Sometimes I wonder why we are so busy?

What are we so busy about?
Are we busy about things that have eternal value?
Or are we busy with empty things?

These are good questions to ask every now and then. An inventory of how we spend our time as a family is in order sometimes, definitely a good thing to do.

This counting of grace-gifts also helps in giving us a glimpse of whether or not our time is spent on things with eternal value. With that in mind, this week's grace-gifts continues with #1059 - #1071... of gifts from our Heavenly Father who loves us.
Oh, how He loves!
If His grace is an ocean, we're all sinking.
~ My girl's awesome progress report, her first one in high-school.
~ Great parent-teacher interviews with all of her teachers.
~ My girl being a natural leader, a special grace-gift!
~ Delivering snacks to our friends at UrbanPromise.
~ Reaching out to friends, new immigrants to our country.
~ My boy presenting a slide show of our mission trip to his class.
~ His getting an opportunity to present to yet another group of school-mates.
~ And, piquing the interest of a supply teacher!
~ The gift of leadership emerging in him too. :-)
~ Watching the movie "58: The Film" together as a family.
~ Organizing a food drive at our church for Yonge Street Mission.
~ Shopping for things to pack into Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.
~ His promise to renew our strength when we hope in Him!

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Monday, October 17, 2011

Enough, Just Enough

"Live simply so others may simply live." ~ Mother Teresa.
These days I am in the process of revisiting our family's definition of what it means to live with simply just enough... so that we can give more generously... so that others can have enough. I often find myself asking, "What constitutes enough?"

It is not an easy thing to quantify. Truth be told, I don't think there is one right answer... it will look different and it will vary for each person, each family unit, each community.

However, these two verses from the Bible quantify this question for me...
Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.
~ 1 Timothy 6:6-8 NLT
If God has been generous with you, he will expect you to serve him well. But if he has been more than generous, he will expect you to serve him even better.
~ Luke 2:48 CEV
Two things are certainly true for our family: 1. We have enough food and clothing. 2. God has been more than generous with us.

These, therefore, evoke two responses: 1. We are called to be content. 2. We are called to serve him, not just well, but better than well.

With a heart full of thanksgiving... because He has given our family, not just enough... but more than enough! We are blessed to bless... called to live counter-cultural, radical lives for the display of His splendour... grace-gifts that never end, #1045 - #1057...

~ My boy's sickness forcing me to slow down...
~ Injured arm, on the road to recovery.
~ Two more Compassion children to join our family!
~ New books to read.
~ Cleaning closets.
~ De-cluttering bedrooms.
~ Diminishing pile of paperwork.
~ Re-starts, let's-try-this-again moments.
~ Warm boots and fluffy coats.
~ A go signal for a shoebox drive at my boy's school!
~ For His provision of enough... more than enough.

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World Poverty Day

Today is World Poverty Day, also known as the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. It is a day devoted to presenting and promoting concrete activities with regard to the eradication of poverty and destitution.

I had today's blog post all written up in my head. I fully intended to transfer thought to keyboard last night and publish it this morning but alas... as they say, "The best laid plans often go awry."

But, here I am... typing away. Better late than never, I suppose.

So, what is extreme poverty? It is "defined by the World Bank as life on less than $1.25 per day. As of 2005, World Bank estimates there were 1.4 billion people in that condition." This number "is expected to fall to around 900 million by 2015, even as the population living in developing countries rises to 5.8 billion. Still, an additional 1.1 billion people will live on less than $2 a day."

Sobering statistics, right?

But, what about this? 
"Providing clean water to every person on earth is estimated at twenty billion dollars. That's a big number, but let's put it in perspective: according to the National Retail Federation, Americans spent $41,200,000,000 (over forty-one billion dollars) during the 2009 Black Friday weekend (the weekend after Thanksgiving). In a single weekend, Americans spent twice what it would cost to provide clean water to every person on earth. Which would save the lives of five thousand children every day. This is sad good news. Sad for obvious reasons, but also good because it reveals an incredible opportunity." 
~ Scott C. Todd, Fast Living, Chapter 9, page 62. 
We have the resources to eradicate poverty!

What if we all lived more simply and give more generously? 
What if we all lived with just enough so that others can have enough?
What if we all become less selfish and more compassionate?

What if we all act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God?

We can be a part in the eradication of poverty in our lifetime. Imagine that!
God's will done through us here on earth... His Kingdom coming!

Shaun Groves' song, Kingdom Coming, from his newest album Third World Symphony illustrates my rambling thoughts quite succinctly.
Oh God, what do we see and hear?|Your kingdom coming|Oh God, what do we see and fear?|Your kingdom coming|Let it come to us|Let it come through us.
‘Til the sword is spared|And the bread is shared|‘Til the dying’s done|Let your kingdom come|‘Til the rich ones give|And the poor ones live|‘Til the weak are strong|Let your kingdom come.
Oh, God, what do we pray down here?|Your kingdom coming|Let it come to us|Let it come through us.
Mercy come, justice come|Healing come, peace, Lord, come|Your will be done through us on earth.
Oh God, what do we need down here|Your kingdom coming.
Words & Music by Shaun Groves © 2011 Simplicity Street Music/ASCAP
As many of you, my dear blog readers, know... I am a Volunteer Advocate for Compassion. I truly believe that Compassion International is one of the best organizations out there today that can partner with you to eradicate extreme poverty in children and families!

