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—and 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)

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—the 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: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those who bring Good News!”

(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.

To fly by faith and not by sight…

What does it look like to fly on faith, and faith alone?

That’s easy. Anytime you fly as a passenger in a plane, you’re flying solely on faith– Faith that the stranger at the controls isn’t an absolute idiot; faith that the plane had been properly inspected and is mechanically sound for flight. More than likely, as a regular person boarding a plane, you aren’t sure of either of those things. You’re hopeful… But you’re not one hundred percent sure.

Flying is all about faith, really.

You see, there are two different types of flying—VFR, where you operate by Visual Flight Rules and can see where you’re going, and IFR, where you are operating under Instrument Flight Rules. In layman’s terms—when you’re flying IFR, you can’t see where you’re going all the time. You have to rely on your instruments: your altimeter, GPS, compass, etc.

When you fly VFR, you’re not flying through dense cloud cover, excessive fog, or blinding snow or rain. You know and can see your surroundings. For many experienced pilots, flying VFR is a cake walk. (The key word there is experienced; the thought of flying as pilot in command period still makes my inexperienced pilot stomach flip a bit… But I digress.)

Lake Clark Pass
Lake Clark Pass in all it’s VFR, summer glory.

Last summer when I visited Port Alsworth, the VFR flight conditions couldn’t have been better (even though I didn’t know it at the time). As we flew over the wetlands outside of Anchorage on my first ever approach to Port Alsworth, the weather was perfect and clear. So clear, in fact, that I could see brown bears running awkwardly along the streams below us, chasing their salmon dinners. The glaciers we buzzed by in Lake Clark Pass were a crisp turquoise, reflecting the bright blue sky above and the teal hue of Lake Clark below. Oh, it was a sight to behold… A true VFR miracle for a first time bush plane passenger.

Flying into Port Alsworth this September, was a bit of a different story.

Alaska greeted me on September 15th with a slush/rain storm that made flight in a tiny two-seater airplane seem a bit more difficult. As I sat in the Lake and Pen Air office at Merrill Field Airport that morning, I stared out at the windy conditions and rapidly changing precipitation. I half-way expected my bush flight to be delayed, if not cancelled entirely. After all, even the giant Alaska Airlines plane that carried me to Anchorage had hit so much turbulence the night before that it seemed like we were going to fall out of the sky.

But sure enough, at a little after ten o’clock, my wild child of a pilot came bursting into the LPA office, announcing that I was the lucky winner of a one-way flight “home” with him to Port Alsworth.

IMG_0226
This guy… He is just one of my faves.

As we loaded my bags into the tiny plane, word came over a radio that a plane had just crashed in Iliamna—just 20 miles from our destination. Eeesh… not exactly reassuring… I thought as I grabbed Lyle’s hand and he pulled me up into our plane. I made some comment about bush pilots not being deterred by much, to which he simply laughed and told me that this flight was going to be an easy one.

We taxiied down to the end of our runway and I watched as my pilot punched buttons, radioed people I couldn’t quite hear, and then hit the throttle. Before I knew it, we were hauling down the runway, and then lifting into the headwind and the clouds above us.

FlyingIFR
My view (or lack there of) leaving Anchorage.

My view of Anchorage quickly disappeared. Convinced that I wasn’t going to see much for a while, I slipped my headphones inside of my noise proof earmuffs, turned on my favorite playlist, and grabbed my new leather bound journal from my bag between my feet. In a daze created by the combination of sleep deprivation, adrenaline, and raw change, I opened to the first page, and wrote:

“As I sit in this plane and watch water droplets from the melting snow roll past my co-pilot window, I am amazed with who You are, God.

It amazes me that I’m in Alaska—in this plane. It amazes me that this little metal box is somehow flying through the sky… It amazes me that my pilot knows where we’re going because the snow/fog/cloud mix is so thick that I can’t see anything around us. My memory knows what this mountain pass looks like from last summer, and yet this trip is so different. There are no mountains or glaciers to ‘oooh’ and ‘ahhhh’ at; I can’t see anything running in the wetlands below. There is just here, and just now; just You and me (and this really funny guy named Lyle).

