Friday, May 27, 2016

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.

Today is my wedding day.
Although I’ve always loved love, I haven’t always understood what it is. I don’t know why because my parents love me well. They’ve loved me through seasons where I’ve been easy to love, and seasons where I didn’t give them many reasons to want to love me. Close friends and mentors showed me glimpses into the heart of God in the ways they’ve loved me. Yet, I chose to seek this idea of romantic love, and not always in the healthiest ways. It’s been the one area of my life I can say I truly believe I haven’t been good enough. In almost every other sphere, I’ve known in my head that I need God’s grace, but I don’t know if I’ve truly believed it in my heart. However, in romantic relationships, I’ve seen my depravity. I’ve seen myself take short cuts to try and gain the “love” I’ve desired since my elementary years only to end up disappointed and left to process through the consequences of my actions.
I heard someone say this week that in a marriage relationship your need to be loved has to already have been met. Through the journey of my last twenty six years, the Lord has revealed his love to me in powerful ways. Without that relationship and revelation, I know I wouldn’t be getting ready to get married today. Because I wouldn’t be the right person. I’d still be on the crazy train, searching for a man to meet the needs that only God can. I still jump on the crazy train every now and again. When I’m not pleased with my performance, when I’m looking to others for affirmation, or when I’m letting lies creep in and tell me my identity. But, I’ve learned how to fight those, and in this heart of mine, I now know who I am, who I belong to, and what I’m about. I’m a daughter of the King, and I’m loved by Him.
So today, I get to marry Andrew Jordan Wolfe. And, I’m the luckiest girl because of it. This is a man who truly loves me. He loves me in a way I haven’t experienced before. Already, he often knows why I’m frustrated before I’ve found the words to articulate it myself. He knows the way a good run gives me time to work the crazy out with Jesus. He understands my heart and the way fresh flowers, lit candles, and a handwritten note make me feel like the most delighted person in the world. He takes time to do the unexpected and take me on a random road trip to a restaurant in a no-name town, a bike ride to a new ice cream joint, or a Sunday daydreaming drive. He captures my heart when I get to see glimpses into our future while I’m watching him mow the lawn at the home that’s now ours. While I’m handing him the screwdriver as he’s installing a new dishwasher. He lets me into the depths of his heart and his dreams, and what I see there are some of the most inspiring things. Things I get to be a part of. Things we share and get to make happen. Together. But more than all of these things, and all of the things I haven’t mentioned, like how strong he is, how handsome he is, what a great coach he is, how funny he can be, how smart he is, how much he cares for the well-being of his sisters, how hard-working, motivated, and driven he is, the man I’m marrying today is a man after Jesus’ heart. He leads me into making time for Jesus, praying over the things of our hearts, and spending time in the Word. He’s constantly in pursuit of Jesus, and it keeps me running after Him too. He’s committed to seeing both of us become who God created us to be and live the life God designed for us.
Being in relationship with Andrew is the most tangible expression of God’s grace I’ve experienced. I haven’t done anything to deserve it. Given, what I thought I wanted, I don’t know where I’d be today. I know those experiences shaped and molded me. But, only because of the grace of God. The unnatural, forgiving, life-changing grace of God. My choices shouldn’t have led me to marrying Andrew today, and yet I am. I’m marrying a man with a shared vision for our future. A man who shares in so many of my greatest passion and joys. A man who protects me and fights for us. Today is important to me not just because of all the joy it contains, but also because what will happen today between Andrew and I is a glimpse, a foreshadowing, of what God’s going to do for his people.
We, as believers, are the bride of Christ. We’ve been redeemed and reconciled to him. Jesus’ work on the cross allows us to accept the undeserved gift of grace that pardons us from the sinful nature of being human that we can’t find a way to pardon ourselves. And, once that happens, we begin the life long process of sanctification. Being made beautiful and more like Jesus, waiting for him to come back.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Ankunda Kelsea

I've lived a quarter of a century, and I feel pretty good about how it's gone so far. I've developed a few life mantras, loved and been loved, and crossed some goals off my list. I still despise making choices, but in high school I wouldn't have even been able to tell you any of my likes or dislikes. I remember running the three mile loop on the Waterloo bike trail one summer afternoon and thinking to myself, I don't know what I like. It was one step along the way of discovering what I want, a process that is still underway. However, I finished the run by making some decisions. I chose that I would like scrambled eggs, my favorite color would be pink, and that I liked sprinkles on my ice cream. Over the past few years, not only have I discovered more of my likes, but I've also realized more of my talents and desires and have practiced discerning how those intersect with God's will for my life.

