“For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land.” (Ezekiel 36)
A year ago today we arrived in Alaska. We were beat up. It had been a long and arduous journey to arrive in one piece. We chose to leave the “lower 48” for many reasons. I loved living in Washington. A trip to a local farm to buy pumpkins by the pound was one of our best times in Washington. I loved wandering Pike’s Market and getting fresh flowers and a cup of coffee from the original Starbucks, as well as the deals on local cheeses and vegetables. I came to love the season of fall in Washington. One of our most memorable Thanksgivings was spent with dear friends and family just north of Seattle. Living in Washington was a preparatory move and very good for us.
But we had decisions to make about our living and work situation and we missed, terribly, our children and grandson who lived in Alaska. Our middle son was in the midst of getting married and setting up his household, not knowing where he would live, and encouraged us to get away and live closer to his big brother. So, we packed up 30 years of marriage and memories into a 20+ foot U-Haul truck, loaded our pets and suitcases in our car, and off we went, into a very uncertain future.
I learned to drive on ice – on “all weather” tires, no less. The AlCan Highway is truly an experience I will never forget – nor will I ever repeat it. Our journey to Alaska was one that was charged with so many emotions. The physical part of the journey was harrowing and nerve-wracking, and extremely tiring. I remember at one point asking our then-14-year-old if he thought we would see Alaska over the next mountain…all I got from him was a grunt. (He was thrilled with the trip because he played his x-box non-stop! I don’t think he looked outside unless I told him to). Our U-Haul truck was full and heavy and ungainly on those snowy and icy roads. Watching behind me as the snow and ice gathered on the windshield of the truck and Ed reaching out the window – while driving – to try and clear it! Scared me to death, but we were so afraid to pull over and stop because the terrain was erratic and we were not sure if we were on the road or off the road. These crazy truck drivers would zoom past our little caravan with no warning and nary a peek in our direction – talk about “ice road truckers”!!!! They would spray snow and ice all over us. I was shocked at how fast they drove on those harrowing roads. Learning later on that the roads are not even paved did nothing to enhance my memories! Up and down, up and down, and around and around some pretty incredible curves on those mountains; I am just glad it is done! I even bought myself a sticker that is on our refrigerator, “I survived the AlCan“! Ha! And I did.
When we crossed the Alaskan border, I cried. We finally arrived! We were in constant cell contact with our daughter-in-law most of the journey and we arranged to meet her and our little grandson for a burger before we followed her to our new home. We were so thrilled to see a familiar face! It also cemented for us why we made this amazing journey. When we drove into town, seeing that Welcome sign that said we were home, I was never so excited to be “home” in my life. Our little house, settled into its quiet corner of Alaska. I think there are two stoplights here. Two. I love that I am far enough out of town to have the peace and quiet, and close enough to drive into it as often as needed.
I have learned so much about living in a snow state since moving here. Things I never even thought of, growing up in SoCal. And I have so many blessed memories packed into this last year, I am blown away. While we have been here, we have seen the most incredible sights. This state is incredibly beautiful and still very wild. We have had eagles in the trees in our yard. We have had a moose lazily make its way through our yard, eating the leaves off the trees. The vistas here are simply breath-taking. Every time we go out of our little house, we want to take photographs! We still feel like we are tourists. I am sure it will take years to feel like real Alaskans.
Some of the amazing things we experienced over this past year only deepen our gratitude to God, as well as help us realize how blessed we are. Our middle son welcomed his first child, a daughter, into the world in May. What a blessing her arrival was! I was thrilled to visit them in SoCal for her baptism and to spend some time with my mom. An incredible summer spent watching Andrew get in his glider and orientation flights with CAP. And in October, our oldest son welcomed his second child, also a daughter, into the world. We were actually here and were able to see her, hold her, and cry all over ourselves on the day of her birth. What an amazing experience. We’ve been here to celebrate holidays and birthdays with our oldest son and his growing family, which is something we have not been privileged to do in more than eight years. We had Christmas with our grandchildren. We have walked on glaciers. We have seen the ocean, waterfalls, mountains, fields and fields of green, and gorgeous blue skies. We have seen the wildlife here, just roaming freely. It is truly amazing and I love it!
We left everything familiar behind us. We left access to the “lower 48.” We left friends of decades behind us. We left adobe and tile roofs and they have been replaced with siding and downspouts that grow the most amazing icicles! We’ve learned to shovel snow instead of dirt. It is a simple life. It is a quiet life. We left the maze of freeways and highways and toll roads for a state that has no interstates and only 3 highways. We have driven through some crazy snow storms, sliding all over the road, and barely able to see where we are going. But we made it just fine. My oldest son commented that I needed boots higher than my ankle for those “snow drifts” I may have to wade through. My return comment to him was, “I am the grandma. I have sons who will shovel or plow those out of my way for me. I do not need high boots.” He laughed when I reminded him that he was one of my sons! Ha-Ha!
We have been exposed to one of the best homeschooling experiences I have ever had. I have now homeschooled and/or had someone in school in three states and I can honestly say this is the best place to educate your child, hands down. Over 60% of the state homeschools because of environment and location. Because of that the materials and resources available to families is amazing. In addition to receiving a top-notch education, our son has been reunited with a family we’ve been friends with for over 20 years, and their children. It has been wonderful. He has been able to continue with his CAP involvement and is growing into an exceptional young man. He is making friends through CAP, through our parish community, and through our friends and outreach opportunities in homeschooling. For our youngest son, this move was a blessing. He is looking forward to more hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, and other outdoors experiences here. Alaska is a place where you are constantly outside, exploring this wonderful place.
And we found a new church home, as well. We have struggled with our new parish because it is so unlike anything we’ve experienced as Melkite Greek Catholics. We are changing, and our parish is undergoing major changes, but I tell you, we have been more welcomed here than in any of the churches we visited while in Washington. And I am making some wonderful friends. I am learning all about new cultures (as I detailed in my Easter basket prep saga) and learning to appreciate new and different ways of doing things (even at my age, I can still be taught!!). I have had to turn inward more and more, because I don’t have friends who drop in for tea or who I can pick up the phone and gab with. It’s hard when you have had intense friendships for so long, to not have your friends around you. But I know this is where God brought us, and He brought us here for a reason. I feel so blessed to be here.
“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.”- Anatole France
I truly believe God brought us through so many changes, out of a place that was not feeding our spirits, and into a land that is hard and tough and requires us to change not only who we are, but how we see who we are, in order to make us better people. There is a philosophy I have touched on many times in my posts on this blog and it is called, “Theosis.” Many people mistake this for man thinking he can become God. But rather, it is the process through which man becomes like God. We aspire to all those qualities that God has, and we try to incorporate them into who we are. We become as He is. Each day we take steps towards our final destination. Each day we are faced with choices that make us more like God, or our choices take us further away from Him. I have imagined the days when Adam and Eve strolled through the Garden, deep in conversation with God. But they were tempted by the Serpent and they chose to eat of the Tree of Life. Once they were equal with God, He cast them out of the Garden: “And then God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Genesis 3: 22-24) So it is not for us to become the same as God, nor is it for us to become a God. But rather, it is for us to strive to be like Him in all things. And I know I am in this place because it gives me a simplicity of life. An approach that is simple and sincere, saved from much that used to distract me from pursuing the best of the person God wants me to be. Each day is a step in the direction I choose for it to be. And moving so far away; moving to a place that is incredibly beautiful but at the same time harsh in many ways, is proving to be the place where I can be tested and formed and made in the likeness of Him who sent me here. It all began one year ago today, as I unloaded that first box. God is good and we are so blessed with this new life.