Steam & shame: Unexpected gospel lessons in a 200 degree room

‚ÄúMy girls want me¬†to “steam” with them today. AKA how people in the villages traditionally bathe. Together. In a 200-something-degree room. Did I mention: Together. As in: With. Other. People. Can we just talk about the fact that Jesus is pushing on ALL of my insecurities in Alaska?! I didn‚Äôt sign up for this. Help.‚ÄĚ

While I understand that discussing public bathing may be running the risk of over sharing here, I beg you to stick with me…

You see, I sent that text message to friend back in Colorado last fall on the afternoon I was introduced to the “maqii” (or steam).

One of my sweet Native friends, Yvette, had come to TLC the week before to present for our Native culture night. She spoke to two very different groups within the ten or so of us seated around the table:

To my native students, she explained the intricacies and traditions of her people, the Dena‚Äôina‚ÄĒ a people group with incredibly similar customs to my Yup‚Äôik and Aleut students. She told them the legends that her grandmother had told her‚ÄĒlegends involving the ‚Äėpowers‚Äô of bears and eagles and other wild creatures that are so intertwined with almost every aspect of Native culture. She told stories about growing up in the nearby village of Nondalton, as well as tales of the family legacy she carries on by drying and canning hundreds of salmon every summer and butchering moose in the fall. I sat at the end of the table and watched as the students I was just getting to know shook their heads and smiled their sweet, shy smiles of understanding and agreement as she spoke.

Then to those of us Alaskan newbs, she explained everything from Akutaq (Native ‚Äúice cream‚ÄĚ consisting of frozen berries, fish, Crisco, and sugar), to what a normal day would look like for someone living in a traditional village. I leaned back in my chair, drinking in everything she said.

nativeculturenight
Yvette with the 2015-2016 TLC students

‚ÄúWhere I come from, and when I was growing up, all of the women and all of the men of a family would bathe with their respective genders, together in a steam bath.‚ÄĚ

She paused to laugh at my awkwardness as I nearly fell sideways out of my chair from shock, then embarrassment.

‚ÄúWhen I tell non-Natives that, I get really uncomfortable or horrified looks‚Ķ kinda like the way Kacy‚Äôs looking at me.‚ÄĚ

All of my students immediately glanced my way and smirked as I turned a shade of red I thought was impossible for Mexicans to turn. Thankfully Yvette let me off the hook and quickly continued on.

‚ÄúThe steam was a place of vulnerability‚ÄĒwhere the elder women would talk amongst themselves or pass down knowledge to younger girls. There wasn‚Äôt a single topic that was shameful or off-limits in the steam; that was how we were raised. But I‚Äôve noticed that something has changed in the generations that have come after mine.

The younger women, they don’t want to steam with the older women any more. They find it more awkward and less of a part of our culture. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that young women have more pressure these days to be or look a certain way… And just like they don’t steam with the older women, the girls don’t talk to the older women the way we used to when we were kids. There’s a disconnect within our people between the generations. There is a segregation because of shame.

Our young women don‚Äôt feel comfortable in their own skin. They don‚Äôt feel comfortable enough with who they are (or aren‚Äôt) to ask the hard questions of life or receive the potentially uncomfortable wisdom of an elder. It makes me sad to see the way shame is stealing our people.‚ÄĚ

As I processed Yvette’s words within the “honor-versus-shame” Native culture of TLC, my perspective and definition of shame began to shift. Over time I came to realize that at its core shame is a deep-seeded feeling of not being good enough, a feeling that proceeds to tell us that we are defined by our lack, rather than our bounty and beauty in Christ. A feeling that the enemy uses to steal our identities in Christ and lead us away from the Lord.

Whether we are willing to admit it or not, we all struggle with feelings of not being good enough, smart enough, thin enough, x-y-z enough everyday.

Some of this shame and our wrestle with “enough-ness” stems¬†directly from lies that we‚Äôve been told by our instantly photoshop-able culture. There‚Äôs an influx of subliminal messages about ‚Äúhealth‚ÄĚ standards (physical, mental, spiritual, or otherwise)¬†nearly everywhere we look and the temptation to compare ourselves, then shame ourselves when we fall short of these often unrealistic standards can be all-consuming.

But there‚Äôs another type of shame‚ÄĒwhat many counselors would call “legitimate shame”.

This feeling stems from engaging in activities we know aren’t healthy for us, or don’t fall in line with our morals or beliefs about who God is or who we’ve been created to be, then falling prey to hopelessness when we contrast our imperfections and shortcomings with a perfect God.

We all¬†wrestle with shame (“legitimate” or otherwise) due to our sin and imperfect, fallen decision making and that of others. But, despite what the world or the one trying to destroy us may try to lead us to believe, Yvette’s poignant words have been a constant reminder that to me that as believers we don‚Äôt need to sit isolated in either of these types of shame.

Yes, as Romans 3:23 tells us, “we‚Äôve all fallen short of the glory of God” because we‚Äôre sinners, but what I constantly need to remind myself is that the Gospel doesn‚Äôt end there.