One of the things that my life keeps circling back to is Uganda. This month marks seven years since my first trip to Uganda in July of 2008. Reflecting on the journey that God has had me on since then truly blows me away. Each journey to Uganda, every job that I've had or haven't had, has truly been a process with amazing testimonies. 

Over the past few months, I've found myself meditating on God's love for me. My constant prayer is that I would grow in my awareness of it and have deeper revelation of how great it is for me. Even as I sit here and write this, the song "How Deep the Father's Love" is playing in the background. Coincidence? Probably not. I want to know it deeper, and I think God is eager to show me. How God orchestrates things in my life is one way He affirms his love for me. But, another way God shows me how much He loves me is by using His people.

The past year has been a whirlwind. After dinner with a teacher friend last July, a few prayers, and a couple of difficult decisions, I started teaching at Omaha North High Magnet in August. I loved the Hope Center for Kids, where I was previously working, and the opportunity to make a job change was swift and unexpected. Leaving a place you love to enter an unfamiliar place is scary and risky. But, God was so good through it. I'm not called to comfortable. Interviewing for the job, resigning from a job I loved, and meeting students within a span of 5 days reminded me of that. However, the staff at Hope was gracious and loving and wished me well as I transitioned. Meanwhile, the staff at North welcomed me with open arms. Through a year of learning even more about my strengths, facing my insecurities, and bearing heartaches with my students, I developed strong friendships within our staff and built anticipation for my future years of teaching.

Naturally, one of the first thoughts I had when I became a teacher was about what I would do with my summer. But before I could even let my mind go crazy with the possibilities, Uganda was ringing in my heart. I mentioned the idea of going to Uganda to a couple of close friends and started praying.

In October, my dear friend Gabriel and I spent the morning together worshiping at a church where God showed up and made his love known to us. That afternoon I was sitting at home, spending time with the Lord when my prayer intercessor, Francine, called. "Kelsea," she said. "Are you planning on going on a trip overseas anytime?" I told her that I'd been praying about returning to Uganda, and she replied, "I was making the bed in the guest room while praying about you, and I just had a strong impression upon my heart that you were going to be going back."

After that phone call, more prayer, and a few conversations with friends, I was pretty sure I would be going back this summer, but I didn't know how it would happen.

On a Thursday night in April, Gabriel gathered some friends together for dinner. My friend Bill created an exquisite meal, and we sat around the table together sharing our hearts. After dinner, we sat in the family room, and Gabriel led a time of blessing me. The dear friends in the room shared words of affirmation verbally, written on cards, and through prayer. Sitting in the midst of such overwhelming love, I was physically felt God's love for me. Then, Gabriel handed me one last envelope. An envelope with a gift. A gift collected by my friends to get me to Uganda this summer.

I woke up that Sunday morning wishing I could go to UBC in Mbarara and testify about how the Lord had used my friends and what all He had done. Almost instantaneously, God put it on my heart that regardless of where I am, I needed to share the testimonies of what He had done! I went to CityLight that morning and in the sermon Gavin also talked about sharing the testimonies. I was again reminded of how much God loves me that He would speak directly to my heart. I often think about the Runyankore name my friend Sophie, from Uganda, gave me. Ankunda. Back when she gave it to me in 2011, she explained that it meant "He loves me". God loves me. 

Sophie said, “Let me ask you, can you live without blood in your body?” As I sat silently, she said, “No, and love is like blood. You can’t live without it in your body.”

