26 December, 2014

Unwrapping Christmas

It's Christmas time – a time for warm apple cider, mince pie, decorating the tree, hanging lights, planning menus, dressing up for parties...'tis the season. As I was driving home from an afternoon of making homemade caramel sauce with my mom, I saw a simply lit cross on a hillside reminding me of what Christmas is all about. It's so easy to get wrapped up in all the tinsel and shiny presents, humming away Christmas carols but overlooking the underlying lyrics. 

Many years ago the most beautiful gift of all arrived- a savior was born bringing hope and the promise of redemption for mankind. The salvation He offers is a timeless present too large to fit under a tree. Jesus is the simplest and best gift available to each of us- we need only to unwrap it. 

Happy Christmas to all. 

01 November, 2012

Lightening the load

I'm the type of girl who likes to stuff my purse or travel bag to the brim planning ahead with my packing hoping that foresight would prepare me for any possibility. This morning, however, I faced an unusual dilemma: I could only pack as much as I could carry and having just had an emergency c-section a few weeks ago, that meant very little. 

Oddly enough that's a pretty accurate depiction of what I've learnt over the last four weeks.  I was forced to unpack my bag and reevaluate, packing only the most important essentials. 

Our journey to parenthood started with joyful smiles and staring at a pile of seven (yes, seven) positive pregnancy tests with my husband. Being a planner, I had already booked childbirth classes and gathered nursery furniture a few months in, but nothing could have prepared me for being initiated into motherhood by going into pre-term labor at 23.4 weeks. 

For months I had begun packing my hopes, dreams and expectations for the pregnancy, the delivery, our child and our family. On October 1, I felt like someone robbed every last one of them. 

I was left to start over and reflect on what really mattered. Emergencies have a way of inspiring people to reexamine their priorities and to cut out the trivial. I have spent so much of my life worrying and preparing for worst case scenarios, but no amount of anxiety or foresight prepares you for the real thing.

I'm learning that having an empty "bag"means I can recalibrate my expectations by looking for God's will and seeing how he is moving in a situation.  I'm also learning to stop carrying the weight of so many burdens, worries, and expectations I was never meant to carry.

No one enjoys hardship, but I'm learning in some ways it is an opportunity reach out to others from a place of vulnerability and empathy and also is a chance to deepen relationships with people by allowing them to care for and help us.

While I could be bitter, angry, self pitying or envious of others in the midst of what we're going through,  I've realized joy, peace, grace, gratefulness and faith are much lighter to carry. I will never understand why this happened and I refuse to waste energy guessing. Instead I'm going to focus on what I do have and what I can be grateful for.

Some would look at my son so tiny and frail right now and pity my situation. Yes, it's not ideal, but God has reminded me it's only temporary and I know we will be bringing him home a healthy, happy boy in a few months. When I see him, I see one of God's great miracles and I'm so very thankful.

02 December, 2011

Acting out for social justice

World Vision ACT:S is a program that is empowering college students to use social media to raise awareness of poverty issues and injustice around the globe.

Using Facebook, Twitter, newsletters by email and blogs, the group equips students to bring awareness to issues like AIDS, malaria, child slavery and hunger. One goal the group is working towards through creative online campaigning is ending malaria deaths by 2015.

Anyone can join their network, follow their Faith and Justice blog or sign up for their bi-weekly newsletter.

Those interested in joining ACT:S can watch this video to find out more about their ministry:

Social media: a new kind of revolution

Social media is much more than a trendy way to express opinions or gain a few followers, it's revolutionizing the way companies reach out to their customers, bringing authentic awareness to the public about current events around the world and even providing a tool that has empowered people to topple an oppressive regime and bring change to their country.

Social networking was credited as a strategic tool which enabled Libyan demonstrators to overthrow their government and bring an end to a brutal regime. Like an article in the Sydney Morning Herald noted, the defining image in the revolution could very well be “a young woman or a young man with a smartphone.”

As Peter Beaumont writes, “She's in the Medina in Tunis with a BlackBerry held aloft, taking a picture of a demonstration outside the prime minister's house. He is an angry Egyptian doctor in an aid station stooping to capture the image of a man with a head injury from missiles thrown by Mubarak's supporters.”

Is it possible that photos, videos and words, coupled with the power of social media, are more powerful tools to create change than guns or even diplomacy? Social media provided an outcome different than we would have seen even fifteen years ago. The uprisings gained momentum, undeniable momentum, that arguably could never have been accomplished as quickly without social media.

While social media played an important role in the Libyan uprising and has been dubbed, the ''Twitter Revolutions,” it’s fair to say many other factors were involved. Even still, it begs the question, how will tools like social media shape the future, especially in the hands of newer, more technically savvy generations?

23 November, 2011

The heritage of Thanksgiving: Building a legacy of faith and hope

Thanksgiving is upon us. People all over the nation will be prepping their annual turkeys, getting excited about watching their favorite NFL teams play and finalizing their game plan for Black Friday. But I propose a new tradition which was first practiced by Joshua in the Bible and is still relevant for today.

