Monday, April 29, 2013

The Response to Grace

Gratitude is the only appropriate response to Grace. ~ Bruxy Cavey.
I woke up Sunday morning unexpectedly feeling sick... 
My family ended up leaving for church without me. I slept a few more hours and woke up with a pounding headache and a stomach still unsettled. The day was determined to go downhill for me and I was egging it on with my "poor me" attitude.

I sat in bed with my iPad mini in hand and decided to spend the rest of the morning on Facebook and on Twitter. These were the first tweets I saw, tweets from those listening to our church's teaching pastor's message:

Then some more tweets reminded me that it was the day of the Ann Voskamp and Shaun Groves Compassion Canada event right here at home, an event I tried to rearrange my schedule for so that I could volunteer at, but sadly wasn't able to. Ironically, I ended up not being well and in bed! Here's a tweet from Compassion Canada's CEO Barry Slauenwhite on what Ann was teaching about:

Then, one more tweet...

All the above tweets in a span of maybe a couple of minutes, right there on my Twitter feed! Do you think God was trying to tell me something? Hint, hint, hint! :)

Needless to say, these tweets jolted me out of my "poor me" attitude and I quickly decided to head over to our church's YouTube channel and join in on the morning's teaching!

Here's the entire morning's teaching:

If you're short on time, here's one of the highlights... really a must-watch:

Soon, I was tweeting up a storm too!
And having a change of attitude... from being grumpy to being grateful! All of a sudden, I noticed that I was feeling 100% better than when I first woke up earlier in the morning! In fact, I was up and about by the time my family got back home from church... and felt well enough to attend my nephew's 5th birthday dinner that night!

As I continue to count grace-gifts, with unending thanks... to The One who only gives good gifts... these are the things I am thankful for this week... #2909 - #2919:
:: Spring cleaning my garden... good for my soul!
:: Another year of helping six children in need get basic education. I am so proud of my childhood classmates who started this foundation.
:: Band has started back up at school for my boy. I am loving the progress he is making with his trombone!
:: Our trusty 16-year-old Subaru Legacy... the time has come to replace it. 
:: Car shopping.
:: My girl's excellent interim report card! 
:: A fruitful meeting to chat about our family's and our church's ongoing support of UrbanPromise's Camp Freedom.
:: New members for my boy's school Robotics Team. I love the enthusiasm of these new kids!
:: A Whole Foods Market grocery store opening up closer to home.
:: Watching my kids play basketball.
:: These new epinephrine injectors for my boy... love how small they are now!
Hello brand-new week!
Prayer without ceasing is only possible in a life of continual thanks. ~ Ann Voskamp.
With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. ~ Micah 6:6-8.
Choosing to live a surrendered life... because Christ's love compels me... and giving thanks for everything that my good God so freely bestows, so lavishly gives and so extravagantly showers!

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

Monday, April 22, 2013

Soul Full

Whatever the pace, time will keep it and there's no outrunning it, only speeding it up and if you pound the feet harder, the minutes pound faster too. And I race for more and I snag on time and I leak empty and the longer I keep running, the longer the gash, and I drain bleed away.
Hurry always empties a soul, and it has mine.
Lately, I've been running... 
Life's been a whirlwind, just a tad bit too busy for my liking... the mundane, every-day becoming more and more crowded. I've allowed stress to rule my life... and, the hurry and the hustle and the bustle has made my soul feel empty.

My girl posted this song today on her blog and I enjoyed slowing down and listening to it multiple times this morning, a balm to my soul, filling it up!

Lord I come, I confess. Bowing here I find my rest.
Without You I fall apart. You're the one that guides my heart.
Lord, I need You, oh I need You. Every hour I need You.
My one defense, my righteousness. Oh God, how I need You.
Where sin runs deep, Your grace is more. Where grace is found is where You are.
And where You are Lord I am free. Holiness is Christ in me.
Yes where You are Lord I am free. Holiness is Christ in me.
So teach my song to rise to You. When temptation comes my way.
And when I cannot stand I'll fall on You. Jesus You're my hope and stay.
And when I cannot stand I'll fall on You. Jesus You're my hope and stay.
Yes, Jesus is my hope and stay!
How truly beautiful and how amazingly wonderful... don't you agree? And to slow life down enough to taste and see that the Lord is good... to count grace-gifts, something that has been sporadic for me these past few weeks, emptying the soul.

