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.”

 

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.

By the word of our testimony

I hated the old wooden pews in my family’s uber traditional Mexican church growing up. If I think about them too long, I can still feel the haunting pain in my tush incurred by sitting on those benches for hours during Sunday service.

By the time we sat in those pews, my family had broken away from their formal Catholic upbringing and had somehow made their way to what I can only describe as a small, “free-form” congregation of believers in our hometown. The pastor’s teaching was remarkable—I knew that even as a child—but the Sunday sermon was only a small part of the three-hour service.

There was worship and “specials”, communion and flag twirling, praise dancing and scripture reading, and after all that was said and done, and the message had been delivered, anyone and their mom was given the opportunity to take the mic and share their testimony.

“What is the Lord doing in your life right now?” A deacon would ask as hand after hand would wave in the air, motioning for the microphone. By this point, I was usually slumped down in my pew, sitting on my hands, praying that the feeling would come back to my rear end. Testimony time seemed like torture because ohhhh can sweet old abuelitas and tias talk and tell stories for days…

In all honesty, I don’t remember any of those stories about God’s goodness. I was young and ignorantly uninterested, solely focused on trying to escape the wooden torture devices we sat on. As my cousins and cousin’s cousins stood to speak, my mind wandered to the green chili smothered feast we would eat if we ever made it out of that sanctuary.

If you were to fast forward roughly fifteen years, you would’ve found me in a similar setting this weekend at Tanalian’s Spring Family Conference. (But praise the Lord our little village church has chairs instead of those horrific wooden benches…)

A friend of mine stood at the podium the first night of the conference and read Revelation 12 to a room of two hundred-some Alaskans–

“Now a war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice saying, ‘Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for their loved their lives not even unto death.’” (Revelation 12:7-12)

When he was done reading, he looked up and said, “We have conference speakers this weekend, but our hope is that the majority of the speaking will be done by you. No one here will negate that Southwestern Alaska is dark. Some of you came here from villages where you’re the only Christians or where there are other believers but no pastor or church… This weekend as we gather, we long for you to be fed, but also hope you’ll beat back the darkness by sharing your testimony. We want to hear what the Lord is doing throughout Alaska; for the darkness has been conquered by the blood of the Lamb and and will continue to be by the word our testimony.”

Just like that, there was a steady stream of believers from all different ages and backgrounds who took the podium and shared some of the most powerful testimonies I’ve ever heard.

TreasureTestimony.jpgSome spoke in English and some in Yup’ik (the predominate Native language of our region). When simple words couldn’t express what needed to be said, songs sung with an acoustic guitar said what individuals couldn’t manage to. It was so powerful that every ounce of emotion in my body caught in the back of my throat and for once in my life I couldn’t even cry.

One man, a doctor in the village of Dillingham, stood before us and softly said, “I have pictures of my nephew being baptized in that bay, just out that window… He went home from here and later died a violent death. It was horrible. It was hard. But because of Jesus, we have hope. Hope changes things. Prayer changes things. Let us not be afraid to pray for people. Our family has confidence and hope that my nephew is with God because someone, somewhere wasn’t afraid to pray with him, just once, and that turned into so much more. Let us be a people who pray. Let us pray for revival in our villages.

The mother of one of my students followed him at the microphone, speaking between heavy sobs. “Our people are wounded. Deep. Deep down. So deep. There wounds we have caused ourselves and generational wounds on top of those. But I’m here at this conference and I’m standing here now because I want our people to get better. I want so badly for them to know Jesus and be free from the anger, shame, scorn, devastation, lies, alcoholism, denial, fear, and drug abuse that has kept them captive for too long. Pray for revival in the ‘up-river’ people; pray for our people.

I sat and watched, my momma-heart bubbling with pride, as my TLC students took the mic, reading scripture and rejoicing in the freedom and new lives they have found in Christ this year.

I listened with my jaw dropped as a woman, who I knew to be a recently active persecutor of the church several villages down, stood and publicly apologized for the way she had treated the believers in her village. “I was wrong, I see that now. I just want to follow Jesus. I just want my kids to read the Bible and know God’s Word…”

The testimonies and pleas for prayer went on for hours each day and it was glorious.

As if she could read my mind, my neighbor learned over and poked me in the ribs Sunday morning, smiled, and said, “It’s just like being in Mexican church, huh?”

“It’s just like home.” I laughed out in a whisper. “These people, they’re family… But thank God we don’t have those old school pews that makes your tush fall asleep. These chairs make testimony time so much more enjoyable.”

Would you join our family here in Alaska and pray for revival?

Pray that people would be awakened to the beauty of the Lord in our villages.

Pray for strength and grace for our isolated and persecuted brothers and sisters.

Pray that the church would be burning to tell the world of the hope that we have because of who Christ is and what He has done for us.

Pray we would live out of the truth of Revelation 12—that we can beat back the darkness by the power of our testimony. And that the testimonies we hear would stir us to a deeper love for Jesus, moving us to action to pursue those living in the darkness that settles in where there is a void of His light.

