Monday, May 22, 2017

The Story We Live By

It's funny how reading can convict you to write.

I'm taking The Canadian Short Story in summer school right now--a fun elective for the summer.

And it is totally convicting me to write.

We live stories that either give our lives meaning or negate it with meaninglessness. If we change the stories we live by, quite possibly we change our lives. 
--Nigerian storyteller Ben Okri

That quote resonated with me deep.

I hoped to be around this blog more this year. But many times I've felt word-less. Why write? I thought, Is there really any thing left to be said in this world?

Yes. That's what I hear zing through my heart as my professor reads it out: We live stories. Stories change lives. 

The writer deep inside me always knows this, of course. But sometimes I needs a reminder.

And when the world feels like it's imploding on itself, it can be hard to comprehend the power of a simple story.

But what about that story of a God who loved us so much that He refused to leave us in this imploding world all on our own?

So He made a plan and suddenly--God with us, showing us the way to live our stories. To live compassion and humility and servanthood and peace.

Then He spread his arms wide at calvary and took the brunt of the worst this imploding world had to offer... and He defeated it.

What. About. That. Story?

Yeah--that's the story that gives our life meaning.

And until every heart knows the immense, overwhelming beauty of it, we must tell it again and again and again. No matter how many times it takes--because the Love in this story is relentless.

So yes, yes, yes. Artists and singers and filmmakers and thespians and yes - writers, too. We must tell stories, and live stories, and change lives.

Because until every life lives transformed by the Greatest Story of a Man on a cross, defeating death and inviting all to the resurrection...

There are still more stories to be told of lives transformed by the Good News that He is making all things new.

Does this mean I'll blog more? Perhaps. I do know that words are slowly coming back, and that feels good.

Monday, January 30, 2017

There Is No Neutral

I don't know about you, but I am starting this week feeling incredibly heavy. burdened. weary.

The weekend started with the Muslim ban. People were detained in airports because of the passport they carry. Families who had been going through a gruelling application and vetting process had their hopes of starting fresh in the safety of a new home totally crushed. Some had been in the pipeline for 3 years and had just a few months or weeks left before boarding the plane. Instead, they were told they had to stay where they were--in their imploding cities or nearby camps, living in extreme poverty.

And still, so many people carried on cheering for this policy.

By the time Sunday night came around and news came through of a mass shooting at a Quebec mosque, I just wanted to shut it all out. As if that would make it stop.

photo source

There is no neutral anymore. This is the time for the Church to be the Church.

We're no longer allowed to say, "I don't do politics." Because this isn't about politics. This is about humanity. This is about the Kingdom. This is about Jesus.

Church, this is not the time to disengage. This is not the time to preach recycled sermons and have quiet small groups and be apathetic and have shallow fun at youth group and spend another night at family midweek getting spiritually fat.

This is the time to engage like never before. To not only engage but shape, inform, and cultivate culture and society like the Church has been known for throughout history. To passionately preach subversive peace and radical love. To roll up our sleeves and get to work welcoming strangers and feeding the hungry and clothing the naked and visiting the sick and imprisoned.

Church, if we hadn't yet, we have officially lost the ability to be neutral. Either we stand up for the marginalized, or we oppress them ourselves. Either we pick up our cross, or we are the Romans cracking the whip and driving the nails.

There is no other way around this. This goes beyond borders. This goes beyond politics.

This is what the Church is on this earth for. When governments won't protect the marginalized, when nobody else will... the Church will. That is who we are. That is who our Saviour is: One who was so often moved with compassion. One who was a refugee. One who protects the vulnerable.

Perhaps, this is the very moment for which we were created. And no, we can't afford to sleep through this moment. We just can't.

Pray like you have never prayed before. Be the Body of Christ in real, tangible ways. Contact your elected officials. Welcome a refugee. Raise awareness. Learn. Donate to people spreading Christ's hope on the ground.

And love. Love like you never have before.

Because Love conquers all.

Jesus conquers all.

Come, Lord Jesus. Come.

Build Your Kingdom here.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

#OneWord2017: Presence

Better late than never?

One of my Christmas vacation goals was to renovate the blog and thereafter, get a post up semi-regularly again. It's taken longer than expected, but here it is.

I missed this place! Last year was sporadic at best, and I seriously missed the time of reflection that blogging brought to my life. Nothing made that more evident than my lack of a one word last year.

It's not that I centre my whole life around my one word. In fact, I'm not always very good at focussing on the goals the word is supposed to represent.

But God has used my various words to speak into my life, help me find some themes in certain seasons, and really just have something to anchor my journey and growth in for the year - be it spiritual, personal, professional, academic, or otherwise.

All that to say, I resolved to find a word for 2017.

I landed on presence.

I want to be more aware of God's presence this year. I want to be open to it, to be actively listening for Him, and to be aware that He is present and working in every moment, every situation, every life.