Enjoying some home-made cupcakes.

Worshiping with our church family.

A relaxing Saturday morning.

My boy's first time solo on video at church... a proud mama moment!

Making empanadas for the first time, a comfort food from my childhood.

I am resolving to get back into the habit of daily counting grace-gifts and to linger longer in His Word each morning... it truly is a balm to the soul, refreshing it and turning it towards God, the giver of good gifts!

As I continue to count grace-gifts, with unending thanks... to The One who does not change life shifting shadows... these are the things I am thankful for these three weeks... #2894 - #2908:
:: His Grace... sustaining me through busy weeks.
:: My boy lending his voice in advocacy for the Millennium Development Goals.
:: The chirping of birds.
:: Working in the garden again and seeing new life! ♥
:: Spring sunshine!
:: The gift of a wonderful church family! 
:: Access to great healthcare.
:: Great retreat weekend for my kids with their youth group.
:: Opportunities to serve and love "the least of these" brothers and sisters of ours, both locally and globally.
:: My kids playing basketball again.
Hello brand-new week!
I speak it to God: I don't want more time. I want just enough time. Time to breathe deep and time to see real and time to laugh long, time to give You glory and rest deep and sing joy and just enough time in a day not to feel hounded, pressed, driven or wild to get it all done.
~ Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts.
Choosing to live a surrendered life... because Christ's love compels me... and giving thanks for everything that my good God so freely bestows, so lavishly gives and so extravagantly showers!

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

Friday, April 19, 2013

In The Midst of Evil...

As Christ-followers, this should always be our response, our default reaction...
"Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." ~ Romans 12:21.
April has been a crazy month so far, to say the least. When it's quiet here on the blog, it means that real life's anything but quiet! Since the Easter weekend, it has felt like a tornado has hit our family schedule... nothing stands out in particular, but there's just been a lot of extra things that have been added to it, making life just a tad bit crazier, I suppose.

This blog post has been simmering in my mind for about two weeks now. I finally have a chunk of time this morning to string thoughts into words. Hopefully, these fingers will be able to tap out on these keys words that will adequately tell the story of the thoughts that have been occupying my mind...

Why two weeks, you might ask?
Well, exactly two weeks ago was Friday, April 5. It was the day the United Nations and partner organizations worldwide observed 1,000-days to the Year 2015 target date for the Millennium Development Goals, the MDGs.
"We continue to struggle against extreme poverty, inequality and insufficient access to sanitation. Climate change remains a clear and present danger. Now is the time for MDG Momentum. We now have less than 1,000 days to close the gaps and accelerate action. That means scaling up success, empowering women and girls, keeping fiscal promises, and mobilizing people from governments to the grassroots." ~ UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.
My boy was invited by Millennium Kids, an organization he's a part of, to speak at a Toronto Rally to mark #1000DaysToGo. What an awesome opportunity! He decided to read his letter to the Prime Minister of Canada. He excitedly penned this letter in the days leading up to April 5, determined and writing with passion even though writing isn't his most favourite thing to do. I am so very proud of him!

He spoke with passion and conviction and courage, this being his very first public speaking experience, to an audience of over 250 people including his peers, leaders of missions organizations and faith groups, government leaders, media and press personnel. He was interviewed by Salvationist, the voice of the Salvation Army and by Love Is Moving TV show.

Did I already say I am one proud mama?!? Yes, in case you haven't caught on yet... I am one proud mama!!! :-)

As he and I rode the train very early on the morning of April 5, heading downtown for this rally... I started to read a book on my Kindle app as he sat quietly beside me staring out at the scenery zooming by his window seat.