“This is the way, Pioneer”

“Open your hands, child. Your ‘kids’ are not yours; they never were to begin with. Give them back to me. I’m the One who can, and will, take care of them.”

I’ve experienced my fair share of heartbreak over my Street School students, but leaving them to come to Alaska last fall felt like the thing that was going to rip my heart out all together.


At the end of last school year, Eli, the other English teacher, sat across from me and said the words I’d been thinking for months, but had been too afraid to verbalize.

“If I leave… and if you leave… Who is going to love these kids? They’re so hard sometimes… But I love them so much it hurts. Is it possible that someone else could love our girls the way we do? After all, they’ve become our girls… And they so desperately need to know that they’re loved.”

Those words echoed in my heart for months and shifted into fears over time. That fear gave way anxious tears that further distorted my vision. I began to see my students as far more fragile than they were and I stopped seeing Jesus as the powerful, risen Savior who came (and always comes) for God’s children in love.

I was afraid He would somehow abandon my students. Or worse, that my pre-Alaska goodbyes would become the last words I’d ever speak to them. After losing a student to gang violence last year, I was so scared that any goodbye could become permanent, and thus, I held my kids close.

So when Jesus called me to walk away from the job that had become my passion and the kids whom I saw myself as the protector of, I fought Him. Hard. But we all know how the story went… Ultimately (and albeit a bit begrudgingly) I hugged the students who held my heart and I got on a plane with their sweet, handwritten notes and gifts tucked in my pack.

God loves these kids more than I do. He won’t let anything happen to them that’s outside His will. He’s a Good, Good Father; His provision and providence puts my earthly mom-brain to shame. It will be okay. I prayed and pep talked myself all the way home on my last day of work and often over my first few months in Alaska. If I’m being honest, I still struggle to lay my DSS students at Jesus’ feet every time I see something worrisome on social media or wake up to see that I missed a call from them in the middle of the night.

At those times, the beautiful gift of my students’ continued relationship and trust, even 2,500 miles away, seems a bit like a blessing and a curse. But I cherish those random phone calls, even though my selfish heart breaks a little with each one as I wish I could offer them more than a simple prayer from the other side of a phone or computer.

Which begs the question: Why does prayer seem so insufficient to my momma-heart? Why do I believe that I could provide anything better than Jesus if I was physically present with them? I’ve wrestled with these questions as I’ve sat speechless, staring at Facebook messages and texts, wishing I could do something more than point them to Jesus in the middle of the night when their worlds are falling apart.

It was on one such night when I stumbled upon Annie Jones‘ “Oh, Pioneer: Song of the Unseen” while I texted back and forth with one of my old students. She writes,

“We are lampposts lighting the way for the lost and curious ones. Saying, ‘This is the way, Pioneer. The Good Life begins Here.’

This manna, falling from the sky as promise, is enough to satisfy our hungry lips. Mouths begging for more. Spirit breathing. There is plenty. How mystery sustains the most savage of a soul.

Come close to this, Pioneer.

Learn the language of your seeking, savage heart.

See what we are made for: breaking bread and drinking wine underneath stars with our Creator. A shared communion of enoughness. Giving thanks for our unknowing of the gentle way ahead, unfolding as we sing through momentary mystery. The Journey. There is nothing more spectacular to Belong to.”

Staring at the poem in front of me, I could hear Him, plain as day: This is what I’ve called you to. You are not your students’ protector or savior—I am. You are not the Light; you are simply a lamppost– a loving, encouraging voice along the way who can call into the darkness and say, “This way, fellow Pioneer. Come this way; it’s beautiful and Light on this path with Jesus.”

~

Nearly a year had passed since Eli and I sat starting at each other across her classroom table, wracked with the fear of the unknown for our girls. A few months had gone by since the winter night when I first read that poem. But not two days after I pulled it off the shelf to re-read it over spring break, a Facebook message between one of our former students, Eli, and I came across the screen of my phone:

“Hey guys. I decided I want to give my life to Christ but I need help. I really don’t know how to do this on my own.”

I blinked the tears out of my eyes and read the message at least five more times before letting out a weighted breath I didn’t even realize I’d been holding in for nine months.

“I told you I would take care of ‘your kids’. I love them more than you’ll ever be capable of. You can breathe and continue giving them back to Me.”

All too often my momma bear perspective skews my view of God and elevates my own power, protection, and love. But praise God for the moments when He reminds me that there is nothing that I do ever do to change or protect my students’ hearts; it’s Jesus’ love, His Spirit, His grace, and His acceptance that softens hearts, changes minds, and protects us all in the meantime.

May we as Christians, disciple-makers, teachers, parents, and momma-brained individuals learn to give the ones we love back to Jesus in prayer every day and instead call out the words of Annie Jones:

“It is this way, Beloved.

Here you will be found.

The search is over.

Hallelujah.”

~

“And I am sure of this, the He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ.”

(Philippians 1:6)

Rising: Post-Alaska plans

Can I just say, I’m astounded by the amount of food that teenage guys and men in their early twenties can eat without it affecting their waistline at all. Sometimes I sit at “family meals” here at TLC and just laugh to myself as my boys, fresh from their carpentry and aviation jobs, scarf down plate after plate of dinner.

