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.

Get in the river

FlyFishingTanalianYou can fish from the shore, or you can throw on a pair of waders and follow Jesus into the river. This is what Alaska is teaching me.

Okay, let me back up…

Maybe the cold has frozen the frontal cortex of my brain, but I’ve taken to spending my Saturday mornings standing in frigid rivers with a tiny pole, tempting Pike with sharp teeth to come near me. In other words… I spend my Saturday mornings fly fishing with my boys.

Full disclosure:

1) I know Alaska has frozen a chunk of my brain. I haven’t seen weather warmer than 40 degrees in weeks.

2) I’m a terrible fly fisherman. (Fly fisher? Fly fisherwoman? See, I don’t even know the correct term. Maybe that’s why I haven’t caught anything yet…)

3) Jesus continues to prove that He’s the only One who could ever tempt me to stand in an Alaskan river on my “day off”.

Due to the fact that I can’t talk or sing while fishing (lest I scare away my prey) I’ve spent a good amount of time lately considering the fact that Jesus walked into our proverbial river by coming down to earth. In fact, He came to us and then He called us to follow in His example.

Jesus walked out of his heavenly perfection and He entered in to our lives; it’s in His very name. Emmanuel—God with us.

In this season of living with my students, teaching and learning with them during the day, and hanging out with them at night, I’m learning what His call to “enter in” with Him to peoples’ lives looks like in a new way.

Consider with me the commands of Christ in the New Testament:

“And Jesus came and said to His disciples, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’” (Matthew 28:16-20)

As I read this, I can almost hear Jesus saying, “Hey! Kacy. I came to you, for you. Now go and be with others. Tell them who I am, and when you can’t seem to remember who I am, simply remember that I am always with you. You need only ask and I will show myself because I’m Emmanuel– God with you; God within you.”

We see two of the other most important commandments of Christ later in the Gospel of Mark:

“One of the scribes came up and heard the Sadducees disputing with one another, and seeing that Jesus had answered them well before, asked Him, ‘Which commandment is the most important of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.’” (12:28-31)

Love your neighbor as yourself. Woof; the weight of that calling is never lost on me. After all, this is the call—the one to enter in to the brokenness and pain of those around us and point them to Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t seem to be talking about “dipping your toe in the proverbial water while your other foot is comfortably planted on the ground” here. He isn’t referring to the kind of “entering in” where you see a struggle, recognize the pain and mess, and offer a Bible verse or applicable “Christian” platitude where you see fit, then leave, hoping that things will get better for that person.

No.

He’s talkin’ about slapping on your waders (even if they make you look like an idiot) and walking into the river of another’s sorrows beside them.

You might walk in and find yourself knee deep in the mud of life, which is often difficult to navigate. You might find yourself feeling like you’re drowning in the other person’s pain at times. The waters of their sorrow, pain, and fear will be cold, dark, and incredibly uncomfortable. But God is continuously reminding me that we have to be experience the rivers of other’s sorrow, in one way or another, to effectively love them as we love as ourselves. We have to be in it with them—truly in it. No matter what “it” is…

I don’t know about you, but I’m one broken, self-absorbed human being. I’m overly consumed by my own heart at times, and as I look at those moments filled with my own humanity I recognize that I’m being called to be just as concerned about the hearts of those around me.

But how do we do this? How do we enter in to the river of sorrows with another when we feel like we’re drowning in our own?

We love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. That may sound trite, but I don’t mean it to.

Think about it: What does it look like to love someone that much? You long to be near them. You want to be in their presence, to hear their stories and know everything about who they are, where they’ve been, and where they’re going.

In short, if we are going to love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength we have to be obsessed with His story. We have to be constantly looking to the Gospel to see who Jesus is, where He has come from, and where He is going. Our God came down as flesh—a tangible example of what it looks like to love the Lord through faith, obedience, and action (and how to love His people in the same way).

We have to be in the Gospel.

It seems so obvious, and yet in day-to-day ministry and life it’s so easy to stop looking to Jesus and simply become absorbed by the humanity and brokenness that surrounds us, or even the humanity represented within scripture.

I don’t believe that we ever intentionally take our eyes off Jesus.

For me, taking my eyes off of the Gospel usually begins innocently enough—I decide to spend time elsewhere in my Bible. For months, I was camped in the Psalms and the Pentateuch (and trust me, this is not a rag against the Psalms or the Old Testament—I LOVE both.) but slowly, ohhhh sooo slowly, I stopped looking at who Jesus was and what He has done for me.