Overwhelmed with the love of God that Sunday sitting in church and motivated to share the testimonies of what God has done in my life, I followed through on an idea I'd had for a while. 

It's taken me a while to process the overwhelming love of these friends, and I have yet to appropriately express my gratitude. Because of their generosity, Monday I'm leaving Omaha on a plane to Uganda. The anticipation I have to see my beloved friends there is swelling in my heart. I can't believe that I get to have relationships on opposite sides of the world with whom I can authentically share life. I know that it is because of the radical love of Jesus that this is possible, and I'm so excited to share and receive that love with my friends in Uganda. And then get to experience it again as I share in the U.S. about my time in Uganda. 
Lord, you are so good to me! 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

It's all about love, love, love.

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, and as a single 25-year-old girl, almost all my sources communicate that I should’ve felt a certain way about it. It should’ve heightened my awareness of my singleness, making me feel lonely. It should’ve made me want to bury my emotions in a more-than-appropriate amount of alcohol. It should've made me feel that for some reason on this day, I hate men and hate this “created-by-hallmark” holiday.

And why? Why should I feel this way?
Because I’m single in this season? Because I didn’t have a date? Because I’m not married? Because I’ve loved before and it didn’t end in happily-ever-after? Because I’ve been hurt and have hurt others?
Those things are true, but I have a different story to tell.
I am single. I’ve been in relationships I wanted to last, and they didn’t. I’ve been hurt, and I know I’ve hurt others. Frequently, the romanticized expectations I had for Valentine's Day weren't met. The dream I dreamt for myself as a little girl hasn’t come to fruition. And you know what? It’s okay.
Valentine’s Day is my favorite. Please don’t be afraid to ask me how it went because I bear the mark of singleness. Valentine’s Day contains all things pink, glittery, heart-shaped, chocolaty and lovey-dovey – just a few of my favorite things. Although, I enjoy them everyday of every year and don't hesitate to buy myself the $5 bundle of flowers every time I go grocery shopping, I whole-heartedly enjoy that everyone else loves those things on this one day of the year.  On Valentine's Day, it's as if everyone has decided to jump into my world. And, it’s also a day where everyone is talking about the one word I love the most. Love.
I’m in love with love. Sure, I may have fallen for some of Hollywood and society’s misconstrued and unrealistic portrayals of love. I grew up loving the classic love stories like Beauty and the Beast. I fell in the love with Noah and Allie’s story in The Notebook. The R&B love song station on Pandora is a guilty pleasure. I love hearing about a good engagement story or story of how two people fell in love. The butterfly-feeling, walking-on-sunshine idea of love captivated my heart as a young girl.
I look forward to the day where I discover whatever that chapter will look like in my story. Yet, I know how I live my life in this season is part of the rising action. It’s all a part of the same story. Romantic love, marriage, it’s all something to anticipate, and I do. But my endearment for the word love is so much more than that.
It’s a lifestyle. I don’t have to have a significant other to love love. It's been a lifestyle that is taking me years to live out. Six years ago, as a 19-year-old college student trying to help start a student ministry, work 30+ hours per week, and graduate from college in 3 years, I felt overwhelmed. I felt guilty for the hours I would spend after work in Scooter’s Coffeehouse in Elkhorn, Nebraska, talking with strangers, new acquaintances and old friends. I remember talking to Ronnie Rothe about the tension I felt in my heart trying to invest well in people and keep up with the responsibilities and crazy busyness I was living. I felt guilty for being with people when I had deadlines approaching. It was in Scooters that he looked me in the eyes and said, “Kelsea, time spent with people is never time wasted.”
How does it work that time spent with people is never time wasted? Because it's all about love. Every time spent with someone is an opportunity to know and love them. It’s an opportunity to make eye contact and see the parts of their souls they’re willing to share with you. It’s an opportunity to listen and to hear. And as a believer in my Lord Jesus Christ, it’s an opportunity to love that person like He would. An investment in a human heart is the only thing we can give that will last for eternity.
I'm learning it. I fail every week. I sit at my desk during my plan and have to fight for a healthy perspective when I think I should be grading papers and kids want to talk about the issues of their hearts. How could I be so ignorant to think that papers could be more important than their hearts? I think in retrospect. Thank you Jesus that they want to talk with me! And, yet in the moment, I'm struggling to give those kids that time. I look back at my prayer journals and see that I've prayed for opportunities to talk with them and in the moment, I almost throw away the opportunity. Out of selfishness and mixed up priorities.
But, glory be to God that His grace is bigger than my failures.
I agree with all of you who would say, "Why do we need a specific day to do the things we should be doing every day?" True. Word. Preach. Yet, not everyone is going to do that. So, I'm going to continue on living each day like Valentine's Day - writing in pink pen, telling people I love them, and getting myself those fresh flowers. And, I'm also going to enjoy the one day every year when people want to join in on the lifestyle I'm practicing.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Sometimes a picture just tells it better.