Are you ready to join the fight?
Will you sponsor a Compassion child today?
So that he/she will have enough?

If so, please follow this link. A child is waiting to call you friend!

Unwrapping more of His love in this world.
Act justly.  Love mercy.  Walk humbly with God!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

World Food Day

Today is World Food Day. One of the objectives of World Food Day is "to heighten public awareness of the problem of hunger in the world."

We saw hunger first-hand when our family traveled to the Philippines this past summer... truly heart-breaking! The good news is... those of us who live in the First World can do something about it.

We can end hunger!
We can make a difference!

Is that a revelation to you? 
"...if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail."
~ Isaiah 58:10-11 (NIV 1984)
Here are some ways you can start {taken from the 58: website}:
~ Align your heart with God’s through personal sacrifice... free up resources to help the poor.
~ Tell others about 58: and the good news that we can end extreme poverty in our lifetime.
~ Join the movement to end extreme poverty... build a team to make a greater impact.
~ Choose a solution and fund poverty fighting projects that make a real difference.
~ See the impact of what God is doing to transform our hearts and transform the world.
Will you join the movement? Will you take part in the fight to end global hunger?

Unwrapping more of His love in this world.
Act justly.  Love mercy.  Walk humbly with God!

Monday, October 10, 2011

On Thankfulness...

Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!
Worship the Lord with gladness.
Come before Him, singing with joy.
Acknowledge that the Lord is God!
He made us, and we are His.
We are His people, the sheep of His pasture.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving;
Go into His courts with praise.
Give thanks to Him and praise His name.
For the Lord is good.

His unfailing love continues forever,
And His faithfulness continues to each generation.
~ Psalm 100 (NLT), A psalm of thanksgiving.
We celebrated Thanksgiving here in Canada this weekend. As we gathered with family and friends over food, food and more food... I was reminded of something that was said to me during our visit with Florianlyn, our Compassion sponsor child in the Philippines, this past Summer.

After we had lunch together that day, we offered Florianlyn's mother to take home with them all the left-over food. This is what she said to me, "This is grace... for tonight we will have food for dinner!"

Ever since coming back from the Philippines, each time our family has an over-abundance of food {and quite frankly, that is most of the time!} that one sentence manifests itself in my mind.

And I ask myself... do I consider it grace to have something to eat at each meal? Or is it just something that I have come to expect as a given? If I am to be perfectly honest... no, it doesn't occur to me on first thought that it actually is grace... for I have never had to worry about not having food to feed my family!

Oh, the contrast!
This stark contrast... 
Between we who have and those who have not.

And, oh to have a thankful heart like that of Florianlyn's mom...

So as I reflect on these things on this Thanksgiving weekend, I am made even more aware of the spiritual poverty that those of us who live in the comforts of North America have... a poverty of spirit, more grave than the physical poverty which we saw in the Philippines.

Lord, have mercy on us and help us to realize the depths of our spiritual poverty!
They are blessed who realize their spiritual poverty, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. ~ Matthew 5:3 (NCV)
I love this quote by Ann Voskamp, from her book One Thousand Gifts:
God calls me to do thanks. To give the thanks away. That thanks-giving might literally become thanks-living. That our lives become the very blessings we have received.
This is one way in which our family practices thanksgiving... giving thanks away... to those who have less than we do. In so doing, we become more and more aware of the state of our spiritual poverty. We become more and more aware of our need to depend on God for everything, for His daily grace!

And... counting more and more of His grace-gifts that know no end, this week's 1,000 Gifts list continues with #1030 - #1044:

~ Piles of laundry, for it means we have clothes to wear.
~ Broken furnace being replaced.
~ Sipping coffee and sharing a dessert with hubby.
~ Acupuncture for my injured arm.
~ A day at the zoo with my sisters and their families.
~ Talking my boy through some hard stuff.
~ Fighting an ugly spirit of un-thankfulness.
~ Getting together with old friends we haven't seen in years.
~ A busy kitchen, for it means we have food to eat.
~ A lovely Thanksgiving meal.
~ Family and friends to share it with.
~ Rest for my boy who is feverish.
~ My girl writing to all our Compassion children this month!
~ Receiving letters from almost all of our Compassion kids this week.

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Unwrapping more of His love in this world.
Act justly.  Love mercy.  Walk humbly with God!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Yet I Still Dare To Hope...

... when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is His faithfulness; His mercies begin afresh each morning.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in Him!” The Lord is good to those who depend on Him, to those who search for Him. So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord.
~ Lamentations 3:21-26 NLT
I love these verses.
They bring me such comfort.

