Is comfort a good thing?

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I sit looking out my window at the long train peacefully passing beneath the mountains like a scene straight out of a picture book. The windows are open, letting in the cool morning breeze. I strain to focus on the beautiful chorus of bird chatter, which is easily heard above the sounds of the train cars clicking their way along the tracks. But there is another noise that competes, a newer noise. It’s the steady stream of traffic on our now-busy highway below.

Yep, it’s summer in Glacier.

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The town has transformed. A once peaceable post for less than a hundred homes, it is now bustling with people and cars and RVs. The hotels are full, the restaurants have lines out the door, and the locals have work. Praise God!

We have much to be grateful for. Truly.

But now that we’re here, I’ve noticed that I’ve gotten comfortable. I have my regular routine including about 40 hours of work, and a mid-week “weekend” with my honey, when we play in the park and soak up together time. Beyond this, we started a co-op garden with a young family and two friends, one a local Blackfeet man and the other a young-at-heart widow we’ve long befriended. In the early spring, we held regular dinner parties to map and plan the garden, and now that we’ve planted, there is lots of weeding to be done. We just might have bitten off more than we can chew!

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But this comfort thing… it’s bothering me right now. In Oregon, my life was wrapped up in ministry. My job was ministry; most of my friends were in ministry (or had been); we had Bible studies and small groups and belonged to a church. Now: I have work; I have play, and I have time with my husband.

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With all of the amazing gifts around me, I am yet unsatisfied. How can this be? After surviving the winter and all of its discomforts, how can I now fight the comfort?

I’ve been praying that God would open the door for more. I don’t know what it will look like (especially when I feel like I have no time to offer), but I trust something is in store. In a way, I am antsy to get going already. But on the flip side, I’m in no hurry at all. I suppose God will work His way in me as long as I am willing. Thank you for your ongoing prayers of support and love. We feel them deeply in our hearts!

Be blessed today, my friends. In all of your comforts and discomforts, know that God is with you.

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Honeymoon, Crisis, Transformation

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Looking back, this Montana Adventure has been, in some ways, like a trip down the rabbit hole. We could not have predicted the ride to be so rough and crazy-making. But really, we should have expected it. Our experience was classic.

Like the Peace Corps’ model of cultural adjustment (mentioned by my BFF, who just spent a year-plus in Australia with her family), we suffered the typical ups and downs before coming to a place of growth and transformation. It’s striking how similar our experience matched those shown in the following two charts.

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Now I’m not insisting that our current home is a “foreign” culture, especially compared to situations where a new language is present or the country’s social-political atmosphere is hostile, or anything like that. But still, our journey took us away from our people and our home, our comforts and cultural roles. We had familiar and rewarding jobs, the closest friends you could ask for, and a loving family a short drive away. In many aspects, we entered a “foreign” culture when we arrived here, on those standards alone. Add in a crazy winter complete with terrible driving conditions, small-rural-town-type isolation, and a few unfavorable encounters with Blackfeet Nation… and the truth is, you’ve got yourself a foreign culture.

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We definitely began with a “Honeymoon” phase. It was exciting! We were actually in Montana. We did it. We followed through. Hurrah! There was good weather, seasonal work, and epic hikes to be had. But by the middle of the second month, the snow came. And we got homesick. We missed everything about our former community and began to ask ourselves why we left. By the next month, we were losing confidence. In our spouse. In our situation. In our decision. And it led to depression, anger, and frustration. Every day, our home was hostile. We lashed out at each other instead of bonding through it. Three months in, we were thiiiis close to throwing in the towel. As we planned our Christmas trip home, we seriously considered packing it all up and calling it quits.

That was the “crisis” point. You can see on the above chart that this was a pivotal place. Either we would quit or we would persevere.

I love this part on the chart. There is a split, a severing, at that crisis point. You don’t get to see what happens to the journey after quitting. Because it’s over. Done. And then there is the next branch. Its label, “extended crisis” says it all. Oof, it sounds bad. [In fact, it is. I think we did this for 2-3 months. And yes, it was ugly.]

Even sticking with it, accepting it, without truly allowing your heart to grow, takes an odd turn for the worse. Leading to a “partial recovery,” you can see there is no character transformation here. I can almost taste that life, with twinges of bitterness and malcontent stifling my peace and joy.

