Today as I gather thoughts for my first foray into blogging, I sit staring out the window at one of my favorite places on earth: a small, remote fishing village in Southeast Alaska called Pelican. It’s isolated and rugged, accessible only by boat or plane—a place you really have to want to come to. It is also drop dead gorgeous. The view from my window is one of lush green forest and majestic blue mountains, divided by a sea-green inlet a mile wide that provides a daily playground for whales, otters, seals and eagles.
Pelican is the place where my husband Jim and I came as near-newlyweds to pastor our first mission church. Though we left after only one year, Pelican never left us. The memories and lessons learned here homesteaded a cozy corner of our hearts—a corner I have mentally visited often over the years as life and ministry changed, cheered and challenged. Not necessarily in that order.
The truth is that everything I needed to know about life, marriage and ministry I learned in Pelican, Alaska. So practical and poignant were those experiences that eleven years ago I wrote a book about them titled True North. It was then, in order to refresh my reflections, that we reconnected with a couple we knew who still live in Pelican and came for a visit. We have been coming back every summer since.
Though there have been a few physical changes over the years, coming back to Pelican is still like summer camp on steroids. You see people you only see once a year and take up where you left off. Or in the more inveterate hard-core cases, you start over again. Working with a network of friends, old and new, each year we have managed to do some much needed building maintenance and community ministry. This summer the church here will celebrate 70 years as a significant spiritual outpost in the community.
But the real reason we keep coming back goes as deep as that sea-green inlet. It is to reconnect with that optimistic young couple who came here so long ago. To remind ourselves of where we started and gain a perspective on how far we’ve come. I truly believe there are times in each of our lives when God allows us to come full circle in order to provide a clearer context for life’s circumstances. There’s something about retracing our steps that helps us not only recapture the person we once were—or imagined ourselves to be—but also view that person from a more mature perspective. Our best hope is that what eventually emerges is a wiser, more resilient version—a person changed for the better in all the ways that matter most.
“Blessed are those,” the writer of Psalm 84:5 tells us, “whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.” Pelican has been part of our pilgrimage. And we are grateful.