Wednesday, December 24, 2014

{ a colorado christmas card }

It's Christmas Eve - the presents are wrapped, the tree is trimmed and glowing with lights, stockings are stuffed, things are quiet after a week's worth of parties. We're ready for Christmas!

The funny thing about all this, is that I'm not with my family. I'm spending Christmas out here in Colorado with the children. It's a small little family right now - since several of the staff aren't here - and that feels a little funny too, but this truly is such a precious time.

To be honest, I'm missing my family - the realization that I'm not going to be with my extended family tomorrow at my Grandma's house, with all my cousins and aunts and uncles just hit me yesterday when I opened a package from Grandma full of all the yummy treats she makes every year for Christmas. And Maddie was here this past week for a few days to visit, bringing a little bit of home with her. I'm not going to see Mark, who I haven't seen in two years, or Jessica and her little ones - one of whom I've never met. We have so many traditions, so many of my favorite and sweetest memories have been Christmas afternoon at Grandma and Grandpa's...I get a little teary thinking about it.

that year Mark missed Christmas 'cause he was at boot camp.

But there's also grace to be out here. Jesus's birth can celebrate anywhere and everywhere, and hearing the stories, singing the songs, and seeing Christmas through the eyes of the children is precious. I'm making new memories - treasuring this short season of life that Jesus has me in.

And boy, what memories these are! Christmas parties galore, Secret Santa, Christmas concerts, carriage rides, Christmas lights, more cookies than we could ever eat, making gingerbread and graham cracker houses, painting Christmas ornaments, decorating the uncles as Christmas trees, a Christmas pageant at Pastor Eric's house, singing Christmas songs in English, Mizo and Amharic, cozy nights at home, and so much laughter.

Tonight the children are going to sing at Ellerslie's Christmas Eve service - and then we'll all be over at Mike and Christa's. Tomorrow will be such a sweet family day...pajama snuggles, presents to exchange, yummy food to eat, praises to sing.

I was thinking back this morning to last Christmas. One year ago, I was not the happiest camper....really struggling to fully enjoy everything when I was just days away from saying goodbye to our farm for good. Our house was in boxes, I didn't want to move, I didn't want to live in the new house, but most of all I didn't want to leave the farm. 

One year later, I'm sitting on a couch in my living room in Colorado, listening to a few pattering feet upstairs as the girls are waking up and getting ready for the day. It's pretty cozy down here, the tree is glowing and the lights in the room are still off. Katie's here for the day, Josh just came in and said good morning and dashed upstairs to wake up the boys, and I'm minutes away from preparing breakfast. It's a new life, a different life, than it was last year...I never dreamed this is what I'd be doing this Christmas...but there is such peace and joy in knowing I'm where I'm supposed to be.

Christmas is usually such a sweet, peaceful season for me...but even more so this year, because the tender love of Jesus is so tangible. I'm away from everything I know, but yet I'm at home because I'm with Him. There's true peace - true joy - true light.

Christmas is about worship. It's about seeing the sacrifice, and rejoicing in love. It's about giving up everything to follow the Son - looking past the holiday and seeing His grace. Recently, a few of us staff have been talking about the wiremen, and their story. How they traveled thousands of miles, and all it says they did was bow down and worship Jesus and give Him gifts. They didn't accomplish anything - didn't gain anything - didn't do anything. In fact, they probably *lost* a lot...time, resources, possibly even their health, or the lives of their servants and animals. But they gave it all....just to worship

This Christmas, even though I'm far from home, even though I'm surrounded by children and grown ups who I love so dearly, even though I'm smiling and happy and loving every moment of this sweet season, I want to truly worship this Christmas. To truly SEE my Jesus and His beautiful never-failing deeper-than-an-ocean love for me, and to worship Him.

So, sweet friends and family, my dear readers...Merry Christmas, from my family to yours.

Joy to the World!

Monday, December 15, 2014

{ i am free }

Here at Your feet, I lay my past down
My wanderings, all my mistakes down
And I am free

Here at Your feet, I lay this day down
Not in my strength, but in Yours I've found
All I need, You're all I need

Jesus, Jesus at Your feet
Oh, to dwell and never leave
Jesus, Jesus, at Your feet
There is nowhere else for me
There is nowhere else for me

Here at Your feet, I lay my future down
All of my dreams, I give to You now
And I find peace, I find peace

Jesus, Jesus at Your feet
Oh, to dwell and never leave
Jesus, Jesus, at Your feet
There is nowhere else for me
There is nowhere else for me

Here at Your feet, I lay my life down
For You my King, You're all I want now
And my soul sings...

