Monday, May 2, 2016

When Grace Comes Full Circle

There once was a twelve-year-old girl, who grew up in church and strived to follow Jesus with her all. She did all the right things, and checked them off a list... Morning devotionals, bedtime prayers, midweek church and Sunday school.

Little did she know all that she was missing by simply going through the motions.

Thankfully, God's got an abundance of amazing grace.

And so, one day, that girl stumbled upon a series of articles about the ministry of Compassion International in a magazine.  They featured youth not much different from her, telling their stories about how they've partnered with local churches in the developing world to release children from poverty in Jesus' name... all because they had become Compassion sponsors.

Of course, she didn't know or understand all of that great stuff right away. She just thought this sounded like a cool idea. Sponsor a child. Write some letters. It'll be fun. It would be a good thing to do, right?

So she begged and begged and begged her parents to sponsor a Compassion child on her behalf. After a bit of skepticism, they finally relented. Fine, they said, we'll try it out.

Probably hoping she would just forget about it in a few months so they could cancel. ;)

Regardless, they became Compassion sponsors and eventually sponsored a little girl named Florianlyn from the Philippines.

And that girl who had begged and begged and begged? She was stoked.

Little did she know, this would literally change the trajectory of her life. In fact, it would change the trajectory of her entire family's story.

They would go on to all become volunteers with Compassion.

Their Compassion family would grow to include 10 children and 2 graduates.

They would visit the field not once, not twice, not thrice, but 4 times in just over 6 years of being Compassion sponsors.

She would go on to host Compassion Canada's youth curriculum, True Story: What God Wants Us To Do About Poverty.

Her mama would even end up working for Compassion Canada as their Ministry Relations Rep in the Greater Toronto Area... and she would relentlessly tease her mama - from skeptic to employee! ;)

Her family would begin to understand God's heart for the poor... and start to embrace the beautiful, messy, frustrating, and fulfilling journey He calls us to in the margins, serving society's "least of these". 

Today, that girl is 19. And she's pausing here in the journey to write this post and reflect on how far He's taken her from just going through the motions in her faith. And she is incredibly thankful for His abundance of amazing grace.

And sitting here, on the eve of starting as an intern with Compassion Canada as part of the Flow Internship program (!!!), she's smiling at His latest installment of grace...

Because you see, little did she know all those years ago when reading about Compassion in a magazine, that almost seven years later, a column of her own would appear in a similar youth magazine called LoveIsMoving, telling the story of how she's partnered with local churches in the developing world to release children from poverty in Jesus' name... all because she and her family had become Compassion sponsors. :)

And when she held that magazine in her hands for the first time, she couldn't help but be incredibly, incredibly in awe of how grace comes full circle, as our Father continues to shower more and more of His amazing grace.

Check out LoveIsMoving Magazine... You might just see a familiar face! :)

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Welcome Home

When the day was over, all I could think about was what a shame it is that anyone could ever say no to this... and miss out on all this beauty.

Because all of this - yes, it's about this beautiful family being welcomed home. It's about their tears and relief and safety and joy. It's about giving them the opportunity to safely and freely grow and learn and laugh and love. It's about exemplifying a radical Love to them until all the hate they've ever known melts away.

But at the end of what was quite possibly one of my favourite days ever, I realized that this might be more about us, than them.

Because you know what? Without us, this family would've still been welcomed to Canada. The Canadian government would've still accepted their application. Another sponsoring group would've been in our place. This family would've still had loving sponsors who would've been committed to moving them into an apartment, helping them register for school and ESL, sourcing furniture and household items and raising funds to support them for a year... all of it.

The only ones who would've missed out is us. 

We would've missed this beauty. We would've missed this joy. We would've missed the opportunity to get to know the Jesus we follow in one of the most real ways there is, because when we welcome the stranger, we welcome Him.

We would've missed out on experiencing the Body of Christ come together in one of the most beautiful ways I have ever witnessed, to declare with our lives that Love is greater than fear, apathy, intolerance or hate.

