Obedience, even unto death

Two weekends ago I spent my Saturday carefully planting the beautiful plants that I’ve had growing in our dining room since March. My garden this year had grown to be my pride and joy.

I watered it and rotated every pot, every morning to ensure each plant was getting sun in the fickle Colorado spring. I replanted things when they got crowded. But eventually my vegetables got to a point where they simply needed to move into new soil in the great outdoors. I dutifully checked the long-term weather forecast and saw nothing but sun and rain for the foreseeable future. Seemingly the perfect time to plant.

And so, I tilled the soil and planted everything in the cute little garden plot in our yard.

For a week, everything flourished. My veggies seemed happy with the rain and sun and their new room.

garden

And then freaking Colorado weather happened and last Saturday a slushy snow storm blew through. Tuesday night, I stood by the garden fence and surveyed my mostly smushed, dead garden and dramatically thought: Seems about right.

It seems about right because there’s so much about the end of this season that simply feels like a death has occurred, or rather is occurring. Slowly.

My sweet high school girls whom I have spent months (with some, years) winning over, have spontaneously turned into waterfalls in the last week. They hug me goodbye at the end of classes and school days with tears in their eyes because we both know that I won’t be at DSS for much longer.

My heart has felt like it’s shattering into a million pieces as I’ve slowly begun to pack up my classroom, write graduation speeches for kids I’ve been with for four plus years, and sign yearbooks urging kids to follow Jesus… and this blog to keep in touch. (Hashtag: Shameless plugs. Oh well.)

But work isn’t the only place where I feel death occurring.

No. I feel death sneaking into the depths of my heart when I look at my best friends, my roommates, and my wonderful church. When I hear about the weddings that I’ll be missing while in Alaska or see the bumps that I know will bear babies when I’m 2,500 miles away.

These are the moments when I feel death in the midst of such happiness and newness.

It sounds obnoxiously dramatic, I know. But it is death because with each of these wonderful life giving sights or event invitations, I have to die to myself.

I have to die to my career and identity as a teacher at the Denver Street School, and with that death comes the laying to rest of the giggles and fighting with the girls who both feed my soul and suck the life out of me…somehow all at the same time.

I have to die to the false notion that I’m somehow protecting my girls by being a physical presence in their lives. I have to die to my control issues and mom-brain, and the fact that even when they are cussing me out or throwing things at me, that I absolutely love my students from the bottom of my little breaking heart.

I have to die to my desire to be in the same state as one of my best friends after being on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean for a year.

I have to let some dreams die and be obedient to the calling that Christ has put in front of me. The calling to lay down my life as I know it, pick up my cross, and follow Him.

It’s been a wrestle, for sure. This process has (re)exposed just how much of a control freak I am underneath my easy-breezy hippie attitude.

I feel like I count the cost of following Jesus daily. In fact, I feel like there’s a small part of my brain that is constantly keeping a running tabulation of just how great the cost of moving to Alaska seems to be.

Some days the cost seems far too high. Those are the days when I dig my heels in, refusing to go to God, let alone want to follow Him anywhere. If I’m being honest, I don’t want to die to myself. I want to live the wonderful life that I claim to have made on my own. I want to stay and grow and keep my feet firmly planted in the Colorado soil.

But some days (few and far between as they may feel lately) God has my head screwed on correctly and He gives me the strength to lay everything down before Him and sing the Rend Collective song that is almost always playing in the back of my head.

“I’m saying yes to You
And no to my desires
I’ll leave myself behind
And follow You

I’ll walk the narrow road
‘Cause it leads me to You
I’ll fall but grace
Will pick me up again

I’ve counted up the cost
Oh, I’ve counted up the cost
Yes, I’ve counted up the cost
And You are worth it

I do not need safety
As much as I need You
You’re dangerous
But Lord, You’re beautiful

I’ll chase You through the pain
I’ll carry my cross
‘Cause real love
Is not afraid to bleed

I’ve counted up the cost
Oh, I’ve counted up the cost
Yes, I’ve counted up the cost
And You are worth it

Sing with me now

I’ve counted up the cost
Oh, I’ve counted up the cost
Yes, I’ve counted up the cost
And You are worth it

Take my all

Jesus, take my all
Take my everything
I’ve counted up the cost
And You’re worth everything

I’ve counted up the cost
Oh, I’ve counted up the cost
Yes, I’ve counted up the cost
And You are worth it

As the song says, “I’ll fall, but Grace will pick me up again.” I don’t need to be perfect. Thank God.

