On Holy and Frozen Ground | #DSSDoesAlaska 2020

Precious BaptismFor weeks I’ve lacked the words I felt could do this year’s #DSSDoesAlaska trip justice. (Less than ideal when you know you have fundraising updates and newsletters to write…) The only words I’ve been able to muster have been to tell friends and supporters that that week was very likely the highlight of my nearly 13 years at the Denver Street School. And honestly? I’m still not able to pinpoint why. Last year, we watched the Lord radically break down walls for two of our students over this trip. That trip culminated in a friend of mine taking a chainsaw and cutting a baptismal hole in the 18” thick ice so that my vice principal and I could baptize one of our seniors. In just one week, we witnessed radical transformation and I am still mind blown when I think about it.

This year, nothing overly dramatic happened. Instead, I had the opportunity to spend 8 days doing the things I love most with a team of 7 DSS students and 6 of their teachers– all of whom were insanely engaged with the gospel and dedicated to pushing into its transforming power. 

We cooked and ate meals together each day, and students experienced new cultures and states. We enjoyed snowmachining, flying in tiny planes, skiing, snowboarding, ice fishing, trapping, dancing, sledding, bonfires, and so much more after our daily conference sessions. And yet, the “in between” moments when we watched students learn to truly connect with those around them, undistracted by technology and the drama of their home lives, may have been my favorite… Every night at curfew, we would scoot the boys out of the main house. And every night all of the students were genuinely sad to have to be apart, even long enough to sleep. “Miss, we’re a family! You can’t tear a family apart like this…” they would tease as I ushered them out the door and back to their cabin.  

#DSSDoesAlaska / Journey to the High Places Conference 2020 Highlight Reel

As the “outside world” began shutting down due to the spread of the Coronavirus, we were safe and sound in a small village, 165 miles away from the nearest city, with only one working phone. Sporadic calls home to loved ones and the unbelievable updates they gave us reminded us that the world did not stop spinning in our absence. Similarly, DSS did not stop being DSS just because we were in Alaska. We saw students work hard to process through trauma, and gently stood by them as they had moments of meltdown and breakthrough, similar to what we experience at DSS on a daily basis. As teachers, we had opportunities to practice patience and grace, as hell hath no fury like DSS students being “forced” to hike through the snow to a glacier-capped waterfall and none of our students are “morning people”.

While most phone calls home yielded updates about school closures and new city policies, one phone call brought us all to our knees. It was news that a young man, who had been a good friend of two of the students with us in Alaska, had been shot and killed the night before. As teachers tried to calm one of the grief-ridden students down, he turned and punched a solid wood end table, dealing with his grief and shock the most familiar way he knew how. But then, he cried. And as a team, we gathered around him. One of his basketball teammates held him while he wept. Teachers and his peers held his feet and shoulders as we prayed and cried for everyone back in Denver who had been thrown headlong into grief overnight. As I looked around, I discreetly slid off my shoes, acutely aware that we were all suddenly on Holy ground.

That moment was a microcosm of what the Journey to the High Places Conference is all about. This conference and trip was created four years ago specifically for Denver Street School students to provide them a safe place to work through the trauma and grief in their lives. It’s about leaning in, learning to hold one anothers’ stories tenderly, and choosing to believe in the Hope of the Gospel that is woven through every lesson plan and conversation at the Denver Street School.

We circled back to Philippians 3:12 a few times throughout our time in Alaska– repeating Paul’s words over our students: “Not that I have already obtained {perfection}, but I press on to make {the gospel} my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own” (English Standard Version). 

It’s a long race, walking with Jesus… working at DSS… Some days the transformation in our students is dramatic and evident. Some days it’s slow and steady and sweet. Regardless, we press on, and what a joy it is to watch our students slowly make the gospel their own as they learn the depths of Christ’s love for them and the lengths He went to to make them His own. 

IMG_114020200316_214633

25 Ways You Know You Live in the Alaskan Bush

It only seems right that the first person to ever “guest post” on this site would be the lovely and talented Kathryn Bronn. After all, she’s been one of the greatest creative cheerleaders in my life, regardless of whether I’ve been in a season of slathering melted crayons on canvas in my living room with a blow drier, or being glued to my laptop, furiously typing out everything I feel like the Lord has placed on my heart. Oh, and did I mention she’s the way Jesus originally duped me into visiting (and later moving to) Alaska? Yeah. She’s kinda been a big deal in my life over the last few years. For her friendship and creative partnership, I am eternally thankful.