I didn’t realize that I wasn’t looking at Him until I slammed into a wall of exhaustion a few weeks ago. Physically, I felt fine. Emotionally, I’d been better, but I knew that wasn’t my issue. I was spiritually exhausted from a lack of the Gospel in my life. And when my alarm would wake me every morning, I would lay in bed and cry at the thought of having to get up and engage with my students.

I can’t. I can’t do it, Lord. I’m too tired. I can’t enter in to the river of sorrows today. I just want to lay under this electric blanket and pretend that I’m not in Alaska and that life is not hard.

As I bemoaned this fact to a friend on the phone, she asked the question that she asks me so often: “Who are you seeing Jesus as right now?”

Jesus… Huh… I don’t think I’m seeing Jesus period… In fact, I haven’t seen much of Him in my quiet times or our lessons in the Old Testament this week. I thought out loud.

“That’s probably the problem…”

And I knew she was right.

We are to look at Him at all times; If we don’t, loving people and entering in to their lives is impossible. After all, Jesus is the only one who can save us. He is the King of the universe—the only god who has ever come to humbly die for His people and raise Himself to fulfill scripture.

He is the only one who can teach us what it means to “enter in” to the lives of the people we love.

We can’t take our eyes off of Him.

I recognize more everyday that I am not Emmanuel. No matter how hard I try to be a savior, I am not God for anybody. (And trust me, you would not want me to be your savior. I’m a mess. I cry too much and I doubt even more than I cry– a scary thought for those of you who know me… I let my fears control me, consume me, and ruin things far too often. I get angry at pain and injustice, and hell hath no fury like an angry Mexican woman…) 

So, I’m not God to this world. But by His Grace, I am of Him, in the world and so are you.

As believers, we’ve been called to show the world who God is and what He’s about. But that requires looking at Him and following His example of walking into the river of sorrows.

There are plenty of times in scripture where God promises to do amazing things once His people have gotten in the water.

What do you think Christ could do with you and those whom you love if you were willing to get in the river of sorrows with Him?

~

And the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses. Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: ‘When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river.’ ‘And as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the Lord—the Lord of all the earth— set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap, so that the entire tribe of Israel might pass through on dry ground.

(Joshua 3:7-8, 13, 17)

 

Becoming Real

BecomingReal“You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” –The Velveteen Rabbit

Every Monday afternoon, my TLC girls and I have a “house meeting”. Because I’m possibly the least meeting oriented person on this planet, our meeting essentially consists of us all cozying up on the living room couches with a cup of tea and our favorite blanket. We talk about everything from practical items like the chore chart and groceries, to prayer requests and where we’ve seen God move in our hearts and lives that week.

The reality of these meetings is that they’ve been some of the most mundane moments with my students thus far—a heartbreaking reality check for someone who loves nothing more than chatting about Jesus over hot beverages.

More often than not, I ask questions and then sit smiling– like Dora the Explorer, awaiting an answer that more than likely isn’t coming.

“How can we pray for each other this week?” …Crickets. (Sometimes an awkward smile, if I’m lucky.)

I generally wait a few moments, offer a prayer request of my own… and then wait some more… until the silence becomes unbearable.

“Where have you seen God work in your life this week?” I trudge on. No response.

“Or maybe, would one of you risk sharing what you’ve learned in Bible this week?” Not. A. Dang. Thing.

That is essentially how our first two weeks around here went…

At every meal and house meeting, I felt like I was stuck playing the world’s worst game of 20 Questions with a mildly captive audience. (Captive being the key word here, since I think my students realized that they were gonna have to interact with me if they wanted me to feed them.)

It was rough.

“If someone other than me doesn’t start talking in this house soon, I think I’m gonna lose it! I’m gonna throw myself off a bridge or something.” I vented to my best friend in Denver last weekend.

“Well, lucky for you, you live in a village and there probably aren’t bridges for a few hundred miles.” Eyeroll. Thanks, Kitty.

It was with this salty attitude that I began my day on Monday. I’m not gonna lie—I was whole-heartedly dreading our house meeting that evening. Just the thought of another round of 20 Questions made me want to keel over. It felt like this job was going to be the death of me.