I don’t know where I’m going, God. (Literally, and figuratively.) I can’t see what’s happening around me. I don’t know what any of these buttons, lights, or levers in this plane do. But I know that You are God, and that You are Good. Oh, and that You are somehow holding us up, as if this plane was sitting in your hands… And if that’s the case, I love that you are keeping things interesting with this insane turbulence; I love that you always shake things up.”

When I wrote that, I didn’t understand that Lyle was flying IFR—by his instruments and not his eyes.

I didn’t understand the difference between IFR and VFR, even though I too was operating within my own type of IFR journey. After all, I knew that God was calling me to Alaska even though I couldn’t see why; I’d known that with every fiber of my being since that weird moment in church on Super Bowl Sunday.

I had spent the last seven months fine tuning my “instruments” through time with Jesus, setting up a “flight plan”, and learning who I was going to be on the journey with. I had been praying and crying and learning more and more what I looked like to walk by faith and not by sight.

I had plenty of people tell me (in not-so-many words) that I was a moron for leaving the life that I loved to follow Jesus to a tiny village I hardly knew. There were questions raised about practical things like “Do you really think that God is going to provide that outrageous amount of money?” regarding the raising of my own salary. Oh yeah, not to mention the obvious: “Why on earth would you go there when Jesus has so clearly been working through you in Denver? If God is ‘so good’ then why can’t He use you in a less dangerous place…?”

The questions were legitimate, and my answers hinging on faith often felt as if they weren’t. 

There were days (so many freaking days) when I doubted that God was Good—that He would provide… that He had a plan. Yet, even on the days when I doubted and I couldn’t see, I just tried to cling to Jesus and keep moving forward in faith. (Side note shout out to my roommates who laid in bed with me while I bawled on those nights and drug me back to Jesus in prayer, whether I wanted it or not. Y’all are the epitome of the church and the real MVPs.)

Yet because He is True to His callings and True to His promises, He provided in abundance financially, spiritually, and emotionally; even as I write this, looking out at the planes landing next to my house in Alaska, all I can do is laugh at how Good He really is.

He will never leave me, nor forsake me. (No matter how many times He has to reassure me of this.) He promises to be the Light before me, even when I can’t see more than a few feet in front of my face.

He has been my most reliable “instrument” as I have learned to fly out of my comfort zone with Him. His grace, His Love, His mercy; they are unfailing.

Even though it has been terrifying to blindly fly away from everything that I love, I have been unexplainably blessed by experiencing more of Him through it all.

That sounds cheesy; I know. But around these parts, it is so true. Because at the end of the day, when Bible class is over, our extra TLC programs and classes have been taught, the dishes are washed, and my girls are in bed, I sit in my house alone. Yet somehow I am not alone; I am with Him—experiencing more of His love in the silence and the darkness than I ever thought possible… Which is an answer to the exact prayer from Ephesians 3:14-20 that so many prayed over me as I left Denver…

“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 He 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.”

It is terrifying to fly thousands of feet in the air, suspended by nothing but the faith that instruments will carry you on to your destination, and yet we do it all the time.

It is terrifying to be here alone sometimes, but by faith I maintain that I am not alone because I am with Jesus, my sweet Abba, and His Spirit.

And that faith? The renewed and deeper faith that kicks in when you are flying on faith in Christ alone? I can’t explain it. I don’t know how the heck God builds faith with faith. (It’s a pretty screwy system if you ask me.)

But what I do know is that flying by faith alone most beautiful, addicting feeling in the world and there is no place I’d rather be than here, in His Love. 

Where is He calling you to follow Him today? Will you choose to fly with Him, even if you can’t see what’s in front of you?

(Spoiler alert: you won’t regret it.)

Stinson

“He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body, we are not away from the Lord, for we walk by faith and not by sight.”

(2 Corinthians 5:5-7)

Meanwhile, in Alaska…

IMG_0226
Lyle (my wild child pilot) and I, taking off for Port Alsworth.

