Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Brrrrr... It's Cold Outside!

It's cold indoors too...
The temperature this morning!
In fact, I haven't ventured outside today yet... and I sit here in my home office with the heat on full blast, wearing thick socks, plus my down-feather-filled vest, plus long-johns under my jeans... you get the picture... and still my toes are cold!

You see, much of North America is currently under a deep freeze in what they are calling a polar vortex!

Can you imagine how cold it must be outside?!? How about if outside *is* your home?

Today, my thoughts went to a group of men...
A group of men whose home *is* outside, whom our family met last Saturday. How are they surviving this bitterly cold and frigid day? Where did they sleep last night?

Our upside-down Christmas tree.

How did our family encounter these men, you might ask? Well, it all started with this idea of an upside-down Christmas... when our family decided that:
We’re hanging Christmas upside down this year so real love falls out of it.
We’re hanging Christmas upside down this year because we’re giving the whole Christmas season to Jesus and His Upside Down Kingdom, not just some tossed crusty edge off of it.

We decided that there wouldn't be the traditional gift exchange among ourselves this year. We decided that, instead, we would use the equivalent gift money to bless those who are in dire need. We decided that we would focus on people who call the streets of Toronto their home.

While we intended for this upside-down Christmas project to happen during the week of Christmas... because of some unforeseen circumstances that made the week of Christmas a little less than picture-perfect, it didn't.

Christmas break was fast coming to an end. We were determined to make this happen! We had one last weekend and we decided that it was then or never! {Okay... a bit of an exaggeration there... but you know what I mean, life takes over... work and school start back up again... and we'd forget about our upside-down Christmas project!}   

With everyone in tow, plus my girl's good friend who was sleeping over that night... we headed for the local shopping mall on Friday night. We had a great time shopping for all the items on our list in order to put these homeless care packages together.

Toques, socks, toothbrushes and tubes of toothpaste. Gift cards to Tim Hortons. Ingredients for sandwiches. Fruits cups, granola bars, snacks and sweets. Juice boxes. Pillows and blankets.

Then, we headed out the next day, on Saturday... praying that God would cross our paths with the very people who need these care packages the most.

We headed to The Danforth, to a grocery store where I sometimes shop... where I often see a homeless couple sitting outside on the same spot each and every time. The woman is the same one I blogged about here a while back. Sure enough, the man was there.

Hubby parked by the curb. The kids and I jumped out of the car and approached the man. He was very happy to see us and even happier that we had a care package for him. He shook our hands, said thank you and "Happy New Year!"... but before we turned to leave, he asked if we had some more care packages because his friends are across the street.  

I glanced across the street. Sure enough, on the front steps of St. Barnabas Anglican Church, a group of men were gathered together.

Photo Credit: Google Maps Street View

We had just the enough number of care packages left for the number of men in the group! Hubby lingered and chatted with them a little bit... learning that they spend their nights sleeping in a nearby school yard. 

This is where they sleep.

Now you know why I am thinking of them today.
The blankets we gave them wouldn't even be warm enough. The sandwiches and snacks are now long gone. Would three pairs of socks each even keep their feet warm enough? 

I don't know. I don't have answers. But this I do know... that every day should, no... not should, must, that every day *must be* an upside-down Christmas... where real love falls out of it, where we think of ourselves less and think of those in need more.

As this tweet from our Teaching Pastor so beautifully states:

As this New Year starts up...
I want to express that kind of love... a love that wills the good of another, especially the ones whom the Bible calls the least of these. I want to let love lead.

:: :: ::

As I let love lead and continue to count grace-gifts in this New Year, with unending thanks... these are the things I am thankful for these past months... #3138 - #3152:
:: The many opportunities to let love lead.
:: My girl's Freedom Creations initiative taking off and seeing $840 donated to International Justice Mission (Canada) in 2013.
:: A beautiful Christmas! Truly beauty in the broken.
:: My boy's Robotics Team's great finish!

:: The many Compassion events that our family has had the opportunity to volunteer at these past couple of months!

:: Our Home Church sorting Christmas toys at the local Salvation Army. 

:: An awesome Christmas dinner at an inner-city ministry... serving together with our church family.

:: Christmas baking!
:: An inspiring Christmas Eve service.
:: Seeing family and friends over the Christmas break.
:: Celebrating with our Lead Pastor as he got married.
:: Spending some time with my parents as they visited.
:: 2013 reflections...
:: A New Year... a new word.
:: Joining in The Jesus Project and memorizing selected verses from the Book of John, chapters 1-10, this year. Hopefully, with the whole family.
The Jesus Project. #memoryproject2014

On this first week of the New Year...
I am learning to let be and be still... and to pay more attention to my Jesus... and to be ready to act on the things that He has in store for me to do... because "all there is to see is Jesus."
It is one thing to choose to take the grace offered at the cross. But to choose to live as one filling with His grace? Choosing to fill with all that He freely gives... with glory and grace and God? 
It is a choice.
~ 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!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

On Being Still...