I sent my girls off to work with a smile early Monday afternoon. As soon as they walked out the door, I proceeded to dramatically put my face down on the dining room table and tried to resist the urge to slam my forehead into it. Realizing that I drastically needed an attitude adjustment (and to pray through my cranky heart), I shoved the little Velveteen Rabbit notecard that a friend from home gave me in my hoodie pocket, laced up my sneakers, and I went for a run.

I ran down the airplane runway, through the creek that bounds our village, and took off through the woods grumbling and grousing at God the whole way. (Yes, family members, I had my bear spray with me… Everyone can calm down.)

What the actual HECK, Lord?! Why did you bring me all this way just to put me in a completely silent house? What are you doing?! Is this real life? I could be perfectly ignored by teenagers in Denver AND not be 2,500 miles away from home (AND ice cream). This just can’t be reality here.

The trail wore thin and spit me out on the banks of the Tanalian River. Mildly pissed, I plopped down on the rocks, threw my shoes behind me, and took out the little white notecard from my pocket. As the frigid river water rushed over my feet, I read and re-read the ending of the Velveteen Rabbit.

“I am making all things new.”

As I read the words on the notecard in my hand, Revelation 21:5 rang in the back of my mind—likely because I had just included this verse in my teaching of the story of Joseph last week in Bible class. I sat and thought back to how God had turned Joseph being sold into slavery into the beautiful salvation of an entire nation. Joseph had real struggles, yet God redeemed his pain and made a new plan for generations to come.

In the strangest of ways, God used the story of Joseph to remind me that the pain and loss in the story of the Velveteen Rabbit was turned into something beautiful and new too. When the little saggy, eyeless rabbit had been thrown to the burn pile after scarlet fever ravaged his best friend’s home, the fairy turned him into a new creation—a Real rabbit.

I sat for a few seconds and considered the sweetness of the children’s story that I’ve grown to love— the beautiful redemption of becoming Real because of Love…

My emotional daze wore off quickly as a four-wheeler blazed out of the trees behind me and scared me back into reality. “Buhhhhh, I know…” I sighed under my breath while tugging my socks and shoes back onto my damp feet. “I know You are making all things new, God. I know You’re making my students and I more ‘Real’ this year, but I am literally out here in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness talking to myself like a nut, begging You for some freaking depth here. All I want is to have a decent conversation about You with my girls. Is that too much to ask?”

(I don’t know what I was expecting as an answer to that one, but no divinely audible answer came. Neither did a mystery writing in the clouds like it seems to in the movies… And so, I returned the notecard back to my pocket and took off down the trail home.)

Still mentally fried, I barreled into the house just before four o’clock. I gathered my girls in our living room and as we all settled in with blankets and tea, I pulled the card out of my pocket yet again.

In true Kacy word-vomit fashion, I abandoned the loose agenda I had for our meeting and somehow ended up telling the story of the Velveteen Rabbit instead. “We’re all becoming Real.” I choked out at the end of the story. “I know the process and the vulnerability really hurts sometimes… Shoot. I’m exhausted and just feel like I could cry most of the time lately, but I know that God is doing things in your lives and I would really REALLY love it if you would be willing to risk sharing some of that with me. Because just like we learned in Bible last week, God really is making all things new… and that is something to celebrate…”

My word-vomit trailed off and I sat staring awkwardly around the room about to cry out of mental exhaustion. Just as I was anticipating yet another painfully silent gathering, a quiet voice came from the sofa to my right.

“Uhm. Can we pray for my family? They’re really hurting right now…”

And by-George, at four-something Monday afternoon, God answered weeks and weeks of desperate prayers for interaction with my girls. That afternoon the silence was broken in the Elisha house (along with the floodgates that held back my girls’ tears). Never in my life have I been so thankful to talk about alcoholism, suicide, brokenness, death, and Jesus. It was beautiful.

As one of my girls closed our house meeting in prayer about an hour and a half later, I stared down at that silly notecard yet again and laughed under my breath.

You become…

We’re all “becoming” in this house; God is making us all more Real, day by day. He is returning voices to the voiceless. He is beginning to set captives free in very real ways.

Even on the days when my eyes feel like they’re going to fall out like the Velveteen Rabbit’s from excessive crying, or when my not-so-old joints feel loose, and I feel shabby and under-fluffed from lack of sleep, I am learning to count my girls burdens as blessings because they are learning to trust Jesus and I with them simultaneously.

