Tuesday, February 26, 2013

"Pursuing Justice"

Ken Wytsma, founder of the Justice Conference, uses his new book to give the reader a complete understanding of what "justice" means. Wytsma traces justice and related issues (grace, righteousness, etc.) through the Bible, history, and current events, bringing it all together to show why justice is important to God -and should be to us. Using Scripture, personal stories, and creative interludes between each chapter, this book creates a clear picture of a justice-filled life.

I enjoyed this book and definitely recommend it! Wytsma is a great writer, and quite obviously has a wide understanding of justice. However, where other books on the subject give the reader action steps or ideas to live a life of justice, Pursuing Justice is much more theory than action. I described it to a friend as academic yet accessible. To live a just life, we must truly understand what that means.

That is why this book exists. To change the way we look at life, to see the world as God sees it, so that our every action is flowing from a heart of love and grace. When we understand that justice is not simply "an eye for an eye", we can make this world a better place for all and be walking examples of Christ's love and justice. If we grasp the message Wytsma is sharing with us, then we don't need action steps. Our every action will be a step to a just life.

And don't just take my word for it. Check out what someone much more verbally skilled than myself has to say about this book!
Pursuing Justice | Book Trailer from The Justice Conference on Vimeo.

So go check out this book. I give it 4/5 stars.

*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

February's BFF Adventure

(Sidenote: Chrissy, we really need a name for this adventure program...BBF Adventure is the best I've got right now, since it's 9pm. Let's work on this.)

You may remember I mentioned last month that my best friend and I have decided to do one new thing every month for the year of 2013. This month, we found a new restaurant in Cambridge!

We went to Veggie Galaxy, a vegetarian/vegan diner and bakery. It's got that great diner-car vibe, but with a modern twist. One of favorite aspects of the decor was the barstool-height mini booths down the middle of the restaurant. (Sorry, no photo. Enjoy this menu instead!)

Now, you may know, I am definitely not a vegetarian. Definitely. Almost the exact opposite. But even I have to admit, the food was good. Not what I would like to eat every day, but not bad.

Here you see (clockwise from upper left): The Club, Onion Rings (YUM!), and a Bean Burger with ricotta, tempeh bacon (doesn't taste anything like bacon), and onions. That white-and-purple lump is potato salad. I would definitely take a real bacon burger any day, but this wasn't bad! Though the burger was super messy to eat! Seriously, half of it ended up on the plate. My biggest regret was that we didn't have room for dessert! It all looked amazing.

Aren't we cute? You can't even tell that pink is my favorite color. Like, at all.

So there we go, February's new thing: DONE! Go check out Veggie Galaxy if you're in the mood for some good vegetarian food (they also do vegan and gluten free).

Got a suggestion for our year of living awesomely? Leave it in the comments and we might give it a try!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Introducing Freedom Fridays

Introducing.....FREEDOM FRIDAYS!

One of my goals for this year is to be more intentional with my blogging (as Christianese as the whole "intentional" thing sounds to me). Basically, blogging is something I much enjoy and want to use for a purpose greater than just "Here's what's happening in Ashleyland". To this end, I've been consistently posting every Wednesday since the year started, and will now be adding Friday's to the mix! Friday's will now be known as Freedom Friday here at AspiringAshley!

What is Freedom Friday? Oh, I'm so glad you asked! Freedom Friday is where I blog about social justice (I've already written about it from time to time, now it's officially a thing!). Anything related to human trafficking, poverty, orphans, clean water, education, etc. will be fair game for Freedom Friday topics. My posts for Compassion will now be on Fridays,  and posts for my newest blogging partnership: The Exodus Road. Let me share why I'm so excited about this new venture!
The Exodus Road, to quote from their home page, is "a non-profit organization that fights modern day slavery through covert investigations. Our coalition of operatives work together to gather evidence and conduct rescues for those trapped in sexual slavery." Basically, they fund and operate undercover operations (Currently in Southeast Asia and India) to investigate reports of human trafficking, then, working with local organizations and government, conduct raids to rescue the children and adults held captive. Hello! Awesome!!!  Now, you could argue, "But Ashley, there's a lot of organizations doing that. What's so special about Exodus Road?" Well, I'll tell you.