On this second day of the New Year...
It is time, once again, to give this New Year a name.... a word, because you see, for the past two years, I've chosen to focus on a One Word at the start of each new year and God has used each year's One Word to guide and steer me... for which I am truly grateful!

My One Word for 2012 was soar...

Soaring birds. Downtown Toronto, Summer 2011.

For 2013, my One Word was surrender... 

In a reflective mood and deep in thought. ~ Cape Cod, Summer 2012.

Words starting with the letter "S" must resonate with me a lot... 
... because my One Word for this year is: STILL 

In the days leading up to Christmas, I felt God saying to me, "Be still, and know that I am God!" --- it is the verse from Psalm 46:10 (NLT).

I looked up a few versions of the same verse and liked what I read...
Let be and be still, and know (recognize and understand) that I am God. - Amplified Bible.
Our God says, “Calm down, and learn that I am God!" - Contemporary English Version.
Let go of your concerns! Then you will know that I am God. - God's Word Translation.
Cease striving and know that I am God. - New American Standard Bible.
Be still, be calm, see, and understand I am the True God. - The Voice.
Give ye attention, and see ye, that I am God. - Wycliffe Bible.
By the Christina River, Wilmington (Delaware). Summer 2013.
Being still and capturing the beauty of God's creation on camera.

I love creating beautiful images to post on Instagram. I've learned that to capture beautiful images, one must be still. Similarly, I think... in order for me to not miss the beautiful moments in my every-days, I must learn to let be and be still... and recognize and understand that He *is* God!

Then, beautiful God-stories will unfold as a result.

This tweet by Eugene Cho says it quite eloquently...

Yes, it's my move!
I am looking forward to being still and paying more attention to God... to my Jesus... and seeing beautiful stories unfold as a result this year.

As Ann Voskamp articulated so beautifully in her blog post earlier today...
The most important life skill to have in 2014 is to live aware that Jesus is the only life I have.
The most important skill to have in 2014 is paying attention to Jesus — nothing else is worth spending your one beautiful year on.
Just be with Jesus. Listen to Jesus. Rest in Jesus. Wait for Jesus. Be Loved by Jesus. Wonder over Jesus. Live through Jesus.
When who Jesus is overwhelms you — nothing that happens can overcome you.
Steep your soul in Jesus and nothing is too steep to overcome.
All there is to see is Jesus.
For others to see Jesus in me. For me to see Jesus in others.
And I couldn't agree more. Yes, it's my move. 2014, here I come!

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

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


Happy New Year, friends!
Twenty fourteen already! Just how did that exactly happen?!? 2013 has truly gone by way too fast, flowing like a relentless river. In some ways, it has been like a blink of an eye... with many beautiful moments, sprinkled with some not-so-beautiful moments. But, as Ann Voskamp wrote in this blog post on New Year's Eve, "So I’m a mess and we’re all failures — at least all the honest are."

Needless to say, I wholeheartedly agree... and desperately cling on to that most beautiful thing called Grace... God's grace.

2013 has been marked by Grace... not sure how our family could have journeyed the year were it not for grace. I am deeply grateful.

