Monday, 31 December 2012

Reflections of 2012

If I had to sum up everything I learned in 2012 in one word, it would be "perseverance."  Looking back on 2012 the last couple weeks has brought on many mixed feelings.  I recently flipped through my prayer journal and was surprised how much happened and how many struggles I went through this past year.  I was saddened to see some of the things I had written.  I was blessed by others.  Through it all, I saw God's faithfulness in what He all brought me through.

I started my year with a new job that has grown my skills, but has also been one of the hardest things I have ever done.  I went to Europe, I bought a new car, I became involved with IJM and spent several months planning and putting on a fundraiser for survivors of human trafficking.  I have taken risks and obeyed God when it didn't make sense.  I have laughed, cried, and struggled with things many will never know about. 

This year started hard, and it has ended hard.  I'm not complaining or trying to sound depressing, but that's just the reality of it.  The things I have experienced this year have stretched me beyond what I thought was possible, to points where I thought I would break, but didn't.  As hard as it sometimes was though, I am thankful for it.  I'm thankful that I learned things this year that I would not have learned had it been easier.  I'm thankful I didn't throw in the towel on the hardest days. I'm thankful that I have learned to depend on God to get me through my days, to give me just enough strength for the next step.  I'm thankful that I have grown in prayer as much as I have, that my time with the Lord has become sweeter, even though it has often been very painful.

It has been a year of perseverance.  It has been a year of trusting God when I didn't understand.  It has been  a year of remembering His promises, remembering that He loves me, no matter what I go through.  At the time of writing this, 2013 doesn't look any easier.  I wish it did, but the next few months will likely be filled with more trials, hard days and a lot of uncertainty.  I will have to continue to put a lot of my dreams and ambitions aside for a time.  I will have to continue to persevere even when others encourage me to give up.  I will have to continue to trust God and His purpose for me, even in times I don't understand.

I do look forward to 2013 with mixed emotions.  Fear, hope, anticipation.  I remind myself that God's will is the best and that He desires to give good things to those who ask Him.  I remind myself that one day He will show me the purpose of everything and I will no longer wonder, but be truly thankful.  In closing, I leave you with the words of a song that has brought me comfort in recent weeks.

"One day I'll stand before You
And look back on the life I've lived
I can't wait to enjoy the view
And see how all the pieces fit."
 --"Already There" by Casting Crowns

God sees how everything will play out.  One day we will understand and it will be beautiful!

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Responsible Single: Take a Risk

Taking risks.  This is something a couple of friends have pointed out in my life.  When I was first told this, I was very surprised.  I have a very cautious personality.  When I do something, I like to be assured of exactly how it will turn out.  I want to know that people will still like me.  I want to know that I won't mess up and ruin God's plans for me.

So why do these people say I take risks?  It seems to be because I'm not afraid to be different.  I'm not afraid to share my opinions when I know they may not be popular among the people closest to me.  I've taken a risk in writing this blog series, because I know my words may not always meet happy ears.  Some people recognize my endeavor to organize a fundraising event, not knowing the outcome, and yes, that was a risky step for me to take.  So although I don't see this frequently in my life, there is an element of risk present.

Risk and responsible are two words that don't seem to even fit together.  Risk is generally the opposite of responsible, so why did I choose to write about this?  Because I think more young people need to take healthy risks.  I'm not advocating going and doing stupid stuff and hoping there won't be negative consequences.  Don't play with sin.  Don't try things that will more than likely harm others or yourself.  That's not responsible.

I do think that there is a measure of responsible risk, but many of us are too afraid to try it.  How about when it comes to obeying the Word of God?  It's easy to obey God when we know the outcome, but what if we don't?  Jesus never promised us peace and safety if we obey Him.  We take a risk when we obey His commands.  We take a risk when we sell all we have, give to the poor and follow Him.  We take a risk when we share the Gospel in many parts of the world.  We take a risk when we stand up for truth in North America, when we stand for life, when we speak out against various forms of immorality.  We take a risk when we tithe when finances are tight.  We take a risk when we trust God's will is best even when we can't see it and would rather go our own way.

But how many of these risks do we as single people actually take?  Are we willing to obey God when our friends may reject us?  Are we willing to stand for truth alone?  Are we willing to do something to make a difference in the world, even if no one supports us?

What I'm suggesting is taking risks in doing good.  These are difficult risks, but they stretch us and cause us to grow in our faith.  They bring us closer to God and cause us to trust in Him more.  They're not irresponsible.  I believe these are the kinds of risks God would desire we take more often, and I believe we would grow in many areas of our lives if we did.


This concludes my Responsible Single series.  If there is something in particular you have been blessed by, feel free to drop me a comment.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Responsible Single: Keep Learning

One of the things I have greatly enjoyed in my single years is learning after I completed my secondary education.  I have decided not to pursue a formal post-secondary education, largely due to financial reasons, but I have greatly enjoyed learning at home.

When I say keep learning, that can mean several things, and depending on your personality, it could mean something totally different than what it means to me.  For me, it has meant studying literature and working on my writing.  This past year, I became involved with IJM and read several books on justice issues.  I've also started learning more about abortion and the pro-life view.  I consider that a part of my learning.  I'm growing my knowledge and understanding of issues I didn't know as much about before.  For many learning may mean a formal education at a university.  For others it could mean learning a new skill, developing a talent, learning a new computer program, practicing a household skill, or learning how to make something creative whether it's with needles and tread or yarn or wood, or whatever you use.  For some, it may be researching a topic that interests you or even just taking more time to study God's Word.

Unfortunately, my job right now doesn't allow me to do as much learning as I want to.  But when time allows, I have lots of unread books on my shelf, some of which I want to study, I want to work on my writing skills, and perhaps one day I will further study such things as philosophy, political science, justice, or other social issues.  Writing this post is exciting and frustrating for me because it reminds me of everything I want to do and I miss working part time and having the time to do them.

For those of you who have want to pursue post-secondary education but can't afford it, or it doesn't seem to be a reasonable choice, I want to share some things I have found that can be very helpful.  One of the reasons I haven't pursued university is because most of what I would study there I can learn at home at a fraction of the price.  I just miss the opportunity for discussion, having my work graded and getting the credits.  If I want to study literature and writing, I can walk into Chapters or go onto and buy my education for a fraction of the price of an institution.  But there are also an abundance of free online resources that I began discovering last year.

If you have iTunes on your computer, you can go to the iTunes store and under the menu there's a cool feature called iTunes U.  iTunes U is a great collection of university lectures covering a wide range of subjects, a lot in video and most of it's free.  You can also search for this on some university websites.

Something else I got really excited about this year was when Biola University, a Christian university in California, added a whole section of free content open to the public called Open Biola.  There is so much there I'd want to watch and learn that I could spend months there.  It's awesome that Christian universities are giving back in this way.  We live in a time where so much is available at our fingertips. You don't have to go to a university or even a library anymore. Use it wisely and make the most of it.

It doesn't matter so much what you're learning about, but that you're thinking.  Don't neglect to exercise your mind.  Having said that, use discretion.  Learn about things that will build you up and allow you to build up others.  Spend your time on things that matter and are profitable.  Filter what you're learning through the Word of God so you're not being deceived or swept away with worldly, unbiblical views that sound good to our fallen human nature or wander into things that will cause you to sin.  Let Philippians 4:8 be your guide:

"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think abut these things."

Next Post: Take a Risk

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Responsible Single: Get a Mentor

This is a post I have the pleasure of writing because of the special people God has placed in my life.  I have enjoyed having mentor figures in my life in the last few years that have helped shape me into who I am today.  Some have only been there for a short time.  With others my relationship continues to grow. 

If you're older and no longer single, I want you to listen to what I have to say.  We need you.  I'm often very saddened to see the lack of youth-mentor relationships in the church.  Sometimes the potential mentors in the church are busy with careers, family, young children, or their own life issues and just don't have time to give to spend walking a young person through the issues they face.  It's also not always easy opening up about where you're at and sometimes it's hard to find someone whom you trust enough to be vulnerable with.  Some people are very close to their parents and can share anything with them, but I don't have that close relationship and I have to look to others to take this role in my life.

The mentors in my life would likely not call themselves that.  They're more like friends that are about twice my age.  We don't get together once a week for one on one talks, but they do have me in their home and we share what is going on in our lives or we interact online.  The best mentors in my life right now is a couple from another church.  It's an interesting story how they came to be a part of my life a couple years ago,  through the man writing a book and wanting to sell it in the store I worked in.

