Friday, February 27, 2015

You Can #EndIt... with simple everyday choices!

It's #ShineALightOnSlavery day today...
Social media has lit up with countless selfies of people with a red X on their hand. I posted one earlier this morning too. Here it is...

Did you know that...
27 million people are still in slavery today? This quote is from the End It Movement website: " Can you imagine being forced to work without pay, trapped, unable to walk away, subject to violence or the threat of violence, by another person as they control you? Own you? Isolated, yet hidden in plain sight. This is reality for those trapped in slavery today. In the year 2015. Slavery is illegal in every single country in the world. Yet it still exists."

This morning, I prayed this prayer...
A prayer of repentance... for today and for these 40 days of Lent. In repentance, of loving myself too much... and loving God so little.

A few years ago, I came to realize that things like our clothing, our chocolate, our coffee and our smartphones {among many other things} depend on slave labour to be produced cheaply. Our family resolved to do and consume things differently.

Do you love baking with or eating chocolate or drinking hot chocolate? Watch this to see where chocolate comes from. Similarly, coffee and sugar cane are in the list of common agricultural goods produced with child labour.

How about the clothes we wear everyday? Do we know their source... where they are made and by whom? Watch this trailer to see a glimpse of the realities that many garment labourers are living in today.

{Watch the entire series of this documentary here.}

And it's not limited to that. Many people today are trafficked into slavery. Many more are in bonded and forced labour. 27 million of them! This should be enough reason to prompt us to do and consume things differently.

Friends, let's do more than just draw a red X on our hand today... 
Let's be freedom fighters everyday!!! I know that this is a big problem... but rather than being overwhelmed by it, why not join in and effect change by taking small steps, one step at a time?

Did you know that you can be a powerful and an effective freedom fighter from the comforts of your own home simply by making small changes in the things that you do and buy everyday?

I'd like to share a few ideas with you all... a few things that we do and choices that we make as a family, in order to help in the fight against modern-day slavery:

1. Buy Fair Trade
Buying fair trade basically ensures that you are not consuming something that has been produced with slave labour. It has become easier and easier to buy fair trade products in recent years. We started with the items that we consume regularly such as coffee, chocolate and sugar... but we also try to look for the fair trade symbol as much as possible when grocery shopping.

My most favourite place to buy fair trade products is Ten Thousand Villages. They have a flat rate shipping of $7 or free when you buy $100. It is super convenient to shop from home and their delivery is super fast!

The photo on the left is my favourite coffee. This is my favourite hot chocolate and I love this chai tea and this is the brown sugar and cane sugar that I buy.

Another food item we consume regularly that is also on the list of common agricultural goods produced with slave labour is rice. To this day, I have yet to find a fair trade source for rice.

2. Buy Local
Another way to ensure that we aren't consuming something that has been produced with slave labour is to buy local.

This includes food items such as fruits and vegetables and meats and dairy products... especially paying attention to reading labels during the colder months when local produce are harder to find.

Locally grown bouquets and flowers are a good idea as well because of slavery that exists in flower farms such as this one.  

I can't wait for the local farmers' market to start back up again... just three more months to go! ;)

3. Buy Less and Want Less
Sometimes, it is virtually impossible to avoid buying things produced with slave labour. I am talking about things such as clothing and electronics.

Free2Work is an awesome resource providing consumers with information on forced and child labour. I use this website to check how certain brands rate when it comes to trafficking and other labor abuses.

For instance, for the garment industry, I now know that H&M is rated A, Adidas and Levi's are rated B+ while Forever21 and Skechers are rated D-. This informs me on where I should be shopping. In the electronics industry, there is no one brand rated above a B+. Among the top rated brands are Microsoft, LG, Nokia and Apple.

These ratings tell me that sadly there is hardly anything today in the apparel and electronics industry that have been produced without slave labour. Our family's solution to this dilemma is to buy less and to want less.   

This means owning just enough pieces of clothing for our needs and wearing them until they are worn out. I admire my boy's commitment to this. He owns just enough clothes that he has to do his laundry every weekend in order to have clean clothes to wear. He also only owns one pair of running shoes and one pair of boots.

When it comes to electronics, this means that we are mindful of not always wanting the newest gadgets and only owning the bare minimum for what we need and using them mindfully to prolong their lifespans. Computers and smartphones are used until they die {even if a free upgrade is available}. Tablets aren't replaced the minute a new one is released in the marketplace. The same goes with most, if not all, of our household electronics and appliances.     

