Jesus, smooth jazz, & tiny humans

I had a music professor in college who always said, “Life is like smooth jazz– it always doubles back when you least expect it.”

This school year, I feel like I’m getting a hearty dose of this lovely life lesson.

Three years ago when I moved to the West Campus of the Denver Street School, I couldn’t have been less excited about where God had placed me.

All summer that year I had prayed and prayed, begging God to open a paid job for me at the school… and when He finally did, it was in the last place I wanted to work– the school nursery.

Seeing as I was finishing up my English degree and starting my teaching licensure classes, I wanted a position where I would work with high school students. I had spent the last two years student teaching English at the East Campus and part of me wanted the familiarity of teaching a similar age group.

But part of me– the deeply wounded and prideful part of me– didn’t want to deal with preschoolers and babies because holding and loving babies who weren’t mine was just too painful.

At the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year, I was still broken-hearted from losing custody of my two beautiful god-children less than a year before.

I (the girl who had spent the last six years doting on the beautiful children God had placed in my life) spent the majority of my time trying to get away from children. I didn’t hold my friends’ newborns. I didn’t attend baby showers or birthdays. I just didn’t want to be near babies or kids.

So when God opened a door for a nursery job, I nearly slammed the door right back in His face… but I knew I couldn’t. The only few logical brain cells I had left, pushed me to accept the job and walk into my tiny classroom everyday.

But I was bitter. Oh, was I bitter…

I didn’t want to hold, or rock, or nurture someone elses’ babies.

I wanted mine. My babies. My tiny dysfunctional family.

So everyday that first quarter, as I rocked the babies to sleep in the nursery, I argued with God.

This isn’t fair.

How on earth could you do this to me?

How could you take my babies and give me this stupid job?

Why couldn’t you make this easier on me?

Do you just enjoy watching me squirm, God?!

What. The. Actual. Heck.

To put the icing on my bitter-pitty-party cake, it seemed that Romans 8:28 continuously came up in every Christian setting I entered. Sunday morning sermons. Staff devotions. Bible studies. Coffee dates with friends. Coffee mugs. They all read,

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Every time I heard this truth, I would mentally retort, “There’s no way you could ever make this ‘good’, God. Nothing will ever heal this. Nothing could fix this much brokenness/anger/sadness/[insert the emotion of the day here].”

Yet He met my challenge.

Maybe not right away… but He did it…

Fast forward a year and a half:

By this point, I was no longer the nursery worker at the West Campus. Instead, a year and a half later, I was the cooking teacher. [Have I ever mentioned that God seriously has a sense of humor? If you’ve seen me cook (or catch things on fire while trying to cook) you understand what I’m getting at here…]

On the last day of third quarter, I was packing my bag of teacher tricks and preparing to leave for a much needed spring break when a very distraught student slammed out of the science room across the hall, ran past me, down the hall, down the stairs, and out the front door of the school.

Being the notoriously nosy teacher that I am, I left my bag in the hallway and followed her out the front door of the school. By the time I found her, she was sitting in the middle of a parking space in the front parking lot, sobbing.

For a while, I simply sat next to her, staring ahead at the road, neither of us saying a word. After maybe five minutes of her working to catch her breath, disjointed phrases started pouring out of her mouth.

“I failed science. I’m a failure. I’m never going to graduate. I need to graduate but I’m never going to. How did this happen? How could I let this happen?”

I tried to console her, explaining that failing classes happens sometimes… until I saw her shaking her head through fresh tears and I realized that we weren’t just talking about a science credit anymore.

“I’m five months pregnant, Miss… I’m scared. I need to graduate, but now it might not happen. And I don’t know what to do. Do I put the baby up for adoption? Do I keep her? How do I raise a baby if I can’t even pass science?”

Her words washed over me like a tidal wave.

That feeling.

I knew that feeling all too well. The questioning, the fear, the gut-wrenching pain that accompanies thoughts of putting a child up for adoption…

“I don’t know darlin’. But I promise we’ll figure it out, together. I have some stories I can tell you sometime, but for today let’s get you home to rest. We can figure out graduation and school another day…”

In the weeks and months that followed, we went out to lunch several times. We talked about adoption and my experiences with that whole process. We talked about what it would look like for her to keep the baby. We talked a lot, and we cried a lot too.

Ultimately, even though she knew that it was going to be hard, she decided to keep the baby.

And if we were to hit fast forward another year and a half, you would see that beautiful baby girl toddling around my living room right now as I switch between writing this post and making up lesson plans for my preschool class…Yupp, you guessed it– at the West Campus of the Denver Street School.