There are some things that don't change:

The beauty of the market displays and the unbelievably tasty fruits it has.

The modes of transportation.

The food staples: matooke and gnuts....
... And the local delicacy of grasshoppers.

The power... Or lack thereof.

Finding bats in your bedroom...

And then there are those things that only get sweeter with time:


My neighbors and friends, Dorcas and Willis and their family.

My good friend and brother, Justus.

Two of my friends I met in Mbarara when I first moved there. One of whom is now completing a two year, life transformational program known as Amagara Maysa. 

Silly faces.

The sweetest, most authentic and life-giving friendsships a girl good dream of.

And the love of people who truly invite you to do life together.

Monday, November 4, 2013

To the equator and back again and again.

If there's anything I've learned about traveling over the past few years, I think I'd say the most important things to remember are: bring your passport, carry some extra cash, and keep those on you at all times. Anything else you can eventually buy with the money you've brought or make due without. However, less than 24 hours after arriving in Uganda, after feeling pretty confident about my travel experiences thus far, I broke one of my golden rules of traveling.

The flights and transitions between airports went smoothly. I found the correct terminals in Chicago and London, and I even found my taxi at the Entebbe airport that would take me to the guesthouse for the night. Friday morning I woke up expecting to find private hire driver, Dennis there to pick me up and take me to Mbarara. But much to my surprise the Skinner family was with him! Excited to get to Mbarara, I cuddled up between Dara and Dade for the five hour trek.

One of the landmarks on the way from Kampala to Mbarara is the equator, and almost every visitor or resident who passes through takes a picture there. That being said, I already have a couple pictures at the equator, but I wanted another one. So Dara, Dade and I wandered over to the spot, I took off my purse, and Joel took the picture. He handed me back my phone, and we walked back to the vehicle admiring the photo and greeting the police officer on duty as we went.

Two and half hours later we arrived in Mbarara. Jill greeted us and told me that some of my university friends were anxious to see me. After chatting for a bit and settling in, I decided to grab my purse and go meet them at the church. But when I went to look for my purse, which held my passport, license, debit card, and all of my American money, I couldn't find it. Suddenly, I had the flashback moment where I realized I set my purse down at the equator and never picked it back up. Knowing this was 3-4 hours ago, panic began to arise in my heart as I thought about how slim the chances would be that the purse would still be there. 

If you look in the picture above you can't see my purse, but it is literally just to the left of the concrete slab. Golden rule: "Keep those (passport and money) on you at all times" - broken. A high price to pay for a picture.

Because they are so relational, the Skinners have made friends in so many places, and we were able to contact a woman who works near the border at the restaurant we had earlier stopped and ate chappatis. She went out searching for my lost bag. There hadn't been enough time for real hopelessness about the situation to set in, but the circumstances weren't promising. As we prayed about it, I felt at peace with whatever would come, but even though no one said it, finding everything seemed so unlikely. 

