I love/hate Alaska

Confession: I am South American.  I don’t do winter sports.  And I was raised swimming outdoors in ocean water every weekend.  As a result, Alaska isn’t “natural” for me.

img_1670I have this love/hate relationship with Alaska, as I think most people do who weren’t born and raised here.  It’s definitely not a ‘meh’ state.  It’s always going big or going home, in everything from sunlight (and lack thereof) to snow.  Winters are long and hard on my joints.  Summers are short and sunny even during midnight.  It’s very extreme.

And very beautiful.

One of the reasons why we have stayed as long as we have (and plan on staying) is the way homeschooling has just opened up doors for our family.  We have a family we could have never imagined.  We live in a way that feels almost fairy tale like.  And I’m so thankful!

img_1674Just a few Sundays ago we went on a homeschool fieldtrip organized by our charter school.  Drove three hours one way to sit on a boat for 5 hours, and do marine biology lessons and experiments.  And whale watching.  And sea lion watching.  And glacier watching.

It’s the part of Alaska you fall in love with, the views that leave you breathless.  The smell of rain and pine trees that I’m sure I would never smell in any other place.  It’s the big ocean and the big mountains all in one panoramic view.

Then there’s an almost unbelievable amount of homeschooling support in this state that has afforded us to be here.  Paid for by their school (and not my pocket).  Learning about our ecosystem and being surrounded by kids just as interested and curious as my children.

img_1688My children (and I) learned:

  • Alaska (south of the Arctic circle) is indeed a rainforest.
  • We are so rich in phytoplankton that it is visible in our waters from outer space.
  • Alaska is the final frontier to many species of pelagic birds – birds that can swim and fly.  These birds have dense bones to help them really fly underwater but can still get airborne.
  • Marine mammals have had multiple adaptations which help them survive in these cold waters.
  • The tail of a humpback whale is worked by a muscle called a peduncle.  It is so powerful that in two swipes it will get a whale completely out of the water and into the air.  That’s 66,000 lbs!
  • Otters have such lose fur that they can literally grab their back, bring it in front of them for grooming, and put it back.

img_1690My kids got to look at and identify plankton under a microscope that they caught in the bay.  And they learned a lot about how unique our state is, the state I’m learning to fall in love with after all these years.

We also went outside and learned how to spot humpback whales by watching the patterns of the birds that feed around them.  We came to understand their behavior and know when they were going to dive for a long time.

How many people in the world could honestly say they’ve seen a humpback whale?

We also spotted sea lions resting on rocks to conserve their energy.  And so many birds.

img_1730I can get tired of the long, dark winters… but I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of exploring the beauties of this place with my children and seeing the wonder in their eyes.  When you are in front of such big wildlife, you are more aware of how small you are in comparison to the rest of creation – and more in awe that God loves you THAT much.

 

Lessons From Within The Storm

I was in a situation recently where it all just felt icky and awful.  In it I was drowning in self-pity and despair! I couldn’t see my way through this or out of this.  I absolutely hate feeling stuck.

Confession: When I was about 5 years old, I was going down from the 9th floor of my grandma’s apartment via elevator with my uncle, when there was a quake that caused the elevator to malfunction, and then it dropped… and then it got stuck.  I remember my uncle injuring his arm trying to hold the doors open from within as my cousins and uncles were prying it open from the outside to get me out.

Irony would have it that about a year later I would be in Miami, FL during Hurricane Andrew (1992) spending the night in a walk-in closet with my family…

As a result, I have developed a phobia of small and tight spaces.  I’ve never let a phobia control my actions though, because I hate being manipulated by my emotions even more.  But I get uncomfortable if I feel squeezed.

And not just physically!  I hate feeling pressured, cornered, boxed in… I don’t like it when it seems others are putting me in a situation where my freedoms are restricted, I don’t like feeling tied down… and when I am, I tend to lash out.

It was precisely in this type of situation last month where I found myself really frustrated and, turning to God’s Word and prayer, came across this Scripture in Matthew 8:23-27:

“As He got into the[h] boat, His disciples followed Him. 24 Suddenly, a violent storm arose on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves. But He was sleeping. 25 So the disciples came and woke Him up, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to die!”

26 But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, you of little faith?” Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea. And there was a great calm.

27 The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this?—even the winds and the sea obey Him!”

stormIt struck a nerve how… odd Jesus’ response was.  Was it a lack of compassion?  Was the storm just not as bad as the disciples were making it out to be? Did He expect them to know the outcome the way He knew?

I found myself asking, “Jesus, how come You not only slept through the storm, but rebuked the disciples for waking you up?”

This is what I learned:

·        The presence of the storm does not equal the absence of God.  Likewise, God never promised us that His presence would result in the absence of storms either!

·        Jesus got in the boat first because it was the medium necessary to travel from point A to point B.  And if you want to get to point B with Jesus, the best thing for you to do is to get in the boat with Him.

·        Jesus had full confidence in the disciple’s abilities to navigate the boat through the storm.  Some of them were experienced fishermen.  He didn’t take over and start rowing, telling the disciples to move out of His way; He let them do their jobs.  Could it be that Jesus has full confidence in your ability to navigate through this storm too?

·        Jesus had taught the disciples that He was going to die on the cross.  Therefore, the disciples were expected to believe that they were going to make it to the cross!  Their panic that they would die at sea was not only a lack of belief in Jesus’ ability to care for them, but a lack of faith at His words.

I am so thankful that Jesus never told me, “Once you’re saved, you’ll never experience anxiety!”  Rather, He tells me in Philippians 4:6

Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.

So the lesson from the storm is to expect it, and get through it!  It is not pleasant, it is work… but you are not alone.  He is there with you.  And you are not going through the storm because of His incompetence, but rather because you are capable.  There’s something on the shore that you are uniquely equipped for!  But the only way to get there is to get in the boat!