"There is no one like the God of Jeshurun,
who rides on the heavens to help you
and on the clouds in his majesty."
One of my favorite parts (as ifthere's a non favorite part) of serving in Alaska is the "getting there" part. The flight to AK is so cool! The sun has never set on a flight I've taken to Anchorage. This is a good thing because the closer you get to landing, the better the scenery below you is to behold.
Only one out of three flights has it been too cloudy to take in the snow covered mountains and glacier blue ice as we flew over them. I love how you can be looking at the clouds and see one off in the distance that doesn't quite look right...only to realize that "pointed" cloud is actually a snow capped mountain. The first sighting of a "pointed cloud" still brings out the kid in me. I know what's coming next and I sit up and watch out the window until my neck gets a kink in it and I have to rest a moment...all the while hoping I won't miss anything while I'm looking away. :)
As the clouds break, this scene opens up below with mountains grandeur, glaciers magnificent, and snow abundant. I've seen no other view quite like it.
On my flight I had a Native American couple in the two seats beside me. We chatted off and on throughout the trip. In our conversation it came out that this was only the second time she had been out of the state of Alaska. I'm only guessing, but I would say she was mid 50's...this means she is averaging a trip to the lower 48 once every 25 years or so. That's something, isn't it? It's not an uncommon thing, though, for truly Native Alaskans anyway. I learned that there are villagers that never leave their village, not even for a flight into another village or city in Alaska. That blows my mind.
As we landed, the gentleman was looking out the window and pointing out different mountains and points of interest. I smiled to myself as some of the names rang a bell with me and I knew of what he was referring. It was nice landing to sunshine, big time!
They both seemed very happy to be back...the woman looked at me and sighed, "It's good to see the mountains again."
I couldn't agree more.
"We know, dear brothers and sisters, that God loves you and has chosen you to be his own people. For when we brought you the Good News, it was not only with words but also with power, for the Holy Spirit gave you full assurance that what we said was true. And you know of our concern for you from the way we lived when we were with you." 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5
There's no easy answer to why Alaska holds the top spot in my heart for missions. Statisically, Alaska is the most unchurched State. Spiritually speaking, the act of reaching others with the Gospel just isn't being fully accomplished by the Alaska local church as a whole. Personally, I know it's totally a God thing because I'm a warm weather, the hotter the better, kind of gal. Except where Alaska is concerned.
Some things are just WOW kinds of things...Willingness to go and do whatever it is God is asking you to do. Showing Obedience by following through in what He's leading you to do. And, living out a life of Worship as you go.
The best answer to this question is one I heard 3 years ago...
You don't choose Alaska, Alaska chooses you.
Two snippets of songs keep running through my mind this morning...
"I'm leavin' on a jet plane..." and
"North, to Alaska! Going North, the rush is on..."
In only a matter of hours now I'm off to the airport for my fourth journey to Alaska to volunteer with GraceWorks, a mission organization taking the Gospel to and meeting needs of people in innercity Anchorage and beyond.
My journey to Alaska begins well before July 2008 when I first traveled to Anchorage...it actually begins in October 2007 and before, but that is a good place to start. We had our annual missions conference at Grace in October and I shared with a group of people one morning that God has given me a desire to find a mission trip for our youth to go on and asked for prayer concerning this. I was a youth leader at the time. Later on, I thought I had found just the trip...a trip to Mississippi to help with community cleanup still remaining from Katrina. It would happen over spring break 2008. Deadline to sign up was around Christmas. No one wanted to go...numerous reasons given. Okay. Now what, God? Burden is still here...where do I turn to next?
Gave it to Him to figure out...meanwhile, He led me to prepare to step down from youth leadership to use me in the children's ministry at Grace. Talk about difficult thing to obey...this was my heart's joy He was asking me to leave for something that totally intimidated me. I'd work with teens over kids anyday (still would for that matter for the most part). This was in December 2007 and it was determined and I had a peace about remaining in youth leadership until the end of May 2008. I still wanted to see us on a missions trip...even if I weren't in leadership when it happened, I felt an urgency to get the teens outside of themselves and experience something where they could see God using them in people's lives.