Let's look back at the year that was, shall we?
I started off the year with my One Word... which is surrender. And surrender I did... by His grace, to His perfect will, learning the beauty of living a life surrendered to following His will. I am deeply grateful.
In January, on Human Trafficking Awareness Day, our newest Compassion child, Esperanza, came into our family's life in the most beautiful, God-ordained way. I must say that this is our first tangible action, as a family, to join in the fight to eliminate modern-day slavery! 
Also, did I already mention that her two given names, Luisa Esperanza, closely resembles hubby's dad's name? Such an awesome God-orchestrated coincidence, don't you think?
Just a month after, God heightened our awareness on human trafficking even more as we participated in an event called "Coldest Night of the Year." Later in the year, my girl launched Freedom Creations... which donates 100% of the proceeds to International Justice Mission!
God continued to stretch us and mold us, sending us places outside our comfort zone, waayyy outside... like to places where we unexpectedly found ourselves washing the feet of homeless people, to leading our church family in serving meals for the homeless community. All throughout, His grace has been abundant for which I am deeply grateful. 
In February, my girl turned 16! Yes, sixteen!!! I am continually amazed at God's grace at work in her life. Each day, I learn lessons from this amazing young lady. I am deeply grateful and deeply honoured for the privilege of being her mama.
My boy continued to improve and excel in the skill of speed-cubing... reaching the finals in a few of his events! How does he remember all those algorithms? If you'd like to see him in action, be sure to check out his YouTube channel... I promise you'll be amazed! 
God continued to have me practice surrendering to His will. In February, I surrendered and said "no" to an awesome job opportunity... one I thought was right for me. Clearly, God was telling me that it wasn't the right time yet... for which I am deeply grateful.
In March, my girl became a published writer! It was such a proud-mama-moment seeing her give all glory to God.
In April, my boy had an opportunity to participate in a rally marking "1,000 Days To Go" before the deadline for the fulfillment of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG). I was a proud mama as I watched and listened to him deliver his speech, a letter he's written to the Prime Minister of Canada... where he passionately spoke about his faith being his motivation for ending extreme poverty.
In June, my boy got baptized! The day was made even more special as hubby had the awesome privilege of being the one to baptize him. Tears still well up in my eyes as I reflect on how amazingly God's grace has been at work in my boy's life leading up to his baptism. He has grown up to be a young man after God's own heart... something I am deeply grateful for! Truly thankful!
Just a week or so after his baptism, God arranged for us to encounter a homeless man named Roger. This encounter deeply impacted my boy for which I am deeply grateful.
We said goodbye to our very trusty Subaru Legacy station wagon after 16 years... but not before my girl has had a chance to drive it for herself as a licensed driver! Why is this significant? You see, this was the same vehicle that brought my baby girl home from the hospital after she was born! Ah, now I'm becoming sentimental! 
Then, God so generously provided us with a new-to-us Subaru Legacy which we are happily driving now!
In July, a report from Compassion Canada was sent to us regarding the completion of the six-classroom building in the Compassion Development Centre in Masbate, Philippines where our Compassion daughter, Florianlyn, belongs to... which we raised funds for in September 2012.
This truly is a story of God multiplying meager offerings by a thousand fold! It is an experience that our family will forever remember, one that I am deeply grateful for!
July also saw us continuing to serve "the least of these" locally here in our city. We had the opportunity to join a unique service opportunity, painting homes for people living in government housing. It was a lot of fun!
My boy attended another speed-cubing competition. This time, it was the Canadian Open held at my Alma Mater, the University of Toronto! This competition gave him the opportunity to improve his rankings. He is now among the top 20 speed-cubers in Canada!
The summer months were eventful, to say the least. We went through a scary experience with my girl losing her vision temporarily. She is still experiencing symptoms on and off... and we have another doctor's appointment lined up this month. The agreed upon diagnosis seems to be ocular migraine or migraine with aura. We are praying and trusting... knowing that we have an all-powerful Heavenly Father.
We also enjoyed over a week of vacation time... part of it spent with my extended family. It was a refreshing time of rest amidst a very busy year!
In September, my boy turned 13 and officially became a teenager! It is truly an honour to be this boy's mama. Each day, he makes me want to be a better mom. He has truly made me a better version of myself... for which I am deeply grateful!
The Fall months were busy... and God's grace continued to be evidently at work in our lives for which I am deeply grateful! He so graciously orchestrated beautiful moments where our lives intersected with both the broken and the beautiful.... such as this story of why my hubby is a keeper, such as reaching and surpassing our church's goal of 1,000 pounds for our Thanksgiving Food Drive, such as celebrating Thanksgiving and living out thanks, such as being re-inspired and re-ignited to release more children from poverty in Jesus' name!

November was a big month for my girl as she was awarded the YMCA Peace Medallion for our region! This mama's heart swelled with joy as she, time and time again, gave glory to her Heavenly Father... His grace evident in her life! I am deeply grateful.
At the same time, we were heart-broken as Super Typhoon Haiyan heaped devastation on our beloved Philippines. We worried for the safety of our many relatives and friends and our beloved Compassion daughters and their families. We rejoiced upon hearing news of their safety... but to this day, our hearts still cry out for the many others who are still suffering.  
In December, my boy and his Robotics Team competed in his last FIRST Lego League Competition as he will be starting high school next year. It was bittersweet as it also marked the end of my five-year stint as his team's coach. Although we didn't qualify for the Provincial Tournament this year, this last competition ended sweetly with the team winning two of the most coveted awards, the Robot Design Award and the Robot Performance Award!
As I blogged yesterday, leading up to Christmas wasn't the most picture-perfect this year... yet God's grace is relentlessly present in both the broken and the beautiful... for which I am deeply grateful!
Family photo for our Yearend Newsletter.

Our Home Church sorting Christmas toys at the local Salvation Army.

Our church family serving at UrbanPromise Camp Freedom's Christmas Dinner.

Our upside-down Christmas tree.

After the Ice Storm of 2013.

After the ice storm, icicles everywhere!

Surprised by their Christmas presents as they thought
we weren't doing presents at all this year! #SantaDidItAgain

Photo booth fun at our Lead Pastor's wedding.

Wow! Thanks for looking back at 2013 with me, friends! 
Our God truly is gracious and He truly loves relentlessly. As I reflected on the year that has been, I am amazed anew... for He truly is faithful and His promises are always sure and true!

Happy New Year, friends!
As I look towards 2014, I am filled with anticipation for the things God has planned for our family... and my hope is in The One who makes all things new!
I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward — to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.
~ Philippians 3:13-14.
And, coming tomorrow... my One Word for 2014! Friends, may you bask in the goodness and grace of our loving Heavenly Father, not only on this New Year's Day, but throughout this New Year as well!

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