Like every family, ours has had its share of upheavals and trials. We live out our relationships imperfectly–and radically forgive one another to survive family life. I would be neglecting my calling if I let my 60+ years fade without encouraging you to live a Bible-principled life. I am convinced that knowing Jesus Christ delivers us to a worthwhile destination. There will come a moment when nothing will compare to hearing God say to you, and especially to those you love: “Well done…enter into my rest…”
My new managing editor twirled an unlit cigarette in her fingers and said, “Come to work tomorrow.”
I had passed my editing competence test at The Anchorage Times.
I didn’t mention to my boss that I lived in a road-weary, 20-foot travel trailer at the Boniface Trailer Park. It was March, and at my front door, a snowman guarded four sets of battered cross-country skis and a pile of children’s snowsuits. For two weeks the pipes to our rented space had been frozen solid, so my wife, my three sons and I shared a shower, restroom, and Laundromat with a company of other itinerant Alaska trailer tenants.
Driving home from my successful interview, I shivered out puffs of thanksgiving into the pickup cab. I couldn’t wait to tell my family the good news (no cell phones in 1988).
In our house on wheels, my little brood welcomed me like a hero, and I fried up caribou steaks, a gift from a neighbor. For my wife Carol, my 11-year-old, Matthew, my eight-year-old, Benjamin, two-month-old, Thomas, and me, this was our first “praise God feast” on the Last Frontier—one of many to come.
In Redding, California, two months before, we had taken down our last garage sale sign, and I purchased a pickup truck. I remodeled a vintage travel trailer and filled up extra gas cans before loading Carol, baby Tom and a box of diapers into our crowded cab. Ben and Matt rode in the heated canopy, and we burbled smoothly along Interstate 5 through Oregon and Washington before tackling the long, isolated stretches in Canada.
Snowstorms. Legos. GI Joes, arguing. Baby crying, then nursing contentedly. Treacherous, icy roads. Cozy nights snuggling like squirrels in a nest. A tow truck misadventure. Moose. Caribou. An Alaska border inspection. And finally Anchorage!
Ditched it. No shoulders! I hitchhiked to Fort Nelson and came back with a tow truck driver.
Carol and I had been married 15 years. We had started a family, worked hard in businesses, pastored a church, mentored wonderful people, and been mentored ourselves. The trail had been rocky, and we never felt any closer to a Promised Land than when it all began.
Until reaching Alaska.
Have you ever bought a pair of new hiking boots and worn them out the door of a sporting goods store, because they fit and feel just right? The moment we drove our ’72 Chevy into Anchorage, that wonderful “skookum” feeling surged in our hearts.
Wherever we looked, massive white-caped shoulders jostled the Anchorage horizon. Moose wandered the streets and city parks. Eagles perched atop neon signs, eyeing tasty pets. It was other-worldly to, at least, four of us. Baby Tom slept through it all.
We knew not a soul of substance in Alaska. We only had a few dollars saved for rent and food. I had no job prospects, except for an inexplicable confidence that I could land a position at The Anchorage Times newspaper. Our family felt whole, carrying our field-tested faith in God into unexplored territory.
Anoint our odyssey: “the call of God” or call it: “a reckless scheme.” I’m convinced that God used Alaska to shape the lives of five of his beloved gypsy children.
Our exciting 14-day trip to the Great Land barely uncovered the tip of a glacier-sized adventure. Choices we made in California had triggered an avalanche of challenges that gently yet forcefully nudged each of us to the edge of despair in the following years. Deliverance always came. Then spiritual awakenings. Could it have happened in California?
Our sovereign God didn’t think so…
The Times editors tossed me headfirst into the copy desk, and I floundered into a niche writing headlines at 4 a.m. for four daily editions. For three months we house-hunted, praying for a place to set down our roots. In city parks or in their sleeping nooks, Carol continued homeschooling the older boys, as we fought a growing claustrophobia.
Summer was just beginning when our lives skidded to a stop beside a hand-painted “For Sale” sign in a rural community called Chugiak. An 84-year-old pioneer woman invited us for a cup of tea, and she told us her story first before we told her ours.
When we left Mrs. Morrow, we had tentatively hashed out a deal to buy two-and-a-half acres and her little, shingle-sided house. The tough old structure had the right stuff to handle our boisterous boys—it had braved the ’64 earthquake!
Mrs. Morrow moved out, and the five of us moved in: 1,000 dollars down. Payments forever…
Thirty years later Carol and I still live in our little house on Birchwood Loop. Our two older sons married beautiful Christian girls. Tom married his (Eagle River Christian School) sweetheart. Our grandchildren (16 and counting) climb the same big spruce trees our boys did, that first summer we moved into the old house.
Today, another elder pioneer gazes contentedly out the window panes soaking up morning sunshine. With me at her elbow, Great Grandma moves with deliberate, measured steps in the living room and kitchen (Mom’s 92 now and lives with us).
Full circle we go—an old house, and we’re growing older with it.
OUR OLD HOUSE, SO PEACEFUL AFTER A HARD DAY MUSHING.
Alaska has been a stylus in the hand of the Creator. Working head-to-head in family businesses and on projects, we have learned the tensile strength and vulnerabilities of one another.
For us, spiritual lessons thrive with every singing vole or grizzly on the hunt. Analogies swim with belugas in the Cook Inlet and parables soar with ravens above Alaska’s ranges. God’s message rings at every railroad crossing or steamship’s challenge in the rapids of Alaska history.
After 30 years, we have learned that we didn’t need to travel the Alaska-Canada Highway to know our Promised Land. His name is Jesus, and we find true fulfillment in serving Him wherever we call home.