In so many ways, life has brought me back to where I was three, four, even five years ago.

Once again, I am teaching preschool– something that I laugh about to myself regularly. Once again, I am caring for a beautiful baby girl who isn’t mine, but whom I couldn’t possibly love more.

God, in his graciousness has used this beautiful baby girl and her momma to heal so many deep wounds in my soul that were created when I had to say goodbye to the two loves of my life nearly four years ago.

It has been a long loop, but because of the healing that He has provided through these two, I walk into my classroom everyday, pick up my goofy, tiny students, and I smile.

My heart is no longer consumed by bitterness because God has shown me how He can take even the most desolate times in my life and use them for His Kingdom– His good, as Romans 8:28 continues to remind me today.

I never thought that losing my godkids could be something that God would use for His good, but He has. Because of the pain of that experience, I was able to speak light into Megan’s darkness and fear in that parking lot. Because of that one conversation, Megan and I have formed an amazing relationship that has endured late night phone calls and cranky-pre-coffee morning bickering. We’ve sat in the NICU together, cried on futons while eating popsicles together, had late night homework sessions on the phone, and I am incredibly honored to say that I was able to be one of the women who spoke at her graduation three months ago.

God is continuously using Megan and little Hailey to show me His goodness and His plans for redemption.

Just like He didn’t leave me in my brokenness, He isn’t leaving my girls “out to dry” either. Not only did Megan graduate high school, but God has provided the opportunity for her to go to college and pursue her dreams of becoming an English professor, and I couldn’t be more proud of the way that she is learning to trust in Him and chase her dreams.

And me? No, I might not have my little ones with me right now, but I have the privilege of nannying Megan’s joy-filled daughter and watching her grow up one day at a time, right here in my living room…

Yes, there are days when we are all so exhausted we could cry, but there are also days when this goofy child makes us laugh so hard that our stomachs hurt. It might not be a perfect situation by the world’s standards, but today it feels perfect to me because I know that this is exactly where the three of us are supposed to be– trying to figure out life, together.

Brothers and sisters, if you are going through something so painful and dark that you don’t believe it will ever be fruitful or good, take heart, for He truly does work things out for the good of those who love Him.

Our God is a God who loves smooth jazz, and I firmly believe that it is He who loops life around us, time and time again until He has allowed our wounds to be healed and our hearts to be His.

HaileyJane

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For when we do not know what to pray for as we ought, the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

(Romans 8:26-28)

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This is a crossroad

Two Fridays ago I left work, my heart brimming with emotion.

Our first week back to school was an amazing success. On the first day of classes, I was bum-rushed by a stampede of teenagers excitedly giving me hugs and gushing about their summers– the good, the bad, and well… the mundane, as most kids’ summers usually feel.

Returning students chatted with each other and welcomed new students with open arms, showing them the “ropes” and explaining that we are a family first and a school second. Walls were broken down, new relationships were started, and progress was made, academically as well as personally.

I say it a lot, but I will say it again: I am stunned that I get to work in this school that so clearly has God’s finger prints all over it.

I am honored to work with such uplifting coworkers who are such wonderful depictions of Christ’s love to our students and each other.

I am humbled that students trust me enough as their teacher and “big sister” to talk to me about their deepest, darkest fears and secrets.

I simply don’t understand how on earth I have the privilege of working with these kids whom I love so much. And yet the longer I work here, the more I realize that my love is so finite in comparison to how much God loves them, whether they are currently following Him or not…

Any who, after work on Friday, as a tiny act of celebration, I went to Chubby’s (Yes, the original Chubby’s on the northside for all of my students reading this…) and took some incredibly unhealthy Mexican food to go.

I drove around in circles for a while until finally deciding to park my car on top of a hill in Sunnyside and eat there, looking out at the city.

As I sat and munched on my dinner, staring at the Colorado sunset bouncing off the buildings of downtown Denver, the stories of my students, new and old, ran through my head.

Stories of drug abuse and alcoholism. Generations of gang warfare, death, and retaliation. Domestic abuse, sexual abuse, and verbal abuse. Stories of students who have been institutionalized for health reasons, as well as legal reasons. Stories of self harm and harm to the people around them. Stories like the ones we read about everyday in the newspaper, accompanied by statistics and photos.

Before long, I found myself broken, pathetically weeping over my green chili cheese fries, praying that my students wouldn’t become just another statistic or story in the Denver Post.

So many of the kids I love so much are desperately in need of the Gospel.

Some of my students have heard the Gospel since coming to DSS and have been swept off their feet by God. Others continue to run away from Him and back into the destructive patterns and habits that are so familiar to them… only to be run over by life time and time again.

