Lenten Reflection

The season started with tears. Easter felt far away as I faced a too familiar pattern of goodbyes I didn’t want to say and mourned hellos I’ve long been waiting for not coming to fruition once again. A culmination of many events crashing into one, left me weary and speaking of the wilderness.

Ever since those first days following Ash Wednesday, that word—wilderness—stuck with me and kept coming up as if I was supposed to learn something from it.

I sat in church on the first Sunday of Lent, struck by the heart and poignancy of our collect:

“O Lord God, You led your people through the wilderness and brought them to a land of promise. So guide us through our wildernesses, keep our feet steady on the path home to heaven and guide us by Your Word and Spirit-never letting us out of Your sight. This we pray in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You, Father, and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. AMEN.”

Being in the wilderness requires trust—trust that He is answering our prayers and won’t cease to be our guide. In my wilderness moment, trust that yes, new people and specifically a principal would walk through our church doors. In these 40 days of Lent, no pillar of cloud or fire has appeared to follow on the streets of Aiea, but His Word declares promise: “Look, I am about to so something new; even now it is coming. Do you not see it? I will make a way in the wilderness, rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:19).

And, He does by rekindling purpose, sending provision, and ordaining rest. Respite found in reunion with friends and a newly baptized baby sleeping in my arms. Provision found at the top of a lighthouse and conversation with family around tables in Atlanta and St. Louis. Purpose found in high school students’ laughter and a trunk full of Easter baskets.

He sustains not only our bodies but also our souls with a holy meal. Simple bread and wine, yet miraculous sustenance found in His body and blood. We’re not on the path alone for when we partake we discover “grace and a sense of belonging” in the midst of uncomfortable scenery as Pastor preached on Maundy Thursday night.

He knows more and sees more. Up the hill to Calvary, He leads the way. “It is finished,” He cries. And with this declaration, we find our land of promise lies in the cross and empty tomb, all tears wiped away.

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February Reflection

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Blink. February comes to a close and enters the past. While time speeds by, I sit flipping through a month of journal entries as the air conditioner, dishwasher, and highway traffic buzz in harmony.

Sometimes the words come easily, other times, like today, it’s not so easy. I ask Isaac, “What should I write?”

“What you’re thankful for,” he says.  I turn the pages again and reason after reason to give thanks is there written in simple, black ink.

  1. The thump of drums and dragons dancing filling the streets of Chinatown on a rainy Friday night
  2. Chasing rainbows along misty mountainsides and crashing ocean waves
  3. A congregation in jerseys from all across the country, each a celebration of being on God’s team
  4. The ring of Google Hangouts connecting me with friends thousands of miles away.
  5. Walking along the beach admiring the patterns left in the sand by gentle tide and children playing
  6. Plane tickets for the National Youth Gathering purchased under budget after weeks of stress inducing sums after the dollar sign
  7. Laughter and conversation around a dinner table
  8. Middle school students filled with excitement and covered in glow sticks running around campus after dark
  9. Weather cool enough for cords and long sleeves
  10. Kid-made confetti poppers filling the Sunday School Room with a paper shower of celebration
  11. A fresh haircut
  12. Contagious laughter
  13. God’s people coming together to seek His will and call
  14. A generous husband, red roses, steak dinner, and peanut butter pie
  15. Plans falling through and better plans coming together
  16. A new neighbor
  17. Therapy found with a canvas and paintbrush
  18. The spirit of aloha filling 8 miles as thousands run, walk, and sprint.
  19. The debt of sin paid in full
  20. Popcorn popping in a room full of children and the joy of Jesus overflowing
  21. The smiles and greetings of students lifting up the weighed down spirit
  22. Wandering through aisles of expensive furniture dreaming of the future
  23. Sudsy buckets, dirty cars, and the generosity of strangers
  24. Clear blue sky framing mountains on the horizon
  25. Kindness at the DMV
  26. The Lord’s Prayer spoken with 9 year-olds and a 90 year-old
  27. Mom
  28. Confirmation students served around candlelit tables

Ann Voskamp writes in One Thousand Gifts, “Count blessings and discover Who can be counted on.” In the counting, stress and anxieties of the future unknown are lifted, and I pray the words of Psalm 25.

In you, Lord my God,
    I put my trust.

