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)

Obsidian

We always tease my roommate Mallory that she has the “red phone” to God.

That girl… Oh that girl has the most beautiful relationship with God that I’ve ever had the privileged of witnessing. She wakes up early every morning to be with Him. She hears His voice clearly. Her prayers seem to always be answered in hilarious ways. She has dreams filled with meaning and spiritual depth. I mean the girl might as well have those little cartoon birds and mice from Cinderella dancing and singing around her as she walks through life with Jesus by her side.

Then there’s me.

The one who constantly is tripping and bumping her way through life, trying to discern whether I’m hearing God or my own rambling internal monologue. And as far as hyper-spiritual dreams go, well… I’m the girl who once had a dream involving a car accident, a meth addict, and a cop riding an ostrich in downtown Denver… Not quite the same.

But there’s a new fixture on my hand that reminds me that while my life may not be full of dancing cartoon animals, that God is crazy-big, and beautiful, and more faithful than I could ever begin to imagine.

Before y’all go jumping to conclusions about the ring on my finger, no, I am by no means engaged to be married. (Although that has been a really fun trick to play on some of you as I’ve asked for your addresses to send out support letters…)


Instead, as I prepare to go to Alaska, I’ve decided to intentionally be engaged in a season of prayer. I’m a ridiculously kinesthetic person, and thus the ring is there to remind me to pray for God to prepare me for whatever He has gotten me into with this wild adventure. I am trying to be in prayer for faith in provision. Prayer for the church-less villages of Alaska. Prayer for those whom I am about to leave. Prayer for those whom I am going to.

Right about now I just envision you, my sweet reader, gagging at how cliche the concept of wearing a ring of prayer/non-marital engagement sounds, but just as with everything in my life, the ring has a back story and it’s tied to Alaska.

Last year when I hopped on the tiny two-seater plane to Port Alsworth, I was seeking healing. In the months leading up to the trip, God seemed insistent to make me confront the darkest parts of myself and my past… and well, I was less than pumped about it.

In classic Kacy style, I ran. I avoided Him. Or I spent all of my free time with Him asking questions that had nothing to do with my own heart. I was torn between wanting His healing and not wanting to walk through the messy process of confessing my own sin and receiving that.

The second night I was in Alaska, I shot straight up in bed. Disoriented, I sat staring at my empty hands trying to figure out whether what I had just experienced was real or not.

I twisted my body, looking around the room. The ever-present summer sun was peaking out from behind the blackout curtains and my friend Megan was still asleep in her bed to my right.

Whose voice was that? It seemed eerily real and close, and yet I’m still in Kathryn’s bed and no one else is awake yet… 

I yanked back the comforter and slid my hands around on the mattress, searching the under pillows and near my feet. Nothing. It had to have been a dream…

Just moments before, I had been standing in a room with someone I knew and yet couldn’t see. I was holding a giant chunk of glassy, black rock.

“Do you know what this is?” The familiar voice asked.

I remember holding it up in the air and twisting it to see a bit of light shine through it. From some deep, dark cavern of 6th grade science knowledge I pulled out a term and definition I didn’t know I remembered.

“It’s obsidian… A type of glassy lava rock that’s translucent rather than opaque, which just means that it lets some of the light through, but not all of it.”

“Exactly. You’re like this rock right now. You let some of My Light through, but it’s cloudy and obscured by your own darkness– the darkness that you are afraid to let Me enter. But as you learn to pray and allow Me to enter into your darkness, I will make you into even more of a vessel for my Light. I will turn this obsidian into diamond.”

For what seemed like hours, I stood holding that rock in my hands, praying through past abuse I had suffered, sobbing all the while. (Yes, apparently I’m a giant sap, even in my dreams.) The mysterious person I had given my mini science lesson to stood with His hand on my shoulder and we spoke in harmony. Over time, yet right before my eyes, the rock shifted from black to grey, then to a cloudy, shiny silver color. Just as the silver began to clear and glisten like a diamond, I sat up straight in bed, staring at my hands…

So, it had been a dream.

I crept out of the darkened bedroom, past Kathryn sleeping on the sofa, grabbed my journal and retreated to the hammock I had hung overlooking Lake Clark.

It was on that hammock that I realized that my refusal to walk fully into His Light was an act of sin.

Was it a form of sin that was obvious to the people around me? Probably not– unless they knew the depths of my heart and knew how much it was keeping me from trusting God. Did it seem to consume me? No, but only because I’m too stubborn to appear as anything except cool, calm, and collected.

But in the depths of my heart, I knew that I had grown content with my darkness, thinking that because a little bit of His Light was shining through me, that that was good enough.

