I now interrupt regular Alaska reporting to bring you this special news bulletin from the opposite side of the country…North Carolina!
This month, I had the privilege of taking a rare solo trip cross-country to meet my first little niece and visit my sister Havala and her husband Andrew for the first time since they got married and she moved out east. I am so grateful that my husband who was willing to hold down the fort with four kids, taking over my responsibilities while also keeping up with his own job for a week and a half, so I could go. I’m also thankful for our church family here who pitched in to help him with babysitting and meals in my absence—what a blessing they are to us!
The time that it worked out for me to go also happened to be peak color time where they live in the Blue Ridge Mountains. What a happy coincidence! It was a riot of glorious autumn color, and I shamelessly joined all the other “peepers” (yep, the locals have a specific nickname for the fall leaf tourists) to gawk at the beauty.
We spent a lovely Sunday afternoon driving up the Blue Ridge Parkway for a picnic and a hike, where I took the majority of these photos. Honestly, though, I spent more time taking pictures of the cutest little niece you ever did see, and making a fool of myself talking baby talk because it would make her smile and coo. I’ll leave most of those pictures for her mama and papa to share as they wish, but I’ll just drop this one here. You get the idea.
I learned how to grade eggs for their egg business while I was there, and enjoyed experiencing a bit of Southern culture, like sweet tea, chicken and biscuits, pimento cheese sandwiches and being called “honey darlin'” by perfect strangers. I even got to sit in a brick church with a 200-year history and listen to an entire sermon preached in Southern drawl. Our long conversations, often late into the night, about God and babies and marriage and the state of the world and life in general, were my favorite, though. These times with family are all the sweeter now that they are so rare, and all the richer for our common bond in Christ. The whole visit was a gift of true rest and refreshment for me—and I’m so grateful!
“We took sweet counsel together, and walked unto the house of God in company.” (Psalm 55:14)
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
I feel like this would be a good verse to have emblazoned across a billboard within an international airport. After I spent about a full day longer than planned on in one, believe me, I saw a lot of tired, burdened people.
I saw people laden down with luggage in lines snaking away from TSA into infinity and moving at a snails’ speed…
People nervously glancing at their watches…
Old ladies anxiously asking for help understanding where their gates were…
People running, barely throwing out an apology as they brushed past…
Hard lines of concentration and focus on people’s face, not smiles…
People lying in out of the way corners, heads pillowed on lumpy backpacks, trying to catch a few winks of sleep as the masses streamed by hurrying to get wherever they were going.
People losing their tempers over lost luggage…
People crying over missed flights and ruined plans…
I, the naïve traveler new to flying, initially thought the hustle and bustle was all very exciting. That is, until after I lost my phone, missed a flight while trying to find it, and got stuck in this giant airport in an unfamiliar city for 24 hours. Then I understood in a much more personal way the anxiety that this teeming hub of transportation is capable of evoking. I couldn’t call my husband to tell him what had happened, and even though I eventually got a plan made and a new flight scheduled, anticipating his worry until I got in contact (which would be hours later) made me anxious, too.
This was my state of mind when I was standing in line at baggage claim a few hours later. I was exhausted, and it wasn’t even noon. I had been standing in one line or another for hours. This was yet one more attempt to see if my lost phone had been turned in, though I had little hope since the last airport employee I had sought help from had practically rolled their eyes at me.
Finally, I was nearing the front of the line, and close enough to hear the exchanges of the people ahead who were finally getting helped. “I can’t LIVE without that suitcase!” wailed a distraught woman to the man at the counter. She had three rolling suitcases trailing behind her, all a matching hue of metallic lavender, linked together in a perfect little train, but apparently there had been a fourth one. I was standing there thinking, “Well, ma’am, it could be worse. You could be without a phone or a coat or a single stitch of luggage, like I am.” I don’t know what went through the man’s head as he listened to the 576th overly dramatic traveler he had likely dealt with that day detail why her fourth metallic lavender suitcase should be on the top of his priority list for the moment. But if he was annoyed or frustrated, not a flicker of such emotion crossed his face.