1397130_10208479645409207_920408222672515338_oKaBronn James, as I like to call her, is a native Coloradoan who moved to California to escape the cold, before the Lord laughed at her and placed her in the middle of the Alaskan Bush for two winters. She’s a sun obsessed city girl rejoicing that the Lord is moving her to be a Reach Global missionary in Costa Rica. (I recommend following her blog and supporting her ministry as she prepares to head south of the border.) However, until that day comes, I’m simply thankful for the nights we can sit at her kitchen island and collaborate on lists about the hilarity of the bush that has somehow become our reality.

~

“Since I want to take the time to fully appreciate the quirks of Alaskan Bush Life before I move to civilization, I have composed a list of 25 of my favorite common occurrences (with a little extra help from some neighbors).  YOU KNOW YOU LIVE IN THE ALASKAN BUSH WHEN:

When all the 2 year olds say “99”, “Navajo” or “Caravan” as their first words, rather than just “airplane” like all other children.

SteveHavs
Processing a moose: with both the baby and the pistol holstered.

 

When all major life decisions and purchases revolve around “Does it come with free shipping on Amazon Prime?”

When everyday things for city folk are huge luxuries and treats: donuts, ice cream, deli fried chicken, fancy coffee creamers.

When the speaker in church uses very specific aviation analogies for Bible stories and every single person nods in complete understanding.

When it’s completely acceptable to wear waders to church, or your “good Carhharts”.

When it’s completely normal, everyday, nothing special to see 6 people, a dog, and a kitchen sink on a 4wheeler driving down the runway.

When grown men drop everything to watch the fuel plane land, just one more time, because it’s huge and seriously awesome.

When we all count our days until the internet rolls over, because bush internet is LAME and way worse than any third-world country.  And it’s very limited.

MailRun
Mail day would not be complete without a beaver hat or sitting in the Amazon box of dog food.

When it snows and you know that no airplanes are coming in that day: no groceries, no mail, no Amazon Prime. Only weeping in every house.

When there are exactly 5 subjects the men talk about: hunting, fishing, airplanes, guns, and their women.

When the typical “Friday Night Out on the Town”/”Date Night” consists of a school basketball game.

When you can walk into the General with a rifle and no one bats an eye.

When it’s completely commonplace to see a 10 year old driving a snow machine with a huge sled attached, toting his 7 siblings and/or cousins.

When the rhythms of life revolve around the hunting seasons and salmon season.

When you not only keep the front door unlocked, but you don’t actually know where the key is? Do you have a key?

CeremonialBurning
Spring cleaning with a side of s’mores, anyone?

When burning things is a perfectly legitimate solution to cleaning house, especially if you don’t want to pay to ship things out to town.

When you (and every 5 year old in town) can identify airplanes by either their pilot or their tail number. “Oh, there goes Lyle.”

Furthermore, when you also feel free to ask what said pilot is up to as you identify him. “Oh, there goes Lyle, I wonder why he’s flying to town at this hour?  I wonder if everything is okay.” “Oh, there’s Levi, he just got his license and can’t get enough time up in the air.”

When there are more guns in homes than most anywhere else, with greater justification than anywhere else too.  Hello, brown bears.  Caribou for dinner.  Moose, so delicious.

When the children say “Mooommmm, do we have to eat SALMON AGAIN??”, and we who were not raised here say, “Shut your mouths, this is WILD CAUGHT ALASKAN SOCKEYE, and it’s stupid expensive everywhere else in the country.”

MooseProcessingD
Where even the children put on their “game faces” for moose processing. We’ve all got to eat, people.

When the men compare who has more animal skins and pelts hanging in their house.  And mounted heads.  PETA would just DIE if they saw any home here.

When everyone is out running around in the dark yelling like children because the Northern Lights are out. BEST. THING. EVER.

When carrying a blowtorch and a hatchet around in public is not even questioned.  For any reason, ever.

When mud season has completely different connotations than anywhere else in the world. 6 inches deep of MUD. For 2 months.

When Xtra Tuffs or Crocs are considered appropriate footwear for any occasion. In fact, they are rather fashionable.  Why would we need any different shoes?

Thankful [2]

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I began a list of things that I am thankful for a few weeks ago (Thankful [1]). Considering the fact that it is in fact Thanksgiving Day, I figured that today would be a reasonable time to finish and post this bad boy. So, here we go again…

16. My “Other Moms”: I’ll admit it– sometimes when I listen to my friends talk to their moms about their days or recent happenings, I get jealous that I don’t have that type of relationship with my own mother… Then that feeling of jealousy usually turns to a feeling of sadness. But recently I realized that I am incredibly blessed in the “mom department”, just in a way that is different than most. Instead of having one, solid mom who I can talk to about things, I have been blessed with four amazing mothers. While only one of them is actually my biological mother, the others have taken on the roles of guiding, supporting, loving, and essentially raising me. So, I just needed to publicly say, Laura, Allison, & Rezel I am so thankful for you and everything that you have done for me. I love you all so much.