Deadlines came and went for the first trip and January was upon us. Sometime in late January or February of 2008 a missionary that Grace supported, Scott Kirby, was at our church. He was given a few minutes to share with the congregation at the end of the service. He spoke of what God was doing in his life and such and then his last sentence to us was, if anyone wants to get a group together to come to AK, "we'll find something for you to do." The second he ended his statement, I knew I was going to Alaska. God came and swept peace over me with that assurance right then and there. I knew why the other door had been closed and tears of joy came to my eyes. Now, I just had to figure out how I was getting there.
My Sunday school teacher at the time was also the missions committee chair, so one morning kind of out of the blue I said to him in class that I think we need to send a group to AK to help Scott Kirby since he said he'd find something for us to do. He was kind of like, oh, really? And I was not sure if he had really seemed interested or not. I didn't say anything more. Little did I know life was about to take me on a detour.
The first Saturday night in March of 2008, my husband's life hung on the line and he passed out and turned blue one time in the middle of the night in the house and then flatlined in the ambulance while getting strapped in as it sat in our driveway. They had to "zap" him to get him back as they jokingly said to keep things light on the ride to the hospital. I was in the front seat of the ambulance praying while this was all going on...my life changed there and then in that ride which seemed to take forever even though there was no traffic.
Scott is still with us today, just so you know. :)
The next couple of days turned into weeks and I heard in passing as someone called or emailed me that we were getting a team together to to to Alaska in July. I was excited, but still kind of drained at the time and didn't find out a whole lot of details then. I remember stopping in at the church to talk to Pastor Brian to give him an update on Scott and I saw a display for Alaska in the foyer. I asked Pastor about it and said I needed to sign up for that before I left. As I went over to sign up...at the top it said 20 people could go...and the list was full to #19. My name was #20. It was as if God saved the final spot just for me.
To this day, I still don't know how it came about that it was decided to come to AK...I never asked. It didn't matter, really...God told me I'd be in AK and it was happening. He is so faithful.
And, lo and behold on that list were 9 of our youth group teens...God was answering my prayers there, too, and I hadn't even been around to try and convince them they needed to go. God showed me so many things through that...His faithfulness, His timing, His everything. And, that He could get His will done in ways that I had never even thought about...and without me in the picture at all. It was about Him...for two reasons, I think. One, to keep me humble...and two, to show others that it was His will for us to go and not just an ambition of mine.
God has a way of making it all about Him...and I'm totally okay with that.
A small team from Grace went back to Alaska in 2009. And, last summer, I went to help as a GraceWorks staff member for two weeks. I served for and with an awesome team from Texas for a week then helped out in the kitchen the following week as well serving more teams that had come up from the Lower 48.
Today, on my journey North, I am thankful that God has blessed me with a heart to serve the people of Alaska. It has to be His gig, because I am a down right summer weather, the hotter the better, wish it lasted all year long, kind of gal. Only God could get me to keep on going back. Although beautiful beyond words, it tends to be rainy and cool during the summer weeks. And, somehow, I don't mind that much...but I always pray for sunshine!
Thinking over this week's theme, knowing I'm about to leave for Alaska on Wednesday, I was reminded of this photo taken on my second mission trip to inner city Anchorage. It tended to be rainy each day that week (that seems to be the story of each trip I take there), but we made the most of it. And, even if the sun wasn't shining, these children were all I needed to smile and carry on with the mission inbetween the rain showers.
The children are my sunshine in Alaska!
Who do you sing that catchy little tune to? Share your photos over at Jen's challenge!
I have been recently reminded of the importance of my investment in others...strangers, friends, family, God.
A genuine investment.
Not fleeting. Not pressured. Not insincere.
A timeless investment.
Not counted. Not measured. Not compared.
God has no lapse in His care...His love...His joy for me.
"The LORD is good, a stronghold in a day of distress; He cares for those who take refuge in Him." Nahum 1:7
"Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His faithful love endures forever." 1 Chronicles 16:34
"And the ransomed of the LORD will return and come to Zion with singing, crowned with unending joy. Joy and gladness will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee." Isaiah 51:11
My ability to care for and love others is limited. I falter at being consistently aware of others' needs, sorrows, and even their joys in life.
I'm talking epic failure, here.