Within our wrestle with sin and shame we have two choices:

1) We can allow our sin, shame, and fears to define and confine us

OR

2) We can trust that Jesus is who He says He isРthe loving Savior of the world, sent to reunite us with our Heavenly FatherРand trust in the grace He freely offered us on the cross while we were still messy and broken, drowning in the sin that rightfully shamed us. And by accepting, then living in His love, we can allow Him to loosen the bonds of shame that seek to keep us defined by our lack of perfection.

It’s easy (okay, easier) for me to express this a year, some perspective, and several steams after the fact, but as I sat around the TLC table, listening to Yvette speak about the cultural power of the steam bath and the bondage of shame last fall, I bristled internally and thought, There is nooooo wayyyyy I’m ever going to sit in a hot room, physically exposed for an hour, exposing the inmost fears and insecurities of my heart with other women. No. Way. After all, Jesus came so that I wouldn’t have to suffer through hell… and all of that sounds like my personal hell.

So, when my TLC girls asked me to steam with them last November,¬†I‚Äôm fairly certain I made the same terrified face I‚Äôd made at Native culture night. ‚ÄúSuuuuuuuuure‚Ķ.‚ÄĚ I hesitated, using all of my emotional energy to turn my grimace into a semi-excited smile. As my girls went to pack their bags for the steam, I immediately grabbed my phone and fired off the panicked text above to Kitty.

In that moment, the shame and insecurity I felt about my awkward, lanky body and my fearful heart being exposed was fighting to confine me and keep me separated from my girls and my new friend. This illegitimate shame based in insecurity had me sucked so far into my own brain that I couldn’t hear God gently telling me the same thing He’s told me everyday for the nine years I’ve walked with Him:

You are mine. You are loved. You are beautiful. I created you to be uniquely you. You are enough. Do you hear me? You are enough. You have nothing to be ashamed of. I have died for your sins. I have taken on your filth. You are clean. You are pure. You are my beloved bride. You are enough because of who I am.

And that is the truth that I am fighting tooth and nail to keep at the forefront of my mind these days.

Because the truth is we need not be ashamed of exposure and vulnerabilityРnot before God and not before one anotherРbecause Christ has seen the depths of our sinful hearts and yet in His infinite love for us He still took on the weight of our sin and died, abolishing the line between us and God that allowed for sin and shame’s power to confine us.

So, brothers and sisters, whatever shame you are fighting today, “legitimate” or otherwise, may you know that in it you are unconditionally loved. May you know in the marrow of your bones that your sin is not what defines you if you have invited Christ to wash you white as snow.¬†

Your mess is His, and if I may be so bold, your mess can be mine too. You are I are both imperfect and insecure, my dear. We’re in this battle together.

And in that, may we be a generation of Christians who believe so strongly in the redemptive power of Christ that we offer our hearts and minds completely to Him, allowing Him to break the segregation and confines of shame in our lives. May we sit with each other over coffee (or in 200-something degree rooms) and confess our imperfections and insecurities, reveling in the fact that we, the beloved ones of a perfect God, have already been washed clean.

 

Fireweed and God’s Faithfulness

I didn’t sleep that night in May.

Instead, I¬†sat next to my best friend in Alaska and wept as she held my credit card and booked me a flight back to the Lower 48. I read and re-read the news articles that confirmed my worst fear. I deliriously walked circles around the village at 2 AM, and again at 4 AM, in the near-24-hours of summer sunlight. I wrote last minute goodbye letters while my laundry tumbled in the dryer.¬†At one point that night, I knelt on Heather’s living room floor and sorted my belongings into three piles:

Books to ship to Colorado.

Clothes and gear to pack back into my suitcases.

Things that didn’t fit in my suitcases to burn.

Everything seemed surreal as panic attacks and¬†and waves of uncontrollable crying washed over me. The text I’d gotten at exactly midnight that night had undone me entirely. It was¬†the text that brought my time¬†in Alaska to a close two weeks¬†earlier than I’d anticipated and put me on a plane to Iowa to be with my “adoptive” family after an¬†unexpected death.

In my final hours in Port Alsworth,¬†I walked outside¬†with my arms full of my “burn pile”– clothes¬†that had been loved-to-death in Alaska, odds and ends that wouldn’t fit in my luggage, and books I couldn’t pawn off on anyone– and I threw them in a burn barrel. With tears streaming out of the corners of my eyes and freezing on my cheeks, I lit my torch and touched it to the items I loved. I watched the fibers of my once-favorite sweater smolder burgundy, then blue. I touched the flame to the corners of a few books that protruded from the side of the pile. As the wind shifted, the small fires slowly melded together to form one giant flame. I stood there mesmerized by the fire, overcome by another wave of panic and grief. I’m leaving Alaska. Today. This can’t be happening. This wasn’t supposed to end like this.

