When the only path through grieving is… through…

On the heels of a year where the Lord taught me to live vulnerably in tight-knit community and through writing my heart out on this website, I came to a place at the beginning of last summer where words felt entirely inadequate to express the thoughts and emotions that flooded my body on a daily basis. In the span of two months, I had unexpectedly lost a dear friend, my “adopted little brother” in a motorcycle accident and a childhood friend to cancer. As I traveled last summer, I continued to journal and write privately, figuring that this lack of “words to share” would pass in due time.

When I resumed my “normal” life in Colorado in August, I felt strongly that I was being called into a season of silent processing with the Lord and I decided that a break from public writing was what I needed to do to respect that season of life. But as time here in Colorado wore on and transition turned to stability, my ability (and desire) to vulnerably share “where I was at” began to wane. Over time, I closed into myself, shutting nearly everyone else out so dramatically that most days I didn’t know how not to. (Aside: If I’ve done this to you, please, please, please know I didn’t mean to hurt you if I have. I want to sit down over a cup of coffee with you. I want to mend relationships. I want you to know that as much as it sounds like a cheesy relationship line or an excuse, “It’s not you. It’s never been you. It’s me. I’m a mess.”)

In the days that preceded the disappearance of my friends and our plane in December, I felt a shift occurring in my heart; I knew my season of silent processing was being called to an end. I knew I was supposed to start writing again. And yet, when the plane went down, a part of me went down with it. Obviously, the part of my heart that held Scott, Kyle, Zach, & Kaitlyn dear, but the articulate part of me was also lost that day.

For months, I’ve struggled with and through depression, trying and failing to express anything of real value without bursting into tears. Despite feeling the Lord pressing me to write or express my heart in whatever way I could, I couldn’t do it. Time and time again, as I’ve tried to write, I instead closed my laptop and retreated back into my own introverted brain.

In those moments, a part of me knew I was being disobedient to what God was calling me to in my grief. I knew closing myself off wasn’t a true solution to any of my problems, and yet in this complex season, I didn’t know how to stop.

Thus, I’ve spent my weeknights and weekends largely holed away from community, avoiding my laptop, and wrestling with the Lord in coffee shops and counseling, or while crying with my roommates on the Yarrow kitchen floor.

In the individual nights of these last few months I’ve felt the extent of just how little I have “it” together (whatever “it” is…). And to be honest? This realization of the extent of my weakness paired with this “calling” to be vulnerable in that weakness?? It’s scared the living daylights out of me.

I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how to say it. I don’t know how to not tell other’s stories while telling mine because they’re so intertwined. I’m scared of unintentionally drudging up pain for the people I love, those who are walking through this complicated season of grief too. I don’t want to be “that sad writer” or ever come across as though I’m seeking pity, because I beg you to realize, I’m not. 

I so desperately want to feel “normal” again. I want to stop crying. I want to stop grieving from the core of my being.

But that’s not where the Lord has me… 

Instead, I’m here in this weird in-between– the place where I thought I was finally “okay” enough to attend a symposium on gospel-centered grieving and most days am more hopeful than I am bitter with God.

I’m here, in the muck and the mire of loss and redemption, joy and grief.

I’m desperately seeking contentedness with God’s plan when in actuality? I feel like I can’t handle being content with this new reality without the people I love. And the mere thought of trying to do so spiraled me into a panic attack Friday night at said grief symposium where I ended up running out of the sanctuary and ugly crying/ snotting into a close friend’s hair on our church steps.

This season isn’t cute.

It’s rendered me a mess. One giant freaking paradox.

Yet daily throughout this season, I have heard the invitation of Jesus to the weary in Matthew 11– “Come to Me.” And privately, I have. Through His sweet grace that I know I possess and yet so desperately crave more of, I come to Him a little more each day.

Today’s come to Jesus moment has been through obedience and tears; it is through a long overdue introduction/ continuation to this convoluted season through writing although I’d much rather remain silent and still, alone with Him and my little blue journal.

It comes through breathing life back into this dusty, neglected blog and it comes in the same vein as the words I’ve read time and time again this year: “The only way out of grief is through.”

Part of me hopes that maybe writing again will be the beginning of the end of this messy chapter. Most of me knows that more than likely it’s not; but I simply hope am confident that somewhere in this mess, in this journey through grief, I will see more of Jesus and I pray somehow you do too…

{To be continued}

“I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”

(Psalm 27:13)

Fireweed and God’s Faithfulness

I didn’t sleep that night in May.

Instead, I sat next to my best friend in Alaska and wept as she held my credit card and booked me a flight back to the Lower 48. I read and re-read the news articles that confirmed my worst fear. I deliriously walked circles around the village at 2 AM, and again at 4 AM, in the near-24-hours of summer sunlight. I wrote last minute goodbye letters while my laundry tumbled in the dryer. At one point that night, I knelt on Heather’s living room floor and sorted my belongings into three piles:

Books to ship to Colorado.