The Exodus Road is a relatively new organization. As an organization, they've been around less than two years, but the people themselves all have several years experience in the field, a combined 60+ years fighting human trafficking! I had been following co-founder Laura Parker's blog when I first heard about The Exodus Road. Since I loved reading her real-life stories of missionary life (and regular person life), I looked into her new project. While the work they're doing is fantastic, their attitude and approach sets them apart from the rest of the groups out there doing the same thing. Poke around a bit on The Exodus Road website and you'll see ways for any person to get involved with the fight against human trafficking. They've got great donation campaigns, an artist-partnership program, the blogger program that I've joined, and a handful of other ways to help, with more on they way! The Exodus Road team is actively searching for ways to engage everyone in this fight, they truly are a coalition of concerned people across the globe determined to end human trafficking in our lifetime. Now, as if the people-aspect isn't great enough, these people love to celebrate! Check out this video about Freedom Rocks:

#FREEDOMROCKS from The Exodus Road on Vimeo.

How fabulous is this?!? Every child, every person rescued is precious, loved, and celebrated at The Exodus Road offices. I love the idea that in this office, on a day when they may feel low, they have a jar full of names and stories of the children they've rescued to keep them going. It reminds me of that quote from Lilo and Stitch, "Ohana means family. And family means no one gets left behind, or forgotten".

So can you see why I'm so excited about being a part of The Exodus Road team?? If not, you must not have gone to their site yet...or watched that video I posted above. Go do both. I'll wait....Now are you excited?? Good! Together we can see the end of bondage for the 27 million people currently enslaved around the world. Join me here every Freedom Friday to continue our journey together!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Ashley's Week.

I had hoped to have finished reading Pursing Justice so I could review it today, but I haven't yet! Hopefully by Friday. So instead, I thought I'd share some photos from my week. Let's see what I did this week. Well, I made my desk go from this
to this!
I also go to meet two beautiful brand new girls! Twins Amelia and Penelope came into the world last week! So tiny and precious!
Unfortunately, when I stopped by, one of them was in the special care nursery (No worries, everyone is healthy, happy, and now home), so I only have a photo with one.  But how adorable?? And they're identical twins, so the other looks just like this ;)

Let's see, what else did I do this week? Oh! I got a hair cut:
And I giggled when this showed up in my Instagram feed from DoctorWhovians:

The thought of Nine as Peter Pan is silly enough, then you realize Mickey's a baby and Captain Jack, oh Captain Jack, is Tinkerbell! Seriously, it just keeps getting funnier!

I did other stuff, too, like work, and set things on fire, and teach kids, and get crazy awesome deals at Saver's sale (I got a pair of TOMs for $1.50!!!!!!), but I don't have photos of any of that stuff. So you get what you pay for.

Which, in this case, is nothing. You pay nothing to read this blog. Pay me, and maybe I'll give you more content ;) Happy Wednesday friends!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Servant Inspiration

Just when I was getting impatient waiting for a new assignment from Compassion, I open my email to find one!
Which Bible Verse Prompts and Guides You to Serve Others?

I read the email and thought about it for nearly a full day before starting this post. Why do I travel to bring hope and help to the hungry? Why do I blog about issues facing the voiceless in the world? Why do I stay up late to talk with a hurting kid or teen? What verse prompts me in my work? How do I choose just one?!

The answer is, I can't. I could probably do a whole series on verses that guides me towards compassion, but I'm narrowing it down to just two today. If you've been following for a while, you might know that I am passionate about all things social justice. Poverty, trafficking, orphans, clean water, health care...all of these things get me fired up. It's been a building awareness and subsequent action as I've grown older. 

My first missions trip was when I was 14 years old. It opened my eyes to the spiritual and financial poverty in the world, to the emotional and physical needs of the people in it. Meeting a fellow kid who's eyes were literally eaten from their skull by a parasite will do that to you. Since that trip, I crave servanthood. I am at my happiest and most fulfilled when I am helping. So where does that come from? What verses keep me going when I feel like giving up?

One simple verse I stumbled upon several years back, I think around my senior year of high school, has motivated me and keeps me remembering what's important.
All that matters is faith in Christ, which shows itself to the world as love. Another verse says they'll know us (Christ followers) by our love. Love for the least of these, love for the unlovable, love for the world. That's it. Faith and Love. Nothing else matters. 

