Leyna

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 didn’t win the competition but we had fun trying…

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 camp director heard Leyna was an artist and commissioned her to paint a piece for their cafe. She did an incredible job.


Next, it was off to Australia.

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. 

At our layover in Singapore, Leyna and I tried out the fish pedicure. It was super weird, but I’m glad we did something adventurous.

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.

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/17785815″>she is beautiful.</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user4016879″>leyna white</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

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.


Leyna had her own sense of style. I was reflecting on it with my teammate, Megan, and we decided she was a hipster before we even knew what hipsters were:

She walked in so much freedom and confidence. It always inspired me to love myself more, and take bolder fashion choices. 

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.


We shared so many adventures too, like going on safari and rafting the Nile.

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.

Leyna was always ahead of her time. 
We got to go to Ireland after our 3 months in Africa. It was a dream come true for Leyna, and we tried to get out and enjoy Dublin. We even had some sunshine:


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.


Leyna also totally indulged my ugly sweater Christmas party worship night with aplomb, and we had a great celebration.

I know I said this already, but she was so good at connecting with the one:

We got to spend a month in Budapest, and had lots of adventures with local friends.

Going to the opera
Hiking in the hills
Our last stop was Ukraine

At final debrief, we performed as double Lady Gagas::


Leyna was a great dancer and loved nearly all music. We had fun choreographing the dance lip sync mashup, and buying our costumes 🙂 [I still have mine]

We got all dolled up for final debrief and had a great time celebrating an amazing, adventurous year.


After the race, Leyna moved to California. She lived with me and my parents for a summer, and it was great to spend time with her again. We kept in touch and kept on dreaming.

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.

Thank you, Leyna, for all the joy and fun and memories you shared with me. 
 Until we meet again, dear friend. 

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what if.

Why is it so hard to believe lies and not truth? Why do we accept criticism with an open heart and open hands but compliments with clenched fists and a grimace? Why do we let the negative thoughts play on like an incessant Disney theme but drown out the positive ones with the noise of the world? Why do we feel we must give before we can receive? To love before we can be loved?

What if…

we loved out of a greater love? we gave before we knew how to receive? we belonged before we believed? 

What if grace ushered in a whole new reality of changing the narrative? 

What if the click track in our brain kept time to Holy Spirit and his dancing instead of the world and its heaving.

We are, all of us, a beautiful, broken mess, living on this beautiful, broken planet. What if we let ourselves believe we are loved? That we are seen. That the positive outweighs the negative. That the light is NOT overcome by the darkness.

What if we dwelt in the possibility more than in the hardness? What if we let the narrative be whole: the good, the bad, and the ugly, and trust God is writing in His redemption song one ugly cry at a time.

What if we’re not meant to do any of it alone? That if we let ourselves be chosen, He will show He chooses us, again and again and again, so that we can choose each other.

What if it does boil down to choice? To hope? To truth & love?

What if it’s not about finding the answers but asking the questions?

What if it is about the journey and not the destination? That bringing heaven to earth is maybe better than getting to heaven?

What if what we believe is impossible but choose to pursue it anyway?

what if….

providence.

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High Tea in Hong Kong, 2 Months Pre-Diagnosis

A year ago today, I was having surgery on my face to remove a Stage I malignant melanoma. I was anxious and depressed. I was worried about having a huge scar right under my eye. I was lost in my own little world of what if’s and should have’s.

Basically, I was in the spin cycle that comes when I step away from God and try to do it all out of my own strength. I was angry that I even had this spot on my face—in my mind, a direct consequence of stepping out and serving, living in developing countries on the equator, not using sunscreen because it would just melt off anyway. It felt like a confusing punishment, an unrighteous consequence of a youth well spent. (Please note, this was all through the lens of a fairly severe depressive state).

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Post-Biopsy

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Mid-Surgery, January 14, 2014

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Post-Surgery Selfie

In those moments, I did not really see his providence: one of the best dermatologists in the country accepting my wonky travel insurance so 80% of the care costs were covered. This same dermatologist being a leading expert in his field and deciding MOHS surgery would be just fine in treating me (rather than the standard procedure, which would have involved cutting up half my face, and skin transplants, and all sorts of other messy things). His assistant being one of the best plastic surgeon-esque P.A.s, leaving me with (in the words of multiple dermatologists) “a beautiful scar.”

2015/01/img_2749-0.jpg(Stitches. Yay)  2015/01/img_2761-0.jpg (My beautiful scar)

2015/01/img_4172-0.jpgA year later, though, I can see His hand in everything. I can see how he gave my best friend in Hong Kong the boldness to question this icky spot on my face (you gotta love those friends who know all the nooks and crannies). I can see how my intense homesickness got me on the plane to California so I could be diagnosed and treated while it was still a stage 1 spot. I can see how doctors and insurance lined up for the best possible care. I can see how He gave me friends I didn’t even know I needed, who loved me through the fear, anxiety and depression, who met me where I was and wandered through the wilderness with me.

