Friday, October 21, 2016

Reflections on a Snowy Day

It is hard to believe that we have been in Girdwood, AK for over three months.  The summer ended in a beautiful eruption of color lasting for what seemed like moments, before we had our first snowfall earlier this week.  Today we are met with more snowfall and a beautiful white blanket covering the ground.

I am not sure if it is just my perception, but the world seems quieter and more still during a snow fall.  There is a quiet gracefulness in the snowflakes falling lightly; twisting and turning as they make their way to the ground.  The evergreens seem more vibrant in color with a coating of pure white on their limbs and the smoke from the chimneys in the homes around town lead one to believe that there is warmth and comfort inside.  Maybe this is why I want to play Christmas carols all day or watch "White Christmas" for the hundredth time.  Nostalgia and the coming to life of a Norman Rockwell painting have taken my heart captive for the moment.

We have been in Alaska for just over three months and it has been everything I thought it would be and beyond.  Most of our Facebook posts focus on the breathtaking landscape and the stunning wildlife that we experience here.  It is surreal to us that such astonishing beauty is right outside our door.  It is sometimes hard to consider that life must be lived within the constraints of our jobs and the kids school, when there is so much wilderness to be explored and so many new things to see and experience.  But, this is what we signed up for, this is what we prayed, that God would reveal His glory to us in a new and exciting way.

I think about my path.  I think about the road my family and I are on and I find it so extraordinary to consider how we wound up here in Alaska.  I think about the way my girls have put themselves out there to make friends and to try new and different things.  I am so proud of them for inviting their friends to church and talking with them about God.  I am thankful for the strength that God has given Alicia to make a new house a home.  I am in awe of her faith and courage to take on each day as a child of God and a messenger of God's Word.  I think about all of these things as I look out over the blanket of white snow and realize that this is the righteousness of God's work.  This is the love that God reveals to us in our daily lives.

If you ask Alicia, or anyone that has known me for an extended period of time for that matter, they will not hesitate to corroborate that I am a dreamer.  My father-in-law and I talked once about his worry for me after seeing the letter I wrote to join the Air Force.  He was concerned that nothing could live up to the standard of the organization or people that I wrote about.  He was not concerned that I thought so highly of the military, or that I had such lofty expectations, he was worried that I would be hurt or disappointed by my actual experience.  Of course, the time we talked about that was a time where life had dealt me a particularly rough blow.  His point was not to say, "I told you so." But, his point, I think, was to remind me who I was.

I have read many articles, listened to many commentators, followed and participated in many social media feeds that discuss how America is less than.  I have remained silent for many reasons, but this idea of this country that I love being less than hurts my heart.  Nothing hurts my heart more than to consider that some believe that God's presence is diminishing in out world.  We have had a year that is ripped from the annals of history.  There has been incidents of violence against minority populations, there have been acts of terrorism, there have been reports of genocide and wars fought in unimaginable fashions, there has been corruption of justice, and the attack on those who provide protection.  There is a political season in the center.  There are candidates who don't care much for the other, or what has to be said to bring the other down.  In the midst of this unrest there is a country unsure of its footing, where folks feel so limited in their voice that they must kneel or omit themselves in protest against unseen forces from a reminder to the glory of what it means to live in a country where there voice does matter.

I am a dreamer.  But, I dream in truth.  I dream in knowing that God is working in this world.  I dream that evil only can rear its head for so long until the righteousness of God covers it with a pure blanket of snow.  The cacophony of hatred will be muted by the softness of God's voice making the world more vibrant in its differences, rather than muted because of them.  Amidst these things that clog our senses each and every day with their noise, I have seen the peaceful glory of God at work.  I have felt the presence of what it is like to say "yes" and to be exposed to new and unexpected nuances of God's grace.  I have seen the power of God's eyes through the eyes of children and through all of those who are called to share God's love with the world around them.  I have hope.  I have hope in the one who died on a cross for all of the world's sins.  I know that I am loved.  I know that this world is loved.  I know that together we are claimed by God to be glorious sons and daughters, redeemed to be prince and princesses of Christ, and placed on earth to reign in love and righteousness with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