The beauty of having this couple in my life is that I know I can trust them, share my struggles with them, receive guidance when making decisions, and when necessary, loving correction. I can trust I will be told what I need to hear, not what I want to hear.  They love me, walk with me and pray for me.  They set an example for me of a beautiful marriage and a godly home.  I feel like they have also allowed me to give back to them and I hope they see it that way too.  One of the reasons it has been such a blessing is that I not only have a woman to share things with, but I can get advice from a man's perspective. Of course discretion is necessary and certainly not everything that goes on in my life is appropriate to share with men, but his guidance has often been very helpful.

A lot of young people rely too heavily on the support of their peers when they're going through difficulties or need advice.  Friends are good and they may make you feel better, but since they're often going through the same things you are and don't have as much life experience, they may not be able to give you what you need to overcome what you're going through.  They may sympathize but not have the courage to correct you or walk with you. 

Sometimes you may have to initiate this mentor relationship.  It is much easier though when a couple shows interest in speaking into your life and walking with you first.  It's easier when you know they care because they do, not because you're asking them to.  I really appreciate it when someone invites me to have coffee with them, and I don't have to feel like I have to twist their arm for their time.

Whatever your situation is, find someone.  Find someone you can trust.  Find someone who won't tolerate sin in your life, someone you can invite to point out your blind spots, but can also trust to do so lovingly and walk with you. The Bible has a lot to say about seeking the counsel and wisdom of those older than you. Allow them to speak into your life and look for ways you can give back to them.  You will be blessed and I also believe that when life gets hard, you will continue to walk in truth.

Next Post: Keep Learning

Monday, 17 December 2012

Responsible Single: Meet a Need

In this post, I want to share something I believe is so important for not only young women, but for all singles.  We have great potential when it comes to meeting needs in our world.  We don't have the responsibilities of our own home and family yet, and although we do still face challenges, we are much more available to reach out and help others.

There are many needs that you can meet locally.  Often there are many ways in which you can serve in your church, whether it's helping in the nursery, library, or being part of a cleaning team.  There are ways you can help in your community, whether it's visiting elderly folks in a nursing home, helping at a soup kitchen or other local charity or outreach organization.  If you're part of a youth group or a university campus group, you also have extra support and numbers to do greater things and make it fun.

Although there are often many local opportunities to meet needs, I would encourage you to think globally and focus on issues that are bigger than your community.  Our lives in North America are usually very comfortable, but there are nations in the world that suffer from poverty, hunger, thirst, disease and the list goes on.  Millions of children are orphaned, plagued with AIDS, or trafficked and abused.  You may not believe the amount of people in our world who do not even have access to clean water and sanitation and as a result are plagued with constant illness.  Meanwhile, even in our own nation, children are killed because they're an inconvenient byproduct of their parents' actions. 

The need in our world is great, so much so that it is often quite daunting.  With such big global problems, it's hard to know how to even start making a difference.  But I encourage you to try.  I encourage you to connect with an organization that does something you feel strongly about, that is meeting a need, or connect with a group of other people, and do something to make a difference. Or just surround yourself with a group of like minded people and see what you can do.

Earlier this year, I organized a fundraiser to provide aftercare funds for survivors of human trafficking in India.  I knew that if I wanted to do something like this, now was the time.  Yes, I was busy, but I also knew that I would often have excuses and that I was more available now than I would be when I have a family.  I went to some mentors in my life for counsel, got a support group together, and made it happen.

I won't tell you what kind of cause to get behind.  You don't have to take up a cause per se.  But I do encourage you to do something that makes a positive, lasting difference in the lives of others.  I doesn't have to be thousands of people.  You may change just one life at a time.  It's not over when you get married, but I do believe we have a special opportunity now that we should not allow to pass us by.

"She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy." --Proverbs 31:20

Next Post: Get a Mentor

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Responsible Single: Manage Your Finances

I get to dive into a fun topic today.  Actually, it's more of a stressful topic.  Managing finances.  I like money.  Money is good.  But it doesn't grow on trees, and sometimes we can't seem to make enough of it. As I have mentioned in my last few posts, I have learned how to manage small incomes and stretch my dollars.  It's not easy.  It wasn't easy at 15, and it still isn't.

When you want to manage your finances, you must start by defining your wants and needs.  For me, some of my needs are clothes, food, a roof over my head and a car to get to work.  Some of my wants right now would include things like a work desk for my room, a bookshelf, an e-reader (yes, I did say that!), a new wardrobe, etc.  For others it may be an iPhone, tablets, gaming systems, a dream house, etc.

Sometimes wants and needs become confused.  Many people think they "need" a cell phone.  I don't.  But I have wants that I think are needs and I get frustrated about things I can't reasonably afford.  Sometimes I have to go to certain work events and I feel like I don't have the right professional clothes, accessories or shoes, but I can't go to the mall and fluff up my wardrobe (although I do hope to do so Boxing Week).  As I write this, I'm going to a 50s themed youth banquet in a week and I have no dress to wear.  I'm frustrated because I don't want to be different, but it's currently not reasonable for me to spend a lot of money on an outfit for one evening.  Some mornings there's nothing good in the fridge to take to work, but I know I can't buy lunch all the time, so I make a sandwich.

Managing my finances means discipline.  It means denying myself a lot of things.  It means making sure my bills are paid before I get my wants.  It means making a sandwich instead of buying lunch, making coffee at home instead of stopping at Tim Horton's, and not buying the top I really want because it's so overpriced. 

Here's what I do to help me manage my finances.  Every month, I collect all my receipts, or I write down money I spend that I don't have receipts for.  At the end of the month, I sit down and put all my income and spending into an Excel spreadsheet.  I divide things up between my regular expenses (insurance, rent, fuel, tithe/donations, Internet, etc.), car maintenance, health expenses, groceries, eating out/snack food, clothing, books (that used to be a big one,) recreation/entertainment, etc.  Then I total each section, my income, expenses, calculate what's left over at the end of the month and hope it's not in the red.

Before I started doing this, I had no idea how much money I was spending on little things, like coffee or occasional lunches.  It helped me to see where I needed to make adjustments and what I should be reasonably spending in a month.  I could also see how much of my income was needed to pay necessary expenses.  This was an excellent tool when I was considering financing a car earlier this year.  I had a one year track record of my income and spending that helped me evaluate whether or not I could reasonably afford a car payment. 

I would also encourage you to get a savings account where a sum of money automatically goes into every month, and then don't touch until you really need it, or save it for a car, house, education, wedding, or whatever.  If need be, make an account that you can't withdraw from without calling in and requesting a transfer.  Also, use your credit cards wisely.  I'm not trumping credit cards.  I use mine all the time to save on service charges and occasionally for online purchases.  But remember it's not actually paid for when you swipe the card.  Don't use your credit card unless there's money in your chequing account to pay for it, and make sure you pay your bills on time.

Finally, live debt free as far as possible.  Don't finance anything that depreciates.  Houses are the exception.  If you can't write the cheque, don't buy it.  OWN your stuff.  This is something I have been very stubborn about, and I'm happy for it.  I've seen the burden debt leaves on people and don't want that hanging over my head.

I know this has probably been a bit to digest, but if you learn to manage your finances and budget your spending, I don't think you'll regret it.  Yes, it's hard.  But that's life. If you don't learn to manage your income now when you have yourself to look after, how much harder won't it be when you have a family to look after?  And again, if you manage your money wisely while you're single, I think you will appreciate what your husband will one day do in providing for your family much more.

Next Post: Meet a Need

Monday, 10 December 2012

Responsible Single: Own a Car

I bought my first car when I was 18!  I had to let go of it this past summer when I bought a new one and I miss it.  But oh well.  Going in hand with my last post on learning to drive, I'm also glad I own a car.  Knowing how to drive breaks down barriers in life, and having a car breaks down even more.  It took a couple years of saving for me, almost two years of driving my parents' minivan, and often getting rides to work, but the sense of accomplishment when I drove my Mazda home for the first time was great!

Not only does owning a car break down a lot of barriers in life, it's also a great way to learn responsibility.  So far, cars have been my biggest investment and it's a continuous investment.  A car is something you have to save for, then when you buy it, you may be either broke or have regular payments if you finance.  Then there's the insurance company to pay, fuel to put in the tank, maintenance, repairs, buy new tires for the winter, etc.  It sucks a lot of cash out of your pocket.  The good thing about it is that you learn to manage your money better when you know that a good chunk of your paycheque has to go to keeping a vehicle on the road.  It gives you a taste of what it's like to pay the bills.