Jesus, Jesus at Your feet
Oh, to dwell and never leave
Jesus, Jesus, at Your feet
There is nowhere else for me
There is nowhere else for me

'Cause I am free (here at Your feet)
All I need (is at Your feet)
And I find peace
We're at Your feet
We're at Your feet

And I am free (here at Your feet)
All I need (is at Your feet)
I find peace
We're at Your feet
We're at Your feet
We're at Your feet
We're at Your feet

Here at Your feet...I lay my life down.
"at your feet" by casting crowns

It's kinda beautiful, when Jesus shows you Himself in deeper ways. When He shows you that there's no "this is as good as it's gonna get" with the Spirit of God. He continues to heal, restore, and work mighty things, even when I can't see it, and then He shows me what He's done...and I'm in awe. It's beautiful, and it's freedom and it's the way He works. I love that. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

living spent.

You know, we only get one life. And we don't even know how long it is.

That thought in itself doesn't scare me. How ever long Jesus wants me on this earth really isn't any of my business, and I don't need to know. I have one life, and that's all I need.

But yet, there's a responsibility.

How am I using it?

That's a little intimidating to think about.

That IS my business.

And my only business should be the business of the Kingdom.

I've been thinking about this for the past week or so, as we've been on tour. Each night, when I tuck in the girls, I think to myself, "Did I give them all I had today? Did I spend myself in love, in prayer, in energy, in strength for them? When I say, 'I love you', did I show them that with my actions, or is it just words I say because I always do? Does my heart ache because I loved them so much I'm sore?"

Each day, I get twenty-hours to honor Jesus. (because yes, you can honor Him in your sleep.) I've been entrusted with twenty-four hours to shine His light on this earth.

He's given them to me to use them for His kingdom...the responsibility is mine.

Thankfully, He hasn't left me to do it alone. The Spirit living inside me is guiding me and leading me as I go...provided I'm not quenching Him. When I go to bed at night, did I give everything I had for Jesus? Did I commit myself to Him in such a way that He affected everything I did? Did I waste my time on myself, or did I take every minute captive and set my heart on the things of the kingdom?

How am I spending my days? Am I joyfully exhausted at the end of each day? Am I fully given to His cause in everything? Am I loving the people He's given me to love with all that I am - holding nothing back because I'm afraid of getting hurt, or losing them, or making myself vulnerable? Do my girls see me in prayer? Are my priorities clear to them - putting Jesus and them first, instead of myself?

Jesus gave everything for me. He lived spent. Heck, He actually physically gave up His life so I could live. I love the line of "He Made A Way in A Manger", a song the children are singing in concert this season, that says, "He is the life that died our death"....He lived to die. Am I dying daily so others might live?

I want the testimony of my life to be that I lived spent. That I gave everything, everyday, holding nothing back.

I don't want ever to be too tired, or too selfish, to give. I want to enjoy every little moment - from snuggling during movie night, to laughing playing dress up, to goodnight hugs and kisses; treasure every memory - from funny days on the road, to Thanksgiving dinner, to teaching everyone to ice skate; rest well when I sleep - even if it's just a few hours 'cause I'm awake comforting a sick little one, or packing and preparing to leave for tour; and spend my energy and strength when I'm awake to further the kingdom in every single task - big or small - laid before me, and every adventure Jesus brings.

When I ask these questions of myself, it's not to condemn or even really to convict...more to inspire me to keep my two little brown eyes focused upward, and to glory in the freedom and power He brings to my life to enable to live it fully.

“I seek not a long life, but a full one, like you Lord Jesus.” 
- Jim Elliot

Monday, November 3, 2014

six going on sixteen.

This post was written on Saturday afternoon - only just getting around to posting it.

Hi, my name is Liza.

I'm twenty years old.

I was born and raised in Virginia, with a mama from South Carolina and a daddy who was raised a navy brat. So mostly Southern, and all-American.

When I was thirteen, I wanted be married before I was twenty (didn't matter how old, just still a teenager), and have a child a year till I was like forty. I've always wanted twenty kids...always. So, in a way, my life looks *nothing* like I sort of dreamed it would.

And a funny way, it's above and beyond anything I really dreamed about as a naive, visionary thirteen year old.

Right now, I live in Colorado.

I have six children, with ten on the way.

I'm parenting these kids with five other incredible people. None of us are married (to each other or otherwise), yet we function as a family unit. And we only have our children for ten months. Because the truth is, they aren't our children, and never have been, and never will be. They belong to Jesus, and this is just our precious season of getting to care for and serve them.