We are individual snowflakes falling, gently and easily, guided by God.  Together we will create the pure blanket that coats the world in peace and softness, allowing us to breathe in the crisp, invigorating breath of God in a collective moment.  God will heal what appears to be broken, we just need to turn our hearts to Him.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Uh-oh, There is a Bear in Your Truck

I had just made my way into my office and sat down, opening my Bible to the day's readings when I heard the loud voice exclaim, "Uh-oh, there is a bear in your truck!"  I feel like it is safe to say that not many ministers have started out their Sunday mornings this way.  But, on this day, that is how mine was to begin.  So, I jumped up and ran outside to take a look.  The lady who owned the truck was already 5 yards in front of me making her way to her truck.  "Wait," I called, "Hold on.  I will come with you!"  Her reply was curt and dripping with frustration, "I am not scared of any bear!"  Then under her breath she muttered, "He better not have scratched it up."  I watched as the bear, most likely admiring the strength and determination of the woman running at him just as I was, jumped from the bed of the truck and made his way to the back of the parking lot.  I was now closer to him and raised my hands above my head and said, "Go on bear, get on bear".  If I had bear bells I would have rang them.  The bear, most likely comparing my hesitancy to the courage it had just witnessed, lowered his head in a shake and made his way back into the woods.  He stopped for a moment and watched us as we looked around the truck, then loped away.  Returning to my office, my text to Alicia was short, "Just saw a bear."

If there is a fish out of water story to be told.  Alicia, I, and the girls are living it.  I have not written for a while and I am sorry for that.  But, there has been so much going on and we are experiencing one event after another that is meaningful in the building of a life in Christ.  Oh believe me, we are tired.  We are confused.  We are overwhelmed.  At times, we are pretty unsure of what we have gotten into.  But, always and constantly in the background, the Holy Spirit is bringing us through.  Teaching us and molding us into we are to become in our town of Girdwood, Alaska.  Through those gifts we build our excitement and our sense of adventure.

You have to laugh when you tell folks something you have experienced, or are experiencing, that concerns nature and they tell you how atypical that is for the area.  I have written about our troubles in getting to Girdwood, but our new endeavor is a bit jarring, yet even more comical.  The other night, I was reading in bed when a large moth blew by me.  In the shadow of the reading light I could see it on the ceiling.  Fascinated by the size of the moth, I turned on the main light to get a look at the thing.  The eyes of the bat turned directly in my direction and it dropped from the ceiling flying in a frenzy around the room!  I was out the door!  "Alicia," I called, "do you mind helping me for a minute?"  Unsure of what she was getting herself into, Alicia came up the steps and just looked at me.  "Open that door," I said.  She looked at the door, then looked at me, "No."    She crossed her arms, "What is it?"  I opened the door and showed her the bat flying around the room.  We both started laughing.  (After, I closed the door)

The next 30 minutes were spent in strategy building and scouring videos on YouTube telling us how to get a bat out of the house.  When the time came, Alicia was in her robe, winter gloves, a hat and boots, standing on a chair at the end of the hall holding up a moving blanket.  I also donned my winter gloves a sweatshirt and hat as I waved cardboard boxes into the room.  The goal was to move the bat toward an open window without harming it or one of us.  A quick prayer was said and a few defensive swats were made, then the bat flew out the window.  We both breathed a sigh of relief.  But, sleep did not come easy that night.

We had the same experience three days in a row.  So, it became time to call a specialist.  The specialist, surveying the droppings we had found on the deck, said, "Oh, I think you have about 5 bats that we can move out."  I felt a weight removed from my shoulders.  He then walked off the porch saying, "let me take a look around just to make sure."  I was just on my way inside when he came back around.  "Mr. Hall, my initial estimate is low."  Begrudgingly I turned his direction and made my way down the steps where he proceeded to show me all of the entrance areas into the roof marked with guano (bat poo).  He removed his hat and scratched his head, "I think you have about 125 bats at least."  And we thought that bats were the least of our problems in Alaska.