Also, notice I say OWN a car.  If at all possible, I encourage you to pay cash for your car.  I was very happy I did this with my first car when my hours at work were cut back shortly afterward and my expenses increased.  There is no way I would have been able to handle any debt.  When I purchased my second car, I was initially going to finance.  I thought I had no other choice.  I wanted a real nice car this time.  But since I was only working part time, the bank wouldn't grant me a loan unless I lied about my income (which I was actually told to do).  That wasn't an option, so I had no choice left but to save my pennies and wait until I could again pay cash and not get my dream car. I had also calculated that even if I legitimately met the bank's requirements for a loan, I would have had to choke my other spending to meet my financial obligations and that was not a burden I wanted.

I do see a downfall of having a car.  Yes, it allows me to keep my job and be independent, but I would have a hard time having this independence taken away.  There's something I'm very afraid of right now.  I have seen young couples get married and have to move down to one vehicle to cut expenses.  That would be extremely difficult for me.  But I would understand the reason for it.  I know how much it costs to keep a vehicle on the road.  If you never have your own car, you don't have to worry about that.

Some young women are very privileged and their parents buy them cars, or have one they're always allowed to drive.  I haven't had that luxury and I'm actually happy for that.  I value what I've been able to learn through owning my own cars.  Just please don't take it away from me.

Next Post: Manage Your Finances

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Responsible Single: Learn to Drive

This is a post I'm going to try to keep brief.  I believe it's important that young women learn how to drive.  I'm not sure why, but driving is something that tends to scare some girls, and therefore they try to avoid it.  Some girls don't learn to drive for other reasons.  Sometimes they think they will always be able to get rides with other people wherever they need to go.  Other times, they don't have someone who is willing to take the time and lend the vehicle to teach them.  Whatever the case may be, I encourage girls to put aside their reasons or try to overcome their obstacles and do it anyway.

When you're young and you always have someone to catch a ride with, not driving doesn't seem like such a big deal.  But there comes a time when you can't always be dependent on others.  There are times when people won't be there to take you where you need to go or when doing so will come at a great inconvenience to them.  Also, as people become more dependent on others, I believe they start to lose their appreciation for what others do for them.  They begin to have unreasonable expectations and fail to give back.

Being able to drive tears down a lot of barriers and obstacles in life.  It's a lot easier to get a job when you're able to get there on your own.  It's also a lot easier to commit to other activities when you know you have a way of getting there.  It can eliminate a lot of stress and pressure in your life and in the lives of your family and friends.  In short, it makes life a lot easier.

If possible, I would encourage you to take a Driver's Ed course.  Yes, it's expensive and the prices only keep rising, but I was so thankful that I could learn to drive with someone who had the patience and skill to teach me well.  It was great to have someone who didn't freak out every time I did the littlest thing wrong.  One of the best things about the course was learning to drive on the highway with a trainer.  I know some women who drive, but will refuse to set wheels on the 400 series.  The combination of high speeds, thick traffic and changing lanes just seems to be more than they can handle.  I admit it can be stressful.  I often have a very tense neck after driving through a big city.  But it's a lot easier when you know how to do it right, and there are times when taking country roads is just not practical.

Yes, there are times when you will make mistakes.  I hope that none of them will cause bodily injury to anyone or cause you to be in conflict with the law.  I have made some mistakes, (one recently cost me dearly), and although there are times when I have been afraid of driving for awhile, I have never wished I had never learned in the first place.  I have always been thankful for the ability and I don't think it's something you would regret either.

My next post goes in hand with this one.  Stay tuned for "Own a Car".

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Responsible Single: Make Some Money

I'm going to get into a topic in this post that can be controversial in some Christian circles and that is young women getting jobs, or developing some other means of making an income.  Some Christians believe that women belong only in the home and should not be in the workplace.  I don't entirely agree.  I will share in this post what I have done in the past five years and what encouragement I have to offer single young women.

When I was 15, I started babysitting and this was my first small, somewhat consistent stream of income.  With that money, I completed a year of my secondary education and put myself through Driver's Ed.  From there, I had a couple short term jobs, before I got a part-time job at a local Christian bookstore where I was for almost three years. This year, I have taken on an administrative position (that came with a lot of non-administrative tasks) at a solar company that has stretched me to the limits at times.

Why should a single young woman go out and work?  I see several benefits to this.  First of all, it's not good to be idle.  Idleness breeds discontentment and sometimes unhealthy habits in our lives.  I know at times when I haven't worked much, even if it initially seems fun to spend most of my days at home, I quickly become depressed and restless.

Second, I think it's good to learn to meet your own needs.  In my home, I had to learn to do this much earlier than most young people, as my last paragraph indicates.  Through my small, part-time minimum wage income, I got my full driver's license, paid my insurance, purchased and maintained my own car, paid room and board, and paid for my other needs and wants.  I learned how to take care of myself.  I learned the value of work and money.  I learned what it takes to pay the bills and make ends meet.  I'm so glad I had the opportunity to learn this responsibility when I did.

Third, I believe it's good for young women going into marriage to understand the value of work and money.  So even if you desire to be a housewife, I think it's good to have some work experience behind you.  I fear that if a young women doesn't have this experience, she will not value what her husband does in efforts to provide for their family.  (And yes, I believe it is his responsibility to provide.)  She will not understand how difficult it sometimes is to stay faithful at a job and make sure there's money to meet expenses.  I fear she will in turn take advantage of what he does and what he brings home.

I said in my introduction that I would be honest about what I perceive to be disadvantages to the topics I cover, so I will take a moment to address that.  One of my fears for myself is that in working, I have become so independent, and so used to providing for my needs, I will have a hard time letting someone else do it for me.  Not that I would have a hard time staying at home while my husband works, but I fear that I will not feel like I deserve the money he works for.  I think I may at times feel guilty about spending our income on things beyond necessities that I want because I don't earn it.  This may not be a challenge for a young woman whose needs have always been met by her parents.

As I mentioned in my introduction to this series, the Proverbs 31 Woman was an entrepreneur.  She was a wife, mom, and managed her own business, making and selling goods.  She made money, she purchased land.  She was competent in financial and business matters.  If you as a young woman see an opportunity to pursue your own business venture, or be a part of a family business, I would encourage you to take it.  It's still a desire of mine.  Finding a job can be hard, but starting your own business is harder, and not everyone is cut out for it.  But I definitely see it as something that can be very beneficial when you're single or married.

Having said all this, I know it can be difficult to find a good job, especially if you want something in a good environment.  Depending on your education, skills, and geographic location, it can be even more difficult.  But I encourage you to make an effort.  You don't have to work full-time.  Although I do work full-time now, I do prefer to have more time at home where I can cook, bake, study, pursue my writing further and the like.  I definitely miss that often about my last job.  If possible, find something where you can not only use, but grow your skills and talents, a job where there are new opportunities in sight.  It may be hard at times, but it will prove to be much more rewarding.

In the end, the goal should be to be productive, to learn how to provide for your own needs and to understand the value of work and money.  I hope that whatever you pursue, you can learn, grow, and enjoy it all at the same time.

Next Post: Learn to Drive

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Responsible Single: Learn to Cook

I'm tapping into another essential skill for single women, especially those aspiring to marry and have a family.  Learn to cook.  Learn to cook food that doesn't come out of a package.  And learn to do it without your mom having to tell you what to make or how.

Again, I've been privileged to learn to cook and bake under the guidance of a mom and older sister.  I started cooking because I wanted to, not because I had to.  And you know what?  If you don't take the first steps to learn, your mother might not force it on you, and you may end up striking out on your own with next to no abilities in the kitchen.

I can't lay out for you my 10 Steps to Becoming a Great Cook.  I don't have them.  I learned how to cook by doing and I'm still learning.  I learned by helping in the kitchen, doing the menial jobs I did not enjoy and still don't. (Does anyone else get annoyed with shredding cheese?)  Slowly I learned how to make meals on my own.  I learned to bake cookies, muffins, and cakes on my own.  And after some coaching I learned how to make bread by hand on my own.  I also learned over time that sometimes Mom knows better than the recipe, and sometimes common sense rules over the recipe.

