Twelve-Mile Arm

The weather was so beautiful during the last week of October, we decided at the very last minute to take the kids on a little overnight “cabining” adventure. The Tongass National Forest is home to several remote rustic cabins that you can rent, and we’ve been eager to check some of them out. We chose this one on a sea estuary called Twelve Mile Arm because it’s one that you can hike into, versus the many that can only be reached by boat or floatplane, and it was just right for us!

Accomplishment #1: We found the place, which was about an hour and half away drive from Thorne Bay, without getting lost.

Accomplishment #2: No one twisted an ankle packing all our gear down the trail in the dark, with no small thanks to the loan of Joel’s wheelbarrow and Jason’s flashlights.

We roasted the classic hotdogs and s’mores, read bedtime stories by flashlight, and the kids slept like logs on those hard bunks in their sleeping bags (don’t ask about dad and mom!). The little wood stove kept the place cozy and someone had left a nice pile of firewood for us to use. The next morning, we did simple things like sit on the porch while sipping hot coffee and poke around along the shoreline for treasures (including the remains of someone’s hunt, as pictured below!). The inlet was like glass, which made for some fabulous kayaking. I saw a jellyfish, and we all saw a pine marten. South-bound geese were flocking up and calling loudly across the water, and it was incredibly peaceful.

We were so grateful for the chance to slow down and spend some time together while experiencing this place for a short but sweet 24 hours!

“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.” (Psalm 24:1-2)

Autumn Hike at Balls Lake

On a gorgeous day in October, we took an autumn hike as a family around Balls Lake, which is about twenty miles west of us on the island.

“It’s only a mile or so around the lake,” someone had estimated to us.

Haha.

Lesson learned: don’t trust estimates. It was more like 2.5 miles, a slight discrepancy that didn’t bother the adults as much as the short-legged two-year-old in the family. He was a real trooper though, and walked a good two-thirds of the distance before he had to be carried!

We found lingonberries along the trail, spotted sockeye salmon in a creek, and played with the most beautiful echoes. The sun played hide and seek with us, so the jackets came on and off. We came out muddy and famished after our longer-than-expected hike, ready to inhale a very belated picnic lunch.

It’s interesting to observe the differences and similarities of the changing seasons here on Prince of Wales Island as compared to where we came from in northern Minnesota. Fall is more subtle here with most of the trees being conifers, yet the season is still distinctly evident in the frosty mornings, falling alder leaves, roadside and shoreline grasses turning from green to beautiful pale gold, and the turning of the leaves closer to the forest floor like the bunchberries, devil’s club and ferns you see pictured here. This hike finally gave us the opportunity to get up close and immerse ourselves in the autumnal forest, and I’m happy to report that it was beautiful.

“The earth, O LORD, is full of your steadfast love…” (Psalm 119:64)

Welcome to Thorne Bay, Alaska

For those of you who have expressed the desire to see where we live, here are few snapshots of our immediate surroundings in our new town! And while I’m at it, I’m including some fun facts and answers to frequently asked questions:

Thorne Bay holds the record as the largest logging camp in the world in its day. It’s a young town, incorporated in only 1982, with a current population around 500. Average temperature is 45 degrees; average rainfall is 101 inches. It’s also home to the world’s largest log grapple, which is now enjoying its repurposed life as the town welcome sign.

We are less isolated here than we have ever been in our lives, but also the most isolated we’ve ever been in our lives. After years of living out in the country, we now live right in town. We are within walking distance of a grocery store, post office and hardware store. We see and talk to people on a daily basis. However, this is an island. While Prince of Wales actually has one of the best rural road systems in Alaska, on which we can drive freely between the multiple towns and communities on the island, you still can only get to the island by boat or by air. Our mail comes in on a floatplane, which means when its stormy, we don’t get mail (note the sign in the photo below). If we want to order in something large, it comes in on the once-a-week barge.

In the background in the photo below, you can see the lit-up barge that brought us our truck, trailer and earthly belongings, coming into harbor safe and sound!

This is a glimpse of our house and yard…

…and the view from our windows and front steps.

And last, but certainly not least: the people that meet in this building are the reason we came here!

Something I love about this town is how “un-town-like” it is. Other than the occasional roar of the float planes coming and going, it is very quiet here. The ocean is practically at our doorstep, and the wilderness of the Tongass National Forest is just outside of our small community. The black-tailed Sitka deer are just as prone to eating flower gardens here as the whitetails were in Minnesota, but are just smaller and cuter. We regularly spot seals, otters, sea lions, eagles, herons, kingfishers, jumping salmon and loons and other waterfowl from our windows, and someday we hope to sight a whale.

