Leaving Room for Wonder

 

IMG_3936

“Shooting in ___________. Hurricane ___________ approaches. ___________ accused of___________.”

Headlines of horror lay in our hands. Click. Scroll. Refresh.

It only continues. Tap. Text. Share. But what happens when we take a moment to look up from the artificial glow illuminating our faces?

It happened to me the other night, feet up, relaxing on the couch. As I lay scrolling through life’s most recent Instagram posts, I looked up and there it was: the moon, shining in harvest glory above the Koolaus. The whole sky stood illuminated in marvelous evening hues, and I stood in wonder.

I thought ahead to Sunday when the Sunday school children would share with me their weekly “God Sightings” and I mine. Amid the tales of rainbows, clouds, and ocean waves, this moon would be the sighting I’d share. Because in speaking of the celestial glow, I want them to know we’re never too old for wonder, and a wondrous Light casts out the darkness of each horrific headline.

Not a moment goes by when heaven doesn’t reach down in love, but how often do we leave room for wonder in our lives and bear witness to what the Psalmist declares?

He alone does great wonders.
His faithful love endures forever.
He made the heavens skillfully.
His faithful love endures forever.
He spread the land on the waters.
His faithful love endures forever.
He made the great lights:
His faithful love endures forever.
the sun to rule by day,
His faithful love endures forever.
the moon and stars to rule by night.
His faithful love endures forever.
(Psalm 136:4-9 CSB, emphasis mine)

Let bearing witness to His faithful love be our rhythm. Drive away from the city lights, and stare at the heavens. Take a breath. Watch the shadows shift as Earth makes another rotation. Let His faithful love and wonder bring us to our knees in awe and adoration.

Together, we’ll sing, “I see the world in light. I see the world in wonder. I see the world in life, bursting in living colour. I see the world Your way, and I’m walking in the light” (Hillsong Wonder).

 

Advertisements

Making a Connection

IMG_3264.jpg

Living a few thousands miles from most travel destinations means hours in transit from one city to another. Airline miles accumulate as I savor Chickfila in Houston and give thanks for complementary cookies with a sandwich in Denver, and skim through the United app for gate numbers.

I join the travelers busily making their way through terminals, wheels clicking along walking pathways. Everyone is trying to make a connection. Honolulu to Denver to Dallas. Honolulu to LAX to St. Louis. Indianapolis to Denver to Honolulu.

Amidst all the connecting, I can’t help but notice a disconnect. As we sit sit in uncomfortable vinyl seat aimlessly scrolling through our phones, we’re careful to leave a few seats between ourselves, all waiting to hear the call:

“We’ll now begin pre-boarding, would all travelers with a disability, children under the age of two, or military personnel in uniform please come forward.”

Connection is what we crave. We’ve been made for it. From the beginning of time it’s been said, “It’s not good for man to be alone.” I see its truth as the couple next to me holds hands, a tragic memoir of love lost unfolds on my Kindle, and I anticipate a hug upon landing.

Sometimes though our need for connectedness leaves us broken, as we look for it in all the wrong places. A pink heart on Instagram. A thumbs up on Facebook. A swipe left or right. The list goes on.

How often do we stop the scrolling, look-up, and see how opportunities to connect surround us in the wonder of our world?

Last month, I sat in Denver, put away my phone and grabbed my eclipse glasses. I made my way over to a mother and a son standing along the expanse of glass and looked-up alongside them as the moon partially crossed the sun. I passed my glasses to a girl my age. “My dad told me about it,” she told me. “My dad gave me the glasses,” I said. Together, we marveled at creation as nearby travelers nearby took selfies wearing their glasses too.

Last week, again I sat in the Denver airport, I listened as two strangers shared how they preferred family time over following football, how the younger of the men had a wife and four kids he loved in the Dakotas and how he was on his way to the Philippines to help out his brother who is a missionary there. I admired their connection over just two minutes of conversation, how easily and naturally the Gospel news was shared.

We’ve been made for those moments: the sharing of wonder, the partaking of food, the back and forth of storytelling. And while I don’t have any airline connections to make for a few months, the challenge remains:  Where must we disconnect to connect? Where is there connection to make in the midst of the commonplace?

 

 

 

His Story, Our Story

Written for the July Issue of NADCE Quarterly

Whether it’s the child cuddled up next to mom enthralled with a picture book, a group of teens huddled around a campfire reciting tall tales, or the page turner that keeps us until the early hours of the morning, at the heart of us all is the desire for a good story.