It is a heartbreaking and vicious cycle to watch, but I know that even in the midst of the consequences of their own actions and the actions of those around them, that God is there, working for His Good as well as theirs.

After all, these students are still with us and seem to always make their way back to the Street School when they leave.

These students– the broken and hurting ones, as well as the mending and joyful ones– are all at a crossroad within the walls of our school everyday. Every decision– to go to biology or to cut class, to have self control or to flip out on their peers– is a crossroad for them.

And as I sobbed over my dinner and thought about this, I looked up and saw the most fitting sight I’ve seen in a while.

crossroads

To the side of the telephone pole I had parked by, there were two directional signs pointing either way. For roughly the first fifteen minutes that I stared at this scene from my car, I failed to notice them. But once I saw them, a bigger picture began to emerge.

The sign pointing to the left immediately drew my eye to the graffiti covered building across the street from me. With its windows smashed out and covered in plywood, it seemed to represent where my students come from. The desolation, the pain and brokenness. Not only do my students come from neighborhoods that physically look like this building, but this building also mirrors the relationships in their lives and often, their perceptions of themselves.

The directional arrow on the right points into what seems to be the unknown– mostly because my little iPhone camera couldn’t capture the entire view. (Yes, I know about panoramic photos. No, I wasn’t thinking about such things while I was emotionally eating chili cheese fries and praying; Silly me.)

However, had I been able to capture the view to my right, you would’ve seen the stunning pinks, blues, and purples in the sky over the mountains and the magnified beauty of the same scene reflecting off the buildings of Denver– a sunset that could literally take your breath away.

For me, this is so much more than just a photo on my phone; it’s representative of how my students view life.

They can’t see the beauty that lies ahead– the beauty that comes from being swept off their feet by the love of God. Often, they can’t see their bright futures or the color that they are capable of painting into the world with their personalities and gifts.

All they can see is their past and the crossroad directly in front of them.

Please pray for my coworkers and I as we stand in the gap with them– as we try to show them the love of Christ and give them tiny glimpses of what their lives could be like with Him.

Pray that we would have wisdom to be able to speak color and life into them, even when we are exhausted and would rather just take the easy way out.

Pray that my students would be receptive to the Light and begin making positive choices and right turns when they come to the hundreds of crossroads they face each day.

Pray that we all would be able to see the breath-taking sunsets and skylines our own lives– that we wouldn’t lose sight of the goodness of God while we walk into the darkness everyday.

“This is what the Lord says, ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”

(Jeremiah 6:16)

Priceless Insanity [DSS Update Aug. ’14]

 “Have you lost your freaking mind Cassandra?!”

Those are the words I heard on the other end of the phone from several people when I turned down the job opportunity of a lifetime a few weeks ago. Well, the opportunity of someone else’s lifetime to be more exact…

Editor for the Denver Bronco’s publications team

I stared at the e-mail for quite some time before clicking it closed and calling to decline the offer for an interview– an interview opportunity that was literally dropped in my lap without me ever pursuing a job opening.

This summer, just a week after deciding not to move to Texas, said e-mail came to my phone. With just one tap of my finger on my iPhone screen, visions of a cushy full-time desk job with a generous salary, benefits, bonuses, and a ridiculous amount of free NFL swag started to flash before my eyes.

But before I could even entertain what living off of a salary double what I currently am making would look like, I had other pictures come to mind.

Pictures of my Denver Street School kids– students who have been incorrectly labeled by society as “troubled” or “delinquents”– laughing while “talking” to each other on their banana-telephones in my classroom after school…

Bananaphone

Pictures of the sweet babies and teen parents that I will get to work with this upcoming school year…

Megan6Chrisdad

Pictures of the laughter and deep joy that comes from being a part of a team of teachers that is anchored in the truth of the Gospel…

12-13 Staff

Pictures of generations of DSS students who have come to know the Lord and are not only following Him personally, but who are raising their own children to know Him intimately and passionately…

Generational Hope

Pictures of students’ birthday parties in my backyard and baptismal celebrations on Sunday afternoons…

DejasBdayCoreys Baptism

Pictures of students from different sides of town, with different stories, learning to love each other as Christ loved us… as a family.

Ranchsummer14

Pictures of students finding academic success for the first time in their lives and finally understanding the movie-like joy of throwing their caps in the air on graduation day…

classof2014

Everyone knows that cheesy saying, “A picture’s worth a thousand words.”

Well, in my case, all of these pictures are priceless.

No amount of writing will ever accurately capture the emotions, prayers, or love that each of these photos stirs up in my soul.