This picture, taken within the city limits, gives you an idea of the beauty at our doorstep, just waiting to be explored.

Any other questions about where we live? Feel free to ask away in the comments and I’ll answer to the best of my ability!

“…the LORD your God is bringing you [has brought us!] into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills…” (Deuteronomy 8:7)

Good and Faithful Servant

There are some people whose impact on your life is immeasurable. When I heard last week that my childhood pastor, Don Stolhammer, had gone home to be with the Lord, there were a flood of memories of a man who had great spiritual influence over some of the most formative years of my life.

I remember him telling the story to me, just earlier this year, of how he sat on a stump “out back” in Wisconsin and wrestled with God about going into the ministry. He chose to say, “I’m willing,”—and God went on to use him to richly bless my life and that of so many others.

One of the most invaluable gifts he gave was that of a solid foundation in sound Biblical doctrine. I was too busy soaking it all in when I was young to fully appreciate what I was getting, but looking back now I am deeply grateful for the depth, clarity and thoroughness of his teaching. I can literally still hear the way he explained certain verses and passages when I read my Bible, and how the marker would squeak on the white board as he scrawled it full of words, maps and diagrams on Sunday nights.

I remember him teaching us Greek words so we could understand our Bibles better. I was so fascinated by this, I asked him how I could learn more Biblical Greek for myself. He lent me a whole box full of his Greek study cassette tapes, books and notes from seminary, and also taught me how to utilize my Strong’s Concordance to quickly and easily look up the Greek meanings of words in my Bible. While I eventually decided that learning an entire new language was more than I could handle at the time, his lesson on the use of the Hebrew/Greek section of Strong’s stuck with me and is a tool I’ve utilized many, many times since.

I remember him quoting verse after verse of Scripture and encouraging us to do the same.

I remember him quoting A.W. Tozer and other great Christians, and how he liked singing hymns like “Children of the Heavenly Father” and “Redeeming Love” and “He the Pearly Gates Will Open”.

I remember being a little bit in awe of his Bible as a child, with notes scrawled thick in the margins and worn binding patched together with gray duct tape.

I remember how he’d quote S.M. Lockridge at the end of the Good Friday service: “It’s Friday…but Sunday’s a comin’!”.

I remember him telling the story of “My Heart, Christ’s Home”, and I still have the copy of it he gave me when I asked where I could get one.

I remember him publicly apologizing to the entire congregation one Sunday for having a wrong attitude when he delivered the previous week’s sermon, and how much I respected him for his honesty and humility.

I remember that he was not some unreachable daunting figure in my life, but someone who was approachable, kind and always took time to answer questions and take genuine interest in me.

And so many of my favorite childhood memories, things like beautiful candlelight Christmas, Good Friday and Thanksgiving services, singing around the campfire at the parsonage, and weekend-long missions conferences, are associated with his leadership and ministry at Northern Bible Church.

When I decided I wanted to get baptized at age 9, I distinctly remember sitting down with him and my dad in his office with the 70’s shag carpet, every nook and cranny crammed to the ceiling with books, and one of the first questions he asked me was, “Why do you want to do this?” And, kindly but more pointedly, “Are you doing this because you see other people doing it?” That kind of brought me up short in my mind, because it was a little bit true. I had heard that another girl a little bit older than me was getting baptized, and I remember thinking that if she could do it, why couldn’t I? And when he asked me that, I realized that I couldn’t do it just to be cool like someone else. I had to do it because I understood what it meant and believed in it with all my heart. I remember how clearly and kindly he walked through the whole process with me, making sure I understood exactly the seriousness and significance of what I was doing. On a gently overcast Sunday afternoon a few weeks later, he was the one who dunked me under the water of Lake Dellwater while the crowd on the beach sang “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus”.

In my adulthood, though retired, he remained a trusted friend and source of much wise counsel.

When we got married, he did our counseling and gave the message at our wedding. Later, as my husband took on and began his very first pastorate, Pastor Don made himself available to Zach as an invaluable listening ear and voice of experience and wise counsel.

One of my sweetest memories, however, is from just this last year. When we were considering a major life change and move, and torn over the multiple options before us, Pastor Don was the one who helped us see our way through a confusing sea of emotions and well-meant but conflicting advice. He was one of our only advisors who literally gave no opinion, but simply shared wisdom from his own years of experience in ministry, and challenged us to earnestly seek and follow God’s will rather than man’s (our own or others). His counsel was pivotal in our ultimate decision. The time he took, the prayers he prayed, and the care he showed for us during this time meant the world to us, and it brings tears to my eyes even as I write. He and Donna were there to give us hugs and assure us of their prayers at our last little goodbye party in Bemidji. “We’ll look forward to seeing you and hearing all about Alaska when you come back for visits,” he assured us. I did not imagine that it would be the last time we would speak face to face with him on this earth.