Psalm 139 declares, “all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Every moment and chapter has been divinely authored. His hand penned the story of all creation, and it pens even the smallest detail of each of our lives. The stories He writes intersect, and in the intersections, we discover beauty, brokenness, love, and grace.

Too often though, I like to be the one holding the pen.  Everyday, I’m learning  to give the pen back to Him, because if I were the author of my life, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

As a high school student, I sat  in World History class, examining a map of Asia, and thinking about how I would likely only ever read and learn about the places and never experience them firsthand. Then, in college, I was sent to Thailand on a mission trip and to Vietnam for student teaching. Only God could have penned those travels.

I remember hearing some fellow teachers during student teaching talking about their Christmas plans in Hawaii and distinctly thinking, “It must be nice to be able to go to Hawaii; I’m sure my finances won’t allow that and probably won’t ever visit there.” Now, here I am a Director of Christian Education in Hawaii. While I would have penned a ministry in the Midwest, God is writing this chapter in ways I couldn’t of imagined.

No matter where we are, what a joy it is to have  a ministry of building relationships, hearing, and telling stories. We ponder His penmanship and plans and how our stories are woven into a greater narrative.

We tell of the Master Storyteller: the stories of God’s people defeating armies with clanging jars,  men standing alive in a blaze of fire, women at wells, radical love on a cross, and a terrorist’s life transformed by the power of the Gospel .

We tell of the ways He’s intersected in our lives and lives of those we serve: the VBS volunteer who should be dead because his heart stopped twice, the boy with autism who has made friends at Sunday school, the embrace with 89 year old woman in the emergency room who has just lost her only daughter.

Giving Him the pen is an act of trust. We never know exactly where we are in this ethereal narrative. Some chapters pass by fleetingly, while others are retold time and time again. No matter what, His presence is always there, intersecting in each moment in ways we often don’t even see and transforming our hearts to tell His story. Let this be our prayer: “Lord, Write your Word on our hearts. May the our lives proclaim your story.”

A Narrative of Alaska

Psalm 139 declares, “all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Every moment and chapter has been divinely authored. His hand penned the story of the universe, and it pens the story of each of our lives. The stories He writes intersect, and in the intersections, we discover beauty, brokenness, love, and grace.

For 10 days in May, my story intersected with a small Alaskan village just north of the Arctic Circle. From one noncontiguous state to another we travelled, unable to fathom the narrative of the journey ahead.

We adventured through Anchorage and happened on Whittier, glaciers, bald eagles, and snowy mountains. We flew over Denali, landing in Fairbanks.

IMG_3439

Just one more flight awaited, but before we climbed into our tiny plane to travel hundreds of miles over the Alaskan wilderness, we spent evenings sitting in a ‘sacred circle’ pondering Scripture and the mission ahead. We shared chapters of our stories, and we sang.

“God loves you, and there’s nothing you can do about it. God loves you, and there’s nothing you can say. God loves you, and there’s nothing you can do to earn; it just won’t go away.”

With the tune still in our heads and hearts ready to share its words, we accounted for each pound in our Navajo Panther and flew off the grid. Two hours later, we landed in Kiana, Alaska, population 371.

We unloaded our weeks worth of supplies and wandered through the village in awe of its mountain landscapes reflecting in the Kobuk River and tales of moose and caribou. But amidst the majesty stood desperation: shattered windows, discarded machine parts, and a people hurting from the effects of alcoholism, suicide, abuse, and unspoken traumas passed down from generation to generation.

Our wanderings took us to the little mint green church just below our cabin where we would come and go from all week. We opened the doors ready to worship. Most of the chairs sat empty, and no pastor was present. The piano stood out of tune and unplayed. By all appearances, it was barren, but Spirit pulsated through its simple sanctuary.

Gina, one of our team members, brought life to the piano. We were greeted with welcome songs and vignettes of village life. Inupiaq and English rang out in prayer to the Author of Life.

“Where two or more are gathered I am there,” He promises. All week, He was there working His healing story in this small community.

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, children ran through the doors eager for Vacation Bible School. They waited with wide eyes for “Goliath” to come, pretending to be David with craft creations in hand. They laughed, smiled, and shouted, singing the “Hippo” song at all speeds. They excitedly raised their hands to open Easter eggs, helping tell the story of Jesus’ great love for us. In a whirlwind of crafts, games, Jesus time, snacks, and conversation, we saw the days He had ordained unfold.