As I processed and journaled that morning, I realized I wasn’t trusting God to heal my heart from the verbal and physical abuse of my past. I had simply accepted darkness and deep pain as a part of life instead of seeing it as something that needed to be brought before the King time, and time again in prayer. And that is exactly the process that began that morning.

Nearly a year later, I’m here in Denver staring at the obsidian ring on my hand as I type this, laughing to myself because not only has God done many miraculous healing works in my heart, but because a stack of support letters written about moving to Alaska are sitting in a pile next to my computer.

I have no idea what I’m getting myself into with this whole move– I will readily admit that– but God does. And I honestly have no idea why I’m being called to a village 2,500 miles away from home for the next season of my life– but I know with every fiber of my being that I am.

I have no doubt that I will see His light shine a million times brighter than a diamond in Alaska, but just like in my dream, I know that I won’t be able to make an impact on the murky darkness alone.

In my dream, I was praying with someone. I like to think that maybe it was Jesus… but who really knows. All I know is that the change in my heart didn’t begin with me, but with a prompting from the Lord and I hope and pray that He will use me and my story to begin to do the same healing and sanctifying works in my students’ hearts next year at TLC. I look forward to sharing the transformation I get to witness with all of y’all.

“I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
(Isaiah 49:6b)

(If you’re interested in receiving a support letter or my e-newsletters as I prepare for my journey to Alaska, shoot me an e-mail at KacyLouLeyba@gmail.com. Especially if you’ve got the “red phone” like Mallory. Just sayin’…)

Being Made Whole

Abuse says a lot about a person. In some cases the abuser is crying out for help. In others, the abuser is attempting to make someone else cry in order to project the pain in their hearts onto someone else.

I went to school for a ton of different things (veterinary technician, English teacher, pre-med., film production, and theater acting, just to name a few) but I never went to school for psychology, so I can’t give you the exact explanation of what abuse says about an abuser.

I can however, tell you some of the things that abuse says to the abused.

Abuse says you’re worthless.

Abuse says you’re weak.

Abuse says you should be filled with shame for the part you have played within a certain situation.

Abuse says you deserve everything that has come your way.

Abuse says you are flawed.

Abuse says you are unlovable.

Abuse says you should keep your mouth shut.

Abuse says that the abuse will only get worse if you speak up.

Abuse says you’re the only one that feels this way.

For years I have foolishly listened to the things that my abuser(s) and abuse have spoken into my life.

But recently things have begun to change. Roughly a month ago, I felt God open the door for restoration and healing of some of the worst abuse in my past; abuse so dark and deep seeded that I had never told anyone about it. So when the opportunity for healing first came, my answer was a no brainer.

I said, “Oh hell no.” and slammed the door to healing shut, right in God’s face.

But true to His loving nature, the door swung back open less than a week later– A door which I promptly slammed shut once again… Only to have it swing back open yet again a few days after that…

Annoyed, it became fairly obvious to me that I was going to have to deal with my past.

For the first time in my life, I confided in a good friend about the abuse that riddled my past. For weeks I sobbed and screamed and was absolutely miserable as I worked to lay my pain and brokenness at the feet of Jesus.

Why are you making me walk back into this?! Why now?! Can’t we do this at a less stressful or more opportune time when I’m not trying to balance grad school, teaching, and having a social life? What the heck God!

What. The. Heck!

For the first time in years I was hit by wave after wave of depression and anxiety attacks, sometimes so vicious that I literally had to give myself a pep-talk just to get my tush out of bed in the morning or get out of my car and walk into work. Part of me was dying to talk about everything, but another part of me continued to listen to the voice lingering in the back of my head:

“Don’t say anything. No one will understand.”

And this is the state that I found myself in at the beginning of my students’ spring break leadership retreat– a trip that I was chaperoning.

In the days before the retreat, I began to second guess whether or not I should even go on the trip. After all, how was I supposed to lead a group of teenagers closer to God when I couldn’t even talk to God without spontaneously combusting? But against my better judgement, last Friday one of my co-workers and I packed two vehicles full of students and snow gear, and headed to Yampa, Colorado for a weekend away.

Fish&CrossRanch

On our first evening of the retreat, our students were all given the opportunities to tell their stories– the good, the bad, and the ugly of what had landed them at the Street School and how their lives had changed since becoming a Bulldog. After hours and hours of listening, laughing, and crying together, we called it a night and retired to our respective rooms.

As I was sitting on my bed reading, one of my girls came in, plopped down on my bed, and asked if we could talk. There, in a room 150 miles away from our homes and comfort zones, we exchanged pieces of our stories that had been shared with only a select few– stories of hope, pain, and the beautiful redemption of God. And in a way that only God can do, a piece of my heart was healed that night– the piece that had long been kept isolated by the fear of my past.

