When the World Goes Cold

The summer season is slowly coming to an end down here in the land of ice and snow. The weather is getting slightly cooler. The Polar Star (the USCG Icebreaker) has arrived and has begun to break apart the sea ice in front of the station. People have begun planning for their travel and return home once off the ice.

stk_3193 (edited)Oh, and penguins have arrived.

Some people are excited about getting back to a place where plants grow and it gets above the freezing mark. Others are about as happy about the prospect as a molting penguin.

Part of me wishes I could stay down here through the winter and into next year. Part of me doesn’t want to go back because I know how special this place has become for me.

Every day I get to witness the beauty of creation and the glory of the Father above in every facet of this place. Every day I wake up and get to explore with eyes full of wonder. I get the opportunity to go out and see things that most people will never witness.

stk_3194 (edited)And I’ve learned some things about the world and about myself in the process. I’ve learned that while this continent may be harsh, the people that come to this place are far from cold.

Sometimes, you do everything right and bad things still happen. And you cannot blame yourself for what could have been. You got to lift up your eyes and focus on being the best that you can be. To be there for others and to pour out love no matter what.

I learned that not everyone is going to like me, and that is okay. But no matter what people feel about me, I have still been called to love them unconditionally. My love for others will never change.

I’ve learned about independence from the opinions and expectations of others. The freedom of relying on the Lord above for strength to make it through the days. The comfort of the unknown and the mystery of creation.

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In a month I return from the lands of ice and snow. And while I look forward to returning next season, I will be glad to see the colors of life once again.

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Sunshine, Christmas, and Ice

I find it kinda amusing that I keep on seeing posts on social media about the Winter Solstice and the joy of lengthening days and more daylight to come. And here I am, on the bottom end of the globe basking in endless sunshine. While all my friends have just experienced the longest night of the year, I will not see the sun set behind the horizon until the early morning hours of 20 Feb 2019.

It’s also fun to think about the fact that while the rest of my friends and family are enjoying Christmas Eve right about now, it is already Christmas morning here at McMurdo Research Station in Antarctica. And, to top it all off, it snowed last night and this morning, so we kinda have a white Christmas going on down here (ignore the fact that we almost always have snow but due to the 24 hours of sunlight, most of the fresh stuff has already melted).

STK_2735 (edited)Yesterday, we celebrated the holidays with a Christmas dinner of crab legs and lobster tails and all sorts of sweets and desserts. And for the first time this season, it felt like the holidays. Even if I’ve worked Sunday, Christmas Eve, and Christmas (today).

It’s definitely been a journey and a struggle these past couple weeks. It hasn’t been easy, as a community, dealing with the tragedy of loss that we faced together. It hasn’t been easy for some of our coworkers who have never spent this much time away from home. It hasn’t been easy as some of the only people working throughout the holidays.

But I still love it. There is something special about this place that reminds me of who I am. That reminds me of my Father in heaven who we celebrate and remember this day, when He came down to us as an infant, a sacrifice for our sins.

Even though we have all been working non-stop here in the land of ice and snow, I still smile because I know that all this that I do, from dispatching to creating art, answering phones to sharing love through actions and words, all of it is for the glory of my Lord and King. And when I walk through these frozen fields of ice and snow that surround us, I am reminded of His creation and the love He poured out in every detail that we get a chance to explore.

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Today we celebrate the simple fact that our Father in heaven sent down His own Son to become flesh and blood, fully human. He did this out of love to redeem us and to become the sacrifice that was required to bring to Himself.

So to this, I wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Coddiwomple

Every year around this time, I hear people talking about what the next year will bring. And in an effort to define what this will look like, many people choose a word, almost like New Years Resolution, based off their goals and how they wish to grow throughout the year to come.

I have never really been one to make New Year’s Resolutions or to try to make big changes at a specific time of the season. My goals tend to be more abstract, focusing on creativity and art, relationships and faith. Joy and love.

Last week, something strange occurred. A word jumped out at me and I fell in love with it. And I decided that it would be my word for 2019.

Unlike most words chosen, my word is not as abstract as others and describes how I want to walk through life, even if I don’t know the end result.

My word: Coddiwomple.

Coddiwomple: to travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination.