I want to be present right where I am, wherever that happens to be, in whatever I happen to be doing. As a student living in 4-month bursts, it is so easy to look to next semester, to the summer, to my co-op placement next year, to what's next? after graduation. More than that, I am also involved in a lot of different things at school, at church, with Compassion, and personally, and it is so easy to be doing one thing while thinking about something else entirely.

But I want to recognize that God is doing something right here. Right now. In each moment, something is happening and more often than not God is orchestrating something beautiful before our eyes. And I want to be present for that. I don't want to miss out on the incredible things He is doing in the here and now. 

I don't want to sleep through the important moments. I want to stand in the river, expecting God to do something big if I show up, be present, and expect Him to move in world-shaking ways.

That is my #OneWord2017! A few concrete New Year's resolutions include blogging regularly, continuing to build the skill of speaking as I speak at gatherings and events, and reading the entire Bible this year.

I am glad to have this space refreshed and revived and I am so looking forward to the year ahead!

How about you? What's your #OneWord2017?

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Aleppo and Advent

Just over 2000 years ago, an oppressed, forgotten people waited for a Saviour.

A Messiah. A King.

And they expected chariots and fire and revolution and war. They expected the overthrowing of their oppressors by a mighty king and ruthless warrior.

Instead they got a baby. A carpenter. A small-town boy who just so happened to be God Himself.

This is what we celebrate at Christmas.

Today, oppressed and forgotten people wait for a saviour all over our bleeding, broken world. Today, the oppressed, forgotten people of Aleppo wait to be saved, and many wait in vain.

And we expect fire to rain from heaven. Miraculous intervention. We expect Him to move mountains and do the supernatural.

It’s the season of advent. A season of waiting. And we wait. We wait and we wait and we wait... But what if He’s waiting for us? What if He’s saying: “I already came. And I left it now to you to continue.”

What if this whole bleeding world is waiting for us to be the Body of Christ—broken and poured out and given?

We wait. And rightfully so, we wait for the day that He makes all things new.

But perhaps we can do more. Perhaps He is actively making all things new and how can He do that but through His Church? Through His Body. Through us.

So, as we wait in this advent season, let’s consider that maybe the world is waiting for us. Waiting for us to stand up and mean it when we say “never again”. Waiting for us to stand up and be the Church. Waiting for us to stand up and be the broken-and-poured-out Body of Christ to a world that so desperately needs Him.

Let’s not utter Come, Lord Jesus, unless we’re willing to be the vessels through which He comes.

Let’s not celebrate His birth unless we’re willing to be the ones who breathe a courageous, Mary-like yes to birthing Love Himself into the world each and every day.

Because it’s advent, and millions of people are waiting for a Saviour.

So, come, Lord Jesus. Come.

Here are 3 ways we can can be the Church to the people of Aleppo and Syria:
:: Sign this petition, calling on the Canadian government to protect the people of Aleppo.
:: Sponsor a refugee family to come to Canada.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Lessons on Giving from the Country of Haiti

My reflections on my family's recent trip to Haiti to visit our two Compassion children...

The Western World has given a lot to Haiti.

Billions of dollars in aid. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of shipments of in-kind donations and material goods. Countless missions trips, volunteer trips, foreign consultations, UN missions, humanitarian missions, long-term placements.

And yet Haiti remains the most underdeveloped country in the Western Hemisphere.

All too often, people point to Haitians and say they must be doing something wrong with all that they've been given. But the people I met this summer - they are bright, warm, vibrant, welcoming, kind, compassionate, humble, joyful, smart and hard-working. They have families that they want the best for and futures that they dream of. They are just like you and me. They are no different, and no less capable of taking what's been given to them and creating a life in which they, their families and their neighbours can thrive.

In fact, being capable of that is part of the DNA God created us with. God gave to humanity all of creation and charged us with stewarding it to cultivate life, beauty, and community... to be human is to be capable of thriving when given something that Creator God deems very good.

And so perhaps, just maybe - could I ask a hard question here? 

Could it be us? Could it be us in the West that is doing something wrong with all that we've been given? 

You see, we were given all of creation and told to cultivate something beautiful for ourselves, for each other, for the glory of our Creator... but that wasn't enough for us. We wanted more. And in this greed for more, we've gotten good at taking what we've been given to create good lives for ourselves. So good, in fact, that we've created comfortable lives. Luxurious lives. Extravagant lives.

And what started out as using our God-given gifts to fulfill our mandate to cultivate creation and thrive in community, has turned into a horrible, destructive, broken tendency to create luxury for ourselves at the expense of others.

At the expense of a country like Haiti. 

It's rare of me to make sweeping generalizations about a country. And to be sure, there are huge inequalities in Haiti. There is a middle class and a select few ultra-rich.

