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)

 

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Obedience, even unto death

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

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

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

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

garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sing with me now

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

Take my all

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

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

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

And you don’t need to be perfect either.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Philippians 3:7-11)

Swing dancing in the presence of Jesus.

dance6(Ancient swing dancing photo: circa 2007. Also, proof that I was once short!)

In dance, there are two very clearly prescribed roles: the leader and the follower.

When you’re out on the dance floor as a woman, more than likely you will find yourself in the role of the follower. When you’re the follower, you don’t get to plan. Instead, it is your dance partner that leads you in every step, twist, and turn that you take.

The gentleman in the pairing has to have a plan for the dance in mind, and it is their job to execute said plan by gently leading you, one step and squeeze of the hand at a time.

As the follower, if you try to anticipate the step or move that is coming next, you can almost guarantee that you will screw something up. You might step on your partner’s foot or maybe you’ll just trip both of you up… Either way it’s awkward and the only thing you can really do is apologize, try to get your rhythm back, and dance on.

As I was being twirled and whipped around the dance floor last Sunday night, by a partner far more experienced that I, I couldn’t help but see the similarities between swing dancing and my walk with God.

I tend to get too far into my own head while God is twirling me through life and whenever possible, I try to anticipate the next step in our dance together.

Then, lo and behold, I somehow screw up the dance every stinkin’ time with my anticipation and tendency to try to lead.

Always trying to anticipate God’s next move not only makes our dance a bit more clunky, but it makes it nearly impossible for me to enjoy what is happening here and now. I trap myself in the anticipation of what is coming next and struggle to see all of the beautiful things that He is doing in my life in that moment.

As an independent, mildly stubborn, day-dreamer and “go-er”, I’m always pumped about what God is going to do, where He is going to take me, what the next step is going to look like… and I don’t necessarily think that any of those qualities or thoughts are bad in and of themselves.

But as one of my beloved friends recently pointed out to me, my anticipation becomes a hindrance when I begin to miss out on what God is doing here, today because my eyes are always focused on tomorrow or the day after that.

It’s no great secret that I’m sort of in a season of transition right now. Being technically homeless, single, and relatively underemployed isn’t exactly where I want to be for the rest of my life (Shocking, I know.) and therefore some days it is hard not to look expectantly at the future.

I have full confidence that this is simply a season, and just like in swing dancing, God is teaching me to be present where I am and cherish this season, instead of trying to rush our dance by taking the next step on my own.

So while I royally suck at seasons of rest, I have realized that this summer is beautiful for a multitude of reasons:

Since I’m not working full-time or living in Vail like I had planned to for the summer, I get to nanny this absolutely precious little cupcake and continue deepening my friendship with her momma on a daily basis.

Hailes

Because I’m single, my priority for relationships gets to be in deepening my relationship with God through our morning coffee dates and singing worship songs at the top of my lungs in my car all afternoon.

coffeedate

Since I’m nomadic, I have the opportunity to travel where ever He takes me. In just the first three weeks of summer, I’ve been able to go home to southern Colorado, to camp with my students, backpacking with friends, and I leave for Alaska in less than two weeks to volunteer at a summer camp there for a week.

camping

This season is beautiful simply because it has been given to me by God. Period. Not just because it is leading me to something else.

God knew that I needed rest. He knew that I needed to be here near my family for the summer. He knew that I was struggling with being present… and therefore He is placing me in a season of quiet where I can learn to do nothing but look at Him, take a deep breath, and smile.

So, with that being said, I am laying here on a park bench by Sloan’s Lake, watching the boats sway in the harbor, learning to do nothing but lay here, on a park bench, and watch the boats sway in the harbor because this is exactly where God has put me for the summer, and it is magnificent.

Are you a sucky follower in swing dancing or just in life in general? An over-ambitious go-er struggling to be present? Let’s have coffee & form a support group.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.”

Psalm 23