“There is a house built out of stone,
Wooden walls, doors, and windows…
This is a place where I don’t feel alone.
This is a place where I feel at home.”
-“To Build a Home”, The Cinematic Orchestra
There was a moment during last year’s #DSSDoesAlaska trip when we were hiking out to Tanalian Falls (pictured above) and one of my senior girls and I reached a fever pitch of conflict. All throughout the hike up the trail, Ezzie* had thrown a terrible amount of attitude my way. In my sleep-deprived-day-5-of-24/7-teenager-dom, I didn’t respond very graciously. [Read as: After three years of life together, Ezzie has become like a little sister to me. And there on that trail in front of God and everybody, we got into a very “sisterly” shouting match over her participation (or lack there of…) in a group photo. This group photo to be exact. I’ll let you guess which student she is… Boy, if looks could kill.]
By the time we reached the Falls, Ezzie had stalked away from our group, headphones in, and sat huffily with her feet dangling over the edge of the waterfall. A few of the teachers tried to coax her over to the rest of the group, all of whom were enjoying a snack and snapping picture of the majestic views, but she wouldn’t budge. A while later, when it came time for us to head back down the mountain, Ezzie refused to acknowledge our requests to join. I waived the rest of the group on, ensuring them that we would catch up… eventually…
I slid down next to her on the rock and convinced her remove just one headphone long enough for me to apologize for being a jerk earlier. She stared at me, unblinkingly, before putting her headphone back in and turning away from me again. For five or so minutes, I tried to prod, asking her what had her jaw set so tightly. Eventually, realizing I wasn’t making any headway, I gave up and just sat next to her, kicking my feet over the glacier forming below. A moment or two later, she tapped my shoulder. I glanced over to see her holding out one of her headphones– the universal teenage sign of a peace treaty.
I assumed that when I put that headphone in my ears, I would hear the same aggressive rap music that had been deafening me throughout our entire trip. Instead, the quiet piano and strings of Cinematic Orchestra played this song:
We sat there silently, letting the words wash over us, watching the river do the same to the rocks below. By the time the music faded out, both of us had tears and snot running down our faces. Ezzie turned to me, took her headphone out of my ear, and quietly explained that she’d been arguing with God the entire hike up the mountain. The Lord was breaking down her walls while using the beauty of His creation to speak tenderly to her heart. We sat on the edge of that waterfall and talked and hugged. She told me that she was realizing just how much of a safe place DSS was for her– a version of the home being sung about in that song. She also told me about the ways she’d experienced a freedom she’d never known on that hike as the weight of past burdens had been lifted off her shoulders, little by little, as she’d silently processed them with the Lord, and now with me.
When she asked me why I was crying, all I could do was choke out the words–
“This.” I motioned to the river, mountains, and woods around us. “This place has become my home. That song said it perfectly. Ez, I didn’t tell any of you, but I put in my resignation for next school year back in January and I was planning to move back to Alaska this summer. But in true DSS fashion, my quitting didn’t stick and I “un-quit” at the beginning of February; so I’ll be back at DSS for the 2019-2020 school year. I’m glad because like you, DSS is my home. And I really do love watching the ways the Lord is working in your lives, but my heart is so sad to not be coming home to Alaska. I think I’m just now realizing how sad I am…” My tears started again as soon as I stopped rambling.
“I know, Miss. I know you love it here…” She whispered as she put her head on my shoulder. “I’ve watched you come alive since we got here. I can tell this is your home. And I’m excited for the day when you get to come back back for longer than a few weeks at a time.”
Ezzie and I made it through the rest of that trip and miraculously through the remainder of last school year as well. Summer vacation came and went, and I sat on the edge of those Falls many times throughout my month back in Port Alsworth. By then, the unrelenting summer sun had long melted away the glacier that Ezzie and I had stared at on that March day, but that pull back to Alaska? That feeling of home? It hasn’t relented in my heart. And as I sobbed my way from Port Alsworth to Anchorage and back to Denver last July, I knew something was changing.
For years I’ve fielded questions about if and when I’m going to move back to Alaska, and friends, it’s with a whole hurricane of mixed emotions raging inside of me that I write that that time has come.
This is the update I’m sure many of you aren’t all that surprised to be receiving — the one where I write that in July of this year, I will be packing my antique trunks, plants, and dresses into my Jeep and driving north to Alaska to finish something the Lord started in me back in 2014. At present some details of what life in Alaska will hold are clearer than others. I would love to get coffee with you or FaceTime and fill you in on the details as the Lord fills me in. But in the meantime, I will say this–
It has been the best and most challenging adventure of my life to be a Denver Street School Bulldog for the last 12 years; I found Jesus in the halls of that school my senior year and He has been faithful to allow me to find Him there everyday since. While I may be handing off the “principal baton” to someone else, in some ways I won’t be going too far from the Street Schools career wise. More on that later…
Three years ago after being offered the principal position, I felt very confident that the Lord had given me a vision for the East Campus of this ministry and He has exceeded that vision He gave me in every way. Daily I look around at our beautiful little school, our strong little family, and see a constant reminder that DSS is the Lord’s and that in Him, all things hold together, just as Colossians 1:16-17 says.
I stood up in front of my kids yesterday and tearfully told them this news, so it’s only fitting that as my support system, you know next. I will covet your prayers for all of us as we look toward the future and seek the face of God in the midst of much transition. Heaven knows I’ll need it to not dissolve into a sobbing mess from time to time these next few months. Heavens also knows what is to come next though and it is in God’s sovereignty and grace that I will trust as we all walk forward.
All of my soon-to-be-Alaskan-again love,
*Name changed to protect the online identity of this darling student