17. Travel: I’ve always been a bit adventure hungry and up until recently, dreams of big adventures were well… just dreams. But over the course of the last two years alone I have been able to travel to San Francisco (on four occasions), Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Utah, Nebraska, Iowa, Idaho, New Hampshire, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont. I am thankful for my job at the StreetSchool Network that has allowed me to travel and see the country, and for friends who have moved and graciously invited me into their new homes to stay for a while.

Post Secret 31

18. Extra-extra-extra-extra-long pants: It may seem a bit petty, but when you’re a 6’2″ athletically built woman, finding pants that are both long enough and don’t fit you incredibly weird is nearly an impossible venture. So today, I am thankful for 39″ inseam pants (and my wonderful principal who invested in me by buying me several pairs from Alloy so I don’t have to freeze my tukus off this winter)!

19. Little financial surprises & answered prayers: When you raise your own support, finances are often kinda tight and so I have been looking for a part-time tutoring job so that I can start saving up for my graduate school textbooks and the big move. But God has shown up in crazy ways these last few weeks, even in the midst of my mini-finacial-crises. Without much effort or thought at all I was able to land an adjunct teaching position at my alma mater. Then, within the same week, I was randomly given an entire box of groceries and a gift card to my local grocery for fresh produce. It has been really neat to see God provide for my needs, no matter how big or small. As my boss always says, “God loves His kids and loves to provide for us when we ask.”

thanksgivingfood

20. My “boring” life: “Miss, you don’t own a tv, you don’t have a boyfriend, and you allegedly don’t go out… What exactly do you do with your life?” “Well, I hang out with Miss S and Miss Miller a lot to lesson plan and get coffee. I go to potluck on Mondays, and Bible study three nights a week… and other than that I just walk my dog and sleep. AND I LOVE IT!” This conversation literally happens at least once a week, and I’m not sure that my students honestly believe me that I love my life the way that it is, but I do. After living through a few years that were only rivaled by the drama and insanity of reality television, I am thankful that I get to be a bit of an introverted homebody these days. It might not be the most exciting existence, but I’m pretty content.

21. The psuedo-tradition of music: I love coming from a big family, but because there are so many of us that have started with one family and then been smushed into my current HUGE family, we don’t have many solid traditions anymore. Yet even in the midst of the smush-ed-ness, we all share the commonality of music. I am thankful that I have always grown up with music playing in my house and I am even more thankful for that awesome feeling of being in the car with my parents or siblings, cranking up the volume to a ridiculous 80’s hair band, and singing at the top of our lungs– together.

22. Ice cream: Obviously.

23. My wonderful “fake roommates”: Amy, Amy, Mallory, and Julie- I don’t think that you four know how much I really love you guys. The fact that I have a toothbrush and pajamas in your house for our weekly sleepovers simply makes my heart so happy. Our late night chats, morning coffee, and 24 marathons have made such a difference in the way that I view my life, as well as in my walk with Jesus. You four are beautiful, strong women of Christ and I cherish our friendship. Thank you for being awesome.

yarrowgirls

24. The fact that I was born in America: I am incredibly thankful that I was born in a country where my freedom of religion (and most other freedoms) are protected by law. I am also thankful for the people who have sacrificed, and continue to sacrifice to secure those freedoms everyday.

25. Charlie Ray: Yes, I am one of those “crazy dog ladies” who loves her pet far too much. But I just can’t help it! There is just something so comforting about opening my front door after a long day and having a tiny white furball pounce on me. In weird ways, this pup has taught me so much about God’s unconditional love and for that, I am thankful.

Chuck background

27. Health insurance: This is one of those “you know you’re a ‘grown-up’ when” things… Up until recently, I have almost always had health insurance; and up until a few months ago, when my insurance expired and I wasn’t sure that anyone would re-insure me because of my pre-exisiting conditions, I didn’t realize how much I had taken my insurance for granted. I am thankful that my clumsy self is now insured again.

28. Friendsgiving: In the 90’s I was semi-addicted to the tv show Friends. (Let’s be honest, who wasn’t?) I always wanted a group of friends who I could celebrate holidays with and just do everyday life with. And as I sit here typing this at my “fake roommates” dining room table, the house is a buzz with my version of the Friends cast preparing pies, brining the turkey, and of course, making coffee– a staple in this household. I’m incredibly thankful for the people that I will be eating with today, both my roommates and our friends that will be joining us later, and for the blessing of absurd amounts of tasty foods. We are truly blessed.

Happy Thanksgiving to all! I hope your days are blessed with family, food, and fellowship.

Blessings, Lou

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.”

(Colossians 4:2)