Again, take advantage of the people in your home who can teach you and be patient to allow yourself to be taught.  If you have never cooked in your life, and you pull out a new recipe and head to the kitchen alone hoping to impress the family, halfway through you will likely be in tears, want to abandon the whole meal, and never want to cook again.  I remember instances where I have tried to impress and burned the blueberry muffins or ended up with a very dense loaf of bread.   Allow yourself be to taught.  Also, learn how to use the equipment right and safely.  Something like a pressure cooker can be a great tool, but if you don't know how to use it, you could really hurt yourself.

Something else I want to touch on is meal planning.  Cooking is half the job.  Serious.  No, actually a fraction.  Washing the dishes takes up half on its own.  Whatever.  The hardest part of cooking is often knowing what to cook.  To the amateur, this is difficult to comprehend.  It's something I used to not be able to understand.  Now I do.  Cooking isn't that hard, but planning meals that go according to everyone's tastes, preferences that day, ingredients you have on hand, and taking a budget into consideration is hard.  Especially when you have to do it an hour before supper and the pressure is on.

When I meal plan (which, to be honest, I haven't done much lately), I don't plan every detail of all three meals each day.  Rather, I will sit down and brainstorm a few meals to cook for dinner and make a grocery list accordingly.  I keep it flexible.  We keep breakfast simple, and lunches are usually comprised of leftovers or other things we can make quickly.  Not only does meal planning take the pressure off for each day, but it allows you to shop wisely and not go to the store every day for that one ingredient you don't have. You can incorporate variety into your menu (using different meats, flavours, side dishes, vegetables, etc.), and keep things financially balanced.  You may like pasta, but if you're making it every day of the week, or all your meals have a lot of expensive ingredients, you'll start running into problems. 

Having just written this, I feel like I'm trying to write advice for married women.  Please don't take it that way.  I have simply shared things I have learned, what I would encourage and why.  Cooking and meal planning is a skill that will greatly benefit you at home with your parents, or as a wife and mom.  You can help take a lot of work off your mom's shoulders and bless your family with great food.  I highly recommend that all young women learn to do it well.

Next Post: Get a Job!

Monday, 26 November 2012

Responsible Single: Manage a Household

I'm going to start my Responsible Single series with tackling a couple of the obvious topics, not only for being a responsible single, but also for preparation for marriage.  First off, managing a household.  Now I'm not saying you have to strike out on your own, rent an apartment and learn to manage YOUR household, although you may do that.  I'm sure it would be a great experience in many aspects.  You can learn to manage a household even while you're living at home with your parents.

I've been blessed to grow up in a home where my mom has taught me a lot of things.  Thanks to her, I know how to cook, clean, do laundry, make beds, wash piles of dishes and the like.  No, I don't do all the household tasks on my own, but I'm capable of doing so. (I will avoid ironing and sewing at all costs though.)  You can also learn to keep the yard neat and tidy.

These are not difficult tasks, but it's good to learn not only to do them, but to do them efficiently.  A few years ago I took up the task of babysitting a toddler while both parents were working, and often while he napped, I helped them out by doing some house cleaning.  When I started, it took me about an hour and a half just to clean the bathroom.  But after some practice and learning to plan and do it well, I was able to clean the bathroom thoroughly in at least half the time.  I also had a similar experience when I helped clean my church.  Learn to do tasks thoroughly and efficiently, and it comes only with practice.

Not having lived on my own, the best real life practice I've gotten of managing a household are the few times my mom went away for a trip and all family members left at home relied on me.  This has happened during times where I have been working part time, at times sick, and at times asked to babysit for half a day when I already was extremely busy.  I learned how much is actually involved when the family relies on me for everything, and I also learned what I'm actually capable of accomplishing in one day.  On top of that, I learned to really appreciate all Mom does.

I would encourage you to learn how to manage a home while you still have someone alongside to teach you.  You probably know of someone who has gone off to college or left home not knowing how to do anything.  It's a very difficult transition for them.  Let that not be the case for you.

Next Post: Learn to Cook

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

A Responsible Single: Introduction

Earlier this year, I wrote a blog post on being a responsible single.  I didn't publish it however for a few reasons.  In the last few weeks I have thought about turning it into a series that would be more effective and now I'm doing just that.  This is the introduction, and since I'm afraid my thoughts may be easily misinterpreted, I want to clarify what this is and isn't.

In the church today, there are many different opinions about what a woman's role is.  Some churches have no problem with women pursuing post-secondary education, a career, having a family later in later and committing their children to be raised and taught mostly by other people.  Others believe that a woman's place is strictly in the home, serving her husband and raising and teaching her children herself.  Whatever pattern is adopted by churches, whether verbally or quietly, really affects the way young women spend their single years.

I think young women in the church often face a lot of confusion and lack direction during their single years.  Many desire to get married and have a family and follow Pattern B, but they don't know when that will happen and they are unsure how to spend the in-between time after they have finished their secondary education.  Unfortunately what ends up happening is that girls spend their time idle, discontent, lacking responsibility, waiting for the day they're swept away by a man and have a home of their own, and I don't see this to be healthy.

Many Christians like to talk about the "Proverbs 31 Woman".  I hear a lot of single girls express a desire to be like this woman.  But I believe some very important points are overlooked at times.  The woman described in the chapter is an industrious entrepreneur who makes informed financial decisions and her husband trusts in her completely with their living.  He knows he is never going to suffer lack with her running their home (Pr. 31:11). She is not an idle woman, but works hard with willing hands (Pr. 31:13,27).  She takes care of her household, feeding and clothing them, and reaches out to the poor (Pr. 31:15,20-22). She considers a field and buys it (Pr. 31:16).  She produces and sells her own merchandise (Pr. 31:1824).  Her children and husband praise her (Pr. 31:28,29).  Yes, she's a keeper of the home, but that is certainly not all she does.  She's a capable, intelligent, financially responsible woman who uses her skills and talents to run her own business in addition to her home.

If this is what we as young women aspire to be, how do we work towards that?  How do we be fruitful while we wait, so that one day each of us can be that kind of woman?

What I desire to do in this series is not tell you what a godly woman, or a "Proverbs 31 Woman" should look like today.  I don't want to tell you how you're supposed to live.  What I want to do is share with you some things I have done and am doing during my single years to take responsibility for myself and that I would encourage others to do.  I admit there are some things I haven't done well and some things I would do differently if I had another chance, so I likely won't go deeply into those issues.  I'll leave it to others to speak to those issues.

I will devote each blog post to a separate topic.  My hope is that you will take these as practical suggestions and encouragement.  I also recognize that there may be some negative sides to some of the suggestions I have, and I hope I can address those honestly and look at both sides with fairness.  In the end, even if you don't agree with all my thoughts, my hope is that you would be inspired to make the most of their single years, be active and intentional about it, and have an increased amount of responsibility.

Next Post: Manage a Household

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Lessons Learned from Fundraising

A couple weeks ago, I held a Justice Book Sale to raise money for International Justice Mission.  I have mentioned this event briefly in a few of my posts.  It was an idea I came up with in June after attending an IJM event and after four months or praying, planning and preparation, the event is now over.  We ended up raising over $1,800 to provide aftercare to rescued victims of forced labour and sex trafficking in India.

For any readers I may have that don't know me personally, here is a quick overview of what I did.  I came up with the idea of doing a community used book sale involving multiple local churches.  I contacted churches in the area asking if they would help collect quality used book donations that would be combined for the event, open to the whole community.  About half of the ones I contacted agreed to this and we ended up having well over 2,000 items for sale, along with baked goods provided by family and friends.

This event required a lot of planning and work to get to the day.  There were times of waiting for churches to respond.  Then there was keeping up with communication in the midst of a busy work schedule and getting all the donations collected, sorted and priced!  I was very thankful for some awesome friends who helped me with that task.  The last couple weeks before the sale were kind of crazy.  The day of the sale, we had all the books set out on tables in a school gymnasium, a small bake sale, as well as a speaker giving two presentations on IJM's work.

Having never done anything like this before, I didn't know what to expect.  I knew that I would likely be disappointed to some degree, but with so many people knowing about the event, I had set my expectations quite high.  The event went well and considering the turnout, we raised a fair amount and IJM was pleased. But I did not get the turnout I had hoped for.  I ended up feeling let down by people.  I was also very tired from all the work I had been putting into this over the weeks prior to the event.  Needless to say, the day after, I was physically and emotionally exhausted.

So what did I learn from all this?  I think the most important point was that it was still worth it.  Despite all my tiring efforts, the amount of time and money I invested and being a little let down by the results, it was still worth it.  The men, women, and children in India who have been hurt beyond what we can imagine were worth it.  Being able to do a small part in helping them heal and rebuild their lives was worth it.