Clothes and gear to pack back into my suitcases.

Things that didn’t fit in my suitcases to burn.

Everything seemed surreal as panic attacks and and waves of uncontrollable crying washed over me. The text I’d gotten at exactly midnight that night had undone me entirely. It was the text that brought my time in Alaska to a close two weeks earlier than I’d anticipated and put me on a plane to Iowa to be with my “adoptive” family after an unexpected death.

In my final hours in Port Alsworth, I walked outside with my arms full of my “burn pile”– clothes that had been loved-to-death in Alaska, odds and ends that wouldn’t fit in my luggage, and books I couldn’t pawn off on anyone– and I threw them in a burn barrel. With tears streaming out of the corners of my eyes and freezing on my cheeks, I lit my torch and touched it to the items I loved. I watched the fibers of my once-favorite sweater smolder burgundy, then blue. I touched the flame to the corners of a few books that protruded from the side of the pile. As the wind shifted, the small fires slowly melded together to form one giant flame. I stood there mesmerized by the fire, overcome by another wave of panic and grief. I’m leaving Alaska. Today. This can’t be happening. This wasn’t supposed to end like this.

It really wasn’t. I’d planned to leave Alaska just before Memorial Day with a girlfriend of mine. She’d bought a car in Anchorage and I’d bought a map of Canada off of Amazon. We’d planned to road trip from Anchorage, down through western Canada, to Seattle. We had dreams of adventure and excitement, photo ops, camp outs, audiobooks and a lot of awkward car dancing. Kathryn and I had traced our route not three days before; we had a plan, but it seemed that God had another. And honestly, I hated this plan of His…

That’s all I could think as I stood there staring at the flame that had now engulfed my belongings, slowly turning them into a pile of ash and embers. 

I don’t know how long I stood there in a trance watching that fire. All I know is that a text from the friend who’d arranged my flight into Anchorage snapped me out of my delirium: You need to leave earlier than planned. ASAP. The weather’s getting worse. Can you come now?

I hugged the few people I crossed paths with on my way through the village. When I got to the plane, I huddled under its wing with the few friends and members of my team who’d gotten the memo of my earlier-than-early departure. We cried and prayed and hugged, and before I knew what hit me, the plane was wheels up, flying out of Port Alsworth while I ugly cried in the back seat. Thick fog hid the blue glacial water that my heart loved so much. When I looked back to see my Alaskan home for what felt like the last time, all I could see was a thin column of black smoke coming from the burn barrel that once held my belongings.

It’s probably the combination of sleep deprivation, shock, confusion, over-caffeination, grief, and loss, but most everything I remember from May 21st seems enlarged and uber traumatic– as if I survived a wildfire instead of an unceremonial burning of a few of my belongings and an unexpected move. And most of this summer was colored by that day and metaphor.

Months later, I sat with my roommate in Denver and sobbed. “I just feel like I’m on fire all the time… And ya know what sucks?! Even in the rare moments when I don’t actively feel like I’m on fire, I feel like I could spontaneously combust at any moment. I’m ready to stop grieving and crying and feeling all of these feelings. I’m sick of it. I’m done.” 

“God’s refining you, Kace. I know you’re sick of this season, but from the outside I can see the ways He’s working and it’s beautiful… even if it hurts and is a little bit, okay a lot, like He’s refining you with fire. ”

For months I’ve fought situational depression to feel more like myself and less like a pile of smoldering ashes left behind after a wildfire. And oooooh some days it has felt like I would never be myself again.

But in God’s infinite grace and goodness, He provided an opportunity (and the airline miles/funds) that allowed me to return to Port Alsworth this last week over my fall break to surprise the ones I love there so dearly.

This time around there were tears of joy as I said an unexpected hello instead of tears of sadness as we said an unexpected goodbye. I warmed my hands over campfires with friends instead of crying over burning belongings. At one in the morning, I stood on Heather’s guest bed next to her and looked out the window for the Northern Lights instead of sobbing on her floor as she booked me a flight to Iowa. There was simply so much sweetness and redemption in Him allowing me to spontaneously return to Port Alsworth. (I’m still overwhelmed by the way He loves me and cares about the simple desires of my heart.)

As I left Alaska on Saturday, a friend of mine (completely unaware of my five-month wildfire analogy) pressed a tiny packet of seeds into my palm and simply said, “You’ve said you feel like God is calling you to plant a garden and stay a while in Denver, right? Maybe that garden needs some Alaskan fireweed…”

I smiled and flipped the seed packet over in my hand. As I read the bold print on the back, I knew in an instant that she couldn’t have been more correct given what that little packet said:

Alaskan Fireweed

(Chamerion Angustifolium)

Alaskan fireweed is often seen as a symbol of life and rebirth in the Alaskan Native culture. Fireweed is often one of the first plants to grow in the ashes after wildfires in Alaska.