Because yesterday, I saw 35+ people - and not to mention the hundreds more that have generously given money, time, donations, prayers and love to get us to yesterday's move-day - come together as the Body of Christ to move a formerly displaced Syrian family into their new home, filling it with furniture, household items, laughter, life, and love.

From empty apartment... warm, home sweet home. 

And this family... they've been through far too much brokenness and pain. The displaced, broken parts of every human heart - those parts that choose fear and violence and apathy and hate because our human hearts war and rage against Love Himself until we displace ourselves from the Love that created us - that brokenness left this family without a home or a safe place to grow, live, and love. 

In fact, those displaced, broken parts of our hearts have left millions without a safe place to call home. 

My mama read it to us just today, on the way home from visiting our family... "There are 60 million displaced persons in the world," she reads, "12 million in Syria alone."

It's a staggering, overwhelming number... One that grows each day as war continues unfazed.

"But you know what?" I responded to my mama's stat, "Four of those 60 million people aren't displaced anymore."

No, they certainly are not. They are laying their heads down tonight in their very own home - safe, warm, together.

And as I quietly smiled at that fact, I thought -

Perhaps those displaced, broken parts of our own hearts might just have a chance as well.

Definitely one of my favourite days ever. It's hard to express the fullness that we all felt at the end of the day. Please continue keeping this family in your prayers as the settle in - that in the midst of what is surely going to be a tough next few months that they might find peace and hope in the Love we will try our hardest to continuously share with them. 

Friday, January 1, 2016

Dear Sweet Little Girl*,

This all started with a little boy just a little younger than you and your brother.

This entire day, it happened because of Aylan's tiny, lifeless body washed up on the shore of the Mediterranean.

And quite honestly, sweet girl? I was discouraged for once. This optimist wasn't so hopeful this time around. I didn't let my heart hope for even a second... I thought I knew that Aylan's photo would cause a lot of retweets but not a lot of actual action.

I had accepted that all that would come across the air to Canada from Syria would be more stories of despair.

Yet here you are.

I suppose I forgot that there are good people in the world. I forgot that there are many, many people just waiting for an opportunity to birth Love into this world.

Because yesterday, sweet girl, I saw Love birthed into the world like I've never seen before. I saw the Body of Christ come together and come alive and bear His image to you and your family in one of the most beautiful ways I have ever seen. 

I can only imagine how confused you must feel right now... They told you that you were coming to Canada, and then you got on a plane, travelled 16+ hours and were put up in a strange hotel in a strange city for the night. Then in the morning, you were shuffled out of that room and told to wait in the lobby.

Your poor parents were told nothing of a sponsoring group... Nothing of the God-sent apartment that had been rented for you or the sweet family with beds made in their spare room just waiting to host you for the week while the aforementioned apartment's paperwork goes through. Nothing of the team of people who have sourced furniture and found Arabic-speaking doctors and researched schools... none of it.

I can just imagine how disorienting this must feel. Like maybe this was all a bad idea after all.

And when I saw the tears and relief in your parents' kind, weary, and courageous eyes as our translator told them that we had been preparing to welcome them for months, my heart could've just about burst.

When the whole lot of us huddled into that conference room of that hotel - the whole mismatched group of us, beautifully brought together because of a desire to welcome you - and your papa said that thing about feeling like we are your new Canadian family? Oh, little girl, I think even the toughest of us were tearing up.

Because this is it! This is the Love we get to share in the midst of a broken world. And how could we ever say no to this? How could we dare to miss this?

And then we went to that restaurant serving up meals from your homeland and okay, the whole party of us? We were hard to miss.

So a regular at that restaurant leans to the waitress and asks What on earth is going on over there? and the waitress tells her the bits of our story that she's gathered in all of five minutes of us being there and soon after that regular customer leaves, that waitress is over at our table letting us know that our entire tab had been picked up by that stranger.

