Tuesday, July 2, 2013

On Choosing The Other Side of the Fence

We are the Esthers inside the gate — and the hurting and the poor, the oppressed and the ignored – is Christ on the other side of the gate. Christ is saying: "I was a stranger and you welcomed Me. I was the stranger on the other side of the gate — and you risked everything inside the gate for the One outside the gate – Me."
It’s not nameless masses of the deserving poor on the other side of the gate; It’s Christ. Every single stranger, every single disadvantaged, is Christ and if you love Him — you have got to make your life about tearing down the gates.
Ann Voskamp wrote the above words today in a blog post about her time spent with Katie Davis in Uganda a couple of weeks ago. Friends, it is another one of Ann's must-read blog posts... just. so. absolutely. breathtakingly. beautiful!

I've been waiting for this particular blog post for a few days now... since I first found out that Ann and Katie spent a few days together. You see, Ann and her book One Thousand Gifts helped me realized my truest self... and Katie Davis' book Kisses From Katie has had a profound impact on my girl since she read it for her Independent Study Unit for English class last year. So, these two women getting the opportunity to meet face-to-face made my heart happy...

The story of their time together didn't disappoint... Ann goes on to write these words:
Love is complicated and the simplest thing in the world. And that is all there is.
We could write it on a million kitchen chalkboards: You are doing something great with your life – when you’re doing all the small things with His Great love.
You are changing the world – when you are changing one person’s world.
You aren't missing your best life – when you aren't missing opportunities to love like Christ.
Yes, love is truly all there is. Loving like Christ, that is... and doing all the small things with His Great Love. It's all about being an Esther, and not staying in the comforts of the palace... but getting out there, to the other side of the gate... where Christ is. Yes, where our Jesus Christ is.

So, yesterday, it was Canada's birthday...
Our family had the most awesome opportunity to serve "the least of these" at an initiative called Refresh, an outreach event organized by a ministry called Ephraim's Place Community Centre. I must say that it was the most meaningful Canada Day celebration that we've ever had as a family!

Here we are... at Refresh, with friends from our Home Church who joined us!

I have to be honest and say that, at first, I was quite hesitant to sign us up to volunteer at Refresh. It's a holiday Monday after all... Canada Day... a great day to perhaps go to a festival... or maybe go hang out by the lake... or have a BBQ in the backyard... then go watch some fireworks?!? 

I didn't want to give up and sacrifice a "well-earned holiday", especially since we've had a very busy school year and ministry year... and I felt like we "deserved" some rest. You know, to not be an Esther... to just stay inside the gate, to just stay in the palace and relax!

Yet, something compelled me to sign us up... Christ's love, perhaps? ;-)
Refresh has been happening for six years now, every summer. It is a unique program designed to create a strong sense of community, restore local pride, and improve the living conditions of those living in homes provided by Toronto Community Housing by refreshing the homes with a fresh coat of paint.

For those who aren't familiar with Toronto Community Housing, it is subsidized public government housing provided to low-income, under-privileged families. They are almost always in a cluster on their own within a certain community. Most of these homes are in a state of disrepair. They are filthy, old, run-down.  

We arrived bright and early on Canada Day and were quickly assigned a home to paint. We were encouraged to engage and relate with the home's occupants... to have God-conversations with them whenever possible.

We arrived at the home, which is part of a four-unit housing and were told that it was the very location where a boy named Ephraim was shot dead, caught in the crossfire of a gang shooting. 11-year-old Ephraim Brown's death was why the ministry of Ephraim's Place Community Centre came into being.

We stepped into the home we were going to paint and met the sweetest lady, Joyce, the home's occupant. Joyce is from Ghana and lives in that housing unit with her five children.

The house, however, isn't so sweet... the walls filthy, with drywall falling off and paint peeling... bugs can be seen crawling in some places... the carpet dirty and old... the kitchen is in even worse shape. Yet, this is the place Joyce calls home.

So we got down to business... 
We removed wallpaper borders and washed walls. We moved furniture and covered up the carpet with drop cloth. We taped and we prepped walls. We edged, brushed and rolled paint onto walls. We cleaned and vacuumed.

It was hard work... yet, my heart felt full... it felt great to be on the other side of the gate, to be brave as Queen Esther was, for such a time as this... so glad I didn't choose to stay in the palace!

A few of us engaged Joyce in conversation, as she busied herself in her kitchen. As we took short breaks, we stood outside in her small weed-filled backyard to get some fresh air... and we were able to take in the feel of this neighbourhood.

This neighbourhood definitely feels and looks different, vastly different from the pristine and well-manicured suburbs that we call home. It feels oppressed, poor, unsightly...

Yet, we saw children playing with each other outside just like in the suburbs. Neighbours congregated outside, chatting and laughing with each other, maybe even more so than the suburbs. 

These are people, just like us... precious people deeply loved by our Heavenly Father, the same way He loves you and me. Yet... why is it that we are so often so hesitant to love like Christ?    
Love is complicated and the simplest thing in the world. And that is all there is.
Soon, we were done our work and were ready to go. But first, Joyce wanted us to try some ethnic Ghanaian food... something she had been cooking up all morning long!

Hubby went first.
Then me. My girl isn't so sure about this...
But then she decided to be brave after all! :)

So, we gather up courage and try some of this cow stomach dish... well, let's just say, it was quite an interesting adventure. ;)

Honestly though... I'd eat some more of that cow stomach dish {gulp!} any day if it means this...
You are doing something great with your life – when you’re doing all the small things with His Great love.
You are changing the world – when you are changing one person’s world.
You aren't missing your best life – when you aren't missing opportunities to love like Christ.
Oh, and my body is not very happy today... aching and feeling sore in many places... I guess I'm not used to the physical demands of painting homes?!? Who knew?!? ;) But I'd endure this again any day as well... it's nothing that Advil can't fix! :)

Because... we changed Joyce's world yesterday... it was a small thing, just a fresh coat of paint in her living/dining room... but it was done with Christ's love compelling us... 

So glad our family didn't miss this opportunity to love like Christ!  

As I continue to count grace-gifts, with unending thanks... to The One who compels us to love beyond our comfort zones... these are the things I am thankful for this week... #3003 - #3010:
:: Celebrating 19 years with my best friend!!!
:: Visiting our friends at Camp Freedom and delivering a shelving unit they needed, one that we recently emptied and had me wondering what to do with. God answered my question with an email from Camp Freedom about a need for a shelving unit. :)
:: Last day of school! Summer is here!!!
:: The slower pace of life.
:: Rock climbing.
:: Sunday afternoon reading.
:: Making a difference, however small... such as in Joyce's home.
:: Baking cookies with my girl... cookies to send with my sister's medical missions team as they head to the Philippines tonight.
Hello July!
So God transfigures all the world? Darkness transfigures into Life, bad transfigures into good, grief transfigures into grace, empty transfigures into full. God wastes nothing - working "all things after the counsel of his will." ~ Ann Voskamp.
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!

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful way to spend Canada Day, cow's stomach and all! :o)