Anna_Fireweed.jpg
Photo credit: Anna Burrows

The Lord is faithful to bring beauty from ashes, even when His timeline is so clearly not my own. He is faithful to work all things for His glory and the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28)– Trial and sanctification by wildfire, transition, death, and grief included.

After all, there is nothing too permanent for the Lord to redeem, too far out of His reach or too big for Him to handle, or too burnt out to revive.

Thank you Jesus, for You continue to redeem my soul from the pit of emptiness.

“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and ostriches for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.”

(Isaiah 43:18-20)

How WAS my day? [A call to prayer]

“Woah… Hey… How was your day?” My friend probably could’ve spared herself the question. I’m fairly certain the glazed over, crazy lady look in my eyes was a dead give away that today was, well… a day.

I let my backpack slide off my shoulder and onto the floor as I stared vacantly at my feet, trying to find the words to articulate how my day was.

Nothing seemed right.

Saying, “Good! My toughest group of kids finally fell in love with our novel and we read forty pages in class!” seemed like a really out of sorts introduction to the sentence that would’ve followed it: “Oh, and before 9 AM, I saw a bullet hole in one of my student’s legs from where he was shot this weekend.” Or, I suppose I could’ve said, “My day was a mixed bag, but thankfully I escaped to Cork & Coffee after school to lesson plan. Things had just calmed down when I overheard an altercation down the street and then had a man run toward me shouting, ‘Did you see a guy in a black hoodie?! He just stabbed someone!’ moments before an ambulance pulled up to take the victim to the hospital. So, that was weird.”

But to simply say that my day was a mixed bag would also graze over the fact that I spent two different passing periods today comforting various girls whose 17 year old cousin/friend/ex-boyfriend had been shot and killed late last week… And each of those tender moments had a fairly significant impact on the way my day had gone, so excluding them feels weird.

So, how was my day? Chaotic? But somehow, not really. In fact, it was a fairly orderly day by DSS standards.

Good? Meh. I wouldn’t go that far.

Hard? Well, yes and no. After all, I’m far more “used to” (or rather desensitized to) gunshot wounds and stabbings than I probably should be.

As I struggled for words to explain the rough edges of my day, it hit me that I honestly don’t have room to speak negatively about the way today went either. I mean, we made great strides in English; for the first time in my teaching career my kids didn’t want to stop reading AND they even wrote a two paragraph summary without gasping and splaying themselves against my classroom wall in disbelief that I could ask them to do such a thing. (You may think I’m being dramatic. I’m not. The wall splaying really, truly happened last Tuesday.) Oh, and my college and career guest speaker this morning? He was a hit! (Granted, his first few words when he walked into my classroom this morning were, “Uh, I think I just saw a drug deal go down in the parking lot across the street…” But such is Street School life.) Then there’s the fact that my art students crushed their assignment for the day and a few even stayed after school to continue their work. So. many. good things happened today in the academic realm. Yet that doesn’t negate the pain in my heart that caused my wide-eyed stare.

Thus, I return to my friend’s question: how was my day? After a few hours of trying to find words to explain the jumble that is my short-term memory, I’m essentially still without a verdict. Maybe that’s because I don’t think there’s a word in the English language that aptly describes what life as a Street School teacher is (or isn’t) or how our days with our students go.

The only way I can put it is that being back at the Street School is “all the things”; it’s academic celebrations with tears sprinkled throughout, bookended by the agonizing realities of gang warfare and darkness that my students come from each morning and return to each afternoon. Yet somehow it’s all covered in the glorious Hope of Christ that things can be different if my students come to Him. It’s weird, but it’s beautiful in the same breath.

Unlike most things I write, this post doesn’t contain a lesson from Jesus or a nice tied together ending. At least, not yet. And although it most certainly exists within the reality of my job, I swear I don’t write this for shock value.

No, I’m writing to give you a window into the reality of my students’ lives and to ask you to partner with me this year in prayer. Theirs is a reality that exists right within the heart of Denver and every city like it. A reality that can be found mere houses or blocks away from where the majority of you are reading this in your quiet, violence-free homes on the outskirts of suburbia. That quiet? That end-of-the-day peace that you’re probably experiencing right now? That is not the reality for many of my students. But oh, how I long for that to change.

So would you join me and our mildly shell-shocked Street School staff as we enter back into our students’ lives and pray for and with them this school year?