It really wasn’t. I’d planned to leave Alaska just before Memorial Day¬†with a girlfriend of mine. She’d bought a car in Anchorage and I’d bought a map of Canada off of Amazon. We’d planned to road trip from Anchorage, down through western Canada, to Seattle. We had dreams of adventure and excitement, photo ops, camp outs, audiobooks and a lot of awkward car dancing. Kathryn and I had¬†traced¬†our route not three days before; we had a plan, but it seemed that God had another. And honestly, I hated this plan of His…

That’s all I could think as I stood there staring at the flame that had now engulfed my belongings, slowly turning them into a pile of ash and¬†embers.¬†

I don’t know how long I stood there in a trance¬†watching that fire. All I know is that a text from the friend who’d arranged my flight into¬†Anchorage snapped me out of my delirium:¬†You need to leave earlier than planned. ASAP. The weather’s getting worse. Can you come now?

I hugged the few people I crossed paths with on my way through the village. When I got to the plane, I huddled under its wing with the few friends and members of my team who’d gotten the memo of my earlier-than-early departure. We cried and prayed and hugged, and before I knew what hit me, the plane was wheels up, flying out of Port Alsworth while I ugly cried¬†in the back seat.¬†Thick fog hid¬†the blue glacial water that my heart loved so much. When I looked back to see my Alaskan home for what felt like the last time, all I could see was a thin column of black smoke coming from the burn barrel that once held my belongings.

It’s probably¬†the combination of sleep deprivation, shock, confusion, over-caffeination, grief, and loss, but most everything I remember from May 21st seems enlarged and uber traumatic– as if I survived a wildfire instead of an unceremonial burning of a few of my belongings and an unexpected move. And most of this summer was colored by that day and metaphor.

Months later, I sat with my roommate in Denver and sobbed. “I just feel like I’m on fire all the time… And ya know what sucks?! Even in the rare moments when I don’t actively feel like I’m on fire, I feel like¬†I could spontaneously combust at any moment. I’m ready to stop grieving and crying and feeling all of these feelings. I’m sick of it. I’m done.”¬†

“God’s refining you, Kace. I know you’re sick of this season, but from the outside I can see the ways He’s working and it’s beautiful… even if it hurts and is a little bit, okay a lot, like He’s refining you with fire. ”

For months I’ve fought situational depression to feel more like myself and less like a pile of smoldering ashes left behind after a wildfire. And oooooh some days it has felt like I would never be myself again.

But in God’s infinite grace and goodness, He provided an opportunity (and the airline miles/funds) that allowed me to return to Port Alsworth this last week over my fall break to surprise the ones I love there so dearly.

This time around there were tears of joy as I said an unexpected hello instead of tears of sadness as we said an unexpected goodbye. I warmed my hands over¬†campfires with friends instead of crying over burning belongings.¬†At one in the morning, I stood on Heather’s guest bed next to her and looked out the window for the Northern Lights instead of sobbing on her floor as she booked me a flight to Iowa.¬†There was simply so much sweetness and redemption in Him allowing me to spontaneously return to Port Alsworth. (I’m still overwhelmed by the way He loves me and cares about the simple desires of my heart.)

As I left Alaska on Saturday, a friend of mine (completely unaware of my five-month wildfire analogy) pressed a tiny packet of seeds into my palm and simply said, “You’ve said you feel like God is calling you to plant a garden and stay a while in Denver, right? Maybe that garden needs some Alaskan fireweed…”

I smiled and flipped the seed packet over in my hand. As I read the bold print on the back, I¬†knew in an instant that she couldn’t have been more correct given what that little packet said:

Alaskan Fireweed

(Chamerion Angustifolium)

Alaskan fireweed is often seen as a symbol of life and rebirth in the Alaskan Native culture. Fireweed is often one of the first plants to grow in the ashes after wildfires in Alaska.

Anna_Fireweed.jpg
Photo credit: Anna Burrows

The Lord is faithful to bring beauty from ashes, even when His timeline is so clearly not my own. He is faithful to work all things for His glory and the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28)РTrial and sanctification by wildfire, transition, death, and grief included.

After all, there is nothing too permanent for the Lord to redeem, too far out of His reach or too big for Him to handle, or too burnt out to revive.

Thank you Jesus, for You continue to redeem my soul from the pit of emptiness.

“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and ostriches for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.”

(Isaiah 43:18-20)

How WAS my day? [A call to prayer]

“Woah… Hey… How was your day?” My friend probably could’ve spared herself the question. I’m fairly certain the glazed over, crazy lady look in my eyes was a dead give away that today was, well… a¬†day.

I let my backpack slide off my shoulder and onto the floor as I stared vacantly at my feet, trying to find the words to articulate how my day was.

Nothing seemed right.

Saying,¬†“Good! My toughest group of kids finally fell in love with our novel and we read forty pages in class!” seemed like a really out of sorts introduction to the sentence that would’ve followed it: “Oh, and before 9 AM, I saw a bullet hole in one of my student’s legs from where he was shot this weekend.” Or, I suppose I could’ve said, “My day was a mixed bag, but thankfully I escaped to Cork & Coffee after school to lesson plan. Things had just calmed down when I overheard an altercation down the street and then had a man run toward me shouting, ‘Did you see a guy in a black hoodie?! He just stabbed someone!’ moments before an ambulance pulled up to take the victim¬†to the hospital. So, that was weird.”

