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!

Between Seasons

This season we’re currently in is always one of unpredictability. It’s that time in Minnesota when Winter and Spring have a playful little spat over who’s going to be in charge, and my children never know if a day is going to be the sort that requires snow pants or mud boots or tempts them to go barefoot.

One day the trail is muddy, the next day it’s icy. Some days it’s softly carpeted in pine needles and sunlight.

One day, the sunshine is warm and caressing on pale winter skin, and the next the wind is whipping snowflakes at sharp angles along the ground.

At the beginning of the week, the lake is frozen clear across; by the weekend its waves are free and wild again.

But in spite of all the apparent indecision, there is no doubt that this is a time for irreversible change. For every one step back, there are two steps forward. From a distance everything may seem as brown and barren as November, but if you look closely, the buds are swelling and bursting, and there is sweet sap dripping into buckets in the maple groves and being boiled down over late-night fires. If you stop to listen, the grouse are drumming in the forest, and twittering flocks of cedar waxwings and snow buntings are taking rest stops in yards on their way north, and there’s the sound of running water through a culvert that was frozen solid a week ago. Last night, I heard the first loons calling to each other.

It’s coming,

it’s coming,

spring is coming, sure as the dawn, and I think every stalwart winter soul is ready to welcome it with open arms. This week, the April showers have been gently and generously soaking the thirsty ground—and now we await the imminent first flush of green!

“Drip down, O heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness. Let the earth open up that salvation may sprout and righteousness spring up with it; I, the LORD, have created it.” (Isaiah 45:8)

Flying

“He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.”—Albert Einstein

There are some decided advantages to having some firsts in life delayed until you’re well into adulthood. The best part is that for a few fleeting glorious minutes, you can experience a flashback to the sensation of pure childlike wonder. At least that was what it was like for me to fly for the first time at age 35.

If I thought about it too deeply, I would admit that it takes quite a bit of faith and trust to buckle yourself into the narrow seat of a 737, and believe that 130-170,000 pounds of steel, fuel and humans is going lift up into the air and soar to 40,000 feet above the clouds. Before 1903, you would have laughed at me for even suggesting the idea.

Now, as the engines began to roar and we taxied toward the runway, I looked around to see people already calmly reading books, taking naps and playing Scrabble as though what was about to happen was as ordinary an everyday occurrence for them as brushing their teeth and combing their hair. I was not afraid, either, having grown up a hundred years after the Wright brothers, in an era when safe and successful air travel is normalized. But this was still my first time, and what I was experiencing that no one else seemed to be was excitement.

When we rushed forward and the wheels lifted from the pavement, it was every bit as exhilarating as I’d ever imagined. There was a blissfully lightening sensation, as though we’d left our weight down on the ground instead of taking it with us. The sun was just setting, the blue evening clouds lying wispy over the Minneapolis terminal—and suddenly we were rising right through them. One minute we were beneath, for a split second we were passing through them, the next we were above. It was just close enough to dusk that the city lights twinkled just a little and winked at me as they faded out of sight. The sun was setting in a blaze of pink, and then we were chasing it to the west as we rose higher and higher, unwilling to let it go.

For over an hour and a half, I watched that sunset as we throttled through a thinner atmosphere at 500 MPH. It was the longest sunset I have ever watched in my life. Eventually, we started to lose the chase and I saw Venus blink sleepily on just above the final streak of fuchsia, then steadily shine brighter as the night turned from velvet blue to black. The clouds were thick dark cotton below us, but every once in a while, they parted and I caught sight of the miniscule lit grid of a town far, far below.

On ensuing flights over the course of the trip, the wonders only increased. I kept catching my breath, awed by how different and beautiful Earth looked from up so high.

I got to watch the sun rise at 40,000 feet, bathing the tops of the rain clouds a sea of perfect conch shell pink for miles beneath us. The clouds parted and I saw misty fjords, and a sea of snowy peaks. I saw the full moon sinking into the ocean. I saw the fine white line of a road carving the edge of a ridge, and a raft of massive logs that looked like a collection of toothpicks afloat on the sparkling sea. I saw geometric forms of fields, perfect squares and circles.