I can rejoice at being cancer-free. I can rejoice in health and wholeness, physically, emotionally and spiritually. I can rejoice in this season I find myself in, of entering into the promised land, of breakthroughs and hard work, of the provision in the wilderness and the partnership in the promise.

I am really, truly grateful. For all the things. The hard things and the wonderful things. A friend of mine told me last year right after the surgery that the scar that was left was a tangible reminder of a life laid down, and a testimony to Jesus and who I am in Him-an overcomer, a fighter, someone who lives in victory and surrender. I cried a bit and didn’t really believe it, and now my scar is barely noticeable, but I still think it’s true. He was with me in the stillness and with me in the storm, in the wilderness and in the promise. I was never alone. I am never alone. And I am grateful for this journey, this process, these difficulties that led to deeper trust and a willing spirit to say, “Yes. What’s next, Papa?”

timing.

I have been thinking a lot about timing the past few days (months, really). We always say “All in God’s timing” and “God’s timing is perfect” but I feel like we use the platitudes to placate doubt and not because we always believe them.

I was reading the story of Hannah a few weeks ago. For years, she prayed for a son. Her husband, Elkanah, had another wife who had kids, and Hannah always felt like not enough. Elkanah loved her so much, he would give her extra portions, and tried to take care of her. But Hannah really, really desired a son. Finally one year while they were worshipping at Shiloh, Hannah was in the sanctuary, weeping and praying. She vowed to God that if he gave her a son, she would set him apart for God’s service. Somehow this was the year that Eli, the priest, heard her crying and praying, and though he initially accused her of being drunk, once he heard her story, he told her to go in peace and asked that God would give her what she asked of him.

Hannah got pregnant and had Samuel, and when the time came, she committed him to the Lord.

You’ve probably heard that story before. I certainly had. What I never quite pieced together was the timing of it all. Hannah wanted a baby for years and years. And God knew it. He was well aware of her desires and he was not ignoring her. But God knew who He wanted Samuel to be. He knew the role He was preparing for Samuel, and He knew Samuel’s life had to overlap Eli’s, and Eli’s sons, and Saul’s, and David’s. If Samuel had been born earlier, he would not have been born at the time God needed him to do all the things he would do, like becoming a true prophet of the Lord, hearing his voice and speaking out what God was saying, first to Eli, then to the people of Israel about cleaning house and restoring what God had given them, then anointing Saul as Israel’s first king. Samuel eventually anointed David as the next king of Israel, as was the Word of the Lord.

Samuel’s life had to overlap in such a way that he was there to do all the things God asked him to do. To be the last judge of Israel and to anoint the first and second kings.

And then I think about what God promised David, about the house and the kingdom and the throne. About Jesus foreshadowed way back then, and the timing through which God made that true. About Tamar and Rahab and Ruth and Bathsheba. How each life had to overlap just so, connect just so, to bring forth the promises of God, in his timing.

He knows what He’s doing, and He’s been reminding me of all the ways His timing is at work in my life too.

mijas.

Today I kind of want to run home to Spain. I still have friends there and their beautiful, sunny, warm Instagrams of dear Mijas make me miss it and want to be there with them.

148974_10101286066938375_1951501205_nI want the clarity that comes from gazing out over the Med from the look-out and feeling the whispering wind reassuring me of this brutiful life and its choices and struggles and highlights.

I want the confidence that comes from being surrounded by people who believe in me so strongly, who hear God so clearly and profess His heart so boldly.

I want the alertness that comes from the expectation that God is speaking and has something to say TODAY. The quickening of my spirit hearing His spirit and knowing deep in my knower the truth of love and relationship.

I want the passion of a stirred up soul on fire for His Kingdom.Spain2014-33

I want to wander the cobblestone streets and stare at the whitewashed walls until my eyes see twinkles and stars.

I want to sit at the edge of the Mediterranean and ponder the mysteries of life. To plumb the depths of soul and spirit and remember again and again that it is okay to be a piece of sea glass, slowly shaped by the ebb and flow of the waves, by the turning over and over on the rough sand and refining pebbles. To be okay with this process and embrace this journey. To enjoy the moments and not always be thinking of the next thing.

But I won’t. At least not today. I won’t run away from Memphis & from what God is doing here. I won’t pretend I’m not struggling with the funemployment and the lack of vocational clarity, but I also refuse to deny all the great things that are happening here.

memphis-7Maybe I’ll go stare out over the Mississippi to ponder the connectedness of rivers and streams and oceans.

Maybe the clarity will come from conversations from dear friends here.

Maybe the presence so clearly felt in Mijas can, in fact, transcend the Atlantic ocean and international borders and settle right here, at the dining room table.

Maybe that’s why I’m here, why we’re here… to steward all the wondrous things about Mijas and find them in Memphis (or wherever you find yourself today).

Maybe it’s not about a place but about a Person… and finding that Person in today, just today.

Just maybe.

emmanuel.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Emmanuel. This concept of God With Us. Of love come down. Of no longer reaching up and trying to get to God, but of him coming down to get to us.