But to simply say that my day was a mixed bag would also graze over the fact that I spent two different passing periods today comforting various girls whose 17 year old cousin/friend/ex-boyfriend had been shot and killed late last week… And each of those tender moments had a fairly significant impact on the way my day had gone, so excluding them feels weird.

So, how was my day? Chaotic? But somehow, not really. In fact, it was a fairly orderly day by DSS standards.

Good? Meh. I wouldn’t go that far.

Hard?¬†Well, yes and no. After all, I’m far more “used to” (or rather desensitized to)¬†gunshot wounds and stabbings than I probably should be.

As I struggled for words to explain the rough edges of my day, it hit me that I honestly don’t¬†have room to speak negatively about the way today went either. I mean, we made great strides in English; for the first time in my teaching career my kids didn’t want to stop reading AND¬†they even wrote a two paragraph summary without gasping and splaying themselves against my classroom wall in disbelief that I could ask them to do such a thing. (You may think I’m being dramatic. I’m not. The wall splaying really, truly happened last Tuesday.) Oh, and my college and career guest speaker this morning? He was a hit! (Granted, his first few words when he walked into my classroom this morning were, “Uh, I think I just saw a drug deal go down in the parking lot across the street…” But such is Street School life.) Then there’s the fact that my art students crushed their assignment for the day and a few even stayed after school to continue their work. So. many. good things happened today in the academic realm. Yet that doesn’t negate the pain in my heart that caused my wide-eyed stare.

Thus, I return to my friend’s question: how was my day? After a few hours of trying to find words to explain the jumble that is my short-term memory,¬†I’m essentially still without a verdict.¬†Maybe that’s because I don’t think¬†there’s a word in the English language that aptly describes what life as a Street School teacher is (or isn’t) or how our days with our students go.

The only way I can put it is that being back at the Street School is “all the things”; it’s academic celebrations with tears sprinkled throughout, bookended by the agonizing realities of gang warfare and darkness that my students come from each morning and return to each afternoon. Yet somehow it’s all covered in the glorious Hope of Christ that things can be different if my students come to Him. It’s weird, but it’s beautiful in the same breath.

Unlike most things I write, this post doesn’t contain a lesson from Jesus or a nice tied together ending.¬†At least, not yet.¬†And although it most certainly exists within the reality of my job, I swear I don’t write this for shock value.

No, I’m writing to give you a window into the reality of my students’ lives and to ask you to partner with me this year in prayer. Theirs is a reality that exists right within the heart of Denver and every city like it. A reality that can be found mere houses or blocks away from where the majority of you are reading this in your¬†quiet, violence-free homes on the outskirts of suburbia. That quiet? That end-of-the-day peace that you’re probably experiencing right now? That is not the reality for many of my students.¬†But oh, how I long for that to change.

So would you¬†join me and our mildly shell-shocked Street School staff as we enter back into our students’ lives and pray for and with them¬†this school year?

Would you join us in praying for:

  • Opportunities to share the gospel with our students. Very few of them would consider Christ to be the Lord of their lives, and even fewer have heard of the way He loves them with His “Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love” (The Jesus Storybook Bible). Pray that our students would be open to His Love and Truth. Pray that they would allow themselves to be swept off their feet by the sweet Savior Who has already come¬†for them.
  • The Peace of Christ to reign in this city. Unless you’re weird like me and spend your free time reading graffiti on highway underpasses, it’s easy to miss the fact that there’s a thriving gang culture here in Denver. Due to a handful of recent events within a few local gangs, there has been a flare up of violence in our city. Pray that redemption and peace would prevail over retaliation. Pray for my students to have an iota of forethought and not get themselves involved in risky or violent situations.
  • Spiritual¬†eyes for our staff to see what really matters. Sometimes that really, truly means English homework and sometimes that means setting aside our lesson plans and engaging in¬†soul care instead of vocabulary lists. Pray that we, as a staff, would be loving, intentional, and wise in all of our interactions with our students. ¬†

I’m eternally grateful for the love, prayers, and support you’ve covered me in these last few years as I’ve done life everywhere from the inner city of Denver to the very ends of the earth. As I seem to say at the beginning of every school year, I know the Lord is going to do miraculous, mind-boggling, earth shattering things this year. He has always been faithful to exceed even my biggest expectations for a school year and¬†He has graciously called all of us to be a part of His plan.

Thank you in advance for joining in on what Jesus is doing in this beautiful city through prayer.

May the glory be to God– in the midst of the good, the bad, and the ugly of this school year.

xo,

Kace

A hyperbolic WebMD-esque perspective on homesickness. Also, Jesus.

My mind and heart have been at war Monday through Friday at approximately 6:45 am for the last three weeks.

You see, about five minutes into my morning drive to work, I have a choice to make: I could merge right, onto the I-70 on-ramp and head to Denver International Airport, or I could continue driving south down Wadsworth Boulevard to my classroom.¬†Every morning thus far I’ve made the sane choice; I’ve gripped my coffee cup, exhaled, and driven past that on-ramp to the Street School.