Would you join us in praying for:

  • Opportunities to share the gospel with our students. Very few of them would consider Christ to be the Lord of their lives, and even fewer have heard of the way He loves them with His “Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love” (The Jesus Storybook Bible). Pray that our students would be open to His Love and Truth. Pray that they would allow themselves to be swept off their feet by the sweet Savior Who has already come for them.
  • The Peace of Christ to reign in this city. Unless you’re weird like me and spend your free time reading graffiti on highway underpasses, it’s easy to miss the fact that there’s a thriving gang culture here in Denver. Due to a handful of recent events within a few local gangs, there has been a flare up of violence in our city. Pray that redemption and peace would prevail over retaliation. Pray for my students to have an iota of forethought and not get themselves involved in risky or violent situations.
  • Spiritual eyes for our staff to see what really matters. Sometimes that really, truly means English homework and sometimes that means setting aside our lesson plans and engaging in soul care instead of vocabulary lists. Pray that we, as a staff, would be loving, intentional, and wise in all of our interactions with our students.  

I’m eternally grateful for the love, prayers, and support you’ve covered me in these last few years as I’ve done life everywhere from the inner city of Denver to the very ends of the earth. As I seem to say at the beginning of every school year, I know the Lord is going to do miraculous, mind-boggling, earth shattering things this year. He has always been faithful to exceed even my biggest expectations for a school year and He has graciously called all of us to be a part of His plan.

Thank you in advance for joining in on what Jesus is doing in this beautiful city through prayer.

May the glory be to God– in the midst of the good, the bad, and the ugly of this school year.

xo,

Kace

How deep is Your love?

I took the summer “off” from writing. My reasoning was complicated:

1)  Most days I honestly didn’t have words to articulate the mixed bag of hope/ pain/ joy/ nausea/ excitement/ roller-coaster-y grief that my heart had become as I transitioned from Alaska to Iowa to Colorado to (and through) Asia and back again.

2) Traveling through 18 homes / hotels in 5 countries and 7 states in 2 1/2 months felt exactly like the run-on sentence that this is; it was exhausting. Plus, that much transition didn’t exactly lend to a stable internet connection or quiet writing space.

3) And probably most intentionally, my absence from writing was due to the fact that I had the glorious opportunity to stop analyzing the world around me for a while and simply experience the Lord’s beauty in it first hand.

And experience it to the fullest, I did.

I now know what it’s like to run through knee deep flood waters in a Cambodian city late at night shouting, “We’re on a mission! We’re gonna die…” all while laughing hysterically. Our insane laughter was partially because we were being splashed by motos (barely) passing us with a foot margin and partially because I was nervous about stepping onto a downed power line in the murky water below me and electrocuting myself to death.

That night as lightening crackled in the sky overhead, I ran through the streets of Phnom Penh with my co-leader and one of our 16-year old students. Our student had heard the Lord ask him to donate his guitar and book of worship music to a college-age sister-in-Christ (whom he had met only once) so she could start a worship school in a country where only 1% of the population knows Christ; he was thrilled that the Lord had called him to partner with her endeavor and couldn’t even wait until morning to selflessly give up his prized possession.

We arrived at her apartment sopping wet that night and stood in the rain, throwing pebbles at her window, screaming, “Ravii! Ravii come to the window! It’s the Alaskans! Come down! We have a gift for you!” as though we were in a movie or something. Eventually she emerged from the front door and stood with her jaw dropped as my student presented her with the guitar and sheet music. “God is good,” were the only words she said. I stood back and smiled as she stared at the guitar in her hands, saying those words over and over and over again.

IMG_5909I now know the depth of laughter that can cross language barriers when you’ve been befriended by a tiny first grade Thai girl who has chosen you to color with her on the sidelines of her friends’ game of tag because her club foot doesn’t allow her to run. Conversely, I know how absolutely hopeless it feels to stare into her deep brown eyes and pray for her foot to be miraculously healed, only to see that God clearly has other plans for her. At least, for the time being.

This summer the Lord turned strangers on cross-country flights into new friends. He blessed me with the opportunity to hear their stories of courage and redemption as they’ve escaped realities of war I don’t even want to imagine.

There were nights where I sat silently, holding three different women– all of whom are incredibly dear to my heart– as they cried and grappled with the unexpected death of family members. There simply aren’t words in those situations, no matter how frequently they come your way.

IMG_5880Throughout June I prayed as I stood in the Indian ocean, above the border walls of “closed” countries, in school yards, in markets, and under surging waterfalls. In those moments I heard the Lord speak louder than ever before. But I’ve also been face down on the floor, begging Him to speak and heard nothing but silence in return.

The list of things I saw the Lord do this summer seems infinite. While I wish with everything in me that I could relay those stories to those of you reading this… I simply can’t.