The next evening after dinner and group Bible Study, I felt a pull on my heart to share my story– the very same story that I have kept under wraps for over a decade. As all of my students were going to bed, I called an “emergency girly meeting” and all of my girls congregated in my room. In possibly the most clumsy and panicked way, everything I had been holding in for weeks came pouring out. At the end of my bizarre spew of words and tears, I looked up to see all of my girls staring at me with wide eyes.

Terrified, I tried to adjourn our meeting. Telling them that I didn’t know why I felt like God was telling me to say all that, but I was just trying to be obedient… and yeah… that they could all go back to their rooms if they wanted… or that they could stay and talk… or hangout… or whatever…

As I sat there and rambled, I expected them all to hop up and walk out, but no one moved. I tried yet again to adjourn the meeting, stumbling over even more awkward words.

Still nothing.

Slowly, after a few more moments of awkward silence that made me want to crawl out of my own uncomfortable skin, variations of the phrase “me too” were echoed throughout the room and the stories that had been shared the night before were expanded upon. Stories that we had all held in for years, out of fear of judgement or misunderstanding, became common ground and “No one will understand” became “I understand and I promise to walk beside you through this.”

And there, in the basement of the Fish and Cross Ranch, through tears, laughter, and stories God began to heal the hearts of five of His beautiful, beloved daughters.

Abuse tells us to keep our mouths shut– that our stories aren’t important, that no one will understand. But this weekend through the grace of God I learned that is the exact opposite of the truth.

How beautiful is it that He has blessed us with community, so that we never have to walk through life silent or alone?

Through Him, all things are made whole.

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

~Psalm 147:3

What drowning is

Picture 5

I absolutely adore Denver and its little, big city feel. Not even an hour from the mountains, it is the perfect place for nature and city life to collide. One of my favorite places on earth is in the heart of downtown Denver at the Platte Riverbed right in front of REI. Every summer since my early teen years, I have made this little section of downtown my sanctuary.

In the midst of one of the busiest strips of downtown the water rushes over the rocks, forming tiny pools which are perfect to sit in waist deep and read. With my toes in the gritty city sand, my shoulders in the sun, and my eyes fixed on the faux-skyscrapers downtown, I am at peace.

A few years ago, I invested in a hybrid (road & mountain capable) bike and would ride the 13.1 miles from my apartment in Aurora to the riverbed at least once a week, if not everyday. Biking quickly became my escape from the busyness and chaos of working and being in college full time. When I was flying down the Cherry Creek Trail with the wind rushing over my body, I was independent, I was stress-free, I was finally able to breathe.

At the end of my ride, I would chain up my bike, slip off my backpack and shoes, grab a book from my bag, and slide my lower body into the river. And there I would sit, for hours at a time. Occasionally, if it was a warm day and there were a ton of people at the river, I would precariously cross a portion of the river to the island dividing the river in two, and I would lay there, drinking in the sunshine and cool breeze.

But one July day in 2011, my independence and over confidence got the best of me. As I proudly made my way across the slimy, moss covered rocks under the rushing water, I lost my footing and went down into the river, which promptly sucked me down stream.

Suddenly, all of my knowledge of swimming from years of swim team was gone. As I went gushing down the river and through the rapids. I flailed and flipped, hitting my head, arms, and ankle on the rocks. I couldn’t orient myself in the water and gasped for air when I thought that I had managed to force my head above water, only to realize that I had just breathed in a mouthful of dirty river water and sand. I’m going to die in this river. It’s just that simple. I’m doing to die, all because I didn’t want to sit next to those bratty kids… I thought as I attempted to grab onto the solids objects I was slamming into. But each time, my fingers lost their grip and I tumbled on.

After what seemed like years, but what I’m sure was less than a moment or so, I managed to get my head above water and threw myself toward the sand bar that drags out from the tiny island I had been delicately trying to reach only seconds before.

The book I had clutched in my hand and the sunglasses that had previously been perched on my nose were both gone and as I knelt in the sand, spitting water and God-knows-what out of my mouth, my heartbeat slowed down and eventually I realized I was going to be okay. After another few moments, I was able to turn around and swim across a less choppy part of the river, back to the side where my bike and other belongings were awaiting me.

I didn’t get back in the river that day. I was far too embarrassed. Instead, I slid my feet back into my Toms, put my helmet on, and got out of there as quickly as possible, riding the 13.1 miles home covered in cuts, watered down blood streaks, and moss-stains.

I don’t think that I went back to the river the next day. In fact, now that I think about it, it might have been nearly a week before I had the confidence to bike back to my sanctuary and give my daily routine another try. After all, I loved it far too much to stay away for long.

~

I write this, not simply to reiterate a pathetic near death experience, or to show what a chronic over-exaggerator my brain can be when faced with an emergency situation, although this story would serve both purposes.