He smiled kindly, soothing her with his calm, cheerful reassurance that he would do everything in his power to help her. “Now, things are a bit backed up, ma’am, and I can’t guarantee anything,” he reminded her, “but it should be somewhere over in that pile. Come on; I’ll help you look!” I watched as her face brightened and the tension visibly melted from her shoulders. She trotted off after him, eyes alight with new hope, buoyed by having someone to share her burden.
Even my own hopes were lifted. At the very least, I realized that I was in line to talk to someone who was going to treat me and my lost phone as though he actually cared.
That’s also when I realized I had just seen a tiny picture of Jesus’ love.
The world is a lot like one giant airline terminal, you know, teeming with millions of people running frantically to and fro, with places to go, things to do, people to see, laden down with baggage in every size and shape imaginable.
Jesus is standing there at the only Customer Service desk in the world that never has a waiting line,
“caring” more than all the nicest airline employees in the world combined (well, it’s even better than that, because He actually LOVES you),
not just waiting for people to come to Him, but actually inviting them:
“Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
No matter what the size, shape or color of your burdens, He says, “Bring them to Me!” It can be a missing 4th lavender suitcase. If that’s the worry you’re carrying, bring it to Him. It can be a lost phone. Bring it to Him. It can be the pressures of your job. It can be your health. It can be your marriage, your children, your parents or your next-door neighbor. It can be grief, or disappointment, or anger, or fear. It can be all of those things lumped together, plus some. It doesn’t matter if any other human being thinks your burden is worth the time of day or not. If you are burdened with it, He says, BRING IT TO ME.
Somehow I had forgotten a bit how incredible that invitation is. I’d honestly kind of pushed it to the back of my mind, and forgotten it even existed. Funny how we humans like to do that, taking the weight of the world on our shoulders, so sure that if we run, push, think, research, analyze, work, TRY just a little bit harder, we can surely handle it all on our own. But sometimes I guess we just need to feel a little more weak, a little more helpless and out of control, a little more disappointed and discouraged, a little more stranded and at our wits’ end—just needy enough to be jolted with the reminder that we don’t have to carry it all ourselves. In fact, we can’t. But He can.
About the pictures: In spite of cancelled and missed flights and stolen phones, we made it to Minnesota to celebrate a belated Christmas with both of our families. These were taken at my family’s home, the house I grew up in. Story times with grandpa were a highlight, as were snow time with the aunts and uncles and my brother’s crab Benedict.
The verse I spent time thinking about this week: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4) Why is that we’re so quick to feed our bodies liberally, even excessively, but so willing to leave the very essence of ourselves, our soul, malnourished and shriveling away in starvation? Here’s to a year of being well-fed and satisfied on the Word of God!
P.S. I took pictures for this project, but had limited internet while we were traveling and was unable to post them. I’ll be playing catch-up over the next week or so and resume weekly posting thereafter! Also, normally I will be posting one photo per week, but since we were traveling and I took more pictures than usual, you get a few bonus shots!
If you’re new here, this is part of my Project 52, in which I commit to taking and posting a photo per week for the duration of 2022, along with sharing a favorite verse and/or thoughts gleaned as I also read through the Bible in a year. I’d love to hear what stood out to you in your personal Bible reading this week in the comments!
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!
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)
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!
“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)
We’d seen them before, my husband and I. The weird eroded shapes of the badlands. Four massive solemn faces carved into a granite mountainside. A herd of buffalo calmly holding up traffic. Bighorn sheep leaping effortlessly up the faces of seemingly sheer precipices. But oddly, seeing them for the second time seemed more meaningful to me than the first—and it was all because of three little people strapped in the back seats behind us.
We had seen it all before, but there was something wonderful about experiencing it anew through their eyes.The wonder continued when we visited the world’s largest collection of live reptiles. We watched our littlest girl’s eye’s practically pop out of her head at the sight of a massive anaconda. We looked together for loose tiny geckos running around in the conservatory, and gasped with them to find an (uncontained!) snake hanging in a tree over our heads. We felt their excitement as they got to pet baby alligators and giant tortoises. We laughed with them at the parrot who could meow like a kitten.