On September 30th, heaven welcomed a good and faithful servant. He is with his Savior face to face, receiving his reward. Our loss, his incredible gain. I only pray that those of us who he invested in can step up to fill the void he has left behind and carry on his legacy of faithfulness for Christ to the next generation.

His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter the joy of your master.’” (Matthew 25:21)

North-West to Alaska: By Air and By Sea

When I got up early on the morning of July 15th to catch our shuttle to the airport, it was hard to fathom that by nightfall, we’d be in our new home. The end of the journey was in sight, and it hardly seemed real. But as we entered the airport and joined the throngs of people carrying luggage and streaming towards the roped lanes, reality very much began to sink in. We were about to climb on an airplane, three of us for the first time in our lives, and when we got off that plane, we’d be in ALASKA!

One child had a pound of coins in her backpack that set off the alarms, and I mindlessly nodded my head when an employee asked if my umbrella was a sword, but other than these minorly eyebrow-raising incidents, we made it through TSA just fine. On the other side, having gotten fewer than five hours of sleep the night before, I contemplated standing in the mile-long line snaking away from the Starbucks counter, but thought better of it and settled for some ordinary coffee at the less popular but cheaper shop next door.

Soon we were boarding our flight, taxiing down the runway and rising through the clouds, headed north. I gave the girls, who had never flown before, the window seat. They peered out the window in wonderment to watch the ground drop away from us, and looked at me with sparkling eyes. Everything was new and exciting through their eyes, and the packages of Biscoff cookies and plastic cups of ginger ale the flight attendants served to us felt especially celebratory.

We landed in Ketchikan an hour and a half later. Alaska, at last! This was only our first step into the state, however. From there, we took a short ferry ride across the harbor, then walked our luggage a few blocks down the road to the Inter-Island Ferry terminal where we soon boarded the Stikine for a three hour boat ride to Prince of Wales Island.

It was a misty, rainy day, and our first view of the island was that of dark pine-covered mountains, the extent of their height hidden by a heavy blanket of fog.

It was a strange feeling, walking up the ramp after the ferry docked, realizing that we weren’t just here on vacation. We were here to STAY. It felt very surreal—but also incredible. There was so much relief at the realization that months of packing and days of driving were done, and the move was over. (Ya’ll, moving is A LOT OF WORK.)

But for me, the best thing was the immediate feeling of having arrived “home”. Everything and everyone was completely new and unfamiliar, yet there was the oddest overarching feeling of comfort and familiarity. And I’m not saying that because I believe that where we are now is so much better than where we were before. I have come to believe that this sense of “home” has much less to do with the physical location than it does with just being in the place God wants you to be at the time He wants you to be. The peace I felt upon arriving here was truly a gift from Him, just one more sweet confirmation of His leading.

The behind-the-scenes heart journey that stretched over the last two years and ultimately brought us to Thorne Bay, Alaska is not one I’ve shared much about here. That’s not because it was terribly dramatic or some great secret, but simply because it was a long, slow, drawn out process of soul-searching and refining, with a lot of frankly awkward floundering about as we tried to understand the will of God. There was no verse in the Bible that told us to move to Alaska in the summer of 2021. Instead, there was a lot of praying, and seeking wise counsel, and learning and growing as we waited for the way to be made clear. Even now at the culmination of this journey, I am only just getting to the point where I can look back, put the pieces together and see the big picture of the work God was doing in our hearts. Someday, perhaps, I will write more about that experience. But I will say this for now: it was simultaneously one of the hardest and best journeys I’ve been on in a long time, beautiful and painful all at once. And I have experienced and can attest to the truth of this promise:

“Faithful is He who has called you; He will also bring it to pass.” (1 Thessalonians 5:24)

And I am confident of this very thing, that “He who has begun a good work in us will continue to perform it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6)—and so, as we end a season of transition, we step with faith into a new chapter of the story He is writing of our lives. I can’t wait to take you along with and introduce you to the beautiful new corner of our Father’s world!

North-West to Alaska: Pacific Northwest

After Glacier National Park, we drove for the first time through country that we had never seen before! There were no side trips and very few stops, since we were on a time frame to reach Seattle by a certain time, but we still enjoyed the new sights along the way.