Secondly, I learned we have to be faithful even when we aren't guaranteed results.  I put on this event for a number of reasons.  I did it to raise money for IJM, to raise awareness of injustice around the world in the churches involved, to give of myself to make a difference in the world, and because I felt God was guiding me to do so.  I didn't know the outcome.  Just because I was pouring myself into this, didn't mean everyone else would join in with equal enthusiasm, although that would have been nice.  It didn't mean people would come in droves and empty their pockets.  But I had to be faithful, I had to give of myself, even if I wasn't guaranteed a huge success.

Lastly, I learned a lot that can be used in the future.  I learned what seemed to work well. I learned what didn't work well.  Although I may not do an event like this again, if I do another fundraiser in the future, I still have learned some valuable things of what to keep doing and what to approach differently.  I will have done this before and will have some experience to draw from. 

What I really want my readers to get from it is this: Do what you have been called to do, even if you aren't guaranteed results.  Do hard things, do things that are right, use (or sacrifice) your time and talents to be a voice and to make a meaningful impact.  Whether that's raising money for the cause of justice, speaking for unborn children, those in poverty or something else, take a risk and do something.  It won't be easy, you might end up a little disappointed and sometimes people will let you down.  But in the end, I hope you will be able to say that you were faithful and that it was worth it.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Over-Aged Rebelutionary

A few years ago, the Rebelution had a huge influence on my life and still does.  Started by teens, Alex and Brett Harris, it's a movement that encourages teens to do hard things and live above the expectations of our culture.  I made friends and connected with people I otherwise may never have met.

I read the book Do Hard Things several times, and although I loved the principles, I felt I had a difficult time applying them.  Yes, I was doing the small hard things, I was living in a way and making decisions most teens didn't, but it didn't feel that significant.  I wasn't doing any big, hard things, the kinds of things that impact the people around me or cause leaps and bounds of growth in my life.

Late last year, I turned 20.  I wasn't a "teenager" anymore and I felt like I had kind of missed out on the Rebelution in my own life.  But early this year, some significant changes happened in my life that threw me into hard things I didn't feel prepared for.  I felt like I was only starting to do hard things once my teen years were over.

This past summer, I decided to move further out of my comfort zone and take action.  I began planning a fundraiser for International Justice Mission Canada.  (I think it was also through the Rebelution that I initially learned about Zach Hunter and IJM.)  Not just a small fundraiser, but one that involves multiple local churches to form a community event that will be taking place later this fall.  I have never planned a fundraiser before, let alone such a large event like this involving so many people, nor do I know anyone who has.  After speaking to IJM, I found out they have never had anyone plan an event like this either.  I'm really doing something in a way nobody has done it before, I don't know how the results will turn out, but I'm excited that I'm taking action, doing hard things, and hopefully inspiring others to do the same.

I feel like an over-aged Rebelutionary.  At times I wished I had done these sort of hard things in my teens.  But in the past month or so, I have come to view it differently.  I have seen the things in my teen years that prepared me for this, like my previous job, or my decision to leave the public school system when it didn't make any sense.  I have come to see character traits in my life that often come out negatively, but can be channeled in this fundraising project in a positive way to do good.  The skills I have developed, the experience I've had, and even the character qualities that often cause tension in my relationships are assets and qualities that greatly aid me in the work I'm doing.

What I'm ultimately getting at is this: Don't get discouraged that you didn't do more in the past.  Don't just regret what you didn't do.  Rather do something now and look to new opportunities for growth.  I look back at my teen years now, and yes, I regret some things.  But I also see how much they prepared me for the work I am doing now.  I look at how much I have grown in the last eight months after my teen years.  I have faced challenges, been thrown out of my comfort zone, but it has caused me to grow and do things I otherwise wouldn't have thought possible and wouldn't have been possible without that season of preparation.

I don't want to go through life asking why I didn't do more last year.  But I do want to go through life and look back and say I did more, I lived more fully, I did harder things, I grew more this year than last year.  The Rebelution isn't just for teens.  It's for everyone, especially for the Christian and should be applied and lived out throughout our whole life.  It's great if the foundation can be laid in our youth, but growth will happen in later years as well.

My desire is that in the coming years, I will continue to use my single years to grow and do harder things, that it will prepare me for the marriage and family I will one day have.  I also pray that I will continue to look back, not with regret, but with joy and satisfaction, knowing that God has led me, that I took up opportunities, that I did harder things, that I loved more, served more, and have grown stronger in faith and in character with each year.

Is your desire the same?

Friday, 31 August 2012

Wisdom Meets Passion

Wisdom Meets Passion by Dan Miller and Jared Angaza is written by a father and son team.  It blends the wisdom of the older Baby Boomer generation and the passion of the younger to show how you can live a meaningful life.  The older generation put a lot of emphasis on secure jobs and retirement plans while the younger generation wants to make a difference in the world.  This team of authors shows readers how to blend wisdom and passion to live a purposeful life and do work that matters.

Wisdom Meets Passion is an inspiring and motivational book.  There are lots of inspirational quotes throughout the book, but the authors never use them to make up for lack of content. I appreciated the perspective on non-traditional forms of education and entrepreneurship, as well as Dan's emphasis on having a clear, specific mission statement for your life.  He encourages readers to blend their passions, talents and skills and apply them to do work they love.  I could also identify with the challenges he faced through his conservative Mennonite upbringing and I believe he addresses these challenges in a respectful manner.

I did not agree with some of the theological ideas in this book.  I admired Jared's passion and life of service in Africa, but I was a little turned off by his great emphasis on philanthropy without much of a focus on Christ.

Overall, I enjoyed and learned a lot from this book.  It left me inspired and caused me to reconsider applying my skills and talents to pursue an entrepreneurial venture.  I would definitely recommend this book to people who have a desire to live above the mediocre expectations of this world and try new things.

I was provided a complimentary copy of this book by the publisher through and was not required to write a positive review.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Feeling Restless?

Have you ever felt restless and discontent as a Christian?  Have you ever felt that God has a greater purpose for your life, but you just don't know what it is?  I've felt that way many times.

I learned why Christians often feel this way while reading a book by IJM's founder Gary A. Haugen.  It's called Just Courage: God's Great Expedition for the Restless Christian.  Although I wouldn't say he has the answer for all cases of Christian discontentment, he brings out a truth that is so simple, obvious, and get so profound.  Gary has it right when he says "Earnest, gifted, mature Christians--we feel like we're all dressed up with nowhere to go."

The fact is, we as Christians have not been created and saved for the sole purpose of our own spiritual growth, and to grow in our careers, churches and ministries.  And yet that's all so many of us are doing.

"If we believe, for example, that our own rescue, redemption and sanctification in Christ is itself the ultimate destination, then the answer to the Now what? question is--well, nothing . . . Indeed, the idea that there is nothing beyond our own spiritual development isn't meant to be satisfying--for our rescue is not the ultimate destination; it is the indispensable means by which God works out his plan to rescue the world."

We have been rescued to be rescuers to a hurting world, but because so many of us aren't willing to do that, we continue to be discontent.  It's not that we don't know the commands of Christ, or don't want to do greater things, or help those in need.  The problem is that we are only willing to follow Christ as far as it's safe, as long as we feel in control.  As soon as there's more risk, warning signs, and we're not guaranteed to come home to our comfortable, North American lives unscathed, be back out and decide to stay safe.  We have a yearning to be brave, but we want to be safe.  The truth is, we can't have both.

I appreciated Gary addressing parents specifically in this book on two levels.  For one, he encouraged readers to relate to the problem of human trafficking from the perspective of a parent.  There are so many parents in the world who helplessly have to watch their children suffer, and all they need is just a fighting chance to give them a better life.

Second, he addressed parents who's children want to go out and do significant things with their lives, but they won't let them because they want to protect their children.  But children are disappointed to realize that their parents have poured so much into them only to keep them safe.  Gary says that these children will either perish in their safety or they will go looking for adventure in all the wrong places.  I appreciated this because I have dealt with a lot of frustration in this area and I think parents need to see this.

"Are we raising our children to be safe or to be brave?  Are we raising our children to be smart or to be loving?  Are we raising them to be successful or significant?"

I was inspired by this book.  I was inspired by Gary sharing his own life stories and appreciated him sharing his fears in starting IJM, afraid of it failing and end up looking like a fool.  Since I'm pursuing an IJM endeavour at the moment, this was a great encouragement to me.  I'm often afraid that something won't work out and I'll only end up looking like a fool. I will leave you with his words that helped me to keep going.

