Alaska . . . what a beautiful and strange land. From what I saw of Fairbanks and Anchorage, in my mind a stark contrast has arisen between what man has made and what God has made. On one hand, the towns play host to ugly architecture, strange zoning, and mostly utilitarian buildings with small, squat windows.
Even the village of North Pole with its tribute to Santa Claus lacks the expected adorable main drag and instead seems to be simply a large store right off the highway, with a couple reindeers hanging out back in a fenced-in area.
(disclaimer: the town is called North Pole . . . but my weird brain decided to call it ‘Santa Claus’ instead when I was dabbling in Photoshop)
But these lackluster towns are surrounded by the most breathtaking beauty: grandiose mountains, snowcapped ranges with a majestically jutting Mt McKinley; hills covered in trees, rushing rivers, vibrantly red brush.
Along the route from Fairbanks to Anchorage, especially right around Denali, the State has thoughtfully plotted very frequent pull-off zones for photograph-obsessed out-of-towners to stop, stretch their legs, and capture the beauty of Alaska on camera. Along the flat stretches of land, the highway is peppered with warning signs alerting drivers to the possiblity of moose ambling across the highway.
Just thinking of the landscape makes me smile–though the companionship of my husband is what made our trip across those hills so sweet. Even thinking about the rest stop with the hole-in-the-ground toilet brings a grin to my face as I remember the blast of cold air making shocking contact with my hind end. I yelped to my husband, who was in the toilet next door. He laughed at me. I blame the permafrost.
The overarching feeling of our vacation was: calm. Relaxed, simple and delicious meals. Bright sunlight. The joy of seeing my husband love, play with and care for his now 7-month-old nephew, little James. A peppering of delightful late night talks with my sister. No pressure. No list of things to do.
Coming back to Chicago was slightly shocking. Our final connection landed in O’Hare at 5:30am on the Tuesday after Labor Day, which gave me enough time to catch a cab back to our apartment, unsuccessfully try to nap for about an hour, reapply my make-up, and head out the door at 8:20 to work. Walking down the familiar sidewalk towards the El stop, I just felt strange. And it wasn’t just the fog in my head. There was something about the light. Something weird. Something that made me feel like I was trapped inside some kind of reality warp.
What the heck . . .? I asked myself. The sky was perfectly blue and lovely, but the light seemed somehow dim. Washed out. Kind of thinning, like the fabric rubbed shiny in a worn child’s blanket.
I envisioned the expanse of sky that I had looked at every day up North–that’s when I realized that the sunlight in Alaska is stronger this time of year. More vibrant. Even in the upper 50’s and 60’s, I walked around in flip-flops and a tank top because if the sun is hitting you with its powerful rays, you are warm. And it makes the colors of the landscape come alive in a beautiful way.
The second shock of being back in Chicago is that there is no more baby in my life. Somewhere there is a little baby named James imperiously smacking his hand on the table, demanding his snack of Puffs . . . but I’m not there to see.
He may be bumping his head into Heidi’s shin as he crawls into the kitchen and decides he needs attention. He may be doing the ‘geiger counter’ baby sound that he makes as he falls asleep in the car–but I’m not there to hear it.
I never realized how exciting that first spoken syllable is. Little James started saying ‘ba’ for the first time while we were visiting.
From a single, isolated ba, this progressed over the next few days to rapid fire ba’s with various inflections. A distressed ba . . . a happy ba . . . a thoughtful ba as he pondered life from his backwards-facing carseat on the way to the grocery store or to church . . . James’ myriad of moods is delightful to watch. The ‘I’m getting hungry whimper’ . . . the delighted hooting and leg-kicking when excited . . .
. . . and the distressed wringing of his little hands when he was worrying about something that loomed so large in his baby universe: will I ever eat again? Will there still be people here when I wake up, or will they all leave me while I sleep?
I learned about trust. My husband tried to reassure James as he worried: “Don’t worry little guy! We’re not going anywhere! We’ll still be here when you wake up!” But the little man continued to fret. I couldn’t believe that this baby, surrounded by three competent adults with his best interests in mind and heart, was experiencing stress. Stress? Really? Before hitting 1 year of age?
And that’s when I was reminded that I do the same thing with my heavenly Father. He can see everything–what I need (even when, like James, I don’t know what that is) and what is best for me. He has the power to provide for me, feed me when I’m hungry, comfort me when I’m sad–and he has a long-term plan for my future. Little James can’t possibly know or even imagine the ways in which Heidi and Mike are planning and saving for his future: a good education; discipline and correction strategies; toys that are age-appropriate and safe; the child-proofing of the stairway. They’re thinking above and beyond, while all he can think about is what’s in front of him. And in turn, I can’t begin to envision what God has planned for me. I imagine that when I let myself fret and worry about it, God looks down with compassion, tenderness, and a little sorrow, just as I look down on the fretting James, and He says: If you could see what I see, you’d fully understand there’s no need to worry! But you can’t see yet–so in the meantime, won’t you just trust me? I promise I have a plan–a plan to prosper you and not to harm you. Do you think I’m going to let my own child go hungry? I know how to satisfy all your needs. You’re just making yourself miserable! I have all your best interests at heart, and what’s more, I’m all powerful to accomplish them. So relax, and just trust me!
When Jesus said “don’t worry,” he meant it. Maybe baby James and I will learn together.