These days... since our family came back from our missions immersion trip to the Philippines... I've been struggling... fighting... fighting that middle ground. These words by Ann Voskamp describe what I'm going through quite succinctly...
The world, your community... even your family — they are going to try to push you back to the middle. North America feels pretty comfortable in the middle. Balance, everyone says. I don’t know what Jesus is going to say to you... How He might direct your life now… just don’t assume He wants you to live in the middle. Be open to the possibility… Of something radically different.
Something radically different!

It's been 52 days since we got back home... and last night, hubby and I found ourselves with some free time. We ended up at a dessert restaurant... eating cake and ice cream, sipping coffee. Then we found ourselves mindlessly wandering the aisles of a HomeSense store nearby.

It was while sitting in that restaurant and browsing the aisles at HomeSense that I fully felt the reality of being back in this middle ground called North America. Yet, at the very same time... I remember what we saw and what we lived through during our trip... and I am afraid that I am starting to forget.

Why? Because... dessert and coffee... $20. A set of framed art for our fireplace mantel... $20. It's become so easy once again for us to mindlessly spend $40... $40 gone in a span of less than one hour.

You see... $40 {okay, $41!} is what it costs to sponsor a Compassion child each month, two of whom we are still *thinking about sponsoring*... their child packs sit on the carpet floor beside me as I type this blog post!

Have I become radically different? 
Or am I slipping right back into the middle ground?

Tough questions... I struggle... I continue to fight.

My truthful answer is this. Yes, I have changed... by God's grace, I am different. Maybe not quite radically different yet... but I hope to get there one day! Different because... in the not-too-distant past, I would not have taken the mindless spending of $40 and associated it with child sponsorship. I would've justified the spending by saying we already sponsor two Compassion children and an LDP student.

Please don't get me wrong... I am not saying that all of us should not have dessert treats or buy nice things. However, I do think that whenever we spend for ourselves, if we have the needs of the poor forefront in our minds, we will be much wiser in how we spend our money. This is something which I, too, am learning to be more conscious of on a daily basis.  

And, yes... I still have battles, each day I fight that middle ground... that comfortable place where it is so easy to settle into. I think the fight will always be there... until that day when we see Jesus face to face.  

Yet I still dare to hope... as the verse at the start of this blog post says... for God's faithfulness is great and His mercies are new each morning.

I dare to hope that this fight will become easier and easier as I learn to depend on Him more and more. The verse continues on to say... "The Lord is good to those who depend on Him, to those who search for Him. So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord."

Such amazing truth, such comfort for my soul.

And so I soldier on... and maybe next time, it'll just be yummy ice cream... without the cake and the coffee! And... just pure browsing at HomeSense! :-)
... if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.
~ Isaiah 58:10-11 (NIV 1984)
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Unwrapping more of His love in this world.
Act justly.  Love mercy.  Walk humbly with God!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Busy Season

It's a busy season in the life of our family. Some days, I feel like time is going on fast-forward... so many things still to do, yet the day is almost over.

I still remember... when my kids were just toddlers... being overwhelmed by the busy-ness of life at home. A few moms with older children then told me, "The busy-ness during the toddler years is nothing compared to how busy life gets when the kids become teenagers. It's just a different kind of busy."

I believe them now! :-)

As I mulled over this thought last night, my eyes drifted to a piece of paper on our fridge... one that's been there since my daughter was born almost 15 years ago now. On it is a poem called A Mother's Prayer. Here is it...

... A Mother's Prayer ...
By: Helen M. Young
God, give me wisdom to see
that today is my day with my children.
That there is no unimportant moment
in their lives.
May I know no other career is as precious,
No other work so rewarding,
No other task so urgent.
May I not defer it nor neglect it,
But, by thy Spirit, accept it gladly, joyously,
and by thy grace realize
That the time is short and my time is now,
For children won’t wait!

Children truly won't wait... since when did my two suddenly become 14 and 11 years of age? Weren't they just babies not too long ago?!? Yes, the time is truly short and my time is truly now.

I was reminded, as I read the above poem last night, that I should cherish this busy season... for soon, it will just be a memory.

Last night, our family went to watch the movie Courageous... another great reminder of just how important our role is as parents! If you haven't seen the movie, I highly recommend you go see it. Tears, laughter, thought-provoking, inspiring!

One thing that has truly nourished me, physically and spiritually, during this busy season is my new morning routine --- I am waking up earlier and maximizing my mornings by starting the day with prayer, soaking in Scripture, exercising {let's be honest... just sometimes, I get to this part!} and planning out the day.

This week, my 1,000 Gifts list continues with these grace-gifts, for this season of busy-ness --- #1018 - #1029...

~ The reminder that children won't wait.
~ His sustaining grace, for busy seasons.
~ The movie, Courageous.
~ For my hubby, a courageous husband and dad!
~ My Inspired To Action accountability group on Twitter.
~ Basketball, basketball and more basketball games. :-)
~ Hubby coaching my girl's house league team!
~ Attending Home Church for the first time.
~ Serving in a church community once again.
~ Picking up empty Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes!
~ Roaming the local library with my boy.
~ Meeting, praying and planning with like-minded church leaders.

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Unwrapping more of His love in this world.
Act justly.  Love mercy.  Walk humbly with God!