There aren’t enough words in the English language for me to explain just how deep and powerful the Love of Jesus has proven itself to be in my life; there aren’t words to do the glory of the Lord justice.

The best way I can explain these last few months (or really, this last year) is to say that adventuring in the benevolent affection of the Father for any period of time is a lot like what I would imagine scuba diving to the deepest depths of the sea to be. There are things down there that don’t (and won’t) make sense to those who have only ever swam near the shoreline or sat in the ocean in a boat.

In my imagination and this metaphor there are fish with lights hanging off of their faces Finding-Nemo-style and majestic unnamed organisms few people have ever seen. Similarly, in reality, there is spiritual battle and victory in Christ, pain and miraculous healing that does take place (even if I’m not the one to see it), and abundantly more grace than I could ever convey.

I understand that as I write this, my words could come off arrogantly, but please know that is not my heart. I long for you to don your own scuba gear and dive into the deep, dark metaphorical waters and explore them with the Lord so you too can see and experience the things mere words cannot explain. For those types of experiences aren’t likely to happen in our comfort zones where we feel safe or from boats where can see the shore.

The risk associated with following the Lord to unfamiliar, deep, dark places is great– regardless of what that looks like for you. But I dare say the risk of not going, of being lulled into complacency and comfort, or “staying put” because of fear, is much greater. 

Because yes, adventure is out there, but adventure for the sake of itself is not the point.

The ‘point’ can be found only in Jesus’ Love and it is beyond what my heart can comprehend or my brain can explain. All I know is that we begin to discover the depths of Christ’s love when we’re willing to go to the deep places where we feel like our faith may fail.

(In fact, your faith likely will fail. Mine did, more times than I would ever care to admit. Like the night before I boarded the plane to Asia when I dumped everything I owned on the floor of the Yarrow House and bawled, asking God the scariest series of questions I’ve ever asked in my life. Alas, that is a story for another time…)

But our loving Abba-Father? Our Jesus? He will never fail you.

His love only deepens, the further you dive in.

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of His glory may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith– that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

(Ephesians 3:14-21)

When the proverbial plane crashes

I knew the Lord had brought me to Alaska, but the end of first semester was a train wreck. (Or to be more “bush-correct”, you could say it was a proverbial plane crash.) By the time it was over, I was beyond burnt out. I was struggling with what I can now recognize as compassion fatigue and PTSD. I was spiritually overwhelmed, constantly feeling like I was losing the battle against the strongholds of addiction that raged in my house. By the time I’d realized just how far in over my head I was, it was too late. My little TLC plane had fallen out of the sky and was in flames around me.

I sat in our house with my face down on my kitchen table and my hands entangled in my hair, sobbing at one in the morning. Every few minutes I would catch a word or two from the serious conversation between my boss and one of my students in the other room.

I pulled my face up off the table and caught a glimpse of myself in the window. The woman staring back at me was gaunt; the way her black mascara had dripped over her sunken-in cheeks scared me. I stared in shock. Who is that woman in the window? That can’t possibly be what I look like. I tried to turn my head to examine myself from another angle but my muscles were so tense my neck wouldn’t turn. Instead I laid my forehead back on the table and ugly-cried until my stomach hurt. What are you doing Lord?

Eventually I ran out of tears and simply stared at the grain of the wood in my table. I couldn’t figure out where my “good” God was. I couldn’t bring myself to believe that He would ever lead me (or had actually led me) somewhere that felt so unsafe.

Lord, have mercy. Please. Where are you? I pleaded on repeat, as if those were the only words I knew. The first half of David’s Psalm 77 rang in my ears.

My boss eventually emerged from the other room. Lowering himself into the chair next to mine, he asked how I was doing. Unhealthy. Unsafe. They were the only words I could choke out, even though I knew they didn’t make sense as an answer to his question. I tried to focus on the logistics of what I needed to do with my student, but as his lips moved, my brain wandered. I’m ‘doing Your work’, Lord. You brought me here. You gave these girls to me, and me to these girls. Yet I feel like I’m dying. How could you let this happen?

It’s every missionary’s worst nightmare—that moment when the prayers for protection and safety, the ones that people back at home prayed over you before you left, seem to have worn off.