Nothing makes me more aware of my own failures than when I feel someone has failed me. Nothing hurts me more than feeling forgotten...left out...ignored.
It's a good reminder, though...I don't want others to feel forgotten by me.
It's a great motivator, too...tomorrow's another day to try again at treating others like how I want to be treated.
It's a powerful tool...our time, our words, shared with someone can be used by God to reveal Himself, the Almighty One.
God never changes. He never needs a Plan B. He's never surprised by what comes next. However...
Time changes all things for us. We have to fly by the seat of our pants sometimes. Sometimes what to do evades us so we do nothing at all.
Oh, that we may see and reach out to others especially in these times. Stay connected with God and share what's going on with those who have invested time, care and love in you. Communication eliminates alot of doubt and fear hanging around when changes are taking place.
Dear Heavenly Father, I'm sorry for failing to follow Your example on how to care for and love others. May I be ever reminded to make the most of the moments in each day to share You with others by what I say and do. I'm far from perfect and cannot expect perfection of others. Help me let go of the questions and the hurt inside. Please fill me with Your joy as I rely on You as my provider of all things. In Jesus' name, Amen.
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
Every year whether I've been a camper or a staff member there are butterflies in my stomach as I arrive at camp. What's in store for the week? What does God want from me this week? How will I fit in? How can I best serve Him and others this week? Oh, the list of questions go on and on...sometimes to include, Who am I that I'm here?
God is so good to answer some of my questions right away.
Monday evening was all about getting there and settled in and catching up with friends I usually only see once a year at camp. It was obvious from the get-go that it was a week destined to be full of laughter. And, full of laughter it was!
Let me just insert here that I haven't been to MI week of camp in many a year and I had forgotten how healthy and hungry the mosquitoes are on the upper east side of MI. When they fly over your head they sound like a jet plane crop duster. You feel it when they land on you and oh. my. goodness. what a bite they have! I think some must have been vacationing from AK this summer. Crazy big mosquitoes!
There was something Good going on among us this week of camp. It was there from the start and kept on going until the very last day of camp...and beyond. God was moving in hearts even before camp began and if we choose to take that seed of truth home with us, He's still making changes in our hearts even today.
Our camp theme was "Identity"...based on 2 Corinthians 5:17 "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" but, throughout the week, God spoke mainly to me about being focused on Him. I truly believe it all started with that frustrating trip into camp. 18 miles to camp and I was at a stand still until someone with more resources, more knowledge came to my rescue. He's the One with the answers...the know-how...the resources to get through life one day at a time.
The Holy Spirit was evident as we moved through our days and evenings. The kids were absorbing what was being shared in Bible and Missionary times and at campfire. The distractions were there, too, but our God is greater that even the loudest boat and peskiest mosquito.
One of the most beloved activities at BMC is the Bible Quiz/Sword Drill night where teams compete for points. It gives you a very clear sense of how much the campers were listening all week...and it makes us as staff listen as well so we can come up with the questions to ask. :) It was such a blessing to see the campers answering the questions with little or no hesitation. Tim was one of our team members being he was with me and he got our team 3 points...one question and both sword drill verses! It was a joy to watch, indeed! He's so looking forward to being a camper next year.
The appearance of Danny the Dinosaur at camp this week was something special. A pink toy dinosaur with huge eyes, found discarded in the woods turned out to be a huge hit for everyone. He was then united with Stanley Cluckers, a stuffed chicken rescued from "the claw" a couple weeks back. Complete with voices to match their personalities, Danny and Stan made camp all that more memorable. Sometimes it's the little things that make a week complete. Solving a Danny mystery, building Danny a sandcaslte competition, Danny and Stan mc-ing the BQ/SD night, and many other Danny/Stan moments brought sheer joy with much laughter to our days.
During Bible time on Thursday morning, it was so amazing to hear what Christa was teaching and how she was doing it because it was leading right into what I felt led to share and how to start the sharing time at campfire later on that evening. Our Bible times were based on the story of Jacob, and this particular day she had brought out who Jacob was before he knew the LORD and who he was after he knew the LORD. Already having my heart primed to go this way from a message from my own pastor the Sunday before I left on this 2 week journey, this was a sure sign that it was the way to go for campfire that evening.