But as I drive past the interstate and inevitably get stuck at the traffic light just past the on-ramp, I let the same daydream unfold in my mind every morning. In it I’m¬†whipping my car around in traffic. I’m racing home, throwing everything I can fit into my biggest suitcase, throwing said suitcase into my car, peeling out of my driveway, and merging onto that on-ramp on my way back down the street. Forty-some minutes later in this fantasy, I’m abandoning my car in the departure lane at DIA, running to the ticket counter, and breathlessly requesting a ticket for the first flight I can catch to Alaska.

It’s become an everyday, conscious decision not to give in to my fantasies, pull onto that on-ramp, and spontaneously fly back to the little Alaskan village that captured my heart while simultaneously undoing everything about who I thought I was.

In all the times I’ve moved and all the places I’ve lived, I never really understood homesickness. In Alaska, I often said I was “people-sick”. I missed the people who held my heart here in Colorado– my family, my church, my DSS students– but I rarely missed the hubbub of city life or the bizarre-o hipster culture of Denver that I slide back into all too easily when I’m here.

But this homesickness for Alaska? It’s unshakeable. I miss my new-found best friends and my Gospel Community. The laid back culture. The “it’ll probably be fine” attitude that somehow seamlessly meshes with the tough Alaskan ingenuity that is essential for survival in the bush. I miss trail running in the mountains and having coffee with Jesus on the pebble beach in my backyard in the morning. I miss the simplicity of life and the canned moose that lined my pantry. I miss flying as pilot-in-command and as a passenger whenever mail runs to the next village down needed to be done…

This homesickness isn’t mild– no, it truly feels like an illness that started in my heart, infected my blood, and has made its way to my bones. In the hyperbolic metaphor and picture in my mind, there’s a WebMD site¬†listing the side effects of my disease. It reads:

Homesickness

Homesickness is a disease plaguing disheveled in-transition missionaries, expats, and school-age summer campers alike. There is no known cure for homesickness, other than to “rub some dirt on it” and “suck it up”.

Symptoms can include:

  • Daydreaming. Excessively.
  • Staring at the roundtrip ticket’s worth of frequent flier miles in your Alaska Airlines account far too often.
  • All too realistic dreams in which you’re back in your little village. (These dreams may lead you to wake up in your actual location and irrationally sob into your pillow.)
  • Sensory overload leading to intense introversion…leading to more daydreaming. [Are you sensing a theme here yet?]
  • Struggling not to reminisce while having coffee with Jesus in your classroom instead of on the beach. (This may also lead to sobbing… It seems to depend on the day.)
  • Recalling only the beautiful events that occurred while living somewhere– not the situations that almost killed you.
  • Oh. And in some incredibly severe cases, death.

Yes, like I said, the metaphor is hyperbolic. But oh, does it seem to be a little less-than so some days.

Logically, I know I’m not going to die from this bout of homesickness, but sometimes the pain that shoots through my heart as I pass that on-ramp makes me wonder…

Why am I still so attached to the little one-square-mile of tundra in the scenic middle of nowhere called Port Alsworth and it’s two hundred inhabitants? Is this pain a sign that I will one day return to the Alaskan bush? Will this inability to keep my head out of the clouds lead me back behind a yok and into the sky as a missionary pilot someday? Will the dreams (day or night alike) ever stop? Will the jarring sense of transition ever quit? Or am I forever doomed to feel homesick and homeless all at the same time?

As I’ve sat at that stoplight morning after morning, wrestling to keep my steering wheel straight and my mind off the millions of questions buzzing in my brain, the Lord has continuously led my thoughts back to the book of Exodus. After all, what is Exodus if it’s not a story of being led into the wilderness and back out again?

As I sat, reading in the corner of one of my favorite coffee shops Sunday morning, it was as if for the first time in months, my homesick/daydream-y brain was able to make sense of scripture.

In the second chapter of Exodus, Moses has not yet come to save the Israelites from their famous slavery. In fact, he hasn’t even been called to “ministry” yet. Life is simply normal and hard, and both Moses and the people of Israel are feeling the weight of their circumstances.

“During [the days of the Israelite’s captivity in Egypt], the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel‚ÄĒand God knew.” (Exodus 2:23-25)

I can only imagine the Israelites were homesick. They wanted their old way of life back; they wanted normalcy and freedom. They groaned and cried out to God and scripture reminds us that He heard them. He remembered them in the midst of their sorrow and wrestling. He saw them. And above all, He knew what He was going to do with and through every single circumstance and trial.

As I read and reread those verses, oh, how my perspective on homesickness shifted. When I took the time to consider that in the midst of my wrestling and sadness, I am seen and loved and remembered by the Most High God… That He is the same God who knew and still knows what He is going to do in the lives of all of his children– in the lives of the Israelites thousands of years ago and in my life now in 2016 and beyond… It was a realization that somehow changed everything.

Sure, my heart is still hyper-aware that it doesn’t belong in Colorado, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it belongs in Alaska either… In the words of C.S. Lewis, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were¬†created for another world.”¬†

I wasn’t created for Alaska or Colorado; I wasn’t created for this world anymore than you were. I was created to be with the One who hears me senselessly crying alone in my classroom when no one else does. I was created to be in perfect union with the God of my Fathers– the One Who remembers His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and makes good on them daily, thousands of years after their deaths.