And I thought to myself: Wow! This place is way more fun than I remember as a teenager. Had it changed that much? No. It was just me that had changed. I was seeing the same blue frogs and cobras, but this time as a mother through the eyes of my children—and that made all the difference.On this trip, I though a lot about what Jesus meant when He said: “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)
I certainly didn’t expect the guardhouse to be the most inspirational spot during our tour of a circa 1840’s fort, but that’s how it turned out. As I stood next to the row of prison doors, looking down the narrow hall to this window of light flooding in, a verse of a favorite hymn came overwhelmingly to mind:
“Long my imprisoned spirit lay, Fast bound in sin and nature’s night; Thine eye diffused a quickening ray— I woke, the dungeon flamed with light; My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.”-–Charles Wesley, 1738
Come with us to the beach! You know, that one that kind of seems like our own little secret, since you have to drive around a giant mud hole to get there, and then try not to get stuck in the sand while parking where the woods end and dunes begin. The other people sharing it with us are so far away we can almost imagine that the only creatures we have to share it with are the stray seagulls eyeing our cooler in hopes of handouts. The sand is so hot it scorches our bare feet and the water is cold enough to leave your body tingling deliciously after a single dip. It’s perfect.
Come run races down the hard-packed sand at the edge of the waves that go for miles, sending splashes sparkling to the sky, as hard and as fast as you can. Come make snow angels in the sand, face down, so the sun can soak your back. Come stand still and contemplate the art show where wave and sand meet, ripples and layers in constantly shifting patterns.Come wander amidst the white bleached driftwood, polished smooth by a thousand relentless waves. Come find smooth silvery bits to tuck into pockets as souvenirs, leaving behind the charred bits that are lovely memories of sunset beach fires and happy gatherings.Come toil up through ankle-deep sand to smell the wild sweet peas clinging to the dunes, trailing tenacious vines along the heaps of shifting soil beneath the nodding grasses.Come watch a little blue sailboat slowly unfurl its white wings as it heads out to sea. Come watch the children with sand for freckles who build endless castles, never tiring rebuilding what the relentless waves erode. Come beware of children with mischief twinkling in their eyes and that bucket full of fresh cold lake water they’re saving for when you’re back is turned (it will be refreshing).And when the sun and the wind and the splashing and the dunking and the running and the wandering has produced an appetite that seems as boundless as the blue waves reaching to the horizon, come and eat. There are slices of cold turkey, pickles and Jarlsburg wrapped in pretzel rolls or soggy sandwiches accidentally dropped in the lake, whichever you prefer. We have rosy-cheeked Ranier cherries and sandy granola bars for dessert, to hold us over until we drive past the ice cream shop that stocks Mackinac Island Fudge on our way home.
And perhaps our humble meal shared on a stretch of sand will remind you, just the tiniest bit, of another picnic on a beach thousands of miles away, a couple thousand years ago.
“The other disciples came ashore in the boat. They dragged in the net full of fish, for they were not far from land, only about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw that a charcoal fire had been prepared, with fish on it, and some bread. Jesus told them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, one hundred fifty-three. And although there were so many, the net was not torn.
“Come, have breakfast,” Jesus said to them… Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and He did the same with the fish.” (John 21:8-13)
And since this a vacation, after all, we’d linger even longer and read the whole chapter. This day we shared at the beach was pretty wonderful, but that story? It’s my favorite beach story of all time.
There are two things that cause writer’s block for me: having nothing to say, and having altogether too much to say.
Coming home from vacation last week has been the latter problem for me. I saw so much, took so many photos, thought so many thoughts and every time I sit down to try to wrap it all up in some neat little package of an essay, the sheer volume of it all overwhelms me. After trying for a week, I’ve even considered not sharing any of it and just continuing on with regular local posts as though we never went anywhere. Many of you would be none the wiser.
But then you would never get to see an endangered species of turtle. You’d miss what the sunset looks like from the top of Brockway Mountain and the way the spray on your face feels like at Bond Falls. You’d miss the warm sand between your toes and the feel of smooth polished bits of driftwood in your hand. That hardly seemed right.
So, rather then lump them all together in one post, I’ve sorted all my photos into virtual piles and I’m going to give them to you one chunk at a time, as themed vignettes that will, altogether, sum up our golden little time away beautifully. After all it was Jesus Himself who said…
“Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31)
If they can serve as a tiny vacation for your soul, too, I will have counted my time well spent. Stay tuned!