Truthfully, the bats are not a horrible issue to have.  We will have the situation remedied and we will still have a population of bats living on our property, just not in our property.  They disturb us in the house, however, outside the house they are invaluable for insect control and other environmental benefits.  To me it is somewhat representative of how the powers that oppose God work in this world.  Each inconvenience and each nuance of difficulty add up over a short period until your eyes become clouded with the focus on the frustrations and trying things in life.  Such limited visibility easily allows for the view to be narrowed and the work that is being accomplished by God to contain the issues missed on the periphery.  The fear of the bat and annoyance with the bat is stronger in oneself than the reality of the created good of the bat.

To state it simply...sometimes life can be like a bear in the truck.  Look, I have no idea of whether or not running out there yelling at the bear was technically the text book thing to do, but it worked.  She did not hesitate to remedy the situation and trusted that her actions were going to achieve the desired outcome.  Rather than the bear hanging out in the bed of the truck, scratching it up, and causing lasting damage, she approached the problem head on and drove it away with scarcely a look back.  I envision that this is what God does for us.  He sees the bears in the trucks and the bats in the attic and he runs ahead of us making the way passable, not necessarily easy, but passable.  Putting our focus on God allows us to experience minimal damage and prevent long lasting scars.  We might have a whole fleet of trucks with bears in the beds, but we can be certain that God is willing to run at everyone of them, if through our faith, we just let him loose.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

First Sunday in Girdwood

So, life has been a bit hectic and I have not posted nearly as often as I have thought about it.  I thought for a fresh start I could post my sermon from this morning.  It was a memorable day and I am thankful for the thoughtful minds and open hearts of the Girdwood community.

Girdwood UMC Sermon - 24 July 2016

“The Journey”

Psalm 119: 105

2 Peter 1:19

Matthew 13: 18-23

My family and I began a physical journey exactly two weeks ago.  It is roughly 4300 miles from Charleston SC to Girdwood AK, but just for fun, we figured we would go cross country first then fly to Alaska. So, that added about a thousand miles.  I mean, it seemed like the right thing to do with a family of five, a dog, and a daring brother-in-law.  This was going to be an adventure and we needed to start it out as such.  We all loaded into the trusty Suburban, Bertha (as we had named her), and started our exciting journey.  Simple enough, right?

As we pulled away from Alicia’s parents house, who really knew what we would encounter?  Who knew what we would see or experience along the way?  Really, all we could say is that it would be new to us and that it would be different than our normal days.  It took a couple of days but we were soon into new territory.  The terrain was different and the places we were seeing, though having that hint of common flare (I mean everyplace has a Wal-Mart, right?), were starting to look more foreign and becoming more sparse.  The kids, at first, nestled into their DVD players failing to notice the subtle changes going on outside and around them.  But we sped down the highway continuously moving through change.  I am not even sure the adults in the car noticed it until we reflected on the trip and talked about the diversity we had seen.

By the time we arrived at Mount Rushmore, we had soaked in the beauty of South Dakota and pondered how the Native Americans had lived off of the land.  We imagined how small and insignificant the lone person must have felt among the rolling and expansive landscape.  Mount Rushmore, allowed us to experience the beauty of human creation and God’s creation in tandem.   Proving the two could coexist.  From there, we followed the path to the Grand Tetons.  Breathtaking beauty abounded in the green landscape and tall snow-capped mountains.  Yellowstone offered a hidden beauty as we waited for Old Faithful to let off some steam.  Such a forceful eruption from the geyser every hour demonstrated the power of the unseen.  Surprisingly, it was farm fields and various growing crops that lined our pathway to Seattle.  We eventually experienced the tall evergreens synonymous with the State as we neared the coast.

Then, for the first time, we hit traffic. After 3000 miles in the car and less than 20 miles to go, we came to a dead stop.  It took us a couple of hours to go that last 20 miles, so we really rejoiced when we saw the Space Needle.  We had made it!  We had successfully accomplished the cross country trip and we were going to celebrate by going to the top of Seattle’s most notorious landmark.  We parked the car in a parking garage near the Space Needle and left to cap off our travels with a memorable photograph, or perhaps, to reenact a scene or two from Sleepless in Seattle.  There was no wait in the line for tickets and we rushed ahead excited for our trip to the top.  But, we had not secured reservations and the next available ticket was 3 hours away from the time we arrived.  No problem.  We had time.  We would go back in the morning.