Instead, I write this to say that this is what healing from trauma feels like. Trauma feels like you’re drowning in your own life. You slam into things that you would typically be able to gently grasp onto and every unplanned flip and flail leaves you feeling bruised and raw.

And healing? Healing feels like every time you think you have found the surface, you breathe in sand and water instead of the air that you so desperately need… at least the first few times.

For those of you who have never experienced trauma, I hope you never do. But for those of you who know what it feels like to drown in your own life and circumstances, you know what it feels like to think that you are fine one moment, then slip and fall, and fall, and fall, and think that you will never make it back to dry land.

But eventually, you will break through to clean air and take a deep breath of mountain air instead river water and sludge. Eventually, you will be able to stand up and swim back through the thing that nearly killed you. Eventually you will be able to get on your metaphorical bike and experience freedom again.

I write this also, as a much needed reminder to myself that as I tumble through this slimy, cruddy season of healing that some day, I will be okay. And not because I am an incredibly adept swimmer or some super human who is great at dealing with trauma, emotion, and panic attacks (ha!), but because I serve a God who will never let me drown in life. He is ever present and perpetually filling my lungs back up with His Spirit of fresh air when I am choking.

Someday I will be okay. Today may not be that day, but I know deep in my soul that some day, I will be back on my bike in the sunshine and mountain air.

But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you. O Israel, the one who formed you says, ‘Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown.'”

(Isaiah 43:1-2)

Perfect Weakness

I’m a hypocrite when it comes to counseling.

If working with students who have been victims of abuse has taught me one thing, that would be it.

You can ask any one of my students and they’ll tell you that I am all about sitting on floors in empty hallways and letting them verbally process their lives and trauma when they can’t focus in class or simply are having an “off” day.

I do this so frequently with some of my kids that last week one of them sweetly asked me, “Miss, don’t you ever get tired of listening to stories about other peoples’ lives?”

And the truth is that I don’t. I love that part of my job the most. I love sitting on floors, listening, hugging, and reassuring them that they can bring anything to me in confidence.

But when it comes down to it, I’ve realized that I’m terrible at doing this myself.

Oh sure, I can hold a deep conversation with my girl friends about God, love, and what life is like today and what it might be like ten years from now… But there are some things that I simply am too afraid to verbalize, even though I know that I would be speaking in confidence with my closest friends on their bedroom or kitchen floors.

I suffer from crippling anxiety. About ninety-five percent of the time, you wouldn’t know this simply by looking at me; God has truly done miraculous work to bring me out of this through the last few years… But over the course of the last week, it has returned.

I know exactly what triggered it and I know that my inability to talk openly about the source with the people closest to me is only feeding into my anxiety and the accompanying restlessness and insomnia.

Every night for the last week I have had nightmares. I’ve woken up in tears; restless and fearful for my safety and obviously less than rejuvenated to face the day ahead.

Deep down I know that I need to speak up, for my own sanity, for the sanity of the thousands of people like me, but when I open my mouth to explain what I’m currently feeling or what I felt five, seven, or even nine years ago… Nothing comes out.

It’s like fear has me by the neck and I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe because I’m afraid of being judged. I’m afraid of people not believing me. I’m afraid that the nightmares and panic attacks won’t go away if I say something– if it becomes ‘real’ again. I’m afraid of the repercussions of the truth.

I’m simply afraid.

And to be honest, as a Christian woman, I’m a bit ashamed that I have let fear root so deeply in my heart.

In my heart I know that “Perfect Love casts out all fear.”

I’ve memorized the lyrics to the Chris Tomlin song and know that I have no one to fear because my God is “for” me.

I have read and re-read all of the verses in the New Testament that talk about God overcoming fear with His loving & powerful Spirit, and yet, I still laid on my bed tonight with my blanket over my face trying to remember how to breathe.

But tonight, as I laid there, I realized something.

This can’t be the way that I handle this any longer. I can’t just “wait” for these feelings to fade away, as I have in the past when they’ve risen up and taken over my life.

I can’t continue to allow myself to pretend like I’m perfectly healthy at work while I am waking myself up at night from screaming in my sleep.

This has to stop.

So students, if you’re reading this, know that you have inspired me to seek help. Your strength and openness has taught me that I can’t continue living like this, even if it is only for a few weeks at a time every few months, or years.

Anyone else reading this, I would genuinely appreciate your prayers over the next several days, weeks, and months. I know that whatever “this” is, that the healing process is going to be messy.

Speaking up is going to make me weaker than I already am, yet becoming weaker is a pre-requisite for becoming stronger in this case. Through this I will not become stronger on my own, or stronger because I will be “healthier” in the long run. No. I will be stronger because I will have laid my greatest fear down in front of God and said, “This is Yours because I can’t carry this burden on my own anymore.” And He will become my strength.

But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

(2 Corinthians 12:9)