I saw massive cracks in the ice of great rivers and majestic forests looking like nothing more than a carpet of soft dark moss and billows of snow patterned like waves across the plains. I saw semi trucks moving like ants on freeways that looked like mere threads. I saw the tiniest toy barns that I could only barely identify as red. It was a whole new perspective on this giant spinning ball I call home.

The world in my mind has often tended to look more like the maps in the atlas on our book shelf, with political boundaries neatly surrounding pastel blocks of color. But up there, peering down in wonder out of my tiny window, I was reminded that what I was seeing from my bird’s eye view was a whole lot more accurate to what God sees. He sees the big picture in the actual rich earth toned palette He painted it, how each part fits and flows together seamlessly and meaningfully to create the gorgeous masterpiece ball of Earth.

He sees the pair of swans talking to themselves as they build their nest at the mouth of the unnamed creek that flows into Stone Axe Lake, which flows in Little Sand Lake and out into the Bowstring River, which flows into the Bigfork River, which flows into the Rainy River, which snakes its way all the way up to the Hudson Bay and empties into the Atlantic Ocean, which laps at the edges of Iceland and Florida and South Africa, and makes ice around the shores of Antarctica that melts into the Pacific which crashes its mighty waves against the rocks of Patagonia, kisses the warm shores of Mexico and carries the salmon up the fjords of Prince of Wales Island to spawn in the Thorne River.

He who pinched up the points of the mountain ranges, formed the oceans with the imprint of His thumb, carved the delicate calligraphy of the rivers with His pen, holds this whole spinning magnificent world in His hands. But the best part is that He can see all this in one swift glance, while at the same time, He zooms in and sees the sparrow that falls, and the state of my heart, and yours, and all the hearts of 7.8 billion human beings created in His image and running around like tiny ants on the surface of this globe—and He knows and longs after each one by name.

Up there in that silver plane with the blue stripes on its wings, I felt small in the best way possible, dwarfed by vast magnificence of the world, and in awe that I was of any account at all, let alone beloved by its Creator.

“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:3-9)

A Child Is Born

On Christmas Day 2019, with doting aunties and grandmas hovering round, my firstborn son turned two months old.  I’d spent the previous weeks nursing him beneath the lights of the Christmas tree, often twinkling over us in the wee hours when the rest of the household was slumbering.  And on those nights, as his little head nodded downy and drowsy down onto my shoulder, I thought a lot about the first Christmas.  I feel like I understand how it might have been for Mary so much better now because of him.

I had it all planned out, you know.  Our fourth child would be born peacefully at home, surrounded by the birthing professionals I had carefully chosen and built a relationship with over the last nine months.  The birthing pool was sitting in the living room, ready for the moment I told Zach, “It’s time!” to be filled, tiny cord clamps and other medical supplies waiting in a box nearby for the midwife’s arrival.  A pretty robe was hanging up, waiting for me to slip into after labor for first pictures with my new little one.  Our bedroom was clean and ready, tiny baby newborn-sized clothes laid out on the changing table, one small pile of pink and one small pile of blue, and a pile of neutral in between awaiting the big gender reveal.  My mom was ready to drop everything when the phone rang to come whisk our other children away until after the birth.IMG_5349 editI imagine that Mary had plans, too, those 2000 years ago.  She, too, probably envisioned her child being born in the comfort of her own home, perhaps assisted by the wise old midwife who had helped every baby in Nazareth enter the world for the last 40 years, her mother nearby to hold her hand and offer encouragement during the frightening pangs of her first labor.  The swaddling clothes were laid out next to the beautiful cradle her carpenter husband had crafted, and certainly, she had dreamed that the event would be at least nine months after her wedding day to her betrothed.  