When we returned to Bertha, however, things changed.  She had been broken into and shattered glass lay on the ground and on the seats inside.  My heart sank and anger and fear rose in my emotions.  All of the beauty we had seen, all of the wonderful sites we had visited, at the moment were forgotten and were overshadowed by this sense of violation and this dose of reality that the world, so beautiful, can also be ugly.  On the road we had heard the news of the various events going on in the world.  But, we kept them in the periphery of our discussions and we sought to shield the kids from the sad acts of hatred that were occurring.  But, in that moment, the brokenness of the window signified the brokenness of the world and my thoughts were consumed with the darkness which surrounds us each and every day.  It was only through prayer that I was able to recenter my focus and take status of the situation in total.  Alicia, the girls, PJ, and Mojo, were okay.  The things that had been lost stung a bit.  But, we were all okay.
The next 24 hours were incredibly difficult as we raced against time to get many things accomplished and to make our plane flight to Anchorage.  P.J. was the only one who had lost a physical belonging in the break-in, but for him, the things he lost were significant for his work and his private journeys in life.  We were all more tired then we should have been.  We were all deflated and off kilter from the events of the day before and, perhaps, uncertain about the day ahead.  

Going the rate we were going and running into the obstacles we were running into, I had serious concerns about making the flight on time.  Such physical obstacles, led to mental obstacles.  Why are we doing this?  Do they really want or need us there?  Is my family going to be able to adjust?  Am I expecting too much from my girls?  Doubt and insecurity sought to join the invading darkness that crept into our hearts the day before.  Again, it was prayer that helped me to allay these doubts and hang on to the truth that had started us on this journey.

We made it to the airport in time.  When we landed, we had a truck waiting on us at the airport (Thank you Sam and Loretta).  All of our luggage and our dog arrived in the terminal safely.  However, they have seemed to replace Mojo mid-air with a similar, yet more neurotic, dog.  The following day we were escorted by our new friends into Girdwood.  But, we were delayed by the forest fire burning on the mountainside and limiting the road access.  It was not impassable, however, just a bit more difficult.  We arrived to a home stocked with the necessities for family living and a stocked pantry.  Seriously, you all have no idea how important was to have stocked toilet paper in a house with three little girls!  Meals waited for us and were delivered in person over the next two days.  The invading darkness the creeping doubt, soon subsided and the light again began to take over.  It wasn’t just because the sun doesn’t go down here either!

The story I share is not just my family’s journey.  It is all of our journeys in this life.  For a journey does not have to just be the physical movement from one place to another.  It can also be the movement from one station in life to another.  In both cases the journey will contain terrain that changes and ugliness amongst beauty; darkness amongst light.  Obstacles will have to be conquered as forward progress and growth is achieved.  Arriving at the destination will take help from others, but most of all dependence on prayer and in the Word of God.

In our gospel reading today Jesus reveals His explanation for the parable of the seed sower.  There are four types of foundations in which the seeds are sown; the path, the rocky ground, amongst thorny plants, and on fertile soil.  One of the things we must realize is the importance that evil is present in all of these conditions.  It is the intention of Satan to reduce our understanding and trust in the Word which has been sown in our hearts.  It is the desire of evil that light should be reduced and that darkness shadow our faith in God.  Interestingly, we see that Jesus understood that the journey would be more difficult for those who held fast to the Word as they would be tested more intensely.  It is the worry and strife of the world that can choke out the glory and hope of the Word.  For this reason, even the seed sown on the fertile soil is not without obstacles.  The difference is that the fertile soil allows for other seeds to grow in close proximity and together they work to bear fruit and overcome adverse events.

Everyone in this room is on a journey.  We are moving through life at warp speed and some of us might know our destination, while others of us do not.  There is no denying that we are the seeds that have been planted.  There is no denying that at this moment we have the opportunity to grow in the same soil.  But, what type of soil is it?

I have found over the last year that when the seed is planted in fertile soil, the obstacles to growth actually can make you stronger when you rely on the true source of your strength.  I have also found that when the growth taking place is building your faith and you are bearing fruit, then the obstacles can become quite challenging and more frequent.  The last thing the enemy wants is for us to grow closer to Christ and more understanding of His Word.  Peter tells us, “we have a most reliable prophetic Word, and you would do well to pay attention to it, just as you would to a lamp shining in a dark place.”  