I glanced up from my book and noticed him deep in thought, a little nervous perhaps about the day's events. That very moment, this is what I read and just highlighted on my book...
"We can be the change-makers. You and me, friend, we can be the change. As Scripture says, if we are faithful in these small things, God will entrust us with much, knowing we will be up to the challenge." ~ Sarah Mae & Sally Clarkson, from the book Desperate.
I pointed out the highlighted words to him and he nods, assuredly nods. For him and for this mama, this is a big thing... and knowing that God entrusted this to my boy made my heart smile big. He is up to the challenge... this quiet, deep-thinking boy of mine. He is, because his Heavenly Father thinks so!

In the week leading up to April 5, especially after the gun violence that happened on the eve of Easter Sunday at the shopping mall where we have our church services, our family has been talking about how Resurrection people ought to live... how our response to evil should always be to overcome it with good.

I reiterated this Truth to my boy on that train ride... that we must do all we can to overcome evil with good, and that speaking out and advocating for the MDGs is one way God has given him the opportunity to do exactly this... to overcome evil with good.

He nods assuredly again. Right then and there, I knew he's going to be fine delivering this speech, because his Heavenly Father has gone before him. And this mama's heart swelled with happiness some more.

Since that Friday two weeks ago... many evil things have come to pass. Such as the suicide of Rick Warren's son. Such as the Boston Marathon bombings. Such as the Gosnell case. Such as the Steubenville case and two other similar ones resulting in tragic suicide deaths, one in Los Angeles and another closer to home, in Nova Scotia.

These are just a few stories representing many more in our world today. Evil is persistent. Evil is relentless. Evil is everywhere. But friends... 

Good can be persistent. 
Good can be relentless. 
Good can be everywhere.

As Christ-followers, we need to take action. We need to speak out. 
We need to do justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly with God.

We need to walk alongside those who are mentally ill. We need to love God and love others. We need to be pro-the-least-of-these. We need to teach our sons about manhood. We need to do compassion... it has to become our very lives!

We need to speak out against injustice.
And that's exactly what my boy did exactly two weeks ago today. Here are some helpful info-graphics to help you learn more about what the 8 MDGs are all about:

And it doesn't end with these next 1,000 days! It continues on to the next 1,000 days and the next ones and the next ones. With each 1,000 days, our family continues on this journey of doing justice, of loving mercy, of walking humbly with God.

No matter how crazy life gets for us and no matter how crowded our calendar becomes, we always weave doing compassion into it. In the weeks after Easter, we've written letters to our sponsor kids, spoken out for the MDGs, served dinner to at-risk youth, volunteered at a Compassion Canada event...

Because, as Christ-followers, our response to evil always has to be this... 

To overcome it with good!   

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

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

How Resurrection People Ought To Live

It's only a few days after Easter...

And life returns to routine... the whole celebration and reflection of Easter pushed to the back burner now, suddenly just like a distant memory.

Everyday life and everyday busy-ness consume us once more...

They are essential things, we say --- working and earning a living, going to school and acquiring an education, making dinner and feeding our families, folding laundry and clothing them, paying bills and providing for them.

And how can we forget... vacation plans, home renovation dreams, spring cleaning, landscaping plans, climbing the ladder, getting ahead... and the list goes on and on and on...

But, wait! Is this how resurrection people ought to live?
Doesn't Jesus say, "He who wants to keep his life will have it taken away from him. He who loses his life because of Me will have it given back to him."?

Hubby and I were chatting one night last week, during Holy Week... I asked him, "What if today's First World Christians have been duped into thinking that being comfortable is what God wants for us because of His love for us?"

Yes, no kidding! Someone once said to me, "I think that God wants to give us luxuries."

Friends, what if this First World lifestyle that we all love so much... is a trap that the enemy set up for the purpose of ensnaring us so that we do not experience the full and abundant life that God desires for us, the gift that Jesus sacrificed Himself so that we could have? Yes, what if...

Indulge me for a moment here, friends...
How many of us would rather spend our money on a vacation instead of staying at home and giving that same amount of money to help the homeless?

How many of us would rather move into a "better" neighbourhood or "upgrade" our houses incurring more debt in the process instead of staying put where we are and using that same amount of money each month to sponsor a child or a few children?