But it didn't stop there. That waitress herself picked up the tab for our coffee afterwards, and the owner sent you home with a box full of meals on the house for your first week in Canada... A taste of home to help with the homesickness.

And I'm realizing that we live in an ocean of grace. We live in a world where people are ready and waiting to birth Love into this world, and we can believe in the hatred we see on the news, or we can believe in Love. 

Dear sweet little girl, it is just all too fitting that your family is ringing in the new year in a new country with a fresh start lying ahead. Yet I can only imagine how tough this coming year will be for you. It will be a long process of getting accustomed to life here - one that will at times be messy and frustrating, yet also, we hope, fulfilling and incredibly beautiful.

Know that we, your new Canadian family, will be there with you every step of the way.

Because sweet girl - we believe in Love and we pray that you and your beautiful family will come to believe in Love, too.

Yes, the first of two Syrian refugee families that our church family is sponsoring landed in Canada this week! We met them yesterday, New Year's Eve - and how fitting is that?! Your prayers are mightily appreciated as we step into this year-long journey together. #WeWelcomeRefugees

*As of now, our family prefers not to be named publicly on the internet.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Year in Review

This year feels like it flew by, but when I think back to January, it feels like a lifetime ago.

It was just that kind of year.

This year in review has become one of my absolute favourite things to do as I look back on the many things God accomplished and the many places I encountered Jesus throughout the year...

My hope was to embrace this year... to rest in His embrace, to embrace Him, to embrace others and to embrace the changing communities around me. It was a beautiful word that I loved having as the centrepiece of my year. (And as for my Bible-reading goal, I did end up reading the entire New Testament + the Psalms this year!)

In January, I sponsored Johnrel, an adorable little boy from the community where oceans rise. It has been a joy getting to know Johnrel and his family this year... I've since learned that he hopes to meet Manny Pacquiao and wants to be a doctor when he grows up. Plus, doesn't he have the most adorable hand-writing (see below right)? Yeah.

A photo posted by alyssa (@_godsgal4ever) on

February was a crazy whirlwind in which I turned adult-age and got accepted into my dream program at the top university in Canada. So, like, no big deal. (!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

A photo posted by alyssa (@_godsgal4ever) on

A photo posted by Aimee Esparaz (@mama2greatkids) on

In MarchI went back to Wilmington and discovered the same inspiring group of Jesus-lovers that I encountered back in grade nine, faithfully building the Kingdom-come each and every day.

Getting to serve in Wilmington with these beautiful people was one of the highlights of my year!

March also brought two unforgettably adorable little Mongolian boys into our lives, as they came to Canada for life-saving heart surgery. Our journey with them unfolded with them in incredibly beautiful ways. Both are back home now... but we miss them ever so dearly!

In April, my family celebrated from across the ocean with my Compassion sister Rechelle, who graduated the LDP program.

So thankful that my grandparents, who live in the Philippines, we able to make it to the ceremony and celebrate with Rechelle at her graduation!

April also brought a teachers' strike in my last semester of high school, putting me and thousands of other students out of class for 5+ weeks... I wasn't complaining too much - I redid my bedroom for the first time in 15 years, accompanied those two boys to the hospital, and practiced my chauffeuring skills by driving myself and my brother to hang out at UrbanPromise Toronto Camp Hope's Rubik's Cube Club.

The Rubik's Cube is a powerful thing!Yesterday, one of Canada's fastest speed cubers, Jonathan Esparaz, did a cubing...
Posted by canadianCUBING on Friday, May 1, 2015

In May, I got to speak about and represent Compassion Canada at three youth events. I also got to hold True Story: What God Wants Us To Do About Poverty in my hands for the first time!!!

Then... school came back! Just in time for me to go to these two things called prom and graduation in June.