But generally, what I saw there was poverty like I'd never seen it before. I saw poverty not as a crippling thorn or an urgent need. I saw poverty as the accepted way of life.

All because the West has given Haiti its leftovers. We've given our second-rate stuff. The stuff we need to get out of the way in order to make room for the next season's latest. We've given our time but not our lives. We've given haughty advice but not humble attentiveness. We've given money but not sacrifice nor love.

This is a super common sight everywhere here in Port-au-Prince... second-hand clothes for sale everywhere you see. These are clothes donated by people from America & Canada. Yes, donated clothes ending up being for sale! We who are from the first world need to curb our appetite for excessive consumerism which results in over-stuffed closets and having to donate our clothes often. If we own less and if we wear our clothes to the threads, then this problem wouldn't exist. Yes, it is a problem... because this practice has literally killed the garment industry here in Haiti. It is now mostly just for export. Haitians get to buy the very clothes they made only when those same clothes come back into Haiti as donated second-hand garments. This is just one aspect of this problem... I could say more, but this post is long enough already! This Jesus-call to live justly has many layers and many different ways of how we can change the way we live & consume... one of which is "to live simply so others may simply live." #Esparaz2Haiti #DoJustice #LoveMercy #WalkHumbly
A photo posted by Aimee Esparaz (@mama2greatkids) on

For the first time in my life, I understood why Jesus condemned the rich people who gave at the temple out of their excess because I saw the damage that giving out of my own excess has done. The clothes I've bagged and sent to thrift stores without checking where those clothes actually go. The cheap toys or second-rate stuff I've sent with mission teams. I will be the first to raise my hand and say that I have not always given thoughtfully, sacrificially or generously.

We've given to Haiti out of our excess. We've given our leftovers, our second-hand stuff, our after-thoughts. What we've given has indeed not been what Creator God would call very good.

You see, we've given clothes, but we've taken away the business of a seamstress.

We've given rice, but we've taken away the livelihood of a farmer.

We've given houses, but we've taken away the dignity of home.

We've given stuff, but we've taken away the empowerment in choosing your possessions for yourself.

We've given aid and development programs, but we've taken away the pride in building up your own life, your own community, your own nation.

We thought we were giving so much, but were we really? We were giving the leftovers of our luxury so we could replace it with more luxury, and in the process we've taken away the people of Haiti's ability to fulfill their God-given mandate to take His very good creation and cultivate beauty, life, and community.

And yet.

Despite all that we've taken, the Haitian people and the country of Haiti still give.

They gave to my family and me as we were their guests for 6 days.

They welcomed us warmly. Like that moment when the mother of our Compassion boy Bell Bradley, Margaret, welcomed us into her home with such exuberance and joy and song that our translator could barely get a word in - but it didn't matter... Welcome sounds the same in every language.

A photo posted by Aimee Esparaz (@mama2greatkids) on

They opened their homes and their families to us. Like that moment we sat in our Compassion girl, Linsey's home and shared conversation and laughter and gifts and precious time with her entire family. Or those crazy-bumpy car rides during which we shared laughter and conversation with Bell Bradley's family.

#1000gifts #Esparaz2Haiti ~ Here we are inside Linsey's home with her mom and her 3 siblings. I want to just take a moment and tell you about her mom. This women is the same age as me. A single mom, struggling to feed her family. Her average income is US$100 per month. The difference between her and me is merely because I was born into privilege and she wasn't. We could've easily switched places... We asked what her family's greatest need is right now because we wanted to buy them a gift and she told us... a solar lamp, so that the kids can do their homework at night because electricity is very much touch & go here in Haiti. A solar lamp. Having light. Their most pressing need. Friends, we take that for granted in Canada! Needless to say, we got them a solar lamp! Proverbs 3:27-28 says: Do not withhold what is good from those who deserve it; if it is within your power to give it, do it. Do not send your neighbor away, saying, “Get back with me tomorrow. I can give it to you then,” when what he needs is already in your hand. Friends, we hold so much power & privilege in our hands. Let's do something with it to lift up the poor and the downtrodden among us... it's the least we can do! #TheDifferenceIsJesus #ChildSponsorshipWorks #InTheFightAgainstPoverty #JesusWins
A photo posted by Aimee Esparaz (@mama2greatkids) on

#1000gifts ~ This is our @CompassionCA son Bradley. He & @genius4jesus are birthday buddies! Next week, Jon will turn 16 and Bradley will turn 10! Two boys whose lives could not be any more different. One born into privilege in Canada, one born into extreme poverty in Haiti. We are grateful that God has used the ministry of @Compassion and invited us to be a part of bridging this gap. Bradley is a budding trumpet player and attends Holy Trinity Music School, home of the Holy Trinity Philharmonic Orchestra, the country’s best! Bradley is part of a program specifically aimed at youths living in the most disadvantaged areas of Port-au-Prince. This school provides training in music for Haitians of all ages and from all social strata. With Compassion's help in paying for school uniforms and extra school fees, Bradley is able to attend this prestigious school & has a head-start for the future! #Esparaz2Haiti #TheDifferenceIsJesus #ChildSponsorshipWorks #InTheFightAgainstPoverty #JesusWins
A photo posted by Aimee Esparaz (@mama2greatkids) on

They shared their talents with us. Like that moment Linsey burst into song and shared her beautiful voice with us as we sat with her in the Compassion Centre's library. Or that moment Bell Bradley did the same the next day! (Singing was a theme of our visit days.) Or like those vendors who shared their beautiful crafts with us to take home as memories of our time in Haiti.