The fertile soil is nourished by the Word of God and backed by the Grace God has given each one of us.  The places, people, and heart that fuels the flame of the lamp by helping us to see and feel and hear the glory of the Word and the grace of God is the fertile soil.  I believe Girdwood United Methodist Church is fertile soil and I look forward to tending the garden with each of you.


Monday, July 11, 2016

Road Rules: Big Bertha Edition

Isaiah 43:18-19

"Remember not the former things, nor consider things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness and springs in the desert."

So, what happens when a family of five, the adventurous brother-in-law (brother, uncle), and the trusty pup, pile in the urban adventure wagon and set out across the US?  How hard will it be to get along?  What smells will emanate from the back seat?  How many times will someone ask, "Are we there yet?"  Will all seven make the final destination?  These are the questions that must be considered in this week's installment of Road Rules: Big Bertha Edition...where the pleasantries may go away as the family must become real.

Yes, we all piled in the silver Suburban, outfitted with a roof bag and a rear carrier.  My kids and my wife have affectionately dubbed the family car, Big Bertha.  It is fitting I must say.  Surprisingly, we all fit into this monster of a car leaving only three boxes of to be mailed later items at  my in-laws. (Thanks Phil and Marge!)  Then we started on the first leg of our cross-country journey.

That is kind of a simplistic assessment though.  Sure, we started our physical trip yesterday, but we have been on this journey for a long time.  As I drove Bertha down the interstate yesterday I could not help but wonder how we will all change because of this trip we are taking.  I looked in the rear view mirror and saw my wife and three girls smiling and laughing as we pulled out of the drive way and turned into the afternoon sun.  How will these people be impacted by changing everything they know and all they are familiar with?  Will they be stronger?  Will they be more caring?  More loving?  More patient?  Or, could this possibly be a disaster through and through?

The last few weeks have helped me to formulate some answers to those questions. (Isn't is wonderful how God works!)  Prior to heading to the beach we stopped by Wingate University, our Alma Mater.  It was a wonderful trip down memory lane.  The school and I have a lot in common.  Although both of us our recognizable we have both gone through many changes.  Some of the core elements remain steadfast, but there is growth in areas of expertise and in the capacity to let more people in.  Construction abounds at the University and it is not lacking in me.  Some of the changes at the school,  I didn't like, and some of the things I previously found displeasing still remain.  And, it would be remiss, to not mention that both of us are a bit bigger than when we last saw one another.

Looking back, I find it hard not to consider how different of a person I am now then I was in those years.  Better?  Not sure.  Different?  Totally.  I have a better grasp of the importance of faith and the strength of hope found in the person of Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross for humanity.  But, how does that make me different?  I can still focus the flaws of others more readily than I am willing to tackle my own weaknesses.  I still say things and do things that most would consider out of place for a minister.  I am still growing.  I am still under construction.

Perhaps, the fortunate opportunity to stroll through the memories of my past were not as much for the opportunity to remember them as much as it was for the ability to let them go.  This journey, this path we have taken, is decidedly, to invoke change in each of us.  It is a path God has made clear and a road that we trust He leads us on.  There is a new idea of who we are to become and it is rooted in the Creator of heaven and earth and made possible in us through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.  We cannot forget who we once were, for that is part of the journey, but we must let it go to be renewed in the glory and righteousness of God.   There are going to be bumps in the road and, even with GPS, we are going to get lost.  Also, I am positive that something funky is spoiling in the car.  But, it is life.  It is the path to renewal.  It is the stretching of who we know ourselves to be to form into the person God has created us to become.

Over the last three weeks we have spent time with family.  We all know each other very well and there are very few secrets that exist (unless we have some really good secret keepers!).  But, the point is, these people know me now and they knew me then.  They have seen the growth, the slips and falls, and have been there to dust me off and get me back on the path.  There is no denial that I am often times not the friend, brother, son, father, and in-law I am supposed to be.  But, in part of this renewal and in part of this growth into the service of God, we have been placed into a family of understanding, support, and love that accepts those inadequacies.  They have loved me no matter what.  It is hard moving so far away, but the bonds we share are unbreakable by distance.