To go confidently, even if the exact end is not known. To move through life with faith, even if I don’t have everything figured out. To live fully, without looking back, to embrace the unknowns that God has placed before my feet.

I do not know where this year will take me, but I know I want to walk through it with confidence.

The Shadow on the Path

Two weeks ago, I hiked up to the top of Observation Hill overlooking McMurdo Research Station and the Ross Ice Shelf that extends out as far as the eye can see. Across the ice covered sound, the Royal Society Range stands proud, sentinels amongst the clouds standing guard in the distance.  Past the research station, the dark shape of Castle Rock stands contrasted against the slopes of Mt Erebus, whose steam covered peak rises like a crowned ruler over the whole of Ross Island.

On the top of Ob Hill stands a cross that can be seen from across the entire station below. Each morning as I walk from my dorm to the Galley in building 155, I lift my gaze to follow the winding trail that snakes its way up the hill to the wooden post and crossbeam that rises above the edge of the summit. It is a daily reminder of faith and beauty, but also the harshness of this place.

As I stood up on the top of the hill last week, I rested in the shadow of that cross.

I’ve always found comfort at the foot of the cross, be it here in the land of ice and snow, in churches and cathedrals around the world, or in the thoughts and prayers shared in silence with my Father above. Even in the shadows and the darkest of nights, His presence at the cross brings warmth and light to the soul.

Over the past week, I rest in that shadow once again.

A week ago, two coworkers passed away while performing preventative maintenance on a fire suppression system at a radio transmitter site in the area. Several days ago, we said God-speed as they started their journey back home.

As a child, I was afraid of the dark. But as I grew older, I found that the night held no less terrors than the light of day. My time as a dispatcher taught me that as well. Even here in Antarctica, where the sun will not set again until 20 Feb 2019, shadows fall across our paths.

In this life, shadows are not always physical darkness, but fears and doubts, sorrows and heartaches, pain and suffering.

I’ve lost friends and family before, to sickness and disease, accidents and acts of nature, but no matter how many times you experience a tragedy, it always hurts. It’s always going to hurt.  It’s how we know we are still alive.

That’s how we know that we are still capable of love.

Our faith in God is not defined by good and bad days, but the ability to love unconditionally through these events that shape our journey of life. To love when it would be easier to fly into anger and rage. To love when it hurts. When you don’t know if you have the strength to love any more. When you don’t want to love anymore.

The ability to love others unconditionally is what defines our relationship with God. To find the strength in Him to see the joy in the shadows and hope in the dark of night.

It is okay to feel sad, to shed tears, to question why, to be angry about things outside your control, but those feelings should never prevent us from loving fully. I know I’ve experienced all of those, even throughout this past week as this community of McMurdo Research Station has begun the process of grieving those lost to tragedy.

And as the procession passed to transport them back to their homes in the States, I turned to look up to Observation Hill to see that wooden cross silhouetted against the gray skies. And although the shadow of the hill fell upon those who had gathered to say farewell to our coworkers lost to tragedy, I knew that God would give us the strength to continue this journey.

In that shadow, I found peace and rest.

In the Land of Ice and Snow

Someone once told me that when you land in Antarctica, all you see is white snow for as far as the eye can see. I was told that it was a blinding, shapeless landscape where the horizon fades into nothingness. That no colors escaped the snow. And that the ice was cold.

Well, the truth is that Antarctica actually is cold. But not as cold as one would expect.  It’s a dry cold, so it could be single digit temperatures and still nice enough to wear a jacket. Or a sweater and a hat. Add some gloves and you’ll be good to go on a hike. If it’s windy, you may want an additional couple layers. Or you could just wear your Big Red and all your ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear and you’ll keep nice and toasty.

When we first arrived, the long days were continuing to grow longer. But when the sun dipped below the horizon, even for an hour or two, the temperatures plummeted and everything froze in the darkness. And then something beautiful happened a couple weeks ago.  The sun stopped setting.

The next time the sun sets on McMurdo Research Station on Ross Island, Antarctica will be near the end of February, as we all prepare to depart and go our separate ways. We will return to the States, different than when we left. Changed by the icy wind that continues to blow and the sun that never ceases to shine.