I trust in you;
    do not let me be put to shame,
    nor let my enemies triumph over me.
No one who hopes in you
    will ever be put to shame,
but shame will come on those
    who are treacherous without cause.

Show me your ways, Lord,
    teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
    for you are God my Savior,
    and my hope is in you all day long.

January Reflection

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Tradition in my family calls for day after Christmas shopping. So in the spirit, I hopped into my car on December 26th and headed to Target to see what fabulous deals I could find. At 50% off, an amaryllis kit made its way into my cart.

Now, on the last day of January of the new year, the unpromising bulb has transformed into three beautiful flowers bursting with new life. As I observe their delicate, vibrant, red petals, I’m reminded of our need to rest in the new mercies of each day (Lamentations 3:23).

Too often, we get caught up in wanting what’s new, when what we need is to be renewed.

A new year. A new routine. A new car. A new apartment.  The list goes on.

Our wanting for the things of this world wears us down. I feel it in the tension in my neck I have worked out with a massage each month. This month as I turned to leave my appointment, I noticed three little words printed on a little glass jar essential oils, “let it go.”

I let it go as I sing.

“I will rest in your promises. My confidence is your faithfulness…All your promises are yes and amen.”

There we find renewal. He takes the dry, brown bulb and makes it beautiful. He takes our burdens upon himself and gifts us with grace.

“Behold, I am making all things new, ” he speaks (Rev 21:5). In our futile efforts to possess all that is new and better, let us not forget to dwell in the presence of the One who renews our souls, whose promises bring life.

 

 

You Never Let Go

a piece I wrote for our church’s newsletter

“You are the God who holds my future, all my dreams, so I am holding on. You never let go of me.” The sound of children’s voices loudly singing these lyrics echoes through the sanctuary at Vacation Bible eXperience. While the words may be written for children, they speak a bold declaration of faith in God’s unending promises.

I am reminded of the apostle Paul’s words to the church in Corinth:

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

2 Corinthians 1:20-22 CSB

Three years ago, when I walked through Our Savior’s doors for the first time, I couldn’t of imagined the future God held for me on this island called Oahu. As each day of VBX begins, I stand atop a waterfall scaffold leading actions in awe of His faithfulness. I look out and see a sea of faces: children who on Monday had never entered a church, youth and adult volunteers eagerly sharing the Gospel, my sister and future brothers and sister-in-law newly arrived for wedding festivities. He holds us all we joyfully sing.

Energy explodes, filling the room: “You are my God. I’m holding onto you. You are my God. I know you’ll see me through. Hey!” May we have the boldness of children and loudly declare God’s promise keeping power. Through loneliness, worry, struggle, wrongdoing, and weakness, Jesus rescues offering grace, mercy, peace, and life eternal. He never lets go.

A Broken Mending

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I make the familiar turn, and there he is walking down the street with those hallow eyes and meth pocked skin. It was last Holy Week when he came to our doors crying out coming off a high with fresh cigarette burns on his young suntanned skin.

Broken.

I pick up my phone and flip screens to see the latest news updates. A president and a porn star battling it out. Refugees with no welcome. Innocents murdered by bullets and bombs.

Broken.

I think about the stories of those whose lives cross with my own. Cancers attacking. Marriages threatened by divorce. Mental illness crippling and stigma isolating. Deployments with no end in sight. Uncertainty looming.

Broken.

I examine my own heart. Things done. Things left undone.

Broken.

Psalm 51 is my cry: “Have mercy…Create in me a pure heart…My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” (NIV). 

Then, I’m drawn to the simple scene on a holy day. A loaf of bread. A glass of wine. A group of friends. The one they follow holds up the unleavened. It cracks. “This is my body given for you.”

Broken.

Whips slash. Spit flies. Thorns dig  into flesh. Blood spills. “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani,” he wails between painful breaths. The one who left divine glory and entered brokenness to be broken hangs from a cross.

A battle of eternal proportions wages on for the souls of the broken masses. All seems lost as a mother cries and rooster crows. The sky goes dark. A curtain tears. The words of the ancient prophets come true in a broken mending. “By His wounds we are healed” as love “raises up the broken to life.”

 

Leaving Room for Wonder

 

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“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).

 

Making a Connection

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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.

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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

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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