He truly is making all of us here at the Tanalian Leadership Center New and Real in Him. And just like the story goes, “Once you are Real, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

“And a heard a loud Voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And He who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also He said, write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.'”

(Revelation 21:3-5)

[Re]creating a cursive culture

“Hey, why aren’t you copying the notes off the board?” I asked one of my freshman boys a few years ago as I made my way around my classroom.

“Uhm. Well, because I can’t read them. What the [insert expletive here]  is that, French?!” he snapped back at me.

As I glanced back and forth between my very confused student and my white board, a few things ran through my mind:

1) While my students typically come to DSS with knowledge gaps from being bounced through various schools and life, I knew this particular student was legitimately capable of reading what I had put on the board, and that I wasn’t dealing with a reading level issue here.

2) My handwriting was neater than normal. In fact, for a relatively new teacher, it wasn’t even as slanted as it usually was…

As I stood there dumbstruck, trying to formulate some kind of response, one of my other students piped up.

“How old are you?” she asked her classmate.

“Fourteen,” he said brashly, glaring between the senior girl and I, clearly trying to determine whether or not we were going to judge him for his age.

“He probably can’t read cursive, Miss. They stopped teaching it in the schools. My little brother can’t read it either and they’re the same age.”

Duh.

I stared at the white board covered in my cursive squiggles and made my trademark teacher “I’m-trying-to-buy-myself-some-time-here” humming noise, slightly relieved that there wasn’t a larger issue at hand.

At the time I didn’t realize cursive wasn’t being taught in public schools anymore, but as I’ve switched into auto-pilot and made the same mistake time and time again through the years, I am always reminded just how different school and culture are from when I was growing up.

(Yuck. That sentence just made me feel a million years old, but it’s true.)

The world of education is drastically different than it was ten years ago when I was in my students’ shoes. And when we stop and really think about it, the world as a whole is completely different now than it was ten years ago.

In 2005, Facebook was just getting its start in the collegiate world and texting hardly existed (and was a royal pain in the tush on your brick phone anyway). In 2005, my sister and I still had a land line with a cord in our bedroom. (The coolest land line ever, mind you. Check out that bad boy. We were SO cool. Ahem…moving on.)

landlinephone

Heck, this time ten years ago, there was no such thing as the iPhone and the novel concept of the iPod and MP3 player was just barely catching on.

Maybe it was just my youthful disillusionment, but ten years ago the world seemed more connected.

People still made small talk on buses and in line at the grocery store because they weren’t glued to their iPhones or Droids. It wasn’t out of the ordinary to stop by someone’s house to see if they were home instead of calling or texting them. And while it’s hard to believe, coffee shops were full of people talking to each other instead of pouring over their laptops with their headphones in. GASP!

But today, we live in a world that is separated, yet pretending to be hyper-connected due to social media and the ridiculous amount of technology in our everyday lives. We hear about it in the news, but we rarely think about how disconnected our lives have become as we tune into our music, Facebook apps, and text conversations instead of interacting with the people that God has put right in front of us, if only for a moment.

In May, one of my favorite men passed away. Papa Dean was hands down the best at interacting with the random people God put in his path each day. Dude would talk to anyone and everyone. And usually did.

He didn’t care if it slowed down the line at the coffee shop or if you were in a hurry to get somewhere “important”.

Nor did he care if he knew the person for 10 years or 10 seconds; he could strike up a deep conversation in a matter of minutes and every time his new friend would walk away with a smile on their face (Even if it was just the typical ‘what a bizarre old man’ smile). Papa Dean’s friendly personality made everyone that he encountered feel loved in the most magnificent way.

At his funeral, this was ever apparent by the variety of people who showed up, hugged strangers, and wept with smiles on their faces as the pastor recounted what a marvelous man Papa Dean was in his eulogy.

And just like Papa Dean, his eulogy was special. It wasn’t simply a list of nice things about a man who loved so well. No, it was a message about culture and it went something like this:

“One of Dean’s favorite things to do was write letters. Every day he studied his Bible and wrote a letter to whoever God brought to his mind. Sometimes it was his grandchildren, sometimes his son. Sometimes he wrote letters to God Himself, his caregivers at the assisted living home, or the baristas at Starbucks. The letters varied in topic and length, but always had one thing in common– they were always carefully written in cursive.