How many of us would rather climb the ladder and get ahead instead of devoting our time doing volunteer work for so many Christ-centered organizations whose mission is to help the marginalized in our communities?

I am not casting stones here, friends. I am guilty myself...
Guilty of being selfish, of loving comfort, of justifying my needs and my wants, of wanting my luxuries!

I am aware that this is a very difficult topic... especially for us, First World Christians. I don't have all the answers and I suspect I never will, as long as I'm still on this side of heaven. But I think it is a healthy thing to have this discomfort, this disdain about this culture of a self-indulgent Christianity.

It is a good thing to always be striving to become a more radical Christian, to be more radical today than I was yesterday. To not be the kind of Christ-follower described in Romans 1:21-22:
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools.
For doesn't Jesus teach us to love "the least of these" brothers and sisters of ours? 

For didn't Jesus say not to store up treasures here on earth where moths and rust destroy, where thieves break in and steal?

For didn't Jesus command us to proclaim good news to the poor?

For didn't Jesus say that to be His disciple we must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him?

Friends, Jesus has clearly taught us how resurrection people ought to be living!
Oh, help me God... I sure want to live that abundant life that He gave His life up for so that I can have! Yes, that life... oh, to live it each and every day! How about you?

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

Monday, April 1, 2013

It's the First of April!

and, it's Easter Monday... 
Friends, Christ is risen... what a wonderful and most beautiful gift! On Easter Sunday, I posted this as my status on Facebook:

"Yes, God will make his home among his people. He will wipe all tears from their eyes, and there will be no more death, suffering, crying, or pain. The one sitting on the throne said: I am making everything new."
This is the gift of Easter.
Happy Easter, friends!
{Our family is headed to Yorkdale mall right now where Easter Sunday service will happen right in the midst of brokenness. Praying for those affected by the gun violence last night.}
Yes, we had a very meaningful Easter celebration... more on that in a bit. Today, however, is a school holiday here in Canada so hubby and I sort of take the day off as well. Sort of... meaning hubby will only deal with work if a computer emergency presents itself. So, hopefully it will be a day without such incidences. :-) It's been a busy few weeks, so having our calendar fairly empty this Easter weekend was such a gift!

Amid the busy-ness of the past few weeks, I am thankful that I took the time to read a little each day from Chris Seay's A Place at the Table. Reading the gems in this book each day during Lent truly did help to prepare my heart for Easter.

Such as this prayer from Day 32: "God, do Your work within us. Give us the wisdom to know how to share ourselves, our lives, and our resources with one another as well as those scattered abroad. We pray that You will show us how to give. Everything we have is from You. We ask that our focus would remain on You. That our worship would truly change us. Your love is unyielding. Amen."

Or this gem of a prayer from Wednesday of Holy Week: "Father, Your love and provision are far reaching. Your miracles never cease. You could drop bread from the sky for Your beloved, and yet You give us the blessing of giving and connecting in Your precious name. May Your Spirit continue to free our hearts and inspire us, Father, to further Your movement of grace and love and equality next door and around the entire world. Amen."

Or this thought-provoking paragraph from Holy Thursday: "After months of the disciples fighting over who would sit in the seat of power, Jesus turned the tables; the real fight was over the largest foot-washing basin. This was a game changer... service trumps power in the kingdom of God. Which kingdom are you living in? Have you devoted your life to humble service, or do you avoid it like an infectious disease? Jesus came to change the world, one dirty foot at a time. How about you?"

By Good Friday, my heart was ready... 
... ready to soak in and to reflect on the magnitude of this gift that was given to me, to all of us, on that very first Easter. I wept through most of our Good Friday service... the music, the message, the breaking of bread... every. single. thing. moved me to tears!

One song, in particular, reminded me of my One Word for 2013... surrender... ♪♫ "Rid me of myself. I belong to you. Oh lead me. Lead me to the cross." ♫♪

I realized that, if I am truly honest, there are still many things that I am unwilling to surrender... and, if Jesus surrendered to the Father's will, so should I. Yes, so should I!