We traveled the length of the panhandle of Idaho, which was a beautiful continuation of the Montana Rockies, skies unfortunately heavy with smoke haze. We bought fresh cherries at a roadside stand, and watched whitewater rafters floating down mountain rivers. In one brief moment of excitement, the side door on our trailer flew open while driving down a freeway, but miraculously not one thing fell out!

Washington State had more high desert and plains than I expected, and the wheat fields were pure gold. In the Columbia River valley, we recorded 101 degrees on our truck thermometer, and saw multiple other vehicles overheat along the freeway. Gratefully, God spared our hardworking truck this calamity. We spotted the iconic form of Mount Rainier, and cooled off with guava popsicles at the top of breathtaking Snoqualmie Pass.

It’s strange to say it, but when we found ourselves descending into the metropolis of Seattle-Tacoma, the realization that the driving segment of our journey was over was bittersweet to me. Sweet, because there would be no more worries about tires and transmissions surviving the summer heat and steep mountain passes; bitter, because I had truly enjoyed the experience. I felt like I had finally gained true empathy for the pioneers, having successfully crossed miles of plains, two mountain ranges, and arrived within sight of the Pacific Ocean with all our earthly possessions still in tow. God had answered many gracious prayers on our behalf and granted us safety. The days of travel had flown by smoothly, and it had never seemed too long.

Now it was time for the final exciting segment of our journey, in which we committed our truck and trailer to the care of a barge company, and left solid ground for the skies and the sea. But that’s a story for another day.

“Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared.” (Exodus 23:20)

North-West to Alaska: Glacier National Park

We drove toward the sun for 1600 miles. At about the 800 mile mark, the pale hazy blue forms of the Rocky Mountains first materialized from the horizon and it was an epic moment for all of us. It was the first time our older three children had seen snowcapped mountains, and listening to their gasps of wonder and awe brought me back to my own first time view of the mountains like it was yesterday.

We had decided in advance to take a day of rest from our cross-country journey at Glacier National Park. Not only was it almost exactly the halfway point, but Zach and I have both been here with our parents years ago, and we knew we couldn’t drive so close to a place so beautiful without showing it to our kids. We figured that after two days cooped up in the car, four little people were going to be pretty ready to take a break from travel and stretch their legs.

Turns out, dad and mom were pretty ready for a break, too!

In the one full day we had to enjoy the park, we had lunch at the historic Many Glacier chalet, spent time splashing in the St. Mary River and hiked up beautiful Logan Pass. We got very close to mountain sheep and marmots, walked through glacial snow in July, and chased the setting sun down the breathtaking curves of Going-to-the-Sun Road. And we spent two nights in the coziest little cabin under the stars, a welcome break from hotel life (and cheaper, too!).

That last paragraph sums our visit to Glacier neatly in a nutshell, but doesn’t really capture the aura of the place. I wish I could write something that would make you feel the way I felt there, like the moment when we drove around a sharp curve to see layers upon layers of mountains receding down the valley into the seemingly infinite distance, the jagged teeth of pine-studded slopes perfectly silhouetted one against the other, and there, at the edge of the precipice, a lone mountain sheep running wild and free, all wrapped in the pure golden haze of the setting sun.

It was as pastoral, romantic and full of idealistic glow as a painting straight from the Hudson River School (here’s a link to the sort of painting I’m referring to if you’re not familiar with the style), except it was alive and breathing and we were right at the edge of it looking in. It’s the sort of moment that leaves you without words, and with a little bit of an ache in your soul, and, just maybe when no one’s looking, tears in your eyes.

Your loving devotion, O LORD, reaches to the heavens,

Your faithfulness to the clouds.

Your righteousness is like the highest mountains…” (Psalm 36:5-6)

P.S. I’m sorry it’s taken so long to get pictures up! I’ve had a bit of trouble figuring out my new camera and editing software situation, but I’ve finally worked through all that and I’m back up to speed! I have hundreds of pictures and so much to share, so thanks for your patience and stay tuned for more soon!

North-West to Alaska: The Heartland

This country of ours is one big, beautiful place. The first time we went to Alaska, I got one big fast magnificent overview from the air. This time, with the exception of one hour and a half flight, we went much more slowly, by land and by sea.

I can’t really say I prefer one over the other. Flying is fast, convenient, and a magnificent experience, but there are things you miss, like reading the colorful bulletin boards in dusty Western single pump gas stations and picking a sprig of sage brush to rub between your fingers and breathe in the earthy, spicy fragrance for miles after. You don’t get to watch the rain sweep like a curtain across the plains towards you, leaving air refreshingly clean of smoke in its wake or spot a rainbow in your rearview mirror. You don’t get to see the calico herds of longhorn cattle, or watch the grain dust rising from the combines in the wheat fields.