I rode my boss’ fat tire bike down the airplane runway Wednesday and laughed to myself as my new neighbors passed me in their planes. Every one who sees me in the village glances at me with their heads cocked to the side while clearly thinking, She’s not from around here…

It makes sense.

The way they look at me, that is… I mean, my blue hair and the flowy hippie skirts covering my wool tights aren’t exactly the normal fare around here; but I guess I’ve never been great at “normal” anyway.

This week has reminded me that “normal” is all relative. Normal is dictated by culture, and lucky for me, I have half of a semi-useless Master’s Degree in studying culture and language.

My first week here in Alaska has been full of observation and laughter. I’ve loved keeping a running log of the hilarious and foreign things that the locals here say. But I think I love watching them re-experience their culture through my fresh eyes even more. We become so used to our “normal” that we forget to laugh at how incredulous our lives are sometimes. We all do it… it’s not just those living in rain forests or remote villages.

A few of my favorite quotes from the week?

  • “Well, I keep a 45 under our mattress and we took the screen out of the window just in case I see a moose or a bear in the backyard.” –Megan, a fellow TLC employee
  • “The smaller the grizzly, the better it’s gonna taste. Also, make sure you get a berry fed bear; the fish fed ones smell kinda funny…” –Steve, a new friend and local pilot
  • “So, in about a week you’ll want to stop by the veterinarian’s house, if she’s in town. She can take your stitches out.” –Wayne, the random Minnesotan ear, nose, and throat doctor that we roped into stitching my finger back together after I sliced it open working in my kitchen. (Nope, I couldn’t even do anything cool to necessitate stitches on my third day here.) But poor Wayne… He doesn’t even live here; he was just visiting for the week and was the closest sucker with a medical degree when I sliced my finger. (Mind you, the veterinarian quote was said about 5 minutes after he made an Uhhhh…uh oh noise before nervously laughing and saying, “Do over!” while re-threading a suture through my finger and asking me to assist him.) It’s always an adventure around here, I suppose…

This new normal is an adjustment, but it is far more of a gift than a burden. Yes, getting used to my severely rationed internet and sketchy phone service going out during rain/sleet storms has taken some getting used to. And yes, carrying bear mace in the pocket of my Mountain Smith makes me a little uneasy at times… Oh, and trying to find recipes for the tongue and leg of the moose that I butchered yesterday is an odd challenge. But I couldn’t feel more blessed to live in this beautiful place, and I know 100% that this is exactly where I’m supposed to be right now.

I am meant to be here, “off the road system”, figuring out what to do with bear meat—just in case the guys bring one home from their hunting trip. (How often do you get to write that sentence?)

But in all seriousness, I am just here, in the wilderness, preparing for the group of girls I will disciple and live with. This time feels like the calm before the storm (because it is) but it’s been nice to take some time and learn my way around the village by bicycle.

This week has has been full of simple pleasures like bike rides, learning to order everyday items like lotion and Qtips off of Amazon Prime (thank you Jesus for free shipping!), eating dinner with the sweet families of Port Alsworth, and stealing away for quiet mornings with Jesus in my hidden attic loft.

As I sit in my loft on the chilly days or in my hammock on Lake Clark when the sun is out, I can’t help but feel a little bit like I’ve moved to paradise. I mean, the scenery on my flight into the village on Tuesday brought me to tears at the Goodness of God. (That could have also been a reaction based in extreme sleep deprivation too… But I’m gonna go with the fact that it was a Jesus thing.) But no matter how many times I look at the snow capped mountains around me, I am constantly reminded that this is not paradise. No, it’s beautiful, but it’s not paradise because it is not completely saturated with Jesus.

Not yet, at least.

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Lake Clark and Mount Tanalian looking absolutely stunning

The breathtaking beauty around me (that I could easily mistake as the “main event” here) is meant to stir a longing in my heart for the one who created it all. I should long for His coming; I should long for His presence in the same way that I long to run down every dirt path in town. I should long for people to know Him and experience how truly lovely He is.

And so today, that is where I am trying to reside—in longing and anticipation of His great story.