What a novel concept. What a beautiful truth. We don’t have to struggle to find God—he has found us. He has loved us first so that we might love.

I used to really not like the song O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. I think it was mostly an instinctive distaste for all things in minor keys. (I also don’t care for Carol of the Bells or God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen…probably for this reason). But last year, probably for the first time in my life, I was in a place where Advent made more sense than Christmas. The waiting, the longing, the fighting for hope in a world that made no sense. The anticipation of the coming of Christmas mirrored by the anticipation of going home for the holidays.

Two Sundays ago in church, we talked about the wait for hope. The premise was that the Christmas season isn’t always hope-filled or joy-filled for those around us. That sometimes it is full of an aching, unmet desire.

This made so much sense to me. In the past year, I’ve been through a lot. A lot of things tried to steal my hope, my joy, my peace. And more often than not, they succeeded. Seasons of disappointment, of crushing anxiety, of heavy depression.

Last year at Advent, I was a hot mess. I felt so far from God, and all I saw were walls. All I could see were the ways he didn’t show up and didn’t provide. I was mad and disappointed, and even though I knew he had come and was coming, I could not see. But somehow light got through the cracks. It always does.

Sometime during the madness that was 2014, light crept in and fire was kindled. My verse for this year was from John 1:5: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The darkness has not overcome. Light has never been swallowed by darkness.

Right now, I’m sitting in my living room in Memphis. I’m bundled up in snuggly Christmas pajamas and drinking hot tea. The Christmas tree is glowing and the candles are flickering. I’m listening to Baby Son by John Mark McMillan. I’m sitting here with Jesus, celebrating in his Emmanuel-ness. He is here. He is love. He is faithful.

Seasons of silence are never without promise and are never without hope. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. We are not overcome. We live in light. We live in hope. We live in Christ and He in us, the hope of glory.

Emmanuel: God with us.

amen. keep coming.

Yesterday marked the 4th anniversary of finishing the World Race. This kind of blows my mind. Some parts still feel really fresh, most seems like it was a dream in someone else’s mind. I spent the bulk of today re-reading ALL my blogs from the World Race (yes, ALL 100-something)… This week has been a bit of a struggle bus and it seemed to me to be lots of issues that I thought I had dealt with, and yet they keep popping up.

I think I know there is purpose in this. The hardest won victories are the ones we give away best. If we have not struggled in something, if success has always come easily, it can be hard to empathize with those still in it. The battles that required struggle and sacrifice, that we have to choose victory in again and again, are the ones we own the best. Where we meet God the most in those struggles equips us to lead others into their own victories in a way that honors their story and the person God is shaping them to be—the person God already sees in them and that we get to walk alongside of and call it out of them.

For me, these things I carry best and give away are also the ones hat I sometimes struggle with. This week, it’s been a lot of worthiness issues. Feeling like a burden, not feeling like enough. Feeling like I am too much for God to handle, and definitely way too much for my friends or family.

But I KNOW that isn’t true. I know who I am. I KNOW I am precious and bought at a great price. I know it is always about relationship and that God wants to draw close—it is me who tries to stay away.

Re-reading all these blogs, where I constantly had to choose my identity and my freedom, where God kept showing up and speaking and asking me to trust. To come close and not be scared. To delight in the intimacy instead of run from it. It’s this mountain I keep trying to climb when He would rather I just take the chairlift to His throne room. He keeps telling me, ‘Come on up. This is Mount Zion, not Mount Sinai. “It is the city where God is Judge, with judgments that make us just. You’ve come to Jesus, who presents us with a new covenant, a fresh charter from God. He is the Mediator of this covenant.” (Hebrews 12:23 in the Message).’

Even in re-reading these blogs, I found that a lot of the truth was still tinged by a needing to earn it, by a needing to protect God from myself, a needing to prove myself worthy of love. And he just keeps saying, “Receive it, beloved. Receive. I already see you. I’ve seen you and I see you. You don’t have to hide from me. Come to me. Let yourself be loved.”

This is so radically different from the God I thought I knew 5 years ago before setting out on the Race. He’s so much better than I thought I knew coming home four years ago. He’s so much more patient than I thought I knew 3 years ago in Guatemala. He’s so much more generous than I thought I knew 2 years ago. He’s so much more present than I thought I knew last year in the Philippines. Yesterday, I realized that in this last year of living as basically a Christian atheist (believing God was out there somewhere, but not letting Him in and not letting myself believe He was good), God missed me. He wanted to spend time with me. He never left the table but I kept my head down and my eyes down on the ground, and all He wanted was for me to lift up my eyes and see Him there with all His love and joy and presence.

I desire intimacy. I desire wholeness. And he just keeps saying, Yes. Amen. Keep coming, baby girl. Keep on coming. It’s a process. And it is good. And it is worth celebrating. So that is what I am doing today. I am celebrating how far I have come and thanking God He is not done yet.

Amen.