But things didn’t go according to plan, mine or hers.IMG_5127 editFor me, what was supposed to be a trip into town for a routine prenatal turned into a trip to the hospital for induction after an unexpected diagnosis of preeclampsia.  We arrived weary, after midnight and a long evening of testing and being shuffled between towns and hospitals.  A doctor I had never seen before agreed to make room for me in her schedule because the situation was considered urgent.  The unexpected circumstances were such that I arrived with nothing but the clothes on my back and my purse.  No camera, no toiletries or changes of clothing, none of the small comforts and baby things I had so carefully arranged back home.  I gave birth in a borrowed gown, surrounded by more strangers than not, an awkward but necessary blood pressure cuff attached to my arm and the foreign sound of monitors beeping.  My firstborn son was wrapped in a hospital-issued swaddle instead of the little clothes sitting back at home.  He was laid in a rolling baby cart of stainless steel and plastic labeled “Baby Ender” instead of the wooden-spindled cradle under the window in my bedroom.IMG_5356 editFor Mary, the honor and wonder of being with child by the Holy Ghost looked unfortunately too much like a shameful out-of-wedlock birth to her neighbors.  She received snubs and nasty gossip instead of congratulations.  The wedding—after the fact—was very nearly called off.  Caesar Augustas in Rome did not take due dates into account when he ordered an empire-wide census.  A long, arduous trip kicked off labor.  They arrived weary in an unfamiliar town where they knew nobody, too late for a premium room at the inn.  They were stuck sleeping with animals on a night when she labored as a first-time mother, undoubtedly longing for comfort and familiarity more than any other night in her life.  If anyone assisted her in birth besides Joseph, it was certainly a stranger, pulled in at the last minute for the emergency.  A manger stood in for the hand-crafted cradle back home.

And yet in both of our cases, in spite of all the upset plans, the most important thing did go as planned:

A baby boy was pushed safely out into the world, opened his mouth with a healthy squall, and blinked his sleepy eyes to look up into his mother’s face for the very first time.  The pain was forgotten.  It didn’t matter who was there, or where we were, if there were monitors beeping or animals lowing.  All that mattered was that our child was born.IMG_5118 editAnd all was well, because God was there.

For me,

For Mary,

For you in whatever unplanned circumstances you didn’t ask for this year, like celebrating the holiday in isolation, sick in the hospital, or mourning the loss of a loved one.  God is with you.

Never forget that this is the true meaning of Christmas.IMG_5325 edit“Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” (Matthew 1:23)

We Went Driving

Up the rugged Superior shore,

To where two countries meet;

Through the golden Sawtooth hills,

With the waves at their feet.

Along the pebbled, craggy edge,

Where restless waters stretch,

All the way to meet the dawn,

At a line so faintly etched.

Through the forest silent,

To where the roaring water falls,

Beneath the gentle mountain peaks,

Where the soaring eagle calls.

Spires of pine were pointing up,

While fluttering leaves fell down,

To grace the humble forest floor,

In a multi-colored gown.

A journey up the North Shore in October is about as lovely an autumn experience as it gets—and if you can get fresh coffee and cardamom rolls to eat while you drive, even better.

“Bless the Lord, O my soul…who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Psalm 103:1,5)

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 #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.  

 

Savoring Summer #38: Quadruplets

IMG_2627 edit.jpg“Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, through our Lord Jesus Christ and through the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in prayers to God on my behalf.” (Romans 15:30)

Is there an any more beautiful thing than when the body of Christ, one in spirit, strives together in prayer for one another?  Today, I want you to know that I am praying for you who will read this, that “the God of peace be with all of you.” (Romans 15:33)  

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: You knew the resident swans were going to make their annual appearance on the blog at some point, didn’t you?  I know you can’t quite see them all here, but there are four cygnets this year!

Savoring Summer #32: Blue Heron

IMG_2253 edit.jpg“Let everyone submit to the governing authorities, since there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are instituted by God.” (Romans 13:13)

As we celebrate our country’s birthday, let’s thank God for the good leaders through the years who have had the vision to found and guide our country according to what is true and right.  And even when we don’t agree with our governing authorities, it’s good to be reminded that they are ultimately placed there by God, and if only for this reason alone, deserve our respect.

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.  For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.  Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.  Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:13-17)

Also remember: it’s easy to criticize leadership, but not so easy to BE in leadership.  The higher up you are, the greater the pressure and heavier the weight of responsibility.  So in addition to honoring and submitting, let’s not forget to do this:

I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;  for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour…” (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

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!)!

Savoring Summer #30: Freshwater Clam

IMG_2248 edit.jpg“Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2)

But oh, but how this “age” (or “world” or “pattern/standard of this world” in other translations) we live in begs for us to conform, and how quickly and easily our minds are clouded by its alluring priorities, causes, and agendas!

Something that stood out to me in this verse that hadn’t really before:  it suggests that perhaps the first step to understanding the will of God—something many, many people desire—is to check on your conformity versus transformity status.  Hmmm…

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!)!