Whenever we gathered, there was fervor. A fervor in the hearts of the women of the church for their community and young people. A fervor of story sharing around a table of caribou, muktuk, and sheefish. The fervor that occurs when gathered in His name.

Soon, the hellos turned to goodbyes, and we prayed the fervor of His Spirit might continue among the people, not knowing when or if our stories would intersect again. Before we knew it, we’d landed back in Fairbanks, then Anchorage, and lastly Honolulu. Now, we share the stories of those days and continue to ponder His penmanship and plans.

We never know exactly where we are in this ethereal narrative. Some chapters pass by fleetingly, while others are retold time and time again. No matter what, His presence is always there, intersecting in each moment in ways we often don’t even see and transforming our hearts to tell His story.

Whether in Kiana or on Oahu, the lessons we taught and learned again for ourselves hold true. God keeps His promises. He is strong to save. He is Emmanuel, God with us. His love never fails. Yesterday, today, and forever those themes tell the story of all creation.

 

 

 

2 years

IMG_0840

Two years ago, I sat around a crowded table with family and close friends eating brunch and guessing where I would be placed for my DCE internship later that afternoon. Wisconsin? Indiana? The farthest guess was New York, but everyone seemed to think I’d most definitely be a car trip away. In the car after brunch, I jokingly asked my dad, “How will we get my stuff to Hawaii if I’m place there?” He calmly said, “Oh, we’d just get a POD, I guess.” As we finished getting ready for the service, my friends joked, “Kayla, if you get placed in Hawaii we’re going to be too broke to visit.”

Then, the moment of truth arrived. I was the last DCE intern called-up to the front. From previous experience, I knew that as the final placement there could possibly be some shock factor regarding where I’d be going, but Washington State, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and Maryland had already been called.

Soon began a description of my time in Vietnam and my adaptability to living in other cultures. My thoughts went to a new life in Birmingham or a small town in Mississippi, but then I heard “Aiea,” a place with no consonants in its name followed by Hawaii. The shock was real, and I couldn’t help but ask, “God, why are you sending me to Hawaii?”

Somehow, now, it’s been two years since I first asked that question. He’s still answering. Today, He answered in simple ways. That’s often the case and often too all I need.

“So you can help overflow two carts at Costco for the Easter breakfast.”

“So you can hear the snap of the paddle as you round kick your way down the mat at kickboxing class.”

“So you can admire the clouds over the mountains and the moon shining through them.”

“So you can get excited about VBX registrations.”

The reasons of yesterday, and today, and tomorrow surely contrast, but everyday this truth remains.

“So you can know and be love.”

 

and if there’s question, both those friends have visited

 

Community

img_0263

Last month I had the privilege of attending the National Association of Directors of Christian Education Conference and writing the following piece for their quarterly publication:

A year and a half ago, I stepped on a plane and moved to Hawaii for my DCE internship, and in July I was installed as Director of Christian Education at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Aiea, just minutes from Pearl Harbor. Before moving to the islands, Hawaii was simply a place of my imagination, a paradise of beaches, hula, volcanoes, and palm trees.  I never expected I’d visit, let alone live on an island called O’ahu.

When I tell people I serve in Hawaii, I often get questions like “Do you take your youth to the beach everyday?” or “Why aren’t you more tan?” Sometimes, after a few more questions about surfing and aloha, people realize the truth, there must be moments when the place the world calls paradise doesn’t feel like it.

Like any other place in the world, we go through the ups and downs of life. We live on the most remote island chain in the world, and sometimes that feels lonely.  Family and friends are far away, and meeting face-to-face with another DCE requires crossing an ocean, a few time zones, and 2,000+ miles. Any time I make the  journey though, every hour in the sky and mile traveled is worth it.

January brought me one of those journeys. I made my way to Orlando for NADCE where for three days I was empowered, encouraged, and energized by Christian community.

It all began with singing, and I stood in worship with friends I had been joyfully reunited with for those few days. Jesus says, “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20, ESV). His presence and power filled the room as voices joined in lyrics of hope and truth. We heard the words of Psalm 51, “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,” and together the room ignited with celebratory songs.