I’m in excited anticipation for the day when these mountains resound with the sound of the Native Alaskan people (and the rest of the world) singing His praises. I look forward to the day when my Denver Street School and Park Church and biological and Scum of the Earth and Port Alsworth families will sing of the goodness of God for what He did on the cross. And by-George, we will be together and not separated by 2,500+ miles.

Until then, I’ll be singing worship songs, canning moose, and preparing to love the beautiful kiddos He has brought me here to do life with.

(P.S. My students will be arriving in Port Alsworth on October 5th! I would really appreciate prayers for them and our team as we all prepare to come together for the school year! In the words of United Pursuit band, “It’s gonna be wild; it’s gonna be good; it’s gonna be full of Him!”)

“For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, and not by sight. 

For if we are out of our minds, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for You. For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that One has died for all, therefore all have died; and He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised.”

(2 Corinthians 5:1-7, 13-15)

(P.S.S. If you’re interested in learning more about my work here at the Tanalian Leadership Center or about how you can join my team through prayer or finances, click here.)

All of my Alaskan love,

Kacy Lou

Hang on loosely

There is no other, so sure and steady, my hope is held in Your hand

When castles crumble and breath is fleeting, upon this rock I will stand

Upon this rock I will stand

Glory, glory, we have no other king but Jesus Lord of all

Raise the anthem, our loudest praises ring, We crown Him Lord of all

The first Sunday in February I stood in my same church, with my same friends, in the same pew that we almost always sit in, and yet something was different.

With my hands raised, singing the song that has become my anthem over the last few months, I opened my eyes to see a small sea of people worshiping in front of me.

Oh no. I think I’m supposed to go… 

As that thought resonated in my foggy, sleep deprived brain, I looked around at the community God has blessed me with. These people. The ones I have “wobbled” with at weddings and hit pinatas with at birthday parties. The people who I have laughed and cried with… mourned disease, death, and brokenness with… These people who know my heart and get me… I mean really get me.

In all my sorrows, Jesus is better – make my heart believe

In all my victories, Jesus is better – make my heart believe

The words swirled around me. How could I leave my people?

Than any comfort, Jesus is better – make my heart believe

But Lord, what about healthcare? What about a salary? I don’t really know much about this job yet… I haven’t even gotten to have an in depth conversation with the director yet… I don’t know…

More than all riches, Jesus is better – make my heart believe

Okay, Abba. I trust You. If we’re going to do this, You’re going to work this out. I have full confidence in that.

Our souls declaring, Jesus is better – make my heart believe Our song eternal, Jesus is better – make my heart believe

Glory, glory, we have no other king But Jesus Lord of all

That was the moment, the moment I knew that I was moving to Alaska.

Yupp. I’ll let that sink in for a bit.

I’ve accepted a position at the Tanalian Leadership Center in Port Alsworth, Alaska for the 2015-2016 school year.

Come September, I’ll be boarding a big plane here in Denver, which will take me to a much smaller plane in Anchorage, which will take me to the remote village of 200ish people that I will be calling home for the next nine months.

What will I be doing, you ask? Great question.

I will essentially be the girls’ house mom, mentor, and teacher at TLC– an intermediary program and boarding school for at-risk, native Alaskan students who have graduated high school, but don’t quite have the skill set to go to college or directly into the work force yet.

For the better part of a year, I’ll live in a village accessible only by bush plane, in house full of teenage girls, teaching them how to be adults who live for Jesus. (Ha! Note to self: Figure out how to be an adult sometime before September.) I’ll be leading exegetical studies of the Bible, teaching leadership and life skills, and helping prepare kids for the SAT/ACT, and ultimately college.

Every time I think about this opportunity that the Lord literally dropped in my lap out of no wheremy adventurous, momma-heart gets insanely giddy.

I’m so excited to embark on this new adventure.

There are new people to love, new stories about the power of Christ yet to be written, and hopefully a ton of four-wheeling, hiking, snowboarding, and fishing to be done.