According to this model, the thriving comes when you “explore” your options and dive into the culture. It takes risk and challenge, and testing yourself despite your fears. Through that testing, you gain confidence in Christ’s love for you. You gain confidence in His master plan. And you begin to trust. Sure, you trust in yourself. But your trust builds in your spouse. And hopefully, your trust locks into the place where it belongs most: in God’s capable hands.

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Eight and a half months into our journey, we’ve hit our stride. We see that God did what he wanted to do in us (that round!). He stretched us and beckoned us to follow Him at a closer distance. We’re unsure of where this road will go from here. But we are willing to stick it out and see. So far, God’s blessings have been plenty! If we had quit at that crisis point, we would have missed out on so much. I tell you all of this, friends, because I hope you stick out your current challenge, too (if that’s what God is telling you to do). While quitting isn’t always bad, there are no shortcuts in life. The hard road is the best road. Usually. Let it shape you and grow you for the better.

Through this experience, I’m beginning to get a better sense of freedom in what happens. I’m beginning to accept that I’m not in control, but that the God who is in control will allow some uncomfortable events to happen in my life. There is no way to explain why horrendous things happen to good people. But maybe it’s simply so that I fully understand that this is not my home, that this whole “life as we know it” is temporary.

“Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” – James 5:7-8

Our Two Churches

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Churches aren’t perfect… especially in the eyes of its church body. I know I have played critic too many times, sadly letting goofy hairstyles and jokes prick my skin to the point where I can’t listen to the truth being shared. Even an “honorable complaint” like “not enough scripture” puts me at risk of pride and judgement of others. But most of all, it acts as a barrier to receiving God’s word, like chains crossed over my heart.

Home, as we now call it, entails a wide range of discomforts that does not exclude our churches. I say churches, plural, because we haven’t quite landed on one. In fact, we’ve landed on two: both in Browning, the heart of Blackfeet Nation, 15 miles away.

The first is a Methodist church run by a very likable young couple we’ve befriended. With a small, intimate congregation, they meet in a cozy, yet enchantingly beautiful sanctuary lined in cedar and stunning stained glass. It’s a bit more liturgical than we’re accustomed to (think response readings and ceremonial candle lighting), but the congregation is sweet and caring, hosting monthly potlucks for the community to enjoy. We see a range of folks join us for the meal. Some smell of alcohol; others smell of humility and good humor. They teach us Blackfeet terms and phrases and sincerely thank us when they leave.

The other church is sure something. This one has a large congregation of mostly Natives. Everyone is kind and welcoming, and upon meeting us, often ask if we are teachers or nurses, the two jobs that routinely bring white folks into town. [We never figured out how to explain why we came, and most find it strange that we didn’t come for work.]

At the onset, we struggled to feel comfortable there in our own skin, painfully white compared to our neighbors. Plus, the church was quite charismatic! While it was unfamiliar and new (not to mention, awkward at times), it was truly beautiful to witness the collective crying and clapping as everyone praised the Lord so fully with heart and soul.

If you’ve never seen someone weep openly in need of our Lord or sing with their arms stretched so high and straight that their elbows bend inward, you should at least visit other churches. I’m not saying it has to be this way, but it certainly feels right in the deepest part of your soul that knows you simply cannot fathom the incredible love of Jesus… or just how to respond.

For how beautiful I see it now, the discomfort of it all kept us away in the beginning. That’s what comfort does to us. It spoils us. Closes our minds. Robs us of experiencing something extraordinary.

I’m not sure what it took to open our eyes or give us courage to continue to show up, looking so different in our white skin and guarded mannerisms. But seven months into our fated move here, we are planting roots and experiencing great victories. Not because we finally figured it all out, but because we finally surrendered our former comforts for the challenges that God has invited us to shoulder. How lucky we are to have two churches! How blessed we are to have two congregations and pastors; two worship styles and sermons. How fortunate we are to grow in our levels of acceptance of other cultures.

So for now, we will soak in the challenges and let the Lord guide us each week. Shoot, we’re just happy we can make the drive these days! In winter, that 15-mile journey is not for the faint of heart.