"When I am fifty, do I really want to look back and say, Yeah, I sensed God was calling me to lead a movement to bring rescue to people who desperately need an advocate in the world, but I was afraid of getting embarrassed and so I never even tried?"

Thursday, 16 August 2012

What Are You Saying? Part Three

This post is a continuation of What Are You Saying? Part Two.

In Parts One and Two of this series, I shared two stories about what people say by how they dress, one pertaining to women, the other to men.  Although I asked a lot of questions about what people say, I hope to pull things together here and perhaps provide a few answers.  Remember, these are a lot of thoughts I've pondered and are not to be taken as if I think I have it all figured out.  I also realize I am speaking from the limited perspective of a young, single woman, but I do hope you will take some things into consideration.

First of all, in regards to my first post: What do girls say about themselves when dressing in such an exposing manner?  Now, a lot of it is just so engrained in our culture.  We live in a society that screams sex and fashion caters to that idea.  Walk into most stores in the mall, especially in the summertime, that's what's available.  It's what's in, it's what's considered hot, it's what makes you popular, so why not buy it?

The problem is that our culture has stripped girls of the ideas that their bodies are worth anything more, that they actually have value as a person, that some guys actually will love them for not dressing like the rest of the crowd.  I really do believe that the average young woman wants to be treated respectfully, wants to be wanted for more than just sex, but since the pressure is so strong, they just cave in, follow the crowd and try to deal with it.

Girls, let me tell you this.  You do have value.  God created you for Himself, and although your sexuality is a gift, it is meant to be saved for your husband.  And yes, there are men who will still love you.  They will love you for who you are, not for your body.  I have on a few occasions read Yahoo articles of men giving their opinions on popular women's fashions.  They actually don't want to see that much.  They don't think such skimpy clothes are actually attractive. And these weren't Christians saying this either.  Let that encourage you.

Maybe I'm wrong in thinking this way, but if you dress with decency, you are a lot more likely to be treated respectfully. But it would be wrong to expect that if you revealed everything.  I have very little sympathy to offer a girl freaking out over a guy looking up her mini skirt.  I can only be shocked that she's so offended when there's so little hidden in the first place.  No, his actions aren't right, but frankly, she's only inviting such behaviour.  So, in short girls, dress with dignity and it will likely change the way people relate to you.

On to my reflections on Part 2.  I was afraid of writing this because I wasn't sure how people would feel about me speaking to men.  I think I can safely say that our culture and the modern belief system has influenced men's fashions as well.  You may think there's nothing exciting about T-shirts. But a shirt like the one I described in my last post says a lot about a common belief in our world--that it's okay and even enjoyable to abuse women. That it's pleasurable to not only have sex, but to make your partner a torture victim.  They find satisfaction in another's pain.

In regards to the particular incident I witnessed, that man was screaming a few things, perhaps without realizing it.  In addition to suggesting there was something pleasurable in a woman's suffering, he was also saying that his wife wasn't enough.  That she didn't fulfill him.  He had to look to other things for pleasure, and I doubt it was limited to a T-shirt.

I often read the Old Testament and wonder how some of those women felt that were just one of many wives.  I personally don't know of one woman that likes to share her husband, although I don't rule out the possibility of it happening.  Polygamy does still happen, but I honestly don't think that the thought thrills too many women.  Most wives don't want to have to compete with an another woman, or images on a screen for that matter.  I recently read an article where doctors were going so far as to say that men need variety, need an occasional fling with someone else, and their wives should just be okay with it.  No, no, they shouldn't!

I'm writing from a single perspective here, so I don't know everything.  I won't tell the men reading this what they can't wear.  But I do know that most women want to be enough for the man in their life.  They don't want to share, and rightly so.  To the young women reading though, I will say this. You can be confident that God wants nothing less for you than to have a faithful husband, sexually satisfied by you alone.  You don't have to settle for less. You're not asking too much.

In closing, I want to encourage each reader to ask yourself once in awhile, "What am I saying by what I wear?"

Monday, 13 August 2012

What Are You Saying? Part Two

This is a continuation of What Are You Saying? Part One.

I observed something else on that day in the grocery store, namely how men dress.  Now immodesty is never addressed as much of a mens issue, but it's there. When I think about men and immodesty, I think of men with sagging jeans, exposing most of their boxers, complete with the belt that is not there for the purpose of keeping their pants up.  Rather, it frequently only achieves drawing more attention to the mid-section.  Difficult not to notice.

I usually don't have much sympathy for men who complain about shopping, but I have come to understand some of the challenges they face.  There's a lot of shirts out there with stupid stuff on them, as well as downright disturbing.  I observed this in the checkout line as well. A man was wearing a shirt with a woman on it.  She was hot alright.  Blonde, slim and dressed in only a blue skimpy bikini.  Typical, right?  Not quite.  This woman had chains wrapped around her.  From the way her head fell back and the weary expression on her face, she didn't even look conscious.  She had an evil, demon-like creature holding her up, his lustful face at her neck.  This image plastered the front and back of the shirt.  Perhaps you are surprised by the detail, but the image is fairly vividly burned into my mind.

Now I could talk about the message this shirt portrayed.  It spoke sex alright, but it also spoke of pain, torture, suffering, lust and evil.  What hurt me most though wasn't the shirt but rather the man wearing it and those around him.  This man was shopping with whom I assumed to be his wife and daughter.  I hadn't noticed something like this before.  Perhaps I assumed only single guys wore stuff like that, not married men.

I hurt.  I hurt for that man's wife and child.  What did they feel?  What was it like for a woman to be out in public with her husband wearing something like that?  For a little girl to be seen with her father like that?  Was his wife okay with him wearing that, or did they have an argument about it before leaving the house?  Was he a dominating husband who wouldn't be told what he could or could not do, who would wear what we wanted, with no thought of how it affected those around him?

Although I can't say for sure, I believe I saw pain and shame on that woman's face.  She looked embarrassed.  I had to wonder many things?  Was she even loved?  Was her husband faithful to her?  Did he have some private, or rather public life that she was ashamed about?  Did she, unlike the young woman flaunting her body, believe she was worthless because of the way her husband treated her?  Did she feel like she wasn't enough?  And what about that man's daughter?  What will that girl grow up believing about men?  About what girls are worth? 

What was he actually saying?

To be continued....

Friday, 10 August 2012

What Are You Saying? Part One

I'm starting a short blog series on what people say by what they wear.  This idea came to me after writing about my observations of people one day while waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store. It's not meant to be a series on modesty, or even just what people say about themselves by the way they dress.  I want to dig a little deeper into a few ideas that we may not always think about.  I'm not saying that all my thoughts are true.  They are thoughts and questions, so please don't take offense by what I put out here.

I was waiting in the checkout line on a busy Friday afternoon, on probably one of the hottest days of the summer and most people were dressed accordingly.  To be honest, I get annoyed sometimes when people always complain about immodesty, but I can't say it doesn't bother me.  I just don't vocalize it very much.  I often become very conscious of what people around me are wearing, especially when I'm out in public with a man.

On this day, I certainly did notice it.  Immodesty can be amusing, as strange as it sounds.  It's funny to see how girls act when dressed in such delicate outfits.  They try to hold everything together without anyone noticing.  A young woman walked by me wearing a pair of short denim shorts and a loose fitting, but very short yellow top exposing several inches of her tanned midriff.  As she was carrying a basket of groceries in one hand, she was trying to inconspicuously tug at her shorts with the other, which seemed a little big around the waist.   Now, I must say that a lot of girls who wear such exposing outfits are really not as hot as they think they are.  You notice this as well when you go to the beach and see how many larger women wear such exposing swimwear.  But that's besides the point.

What I thought about that day was how women who dress like this actually disrespect themselves.  Now I'm not sure how to explain this in a way that makes sense.  I don't know why some girls dress the way they do.  Do they simply want to be cool and comfortable?  Do they really think their bodies look that awesome, hot or sexy?  Do they do it because it's expected of them?  Or out of rebellion?  Do they want the attention from guys?  I'm sure for many of them, that's what they crave.  But do they know what kind of attention they're actually attracting?  If they knew, would they still want it?  Or would they be disgusted?  Would they get defensive and say "Well, they don't have to look!"?

Or is there deep down actually a lack of self-worth?  Do they really believe their bodies aren't worth saving for their spouse?  Do they think they're worthless trash, only wanted for one thing?  Do they wonder if perhaps they really are just something they're always called, so they might as well look the part?