And as my mind begins to daydream about the beauty of the adventure ahead, I begin to think about all the beautiful relationships and fun adventures that I’ve been blessed to have in Colorado in the last year– a year that I nearly missed out on because of my own stubbornness and plans to move to Texas.

Climbing a 14-er in a freak summer blizzard (in shorts) with my closest friends.

Roadtripping to and from Missouri in 25 hours for delicious BBQ.

Hurtling across a valley on horseback in the cool mountain rain.

Leaping through meadows of mountain wild flowers with my roommates.

Learning to drive a stick shift on a nearly abandoned Nebraskan highway.

Holding my students up as they in turn held candles at their friends’ candle light vigil.

Countless weekends of intense volleyball tournaments at Sloans’ lake.

Cliff jumping blindly from 30 feet into Horsetooth Reservoir.

Laughing wildly as I was blindly lead through a death-trap of an ancient amusement park after losing my glasses on a roller coaster.

(Note to self number two: Reevaluate the safety of my life choices…)

But inevitably, my memories lead me back to reality where my heart sinks a bit and my eyes well up with tears as I realize what I’m about to do.

I am going on a beautiful, life changing adventure with Jesus… But I’m going without my people by my side everyday and that has been a bittersweet pill to swallow. If I dwell on that for too long, in typical “overwhelmed-Kacy-processing-style”, my generally cool, calm, and collected demeanor cracks and before I know it, I’m freaking out a bit.

I mean, I’m moving 2,500 miles away from the life that I have watched God build up for the last several years. I’m moving to a village– a literal village– where the only public establishment is a coffee shop. (Because come on, Jesus knows I wouldn’t survive without a coffee shop…)

But in all seriousness, that coffee shop is IT.

There are airplane runways instead of roads, and ATV’s instead of cars where I’m heading. There are no stores, no libraries, no nothing.

I’ll have to order my groceries to be delivered by plane once a month. And while that is REALLY FREAKING COOL, the thought of navigating an entirely new culture without my people by my side makes me a bit dizzy.

True to the gracious nature of God however, I continue to have one phrase ring in my soul whenever my panic level begins to rise– a phrase that I heard at the very beginning of my journey into missions a few years ago.

You have been blessed to be a blessing.

I have not been blessed with such beautiful, God honoring relationships just to lock them away and hide them (and their fruit) from the rest of the world. No, I have been blessed with and transformed by these beautiful people to in turn learn to hold them loosely and release them to whatever God has next for them; just as they get to learn how to release me to the wilderness for nine months.

It is a unique/ glorious/ stressful opportunity to learn how to hang on loosely– to my precious relationships, to my students and co-teachers during my last few months of this season at the Denver Street School, to my Gospel Community…really to everything here in Denver from my family to my sweet Tiny Dancer and her momma– but I know it is a beautiful blessing none-the-less.

As the note card hanging on my wall reminds me every morning, this life is not my own.

These people are not mine to keep. I have been put on this earth to glorify God, share the Gospel, and to be obedient to His calling… even when that calling takes me 2,500 miles outside of my comfort zone.

Jesus, make my heart believe.

MyLifeIsNotMyOwn

“And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”

(Luke 9:23-27)

Backup. [Jan ’15 Support Update]

I’ve sat down six times in the last two weeks to write what I knew needed to be written– this. My semi-annual support update. And yet each time I’ve deleted my words and walked away from my computer feeling defeated.

This update has been tougher to write than most.

By this time in the school year, I wanted to be able to write beautiful stories about all of the great things God is doing in the school right now. I wanted to write you and say that students are coming to know the Lord in droves, that they are making wise choices, and that they’re all working furiously to finish their high school educations… but unfortunately that’s not where we are right now.

The state of the school is difficult to put into words. In fact, the only metaphor that I can use to explain what’s happening within these walls is to say that we are walking onto a battle field every morning… No. Actually we’re in the middle of a full scale war.

Last semester was heart breaking. I watched as students walked away from God, throwing classroom doors through walls on their way out.

I listened as my co-workers sat across from me, crying out to God, begging Him to please give us a bit of relief from the onslaught of spiritual and emotional attacks we were experiencing.