In reality I know I’m not homesick for Alaska, even though I am. (What a fickle heart I have.) No, I’m homesick for my Jesus and for heaven– for that coming¬†world where the perfection of Christ reigns and where I will be with Him.¬†

The scribbles in my journal from that little Denver coffee shop are simple (and poorly punctuated, but I digress).

My heart longs for you, alone, sweet Jesus. For Your stability. For my one true Home. To be in the presence of Your fullness. And I know that day will come because You are faithful and true. You are making all things new. And as it says in Exodus 2:25, You know. You know the depths of my conflicted heart, but also the complete and utter goodness of Your unfolding plan. 

I simply need to breathe through the¬†illness¬†and trust the words I so often say to my students in my best church lady voice… ‘Jesus knows, child…. Jesus knows…’ and ‘You probably won’t die…’

Because those promises are enough. Because You are enough. No matter the circumstances or my location.”

 

How deep is Your love?

I took the summer “off” from writing. My reasoning¬†was complicated:

1) ¬†Most days I honestly didn’t¬†have¬†words to articulate the mixed bag of hope/ pain/ joy/ nausea/ excitement/¬†roller-coaster-y grief¬†that my heart had become¬†as I transitioned from Alaska to Iowa to Colorado to (and through) Asia and back again.

2) Traveling through 18 homes / hotels in 5 countries and 7 states in 2 1/2 months felt exactly like the run-on sentence that this is; it was exhausting. Plus, that much transition didn’t exactly lend to a stable internet connection or quiet writing space.

3) And probably most intentionally, my absence from writing was due to the fact that I had the glorious opportunity to stop analyzing the world around me for a while and¬†simply experience the Lord’s beauty in it first hand.

And experience it to the fullest, I did.

I now know what it’s like to run through knee deep flood waters in a Cambodian city late at night shouting, “We’re on a mission! We’re gonna die…” all while laughing hysterically. Our insane laughter was partially¬†because we were being splashed by motos (barely) passing us with a foot margin and partially because I was nervous about stepping onto a downed power line in the murky water below me and electrocuting myself to death.

That night as lightening crackled in the sky overhead, I ran through the streets of Phnom Penh with my co-leader and one of our 16-year old students. Our student had heard the Lord ask him to donate his guitar and book of worship music to a college-age sister-in-Christ (whom he had met only once) so she could start a worship school in a country where only 1% of the population knows Christ; he¬†was thrilled that the Lord had called him to partner with her endeavor and couldn’t even wait until morning to selflessly give up his prized possession.

We arrived at her apartment sopping wet that night and stood in the rain, throwing pebbles at her window, screaming, “Ravii! Ravii come to the window! It’s the Alaskans! Come down! We have a gift for you!” as though we were in a movie or something. Eventually she emerged from the front door and stood with her jaw dropped¬†as my student presented her with the guitar and sheet music. “God is good,” were the only words she said. I stood back¬†and smiled¬†as she stared at the guitar in her hands, saying those words over and over and over again.

IMG_5909I now know the depth of laughter that can cross language barriers when you’ve been¬†befriended by a tiny first grade Thai girl who has chosen you to color with her on¬†the sidelines of her friends’ game of tag because her club foot doesn’t allow her to run. Conversely, I know how absolutely hopeless it feels to stare into her deep brown eyes and¬†pray for her foot to be miraculously healed, only to see that God clearly has other plans for her. At least, for the time being.

This summer the Lord turned strangers on cross-country¬†flights into new friends. He blessed me with the opportunity to hear their stories of courage and redemption as they’ve escaped realities of¬†war I don’t even want to imagine.

There were nights where I sat silently, holding¬†three different women– all of whom are incredibly dear to my heart– as they cried and grappled with the unexpected death of family members. There simply aren’t words in those situations, no matter how frequently they come your way.

IMG_5880Throughout June I prayed as I stood in the Indian ocean, above the border walls of “closed” countries, in school yards, in markets, and under surging waterfalls. In those moments I heard the Lord speak louder¬†than ever before. But I’ve also been face down on the floor, begging Him to speak and heard nothing but silence in return.

The list of things I saw the Lord do this summer seems infinite. While I wish with everything in me that I could relay those stories to those of you reading this… I simply can’t.

There aren’t enough words in the English language for me to explain just how deep and powerful the Love of Jesus has proven itself to be in my life; there aren’t words to do the glory of the Lord justice.

The best way I can explain these last few months (or really, this last year) is to say that adventuring in the benevolent affection of the Father for any period of time is a lot like what I would imagine scuba¬†diving to the¬†deepest depths of the sea to be. There are things down there that don’t (and won’t) make sense to those who have only ever swam near the shoreline or sat in the ocean in a boat.

In my imagination and this metaphor there are fish with lights hanging off of their faces Finding-Nemo-style and majestic unnamed organisms¬†few people have¬†ever seen. Similarly, in reality, there is spiritual battle and victory in Christ, pain and miraculous healing that does take place (even if I’m not the one to see it), and abundantly more grace than I could ever convey.

