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.