The words Desmond Tutu were paraphrased, “Think less of the self less and surround yourself with those who love and those to love.” Once again,  I was reminded that I am not alone. I was surrounded by the community gathered in that place, and there was a community waiting to surround me again back on the islands.

We are not alone in our individual ministries either. Whether serving in the heart of Manhattan, a small town in Iowa, the suburbs of Baltimore, or the California coast, we all have a place in the Body of Christ; His great love surrounds and sustains us each and everyday. We know it is true in our separate ministry settings, but sometimes it takes a conference to let the truth sink in and empower us in our callings.

Some of the time we stood in circles, huddled together sharing ministry stories, making connections, and meandering from person to person, booth to booth. I heard about another church struggling with Sunday school attendance. Another DCE and I shared together the joys of building relationships with military families. I traded notes with the DCE who’s young adult ministry is structured similarly. We leaned into one another, linked by our shared vocations.

Encouragement is found in these kinds of conversations. They give answer to the truth found in the book of Hebrews, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

We stirred each other up with  listening, laughter, and learning.  Energy filled the air of the spaces we shared. Some moments felt like a youth gathering for DCEs. Celebration, growth, and praise marked our time.

Friday concluded with a service of Holy Communion. I stood singing, soaking in the final moments of being gathered in a room full of Spirit-filled Directors of Christian Education. I looked around the room at this beautiful network of friends, mentors, and colleagues considering the beautiful mystery of how this simple meal joins us together with believers of all times and places both here and in heaven.

We put our hands out, and Pastor Matt gave us a blessing, sending us back to our unique ministry settings. I held back tears as I said goodbyes and gave final hugs unsure of when I’d see those gathered around me or have such an experience again.

Before I knew it, I was walking through the airport mentally preparing for my long journey back to my home on an island in the sea. I returned to Hawaii feeling rejuvenated and refreshed.  This is the power of Christian community. When we join together, Christ is among us, energizing us for work in His kingdom.  

While miles may separate, much more unites us. Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again. It is the creed  that united the early church and unites us still today, confirming our callings.

Culmination

img_7969

If Labor Day marked the end of summer, then what a summer it was. A culminating four months marked the end of college and internship and the beginning of full-time professional ministry and this thing called “adult life.”

With a black robe, funny hat, plenty of leis, Chicago-style pizza, and family and friends nearby, college graduation signaled the start. I remembered walking up the scuffed, black stairs to First Kohn at the end of my freshman year thinking that the time to graduation seemed so far-off and unable to imagine what life in 2016 might be like. Somehow though, there I was in a gymnasium full of graduates walking across the stage with two degrees earned and a summer full of adventure ahead of me. img_1246Vacation Bible School transformed our little sanctuary into a spelunker’s paradise and left me with songs stuck in my head for days. I learned the goodbye part of aloha as friends and confidants from my first year on island moved onto new places. I played island tour guide and built sand castles when friends came to visit.

Wearing caving gear as children shouted “Follow Him” each morning and playing tourist each afternoon, I ventured around the Big Island for a week.  The clouds of Mauna Kea mysteriously drifted around us as we hiked atop cinder cones. As the sun set, they morphed into wisps of cotton candy in the horizon. Creation sang His praises, and children sang of His light.

IMG_8221.jpgAlongside twelve of my ohana, I made my way 4,200 miles to New Orleans for the LCMS National Youth Gathering. Our voices joined with thousands of others as we danced and sang with Rend Collective and shouted about our identity in Christ alone. We lost count of exclamations of “You’re from Hawaii?!” We witnessed echoes of Christ’s humility in Gathering staff, volunteers, New Orleans residents, and each other. Our honu had his 15 minutes of fame riding on escalators, taking photos, and sitting on stages. We laughed, and we cried, growing together as a community in Christ alone. img_8720With my parents present, I was installed and became Our Savior’s Director of Christian Education. Since then, there have been ups and downs, alohas of hello and goodbye, and One constant stability. My journey continues.

For now, I’m sitting in Starbucks sipping on a Pumpkin Spice Latte, which I suppose marks the start of fall. The school year is in full swing, and my days are full. I’m figuring out this post-grad life, trying to take it one day at time, and “live it well.”

Paradise

The world is broken. The evidence is never far away, even in a place the world calls “paradise.”

Newspapers report senseless terrorist attacks and political mess. The homeless stand on corners with cardboard signs reading “anything helps,” and light posts become the walls of makeshift shelters.  The sick come knocking. Mothers loose their daughters. Doctors don’t have answers. Phone screens light up with messages we never wanted to hear. Tears fall.