A photo posted by alyssa (@_godsgal4ever) on

A photo posted by alyssa (@_godsgal4ever) on

Summer rolled around, and that brought the PanAm games to our city, a lot of "not doing much", and a trip to Guatemala smack in the middle... where we met our Compassion girl, Esperanza. Our visit turned out to be a goodbye in person, which was incredibly bittersweet and I was reminded yet again that the difference is truly Jesus.

A photo posted by Aimee Esparaz (@mama2greatkids) on

A photo posted by alyssa (@_godsgal4ever) on

A photo posted by alyssa (@_godsgal4ever) on

If I had to choose one photo to keep from this year, it's this one, of this beautiful embrace I shared with this beautiful sister of mine.

Seriously the most photogenic country ever. Good thing I went with an amazing photographer a.k.a. brother who I can steal photos from. :)

When summer came to a close and September started, I got to start university, but not without being ravaged by a photo of a Syrian toddler's lifeless body washed up on the shores of the Mediterranean. I feared the worst - that we would forget this little boy - but instead, he has inspired thousands to come together and welcome Syrian refugee families into safety and liberty. In fact, the first of two families that our church is sponsoring to come to Canada has just landed... they will ring in the new year with a fresh start in a new country ahead of them, and we are simply praying that we may help to make this new place feel like home.

A photo posted by alyssa (@_godsgal4ever) on

In October, I got to go to a Taylor Swift concert, vote for the first time, speak about Compassion and encourage my peers to sponsor a child at one of my favourite youth conferences in Toronto, and spend lots of time with my grandparents, who spent all of the summer and fall here in Canada with us.

A photo posted by alyssa (@_godsgal4ever) on

This speaking-in-front-of-large-crowds thing was new for me this year... and I was inspired by how many of my peers resonated with this message of embracing our role in God's story of redemption for our broken world.

A photo posted by alyssa (@_godsgal4ever) on

November brought more Compassion Canada events, and the largest one-day speed cubing competition in the history of the World Cube Association - and we just so happened to get to be a part of it. Fun fact? 270 cubers in one place is a lot. Trust me.

Results from yesterday's competition are now up on the World Cube Association website, here:...
Posted by canadianCUBING on Sunday, November 29, 2015

And as the year comes to a close with December, it has been filled with finishing my first semester of university, preparing to welcome our refugee family onto Canadian soil, cheering my mama on as she prepares to start a new job as Compassion Canada's Representative in the Greater Toronto Area, and, of course... Star Wars. ;)

A photo posted by alyssa (@_godsgal4ever) on

this is a creeper photo at its finest but I just felt that I needed to capture this moment. you see, these are my parents. up way-too-early on a saturday morning (sleep-in day!), up to their ears in emails and to-dos and paperwork... all because in a few weeks, our church family will be at the airport to welcome one, then two, refugee families into our city and our lives. but when those instagrams of happy new beginnings get posted on airport day, I wanted this one to exist. the one of these two people up on a Saturday morning, working tirelessly together in the PJs, so that that airport day can happen. this is the example that I am so thankful has been set before me for my entire life. also, this is what #refugeeswelcome looks like in the everyday - it's not a retweet or a fb post or lobbying our gov't. it is stinkin' hard work - work that I've seen not only my parents, but so many people in our church community put in already and I know I will only see increase after airport day. literally countless individuals giving up Saturday mornings, Tuesday evenings, Sunday afternoons or even their own vacation days from work to apartment search, make budgets, source furniture, meet translators, and so.much.more. this is what all those news reports and big numbers like 25000 look like in real life - it's not always glamorous and super warm and fuzzy. sometimes it's Saturday morning paperwork in your PJs. if you're still reading this, I'm wrapping up - promise. I'll just say this: the advocate in me wrote this post to give a small snapshot into what refugee sponsorship looks like in the everyday. but the daughter in me wrote it to say this: I captured this photo because I am so incredibly blessed.thankful.proud to call these two people my parents. #realrelationshipgoals #prouddaughter #wewelcomerefugees
A photo posted by alyssa (@_godsgal4ever) on

A photo posted by alyssa (@_godsgal4ever) on

As I look back on this year, there was a lot of despair in this world. But when I read back on this year in review, I see our God showing me again and again that He has overcome. We can choose to wallow in despair, or we can choose to birth Love into this world everywhere we go... until the despair melts away in the light of His redemption.