Knowing what you're going to share doesn't take the nerves completely away, though, so as I stood up to speak I was still praying for things to go well. God took over as I started to speak. Kids settled down and listened. Staff shared. Campers shared. God moved. Hearts were stirred and the Spirit carried it right into music/Bible time again the next morning. Oh, how He loves us! To sense God's presence in such a way and know that He's among us by what is evidenced in the lives of even the youngest of His children...no words come that can explain how awesome that is!
During my quiet time one morning as I was reading in Romans 10, verse 20 virtually lept off the page at me..."And Isaiah boldly says, 'I was found by those who did not seek me;
I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.'" God impressed upon my heart that there were kids finding God who came to camp not even knowing they needed God.
Among all of the fun stuff, God was revealing Himself to His children...and being found.
He spreads out the northern skies over empty space; he suspends the earth over nothing. He wraps up the waters in his clouds, yet the clouds do not burst under their weight. He covers the face of the full moon,
spreading his clouds over it. He marks out the horizon on the face of the waters for a boundary between light and darkness. The pillars of the heavens quake, aghast at his rebuke. By his power he churned up the sea; by his wisdom he cut Rahab to pieces. By his breath the skies became fair; his hand pierced the gliding serpent. And these are but the outer fringe of his works; how faint the whisper we hear of him! Who then can understand the thunder of his power?” Job 26:7-14
Sunday evening, after a day on the lake...and I do mean an entire day...we loaded up and went into Evert for their fireworks. Man, does that little town in the middle of northern MI know how to put on a show! It put any fireworks that I've seen in the Atlanta area (and pretty much anywhere else, too) to shame. It was a beautiful evening for being outside enjoying the company of friends and thinking about the freedom of America we were celebrating.
Monday morning was the 4th of July. Miss M and I were all decked out in our red, white, and blue so we had our picture taken out by the lake. It took her a few hours to get used to us being there at her side constantly when we first arrived, but we became fast friends. It was hard thinking about leaving her and knowing she'd probably be walking the next time I saw her. She's so bubbly and cuddly...definitely a social butterfly. And she loves her Aunt Janet, so what else could be better? She took to the boys attention, too, and let them hold her most times they wanted. Alex had her giggling outright and it was so cute to hear baby laughter again. There are days when I really wish GA and MI were closer together on the map!
As well as being the 4th, it was also camp day! Excitement began to build as we gathered our things and loaded them in the car. About the second trip out I started thinking about something and asked Tim a question about his suitcase for camp. I had us pack separate bags...one for our IN/lake time and one for camp. It was easier that way since we wouldn't have to lug such a big bag around the whole first week. It, apparently, is also easier to forget a suitcase, too, because we discovered that Tim didn't have his bag for camp. Oops! That's the first time I've ever forgotten a whole suitcase. I laughed. Other than having to revamp our leaving time to make a stop at Walmart on the way to camp, it really wasn't that big of a deal. Thankfully, there was one on our way...no need to backtrack or go out of our way.
We stopped for lunch and at Walmart then we were off for the 45 minute drive to camp. Or so I thought. Apparently, at&t isn't a popular cell phone carrier in northern Michigan. I had visualized the route on a map and had the big roads down, but once off the interstate I was as the mercy of the camp instructions. However, I had gotten off on a different exit because I was coming to camp from the opposite direction...the gps worked up until I exited I75. Then it froze up. It had some strange directions that I could not understand from where I currently was. I couldn't find the roadmap Deb had given me for such a thought as my gps not working for some reason. (I found it when we got back into Cadi as we left camp a week later...go figure). So, I drove back onto the interstate until I got a signal again and called Scott and hoped he was able to get to a computer and get me back on track. I'm surprised he could even understand my babbling through the tears and nervousness and frustration, but he did and gave me the directions I needed. I was only 18 miles from camp and was so frustrated that I couldn't get there on my own. So close yet so far away. The one person I had earlier stopped to ask for help was no help at all. She looked at me like I was crazy for even thinking she might know where I needed to be. She didn't care. Period. That hadn't helped my feeling of helplessness. Not one bit.
Anyway, once I came to the roads that were the same as the camp directions, it was easy to find. But, I had lost all kinds of time and, even though I was still "on time", it had been a mentally exhausting ordeal.