There wasn't anything I could do at this point in time so I went to Mbarara University to see the girls I'd been longing to see. Together we laughed, hugged, and then prayed as we discussed the sarcastic pros and realistic cons of losing my passport. While I was there, our friend at the equator called back to let us know that the police officer, who Joel and Dade had greeted earlier, found the purse. She said the police officer claimed everything was there, and I would have to be the one to come back and get the bag. At hearing this, I was encouraged. We devised a plan to have Dennis drive me and a couple of girl friends to the equator again the next day to retrieve the purse. 

The drive back to the equator was full of deep conversation and catching up, a great gift in the midst of a stressful situation. When we arrived at the equator, our friend met us and introduced us to the policeman who had my purse. He led us to a locked quarters, where he proceeded to ask me what my name was and what was in the bag before turning it over. When he gave it to me, I opened it to check my belongings. I first noticed my passport and breathed a sigh of relief; however, when I opened my wallet the chunk of dollars was not there. Reading the disappointment on my face, the officer asked if I was missing something. I told him that I was and he asked how much. When I answered correctly, he handed me the cash, had me sign a statement recording everything I had reclaimed, and had my friends sign as witnesses of the transaction.

I cannot explain the level of how impressed I was at the thoroughness of it all. To come across people with such a high level of integrity, character and honesty filled my heart. Full of pride in Uganda and with our belief in the goodness of people restored, we went to take another picture at the equator - this time with my purse in hand.

Later that evening, I checked my email and found an email that the officer had earlier sent letting me know he had my belongings. Apparently, he found my business cards in my wallet and used it as a way to contact me. Once again, I was blown away at the way this man did his job with such integrity and thoroughness.

Lessons from the experience:
1. Live by the golden rules of traveling.
2. Peace from God is a reality as a child of His, even in the craziest of scenarios.
3. Not everything in this world is under the influence of corruption.
4. God is so good. His grace is sufficient. He's got me covered especially when I'm in the wrong.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

There's a hole in the bucket... dear Liza, dear Liza.

A few days ago, I overslept and got out of bed feeling irritated. Typically, if I get out of bed feeling agitated or stressed about my day, I'll quickly climb back into bed, spend a few sweet moments in prayer, reset my thoughts, and then get out of bed and try again. In high school, I used to be a little OCD about habits and routines, like unfolding my socks a certain way, getting dressed in a certain order, etc., but since those days I like to think I've loosened up a bit. Therefore, when I find myself doing things "just because my controlling nature says I should" I purposefully try to not do it. And, on this particular day I didn't climb back into bed.

But I think I should've. 

Running late, I quick brewed myself some coffee, knowing that the lack of a stimulant to jump start my brain would not help matters. As the coffee brewed, I finished getting ready. I went to pour myself coffee to go, but discovered all my travel mugs were at work. So I grabbed the tallest mug I could find. As I bustled out the door, I noticed a slight drip of hot coffee. I thought for sure it had to be because I was carrying it without a lid, with my hands full of other things, and at a pace slightly faster than a walk. However as the cup holder in my car filled with the hot coffee, I knew my driving was not causing that much of a spill. Come to discover that my coffee cup had a crack in it. 

It couldn't hold or retain what had been put in it.
(Taking this picture, I also noticed I forgot to put earrings in. One of my top 5 self pet peeves. Only snowballing my irritation.)

Thinking of how much I thought I needed the substance dripping through the cracks, I was reminded of a passage I'd read in a book earlier that week:

     "Someone would praise me for a performance, but the leaky bucket of my heart seemed unable to  hold onto the words. It couldn't. There seemed to be holes in my soul, spilling the one substance I desperately wanted to hold on to... But no matter how much praise I received, it was never enough to fill my deficient heart..." 

It made me think of a couple of things. 1. All of the things in life I try to hold on to that aren't mine to hold and 2. All of the things I want to hold on to that slip through the cracks of my heart. The author, Chhrista Black, goes on to say:

     "I was a walking bucket made for love, but there were massive holes torn in the bucket of my heart by the punches of the past, and the substance of love seemed to slip through me like an hour glass. The one thing I wanted I couldn't seem to hold onto." 