Isaiah frequently inspires me, too, with so much to say about widows, orphans, the oppressed, the slave, but one of my newest favorite verses that I'm claiming for my life is from Psalms
 I absolutely LOVE this verse! It explains exactly why I do what I do. No one should be afraid of other people. No one should be able to abuse and oppress and terrify them.  I am blessed to be free from those things, and believe others should have the same blessing.

Like I said, this subject could be a whole series, but there's the quick version of why I serve. What inspires you as you serve others? Or what holds you back from serving?

Friday, February 8, 2013

"Twice A Bride"

Willow Peterson has had a tough several years lately. After the unexpected death of her husband, she sunk into a deep depression that found her in a sanitorium, unresponsive to anyone or anything for a time. Now living in Cripple Creek near her brother and new sister-in-law, Willow is eager to prove herself as a painter and step into the future God has for her. Working for Trenton Van Der Veer's Photography Studio is helping her accomplish both goals,  but will the man become more important to her than the job? And what (or who) has her landlady, Miss Hattie, acting like a schoolgirl?

Mona Hodgson is quickly becoming one of my favorite current authors! This installment of the Sinclair Sisters is a sweet conclusion to the series, filled with hope and second chances, including some new blessings for the beloved Miss Hattie. (Note: while it's not necessary to have read the rest of the series, it will help as there are many characters to keep track of!). I loved these two love stories intertwining with each other, and overlapping with the continuing journeys of the original Sinclair Sisters.

My only complaint with this book is it seemed too quick and easy. It seems these romances go from hello to honeymoon in a matter of mere weeks! And despite the painful pasts of both Willow and Trenton (and Hattie and Harlan, for that matter), there wasn't as much depth to the story as I expected. Even the "conflict" of the story was so quickly and easily pushed aside. I did miss the third book of the series (The Bride Wore Blue), so maybe Willow's past was addressed a bit more there? Either way, I find it a bit unrealistic and unsatisfying that these characters had only the briefest conversations, with each other and with themselves, about the issues from their past. I would have liked to dive a bit more into those issues of grief and judgement. Even the matter of Trenton's salvation seemed a bit rushed and simple, overcoming a lifetime of hurt from the church in just two pages.

That being said, I did enjoy this book. It was a lovely read with wonderful characters. For fans of historical fiction/romance, you can't miss this series! I always feel a little bad giving criticism, especially when the author seems to be such a sweet person (at least according to her Facebook), but if nothing else, I have to be honest. And I honestly like this series!

All in all, this book earns 4/5 stars from me! Recommended.

*I received this book from the publisher through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Verse of the Year: 2013

Finally had a chance to pick my verse of the year from church! And it's only February 6th...go me! I'm so happy with my verse(s); they couldn't be more perfect!

Background before I share the verses: Just today I was thinking about where my life is heading (and liking it!). That my ministry life has been shifting to a stronger focus on Children's Ministry and Missions (no big surprise). Just today I signed up as a blogger for an organization working to end human trafficking (more on that later), worked on a program for the kids, and did some work for the missions department. So I'm loving life and where I'm heading, excited for what God's got in store and what the vision of my leaders is.

So when I closed my eyes and picked a card from the bin after the first major staff meeting of the year, I picked the perfect one. Not only is it pink(ish), but the two verses are perfect for where my life is headed. The first one I read was Acts 10:35
In every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.
Now, I don't know about you, but I'm not a fan of the ol' KJV. The "-eth"s always throw me off. I got the basic gist, and liked it right away, though. How much more perfect does it get for someone in missions?! But I wanted wording I could relate to, so I headed to BibleGateway. (If you don't know about BibleGateway, check it out! They have every version you can imagine, plus Bible studies and commentaries/concordances. They rock!) The easiest-to-understand was the NKJV, but I really like the Amplified.
But in every nation he who venerates and has a reverential fear for God, treating Him with worshipful obedience and living uprightly, is acceptable to Him and sure of being received and welcomed [by Him].
Yes!! Now the other half of my "background info" is that the major thing holding me back in a lot of ways is finances. I make enough to pay my bills, though it sometimes gets tight because I get cancelled for shifts on occasion. Added to this, I am not longer under my dad's insurance, so I need to buy my own, the lowest cost I'm eligible for is nearly $300 a month! Not cool. So when I flipped my card over, I was glad to see Psalm 23:1
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
Two verses, two perfect words for my life this year! Can't wait to see everything that's in store, and to share with you as it comes to pass! Do you have a verse (or two) for your year? What is it?
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