And you don’t need to be perfect either.

If there’s one thing that God is teaching me right now, it’s that following Him and choosing to die to ourselves is an everyday choice– an everyday struggle. Sometimes it hurts like hell and you cry a lot.  But His mercies are new every morning.

As followers of Christ, we are called to die to ourselves and our desires. And trust me, this death stings like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Jesus knows… (Literally.)

On the days when I’m struggling to lay down my life and my loved ones, sobbing in coffee shops, or just generally fighting Jesus tooth and nail, He brings me to a place of quiet consideration that He gets it. He died. For me. For you.

So even when I’m bitter and soggy, I’m learning to consider myself thankful that I have a Savior who provided the ultimate example of what it looks like to lay down your life for the flourishing of another.

Jesus was obedient and faithful to the plan that God laid before Him, even though it was more difficult than I can even begin to fathom. He was obedient even unto death on a cross, Philippians 2:8 tells us.

Laying down your life probably doesn’t look like moving across the country to a tiny village in Alaska. (If it does, we should definitely chat…)

No, I don’t know what laying down your life and dying to your desires looks like for you today, but Jesus does. And I urge you to reach out to Him for the strength to do so. Just as He is trying so hard to teach me to do.

Death sucks, but it’s necessary. After all, we cannot experience the beauty of resurrection and new life of Christ if we do not first experience death.

(And I know, because I know, because I know that Goodness and life and joy is just round some corner… Both here in Denver and eventually 2,500 miles away. But I also know that it’s okay to mourn and weep in the changing of seasons because we also have a Savior who wept.)

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus as my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith– that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain resurrection from the dead.”

(Philippians 3:7-11)

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Obsidian

We always tease my roommate Mallory that she has the “red phone” to God.

That girl… Oh that girl has the most beautiful relationship with God that I’ve ever had the privileged of witnessing. She wakes up early every morning to be with Him. She hears His voice clearly. Her prayers seem to always be answered in hilarious ways. She has dreams filled with meaning and spiritual depth. I mean the girl might as well have those little cartoon birds and mice from Cinderella dancing and singing around her as she walks through life with Jesus by her side.

Then there’s me.

The one who constantly is tripping and bumping her way through life, trying to discern whether I’m hearing God or my own rambling internal monologue. And as far as hyper-spiritual dreams go, well… I’m the girl who once had a dream involving a car accident, a meth addict, and a cop riding an ostrich in downtown Denver… Not quite the same.

But there’s a new fixture on my hand that reminds me that while my life may not be full of dancing cartoon animals, that God is crazy-big, and beautiful, and more faithful than I could ever begin to imagine.

Before y’all go jumping to conclusions about the ring on my finger, no, I am by no means engaged to be married. (Although that has been a really fun trick to play on some of you as I’ve asked for your addresses to send out support letters…)


Instead, as I prepare to go to Alaska, I’ve decided to intentionally be engaged in a season of prayer. I’m a ridiculously kinesthetic person, and thus the ring is there to remind me to pray for God to prepare me for whatever He has gotten me into with this wild adventure. I am trying to be in prayer for faith in provision. Prayer for the church-less villages of Alaska. Prayer for those whom I am about to leave. Prayer for those whom I am going to.

Right about now I just envision you, my sweet reader, gagging at how cliche the concept of wearing a ring of prayer/non-marital engagement sounds, but just as with everything in my life, the ring has a back story and it’s tied to Alaska.

Last year when I hopped on the tiny two-seater plane to Port Alsworth, I was seeking healing. In the months leading up to the trip, God seemed insistent to make me confront the darkest parts of myself and my past… and well, I was less than pumped about it.