What a beautiful realization!

Saturday night came and we were chilling at home as a family when my girl noticed that #Yorkdale was trending on Twitter. 

Upon further investigation, we realized that gun violence had erupted there that night and one person died, another one wounded. The entire parking lot was on lock-down and it was chaotic, to say the least.

Well, Yorkdale is the mall our church meets at each and every Sunday! We rent the movie theatres there. What does this mean for the Easter Service that was set to happen there the very next day? Will we be allowed in? Will we have access to the parking lot? How will our church's truck/trailer unload all the gear if we aren't?

Lots of questions, no definite answers. We went to bed hoping to hear more concrete answers in the morning. Morning came, and the parking lot was still taped up... still considered a crime scene! We decided to drive over...

True enough, only a couple of parking lots were accessible... and we had to unload all our gear by the side of the road and wheel everything up to the nearest mall entrance and up to the theatres! 

Our community wasted no time and sprang into action, church was set-up, word spread on social media, a shuttle service was put in place to shuttle people from a nearby parking lot... I even had the opportunity to talk to a local reporter about our church! It was not, by any means, a typical Sunday morning at church! 

It was surreal --- having Easter Sunday service right in the middle of all this brokenness! But, isn't that what church is all about though? To be the beauty in the broken? To be wounded healers? To be a light in the darkness? 

Didn't Easter have to happen because of our brokenness?  
Didn't Jesus die because sin had left a crimson stain?
Didn't God so loved the whole world that He gave His Son?

Yes, yes and yes! 
Needless to say, I will remember this particular Easter Sunday for quite some time. I can truly say that it was the most meaningful Easter Sunday service that our family has ever had!

When it was all said and done, despite the challenges of accessing the mall, 220 people had joined us to celebrate Easter, not to mention the over 7,000 who attended cross-regionally at our church's other sites all across the province! Wow, just wow! Our God truly is good, He truly is awesome!!!

After the service, after all the gear has been loaded up into the church trailer, just before the truck pulled away... our team gathered by the side of Yorkdale Road (we still didn't have access to the parking lot at this time) and we gave thanks for a meaningful Easter service... and prayed for those affected by the gun violence there the previous night... and prayed that we would continue to be Jesus' hands and feet in and amongst the brokenness. 

As Chris Seay concluded in the book, A Place at the Table...
I encourage you to dream big. To see the problems of this world, the devastation of extreme poverty, and the many global crises we face, and to believe that God is leading us as His people to be His restoring hands that bring healing to the suffering.
At the end of the day, our greatest calling is to love God and to love our neighbor. My greatest struggle is to take myself and my selfish desires and ambitions out of the way and to replace those selfish desires with the desires of God.
As I continue to count grace-gifts, with unending thanks... to The One who paid my debt once for all... these are the things I am thankful for these two weeks... #2884 - #2893:
:: Grace that sustains through busy weeks.
:: A successful AIDS Care season at church... a God-sized result in spite of my lack of faith. 
:: Heart prepared for Easter by reading Chris Seay's A Place at the Table: 40 Days of Solidarity with the Poor... a must-read!
:: A moving Good Friday service... a great message, thought-provoking and convicting.
:: Easter dinner with family.
:: A meaningful Easter Sunday service, having church amidst the brokenness of gun violence. Surreal... but what church should be all about! Thankful for a faith community that understands this reality.
:: Watching the finale of The Bible Series, on Easter Sunday evening... an absolutely reflective end to the Easter weekend. A must-see!
:: An extra day off!
:: A news article about my girl... a proud mama moment!
:: No available replacement parts for our stove, so the store is giving us a whole brand-spanking-new stove as part of their extended warranty program! Wow!
Hello Monday and hello April!
To move into His presence and listen to His love unending and know the grace uncontainable. This is the vault of the miracles. The only thing that can change us, the world, is this; all His love.
~ Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts.
Choosing to live a surrendered life... because Christ's love compels me... and giving thanks for everything that my good God so freely bestows, so lavishly gives and so extravagantly showers!

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