4. Do Something
Lastly, we can all do something. Might I suggest a few initiatives that you can consider?

1. Freedom Creations
My girl started a social enterprise called Freedom Creations in October 2013. In her own words: "Freedom Creations was birthed from a passion for social justice, a want to do something to help end modern-day slavery and a love for knitting and creating. I so believe that each and every one of us was created with a purpose and made for freedom."

100% of Freedom Creations' proceeds are donated to International Justice Mission Canada. To date, over $2000 have been donated

If you are looking for an awesome hand-knitted hat or a warm and cozy scarf, be sure to shop at Freedom Creations! :)

2. International Justice Mission:
Support the work of IJM directly. IJM’s mission is "to protect the poor from violence by rescuing victims, bringing the criminals to justice, restoring survivors to safety and strength, and helping local law enforcement build a safe future that lasts."

IJM works to "combat slavery, sex trafficking, property grabbing, police abuse of power and sexual violence in nearly 20 communities throughout Africa, Latin America and South and Southeast Asia."

IJM's vision is "to rescue thousands, protect millions and prove that justice for the poor is possible."

Here is a heart-warming story of rescue:

3. Compassion International:
Last, but not least... sponsor a Compassion child today in order to give them a safe haven and to protect them from the traps of modern-day slavery!

Here is how your sponsorship works:

Friends, if you are still reading...
Thank you! Thank you for bearing with me today and reading to the end of this super-long blog post. I hope that I have inspired you to jump in and do something... however small. 

Each act, each choice, each step we take... will bring the end of slavery that much closer to becoming a reality for these 27 million of our global brothers and sisters, each one of them as precious and as valuable as we are as a human being, each one infinitely loved by our Heavenly Father.

Friends, let's do something today. Let's #EndIt for them!   
By Grace, today, I will fast from wanting more, instead of Giving More. We repent, Lord, that our clothing, our chocolate, our coffee, and our smart phones depend on slave labour for producing these goods cheaply, so we have more money in our wallets regardless of how much life and soul it costs someone else. Today, we will give thankfully -- so others can thankfully live. ~ Ann Voskamp.
Brothers and sisters, God has called you to freedom! Hear the call, and do not spoil this gift by using your liberty to engage in what your flesh desires; instead, use it to serve each other as Jesus taught through love. ~ Galatians 5:13.

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

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Thoughts on Lent...

Lent kind of crept up on me this year...
Ash Wednesday fell on the same day as this young lady's 18th birthday. We celebrated this milestone birthday by going out to dinner at a fairly new Korean-style restaurant in town. {Side note: Korean Cowboy is a must-try if you are a foodie.}

As we started chowing down on kimchi fries, mocha pork belly and Korean tacos... it dawned on me that it was already Ash Wednesday. In fact, Ash Wednesday was almost over by that time.

The day before, on Shrove Tuesday, I read this blog post by Ann Voskamp and posted this excerpt on my Facebook wall:
On this Shrove Tuesday before the start of ‪#‎Lent‬... this is my prayer and the confession of my heart...

People are dying for the faith we take for granted, that we take and hide under a bushel, that we take and paint vanilla so we don’t get persecuted.
Are we people who humbly take up the Cross and take our faith seriously — or people who seriously take and hide our faith under a humble bushel?
That’s what we get to decide and carry home, carry in our heads, carry around in what we read, what we watch, what we support, what we cheer: Cheap Plastic Commercialized Feel-Good Love?
Or Wood Passionate Cross Made-New Love? Worth humbly laying down our lives for.
I want that — I want to be counted as People of the Cross, carrying around the Cross in my head — because that’s the only way there will be real love in my hands and feet and heart.
So the People of the Cross will pray that our faith in our Saviour is worth laying down our life for our Saviour. We will pray that we don’t live lives of cheap grace but of costly Christianity.
Too long The People of the Cross have crusaded for safe lives, too long we’ve wished for comfortable lives, too long we’ve wanted easy lives of Vanilla Love instead of Cross-shaped Love.
But the People of the Cross — we are done with safe lives of comfort instead of living dangerous lives that speak of the comfort found in Real Love who hung on a Cross."
~ Ann Voskamp.
We read the entire blog post as a family after eating hubby's home-made pancakes for dinner... because that's what you're supposed to do on Shrove Tuesday right? Eat pancakes for dinner. :)

As I read aloud, in my heart I said, "Yes! Yes, I want to be counted as one of the People of the Cross..."

Early the next day, on Ash Wednesday, I read Ann's next blog post, one meant to kick-off this season of Lent... The Call for the Next 40 Days: To the Nations and People of The Crossbut I didn't take the time to really absorb its message due to the busyness of that day.