In that moment I was left to wrestle with the fact that because God is sovereign, that this was exactly where He wanted me. He knew this would happen. He knew I would feel unsafe. He knew it would be dark and I wouldn’t be able to sense His presence, but somehow I had to trust that He was still there…

He had called me to the depths of myself—my deepest fears and wounds—in His loving goodness, for His ultimate glory. I knew the theology, yet there I was, weeping, begging God to show up and replace my suffering with a feeling of safety, even though I’d always said I would do whatever it took for the people around me to know the love of Christ…

~~~

Around these parts, we pray for our pilots in church on Sunday and before almost every meal. To us they’re not just pilots—they’re family, my friends, my friends’ husbands, my bosses, my students, me.

I’ve learned a lot about trusting the sovereignty of God from hearing pilots and their loved ones pray. Our pilots all have their fair share of plane crash stories—some minor, some major, all mildly terrifying. Yet when they pray, they ask for wisdom as they fly, not for safety, even though many of them understand what it feels like to be in a plane that’s going down.FlyingSidewaysThese men and women have been there; they’ve felt a complete lack of safety akin to what I felt in December.

They’ve all said, “Yes Lord, I want to follow you. I want to serve the people of Southwest Alaska by bringing them their groceries, the fuel they need to survive, and their loved ones, no matter the cost.” (After all, none of us could live and minister where we do if it wasn’t for our valiant bush pilots.) And thus, we cover our pilots in prayer, just as my church family in Colorado prayed for me as they sent me out as a missionary.

But even within that covering of prayer, many of them have walked away from a plane with it’s landing gear folded or it’s wings ripped off.

They know what it’s like to question God’s plan with every fiber of their being while simultaneously fighting to trust the theology and truth of His sovereignty. They’ve managed to praise God just moments after feeling the least safe they’ve felt in their lives. And they still wake up every morning and fly despite all of this because that’s what God’s called them to– even when it feels dangerous.

The prayers of our pilots have challenged me to stop praying for safety, and instead pray to be exactly where God wants me to be— even if it seems horrible and hard, maybe even traumatic at times.

What if we all prayed that way? For wisdom rather than safety, for His will rather than our own? It seems strangely reminiscent of The Lord’s Prayer if you ask me…

After all, Jesus never promised His disciples they wouldn’t suffer or be unsafe (Look at the life of Paul if you doubt me.) Similarly, the Lord never promised David that life, even life as a king, would be easy. (The beginning of Psalm 77 is pretty solid evidence that it wasn’t.) But God did promise He would be David’s refuge when the excrement hit the stone-age ventilation system… He never promised me that living in Alaska would feel safe, but through His word He has promised to be my refuge and physician when my proverbial plane crashes and I’m left climbing from the burning wreckage.

~~~

I woke up the morning after our proverbial plane crash, disheartened and dehydrated from crying every spare ounce of fluid out of my body. But being the stubborn woman I am, I was determined to salvage something (anything) from the wreckage. I threw my Bible and journal on the table I’d wept on just hours before, and got brutally honest with the Lord: “I don’t feel safe. I need to feel safe if You want me to stay here.”

Do you? Is safety the call I’ve put on your life, Kacy?

Etched below God’s rhetorical question in my journal are the words that I pray I’ll be able to live my life by, everyday–

Alright Lord, things might not “get better”. I’m coming to terms with that. It’s a very real possibility that You’ll continue to ask me to walk into (and live in) places that are hard and desolate, almost completely devoid of light, and call me to expose all of my pain so Your light might shine through this brokenness.

You might not deliver me from living in an unsafe environment, but I know this mess is a part of Your plan. And Abba, if You are going to use this hot mess to draw people in and glorify Yourself, then dammit, this is exactly where I want to be; safety or no safety…

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsake; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in You.”

(2 Corinthians 4:8-12)

 

25 Ways You Know You Live in the Alaskan Bush

It only seems right that the first person to ever “guest post” on this site would be the lovely and talented Kathryn Bronn. After all, she’s been one of the greatest creative cheerleaders in my life, regardless of whether I’ve been in a season of slathering melted crayons on canvas in my living room with a blow drier, or being glued to my laptop, furiously typing out everything I feel like the Lord has placed on my heart. Oh, and did I mention she’s the way Jesus originally duped me into visiting (and later moving to) Alaska? Yeah. She’s kinda been a big deal in my life over the last few years. For her friendship and creative partnership, I am eternally thankful.

1397130_10208479645409207_920408222672515338_oKaBronn James, as I like to call her, is a native Coloradoan who moved to California to escape the cold, before the Lord laughed at her and placed her in the middle of the Alaskan Bush for two winters. She’s a sun obsessed city girl rejoicing that the Lord is moving her to be a Reach Global missionary in Costa Rica. (I recommend following her blog and supporting her ministry as she prepares to head south of the border.) However, until that day comes, I’m simply thankful for the nights we can sit at her kitchen island and collaborate on lists about the hilarity of the bush that has somehow become our reality.

~

“Since I want to take the time to fully appreciate the quirks of Alaskan Bush Life before I move to civilization, I have composed a list of 25 of my favorite common occurrences (with a little extra help from some neighbors).  YOU KNOW YOU LIVE IN THE ALASKAN BUSH WHEN:

When all the 2 year olds say “99”, “Navajo” or “Caravan” as their first words, rather than just “airplane” like all other children.