Often times, the outside concrete evidence isn’t even needed. The brokenness inside ourselves is evidence enough. Fears of the future encapsulate. Insecurities overwhelm. Dreams wake us up at night seeming all too real. We realize this life is fragile.

But there is hope, and there is joy. There is peace, and there is unending love.

There’s evidence for all of it too.

The sun rises and sets. A monarch butterfly flutters across my path. Laughter spills out for the first time in far too long. Encouraging words come at just the right time. We hold onto each other in the moments when all seems lost.

A seventh grader with wisdom beyond her years tells me, “It [the resurrection] means we don’t have to despair.” An eighty-four year-old woman, whose life could be a movie, reminds that redemption means “we don’t have to be afraid.”

Brokenness is overcome by eternal glory giving the strength to sing, “it is well with my soul” for Paradise is yet to come.

Psalm 121 NIV

A song of ascents.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.

A Collective Journey

 

IMG_6726

Today begins my final internship visit and evaluation, one of the last big moments before walking across the stage in May. It may not be graduation yet, but I can’t help but think back on the last five years and my journey to this tiny apartment in Honolulu County.

A couple weeks ago, I travelled to Phoenix alongside 1,800 other church workers for a conference. In one of the seminars I attended, the following quote by Richard Goodrich was shared:

“The spiritual journey is not supposed to be a solitary walk but a community pilgrimage.”

In high school, community supported and helped me to recognize my calling and place in Chicago. A community journeyed with me these last five years filling me with a sense of purpose driven adventure.

When I stepped onto CUC’s campus in 2011, I could not of begun to comprehend the collective journey I was embarking on, the places I would go, and the people who’s paths would intersect my own for us to walk in concord for a time.

Then, I was more of a solitary walker with a plan for how I wanted these 5 years to turn out. Sophomore year those plans crumbled, and I found myself in Thailand with a new perspective on the world throwing the story I’d written for myself in the ocean.

Family listened. Friends rallied around me. Professors prayed with me. A congregation welcomed me as one of their own. A group of fellow young adult volunteers in San Antonio got me to laugh and laugh some more.

Junior year, my fellow “teacher candidates” and I conquered methods and discovered the joys of learning with a room full of children.

Senior year, 30 hours of travel brought me to a beautiful four months of learning and adventure in Vietnam. 14 forth graders (now almost 6th graders) captured my heart. Visionary leaders and educators inspired me. Whether sitting around a table or going on a crazy adventure through the bustling streets of Hanoi, new faces quickly became family.

A year ago, I had no inkling of where I’d be in this moment, but somehow I’ve been in Hawaii almost 9 months continuing on this collective journey with new people to join alongside.

I attended  Hillsong United’s concert with some of them here in Honolulu last Saturday. With thousands of fellow pilgrims, we sang the words of one of my favorite songs:

“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders. Let me walk upon the waters wherever you would call me.” 

His lead is the best. Every step, He is walking beside. In the moments when the journey feels more like a solitary walk, He is there. When two or more are gathered, His power is at work.

 

 

 

Come and go, go and come

FullSizeRender (3)

In a sea of sunburnt tourists. “We hope you’ve enjoyed your stay on the islands.” Go.

Windy City. Winter clothes waiting. Warm heart. Come.

The Sears Tower shrinks behind me. 55 extends for miles. Go.

The Arch glows. The gateway to homemade meals and familiar faces. Come.

3 quirky safety videos, a sprint through Houston, a sandwich in LAX. Go.

Lights twinkling in the middle of the Pacific. Come.

The coming and the going doesn’t feel so patterned, rhythmic, and simplistic though. The heart gets involved both beautifully and painfully, and time never seems like enough. The going comes to soon and the coming not soon enough. I wrestle with time like I can control it. The best moments though are the ones I allow myself just to be, phone put away, watch-face ignored, talking story, whether I’m in the midst of coming, going, or simply staying.

All the coming and going doesn’t necessarily get easier, but it becomes a part of life that’s better embraced than resented. It’s a part of all our lives. People come. People go. What was once anticipated becomes memory.

Through it all an Anchor remains. “Come to me,” He says. “Go,” He commands. In all my coming, may I come to Him first. In all my going, may I go, because He has sent me. When it’s time to stay, may I stay as He sees fit.