The amount of responsibility I have is beyond anything I've experienced before as an older sister, swim coach, teacher or stage manager. My life is that of a mama, basically on duty 24/7, from children up till children down (and in-between!), with all the joys and struggles that come with having children from difficult backgrounds learning to grow and trust and love you. Waking up every morning with a clean slate, fresh attitude, renewed heart.

I'm learning to see the big picture. Little victories - a smile, a hug, a laugh, a tear, a "Thank You", mean so much - way more than I ever realized. I'm learning to see beyond behavior and see heart. Look beyond attitude and see soul. Look beyond a past and see a child. A life. A princess. A prince. A soul that Jesus is jealous for. The potential for world-shattering faith and confidence in each of their faces - and a burning desire to see those eyes on fire for their King.

Every day, it's a fresh chance to be Jesus to these kids - to let the Spirit flow through me and reveal Truth to them...the only Truth that can set them free.

I love watching them experience firsts - going down a water slide, floating with a pool noodle, learning to ride bikes, loosing teeth, growing up in so many ways physically and emotionally, and gaining confidence.

I'm Liza. I'm twenty years old.

My life looks nothing like I thought it would, and yet it's beyond anything I ever could've dreamed.

Nothing is impossible with God.

Monday, October 27, 2014

turning twenty...away from home

I've been trying to think of ways to describe my birthday. Usually it's clique things like, "amazing" or "incredible" or "awesome" or "fantastic"....but this year's birthday wasn't that. It was something more. I've been trying to think of what was different about it, since I usually am surrounded by people who love me and celebrate me, so it's not like that was anything new.

But this *was* my first birthday away from home. I was separated from everything that's defined my life up till this point, away from people who I treasure, and even in the week leading up to my birthday, had a pretty major tie to my hometown severed abruptly (a.k.a. my church).

As I said, I've been thinking about it. And here's the phrase I came up with to try and annunciate the beauty of this weekend.

my birthday was washed in love.

Not that it hasn't been before, but being 1,640 miles from home, I was acutely aware of what I had left behind, and beautifully conscious of what I *do* have. What could've been a hard or bittersweet day was so full of joy and blessing that I didn't know what to do with myself.

So, without further ado, here's my weekend in so many pictures and stories. I'm thrilled to share it, since it's going down in the books as some of the best three days of my life.

My birthday really started on Friday somehow, and extended into Sunday, simply because my "family" out here is cool like that and pretty much celebrated me all weekend.

Friday was technically my day off. Because of an event at Ellerslie, the children went to stay off campus with Katie's family for the weekend, so they left around 8am. I spent some time on the phone with my family, then helped Joshua and Courtney finish up cleaning and preparing the dorm for the conference. I made a fort with the curtains, because it was begging to be done.

Then Josh, Court and I went to lunch at Chick-fil-A.

Fact #1: growing up, we didn't eat out. With eight children, that's understandable. I've never ever been a fan of fast food, probably because I'm a homeschooler and all homeschoolers know that all fast-food except Chick-fil-A gives you cancer, and eating out at a real-life restaurant was only for half-birthdays and special occasions.

Fact #2: I love going to get fast food with my team. I feel like it's an adventure every time, and we always end up laughing. hard. Totally redeems the fact that it's not really healthy for us. But, as we constantly remind each other, "...if [we] drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt [us]..." {mark 16:18} and that probably extends to food too...right?

Anyway, so we went to Chick-fil-A. And instead of swapping my drink out of my meal for a vanilla milkshake (like usual) I got a lemonade, then ordered a *strawberry* shake for dessert. What can I say? I felt radical. *wink*

We got home, Courtney and I and Katie went on a rather hectic and not-incredibly-productive-but-very-eye-opening-and-mom-like shopping trip with Millie to get stuff to decorate our room with. We got back, dropped Katie and Millie off, and then Courtney, Josh and I went out to supper.

This time, we went to Brick Oven - best pizza in Windsor by a long shot. Once again, hilarious fun, as the manager is a bit of a ham and was pulling ones on us and cracking jokes all evening. And Josh and I ordered a large pizza with half white and half red/barbecue sauce, so they loved us. *snort* And Courtney got an incredible calzone. And she and the manager hit it off because she used to work at a pizza place and knows basically everything so that was funny too. And there was boxing playing on the TVs....which was less funny. Ah, well. Can't have everything. *grin*

Back on campus, Courtney and I stayed up till midnight (sort of unintentionally) just hanging out, working on our computers and being girls. I was playing through the music on my computer for several hours, enjoying the sounds of home, and ended listening to Taylor Swift for a rather long shame, folks. *chuckle* Then, at midnight, since it *was* my birthday technically at that point, I opened my box from home, and my sweet notes from friends.


