Monday, August 26, 2013

On Resting Yet Being Fully Engaged

It's the last week of summer...
School starts back up again for my kids next week. Ministry at church will ramp back up into a fuller schedule and work will pick up volume again for me.

It's been an awesome summer of rest for our family, one I am hesitant to let go of... I relished the lazy and unhurried days, the late mornings, the unscheduled weeks and the take-it-one-day-at-a-time disposition.

There were many things we thought we'd do, yet ended up not doing... because we chose rest, we chose to take it easy, we chose to just be. And, it honestly turned out to be the much better choice. 

Yet, in our choice to rest, we didn't disengage. 
I remember back to the teaching that our Lead Pastor gave us before the start of this summer season. He taught from the passages in the Book of John, Chapter 4, where Jesus ministered to the Samaritan woman by the well.

Jesus had just arrived in Sychar, a town in Samaria. Jesus, tired from His journey, sat down by Jacob's well to rest. Yet, in His time of rest, He didn't stop being on-mission. Through His conversation and ministry to the Samaritan woman, her life and the lives of the people in her community were radically transformed.

Our Lead Pastor urged us all to remain fully engaged and be actively on-mission as Christ-followers even during our time of rest this summer. And that is just what our family did! 

We just got back from our summer road trip...
It is the first day back to work for both hubby and me after being off for 10 days. As I sat down at my desk and logged on to my computer this morning, this news headline greeted me... of two teen boys, not much older than my own kids, shot to death. It is a sad and stark reminder that brokenness and hopelessness don't go on vacation, precisely why Christ-followers shouldn't take a vacation from being on-mission. 

To read this story on the CBCNews website, please click here.

This incidence of gun violence particularly shook me to the core because, once again, it happened in the Jane and Finch neighbourhood... where our friends at UrbanPromise's Camp Freedom and Ephraim's Place live!
It is the neighbourhood where our family went to help paint homes with Ephraim's Place at the start of this summer season.
It is the neighbourhood where my kids and I delivered fresh fruits and vegetables to UrbanPromise's Camp Freedom every Monday morning this summer season.
It is the neighbourhood where our church went to help put together an end-of-summer Community BBQ at Camp Freedom just this last week!
It is the neighbourhood God has most sent our family and our church to go and be the gift!
This incidence of gun violence propelled me to the start of our family's summer road trip, just 10 days ago. We started in Wilmington, Delaware... another city where UrbanPromise can be found, where we literally drove past a crime scene... cordoned off with yellow police tape, heavily swarming with police officers, with dozens of evidence markers right there on the sidewalk and on the street.

My girl has traveled there twice these last two years with our church's youth group in order to help UrbanPromise Wilmington with their ministry to inner-city children. She has told us story upon story about her experiences there and wished we could see the city with our own eyes.

So we decided to make Wilmington the first stop on our summer road trip this year!

And, my girl is right... her stories from Wilmington pale in comparison to seeing this city with our very own eyes. Trust me... God has truly gifted my girl with words. She writes with emotion and tells stories with zeal. Yet, her words... both spoken and written, could not have prepared me for what I saw in Wilmington. 

Because I don't think there are words that can adequately describe brokenness and hopelessness. It is something to be seen by the eyes and felt by the heart. 

As we drove through Wilmington's most poverty-stricken street, where the UrbanPromise children live, my heart broke... for the things that break God's heart. I couldn't even lift my camera up to take pictures. I felt that I would be invading these people's privacy and dignity by taking photos.

This one photo, which isn't even from that one street, somewhat paints the picture: people walking aimlessly, pushing empty grocery carts looking for recyclables they can resell, eerily quiet streets, people sitting on porch steps with empty stares, children wandering the streets on their own...

As much as my heart was broken, I gave thanks to God for the ministry of UrbanPromise. We got a tour of their facility from a staff member, Laurie. She so graciously welcomed us even though we dropped in unannounced.

I love UrbanPromise's vision and mission:
Our vision is to be a community in Christ of servant leadership and transformation, seeking a full life for all involved: urban youth, families, staff, and volunteers in the neighborhoods of our city.
The mission of UrbanPromise Wilmington is to equip children and young adults through Christ with the skills necessary for academic achievement, life management, personal growth and servant leadership.
They are equipping children and young adults, building character and teaching skills, through Christ! Yes, through Christ... which I believe is the most essential ingredient of all. Don't you?