Lately I've been praying for deeper revelation of God's love. I finished a journal last week and decided to read through some old ones to see how God had been working in my life. And, what I learned in my time of reflection is that God loves me. It's written on almost every page of every journal I have. Different ways that He's revealing His love to me. Yet, instead of letting that truth settle in my heart bucket, it often seeps through, and I look instead to counterfeit affections to take its place or keep asking God for more revelation. I don't know why this happens or what it will take to change or absorb it. But because I worship a sovereign God who "works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28) I'm trusting His process.

And if it took my entire coffee cup leaking into the cup holders of my car to prompt me to realize that my heart is acting the same way, I'm okay without my morning fix in exchange for a fix of heart.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

See my footprints? Step in them.

Last Tuesday morning I woke up at 4:15 a.m. to head to California for The Leadership Institute's Journey retreat. Without any coffee in my system, I made it to the airport, through security and on the plane. Once the plane was completely boarded and our luggage stowed away, the pilot made an announcement that due to a flat tire, our departure would be delayed. I decided to rest my eyes - something my mom taught me how to do and modeled for me occasionally, including the time she "rested" her eyes at Memorial Stadium during Nebraska's comeback win over Wisconsin last fall. (Only a mom of 8 could fall asleep in a crowd of 70,000+ at a Husker game.) After about 30 minutes, the pilot announced that there was no solution in Omaha to our flat tire, and our flight was canceled. Suddenly, all of the well-poised business people on the plane transformed into savages, and a mad dash to rebook all of our flights at the ticket counter broke out among us. During the hour I stood in line, I missed both of my connecting flights, and was completely rerouted to Los Angeles.
I had joked with friends before leaving that I felt much more confident in traveling internationally and using African public transportation than my ability to travel to a major US city. And after 10 hours of air travel, renting my first car, and 2 hours of navigating LA traffic, my belief was confirmed :) . The process was a confidence booster, though, and I made it to Saddleback Church's San Juan Capistrano campus for The Journey retreat. 

While the teaching during each of the sessions was powerful, the most significant moment of the trip came for me during one of our scheduled times to be alone with God for an extended period of time. Knowing I had a few hours, a rental car, and that I'd never seen whatever ocean is on the west coast, I decided to find my way to the beach to hang out with God. 

I found a little spot in Laguna that was quiet, unoccupied, and gorgeous. Recently, I'd been feeling slightly overwhelmed with choices in life and struggling with a strong paralysis of analysis toward my life. I'm beginning to realize how captivated by fear I am at messing up or making a "wrong" choice than living captivated by God's love and the freedom in it. As I laid out my towel, sat down and got out my journal and Bible, I felt God telling me to set it aside and BE with him. I felt a strong sense that he didn't want me to DO anything.


I laid back on the towel and listened as God showed me the warmth of the sun on my face and  the beauty of the waves crashing against the shore. I watched the birds fly carelessly over the ocean, dipping down toward the water, pulling back up, resting on rocks and sandy beaches and then going back out. I was reminded of Matthew 6:25-27:

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?"

I laughed to and at myself for how ridiculous I am for taking myself so seriously. I began to think about the practicality of what it would be like to not worry, what it would be like to TRUST the Spirit within me, and how I could begin to do that. As I pondered these things, a family appeared on the beach and I listened to the children talking. "See my footprints?" the daughter asked her little brother. "Step in them."

My heart was overwhelmed as I thought of how that's it. My little feet will easily fit within the footprint of my Father. I felt my body physically relax, and I thought of what it would feel Iike to be a child. I wouldn't worry about planning my day because I would know that Dad would get me where I needed to be. I wouldn't be self conscious because it was my Father who clothed me. I wouldn't look for counterfeit affections because I would be so submersed in my Daddy's love that I wouldn't look for anything else. I would feel free to laugh, to love, and to live. I would be protected, provided for, and loved. 

And, I thought about how all of this is mine in real life as a daughter of my God.

Thank you Lord for slowing down my life enough for sweet times of revelation and reminders and simply to spend time together.