Then we went to bed. Around 12:45. Which is technically Saturday. Which is why I put it under this header.

Since it was Saturday, we slept in. And then, as we were waking up, David texted Courtney and I and asked if we wanted to go out to coffee in Johnstown. Which we did. Of course. So after we awwwed over how sweet David is and how fun it was going to be to go out to the "New Alba's", we got ready headed out. B's is honestly an adorable coffee shop, and Johnstown is so cute and fun and reminds me of lots of wins there.

THEN. On the board, I saw a poster for Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. So I took a picture and texted it to one of our group texts - Josh, Court, Katie, David, Rachel, Jake and I. And somehow *cough* that launched into a Seven Brides quote-off between me, David and Jake...which may or may not have been one of the funniest things that's happened to me via text. *wink* It's the little things folks, that make a home-away-from-home actually HOME.

It was such a sweet morning with David and Courtney, talking about living life well, and spending ourselves for the kingdom wherever we are. Deep, yet light, encouraging and refreshing.

Towards the end of our visit to B's, my family called and sang to me in Romanian. PERFECT. And then David gave his full Alba's punch card so I could have a free (second) coffee. Because he's awesome like that.

Speaking of awesome....

....Josh was on a mission to Denver with Belay. On Friday night, when we were talking about cake, I mentioned doughnuts, and he offered to get some. I thought he was just saying that...but at this point, I should know better. If Josh says he's going to do something...he does it. So after he dropped off Belay, he seriously went to Krispy Kreme. And called us to take our orders.

So I had a chocolate glazed doughnut with sprinkles for my birthday breakfast. Because Josh is awesome like that.

Speaking of awesome....

While we were just hanging out in the common area waiting for Josh to get there with the doughnuts, I heard the hall door open. I thought it was Aubrey or Brie or someone, but they kept walking and then came into the common. And it was....
(pardon my face - I WAS really excited but don't look it in the picture for some reason :P)

MORGAN. My Morgan. She had coordinated with Christa, Jeff and my team to surprise me. WOW. I've never been surprised like that in my life! CRAZY!!! Needless to say, my team was quite proud of themselves for keeping the secret, and Morgan was happy to have legitimately surprised me. *grin*

Shortly afterwards, Josh arrived. Then we dragged one of our couches into the dining room so we could all sit together (at that point, the common area was technically temporarily girls-only zone because of the conference) and we had doughnuts. And then Jake came. And by then, it was quarter till noon.

Around 12:30 or so, we headed to Subway for a quick lunch, and then it was off to Estes Park for the rest of the day!

We decided to go into Rocky Mountain National Park...since it was worth the money for the incredible views and beauty of it all, and because we wanted to hike to Dream Lake. We hadn't been in the Park for more than two minutes before a golden field was spotted, and lo, and behold, there was a parking lot, and in two seconds flat, Jake had parked and he and Courtney and Morgan and David were running to who knows where. *chuckle* It really was perfect, though. We wandered around, sat down in the long grass and took a lot of pictures. 

note: from this point on, 99% of all the pictures are taken by the incredibly talented Morgan Mace, and from Courtney's phone. My battery was almost dead before we even got to the I was a little helpless. Thankful they documented the day, though!

one of my favorite pictures of these three awesome guys. they don't like it as much as I do, but whatever.

We continued driving another half hour or so, till we reached the Bear Lake trailhead and started on our way up to the Dream Lake spur. So many beautiful spots along the way to photograph or just sit and enjoy....the Rocky Mountains are truly spectacular. There's nothing like it.

Morgan saw a heart, I saw South Carolina. *grin* Go figure.

We spent a quiet twenty minutes at the lake - each of us off on our own, just taking it all in. 

the above two photos courtesy of Jake Priest

The walk down was just as lovely as the trek up. Honestly, some of my favorite things about going up to the mountains with people like these folks is the conversations - in the car, hiking up, at the top, hiking down. I love getting to know their hearts, learning who they are, and hearing what the Lord is revealing to them. It never gets old, and it truly makes everything we do fun and worth it. We could be just walking along some boring, run-of-the-mill wood path and have just as wonderful a time as hiking to the peak of a mountain. Jesus makes everything beautiful.

We took some group pictures in the parking lot before we left. And these may just be some of my favorite group pictures I've ever participated in. You'll see why.