Dean prided himself on his penmanship– a skill that was taught to be of the utmost importance when he was in school seventy-some years ago. Seventy years ago, culture was different; the world wasn’t as divided as it is today. People talked to each other on the buses and smiled at strangers on the streets. Neighbors struck up conversations while they mowed their yards. Children played outside after school and their parents would join them for family dinners and modest feasts amongst friends. Life back then was more fluid and genuinely connected, just like the cursive in Dean’s letters.

While dealing with Dean’s passing is not going to be easy, it seems appropriate that He is no longer with us. He didn’t blend into this rushed, disconnected world anymore. He belonged to a culture and generation that is unfortunately fading– one that invested in things that were difficult and tedious like cursive… a culture that believed in written communication and letting people know when they were valued and loved… a culture that wasn’t concerned with rushing through life…

Thinking back on these words nearly a year later, I am reminded that I am a product of the culture around me just as much as my students are a product of their previous public school educations.

I am perpetually in a hurry and generally tethered to my little green and black iPhone… I “connect” with several people a day via social media and text messaging, but the majority of those “connections” could hardly be considered as such by any real standards. Out of habit I read the news or scroll through my Instagram in line at the grocery store or when I sit on the couch at night. It’s what I’ve been socialized to do and thus, I do it.

But what would happen if we all simply stopped and truly engaged with the world again?

What would happen if we as a culture/country/generation struck up conversations with that person we see on the bus every morning or the cashier who usually checks us out at the store? What if we spent the time that we normally wasted mindlessly scrolling through social-media garbage and wrote someone a well thought out note– a note of thanks, a letter of appreciation or encouragement. Or what if we simply wrote letters to the Lord or prayed for the people that God has entrusted us with?

Just like learning cursive, it’s going to be foreign and uncomfortable at first.

(Shoot, I can remember being so frustrated by cursive in grade school that I chucked my letter writing pad at my little sister and screamed, “This is dumb! I’m never gonna need to write like this after junior high anyway!” Aaaaand now I write almost exclusively in cursive. Oops. [Sorry about that, by the way, Kirsten Leigh.])

Imagine the change that could take place in our world if we put aside our discomfort and committed to slowing down and reconnecting our ourselves with the people around us. It would make a difference not only in our generation but in generations to come– not only in our culture but the cultures who model themselves after the institution that is America.

Just like in Papa Dean’s carefully penned letters we could tell stories– stories of God’s goodness both within our own lives and the lives of our newly connected communities… Stories radiating God’s Glory that everyone could understand.

LoveThyNeighbor

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”  And He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

(Matthew 22:36-40)

His Grace is Better.

Grace: the freely given, unmerited favor and love of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.

Everything about who I am as a human being rages against the idea of grace.

I am stubborn. I was educated by the school of hard knocks as well as an inner city liberal arts university. I am a survivor of abuse and of being an abuser myself. I am an intelligent, independent minority woman who in many regards has had to fight tooth and nail to become the person I am today. I am passionate about Love and give everything that I can to those whom I love.

Grace conflicts with nearly everything on that list.

Grace is a gift. Grace is unjustified favor, and in other words, as a child of God, there is nothing I could ever do to earn it or lose it.

Grace is the most beautiful gift I’ve ever received from God and for some reason that makes my soul bristle a bit.

Think about it all for a second…

The Son of God came down to this earth in the most lowly of ways– by being born in a filthy barn. He lived amongst the outcasts, healing the sick, loving the poor. He was not popular, glamorous, or concerned with pomp and circumstance as a “good king” should have been, and yet He was and is our Good King.

As one of His last acts of Love, he took the filthy bare feet of His disciples– the same feet that walked miles on end collecting dust, grime, slime, and excrement– and HE WASHED THEM.

Part of me has always understood the beauty of that picture– the Son of Man washing His disciples’ feet and urging them to go and do likewise to the people whom they met.

And maybe it’s because I have a strong stomach and a job history as a CNA, but washing the disgusting feet of others doesn’t bother me. Not literally and not figuratively. It’s what my God has called me to and I love to do it.

I love to serve and tangibly love on people, which is why I work where I do.

I love to sit across from students after they scream and cuss at me, after they throw furniture and break windows. I love it because I get to look them in the eye and tell them that there is nothing that they could do to make me love them less because of the love that Christ has given me for them.

And secretly? I love those moments because I slightly enjoy watching them squint their eyes in disbelief and squirm in their chairs.

They don’t ever get it, this grace that is being offered to them…

And honestly, I don’t either.