I feel the new thing God is doing.  I feel the pull taking us through the wilderness and into the springs of the desert.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016


1 Thessalonians 5:11
"Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing."

Dr. Clardy starts every service at Saint Mark's United Methodist Church with the same statement, "Welcome to the place where we build you up and don't tear you down."  All of us smile and laugh a little bit each time he says it, but the words hold true as the mercy and the grace of God.  Those words define a culture of people who strive to make a difference in the world around them and leave the mark of God in the people they encounter along the way.  There is a true idea that the church has the responsibility to build disciples up in the talents that God has given them and send them in the world to make a difference.  In most associations and in most circumstances, those who attend St. Mark's would agree, it is most definitely a place where you will be built up in the grace of God.

Ten years ago we sat in our living room surrounded by our bedroom furniture because it could not make it up the narrow stairwell of the Fort Belvoir base house.  Our first daughter had just been born and many decisions to be made were in front of us.  I had been offered a unique opportunity to serve in a prestigious post at the Pentagon (preceded by a long deployment in Iraq) or conversely, the opportunity to leave Active Duty and enter in to civilian life.  One direction was a military career maker, sure to show me the way to a high rank, and the other was a path which offered a softer and less impactful route for the family we were building.  In the years preceding this crossroad we had been blessed to be surrounded by people and friends on our base in Kirtland that showed us the true sense of a community.  We looked out for each other in many different ways and depended on each other for care of our loved ones while we were away and even while we were all together.  Most of us moved at the same time, and in our case, our new post did not offer the same situation.  We often felt alone and isolated. We missed our community.

Our reasons for electing the path to start fresh in the world outside of the military involved a few simple idealizations.  We wanted to be part of a community where people knew each other and cared for each other like an extended family.  We wanted to grow in our faith as part of a church community and do our best to become involved in community groups that made a difference in the lives of others.  We wanted to know our kids were going to be loved and protected by people around them and that their welfare was important to the families and friends surrounding us.  We wanted the opportunity to provide the same type of comfort to other families.  We wanted the deep sense of community and we wanted to grow in it.

It has been 10 years now and I sit here this morning overwhelmed by the community we have found.  The genuine care and love that has been shown to my family is rich in the love and mercy of our good and righteous Redeemer.  Sure there are folks from different faiths and holding different beliefs, but it makes no matter, in all of these people who surround us and hold us in their thoughts and in their hearts I see the light of God.  

My girls have had the opportunity to spend time with steadfast friends and to fill the air with laughter and shouts of joy in excited play.  I pray their future relationships are as meaningful and as pure as the ones they have built here.  I pray for these children who I have come to know, each in their own personality and with their own gifts, that they will continue to grow in the Grace of our loving Creator.  I look forward to seeing the world that is improved and made more loving by their good and faithful works.  Yes, I have high aspirations for these children because they have shown me they are capable of great and wonderful things.

Dr. Clardy states every Sunday morning, "Welcome to the place where we build you up and don't tear you down."  Although he may be speaking about the church, I carry that statement to my friends in the community at large.  You have affirmed our decisions made in the past and you have given us courage to make hard decisions now.  We have felt love and we have felt belonging in the strongest sense of the words.  We have been blessed in the overabundance of friendships and in the genuine love of a community.

Yes, I have proven many times this week that I am a big guy who wears his heart on his sleeve.  I can't even watch coffee commercials at the moment!  So, don't be offended if my eye contact is less than stellar the rest of this week.  It is not sadness though.  It is joy in knowing that God led us to you, our community, to help us grow in Him.  You have built us up and not torn us down.  You have helped to make us ready for new challenges and new adventures.  You have helped open our hearts to the new community we will soon be a part.  Perhaps, the greatest and most wonderfully Grace-filled aspect of all of this, is that in all of us, God is active and growing.  Listen to the Spirit and act in its ways, just how you have been doing.

Thank you for loving us.  We certainly love you.

