Ethiopia and Christmas

This post was originally published on my previous website on December 9, 2018.

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I came home to Christmas.

There was a pretty tree on the baggage claim carousel and evergreen tinsel hanging from the ceiling.

The Western world—often unknowingly—inviting God to be with us for one month of the year, every year, with plastic decorations and a rush of capitalism.

So maybe I'm cynical.

Or maybe it's that I haven't been able to stop thinking about—something—in the weeks since coming home.

I finally made it to our home church this week, after almost two full weeks of being home. The Christmas buzz has only become more intense with the start of Advent and Christmas shopping. It doesn't help that I go to church at the busiest and highest-grossing mall in Canada.

And we're singing Christmas carols at church now, too.

Emmanuel, Emmanuel. God incarnate, here to dwell.

Don't get me wrong—Emmanuel is for all of us. God is with all of us, in all of our mess, in every circumstance and context of life.

But as this Sunday's Advent reading is read, the scene of where God specifically chose to come to be with us, at that specific point in history all those years ago—the place He chose when He could only choose one—comes barrelling into my mind.

It's the thing I can't stop thinking about—the thing that's been resting heavy on my heart since coming home to Christmas.

And I'm suddenly back in the small home of a single mother in Ethiopia, reaching across to squeeze her arm in reassurance as tears flow while she tells me her story.

God is with us, there.

With Tigist and Yeabsira, who graciously invited me into their home and story.

With Tigist and Yeabsira, who graciously invited me into their home and story.

We like to invite him into our big and bright white Christmases of the West—without even a thought that His choice for where He would come be with us and spend that first Christmas was a small, messy, quiet, humble and dim brown Christmas in the Middle East.

I'm not saying He won't meet us where we are—He will fight every distraction and all our excess to get our attention and capture our hearts.

But I just can't stop thinking about how close He felt as I listened to the stories of mothers who were afraid when they first heard of their pregnancy...yet chose to say a brave yes anyways.

That's all I've been thinking about, actually.

I came home to Christmas...but in so many ways, I came home from experiencing all that Christmas was, is and should be—and no matter how many times I do it, it keeps on wrecking me, shaping me, forming me...and I couldn't be more thankful.

What they don't tell you about reverse culture shock is that it's never the same twice. Each time, it's different and it doesn't necessarily get easier, but it's never quite the blinding intensity and year-long anguish of the first time...nor does it follow the same path as the last time. It's a unique story every time.

What they don't tell you about reverse culture shock is that sometimes you might feel incredibly entitled, childish and privileged for experiencing it, particularly when it's part of your (dream) job...and that writing about it in a public forum sometimes helps like it did when you were fifteen, and sometimes that just makes you feel crazy vulnerable in ways that you don't want to at twenty-one (or ever).

But I think vulnerability is good? Or I'm just part of the narcissistic generation that puts their lives on the internet. At least I'm self-aware...or maybe I am cynical.

Anyways, I just wanted to pop in to share some reflections and give some (very small) peeks into what my experience of travelling to and back from Ethiopia was like, to add to (or in case you missed) what's on Instagram. To take the responsibility seriously of stewarding the stories of those I met—and my own story—well. —ae

When Dreams Change

This post was originally published on my previous website on April 26, 2018.

As most people in my circle know, for the past 3+ years, I've been planning to go on a year-long co-op placement in the Global South as part of my undergrad, in my 4th year. These past few months have been spent working to secure a placement and prepare to leave over the summer.

I think this has been a dream of mine since reading Kisses from Katie in grade 9. I think a part of me has wanted to spend extended time in the Global South since I first travelled to the Philippines in 2011. It's been something I've been working towards and dreaming of since I heard about this program at the University of Toronto.

A few weeks ago, I found myself with an offer to live in a beautiful country for a year, working with a local, grassroots, church-based NGO. I would be working with youth, doing communications, and using my international development degree.

It was my dream placement.

I had every intention to accept it. "Unless God writes in the sky," I texted a friend.

But sometimes God writes in the sky even when you don't want Him to, and especially when you least expect Him to.

So, on the Thursday before Easter, I declined my dream placement.

I don't expect everyone to understand. It's hard for me to articulate the intangible feeling of knowing and understanding exactly what I needed to do deep down in my soul. I won't launch into the full story here... it's one that needs to be told over a coffee, not on a blog. There isn't really much of a story, other than that where there should've been peace and excitement about this placement, there was instead division and uneasiness.

It wasn't my dream to hold onto anymore. I think part of me has known that for months, but another part of me, the part that's been dreaming about this for more than five years, didn't want that to be true.

It's sad when dreams die. I cried more tears over losing this dream than I had cried in a long time. But the day after declining that placement, I entered into a weekend that was a reminder that resurrection doesn't happen without death. That full and abundant life doesn't happen without sacrifice at the cross. That something can be celebrated on one Sunday, killed on Friday, and then raised to new life the next Sunday.

Things change. Outlooks change. Sometimes very quickly. And in this case, very quickly is exactly what happened...

I thought I would have to drop-out of the co-op stream of my program, and graduate a year earlier (which would've been nice, honestly, but...).

But don't I know that God's grace reaches infinitely farther than I can ask or imagine.