Because when it’s time for other people to extend grace to me or wash my feet– my feet that are bloodied from battle wounds at work, covered in salt streaks from my tears, and my own crap that I continuously walk in circles through, I recoil.

I pull my feet under myself and I refuse it.

Fuller, our Bible teacher, has been teaching this story from John in chapel. A few weeks ago, he announced at the beginning of chapel that he was going to wash the feet of all of the teachers. Panicked, I slipped into the back of the room. I’m wearing my running shoes. My feet probably smell terrible. This is totally not happening. There is NO WAY I’m letting him near my feet.

It was stupid, but I refused his act of grace, even though it was a chapel illustration. This being the same man whom I have cried in front of countless times over the years in staff meeting, my brother in Christ whom I literally trust with my life and process so many of life’s silly problems with.

I would let him see all of my baggage, wounds, and tears, but there was no way I was going to humble myself to let him serve me by washing my yucky feet.

(Thankfully in true DSS fashion, one of my advocates had a total meltdown and ran out of the room crying right as Fuller began to call the teachers forward. So naturally, I had to run out of the room after her. I thought I was off the hook from learning that lesson…Turns out I was wrong.)

Three weeks later, the phrase “Believe. Jesus is better.” came up so many times I could have sworn that everyone around me had been reading my mail.

At first, it came out of the mouth of one of my best friends, who just so happens to be on the other side of the world. Three hours later, it came from a friend in my Gospel Community at dinner. Two times in one day? I was willing to chalk it up to coincidence.

Then it came from my roommate… Then during worship at church… Then in a song an old friend sent me. Then during a theology class I’ve been attending on Monday nights. Jesus is better. Pray that your heart would believe.

The icing on the cake of “coincidence” came Tuesday afternoon when I stuck my hand into my mailbox and pulled out a maroon envelope addressed to me with no return address or explanation of where it had come from. The contents?

Jesusisbetter

Like a logical human being, I screamed and threw the letter on the ground upon reading it… And then I went to work on an unfruitful, mad hunt to figure out who sent the letter. Instead of answers, all that I got back were questions.

“How are you responding to this message?” one of my friends asked me after I rattled off my “Jesus is better” chain of events.

“I honestly don’t even know what to do. I don’t know what to think or how to feel or anything. I’m just overwhelmed…” I rambled through iMessenger, desperate for some sort of action I could take to understand this mess.

I do believe, God. I believe in You! I don’t know what the heck you want me to believe?! Something specific? Am I doing something wrong? What can I do to understand?! I sat and thought and thought…and thought.

In the midst of the stress that these last three weeks has caused me, I managed to spin myself into a tizzy.

“Hmmm… I don’t know, Kace. Maybe it’s more than an instruction but a confirmation. Maybe just to rest in the truth and lean into the truth that He is ALL you need.”

Great. Really helpful there bud, I thought snarkily as I read my friend’s text message, trying to process how to practically apply that to my life in addition to this Truth that “Jesus is Better”.

“You know, I can spin myself into a tizzy trying to figure this kind of stuff out…” He continued. “But then I recognize that by trying to figure out why something is happening, I lose focus on the One who is guiding me. Just turn and focus on Jesus… the rest will come.”

Mmmm good. So now I had a friend who was trying to wash my feet with Godly guidance and I was being told to stop working to figure it out and rest… Two more things that make my antsy, sinful heart twitch.

By the time last Thursday evening rolled around, the confusion, panic, and tizziness (I’ve decided that tizziness is a word; deal with it.) was piled just about as high as I could take it, but due to the nature of my month, I was fresh out of tears and emotional energy.

As I sat in rush hour traffic while trying to bust across town for parent/teacher conferences, the song “Jesus is Better” by Austin Stone Worship flipped on through the shuffle on my iPhone and I just about lost it.

“WHAT?!” I shouted in my car as I slammed my palm on my steering wheel. (Sidenote: Shouting in your car at a red light with all of your windows down? Yeah, not recommended… You’ll get some weird looks.) “WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO TELL ME?!”

Stop working and running and spinning yourself into a tizzy. Just accept my Grace. My Grace is better than your works, so stop. Accept my Love and know that it will never fail when everything else does. Just accept it and stop trying to fight Me on it already. I am better. Just stop and let Me wash your feet…Let the people I have placed in your life wash your feet. Just stop, Kacy. Just stop and focus on Me…

 

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith– and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Make my heart believe.