I’ve stood on many shores across the globe. I even live by a shore on the Gulf of Mexico, but nothing I’ve seen compares to the barren wilderness of the Alaskan shores.
These shores are where I feel the closest to Jesus. His peace blows in with each wave that crashes over my soul just as the waters land hard upon the sand. This place where the waters can be unforgiving and dangerous, that’s where I feel alive.
Working through a couple of hard years, I’ve escaped to the shore a lot. Life had gotten away from me as serving others, meeting deadlines, and strict routines of ministry stole my energy and joy. I don’t know how, but the sand between my toes seemed to help me feel balanced. Healing waters were along the shore, if you will.
This summer quickly filled with to-do’s, deadlines, and juggling island rental properties. I was easily slipping back into the whirlwind of life. It’s part of my personality — I’d rather be doing than being. It’s as if I think being busy is cool. And that old saying, “you can sleep when you die,” well it makes perfect sense to me most days.
But I’ve learned that rest is key to survival. God created a day of rest for me, for you. I wonder where it has gone in this society that hustles 24/7. Sensing myself slipping back in to a tornado of activity, a vacation and the emerald waters of Alaska couldn’t come quick enough.
My excitement grew big with the thought of returning to Alaska. It was a dream to go last year, but to go again just twelve months later — somebody pinch me!!! I needed to experience Alaska’s bigness again. I hoped among the quiet desolate shores I’d find rest and answers. Seems I’m always looking for clarity and answers. Answers for the chaotic storms that had blown into my life.
Y’all Alaska is twice as big as Texas.
In 90 degree weather, I packed cold weather gear and enough clothes for messy, wet, rainy hikes around the island of Kodiak. It all seemed unnecessary as Texas was still steaming. These days in Alaska would not only be for exploring, but the first 8 days I’d be attending a wilderness writers workshop on Harvester Island with Leslie Leyland Fields and Philip Yancey.
Our travels began as our team of writers met in Kodiak and flew out to Harvester Island on a float plane. Harvester is a small island that would inhabit the 20 of us attending the writers workshop. There was mention of having to use an outhouse and banya for bathing — because this was the wilderness. I really couldn’t wrap my mind around this way of living until I saw. But truthfully, I was ready to break free of media, news, and the constant drumming on of noise so anything in the wilderness sounded perfect.
I’ve been to the wilderness before. Maybe you have too? Those times when life leads you nowhere. Plans fall apart, goals are missed, jobs end, teenagers rebel, spouses leave, sickness prevails, and life as you know it ends. You wake morning by morning hoping your in a different season, different location. This spot where life has planted you is a desolate place. I know it well as this is where I’ve lived the past year.
Like Moses wandering for 40 years there’s no direction to the insanity. I’d wake every morning and wonder which way is north and which step I should take. This feeling of being lost waved over me like the hot Texas humid heat that takes your breath away. Where do I turn? Which path leads out? Will there be light at the end?
Loosing yourself and your footing by striving and pushing to prove yourself is exhausting. Why do I do this? I now know it’s easy to lose direction when everyday is an uphill battle fighting to be noticed.
Truth about the Wilderness.
The ghostly feelings of having an aimless life wandering around make me feel useless, unproductive, and unworthy of the calling before me. But those thoughts are lies. All lies from the evil one himself who comes to speak chaos over situations. A liar that blasted devil is!
Bundled from head to toe, I stood there on the bank of the emerald green Alaskan shores lined with golden bundles of kelp and rocky black stones. Breathing in the crisp fresh air, new oxygen filled my lungs. Somehow the peace that passes all understanding had found me. I was off the grid with no connection to the outer world – to the lower 48, and there peaceful waves washed not only over my black knee-high rubber boots, but over my heart.
Right there along the rocky path bears were hunting for salmon to feed their young, black ducks were soaring above, and a pod of fin whales were blowing like Old Faithful. Venturing further into the waters sea otters were snuggling as family should and salmon were jumping upstream pushing to return to where they were born to spawn and die.
It was beautiful these unforced rhythms of life. Life, sustenance, and death. To everything there is a season.
The wilds of life. It was the wilderness untamed and showing off a beautiful cycle of life. The seasons displayed so colorfully before my very eyes. Seasons might be a natural part of any life, but I was so over the season I was in. Done.
Life in the wilderness is full of God’s magnificent creations animals of varied color, size, and gracefulness. It’s easy to see this grandeur and feel so small. Why all the striving to prove something? Accepting the smallness of life was freeing. I wanted to live free with the gracefulness of the eagles that soared overhead. Beautiful, but small specks to the human eye.
Feeling so minuscule in the wilderness made it easy to remember the things the world pushes to pursue — money, career, power, platform — add no value to identity and purpose. I had spent years gazing at those worldly identifiers and they led to my wandering lostness. Escaping the concrete and asphalt and experiencing God in these wide open spaces awoke my life again.
God is mysterious. His ways are always more than I can comprehend.
In his Kingdom the first will be last and the last will be first. And I interpret that to the big shall become small, and the small shall be big. God confounds me in such ways.
Just months before surrounded by hundreds of people I was lost. Now removed from all connections and off the grid, standing alone on a quiet remote island, I am found.
Leslie, who lives and fishes commercially on Harvester Island, writes in her must-read new book Crossing the Waters, “I’m not sure I came to this Alaskan island following Jesus. After this watery trip all of us have taken, I realize I came here myself. I chose this country myself, though I hardly knew what I was choosing. But through this place he has led me further into a new land I could never have imagined nor reached on my own . . . This is a holy place. This is heaven. This is God with us. God with us in all of it, in the storms, in the fish, in the doubt, and in all the seas. I am no longer afraid.”
I’m no longer lost, I am found.