In the matter of a few days, a new plan was in motion, and I will now be completing my co-op placement at Compassion Canada, continuing in a similar role that I have been working in for the past two years. I get to stay in Toronto and continue investing in the places, spaces and people I love, while continuing in this amazing program, doing something I love, and contributing to an organization I am so proud to work with.

It's the dream placement I never even knew to dream of.

And that's just how much the Lord desires to lavish His love on His kids.

I'll also likely be taking a bit of time to travel throughout the year to visit some of my Compassion kids. And, as part of my program, I will also be conducting some primary research, based here in Toronto, for a thesis paper that I will write in 5th year.

Yeah, it does blow my mind a little, too.

I want to say thank you, to those that prayed through this process with me. You prayed me to a different outcome than I expected, but one I am fully at peace with and one that I couldn't be more delighted with.

I also want to apologize for my inconsistent updates. Things happened fast and suddenly, and it was hard to keep up with updating everyone, remembering who was updated up until what point in the process... etcetera. This post is my attempt to do a sweeping catch-up for everyone. Thank you for grace in this.

This has definitely been a weird space to be in because over the past several years, everything in my life had been barrelling towards this placement that is no longer going to happen. Everything has been about placement, everything fit around the big block that was placement... and maybe that was part of the problem.

Throughout this process, I've been hearing God tell me to trust. To step off a cliff, even if it feels like I'm free falling, and trust that He is going to catch me.

I thought many things of this picture. I thought that stepping off the cliff meant going on placement. Or maybe that I wouldn't be offered a placement.

Turns out it meant that I would be offered what I thought was my dream placement and He would ask me to let go of it. Step off the cliff into the unknown of giving up a long-held-on-to dream.

And to know that sometimes, dreams change. And that's okay.

In fact, sometimes that changing dream is the very best He has for you.

When Grace Comes Full Circle

This post was originally published on my previous website on May 2, 2016.

There once was a 12-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 two graduates.

They would visit children they sponsor not once, not twice, not thrice, but four times in just over six 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 "the 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 Love Is Moving, 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.


When Oceans Rise

This post was originally published on my previous website on October 9, 2014.

When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace.

As one of the many airplanes that carried me back and forth over the Pacific this summer descended on the Philippines, these words poured through my earbuds - over the plane's whirring engines and the wailing baby 6 rows up.

Oceans became a little bit of a landing tradition.

You see, many places in the Philippines have the most gorgeous landings.

You come in over the ocean and as you peer out the window, it rises towards you and you don't quite see land until the landing gear is touching it.

So, I mean, I'm definitely not a nervous flyer (quite the opposite actually), but these landings can be a little nerve-wracking, too.

Talk about trust without borders.

And so it is with all beautiful things - they're also a little scary, a little nerve-wracking.

Beauty requires trust.

We sang Oceans at youth group last night - When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace.

And I'm right back on that plane.

And I'm standing right there again - the tide slowly rolling in and out, its calming rhythm keeping time to the words I'm speaking to a rolling camera and countless teens back home all at once.

The beach where we filmed part of  True Story: What God Wants Us to Do About Poverty .

The beach where we filmed part of True Story: What God Wants Us to Do About Poverty.

But this beach is no Sandals ad. A slum is sprawled out behind me, and the curious faces of the Filipino locals—mostly children—stare at me from beyond the camera. Four Canadians and an American with a camera is no daily occurrence.

The watermarks are just visible on the stilts of these childrens' homes behind me, and the day before when we had visited their homes, we're told that their homes will sometimes flood during high tide.

When oceans rise...

And me? I'm just numb.

The reality of it all comes at me in waves.

When our team leader leaned over to me in the van on the way back to the hotel and said, "It's hard not to become desensitized to all this. But I just constantly remember how very real this is. This is their lives."

And when later that night my roommate and I realized that those kids were still there—they are still there—sleeping in those potentially flooded homes.

And most recently, the staggering reality of that place hits me at youth group. While singing Oceans.

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.

How easy is it for me to sing those words?

When oceans rise, my house doesn't flood. Plain and simple.

Of course my soul can rest—the floors of my home aren't soaked with those rising oceans.

Sure, I've got waves crashing at me but not quite as literally as those sweet Filipino children I met on that beach.

How is that fair?

I'm painfully aware that I'm angry.

I'm angry at my culture and my comfort zones and I'm angry at me.

Angry at how easily I'm able to sing those words and at how I so pathetically want need the comfort that allows me to easily sing those words.

To be painfully blunt, I'm angry at how much I don't care once those Filipino children aren't right in front of me.


I'm angry at all the ways I don't want to change for the sake of justice, and oh man—isn't it an ugly world where I can sing a beautiful song about rising oceans while a Filipino family's greatest trouble is a rising ocean beneath their home?

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders.

Beauty requires trust.

And isn't that it? Those words I spoke on that beach to that rolling camera: the God we serve has a perfect plan to bring beauty to this ugly world.

All He asks of us is trust.

He asks us to trust Him enough to say yes to our part in this plan, and that is all. That is our hope.

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders, let me walk upon the waters, wherever You may call me.

Yes, God. Wherever You may call me.

I trust You, for I know that beauty requires trust.

And in a world where oceans rise into those Filipino homes and into my life, I trust You and I. say. yes.

When oceans rise—

My soul will rest in Your embrace.