Sunday, June 5, 2016


I am so tired.  I feel like I have been walking through the longest day ever!  It is like the sun has not set in days...wait...oh, yeah!  The sun has not set in days!  Just the other day I watched a neighbor work in the garden at 11:30 PM in the broad sunlight.  I saw kids riding their bikes down the road out of the front window.  It was simply surreal.  My watch must be lying.  But it also said I had walked 18000 steps, so I am sticking (and depending on) its truthfulness.

Alaska is beautiful.  I cannot describe the beauty.  Many have tried before me to capture the vastness of the scope of the landscape and the wonder of the wilderness that exists here...think John Muir and Jack London.  But, if you have not seen it, any description will fall short.  That does not mean I am not going to try, however.  My drive to Girdwood from Anchorage consisted of a scenic drive that almost resulted in my demise on several occasions as I tried to take in the snow-capped mountain ranges surrounding me, the Alaskan Railway running beside me, and the ocean view out the passenger window.  Signs told me to watch for Mountain Sheep, Moose, and, yes, Killer Whales.  The Bear signs were not here, but don't worry, they would come later.  The drive was 45 minutes and possibly, other than watching Alicia walk down the aisle and my kids being born, was the most beautiful 45 minutes of my life.  I was in Alaska and I was amazed.

Minutes after pulling into Girdwood I saw a car pulling over to the side of the road.  The passenger door was flinging open and a lady egressing from the car before it had completely stopped.  She ran ten yards down the road and looked out over a clearing.  Quickly, she lifted her camera and started snapping pictures.  I stopped my car as quickly as possible and went back to the location where she stood.  Her husband and kids stood with her.  They were smiling, laughing, and sharing high fives with one another and, even me as I walked up.  I asked what they had seen.  You guessed it.  A grizzly mama and her two cubs walking through the clearing.  They had made it through the clearing and into the woods beside us.  As she pointed to the woods showing me where they had walked, she realized where her car was, quickly gathered her family, and rushed back to their car.  She shared another high five with her husband before jumping back in the passenger seat.  I looked over the clearing for a moment, then looked at the woods, then bolted to the car.

I was given a wonderful tour by wonderful people and throughout the day continued to meet people that comprised a community of faith in Girdwood.  One thing that was clear to me in my meetings with these folks.  They already cared about me, Alicia, and the girls and their genuine concern, generosity, and willingness to provide assistance was overwhelmingly comforting.  Girdwood Chapel is a beautiful facility and I cannot believe I will have the privilege of holding service there each week.  Any of you planning weddings better give me a call!  Seriously.  This place rocks!  It took a lot of commitment, sweat, and tears to build this place of worship.  I had the opportunity to set foot into the building alone and sit in the stillness of the morning.  God is there.  The Spirit is alive and the energy is bubbling. It is holy ground and I am honored to tend to it.

I suppose it is important to consider that I was here for a reason.  I was here to complete the necessary steps to be able to begin my service in Alaska.  I was here to meet the board and meet the other Alaskan clergy and, hopefully, be accepted into their ranks.  I found nothing but open-hearts and pure hospitality among all those I met.  I was treated like they had known me for ages and was received warmly into group discussions and received lovingly into their conference. For goodness sake, I was welcomed into a home by folks who did not know me at all and given a comfortable bed and a cell phone (totally a long story there...not really long just embarrassing...not going to happen).  They even made waffles for breakfast! I felt part of the group quickly and unequivocally.  In riding this high, there had to be a kick in the teeth, right?  No.  Wrong.  It only got better.

Today, I knelt before the Alaska Missionary Conference Clergy and Lay Leaders as the Superintendent, the Bishop, and Secretary of UMC Global Ministries laid their hands on me.  I was confirmed with the responsibility to carry God's word to the people of Alaska and to the ends of the earth.  I am sure I will stumble and even fall in this work.  How can I not?  I am new and unfamiliar with the people, the land, and the needs of the people.  I have to balance work life, ministry, and family in a new way.  I am going to come up short more than once.  But, I am confident I am not alone.  The Holy Spirit is in this.  Jesus is wrapping the family in His arms.  God has got my back.

Yep.  I am good.  But, I do need to get a new phone...