In fact, it has been such a busy season... that I hadn't even thought about what we should be doing as a family for Lent this year.

It wasn't until Thursday when I really had the time to sit down and absorb this powerful, powerful, powerful Lenten message...
On an Ash Wednesday, The People of the Cross repent of wanting to be greatly known for anything other than for loving greatly.
The People of the Cross repent of loving our agendas more — instead of interrupting our agendas because we love Jesus most.
We repent of loving You, Lord, so little because we have loved ourselves too much.
What if the next 40 days is asking The People of the Cross to do more than Give Up something — but to Take Back something?
Take Back taking up our Cross,
Take Back our time so we can turn back to our First Love,
Take Back our hypocrisy and our complacency and our apathy and Love Lavishly,
Take Back our excuses for not committing to Give Back every day in some tangible, real way — to the local food bank, to a woman’s shelter, to the refugees and the foreigners and the Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists and to the forgotten neighbour next door with her meowing stray cat.
Maybe now is the time —
Now is the time to Take Back what it means to humbly and genuinely live the love of The People of the Cross.
~ Ann Voskamp.
Ah, yes... yes, I do know it... I do! Lent is not going through the motions of the supposed-to-dos... of eating pancake dinners and of reading devotionals and of giving up something.

It is more than that. Way more than that...

It is praying this prayer... it is repenting of loving God so little because we love ourselves too much.

{Please press the "play" button to hear this powerful prayer.}

Perhaps it's a blessing in disguise that Lent kind of crept up on me this year. There are no meal plans prepared. There are no devotional plans ready. There are no plans to give up anything. There are no plans of any sort lined up at all.

Except for the above prayer. A call to repentance...

One I am badly needing to pray. Everyday, for the next 40 days of Lent. In repentance, of loving myself too much... and loving God so little.

Refreshed anew with the right perspective on Lent...
Our family got ready to head out for the weekend. We were scheduled to serve as Compassion Advocates at two events over the weekend, including a huge conference for youth and youth workers.

#1000gifts ~ This SUNSHINE as we drive across the city to represent Compassion Canada at the Today's Teens conference this weekend!

Upon arriving at the event on Friday night, we were surprised to learn that my girl has been invited to speak the next day about Compassion's ministry and to promote their upcoming youth curriculum, True Story {#TrueStorySeries}, of which she is the host.

#1000gifts ~ Excited to be promoting @compassionCA #TrueStorySeries at Today's Teens conference this weekend! Check out to watch the trailer. You just might recognize someone. :) #proudmama

As I watched my girl share her heart with hundreds of her peers that day and as I thought about why we have chosen to spend our entire weekend advocating for children living in extreme poverty, it dawned on me that this, this is exactly what it means to observe Lent and to live as People of the Cross... {and I am paraphrasing Ann Voskamp}:

When we want to be greatly known for nothing else but for loving greatly.

When we interrupt our agendas because we love Jesus.

When we repent of loving God so little because we love ourselves too much.

When we take back taking up our Cross.

When we take back hypocrisy and complacency and apathy and Love Lavishly.

Let it be so... 
Let me be counted as one of the People of the Cross... one who acts justly, loves mercy and walks humbly with the God of Justice everyday and in all of my ways. This is my prayer.

I recently came across this song, God of Justice by Tim Hughes. I love these words...
We must go, live to feed the hungry,
Stand beside the broken, we must go.
Stepping forward, keep us from just singing,
Move us into action, we must go.
To act justly everyday.
Loving mercy in every way.
Walking humbly before You God.
Have a listen here...

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

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Eighteen Candles!

18! 十八! Napulo ug walo! Dieciocho! Dix-huit!
That's right, e-i-g-h-t-e-e-n. My baby girl, this child who made me a mama, celebrates her eighteenth birthday today!!! Just where has all that time gone to and why has it flown by this swiftly?

Time truly flows like a relentless river... I am very much undeserving of such wild grace, this immensely beautiful gift and sacred privilege of being mama to this amazing and beautiful young lady... and for this, I am humbled... and deeply grateful to my Heavenly Father for His extravagant love and unending grace. He truly gives beautiful gifts.
Every good gift bestowed, every perfect gift received comes to us from above, courtesy of the Father of lights. ~ James 1:17
Hubby and I found out we were expecting just mere days before I graduated from the University of Toronto's School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (now Daniels Faculty). I had my eyes set on a career as an Urban Planner, motherhood far from my mind. I was surprised by this gift... surprised by motherhood!

As my belly started to swell and stretch and this life started to visibly grow within that hollow space inside of me, I marvelled at the miracle of life. I was surprised by this gift... surprised by motherhood!