So, maybe it makes me insane, but no one could ever put a price tag on my job. No amount of money or free Broncos gear could ever buy me away from these beautiful young people that God has placed in my life.

After quite the season of wrestling with whether I was supposed to be at the Street School for this school year, I now know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is exactly where God has me.

However, I also know that I cannot do this alone.

God, in His infinite Goodness, has designed the Street School to be a community supported ministry. And one way that the community is able to support the school is through helping our staff to raise support for our rather small salaries.

Over the last several years I have watched God provide in extravagant and honestly, miraculous ways and I believe that He will continue to do so, but I need your help!

If you’re reading this, I am asking you to pray for me.

  • Pray for guidance and wisdom on how to spend my salary in ways that further His Kingdom.
  • Pray that I would learn to wait patiently on the Lord in times of need and want.
  • Pray that I would have my daily bread, no more and no less… and that I would want no more and no less.

I have been blessed with a beautiful home full of loving, Christian women who adore my students and long to see our house used as a tool for ministry, whether that be through advocacy dinners, Bible studies, or birthday parties, but that doesn’t lessen the fact that there is rent to be paid and food to be purchased for said ministry tools.

So, if you’re interested in supporting me financially, you can make a small one-time or monthly donation by clicking on the Donate Now tab at www.DenverStreetSchool.org. Simply designate your donation as “Faculty support for Kacy Leyba” in the comment section.

If you are “old school” and own a checkbook, you can mail a check payable to:

Denver Street School
PO Box 140069
Denver, CO 80214
And just write Faculty Support for Kacy Leyba in the memo line.

[The school is a government certified 501(c)3 non-profit and all donations are 100% tax deductible & secure, I promise!]

Whether you are able to support me in prayer or financially, I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart.

No, this isn’t an easy job by any means, but it is my honor to laugh and cry with my students everyday as they walk through the valleys and on the mountain tops and learn what it is to be loved by our King.

Thank you for your generosity and for allowing me to pour into the lives of Denver’s at-risk youth for another year!

Blessings always,

Kacy ESign

P.S. As always, I will be logging my journey here on my blog and via newsletters throughout the year, so be sure to subscribe to my blog in the right column or send me your e-mail so I can keep you updated on the amazing things that God is doing here in Denver at the Street School!

A Safe Haven

I haven’t written about work or my students in a while, and to be honest, it’s because I’m a bit crispy around the edges. By no means am I “burnt out”, but teaching “at-risk youth” day-in and day-out without seeing much change or success is exhausting to say the least.

In the last month alone, I have had students confide in me that they are suicidal, re-addicted to drugs and alcohol, being abused at home, homeless, self-harming… You name it, I’ve probably had a conversation about it with a student lately. Every time I sit and look into the teary eyes of one of my students during one of those talks, my heart splits in two.

I just want to go all “momma-bird” and swoop them up, let them live in my house, so that they can be removed from their circumstances, and love on them… but given the fact that I live in a glorified shoebox, I can’t. And thus, my heart breaks even more.

I know in my heart that God is the only one that can truly rescue my kiddos and deliver them from their circumstances, but sometimes not being able to provide a safe haven for them makes me feel like a failure as a teacher and advocate.

But today I was reminded that I am a part of a safe haven– a place that God led my boss to found and build 29 years ago– The Denver Street School.

This afternoon, my phone buzzed with a Facebook notification from the lovely and talented Kathryn Bronn. Kathryn is an art student who has partnered with the Street School for the last two years. She has provided free senior pictures to our students, free staff portraits for the teachers and faculty, and she has even poured countless hours into the making of a documentary for the school and two music videos. The notification I received today was telling me that this year’s music video had just been finished.

I clicked the link and as soon as I hit play, my eyes started tearing up and I swear I felt like I had butterflies in my heart.

The teenagers in the video below aren’t just my students– they are my kids… and they’re “playing” because they know that they’re at home.

There are felons, drug addicts, and current and former gang members singing in this video. There are kids that have been thrown out of their homes and have lived on the streets dancing. There are girls who have traded their bodies for love and acceptance, only to be crushed, giggling, and boys who have suffered unspeakable abuse smiling.

This video was a perfectly timed reminder that God is doing something in each and every one of their lives… Even when I don’t see the daily changes, I can rest in confidence knowing that He brought them into the DSS family for a reason and that He loves them more than I ever will.

Thank you Kathryn, you are a beautiful soul and I am beyond thankful for the work that you have done for our school!

11 You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
you have loosed my sackcloth
and clothed me with gladness,
12 that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!”

(Psalm 30:11-12)