Whatever is causing them to dress the way they do, I believe many girls lack respect for themselves.  They have somehow been convinced that their bodies, their sexuality, aren't something sacred, but rather to be flaunted for the world to see.  They have been convinced they have to look that way in order to be accepted or "loved".  If they don't, no guy will ever want them.

What the girl doesn't realize is that the right guy who will truly love her, not lust after her, will respect her for what she doesn't show the whole world.  He will love her for not flaunting her body and sexuality. He doesn't want what she shares with everyone who passes by, but what she can give to him alone in marriage.  And that's beautiful.

To be continued...

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

The Value of One

Have you ever felt so overwhelmed by numbers and statistics concerning human trafficking that you wondered how it's even possible to make a difference?

I just finished reading Terrify No More by Gary Haugen, founder of International Justice Mission.  This book centres on one of IJM's rescue operations in Cambodia, with other stories dispersed in between.  In a village called Svay Pak, a hot spot for Western sex tourists, children as young as five are rented out in brothels to be abused and forced to perform sex acts for strangers I won't detail.  IJM's investigators went into Svay Pak on numerous occasions, gathering evidence and video footage, and documented the names, ages, and pictures of children held there, what they were required to do, as well as documented the brothel owners and pimps who ran the industry.  From a human standpoints, rescuing these children would impossible, but they put their faith in God and prepared for their mission. In March 2003, IJM put their carefully laid plans into action and rescued 37 victims and saw 13 perpetrators arrested.

I appreciated that Gary put the painful reality of these abused children into perspective.  "I could write the stories about girls who have cried to us, 'Where were you three years ago when I was brought to this place?  Why didn't you rescue me then when it would have mattered?"  We cannot begin to understand the horrible circumstances children and women are forced into when they are sold into brothels.  They're not just statistics.  They are living, breathing individuals crying out "Where are you?" and each one matters!

I think in our culture, we easily forget the value of one. We can't really grasp problems of such a large nature, and the statistics often don't help, especially with our ideas about what results or success should look like. It might even get to the point that even when someone does do something about it, it seems insignificant.  We may be tempted to say something like "Sure, some good guys raid a brothel and get a few girls out, a pimp or two get sent to jail.  What's the big deal?  There's still millions more."  And we forget or undermine the value of one person, one child who doesn't have to subject her body to such cruel treatment anymore.

In Terrify No More, I was reminded of the importance of one.  "Each of these is worthy.  Each of these is made in the very image of God and to the extent that we have extended such love to even one of the least of these, we have extended such love to the very Maker of the universe.  And we, for a moment, could experience the eternal resonance of why we existed on the earth at all."

This reminded me of the parable of the lost sheep, how the shepherd, who has a hundred sheep and loses one, leaves the ninety-nine on the mountains to find the one that went astray.  Also the Bible tells us that the angels in heaven rejoice when one soul comes to repentance. When I look at the life of Christ, I see a man who ministered to crowd of thousands.  But I also see a man who took the time for the one.  The one woman in the pressing crowd, who having touched his robe, felt His healing power.  The one man oppressed by a demon.  The one person who was blind.  He never overlooked the one in the midst of the crowd.

That's because one matters!  It's not about the numbers.  The little girl rescued from life in the brothel probably initially doesn't care how many millions of slaves are still in the world!  She most likely will later on, but for the moment, she's happy that she's free.  She can enjoy being a child and playing with toys.  The one woman rescued doesn't have to worry anymore which customer may infect her with HIV.  Yes, they have a long healing process ahead of them, but for one, life has changed. 

Remember also that when victims are rescued and perpetrators are convicted and sentenced to prison, other traffickers will know that can't keep doing what they're doing and get away with it.  The sex tourists realize the party's over.  This will have greater impacts and prevent other children from being trafficked.  Eventually it will hurt the industry.

Let us not lose heart when we look at the suffering of this world.  Don't become paralyzed by statistics, but go into battle and seek out the one.  Change the life of one.  And I believe that by doing that, God will bless and multiply your efforts to reach out to many more.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

It's Just a Car

Early on this year, it became evident that I would need to purchase a new car soon.  Up until last week, I drove a 2002 Mazda Protege5 I had purchased two years ago.  It was the first car I owned.  When I bought it, it had it's defects.  It had very high mileage, it was starting to rust, had some dents, and so forth.  But the interior was mostly in excellent condition and clean, which was very important to me.  It was small, yet relatively spacious, fairly fuel efficient and it nicely suited my needs.

Unfortunately, cars don't stay in the same condition in which you buy them.  The body continued to rust and people commented on it frequently.  I mean, it stood out.  Silver with burnt orange highlights.  But I didn't see it while I was driving it, and I can say it rarely bothered me that much.  In the two years I had it, I did have to do two repairs aside from tire changes and regular services.  After the last repair, I tried searching after a couple mechanics recommended finding something new.  I really only repaired it to buy time, since I didn't want to have to buy a car under pressure.

I had an ideal car in mind that I really wanted.  After about a week, it became evident that financing wasn't an option for several reasons and I would simply have to wait, work, save, and pray.  At the same time, God was convicting me in an area of my life which I felt to be very ill timed.  But I obeyed His Word, in hopes that His promise would be fulfilled in my life.  I have heard some great stories of God provision when people needed cars, and thought maybe God would do the same.  It didn't happen.  I simply had to be patient and use wisely what He was entrusting to me.

By this summer, my Mazda was in rough shape.  I got a cracked windshield, scratched the one side up, the body continued to rot, and now at 300k, it had an oil leak that was really leaving it's mark.  Knowing it wasn't worth it, I decided not to fix this car, so I started hunting again.  My hunt only lasted about a week.  I browsed Kijiji, explored my options, knowing I wasn't going to get my ideal car, but searching for good alternatives.  I have prejudices against certain vehicles, some perhaps without solid reason, so this made it a little more difficult, especially within my budget.

I found something that interested me, but I didn't think I could afford it.  Well, perhaps.  I tried hard to figure out how it could work, and decided that if I compromised my financial principles, you know, just a little, it could work.  After a few warnings, I decided against it, and I'm confident I made the right choice there.

I found something else right away.  It was a black 2005 Nissan Altima 2.5S.  It drove nice and looked good for the most part.  It had some interior defects that I was disappointed about though, and some body scratches. After a couple hours of browsing dealers and viewing what was available within my budget, my mind kept coming back to that car.  I waited two days, in which time I considered a lot of the pros and cons, and the cons started scaring me.  But I felt that I would get a quality car, so in the end, it would be okay.  The next week, I went to the dealer, and looking at it again, there was no doubt in my mind, I signed the papers and made the deposit. 

Now, I'm leaving out a lot of details here for the sake of time, length and privacy.  But things didn't transpire exactly as I had hoped.  The car wasn't ready when expected and not everything was done in it that I was told was going to be done.  When I picked it up, there was a glaring defect on the vehicle that I didn't see there before, and am pretty convinced was not there when I drove it the week earlier, although I can't be entirely sure.  The person who had looked at the vehicle with me couldn't remember if it had been there before, but it was pretty hard not to notice.  I was a little disappointed.  Driving home, it drove nice.  Quiet.  Much quieter than my old one, almost too quiet.  And I had to be really careful not to drive faster than I normally did.  When I got home, I found some questionable content hidden in the glove compartment, and decided to simply dispose of the evidence.  It did make me wonder though.  But a lot of the interior dirt and grime wiped out, so despite my disappointments on Day 1, there were things to be thankful for.

Day 2 was my first day being seen by friends in this car.  It felt kind of nice.  But I also couldn't show it off as proudly as I would have liked.  I thought it would feel better but it had some glaring defects I couldn't get past.  There had been some marks inside the car that had puzzled me and I did have ideas, but since there was no noticeable odour, I ignored the thoughts.  Then my friend mentioned cigarette burns.  He hit the nail right on the head.  I never asked the dealer if it had been smoked in and I couldn't smell anything, but now putting that and prior evidence I found together made me wonder even more.  What kind of car did I buy?  That evening, the engine light came on.  How convenient.

Day 3, I found out the car had a second paint job.  An experienced painter could immediately tell.  The paint had looked different to me, but it hadn't crossed my mind before.  It made me wonder why.  By the end of the day, I was totally depressed.  I couldn't even look at my new car and be happy.  It just left a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I was completely deflated and felt like I would regret this decision forever.  I felt like I had thrown away everything I had worked for into a car that I now felt cheated by.