Brokenness and hopelessness is only redeemable through Christ. This is true in the Jane and Finch community here in Toronto. This is true in the inner-city neighbourhoods of Wilmington. This is also true in all of our lives!

As we journeyed on with our summer road trip...
We continued to look for opportunities to be on-mission. Interestingly enough, we found God giving us more opportunities to learn about being on-mission, more than opportunities to be on-mission. We soaked in the opportunities... being fully engaged, and open to learning:

At the Wilmington Riverfront: Learning about our responsibility to care for and not abuse the land
which God has provided for our good.

By the Christina River: I was reminded once again... that "time flows like a relentless river."
We must not waste opportunities to be on-mission for Jesus!

At The Amish Village: Where we were inspired by how the Amish people
live simple and generous lives, in community with fellow Christ-followers.

At The Sight and Sound Theatres' production of Noah: We were inspired, yet again, by Noah's story of faith and radical obedience to God, even amidst mockery. He lived counter-culturally, as an ordinary radical!

Along the Susquehanna River: Again, "time flows like a relentless river."
Live an abundant cross-shaped life today! Now, today... not tomorrow.

At the Habitat ReStore in Lancaster: Where hubby had an opportunity
to offer some IT help/advice.

Yes, this! "Count your blessings, not your problems." Be the gift.

At an old 1800s school house, where this antique Bible was flipped
to Isaiah 58, "the fast which God accepteth."

Still at the old 1800s school house...
"Open your heart to the poor. Pray to do right."

Target gift cards, left in our hotel room for the cleaning ladies! 

At the Mennonite Information Centre in Lancaster:
"True evangelical faith cannot lie dormant."

Still at the Mennonite Information Centre: Let's pursue this dream, too!

All in all, this summer's been great and we had an awesome time of vacation!
We rested, we spent quality time as a family, we soaked in the learning, we remained fully engaged and on-mission for Jesus, we were indeed, truly blessed... just like what it says in these verses from Matthew 11:28-30:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (NIV)
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me — watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. (The Message)
Now, if summer could linger on for just a few more weeks...

:: :: ::

As I continue to count grace-gifts, with unending thanks... to The One who is always good and who always loves... these are the things I am thankful for this month... #3041 - #3054:
:: The blissful weeks of summer.
:: Time spent on vacation as a family.
:: Our family starting a Kiva account!
:: Some time spent with my entire extended family as part of our vacation in Lancaster, PA.
:: The opportunities God gives to be on-mission with Him.
:: How He loves relentlessly, always pursuing us and never letting go! 
:: Dinner with a young family from our church, and being inspired by their hearts' desire to be on-mission! 
:: Awesome planning meeting with our Lead Pastor and looking ahead into the Fall months and anticipating what God has in store for our church in terms of compassion and social justice initiatives!
:: A Compassion child sponsored!
:: Sleepovers! 
:: A surprise birthday party! 
:: Optometrist, dentist, orthodontist appointments. It is a gift to have access to these medical professionals!
:: The start of a great teaching series at church called "Mind The Gap". 
:: This finale, from the previous teaching series at church called "One Church"... called "Live A Salty Life!"... have a watch:

Hello Monday!
For true evangelical faith cannot lie dormant; but manifests itself in all righteousness and works of love. ~ Menno Simons.
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!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

On Being The Gift

So, how is it mid-August already?!?
As our family winds down for some vacation time, before the summer ends, I can't help but reflect back on just how fast this summer has gone by for us!

I'm glad that we took is easy... didn't plan so many structured activities... and just let lazy days go by, one by one.

We did do one scheduled thing, every Monday morning, for six weeks this summer. We shopped and delivered fresh fruits and vegetables to UrbanPromise's Camp Freedom, a ministry for under-privileged children living in government housing.

Towards the end of the ministry year in June, our church was able to bless this ministry with all of their snacks and supplies needs for the six-week summer camp. What a blessing it was for me to coordinate for all of this to happen! It truly is so awesome to be part of a faith community that truly gets what it means to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God!

Peeps from one of our Home Churches shopping for craft supplies!

Camp Freedom interns in their fully-stocked storage room.

Snacks for the entire summer!!!

However, there was still a gap. Camp Freedom still needed fresh fruits and vegetables to supplement their snack time with all summer long. Our family decided that we would be the gift and fill this gap!