In classic Kacy style, I ran. I avoided Him. Or I spent all of my free time with Him asking questions that had nothing to do with my own heart. I was torn between wanting His healing and not wanting to walk through the messy process of confessing my own sin and receiving that.

The second night I was in Alaska, I shot straight up in bed. Disoriented, I sat staring at my empty hands trying to figure out whether what I had just experienced was real or not.

I twisted my body, looking around the room. The ever-present summer sun was peaking out from behind the blackout curtains and my friend Megan was still asleep in her bed to my right.

Whose voice was that? It seemed eerily real and close, and yet I’m still in Kathryn’s bed and no one else is awake yet… 

I yanked back the comforter and slid my hands around on the mattress, searching the under pillows and near my feet. Nothing. It had to have been a dream…

Just moments before, I had been standing in a room with someone I knew and yet couldn’t see. I was holding a giant chunk of glassy, black rock.

“Do you know what this is?” The familiar voice asked.

I remember holding it up in the air and twisting it to see a bit of light shine through it. From some deep, dark cavern of 6th grade science knowledge I pulled out a term and definition I didn’t know I remembered.

“It’s obsidian… A type of glassy lava rock that’s translucent rather than opaque, which just means that it lets some of the light through, but not all of it.”

“Exactly. You’re like this rock right now. You let some of My Light through, but it’s cloudy and obscured by your own darkness– the darkness that you are afraid to let Me enter. But as you learn to pray and allow Me to enter into your darkness, I will make you into even more of a vessel for my Light. I will turn this obsidian into diamond.”

For what seemed like hours, I stood holding that rock in my hands, praying through past abuse I had suffered, sobbing all the while. (Yes, apparently I’m a giant sap, even in my dreams.) The mysterious person I had given my mini science lesson to stood with His hand on my shoulder and we spoke in harmony. Over time, yet right before my eyes, the rock shifted from black to grey, then to a cloudy, shiny silver color. Just as the silver began to clear and glisten like a diamond, I sat up straight in bed, staring at my hands…

So, it had been a dream.

I crept out of the darkened bedroom, past Kathryn sleeping on the sofa, grabbed my journal and retreated to the hammock I had hung overlooking Lake Clark.

It was on that hammock that I realized that my refusal to walk fully into His Light was an act of sin.

Was it a form of sin that was obvious to the people around me? Probably not– unless they knew the depths of my heart and knew how much it was keeping me from trusting God. Did it seem to consume me? No, but only because I’m too stubborn to appear as anything except cool, calm, and collected.

But in the depths of my heart, I knew that I had grown content with my darkness, thinking that because a little bit of His Light was shining through me, that that was good enough.

As I processed and journaled that morning, I realized I wasn’t trusting God to heal my heart from the verbal and physical abuse of my past. I had simply accepted darkness and deep pain as a part of life instead of seeing it as something that needed to be brought before the King time, and time again in prayer. And that is exactly the process that began that morning.

Nearly a year later, I’m here in Denver staring at the obsidian ring on my hand as I type this, laughing to myself because not only has God done many miraculous healing works in my heart, but because a stack of support letters written about moving to Alaska are sitting in a pile next to my computer.

I have no idea what I’m getting myself into with this whole move– I will readily admit that– but God does. And I honestly have no idea why I’m being called to a village 2,500 miles away from home for the next season of my life– but I know with every fiber of my being that I am.

I have no doubt that I will see His light shine a million times brighter than a diamond in Alaska, but just like in my dream, I know that I won’t be able to make an impact on the murky darkness alone.

In my dream, I was praying with someone. I like to think that maybe it was Jesus… but who really knows. All I know is that the change in my heart didn’t begin with me, but with a prompting from the Lord and I hope and pray that He will use me and my story to begin to do the same healing and sanctifying works in my students’ hearts next year at TLC. I look forward to sharing the transformation I get to witness with all of y’all.