On that cold and wintry February day, when my body signalled to me that the time had arrived for us to meet this baby face to face... and when after twenty-six hours of intense labour, this loud yet breathtakingly beautiful baby girl joined our family, I fell in love in a way that I didn't know I could. I was surprised by this gift... surprised by motherhood!

When my eyes gazed upon the face of this sweet cherubic little human and I knew right then and there that the only way to spend my days is to raise her up to be truly great... and when, right at that very moment, becoming an Urban Planner suddenly no longer seemed important to me... and when, right at that moment, I set my heart on being at home and chose to become a full-time mama, my heart skipped a beat. I was surprised by this gift... surprised by motherhood!

Side Note: Here are two of my all-time favourite quotes on what it means to raise truly great kids, not as the world would define greatness to be, but what being great for God's Kingdom looks like...
True greatness is a passionate love for God that demonstrates itself in an unquenchable love and concern for others. ~ Dr. Tim Kimmel, Raising Kids for True Greatness.
Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither. ~ C.S. Lewis.
Even though I eventually started working from home soon after my son was born, I've cherished this gift of being able, all these years, to work yet be at home both at the same time... being the first to kiss boo-boos, the first to see first steps, the first to hear first words, the first to be happy and to be sad with them... and many, many, many countless other firsts. I was surprised by this gift... surprised by motherhood!

From late-night feedings to early-morning wake-ups, from diapers to potty-training, from sleep-training to tummy-time, from mushy cereals to table foods...

From bedtime stories to good-morning cuddles, from ballet lessons to piano lessons, from meal-time struggles to bath-time giggles, from tangled hair to braided hair...

From disappointing basketball try-outs to celebrating straight-A report cards, from the first day of Kindergarten to the last day of elementary school, from the first day of high school to choosing universities...

From cheering loudly at basketball games to applauding proudly at concerts and recitals, from the first loose tooth to wearing braces, from a trike to a bike, from triple-jumps at track and field days to roller-blading down the neighbourhood sidewalks...

From a provincial writing award to a regional humanitarian award, from doing the hard thing to grappling with brokenness, from an adorable baby girl to a super-talkative toddler, from a strong-willed little girl to a determined young woman who is beautiful both inside and out...

From holding her hand to releasing her to fly... through it all, this mama has been utterly surprised by this gift... surprised by motherhood!

My prayer for this girl since the day she was born has been the verses from Isaiah 61:1-3... that, as an image-bearer of her Heavenly Father, she will be Jesus' hands and feet... to proclaim good news to the poor, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release prisoners from darkness, to comfort all who mourn... that she will be an oak of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendour.

These eighteen years have been pure gift, wild grace... a blessing! Motherhood has been the single hardest, yet most fulfilling, thing I have ever done. I wouldn't trade it for anything else...
Bend the knee and be small and let God give what God chooses to give because He only gives love, and whisper surprised thanks. This is the fuel for joy's flame.
Happy Birthday, Alyssa!
I am forever grateful and count it as pure joy that God gave you to me, a daughter... a precious gift! You continually inspire me as you courageously and humbly live each day as an "oak of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendour."

I love you very much... more than words can ever express {whether in person or right here on this blog}! 

I can't wait to see the brave and beautifully radical God-things waiting for you as you embark on pursuing an education, and eventually a career, in International Development {entering the University of Toronto as a President's Scholar of Excellence this Fall, at my alma mater no less! #proudmama :)}, to live out your passion to speak out for those who are denied a voice.

A photo posted by alyssa (@_godsgal4ever) on

When your daddy and I first gazed upon your beautiful face in those small hours before that dawn of day 18 years ago, we wouldn't have dared to imagine that this is what your life's work and passion would shape into. Yet seeing all that God has accomplished in your life so far, I am in awe realizing that this is the path that your Heavenly Daddy has prepared in advance for you to walk... because He is One who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine!
For we are the product of His hand, heaven’s poetry etched on lives, created in the Anointed, Jesus, to accomplish the good works God arranged long ago. - Ephesians 2:10
My beloved daughter...
As you step into adulthood, your mama can't help but beam with pride... deeply grateful for God's grace at work in your life. As you pursue God's calling and continue to embrace all that He has in store for you... may this be always true of you:
May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. ~ Galatians 6:14
{Please pause the playlist on the sidebar of this blog as you watch this video.}
"The words leave my lips: 'When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace. For I am Yours, and You are mine.' I'm painfully aware of what I'm saying." ~ Alyssa{Video background music: "Oceans" from Brad Guldemond's "Lord I Need You EP"}

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