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)

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!

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!

Once in 86 Lifetimes

IMG_3418 editThere are a lot of things about 2020 I’d be happy to never see again in my lifetime, but this is one of the few things I saw that I can say I wouldn’t mind seeing again sometime soon. 

Except that won’t be happening, because, according to NASA, Comet NEOWISE will not be seen again for 6,800 years.  So this was not just a once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity, it was a once-in-86-lifetimes opportunity.  Wow.

Fun fact: the comet was named for NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) mission, on which it was first sighted.

“O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth, who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens!” (Psalm 8:1)

Photographed 11:02 PM July 16th, 2020; Chippewa National Forest, Minnesota, USA.

Savoring Summer #42: Last Light

IMG_1136 editNow may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

This benediction sums up my wish for you as much today as it did for Paul towards the Roman church.

It’s been such a good six weeks!  I hope you’ve enjoyed the daily views of summer through my lens, and digging deeper into the rich treasures of the book of Romans.  I’ve been challenged and encouraged by what I’ve read, and I hope you have, too!

If you’re one of the people who has joined me to read through the full study on SheReadsTruth.com: thank you!  It made it extra meaningful to know we were doing this together, especially during a summer when being “together” has been limited!  If you did, will you comment below or on Facebook and tell me your favorite photo and/or verse from the last six weeks?  There might just be a little something special coming your way if you do!

 

Savoring Summer #41: Beach Harebell

IMG_2033 edit“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” (Romans 16:20)

Looking back over what I read this week—and over ALL the last six weeks!—this comforting statement of victory seems like a good way to sum it all up.

Stand fast in all these things, persevere, endure with joy…because we know that in the end, truth will triumph, and Christ will reign victorious!

AMEN!

P.S. See this original post for info about this photo challenge and more about this reading plan I’m using this summer for the book of Romans (and I’d love to have you join in!)!

And, as promised, here’s another “bonus post” for you, featuring photos from our trip to the Black Hills last fall!

Savoring Summer #40: Indian Pipe

IMG_2011 edit.jpg“The report of your obedience has reached everyone.  Therefore I rejoice over you…” (Romans 16:19)

Oh, that this would be the reputation of every church that represents Jesus Christ!

P.S. See this original post for info about this photo challenge and more about this reading plan I’m using this summer for the book of Romans (and I’d love to have you join in!)

About the photo:  This might get the prize for weirdest plant find of the summer.  Read more about it here!

Savoring Summer #39: Stone Axe Creek

IMG_1833 edit.jpg“Give my greetings to Prisca and Aquila, my coworkers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life.” (Romans 16:3-4)

I love how in most cases in this passage, Paul specifically mentions why he’s grateful for each of these friends, or how they have been a blessing to him.  In your prayers today, try making a list like this yourself, if you can, of every person from your church!  I found this to be such a joyful exercise.

“Thank you for ________; he cheerfully takes out the garbage every week at church.  Thank you for ________; she is such a faithful prayer warrior.  Thank you for _________; he always encourages me to dig deeper into my Bible.  Thank you for __________; she gives so generously…” and so on!

And if there’s someone who you don’t know well enough to mention, take note; it might be time to change that!

P.S. See this original post for info about this photo challenge and more about this reading plan I’m using this summer for the book of Romans (and I’d love to have you join in!)!

About the photo: Most days we hike to this creek for our daily exercise; most days we pause to skip rocks or watch sticks go in one end of the culvert and come out the other, or, if we’re lucky, spot a sunning turtle.