My bestie from the World Race went to Jesus on Friday night. Her name was Leyna Kathleen White. She was 30 years old.
I first met Leyna at World Race training camp. She was edgy and funny, and I thought way too cool to ever want to be my friend. But then we ended up in a lot of the same “test teams” and eventually the same actual team.
I wasn’t quite sure how Leyna felt about me, because she and another teammate tried to get our team changed within the first 24 hours. They didn’t succeed… But Leyna told me she was very glad I was on her team. I knew then that I’d found a good friend, at least for the following year.
We met in LA the night before Launch, and then flew to New Zealand. One of our first team exercises was to create a video for our team with the theme “The Kingdom of Heaven.” Leyna created this beautiful title image for us:
We ended up at a camp on the southern tip of the northern island, a 15 minute walk from the beach. It was stunning.
The night before we left New Zealand, we stayed up into the wee hours, talking about boys and husbands and dreams. Leyna was hoping to meet an Aussie; I just wanted someone to love me. 😉
Leyna had always dreamed of going to Australia, and I think that was the main reason she chose this route. (I, on the other hand, picked it because I am a huge LOTR nerd and dreamed of New Zealand!)
Here we are at Surfer’s Paradise, Queensland, Australia.
We ended up spending the month in the Northern Territory, outside of Darwin. We volunteered at aboriginal schools, and Leyna even held a snake!
It certainly wasn’t the Australia we had pictured (white, sandy beaches, snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef [we couldn’t even go in the ocean near Darwin for fear of crocodiles]), but we did get to take a tiny plane out to a remote settlement, so that was pretty cool. We saw a part of Australia most people never see, and we even got to try barracuda and kangaroo burgers.
I was struck at how Leyna could connect with kids of any background, and have fun with them. She was a very free spirit, and loved to meet people right where they were at.
Next we had a long travel day to the Philippines.
Leyna loved photography and sharing pictures with kids. She had an amazing photo project at the end of the year with portraits of women and girls from around the world, showcasing the diverse beauty to be found.
Leyna was always down for an adventure. We loved exploring Manila, going to the different malls and markets, and trying some new food. We also went to Starbucks, a lot.That month, we worked in a children’s home, and Leyna and I both worked in the nursery with the most adorable kids. Leyna loved them so well, and could always make them laugh.
Too soon, it was time to move on to Cambodia. I remembered when I saw this picture, how Leyna was able to make friends with any child. These precious ones didn’t speak any English, but they did know a lot of pop songs. I remember Leyna singing with them. I believe their favorite song was Shorty Get Low (it was 2010, after all…).
We moved onto Thailand, where we lived in a little city a few hours away from Bangkok. It was time for their annual world durian festival. It was a bit stinky. While there, my team threw me a surprise graduation, and Leyna made my diploma.
When we got to Nairobi, Kenya, Leyna got this tattoo-it says Beautiful Surrender. I think that is how she lived her life, even when it was really hard. She listened closely to the Lord and followed his heart. I think it’s why she met people where they were at, and loved them right in their space.
Leyna dreamed of being an art therapist, and I know she would’ve been amazing at it. She had a tremendous passion for creativity and for kids, for seeing people discover more of themselves and for reflecting the beauty she saw in them and in the world. She loved broken people really well, and I think could see them as far more whole than they could see themselves.
Leyna was always creative, and taught me how to do a lot with very little. For example, one of our friends had a rappers & rockstars birthday party in Tanzania. Leyna made a grill and used what she had to make a hilarious costume. She always committed to the character as well.
Tanzania was a hard month for Leyna. Her grandpa passed away, but she decided to stay and finish the race anyway. She was always determined to complete it and to pack in as much life and adventure as she could.
Leyna taught me about selfies before selfies were actually a thing. She also taught me all the abbrievs, and we used them to drive our team leader and dear friend, Megan, crazy.
After Dublin, we went to Eastern Europe: Romania, Hungary and Ukraine. I continued to be amazed how Leyna could use a camera to break down cultural and language barriers, and could make friends with all the kids.
We had access to a thrift store in Romania, and played dress up a lot.
I know I said this already, but she was so good at connecting with the one:
We got all dolled up for final debrief and had a great time celebrating an amazing, adventurous year.
The last time I saw Leyna, we were at the Storyline Conference in San Diego. It was all about living a good story. And I wanted to write this blog just to share that she did live a good story. Leyna was friends with basically everyone on our World Race squad. They all love her and miss her. She impacted thousands of lives through the World Race, through her time working at various organizations like the LA Dream Center, through her working in the day camps on cruise ships. She lived her life fully and saw so much of the world in her life.
I am so grateful for her friendship. I am so sad she won’t be a bridesmaid in my wedding–something we dreamt about a lot on the Race–and I will miss her words of wisdom, her joy and ability to turn any situation into something fun(ny). Leyna was an otter on that one personality test, which was a good complement to my golden retriever. She liked to have fun and to celebrate, she loved people well and she loved the Lord so much. I know she is chilling with Jesus now and I am happy she is no longer in pain and is in heaven, but I will miss her until I see her again.