#1: The Pre-Picture Picture. Morgan setting her camera and testing spacing and lighting. Prime candid shot :P

#2: The Nice One. It's actually a really awesome photo, documenting these wonderful folks wonderfully.

#3: The Messed Up Crazy Shot. Because Courtney was making a face at Josh, and he looked at her, and then they lost it, and then the picture took. Oops. Trying again....

#4: the Crazy Shot. It's pretty epic.

Next stop was the candy shop in Estes Park that Josh, Court and I discovered a few weeks ago when we were up there with Peter and Susannah. It was just as incredible the second time. And now it's a new tradition. Josh and I got more chocolate...but a whole pound this time, because Jake pitched in. And helped us eat it.

another favorite photo to add to the collection *chuckle*

Then we said goodbye to Estes and started the drive back. Another fun and meaningful hour of conversation in Jake's jeep, and then supper at Smashburger in Loveland. Remember what I said about fast food? Same principle.

It took forever to get inside once we got home, 'cause we kept stopping to talk to people...but finally we said goodbye, I got some pretty awesome birthday hugs ('cause that's important), then Morgan and I stayed up super late talking about life, and I watched the clock turn midnight. So ended my 20th birthday.

But the weekend wasn't over yet!

The kids came with Katie and her family for church, but then went to Mikey and Christa's for rest time and for most of the evening, so us staff basically had another whole free day.

In our family, Birthday Second Day can be pretty fun too - since you usually finish off your birthday cake for breakfast, and messages are still usually coming in from friends, and sometimes gifts, and you're kind of on a sugar high from the day before. This Birthday Second Day was no exception. The day started out quietly enough, and the Lord used a dear friend and some precious Scripture to wrap my soul in such a peace, with such a love that it truly was beyond my understanding.
"Liza, you will greatly rejoice in the Lord;
 and your soul shall exult in our God,
 for he has clothed you with the garments of salvation;
 he has covered you with the robe of righteousness,
 as a bridegroom decks himself and like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
 and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
 and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,
 so the Lord God has caused righteousness and praise
 to sprout up in you, before all the nations. 
The nations shall see your righteousness,
 and all the kings your glory, 
for you have been called by a new name
 that the mouth of the Lord has given. You are a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
 and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You are no more termed Forsaken… but you are called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you,
 as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
 so does your God rejoice over you!" - from Isaiah 61 and 62
Oh, how He loves us! And how I love Him! I get goosebumps thinking about how deep and tender and jealous His love is for me...and the way He truly turns my ashes into beauty, for His glory. If I want anything to be the testimony of my 21st year of life, it's that He is glorified in my life, and that others will see and know that "there *is* a God in Israel!"

The afternoon was quiet - Josh, Katie, David and I went to Subway for lunch, (do I even need to tell you that we had a good time. It's the Fast Food with HLF principle at work again) which is where we got the news that Josh is a real uncle (again!) to a precious baby girl...super exciting, and kinda sorta what I was praying to happen on my birthday weekend anyway :) Then Courtney and Katie went to do some painting at Katie's house, and I rested and responded to birthday messages and just enjoyed the beautiful weather. 

Supper time rolled around, and we had no plan, so David, Josh and I made the call to go to Brick Oven again - with everyone. Some how, communication with other team members didn't really all....but everything worked swimmingly and we ended up at Brick Oven with not just our entire road staff (Josh, David, Belay, Liza, Courtney and Katie) and Morgan, but also two of Katie's siblings and another one of our friends. We were quite the party *grin*

But the evening wasn't over yet....*wink*

Katie and Courtney, Belay and Karen went running and speeding off when it was time to go home, and they were laughing like a bunch of loonies the whole time. The guys, Morgan and I arrived, then Katie and Courtney locked themselves in the kitchen and were laughing about something, then everyone was singing "Happy Birthday" and there was cake and ice cream and it was my birthday all over again! :P Of course, they sang in three languages (HLF tradition - English, Amharic, and Spanish). 

The children arrived shortly afterward, and we had a little team regroup. The boys went to drop off the bus during bedtime, and came back late  around which time our friend Alex came over and hung out too and had cake with us, so that was fun. The rest of the evening was a little harder - the transition back to campus was a little rocky for some of the children, but Jesus gave us and them rest.

And so ended my incredible birthday weekend. (kind of...we still have a few doughnuts left...)

I'm incredibly blessed, and get this stupid smile on my face when I think of all Jesus has done, and how much He loves me, and the way I get to see that love in others too. Such a beautiful picture of the Gospel. *deep sigh*

Folks, I'm twenty, and if this weekend is *any* indication, 
this is going to be a year to remember.