We spent our Sunday afternoon just like 99.9% of all Coloradoans– decked out in orange and blue, eating junk food, and glued to a TV watching Super Bowl 50.
The only real differences between the Broncos fans of Port Alsworth, Alaska and those in the Promise Land that is Colorado? Well, there’s the fact that my friends delicately delivered their TV to my bosses’ house on their 4-wheeler with their toddler strapped to their back… and that we occasionally had to keep a rambunctious child from bumping the rabbit ears and disrupting our one precious TV channel that we (barely) were able to pick up the game on. Oh, and as the people of Denver took to the streets to celebrate the Bronco’s victory, we piled onto Hondas and drove the village, screaming and shouting in joy. (Evan, my bosses’ oldest even painted a Bronco on his chest and ran the runway shirtless. In February. With a Denver Broncos flag tied around his shoulders. Ohhh the embarrassing photos that I have tucked away for his some-day wedding slideshow…)
We have a wild crew of fifteen or so Coloroadoans who have all miraculously ended up in Port Alsworth through different missions agencies for just a time as this. The pre-game trash talking with community members (all in good fun), mid-game cheering, and post-victory celebration were all glorious and made me feel right at home. Until I didn’t…
Until I started watching the post-game awards and highlight reels online, using my precious internet just to watch my dad saunter back and forth behind John Elway like the intimidating stud of a body guard he is.
Until I saw the photos of my grandmother, aunt, step-mom, and cousin at the game and after-party.
Until the Snapchat videos of my friends Wobbling in the streets of downtown Denver started coming through my phone. (Oh, how I love a good celebratory Wobble…)
Until I started texting with my dad, hearing what it was like to be at Levi’s Stadium during the biggest American sporting event of the year.
Admittedly, my heart was suffering from some hardcore FOMO (fear of missing out), but that feeling quickly gave way to an unexpected, overwhelming flood of grief. The sadness that nailed me right in the chest was so much less about missing a silly football game and so much more about the sudden realization that if I choose to continue following Jesus’ call to the nations, I’ll likely continue to miss out on the big (and small) moments of my loved ones’ lives– moments that I would otherwise be present for.
It hit me hard as I walked home Sunday night that had I not followed Jesus to Alaska, I would’ve been with my family in San Francisco, watching my dad live out virtually every American man’s dream. I would’ve been able to cheer for a team I couldn’t care much about, but I would’ve been in good company with the people I love most—my Raider fanatic family.
Instead, I’m here. Don’t get me wrong—I love nearly everything about my life in the bush. I love my job and my students. I love my stellar team at TLC and at the Tanalian School. I love my Gospel Community, running in the mountains outside my house after lunch, and the soon-to-be-spring nine o’clock sunrises. I love the opportunities that I’ve had in the last week to sit and listen to the stories of strong, Jesus-loving Native women from the villages that surround us. I mean, the Lord is BLOWING MY MIND with what He’s doing every day in rural Alaska, and I consider it such an honor to have been called to live in a place that is in a season of such dramatic transition.But there’s always been grief in that calling also; I’ve known that since the morning Jesus first called me here during a church service last Super Bowl Sunday. Foolishly (or optimistically perhaps…), I thought I had passed through the majority of the grieving process. I’m realizing more and more though, that by choosing to dedicate my life to Jesus and His call to go to the nations, that the struggle of missing out on the things and people I love will involve a life-long grieving process.
Of course, no matter where I am I’ll continue to celebrate silly Super Bowls, birthdays, and the weddings and new babies of my loved ones, but there’s a good chance that there will be seasons where those celebrations will be from a far (and will probably look more like taking a celebratory victory lap around a village on a 4-wheeler, than being physically present); a bitter pill for a quality-time, physical touch, people-person like me to swallow.
It’s a constant struggle, this reprioritizing of my heart’s desires so that following Jesus is higher than my desire to dance in the streets of Denver where I’m comfortable and happy. And as my FOMO and sappy, weak heart reminded me Sunday night, I am far from mastering the struggle.
The cost of being away from the ones I love is great; Jesus never denied that. But being a part of someone experiencing the freedom and love of Christ for the first time? Or watching a “violent” teenager’s heart soften because He’s reading God’s word every morning in Bible class? Or standing next to a girl who’s had books written about the violence and abuse that she’s endured in the Alaskan wilderness, but listening to her sing praises to our King at the top of her lungs with tears of joy streaming down her face? That is, and always will be, worth anything I could live with or without.
Jesus truly is better, and as the song goes, I need Him to make my heart believe that every. stinkin’. day.(I suppose at the end of the day it helps alleviate my FOMO to know that one day I’ll hopefully be dancing with both my sweet Alaskan family and those I’m missing most on the streets of the New Jerusalem. And by George, we will celebratorily Wobble till we can’t Wobble any more…)
“But all through life I see a cross,
Where sons of God yield up their breath;
There is no gain except by loss,
There is no life except by death.
And no full vision but by Faith,
Nor glory but by bearing shame,
Nor justice but by taking blame;
And that Eternal Passion saith,
Be emptied of glory and right and name.”
-from Olrig Grange, by Walter C. Smith