A trip to spring and back

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It didn’t necessarily make sense, but we did it anyways. We went ahead and traveled to spring and back, returning Friday to the white, winter wonderland once more. This time last week, we were out in the sunshine, tank tops and all, feet free from the constraints of sloppy, winter boots worn day in, day out, for the past five months. I skipped and ran, feeling the gravel beneath my soles and the cool wind hitting my ankles, weakened over time from the lack of support in my tall, lace-up boots. It was magical! 

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The best part of our break, of course, was not the renewed pep in my step, but the onslaught of love and laughter coming from friends and family who took us in for a meal or a few days, catching up like old times. Pete’s mom and dad (“Grannie” and “Papa” now) filled our love tank, as we feasted on togetherness and Grannie’s home cookin’. The girls even had a little fun, doing our nails and hitting the local spa for facials and Cran-mosas, boutique hopping along the way. 

And the kids. Oh, these kids. They are the apple of my eye! Every hug and “I love you” adds a year to my life!

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The lot of us drove a scenic six miles deep into the country to visit a local farm that boasted fresh accolades for its artisan goat cheese. Word was, you could just grab a round of cheese from the outside refrigerator and leave cash in a bucket. The good, old honor system. Well, I can tell you, it was the best goat’s cheese I’ve ever had. Hands down. I do wish I took some home with me to share.

 

 

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As our last ditch effort to savor time together, we took a late evening trip to the beach with the folks, where the sun stretched near the horizon, teasing us through the clouds without a fair sunset. 

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It was a refreshing trip to spring, alright. Darn good. We’re so grateful to our family and friends whose love is rich and satisfying, pure and lovely. Thank you for your prayers and support in this journey to Montana. We are alive and well. Every day is an adventure. And we never know when we’ll have work. But God has continued to provide. So we wait. And wait. Hard as it is, we are getting stronger. 

Reality. And a bit of depression.

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It hasn’t been easy here. It hasn’t been what I thought it would be. I guess I thought it would be romantic and serene. Quiet and peaceful. Picture-perfect. I imagined daily walks through town, hand in hand with my honey. I imagined getting pregnant and planning for family growth.

Reality hit hard this last month.

Pete and I called it “survival mode.” We had to learn how to make it. From the rough weather (60 mph winds and sub-zero temps) to the challenge of new jobs, we were overwhelmed. Our marriage took the brunt of the blow, as each of us faced trials and recurring bouts of despair. Worst of all, we missed our people. We had left behind dozens of loved ones who historically helped us weather the storms.

I learned more about depression in these last two months than I have ever known. I learned that it makes you crave solitude and secrecy, two dangerous tactics of the enemy. I couldn’t reach out for help. I couldn’t even reach to my husband, an armchair away. I would meet up with new friends and desire them to love me and ask me how I was doing. I wanted so badly for someone to care enough to go out of their way for me.

And while I’ve been sulking and crying and despairing, I’ve been missing out. All this time, I could have found rest in Christ. I could have turned to Jesus. He cared. And even though I knew that, I couldn’t reach for Him. I let the enemy win. I’d go to church and not sing. I’d cry looking at all of the babies around me. And I’d lash out at Pete as if he was the one deliberately hurting me. I was an ugly mess. For sure.

I can’t say that I have yet recovered in full. But we made serious gains last week after hitting rock bottom. Fully ready to move back home, we realized we needed to be more intentional about seeking God together. So Pete initiated daily “family meetings” where we check in, pray together, and identify prayer and marriage goals for the next day. It’s incredible to see the transformation already. We have hope restored. And strength to persevere.

No matter what happens out here or how it all transforms from here, we will always remember this journey – and how it brought us to a breaking point, to the end of ourselves. If there is one thing I now know, it’s that I have a teammate in Pete, a partner. He’s family. But more than that, I am reminded that I have a greater teammate out there in Christ.

If you are suffering from depression, loneliness, or despair, you are not alone. You are loved. Cherished. Adored. By the great author of the universe, Himself! As hard as it may be, turn to Christ. While there are countless ways to mask the pain, there is nothing in this world that can replace those feelings with joy… except for Jesus Christ, our Savior and King.

Merry Christmas, friends and loved ones!

Living on Manna

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Life in East Glacier has sure taken hold of my heart. It is just so simple here. So beautiful. So restful.