“I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
(Isaiah 49:6b)

(If you’re interested in receiving a support letter or my e-newsletters as I prepare for my journey to Alaska, shoot me an e-mail at KacyLouLeyba@gmail.com. Especially if you’ve got the “red phone” like Mallory. Just sayin’…)

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)

From the mountain tops

grayspeak2

As a Colorado native, the Rocky Mountains are something that I took for granted for roughly twenty years of my life.

Don’t get me wrong– the mountains are beautiful. I mean, they’re the way I grew up understanding which direction was West, and they’re why everyone and their moms were invading our state, but that was about all I knew about them.

As someone who doesn’t enjoy freezing my tush off, I never got into skiing or snowboarding, and while I absolutely adored camping as a child, it was something that typically only happened once a summer due to the huge and divided nature of my family.

And thus, the gorgeous mountains that I stared at everyday and I never became intimately acquainted.

Ironically, it wasn’t until I made friends with “Denver transplants” from all over the country that I began really exploring the Rockies about two years ago.

My beloved friends– the ones who had “invaded my state” for the sake of hiking, skiing, or general outdoor shenaniganry– and I began exploring nooks and crannies in the mountains on holidays and weekends. And shocking enough, the more time I spent in the mountains, the more I have absolutely fallen in love with them. (Maybe all of those tourists I grew up making fun of were actually onto something… Oops, sorry y’all!)

There is something incredibly sacred about the unpolluted silence at the top of a mountain or the ability to drink glacier water straight out of a rushing stream.

This summer as I have been learning to slow down and experience the beautiful world around me, the mountains have become the place where I feel most in tune with God and where I hear Him most clearly in my heart.

No wonder He always told the leaders in the Bible to meet with Him on a mountain top!

Think about it:

Moses met with God regularly on top of Mount Sinai all throughout the book of Exodus.

Elijah had an absolutely wild encounter with God where He met him in 1 Kings 19:

“So he said, “Go forth and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind, an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake, a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

(Uh, say what!?)

Jesus himself gave his famous “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew chapters 5, 6, & 7, well, from the top of a mountain. (Which p.s. if you’re looking for a good read, whether you’re a Christian or not, I HIGHLY recommend reading these few short chapters. What a beautiful message for mankind!)

Peter record hearing the voice of God audibly say, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased,” when he was on the top of the holy mountain with Jesus and John in 2 Peter 1:16-18.

There are over 50 references to mountains throughout the Bible and all of them somehow relate to the majesty and power of God and His beautiful Gospel.

All of this to say, God LOVES mountains. And so do I.

Eventually, once I finish processing all of the magical things that God taught me during my time in the Alaskan mountains, I will write about it right on this here blog. But until that time comes, I simply wanted to leave you all with some of the beautiful photos that I was able to capture during my time in Port Alsworth.

Oh, and I wanted to encourage you to GO OUTSIDE. Get into the mountains!

(Or if you’re not lucky enough to drive 30 minutes and be immersed in the mountains– ahem, I’m lookin’ at you, Texas– then just go somewhere and experience the goodness of God through his creation.)

Put down your phone!

Stop reading your Facebook or this silly blog and go hear what God is trying to tell you!

I promise you will hear it more clearly at the top of a mountain where there isn’t wi-fi, cell reception, or a hundred thousand people buzzing around you in taxis or cars.

Beach2

Lake Clark Beach in the evening (Click to enlarge — my blog hates panoramic photos…)

Lake Clark Pass

The Alaska Range meeting the Aleutian Range

MountainsoverJosh

The gorgeous Alaskan mountains contrasted by Josh’s very shadowed head

Lake ClarkThe view of Lake Clark from my puddle jumper

Lake Clark take 2

But seriously, I could look at this lake all day and never get sick of it

Evening Fishing

The Alaskan Range from the middle of Lake Clark at dusk

Fishing

Pike fishing on the Newhalen River

Lower Tanalian Falls

The Lower Tanalian Falls at the base of Mount Tanalian

For the rest of my photos, check out my Facebook.

But seriously, go outside and experience God’s creation first! It is RAD!