SteveHavs
Processing a moose: with both the baby and the pistol holstered.

 

When all major life decisions and purchases revolve around “Does it come with free shipping on Amazon Prime?”

When everyday things for city folk are huge luxuries and treats: donuts, ice cream, deli fried chicken, fancy coffee creamers.

When the speaker in church uses very specific aviation analogies for Bible stories and every single person nods in complete understanding.

When it’s completely acceptable to wear waders to church, or your “good Carhharts”.

When it’s completely normal, everyday, nothing special to see 6 people, a dog, and a kitchen sink on a 4wheeler driving down the runway.

When grown men drop everything to watch the fuel plane land, just one more time, because it’s huge and seriously awesome.

When we all count our days until the internet rolls over, because bush internet is LAME and way worse than any third-world country.  And it’s very limited.

MailRun
Mail day would not be complete without a beaver hat or sitting in the Amazon box of dog food.

When it snows and you know that no airplanes are coming in that day: no groceries, no mail, no Amazon Prime. Only weeping in every house.

When there are exactly 5 subjects the men talk about: hunting, fishing, airplanes, guns, and their women.

When the typical “Friday Night Out on the Town”/”Date Night” consists of a school basketball game.

When you can walk into the General with a rifle and no one bats an eye.

When it’s completely commonplace to see a 10 year old driving a snow machine with a huge sled attached, toting his 7 siblings and/or cousins.

When the rhythms of life revolve around the hunting seasons and salmon season.

When you not only keep the front door unlocked, but you don’t actually know where the key is? Do you have a key?

CeremonialBurning
Spring cleaning with a side of s’mores, anyone?

When burning things is a perfectly legitimate solution to cleaning house, especially if you don’t want to pay to ship things out to town.

When you (and every 5 year old in town) can identify airplanes by either their pilot or their tail number. “Oh, there goes Lyle.”

Furthermore, when you also feel free to ask what said pilot is up to as you identify him. “Oh, there goes Lyle, I wonder why he’s flying to town at this hour?  I wonder if everything is okay.” “Oh, there’s Levi, he just got his license and can’t get enough time up in the air.”

When there are more guns in homes than most anywhere else, with greater justification than anywhere else too.  Hello, brown bears.  Caribou for dinner.  Moose, so delicious.

When the children say “Mooommmm, do we have to eat SALMON AGAIN??”, and we who were not raised here say, “Shut your mouths, this is WILD CAUGHT ALASKAN SOCKEYE, and it’s stupid expensive everywhere else in the country.”

MooseProcessingD
Where even the children put on their “game faces” for moose processing. We’ve all got to eat, people.

When the men compare who has more animal skins and pelts hanging in their house.  And mounted heads.  PETA would just DIE if they saw any home here.

When everyone is out running around in the dark yelling like children because the Northern Lights are out. BEST. THING. EVER.

When carrying a blowtorch and a hatchet around in public is not even questioned.  For any reason, ever.

When mud season has completely different connotations than anywhere else in the world. 6 inches deep of MUD. For 2 months.

When Xtra Tuffs or Crocs are considered appropriate footwear for any occasion. In fact, they are rather fashionable.  Why would we need any different shoes?

Muddy, messy, and grace[full]

It was one of those days from the second my feet hit the floor… ten minutes late.

I shot out of bed after realizing that I’d slept through my alarm. I sprinted for the shower, then ran downstairs, tossing on clothes and running a brush through my sopping hair. I couldn’t find my glasses, and well, without my glasses I couldn’t see to find my glasses… (Life is full of vicious cycles such as this at 5:45 in the morning.) I felt through my blurry medicine cabinet, popped contacts in my eyes, and flew out the door.

I was late to Bible study (barely, but none-the-less). From Bible study I raced to work where I sat in a classroom of screaming little ones– all sick from the cold going around the Street School. After a few hours of cranky babes and being thrown up on twice, the dismissal bell rang and I left as quickly as my frazzled feet would carry me.

I dropped off one of my students on my way home and raced inside to change into my running clothes. Two miles later, I was happily out of breath, running just barely behind schedule. I ran inside my front door and grabbed my water bottle, remembering that I needed to get to the bank before they closed. After digging through my purse for a minute, I realized I’d left my wallet in the car earlier in my haste to change out of my work clothes.

I glanced at the time. 4:45. Perfect. I’ve got 15 minutes to get 3 blocks to the bank before they close. Easyyyyy.

I ran out the back door of the Yarrow House, locking it behind me. Just as I slammed it shut and took a step off the porch, it hit me.

My keys were inside the house… the house that I’d just locked myself out of.

