Category Archives: Life

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.

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.

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…

Bringing back the social calendar

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That’s it; I’m settled. Our place has always been cozy and welcoming and the mountains, ever-gorgeous. But now, the people have captured my heart, too.

It started last weekend, when I babysat for a coworker I met at the restaurant, now closed for the season. She and her man had some ranching to do: a good, old fashioned round-up, to be exact. While they herded and gathered cows on horseback, I sat with a precious angel named Emma who took to me immediately. We colored and danced, and she fell asleep holding my hand. Then we ate a hearty ranch supper with the work crew, enjoying new friends and countless bear stories. The next day, we did it all over again, supper and all.

Precious Emma, already a cowgirl

Precious Emma, already a cowgirl

On Monday, we were blessed by a spontaneous invite to join some new friends for dinner. It was such a treat! Pete met them at a Bible Study (yay! we found one!) last Friday when I was at work. It was an instant hit. They’re about our age, with two young kids who ended up on my lap, books in hand. If Pete keeps leaving vests, gloves, and mail at their house, I’m guessing we’ll continue to see a lot of them!

Then I went to the “East Glacier Women’s Club” meeting on Tuesday (which I’d been looking forward to since I happily scrolled it on my slim social calendar weeks ago). As hoped, I met many wonderful women: the women of the community. The meeting was all-business, showing that these ladies took pride in their town and their people. More than that, I felt accepted, loved. They took me in and invited me to ski weekend getaways and Wednesday Mahjong. I was delighted, and took them up on the offers. I am now addicted to Mahjong!

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But the best offer of the evening came from DeeAnna, who offered me a job on the spot when I mentioned I had a degree in Journalism. It’s just a temp job, but it’s so great! In my two short days, I interviewed the Executive Director, wrote and distributed a press release to local media and crafted a quick ad for the local TV station. I also produced a newsletter, updated contact lists, and started on some print materials for an upcoming clinic. I am in heaven working in this field again. Funny enough, I’m also working with teens in a way, too.

The organization, International Traditional Games Society, is dedicated to restoring and teaching traditional Native games that have been lost over the decades. The games are so interesting! Hand-carved, hand-painted and wrapped in leather, they are beautiful works of art, as well. Next week, they are putting me through a $250 training for free, so I can help facilitate these games in schools and at future clinics. I’m so thrilled!

On top of all of this, Pete and I heard our applications were approved at the local schoolhouse for substitute teaching, grades K-8. I’m nervous to teach but figure I could do it once in a while. Funny enough, you just need a high school diploma to sub at the school. I tell myself that a loving heart is what’s needed most, but I still fear they’ll tear me to pieces. I remember having subs in school… and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone! I just might stick with babysitting; word has already begun to circulate…

The charming schoolhouse where we may find work

The charming schoolhouse where we may find work

Either way, it’s a pretty place. And we’ve gone down to one car. Hurray! It’s a bit of a change for us, but it’s a tiny town, perfect for walking. It feels like home already. But we miss our friends and family! Big hugs!!

Just off my street...

Just off our street…

Stir crazy already?!

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We have been here for two and a half weeks – just long enough to go stir crazy. Already. I know it sounds lame, but it’s true. We don’t know what to do with ourselves. We don’t have close friends or family nearby, and we don’t have day jobs. Luckily, I’ve found regular work at a restaurant I used to work at (seven years ago!). But they were evening shifts… and that all ends tomorrow, when the restaurant closes its doors for the season, like always.

Despite his ongoing search, Pete remains jobless, save a few odd gigs he picked up around town. He never really took on the “vacation” mindset, as I have, and has been antsy to get that regular, daily nine-to-five going. I think it’s a man thing. He wants to provide. Meanwhile, I want to hike the park and have play days, which is how we’ve spent our weekends, to be fair.

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Bison flanked by the great range behind East Glacier Park

Both hikes have been in the snow. The first, it snowed on us. The second was a sunny “showstopper” kind of day where all the mountains took on a gorgeous coat of snow, illuminated all the more by a bright blue, cloudless sky. The birds chirped happily above us, and the brisk air smelled of new beginnings – and that fresh, nostalgic Glacier smell I’d been missing for so long.

Will this be the adventure I always dreamed of? I wonder. Can we handle the unemployment, the weather? Will we bail ship and come running back home?

It is far too early to tell how this chapter will unfold. But we are here, ready to see what God has for us. Only time will tell. So for now, we hope. And we settle into a slow pace of life very unlike the life we left behind. For how freeing it feels, it is yet unsatisfying. I suppose that “do or die” mentality still needs to simply die.

After all, it isn’t about “doing” here, it’s about “being.” And isn’t that the very essence of finding our satisfaction in the Lord? To know that you don’t have to earn His love or “arrive” at a certain place to be accepted and valued and so highly treasured. Ahh, to be in that place of freedom. I only long for it, being trapped continually by the desire to be “established” or settled or just plain busy. But this trusting in Him puts us in position to grow our faith. And if that is the only purpose for this journey, then so be it.