I understand that as I write this, my words could come off arrogantly, but please know that is not my heart. I long for you to don your own scuba gear and dive into the deep, dark¬†metaphorical waters and¬†explore them with the Lord so you too can see and experience the things mere words cannot explain. For those types of experiences aren’t likely to happen in our comfort zones where we feel safe or from boats where can see the shore.

The risk associated with following the Lord to unfamiliar, deep, dark¬†places is great– regardless of what that looks like for you.¬†But I dare say the risk of not going, of being lulled into complacency and comfort, or “staying put” because of fear, is much greater.¬†

Because yes, adventure is out there, but adventure for the sake of itself is not the point.

The ‘point’ can be found only in Jesus’ Love and it is beyond what my heart can comprehend or my brain can explain. All I know is that we begin to discover the depths of Christ’s love when we’re willing to go to the deep places where we feel like our faith may fail.

(In fact, your faith likely will fail. Mine did, more times than I would ever care to admit. Like the night before I boarded the plane to Asia when I dumped everything I owned on the floor of the Yarrow House¬†and bawled, asking God the scariest series of questions I’ve ever asked in my life.¬†Alas, that is a story for another time…)

But our loving Abba-Father? Our Jesus? He will never fail you.

His love only deepens, the further you dive in.

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of His glory may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith– that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

(Ephesians 3:14-21)

But, God

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ– by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show us the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”¬†

(Ephesians 2:1-8)

I don’t have the eloquent words I wish I had right about now; all I have is a sleep deprived brain and the choked up feeling in the back of my throat that so often accompanies grief. Well, that and so many wishes desperately longing to be fulfilled in my heart.

Part of me wishes God’s plan for the last week was different, and yet because He has taught me to deeply rest¬†in the beauty of His sovereignty, I don’t.

But that doesn’t stop me from wishing I wouldn’t have had to stand next to my best friend yesterday as we buried her little brother. But we did. Side by side, struggling to form the words of the hymns being sung around us and with shovels in our hands, we did. And I doubt either of us have ever done anything more difficult in our lives.

I wish Kevin wouldn’t have gone to be with Jesus just weeks before his sister’s wedding, but in God’s perfect timing, he did.

I wish I could take the pain from my second family’s heart, but all we can do is cry and laugh and question and praise our sweet Jesus late into the night together.

I wish the message telling me Kevin was gone wouldn’t have ever come through my phone at midnight in Alaska; I wish the Lord would’ve used another means to permanently transition me out of the village He had graciously allowed me to fall in love with over the last year.

I wish I would’ve had more than 12 hours notice that I would be packing everything I owned and moving 4,000 miles.

I wish I could’ve said proper goodbyes to my neighbors and teammates, youth group kids, students, and friends in Port Alsworth, but I praise God for the small group that was able to meet me at my bush plane to quickly pray over me as the Lord rushed me away from my home.

I wish I didn’t have to leave so many homes so frequently. Yet within this, God continues to remind me that my Home is not here; my home has never been in Colorado, Alaska, or Iowa– even though my coffee pot and clothes have now lived in all of those places in the last year.

In all of the pain and vertigo of the last five days, He has been the One to comfort and strengthen each of us, and I know because I know because I know He will continue to do so.

I don’t understand any of the events of the last week or the weeks to come; but God does. My line of sight and perspective is limited, but His is not.

We mourn the loss of our brother and our friend, but because of what Christ did for us on the cross and Kevin’s acceptance and love for Him, we know we’ll see Kev again. This week, we’ve grieved over the timing of our loss, but the Lord is reminding us that it has been Kevin’s gain. Just as he is preparing for the wedding feast for the Bride of Christ, we prepare for a wedding feast. And oh, his sister’s wedding next week will be so full of Jesus and His glory.

I will openly admit that there is a hurricane of transition and grief raging in my heart, but in this, God is so much more than a still, small voice and oh, is He good. He is good now in the raw pain and mess, and everything in me needs to proclaim His nearness to make it through the day.

Praise the One who died to bring us near to our Father– our comforter, the lover of our souls. Praise You, Jesus– the one who brought us out of the darkness of life separated from Him and into His glorious light. Praise You, for bringing us to life and seating us with You in the high heavenly places.

Siblings

Praise You for seating our little brother with You and showing those of us here on earth the immeasurable depths of Your grace and kindness in our loss.

“But now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace”

(Ephesians 2:13)

The view from the top

There’s something about standing at the summit of a mountain and screaming with joy that makes all the agony of the ascent worIMG_2877th it.

Maybe it’s the 360 degree panoramic view that comes with being thousands of feet above your surroundings. Or the way that view causes the adrenaline to course through your body, momentarily allowing¬†you to forget the pain in your exhausted legs. Perhaps it’s the feeling of accomplishment that comes along with conquering something that seemed “impossible” at least once on the way up the trail. Or maybe it’s the dizzying feeling of intimacy with the Creator that comes with realizing how¬†minuscule you are when compared with the mountain you’re stand on… and that the God who created that very mountain is infinitely bigger than it is. (Say what?!)