After a few frantic texts to my roommates, it became apparent that I wasn’t getting in the house or into my car for at least an hour.

Well, the garden needs to be weeded and at least the shed’s not locked today… I thought. If I’m not gonna make it to the bank, I might as well be productive in a different way. So I sat and dug dandelions out of the little fenced off dirt plot in the yard, laughing out the majority of my frustration.

As I laughed and yanked the weeds out of the earth, my wild post-run hair fell down over my eyes. I attempted to sweep it out of my face with the back of my hand and I realized I’d made a mistake just as everything went blurry.

I’d swept my contact right out of my eye, into the dirt. With no way to make it inside to rinse it off, I declared it a loss and buried it with my finger.

Growing more frustrated with my situation, yet still determined to make the most out of my time locked out of the house, I shut my contact-less eye, squinted at the soil, and continued to pull weeds.

Alright God… Not funny. I have a million and one things to do to prep for Alaska and a million and two things on my mind, and now I’m essentially a prisoner in my own backyard– a sweaty, windswept, partially blind, mud caked prisoner.

That was not how I saw my Tuesday going.

The night before, I’d laid out my clothes with grand plans of being graceful, put-together, professional, and productive… the type of woman I usually feel like I should be. But my Tuesday had been a not-so-delicate reminder that that is not the kind of woman God has created me to be.

I’m perpetually late. My clothes usually don’t match. My glasses (if I can even find them) usually have tiny finger prints covering them from working with tiny humans and their mommas all day. I’m spacey and lose things more often than I find them. I’ve been described as a hail storm– wild, unpredictable, and noisy– when I sprint into a room just a few moments behind schedule. I’m a hot freaking mess, and most of the time I’m okay with that.

However, even on my best, most confident days, comparison can creep in and leave me feeling insecure and worth-less (not worthless) because I am not some put together, graceful princess.

As I sat, barefoot in my weedless garden that afternoon, aimlessly tracing lines in the dirt, I thought about all the people I consider to be graceful and it dawned on me that, dang it, I am graceful. Or at least I strive to be grace full; full of grace.

It’s an awkward kind of grace for sure, but it’s there. And it’s there despite all my clumsiness, tardiness, blindness, and well… general mudiness…

Grace is in there somewhere because Jesus is.

It’s not the type of grace that I could exude or perfect by being timely, well dressed, or less of an overall space case. No, it’s the kind of grace that is purely a gift from God because of who Jesus is and what He has done for me, for all of us, on the cross:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth... For from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.(John 1: 14, 16)

Jesus came to this mess of an earth, lived a perfect life, died a death that I deserved, and then conquered death to raise Himself back to life. It’s the gospel of perfect love and grace that I hear all the time. Yet somehow I forget it’s just as true for me, (the one who simply can’t seem to get anything together, ever) as it is for the ones I constantly compare myself to.

I may not be able to get my ducks in a row or be graceful by the world’s standards, but I’m sticking to my revelation that I am indeed, full of grace because He has allowed me to live out of His fullness. Even though, I’m weak and a mess, in the awareness of my disheveled state I’m able to rely on His strength and perfection by and because of His grace to me.

Theodore Roosevelt wisely said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I know that to be far too true, but I’m slowly realizing that if I let it, comparison can also kill my awareness of His grace…

263 days after writing this, I found myself walking down an airplane runway in Port Alsworth with Kathryn. As we meandered our way to a friends’ house, we talked about the unpublished draft of this very blog, laughing at how dramatically different my life looks a year later, but how much of a mess I still am.

This draft mentally resurfaced on our walk because I was wearing contacts yet again, as I’d woken up that late morning (way after my four alarms) unable to find my glasses. (Which I swear had to have been stolen from my room in the middle of the night by gypsies or something, because their location still escapes me…)

The million and one things that were on my frazzled mind in that garden have all been worked out in the beautiful sovereignty and grace of the Lord. Clearly, I eventually made it back into my house that evening and to the bank sometime later that week. The million and two support letters that the Lord used to bring me to Alaska were sent out, perhaps a few days (or weeks) later than I’d intended, but that didn’t impede upon God’s faithful provision or plan.

Sure, I’m still a hail-storm of a human. And no, maybe I don’t have a car that I can lock myself out of these days, but I did almost back a 4-wheeler into a house last night… I digress to simply say (mostly to remind my own fickle heart) that there’s nothing I (or you) could ever do to disrupt the grace-full sovereignty of God in His bigger story or tiny details.

While I’m reminded daily of my shortcomings and weaknesses, that has never stopped God from reminding my hot mess of a self that everything is accomplished by His grace and goodness, not the world’s expectations of what grace should look like in me.

Glory be to God.

“For You are good, You are good, when there’s nothing good in me…”

(“Forever Reign”, Hillsong United)