To keep up with their voracious appetites (and because we don’t have the luxury of buying bread from a grocery store) I spend one, sometimes two afternoons a week baking bread for my students and staff. My students have gotten spoiled with homemade bread for sandwiches, toast, and to eat with the copious amounts of homemade soup that Tom and I feed them, and as much as they joke about becoming addicted to my “white people” cooking, I absolutely love having the time to spoil them a bit by baking them bread “with love”.

On a more selfish note, I love that my afternoons of baking give me an excuse to blast my worship music and twirl in my oven-warmed kitchen like a fool while breathing in the sweet scent that reminds me of my Tia’s kitchen on holidays. Baking has always been a stress reliever for me and I absolutely love that it’s become a part of my job description for this season of life.

RisingThe alchemy that occurs when I pour the ingredients into a mixing bowl, knead the dough that subsequently forms, and watch it rise in the ancient metal pans I found at village swap-meet astounds me. It just doesn’t make sense to me, this magic of baking, but it’s taught me a lot about life over the years. And if I’ve learned one thing this year through baking enough bread to feed a small army every week, it’s that you can’t rush the process.

When I try to hurry through my “memorized” list of ingredients, I inevitably forget the salt.

When I get over ambitious and try to make all six loaves at once, at least two somehow get screwed up.

When I convince myself that I need to rush, I don’t let the dough rise for long enough and my bread loses its beautiful, smooth top and its light, fluffy texture.

For someone who is, in the words of my car-obsessed grandfather, “All gas and no breaks”, spending time allowing my bread to rise seems like a waste, but it’s essential. The sitting and waiting, the patience, the “down time”… it’s essential in baking bread and I’ve been reminded that it’s essential in my walk with Christ.

In the last week or so, the Lord has brought me to a place of “rising”.

Since roughly December I’ve felt like someone put my brain inside my Kitchen Aid and turned it on high. As March has approached (aka the time of year when teachers usually begin signing their contracts for the next school year), my post-Alaska plans have been at the forefront of my mind. And in the last few months, the Lord has dumped what feels like nine million opportunities in my mixer with me and watched as I’ve spun and stressed and struggled, trying to figure out which is the “right choice” for the next season of life. Stressing and edging God out of the equation is so often my default reaction to seasons of change, even though I know deep in my heart that all I need to do is quiet myself before Him and ask (slash trust Him) to lead me.

I debriefed all of this with one of my most dear friends today (while our day’s worth of bread rose). She laughed and fed me the exact advice that I’d given her last summer when she was stuck on spin-cycle with Jesus.

“I don’t think God is going to tell you where He’s leading you, Kacy. I think He’s just going to let you sit and enjoy your time with Him, and then He’s going to take you there. I think you just need to wait and see; be silent and follow as He leads, one step at a time.” (Ironic advice given the number of times Exodus 14:14 has come up in our conversations with and prayers for each other throughout the last several months: “The Lord will fight for you; you need only be silent.”)

As I sit at my kitchen table this afternoon with pans of bread slowly rising next to me in my window sill, I know this to be true. This is to be a season of patience and listening, waiting and “rising”– not hurrying to get to the next thing on my to-do list or rushing my proverbial “baking”process… (or running full speed ahead into the obscure darkness, which almost seems like a shame because I’m SO much better at all of those things. #sarcasmfont)

I’m not gonna lie—I’m hungry and am anticipating eating the magical smelling bread next to me, almost as much as my heart is anticipating seeing what the Lord is going to do with my life next. As it currently stands, there’s a very good chance that three new countries and the ability to help found a non-profit that Denver drastically needs are in my immediate future… But all of that seems to be another blog for another time. Plus, I need to get off my tush and put this next round of bread in the oven before no one has anything to eat for dinner tonight.

I would love it if you would join your hearts in prayer with me as I wait and “rise”, sweet friends. Jesus is up to something… I have no idea what it is, but in the words of the United Pursuit song that I love so much, I know “It’s gonna be wild, it’s gonna be great, and it’s gonna be full of Him.”

PS: If you need to find yourself needing to breathe and pray, to quiet yourself and bake some bread today, here is the recipe that I’ve fallen in love with, courtesy of the lovely Mrs. Sarah Wardell.

Basically Manna from Heaven Recipe

  • 3 c. warm water
  • 2 tbsp. active rise yeast
  • ¼ c. agave or honey
  • ¼ c. coconut oil
  • 1 tbsp. salt
  • 5-8 c. flour

Mix warm water, yeast, and agave in your mixer for roughly a minute. Let the mixture sit for a few minutes to allow the yeast to proof. Slowly mix in the flour, oil, and salt until your dough forms. Mix/knead the dough with a bread hook for five-ish minutes. Spray your bread pans with non-stick spray and allow the bread to rise for thirty minutes. Bake at 375* for thirty minutes. Makes two sandwich loaves. (Disclaimer: This temperature and time works well here at sea level; you might need to adjust it a bit if you’re baking in the high-altitude promise land of Colorado.)

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)