Happy New Year, friends! Thank you for being you. 
Wishing you all the opportunity and the strength to birth Love into the world each day in the coming new year.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Reflections

My draft box is full of the real good-intention to post something. Promise.

The world has been a hurting place this fall. Even a bit more than normal, it seems. There was terror and intolerance and yet still, the First World I call home went about life and Christmas and shopping - unfazed. And words started, but they never ended, as evidenced by my draft box. Maybe they'll come in the New Year, but we all know how the "blog more" resolution always turns out... ;)

The ending to those words didn't get written not because I didn't know the ending, but because I think I got far too excited about the ending before I got to write it, and I would spring up to join the awesome people taking action on this great hope before I remembered to hit "post" on those words.

And so I think I'll write a collective ending to all those hurting beginnings here, as the fall comes to a close and I spend some time reflecting at Christmas...

The conclusion and the response to a world of hurt is this:

Oh, how He loves us. 

Even now. Especially now. 

He hurts for His hurting creation more than any of us ever could or would. 

He hurts so much that he came down in the midst of it all to bear the hurt for us. He came down from glory and became a helpless baby and a human-just-like-you-and-me.

He spent His life demonstrating a Love that would heal all the hurt of this world, and our role? Simply believe this Gift to be real. Accept this Gift of Love with thanks. 

Then He culminates this life of Love with His arms stretched across a tree... Bearing every last hurt, pain and brokenness this world had and would ever see, declaring It is finished.

Dear hurting world... All our hurt and brokenness - He has already carried it for us. He longs to continue to carry it, and simply invites us to love with that same Love He showed us all those years ago.

To make room to birth Love into this world again and again and again... that this Love might bear every hurt until it is all healed away.

That is what we celebrate this, and every Christmas.

Merry, Merry Christmas, to you and yours.

Year-end family updates from my Mama can be found on her blog... Check it out!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Compassion Birthday Love

October is birthday month for my two Compassion kiddos.

By total coincidence, these two kids' birthdays are 6 days apart.

This is the 4th time I'm celebrating Happyness' birthday as her sponsor and I really can't believe it. Yeah, I had a little nostalgic Compassion big sister moment last week.

But seriously guys, remember when she was this adorable little 4-year-old with the cutest pink outfit and beads in her hair? 

We've both come a long way. 

For reference, here's what my Facebook profile picture looked like around the same time. Braces and all.

circa summer 2011

As for Johnrel, it's been just under a year since I sponsored this adorable little guy from the community where oceans rise. My sponsorship of Johnrel has been instrumental over the past year in learning more about my role in God's story of redemption for our broken world

Happy, happy birthday to these two precious kids. 
They have impacted my life and strengthened my faith in incredible ways.

And on that note... Birthdays are a GREAT way to connect with or choose a Compassion child. 

Both my little bro and my mama share birthdays with two of our kids... Jon shares a birthday with Bell Bradley from Haiti, and my mama shares a birthday with her long-searched-for birthday buddy, Maria from Ecuador.

Would you consider sponsoring a child? You can search for a child based on their birthday and see if a child somewhere on the other side of the globe shares your special day. Or choose a child who is celebrating a birthday over the next couple months... and be the greatest birthday gift ever.

Compassion's sponsorship model is about so much more than giving $41/month. Sponsoring a child with Compassion pulls us out of our comfortable worlds to reach across the globe to a child who becomes a part of our family... A child who you pray for and care for, a child whose letters you can't wait to receive and whose birthday you celebrate with joy. 

This is some amazing stuff, and I can't wait for you to discover what joy sponsoring a Compassion child can bring.
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