“We’re moving to Alaska.”
Those were not the words I wanted to hear from my husband. Ever. Alaska was never my dream….it’s too cold, too dark (unless it’s too light), it’s – the wilderness! Certainly not the place for a self proclaimed city girl, such as myself. To compound matters, we were coming off a military dream assignment in Tokyo, Japan. For three years, I immersed myself in the rich Japanese culture, traveled to exotic Asian locales and enjoyed the most cherished friendships of a lifetime.
MY dream was to extend the adventure to Europe. The next three years were supposed to be spent wandering quaint cobble-stoned towns and admiring towering cathedrals. (Once you have the blessing of living overseas, a mere vacation pales in comparison. You miss so much!) Alaska was nowhere on my radar, not even close. I panicked. I cried. I dug in my heels. I threw an all-out toddler tantrum. But alas, I found myself on a plane out of my beloved Japan, followed by a fifty+ hour road trip to Alaska. The Last Frontier.
I arrived in Alaska defeated, sad and desperately clinging to what I left behind. But the problem with clinging too tightly to the past? My hands were not open to reach for the new thing. Instead, they had to be pried open. With a crowbar. While it is important to grieve any loss, I had moved from grief into self-pity, where I stayed stuck for far too long. I was angry at God for not giving me what I wanted, and I was slow to get involved, slow to make friends and slow to embrace the wondrous world outside my door. I felt benched. Benched from travel, adventure and everything I held dear.
I have always loved outdoor exercise. In Japan, I was able to get outside year-round, due to the moderate climate. We arrived in Alaska right in time to be plunged into winter, and my outside time was a thing of the past. I longed to be somewhere else, ANYWHERE else and found myself actually craving the light and heat from the sun. Even when I saw a picture of a beach or desert, I would close my eyes and imagine the sun’s rays warming my body. After a very long, cold and dark winter, I couldn’t stand it any longer and headed outdoors. But with spring came bear sightings and “bear aware” warnings.
One day, I was running outside and with every rustle in the forest came a huge surge of adrenaline. I was outside but jumpy, nervous and scared. I was angry and frustrated because my outdoor happy place was not happy at all. In anger, I accused the Lord, “When it’s finally nice enough to be outside, I’m TERRIFIED about bears and still can’t enjoy it! You knew I’d hate it here and you sent me anyway!” On and on I raged, until finally calming a bit, I added “But I’m not going to get bitter, and I’ll do my best”. That very moment, of all the hundreds of songs on my shuffle, my two favorite workout songs came on back-to-back. This put a smile on my face. I knew I had been heard by a God who loved me and was bigger than my fears. I would survive. Somehow.
But as summer turned to winter (fall doesn’t stick around for long), the sadness crept up again. I loved my outside time, yearned for it even. The thought of eight months inside was more than I could bear. I felt the Lord nudge me to walk outside with Him for 30 minutes every day. I was sure He didn’t really mean outside, it was cold and dark, and — Alaska! So, I took to the treadmill instead. Surely 30 minutes on the treadmill was good enough, I reasoned. A few months went by in that manner, but His pursuit of me was relentless. OUTSIDE, He gently reminded me.
Finally, one frigid day in December, I agreed. I put on the coat, the mittens, the snow pants, the boots, the wool socks, the snow cleats, the neck warmer and the hat, and entered a winter wonderland. This one act changed everything, and was quite possibly the first time I’ve felt true worship. The beginning of a beautiful romance. I had loved God for several years, but I had never really let Him love me.
My 30 minute walk with God, on that frozen trail in Alaska, quickly became my favorite part of every day. I couldn’t get enough. I would inhale the crisp fresh air, savor the silence of a fresh blanket of snow, or sometimes sing praise music at the top of my voice to the trees.
I studied the beautiful and intricate designs of a snowflake, each one unique. I sometimes removed a mitten and scooped up a handful of snow, just to really feel the sensation.
I tried to guess the small (and sometimes big) animal tracks in the snow,
and almost daily I would find myself in tears under a brilliantly painted sky, a beautiful gift every evening, just for me. (Oh, how I miss my 3:30 sunsets!)
There was no way to feel anything but awe and admiration standing beneath God’s greatness. I made peace with Alaska– and God, on that snowy trail; the beauty, the solitude and the stillness. But more importantly, I learned that He can be trusted. He may not give me what I want, but He will ALWAYS give me what I need.
Instead of running around Europe marveling at cathedrals constructed by man, I was sent to Alaska to worship in God’s great cathedral, unparalleled by human hands. I had to be benched in order to find Him. Was it worth it? A million times yes! Alaska will always hold a special place in my heart for the growth I experienced there. Growth isn’t always fun- it hurts, but makes you stronger.
After leaving Japan, and settling into my new Alaskan “normal”, I cried out to the Lord through heartbroken tears, “My life’s greatest adventure is over.” And I distinctly heard him lovingly whisper, “Maybe your life’s greatest adventure is just beginning.” I’m finding, with God, the best is always yet to come. On that, I put my hope.