And then it hit me.  Materialism.  This was at the root of my depression.  I had bought into the world's way of thinking long before I had bought this car.  I wanted a car for more than for the sake of getting around, although that was very necessary.  I viewed a car as a status symbol, just like the rest of the world.  So when I bought a new car, I wanted it to be good.  Now, I'm not talking very high end here.  My ideal was rather very low in comparison to the luxury available.  I didn't even want a brand new car.  But I wanted something that was at least unique in my social circle.  I wanted something none of my friends had.  I wanted at least a few people to impress, even if just a little.

So I couldn't get my ideal, but I still wanted the best I could get for the money I had.  When I found the Altima, I felt kind of like I had done that.  But this car has not given me the joy I thought it would.  It made me a lot more depressed in three days than my rusty Mazda ever did.  That's because material things ultimately can't satisfy us. They were never intended to.

You can't buy a perfect used car.  I learned that the hard way.  Cars are not built to last and they will not stay in mint condition forever.  So why do I put so much value into it?  Why am I so depressed when I found out after I bought it that it didn't meet my expectations, when it had more defects than I initially saw?  I mean, I got it and found out it didn't even have keyless entry!  How annoying isn't that?

Face it.  A car can't give you joy.  A car does not make you a better person, a better Christian, or a better witness.  It doesn't actually make you cooler, or hotter, or rank you above others in your social circle.  They are not a measuring stick of your worth.  They don't stay perfect and you will never find a used car that is perfect.  Even if you buy a brand new car, or a brand new house, it won't stay in that condition for long.  It's not meant to, and it's not meant to satisfy you.

In the end, it's just a car.  It's purpose it to get you safely, efficiently, and preferably in moderate comfort from Point A to Point B and back again without problems.  No, it's likely not your best interest to buy a car with 400k, body rotting out, that will have a host of mechanical problems, and if you're like me, been the home of ten different pets.  It's definitely wise to invest in a quality vehicle that will effectively serve your needs and hopefully cater to at least some of your preferences.  I also sincerely hope you are successful in finding such vehicles than I have been.  But it isn't the most important thing in life.

A car won't make me happy.  Ultimately, joy and fulfillment is found in Christ.  I may end up regretting the decision I made, but I have my doubts that it will seriously affect my relationship with Christ.  Not unless I allow it to take an unhealthy hold on my life.  My friends likely won't love me more or less.  Neither will God.  It may cost me more in some areas.  I was prepared for that when I bought it.  But in the end, it is just a car.  I think I can live with it.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Good News About Injustice

I have spent the past month reading Good News About Injustice: A Witness of Courage in a Hurting World by Gary Haugen, founder of International Justice Mission (IJM).  Haugen started IJM after investigating the Rwandan genocide in 1994 among the nearly one million bodies, mostly of women and children, that were brutally hacked to death.  Good News About Injustice takes a hard look at the injustice that exists in our world, examines the biblical call to justice, explains how a Christian can prepare for the work of justice, explains how injustice works and how IJM works against it.

One of the main things Haugen deals with in his book that I greatly appreciated is the topic of hope.  When we look at the atrocities that happen around the globe, it looks hopeless from a human standpoint.  But it isn't from God's.  Haugen shows readers how we can put our hope in the God of justice, compassion, moral clarity and rescue.  This is something we have to understand if we want to see change in our world.

In the discussion guide in the back of my book, there's a quote by C.S. Lewis: "Despair is a greater sin than any of the sins that provoke it."  The question was to reflect on this and determine whether or not we agreed and why.  I didn't have to ponder this long before I determined it to be true.  Despair indeed is a greater sin than the sins that provoke it.  Why?  Because despair gives power to sin.  Despair says the sin is too great and too difficult to conquer.  Despair gives power to sin and Satan and thus belittles the power of our great God.  But the truth is Christ has power over sin, and because of that, we can have hope!

Hope is important because it recognizes that God is in control and that He will one day have ultimate justice on the earth and make all things new.  Hope is crucial because it recognizes that those suffering can be rescued, and by God's grace, they can experience healing and renewal in their lives.  And the beautiful thing is that God raises up His children to be a part of this, to be His hands and feet, to bring love and compassion to the hurting and give them hope as well.

No, injustice is not a hopeless problem.  There is hope for the little boy slaving in a brick kiln, working to pay off his grandfather's debt.  There is hope for the girl who was promised a good job, but rather finds herself sold into a brothel instead, raped repeatedly every day by lustful men and treated as a commodity, not a person.  There is hope for the man wrongfully accused and imprisoned and the widow forced off her property, having everything taken from her simply because her husband died. 

There is hope!  And as Christians, we are to put our hope in the God of justice, the God who desires to bring about justice on the earth, and then be His instruments to bring hope to a hurting, dying world.  Are you willing to be that hope, to be a part of the good news about injustice?  Then read the book and learn what you can do.

Friday, 1 June 2012

What Can I Do?

Tomorrow I plan to go to an International Justice Mission Volunteer Development Day.  I'm going to go find out what I can do in regards to a problem involving an estimated 27 million people, how I can help put an end to slavery, sexual exploitation, injustice and oppression.  That's big.  That's taken a  lot of courage.

Our world has a lot of problems and injustice abounds.  I'm often saddened to see that there are so few people doing something about it.  But I do have a small understanding of why this happens because I have experienced it myself.

In our comfortable North American lives, we hear about these things.  Not often, and I think we can say that there are people very ignorant of the world's problems, but we do.  It isn't always plastered over the evening news, or over Yahoo news.  But injustice happens and most of us aren't wholly ignorant.

We are however so absorbed in our comfortable lives here that we have a hard time grasping these global issues.  We have a hard time comprehending problems that involve and affect millions or even billions of people.  And since we can't even comprehend it, we can hardly imagine coming up with solutions that would even make a dent in these problems.  It's so big and overwhelming, we don't know what to do.

Some have a real desire for change, have a real desire to do something, but just don't know where to start.  And some think that even if they do do something, it really won't make that big of a difference.  Even if they can help a few, there's still millions suffering.  Some feel they are too busy and don't have adequate time to give.  Let someone else do it.  Yet others wonder if it's actually God's will or calling upon their lives, so they sit and wait for some sort of audible voice to tell them what to do.  In the end, since they feel so helpless, most will just do nothing and try to ignore the problem.

Once we start meddling in the injustice of this world, once we start learning or doing something about slavery, exploitation, poverty, hunger, or disease, we start to experience a measure of discomfort.  Sometimes, we may even experience some pain.  I think all of us would agree that we don't like to experience physical or emotional pain.  But if we want to make a difference in this world, we have to risk pain.  We have to be willing to stare suffering in the face for what it is and feel it.  We have to be willing to let it hurt.  Sadly, most of us are weak and don't have the courage to do that.

The problems we see in this world are not just slavery, poverty, exploitation, hunger, disease and the like.  There is an enemy who is out to steal, kill and destroy and he has billions of lives in his grasp.  And although we in North America may be free of those things, he has us in his grasp too.  Satan twists our minds and turns them upon ourselves.  God commands us in His Word to seek justice and free people from oppression, to care for the orphan and the widow, but we are so focused on our own comforts that we can hardly bring ourselves to do it.  We hoard our time and resources so we can spend them on our own selfish pleasures, and although we have such an abundance, we can't seem to sacrifice more than dollars and cents to help alleviate the suffering in this world. 

When I read the Gospels though, I see that Jesus was very active in alleviating suffering. Very often, He relieved someone first of their physical suffering and they came to believe in Him through that. He fed the crowds, healed the sick, and cast out demons. Some of the apostles did the same thing.  Now we can't all heal the way Jesus did.  We do not all have that gift.  But I believe we can use the resources He has given us to bring healing and restoration to the suffering world around us.  I believe by doing this, we can open the door to share the love of Christ and the Gospel with those who's lives we touch.  He hasn't blessed us so incredibly to spend it all on ourselves.  He has meant for us to give.

Isaiah 1:17
"learn to do good;
seek justice,
correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow's cause."

Where do you stand?  What will you do?  Will you continue to make excuses about why you can't help, why now isn't a good time, why you need to save your resources for something else?  Will you continue to protect your comfort zone with bubble wrap, hoping it won't get scathed?  Or are you willing to open up your life, to sacrifice and risk pain for those who know nothing else?

It's time to start asking "What can I do?" then find an answer.