I cleaned up shards of glass and furniture that was broken and wiped a student’s blood off of a concrete wall.

I stood frozen in time at a student’s candle light vigil and watched as bandanas were pulled over faces and war cries were made to avenge Johnny’s death.

These images and sensations washed over me every time I pulled out my laptop and tried to explain what I am doing in these walls everyday.

But to be entirely honest, on most days I don’t know what I’m doing anymore.

I feel unqualified. Confused. Weak. Ineffective. Exhausted.

I feel like we’re losing battle after battle and somedays, when my faith falters, I can’t help but wonder if we’re going to lose the war too…

But yesterday God reminded me that it’s not what I’m doing within these walls that matters– It’s what He’s doing. And even though I may not always see it in the midst of the fight, He is doing great things.

Yesterday when I walked into our Thursday afternoon staff meeting, one of my students was sitting in my usual spot. No one else in the room seemed phased by the fact that Raul* was joining us, so I pulled out a chair and took a seat.

“Now that you’re all here, I want to tell you something.” He proceeded as soon as I sat down. Thinking he was joking around, the majority of our staff let out a little giggle. “God’s been talking to me.” He said, unphased by the laughter.

Confused, I glanced over at my principal whose eyes were fixed on the small 18 year old boy next to me.

“He’s been saying things… Telling me that I need to talk to the kids in this school and show them that they can stop doing what they’re doing.

I get it; I used to be just like them. They don’t care if they do their homework. They don’t care if they hurt people. They don’t have anything to lose. But God has been telling me that I need to tell them my story. The story of how He saved me from myself. “

As the words came out of his mouth, I sat there stunned, mentally cataloging the change I’ve seen in him over the last two and half years– specifically since he gave his life to Christ the summer before last.

Raul.

This is the kid who threw his binder at my head his first year and came to cooking class kicking and screaming. (Literally.) The kid who tried to throw a computer at me when he got frustrated by his writing project. Wait, wait, wait… The same kid who literally had to be carried out of my classroom IN HIS CHAIR because he refused to leave the room when I tried to send him to the principal for threatening another student. The kid who has probably made me lock myself in my classroom and cry more than anyone else in my teaching career.

Yes, this was the kid sitting next to me, telling my peers and I that God had changed him and that he wanted others to experience that kind of change.

I could hardly believe it.

Yet there he sat, requesting a day in chapel to speak to his peers.

“I know you guys have had it hard lately.” He continued. “I don’t say much and neither do you, but I can see it in your eyes. You’re tired and hurt and need backup. And God has called me to back you guys up– to shine light into this school through the trials and tribulations He’s brought me through. So if you need me to set someone straight, let me know. God’s given me a pretty good story and I’ve got your backs.”

As he slumped back in his chair and carefully folded his hands on the table in front of him, he started to get blurry.

Per usual, tears were welling up in my eyes– but for the first time in a long time they were tears of joy and relief, not of sadness or fear.

I could tell you a million different stories about Raul’s time at DSS, but the thing that struck me the hardest (other than the obvious calling that God has put on his life) was the fluidity with which he spoke.

Three years ago, Raul came to us as a 15 year old with a second grade reading level. He struggled to communicate basic ideas, and yet there he was next to me using the word “tribulation”… in the right context… in a complete thought… that actually made sense…

That, in itself is a miracle.

Not only is God working in my kids’ lives spiritually by drawing them to Himself, but He is working miracles through the rigorous, individualized academics provided within our walls. And that is why I continue to walk onto the battle field everyday.

Thank you to everyone who continues to support my students and I as we engage in this crazy fight. Sometimes it’s dark and difficult, but the fruit is always beautiful.

If you are interested in learning more about how you can get involved at the Street School through prayer or volunteer work, feel free to shoot me an email at KacyLouLeyba@gmail.com and I will gladly get you in the loop.

Or if you feel called to partner with me financially as I continue to walk in faith and raise a chunk of my own salary, you can do so by clicking here and simply writing Leyba Support in the comment section.

Again, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for making life change possible.

awards2012

*Students name has been changed to protect their identity.