And truth be told, after the effort we’d put into preparing for this move the few weeks previously, I was very ready to sit in the truck and do nothing but gaze for hours at some long, rolling miles of endless farmland. It was so peaceful, restful—and gloriously air-conditioned!

So welcome to my passenger seat view of western Minnesota, North Dakota and eastern Montana for the first two days, mostly shot from a moving vehicle, with strong themes of yellow canola fields, small town grain elevators and gas station stops. Enjoy!

And, in this last shot, a hazy preview of the next blog post’s theme…coming soon!

“Oh, sing to the Lord a new song!
Sing to the Lord, all the earth…

Let the field be joyful, and all that is in it.” (Psalm 96:1, 12)

See You Later

Every year in the fall, Linda says it to us: “I don’t say good bye, only see you later.” And the thing is? Because we’re sisters in the Lord, it’s true. It’s not some sort of denial of reality, it’s actually stating a truth that we often forget: that the bond we share in Christ is eternal. IN CHRIST, there will sometimes be temporary separations, but there are no good byes. This right here is the most beautiful thing about the family of God.

I’m saying goodbye to plenty of things this month.

I’m saying goodbye to the community we came to on our honeymoon, young, naïve, and freshly in love, a place that over the course of the last ten years has changed from unfamiliar to “home”. I’m saying goodbye to the waitress at the Timber Wolf who never forgot our kids’ names or that Zach preferred diet pop, to the people at the Max Mini who would tell us “just stop by and pay for it later” if we forgot our wallet, because “I know you will”, to a place where we had put in the work to finally know almost everyone who lived in almost every house we saw along the road by name.

I’m saying goodbye to the little farm on the lake that was God’s gift to us for eight beautiful years, to the house where our oldest daughter celebrated her first birthday, one daughter was born in the back bedroom and two other newborns were brought home, to the row of Oriental poppies along the chicken coop that were the one true triumph of my flower gardening efforts, to the length of that long, gravel driveway walked a thousand times and more, to the beloved Stone Axe Lake swans and loons and eagles and otters, and yes, even the invincible ground squirrels and cellar spiders.

I’m saying goodbye to the low brown church building we walked into one January morning with zero pastoral experience, and walked out of on this Fourth of July wiser and richer by 10.5 years, to echoes of potlucks and pizza parties and vacation Bible schools and baby dedications, and the double piano hymns rising to the golden pine ceilings, to the memories of laughter and tears, heartache and triumph, weddings and funerals.

But the people? The people who loved us deeply,

who welcomed us with open arms,

who humbled us with their generosity,

who were the village who helped us shape and mold our children for the better with kindness,

who appreciated and thanked us more than we deserved,

who were patient and gracious as we grew and learned,

who encouraged us and cheered us on,

who stuck by us faithfully through thick and thin?

(And you know who you are if you’re reading this—)

I’m not saying goodbye to you.

We’ll miss you, yes.

But even though the story God is writing for us and for you may be causing our paths to separate for now, it brings me great peace and joy to remember that it’s only temporary. One day, soon, we’ll be together again. Until then—thank you for everything and see you later, my dear, dear friends. May God bless you richly for your kindness. You will always be in our hearts.

“…to the beloved…whom I love in truth…I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul… I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face. Peace be to you.” (3 John 1:1-2, 14)

P.S. Alaska pictures and a report of our travels will coming as soon as I can get a few new camera/computer things figured out! But know that we have now arrived safely at our new home and look forward to sharing more soon!

From Little Hills to Big Hills

Once upon a time, I named my blog Rejoicing Hills. This was not so much because where I live is extremely hilly, but for the picture it painted in my mind of earth itself, with all its contours, curves, valleys and peaks, giving voice to praising its Creator. Psalm 37:12 that I based this title on (which you can read up there at the top of the side bar!) spoke of “little hills”, and that did not feel out of place for the gentle landforms of northern Minnesota.

But today I have some news for you. Many of you already know this, but I thought I’d better make an official blog announcement for those of you don’t! In about two months, Rejoicing Hills is going to graduate from little hills to some very, very big hills. That mountain you see up there? It’s going to soon be a daily view. We are moving to Alaska!

While the familiar beauty of my childhood home state will always hold a uniquely special place in my heart, I am truly looking forward to experiencing the wonders and beauty of this new place—and taking you all along on this next leg of our journey! I don’t know how much time I’ll have for writing and posting in the next few weeks since I’ll be very busy getting ready for the move—but I do plan to post more frequently again once we’re settled!

“The whole earth is full of His glory.” (Isaiah 6:3)