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.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

a little story.

Once upon a time...

...a Southern girl from Virginia found herself living in Colorado on her 20th birthday. It was her first birthday away from home. Good thing she had such an amazing group of people to share it with, who made her special day just about 100x more special. From 12am to 11:59pm on October 25th, 2014, from opening her package from home, to morning coffee, to doughnuts, to hiking, to supper out, to late night talks, this far-from-home girl was overwhelmed by love from her Jesus and her friends, and came away tearfully thankful for the blessings on her life.

It was an awesome birthday.
And there are about a hundred more pictures and little stories from the day, that she hopes to get around to sharing soon. 

The End.

Friday, October 24, 2014

// reflections of the almost 20 year old \\

It's the annual, sober reflection post, where I wax eloquent on the amazing Jesus-filled-ness of the previous year, and talk about my dreams for the future, or desires for the next year. And every year, I look back at the previous year and think, "Eeeesh, that was sentimental..." but then I'm so thankful I wrote it, 'cause it's quite amazing to see how God answers prayers and goes above and beyond.

Last year, I was home, helping teach my two youngest siblings, packing up our farm to move (*sob*), and had just hosted a His Little Feet concert. And I had no idea what I was going to do next. And just one short year later, I'm living in Colorado, on staff with said ministry, "Auntie" to five incredible youngsters, with Lord willing ten more on the way.

I'm blessed beyond belief, on the adventure of a life time, and in a spiritual battle that leaves me ready to rest each night, and excited to start each new day and see the power of my God made manifest in my life, and the lives of the children and the people around me.

I'll be twenty years old tomorrow, and I don't know if I have twenty more years to live, or twenty days, or twenty hours, but I'm here on earth for a reason, and every minute counts. I want to be spent completely - physically, emotionally, spiritually - for this world, just like Jesus was, and go out with flying colors.

I know it's weird to think about dying when it's your birthday...but it's not really dying I'm thinking about. The only reason I'm here and not with Jesus right now is because I'm bearing His image to a lost world, and He has a mission for me. That's my life purpose. I'm not looking for my purpose, I have it. I'm not looking for a mission, I'm living it. Right now, that means I'm Mama to five-going-on-fifteen, but it won't always be that. I'm just living the life Jesus has for me, and loving it to pieces.

 It doesn't matter to me how long it lasts, how much time I have, or even whether "my" desires get fulfilled on earth. I'd love to get married, have my own children, manage my own home, and Jesus knows that, but He also knows that wherever HE IS is home for I'm 100% at peace with being twenty and my life looking like *nothing* I ever thought about when I was thirteen.

I don't know - as I'm always saying, "We have the best life!" Why would I want to live any way else? More "security", more "clarity", more "stability"? Who is more stable than the Rock of my Salvation? If trusting Him means I don't know what I'm doing tomorrow for the rest of my life, then bring it on!



Okay, that was my reflection. Now I'm about to get real sentimental, because sometimes I do that, and apparently it's something people notice about me (which is a funny thought)...a


I know it's my birthday tomorrow, and that's usually when other people say stuff about me, so I'm hijacking today to say just how ridiculously thankful I am for some really special people. And I'm going to be specific, since they're that awesome. And, yes, you guessed's my team. I'm spending my 21st year with some incredible folks, and that's the best birthday present ever.

Belay...Honestly, when I realized I was going to be working with you, I had a bit of a star-struck moment...I're THE *Uncle Ben*.....but it's been incredible, even in just the past three weeks. Your life is such a testimony, and the way you pour yourself out, giving back what Jesus has given to you, is powerful to see. You keep us laughing (often with tears streaming down our cheeks and our abs aching as if we've been working out) on a daily basis, and yet you also are constantly reminding us of the battle we're in for the kids, and you are always pointing us back to Christ. I appreciate you so much...this is going to be an amazing year.

Katie...when did I ever *not* know you? Has it really only been since August that we met? Crazy. I love your sweet spirit, your contagious and hilarious and frequent laugh, your artsy-ness, your tenderness with children, and your pure and precious heart for your King. I love that you're on our team this year - what an adventure it's already been to get us to this point, and what a road ahead! Your hugs, your love, your passion are so dear to me - the way you share your family with us, and the example y'all are to us of unity as a family is a blessing...I love you, girly.

Courtney...oh, my girl! What a privilege it is to work with you! I love your heart, your confidence in the power of your Savior, your joy, and your complete utter love for your Beloved Jesus. I love your mother's heart for our children, and your desire to see them know their Heavenly Daddy. Oh, Court...we've laughed so much in the past few months, cried too, and grown each other....girl, it is a *privilege* to walk this road with you. I love your laugh, the way you cock your head on one side and say, "Guys..." when you have something to say, and your love of the color yellow. I love you.

David...haha! I don't even know what to say...What do rubber bands, bouncy balls, dish towels, water, Veggie Tales, leaves, Bob Marley, and pillows have in common? *cough* Never mind. You just keep my life interesting - and that's totally
okay. But it's not just the fun we have together, or your laugh, or your incessant teasing that I'm thankful's your heart for others, and the way you go out of your way to check on the folks you love, and be there for them when they need you. Tender-heartedness is a strength - and if that's the case, then you've got some serious muscles, bro. You're a ten.

Josh...not sure how to start this...maybe "Thank You" would be enough. Your passion for Truth, and for sharing it, and the way you demonstrate what a life led by the Spirit looks like is a powerful testimony. You bring such strength to our team. And there's all the little things that keep me chuckling - like your facial expressions, your airport voice you use when you're doing "take off" with the boys, your ridiculous organizing/home decorating skills, and even the way you walk...but really, it's the Jesus I see in you that I appreciate the most. Thank you, Josh.


Golly, I love them.




Wait, a sec. My birthday is tomorrow! MY BIRTHDAY! It feels like it's been a while since my last one...maybe a year? YAY! I love birthdays. Especially mine. ;)

Folks, I'll be twenty tomorrow....
...and it's going to be the best year yet!