Thanksgiving brings together family, friends and food, but more than anything, I think it's a day to reflect on all we've been blessed with, to give thanks for these blessings and then find ways to share with others throughout the year. In this current economic climate of layoffs and financial melt-downs, it's not difficult to feel anxiety, worry and stress, but this holiday is all about focusing on the very opposite, thankfulness for what we have.

Many of us in one way or another have been abundantly blessed and I don't just mean in Ben Franklins or all the branded accessories in our closets. When I think of blessings, I think of family, friends, health, joy, grace and freedom. In this economic climate, especially, it is important to reflect on God's faithfulness in our lives. It's so easy to remember the opportunities which didn't materialize and to focus on loss, but it is in remembering our blessings, that our hope and faith is renewed to carry us through the tougher times.

Joshua 4:1-9 recounts the story of the Israelites at the end of a long journey. God had delivered them out of slavery in Egypt and sustained them through many years in the desert. This was a milestone for a generation, a dream come to fruition, as they crossed over the Jordan river into the promised land.

To mark the memory, God commanded Joshua to set up a memorial of the crossing, but the memorial symbolized much more than parted waters and  a river crossing, it represented God's kept promises, His faithfulness, their answered prayers. More than that, it was a sign of hope for future generations to remember.

This past Sunday, my pastor suggested making memorial stones to remember God's goodness and faithfulness. What a beautiful way to see God's fingerprints all over the blessings in our lives. These stones give us faith to face an uncertain future.

As you invite your loved ones over this holiday and pass the pumpkin pie around the table, take a moment to reflect on your blessings and answered prayers. Know that as you share stories of God's faithfulness and bear witness to God's goodness, you are building a legacy of faith and hope for others. Like Dennis Bratcher said in his online sermon, memorial stones are not a "stale tradition of facts and ritual, but the tradition of living encounters with God, a heritage of living stones that speak to us of God, and His work in the lives of His people (from The Voice website)."

So when our children, friends and family ask, "what do these stones mean?" we can say they are places where God met us and they will know He is a living God who still guides His people.

Joshua 4:1-9 (passage taken from Biblegateway.com)

When all the nation had fully passed over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, take twelve men from among the people, one man out of every tribe, and command them, take twelve stones out of the midst of the Jordan from the place where the priests' feet stood firm; carry them over with you and leave them at the place where you lodge tonight.Then Joshua called the twelve men of the Israelites whom he had appointed, a man from each tribe. And Joshua said to them, pass over before the ark of the Lord your God in the midst of the Jordan, and take up every man of you a stone on his shoulder, as is the number of the tribes of the Israelites, that this may be a sign among you when your children ask in time to come, "what do these stones mean to you?," then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it passed over the Jordan, the waters of Jordan were cut off.

So these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial forever. And the Israelites did as Joshua commanded, and took up twelve stones out of the midst of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, as the Lord told Joshua, and carried them over with them to the place where they lodged and laid them down there. And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan in the place where the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the covenant had stood. And they are there to this day.

13 November, 2011

Blogging for a cause

I know I’m late on the band-wagon, but I am quickly becoming a fan of video blogs (aka vlogs). They are so authentic and engaging. This week I started to watch vlog entries from World Vision social media experts at World Vision Australia. The website covers a group of four twenty-something bloggers who travel the globe visiting World Vision projects and sharing their experiences. 

We all know social media is about getting to the heart of issues and giving updates and sharing information in real-time, but in my opinion, vlogs bring a whole new depth of transparency to the non-profit world. Ten years ago, a prospective donor would mail in a check or make an online donation based on information they received in the mail, online or in person. They may even have seen an advertisement appealing for donations or watched a marketing video, but while marketing materials are helpful and necessary, they are polished, edited and rehearsed.

Social media for non-profit benefactors is the equivalent to a behind the scenes tour of a ministry. Vlogging in particular is such a brilliant way to show donors first-hand what their money is going towards and to let them not just hear about it or watch clips of it, but experience the ministry in a raw, unedited way. 

Check it out for yourself and see what you think…

30 October, 2011

Harnessing social media for good causes

Social media connects people like never before. With the average person spending 13 hours a week online, it's not hard to imagine why.

Being able to distribute information globally at the click of a mouse empowers advocates to quickly raise awareness and funds on a shoestring budget.

In February 2009, more than 200 cities around the world held Twestivals, which rallied the Twitter community together for an evening to raise money and awareness for charity: water. In total, they raised about US$250,000 and were able to provide clean water for over 17,000 people by using Twitter as their primary tool with additional information on Vimeo and Facebook.

According to a study by NetWitsThinkTank, an online resource for nonprofits, fundraisers who adopted integrated social media tools increased their fundraising by as much as 40 percent compared to their peers who weren’t using the available online tools.

The results are clear, online fundraising is clearly more successful and far-reaching than traditional fundraising techniques – and with more immediate impact.