This is George whom @papa2greatkids is talking to. We met George & a few of his friends, Remy & Arnold among others, right when we arrived at the beach. They paddle along the beach selling souvenirs that they've made. Occasionally, the guards from the resort come by to shoo them away. At one point, we saw armed military personnel come to "scare" them away from the shore. My first inkling of what they do came from a local, a Haitian man who, like us, is also enjoying the resort. He said to me, "If you are looking to buy souvenirs, you should buy from them. They're just looking to make a living." We ended up buying about US$35 worth of souvenirs from three of them... a painting, a couple bracelets, a fridge magnet. They said we could haggle, we didn't. All day we were at the beach. They were too and I didn't see them have much more sales all day. Wow! If you buy into the stereotype that the poor are poor because they are lazy, this story should make you rethink that. All day long, these men paddle along the beach in the scorching heat. We saw them again the next day. That's hard work. Very hard work for probably less than $15 of sales. Sales, not profit. My point in sharing this story is this... the poor are hardworking people. They just lack opportunity. When it is in our power to give them a hand up, we should! One way that I know works is through child sponsorship with @CompassionCA/@Compassion. Friends, it works! I've seen it firsthand. Also, next time you're vacationing in one of these countries, make sure you engage with the locals and buy your souvenirs from them & not from the resorts' boutiques! Oh, and please don't haggle. ;) #Esparaz2Haiti #TheDifferenceIsJesus #ChildSponsorshipWorks #InTheFightAgainstPoverty #JesusWins
A photo posted by Aimee Esparaz (@mama2greatkids) on

Haiti gave me rest and rejuvenation before the beginning of this new school year. Like those days at the beach resort where ocean waves and sandy beaches were the perfect company to rest and reflect and prepare my soul for the year ahead.

Haiti taught me lessons that a classroom would never be able to teach me. Like lessons about the power of a faithful organization such as Compassion, faithfully reflecting Christ to their own communities as the local church and gaining the trust and respect of even the most feared gangs in Haiti.

Daily, they give to so many other guests who I can only suspect had their lives changed or their faith renewed or their souls touched while in Haiti. Like the countless other Westerners I saw also travelling to, from, or within Haiti.

And they give to each other.

When given something very good, the people of Haiti, like any people, build something beautiful for themselves, for each other, for the glory of God. Yes, they're broken; yes, it's messy; yes, the make mistakes... just like you and me.

But just like you and I try to do each day, they cling to Jesus, put forward their lives to invest in their communities and invest in the Kingdom, and trust that Christ will do something beautiful in and through them.

I visited two local churches, just two examples of many, who are building something beautiful in their communities through the ministry of CompassionIn Jesus' name, they are raising up children out of poverty and into leaders who dream of becoming doctors and lawyers and engineers and everyday people who steward what God's given them to cultivate beauty, life, community, for themselves, for each other, for the glory of God. 

And after all they've given us, despite all we've taken, isn't time we gave something real? Something sacrificial? Something very good?

Like the rich in the temple, we've proudly given out of our excess, given our leftovers for long enough.

Might we start giving our best, our very good? Might we start giving with a posture of sacrifice rather than from a place of excess? 

Becoming a Compassion sponsor is one of the most tangible places to start. What they do is very good - I've seen it. Compassion isn't perfect, they don't have all the answers - nor would they ever claim to. But they are committed to faithfully putting what they know is very good - the influence and support of a strong local church, and most importantly, the gospel of Jesus Christ - into the lives of children in poverty, and watching those children begin to thrive. 

How can you give beyond your excess, your leftovers? Perhaps it's sponsoring one child. Perhaps it's three. Perhaps it's three hundred.

But I dare you I dare us to start giving better than our leftovers. To start giving what our Creator God would call very good. 

I dare us to start giving of our money, our time, our influence, our power, our privilege, our talents, our love, our very lives in radical, Kingdom-shaped ways... Because I believe that the beauty, the life, the community that God intended for us way back in Eden is waiting on the other side of that radical generosity. 

additional resources:
When Helping Hurts by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett
Subversive Jesus by Craig Greenfield
Poverty Inc. documentary
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...