It was good to finally pull into camp and know that was all behind me.
"Then King David went in, sat in the LORD's presence, and said, 'Who am I, Lord GOD , and what is my house that You have brought me this far? What You have done so far was a little thing to You, Lord GOD, for You have also spoken about Your servant's house in the distant future. And this is a revelation for mankind, Lord GOD. What more can David say to You? You know Your servant, Lord GOD. Because of Your word and according to Your will, You have revealed all these great things to Your servant.'" 2 Samuel 7:18-21
The past couple of days since arriving home from a two week roadtrip have been very relaxing for the body, but very active for my mind. Recalling everyone visited, things accomplished, God's fingerprint over every moment...it still brings me to tears. Each hour I am back home, I think of something else that happened and thank my Heavenly Father again and again and again for His goodness of allowing me the experiences of the past two weeks.
Two weeks ago, my two boys and I packed up Cadi (that's what we call our Acadia) and headed North. First stop (of three) was Indiana to visit with my family. I have been living in GA almost 10 years, now, but when I go home to IN almost everything remains the same. It's comforting, yet mind boggling because things change so rapidly in the metro Atlanta area. The first few days are always adjustment ones for me...different perspectives, different speed. I feel out of my element even though I'm in the element in which I was born and raised. That's hard for me. I don't like being out of the loop and I always am. Nobody's fault...it's just the way it is.
Spent about 3 days in IN with family just enjoying being together. My niece has just gotten a new puppy, Cookie. A cute little thing, even my boys and I can love it. Tim's still not sure about it since it is a dog and all, but he's trying really hard to like her.
Let me just say no place has a more beautiful warm weather than in the Midwest. Not one. You breathe fresh air, visualize a sky such a color of blue Crayola is envious of it, and, at night, catch a glimpse of so many stars at one time you get dizzy standing there with your head up trying to take them all in. In college, on a clear night, we'd go outside and do what I think was called a "star spin". In an open space of grass, look up and stare at a bright star and start spinning as fast as you can. If done correctly you can still see your star as the others appear to spin around it...lots of laughter, dizziness, and falls occur in the following moments. Great times!
Friday morning Cadi headed further North...this time stopping in Evert, MI to see my best friend from college. Halfway on this journey just happened to be Ft. Wayne, IN, where I've spent some great years of my life at college and living there afterward. Growing up I always knew I'd live there one day...when that dream came true, I knew anything was possible from there on out.
I met Deb in the fall of 1992...she was an incoming Freshman from MI and I was a transfer student coming in as a Junior from southern IN. All but a handfull of my friends from college were Freshmen because I got to know them first through all of the orientation classes and required Bible courses I had to catch up on my first year. As time goes on, the age difference disappears, and you're just friends. Friendship knows no age. I like that.
Anyway, Deb almost every nice weekend would be headed "Up North" as she always referred to going to MI. Especially during the summer months when we worked together on the housekeeping crew, she was for ever going "Up North" to her family's cottage. Sometimes, taking people with her to enjoy a weekend of skiing and tubing and her Aunt Martha's cooking! She and her dad taught several of our friends to ski on those weekends. It took me over a year to make it on one of those trips "Up North"...and I always skirted the issue of skiing...on purpose. I did not like even the thought of trying. Later on in life, I had the excuse of being with child for a couple of years and having little ones running around on shore...then she was with child and I wasn't going to try to ski without her help, so...
Well, this year was the year! I put it off on Saturday having enjoyed tubing and seeing my son Alex learn the basics of skiing...but come Sunday, with a little pressure on me now that Alex had learned and from Deb's dad that there wasn't any better time to learn...I found myself with skis on my feet and a rope in my hands being pulled through the water by a boat.
I drank alot of lake water that day.
But, I tried...and on my second time out that Sunday, I was skiing for a second. It wasn't pretty. It was far from graceful. Sometimes it was down right hilarious.
But I tried.
I'll always be grateful for Deb's and her dad's patience. I wonder if it would have been better to learn to ski from someone other than Deb...we were pretty distracted at times with all the laughter at my face plants in the water. But, then again, I wouldn't have had it any other way. That's one definitely for the memory books!