I don’t know which of these things it is that causes me to shout, “HOOOOOOOLLLLYYYY CRAAAAAAP! JESUS! WHO ARE YOU!?” at the top of my lungs everytime I stand on top of a mountain, but I do know that all of those¬†factors add up¬†to create the “climbing high” I’m so love with. It’s the euphoria that leads so many of us to attempt ridiculous feats and turns so many Coloradoans into “14-er junkies”.

I may not have “14-ers” accessible to me these days, but oh do I feel like I’ve climbed my fair share of mountains lately. (Some literal, some metaphoric…)

My students and I climbed the mountain at the base of our village the morning after our Tanalian Leadership Center graduation. As I watched them cut trail and post hole through the snow ahead of me, I was struck (again) by the similarities between ministry and mountain climbing.

I’m pretty sure that to be either a climber or a follower of Christ, dedicated to raising up disciples, you have to be a little crazy.

Both tasks are difficult, but incredibly rewarding. Both require you to keep your eyes on the High Place you’re striving to reach. Even if you’re in a ridge or valley, you have to keep looking Up if you want to continue moving forward. On the climb, you learn to endure sore, aching muscles, battle wounds, blisters, and exhaustion beyond what you thought was humanly possible. Like I said, you’ve got to be a little crazy (and a lot fixated on the euphoria of being at the High Place) to be willing to suffer through the pain of the ascent and the disappointment of false summits and trails that lead you down before they zig-zag back up.

Both in ministry and on mountains, I’ve hiked a few grueling miles with students only to realize we’d hit a false summit or a plateau that turned into a valley of sorts. More often than not, this realization lends to all of us¬†hitting frustration and being tempted to take our eyes off the High Place and quit. But this year I’ve watched as my students have learned that when they do that, they settle for so much less than what they know they’ve been created to be able to do.

That Saturday morning as I climbed Tanalian behind the students I’ve come to love, I saw the courage and tenacity that the Lord has grown in¬†them¬†over the past 8 months as they grappled up rough terrain, refusing to give up. Even when they were tired, I watched them take short breaks, look up to the peak above us, and keep trucking forward. As I hiked behind them, a proud “mamasita” (as my boys call me), I was reminded of the speeches and charges each of my students gave to the community and one another the night before at our TLC graduation.

Their words contained the power of the Holy Spirit– the truth of the transforming power of our King. They urged one another on toward the Lord and thanked those in the community who had pushed them to where they stood at the top of the “TLC mountain” with their diploma in their hands.

The students who got off the plane in Port Alsworth on October 5th of last year are not the same students I heard speak at graduation or that I climbed that mountain with on Saturday.

In October they were all a bit timid and unsure of who they were created to be and what they were capable of doing.

But as we stood on Tanalian, waist deep in snow, looking out over our little village and Lark Clark,¬†I stood among “different” young men and women who are now confident in their identities because they are more confident in the Lord and Who He says He is. As I stood with them, I realized I was no longer standing¬†with “my students”– No, I was standing with fellow¬†ministers of the Gospel who are all excited to share what the Lord has done in their lives this year.

I stood in the company of future counselors, preachers, teachers, and missionary pilots.

To get to where they were that morning, or at graduation the night before, they all had to climb a mountain or two of their own with the Lord and I will never say the climb was easy… But by the grace of God, they never took their eyes off the High Place and they learned that while climbing mountains is¬†difficult and exhausting, it didn’t kill them.

As I watched my students board my boss’ plane and take off to their respective villages later that week, my heart overflowed with joy knowing they’ve been equipped, and now sent. I know our paths might not physically cross in the foreseeable future, but I look forward to the day in heaven when I get to hear their stories of the mountains they climbed with Jesus after leaving TLC and the ways they were able to watch the Lord show up in their own “students” lives and hearts.

As for me, all I want to do is rejoice– scream out in joy and praise at the top of my lungs on this Tanalian Leadership Center “mountain”, for the Lord is good. GradHike

He keeps His promises, one of the most beautiful being,

“‘Anyone who believes in Him will never be put to shame.’¬†For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile‚ÄĒthe same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

¬†How, then, can someone call on the One they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the One of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? ¬†And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‚ÄúHow beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those who bring Good News!‚ÄĚ

(Romans 10:13-15)

My sweet students know the One who saved them. They know in the depths of their hearts that He will never put them to shame, so long as they keep their eyes on Him. They’ve been sent out to declare the Good News and have the opportunity to do so at the very ends of the earth this summer, in Cambodia and in the Alaskan island village of Little Diomede (where there is only one known believer, ps.).

Would you join me in praying for my students as they’ve now returned to their villages as witnesses to the glory of God and as they travel the world (this summer and for the rest of their lives) declaring His powerful name?¬†

Sweet Jesus, would you build Your Kingdom here.

~

Exciting life update: Joey and my missions trip to Cambodia is over 95% funded and we’re expecting to hit the 100% mark in the next week or so! If you’re interested in supporting our team in prayer or financially, feel free to shoot me an e-mail at KacyLouLeyba@gmail.com.

Or! If you’re interested in spreading the Gospel throughout Alaska, you can support Brandon, Emilyn, Trevor, and our staff as they prepare to go¬†to Little Diomede. You can make¬†a contribution here and earmark it “Little Diomede” in the comment section.