We went down to one car just days after getting here and hardly drive more than once a day between the two of us. The real problem, we’ve realized, is not having four-wheel-drive. This is a town of big rigs and Subarus. Our homely little Maxima certainly stands out (not to mention, our PT Cruiser, now in “storage mode”)… but during this week’s snow storm, we discovered just how insufficient Gem really was – not just in the snow, but for clearance. Our two solutions: buying yet another car or simply sticking close to home.

We both prefer the second option. A lot of the town folk here work in nearby Browning, in the schools or hospital. The drive is just 13 miles. But it is a horrific 13 miles in the wind and snow. Sometimes the road is closed or so overblown with snow that you can’t tell where you are, save the vibration of the road strips when you cross the line. Worst of all: Very unpredictable. I don’t know how people keep jobs around these parts.

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That leaves us to the local job scene, which is fairly nonexistent. And yet, we’ve become pros at gathering random work. Or rather, God has made it clear that He has us in His hands. Never in my life have I been more aware of God providing for my daily bread. Like manna, jobs come in by the day and rarely in advance.

For Pete, it means a lot of back-breaking work like chopping wood, painting, falling trees, and the occasional break to drive Miss Daisy to the West Side. For me, it means babysitting, cleaning houses, and working with a nonprofit here on a limited basis. We’re still rooting for substitute teaching jobs at the East Glacier Park schoolhouse. And I just might try my hand at freelancing again. Pete thinks I should use this time to write a book. Funny!

Besides working, I’ve found a few friends here that love to “walk,” which is really “hike” in my book. My first “walk” with Kelly was a six-miler through the woods. Now I’m addicted and walk almost daily, even with two feet of snow! It’s just what the doctor ordered, I tell you. So serene.

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Also exciting, Pete and I finally got out backpacking, which was a real treat. Sandwiched between weeks of awful weather, we scored a nice little 2-day period of sunny bliss, nearly alone on the trail and with our destination lake empty. We even saw a moose! It was magical.

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We are enjoying this little slice of heaven, but it isn’t without difficulty. Pete and I are learning how to share a tiny space, day in, day out – something we never really did when we both had demanding jobs, regular schedules, and early shifts that kept our “together time” pedestal-precious. We’re discovering new things about ourselves and learning to grow for the sake of the other. The added stress of job-finding doesn’t help. But we’re navigating these waters with hope and love.

We found a little Christian community here, with Bible Study on Saturday nights. It is great, and even includes a potluck dinner. We’re so grateful for all of the ways God has shown us that He loves us. We couldn’t ask for more!

Thank you so much for your prayers, friends! I’ll just end now with a parting shot of resident Sinopah Mountain, center, which I summitted one day, long ago. I’ll have to do that again next summer, when I’ve earned back my hiking legs. Come visit friends, and climb it with me! xo

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The Four-Digit Phone Number

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Oh, small towns. They are so cute, so behind the times that it’s charming.

I recall the last time I lived here in East Glacier, it was difficult to find regular internet anywhere in town. My dreams of being a work-from-home freelance writer were stifled at the thought that my reputation for meeting deadlines would suffer a huge blow. And if you can’t meet your deadlines, you’re plum out of a job.

Thankfully, that has changed. Now internet is strong and vital, and I can stay connected to the outside world with ease. I Skype, blog, and keep up with world news. My iPhone even works here. But the things that get my giggling are still aplenty, especially in relation to the local land-line scene:

  • StottRotaryPhoneOffTheHookIIOne area code: In Portland, there are too many area codes to count; in Montana: one. Yes, one. For the whole, entire state. And it’s a large state, mind you.
  • Home phones: Even more impressive is the fact that most people in East Glacier have home phones, due to a history of questionable cell service. The kinks are likely out of that system (to my knowledge), but it’s just so precious that it makes me want to get a home phone, too! Maybe I could get an old, rotary style one.
  • The 4-Digit Phone Number: With a local land-line here comes the same 3-digit prefix (226) supplied to each and every home phone number. (There’s so few home residences they won’t have to change this system for years.) The result: the 4-digit phone number. With the same six numbers (406-226) clearly known by all, it is customary to hear someone give out their number in four, little digits. It kills me. Hilarious, I tell you.

Oh I love it here…