Each Monday morning, my kids and I went grocery shopping... and drove into the Jane/Finch neighbourhood to deliver the fruits and vegetables. I would say that those Monday mornings count as the most meaningful and memorable moments of our summer!

Camp Freedom kids!

A week's worth of fresh produce for Camp Freedom.

As we head off for a short vacation, a volunteer team from our church family will be at Camp Freedom tonight as we help them out with their end-of-summer Community BBQ! Our church has budgeted to provide all the food for this evening's event which my kids and I went shopping for yesterday!!! You should have seen the looks we got at Costco with our cart full of 200+ hot-dogs and buns, among other things! :)

Hot-dogs and veggie trays!

Ice cream sandwiches and frozen juice.

And, all the other stuff... buns, chips, condiments!

We are sad to be missing the party tonight... 
But watching this video will help us feel better... as we party along with all our friends at Camp Freedom! Don't you just love their energy?!?

My favourite blogger, fellow Compassion Advocate and friend, Ann Voskamp, just celebrated her 40th birthday by being the gift. It is such an inspiration!!! It spurs me on toward more love and good deeds!

We are bringing these along on vacation to look for opportunities to #BeTheGift!

Friends, will you join in and be the gift too?
Go out on a limb and be the gift today... because...
We are the ones who look at the calendar, who see time passing by, who want our lives to add up to more meaning than some tacky glitz in our closet or some egotistical gleam in our garage, who want our lives to add up to an eternity of loving God. We are the young and the old and in between who are the Esther Generation who have been called for such a time as this – to risk our lives, to go out on a limb right now, for our family outside the gate. If you really are part of the family tree of God – you have to go out on a limb. You have to be the Giving Tree.
~ Ann Voskamp.
I had an interesting conversation the other day with someone who is on staff at a local church. When she found out that our family attends The Meeting House, she asked me a question. She wanted to know how people are responding to our church's "heavy emphasis" on compassion because, according to her, "It is always part of your teaching pastor's sermons."

I don't know the reason behind her asking me the question. Perhaps she is just genuinely curious. Perhaps she is wanting to implement something similar at her church. Perhaps it's just a topic for conversation and nothing more.

I couldn't help but "listen between the lines" though and feel that she yearns for more, of doing compassion more... perhaps in her own life or in the life of those who are part of her faith community.

I didn't know quite how to answer her... except to say that it really isn't seen, by the majority of our faith family, as an add-on to our lives but rather, a lifestyle, and that it saddens me to realize that it isn't so for many fellow Christ-followers today. Yes, "following Jesus includes serving and experiencing life among people who are on the margins of society. It’s a command that God doesn’t take lightly." It really isn't just something randomly taught by our teaching pastor. It is a command that God doesn't take lightly!
Nowhere is Jesus saying that the work of social justice is how you work your way to Christ.
Everywhere Jesus is saying that the work of social justice is the sign that Christ is at work in you.
~ Ann Voskamp.
So, why isn't this a lifestyle more commonly adopted by today's Christians?!?
This Tim Keller quote from Ann Voskamp's birthday blog post the other day struck a chord with me...
"This is a great shock to the people in the Bible-believing churches,” offers Tim Keller, “because they've always thought that, even though it’s nice to take care of the poor and it’s good to take care of people who are needy, and it’s a nice thing if you can get to it, almost everybody in the Christian church thinks of it as an optional thing. We should all worship. We should all evangelize. We should all have fellowship. We should all sit and listen to the Word of God. But social compassion is optional – Do you see how that’s not true?
It's the last few weeks of summer, friends!!!
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds...
~ Hebrews 10:23-24, NIV.
To sit in the theater of God and see His glory crack the dark, to open the eyes of my heart to see the fountain of His grace, 1000 and more, I have to split heart open to more and more of Jesus. Who can split open the eyelids but Jesus? He tears the veil to the Holy of Holies, gives me the only seeing I have. I have been lost and now I am found and I sing it softly, before the flying of the flocks south, "Be thou my vision, oh Lord of my heart."
~ Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts.
"My counsel for you is simple and straightforward: Just go ahead with what you’ve been given. You received Christ Jesus, the Master; now live him. You’re deeply rooted in him. You’re well constructed upon him. You know your way around the faith. Now do what you’ve been taught. School’s out; quit studying the subject and start living it! And let your living spill over into thanksgiving."
~ Colossians 2:6-7, The Message.

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