When I stepped off the C-17 and touched foot to snow, for a couple seconds, the bright glare of the light off the snow was blinding. On the plane, the light faded and the shadows gave relief to our eyes. After two weeks exploring the beauty that is Christchurch, we left the sights and sounds of the city and entered the unknown (some of us returned to what they have come to call home).

And through the bright white of the snow that surrounded Phoenix Airfield as we descended the steps of the aircraft and began our journey on the ice, our eyes were opened to the beauty that is this frozen landscape.

It’s not a stark white that spreads out as far as the eye can see, but a glimmer of colors that expose themselves in moments and glimpses. It is the blues and the grays of the snow drifts that creep their way across your path. It is the oranges and yellows that explode off the ice as sunlight reflects across its surface, exposing the dark lines of cracks and imperfections that stretch out in silence. It is the browns and dark outlines of volcanic rock that jut out from ground, exploding forth in mounds that tower over this place and contain a beautiful network or trails that lead you to vistas and memorials and hidden sights that you must seek out to find.

It is the vastness of the ice fields as far as the eye can see that draws forth a primal awe and wonder. It is the majesty of the distant mountain ranges that are half hidden in the mist and the clouds of the morning that draw you in to worship. It is the sound of the wind howling past your ears as its icy fingers caress exposed skin that is the song of worship that is this wilderness.

There are times when the blowing clouds of snow set in and the far off horizon vanishes beneath the white expanse of the unknown. When the banks of snow disappear into the distance and the forms that make up the landscape are hidden and lost to sight.

It is then, when the wilderness of this place is upon you, that it reminds you of how small you truly are. And it is then that worship becomes second nature, when your heart dances before creation, and each new sight reminds you of the love of a Lord that is in this place too.

I find myself smiling with joy in my time here, when everywhere I look reminds me of my God. Abba, my Father. I step outside my dorm each morning to see the memorial cross on top of Observation Hill and I am reminded of His sacrifice to be my Savior. I enter into the galley to witness the compassion and the companionship that is shared among friends and this community that is family and I am thankful that my Lord has allowed my path to cross each one here. I walk out onto the ice as I lead groups out to explore the pressure ridges and to witness the power of this place and I am reminded that even here, at the edge of the world, my King still reigns, just like the never ceasing light of the sun.

We often find ourselves surrounded by beauty. Be it here in the land of ice and snow. Or the mountains beneath the skies above. Or beside streams and trails that wind their way through the forests. In villages that emerge from the dust or cities that are filled with the swarm of humanity. If only we stop to notice what surrounds us.

When we stop to take it all in, we witness the glory of our God.

It Is What It Is

I arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand almost two weeks ago. The original plan was to leave two days later and fly down to Antarctica to begin working as a fire dispatcher down on the ice. But, if there is one thing that I learned throughout my time of traveling around the States and the world, it’s that plans are only made to be broken.

Many years ago I learned that lesson in Africa. And now I am reminded of it. And I smile.

I’m scheduled to be on the first flight down to the ice. Which was supposed to be last Monday, 1 October. But then weather down on the ice made a turn for the worse. First it was 24 hour delays, then a 48 hour delay, and eventually we were told that our flight was delayed until further notice.

And this is how it is for the foreseeable future.

There is nothing I can do to change it. Nothing I could do to cause the weather to clear and the runway and road out to the airfield to be prepared for our arrival. It is all out of my control.

It is what it is.

This is the motto that I have taken up on this journey: It is what it is.

Yes, I could get upset. Or mad. Or yell at the world because of the weather. Because of the delays. But what would that accomplish? Nothing much. Would it make me feel better? Probably not.

I could get worked up when things don’t go as planned, or I could accept the change for what it is. It is what it is.

I’ve found myself repeating those words, almost like a mantra, these past couple days as I’ve held conversations with others waiting to get on the ice. And I’ve been enjoying every moment here in New Zealand.

I just don’t understand how people can complain when you are surrounded by so much beauty, between the snow capped mountains and the blue waters of the ocean. When you are able to have adventures each way you look. When you can enjoy the amazing food that each restaurant and patio can offer.

It is what it is.

Life is full of things that we have no control over. Distractions and inconveniences. We have a choice in how we respond to it. We can embrace them and use these things to discover the beauty around us. Or we can choose to lash out.

Perhaps one day, we can even find joy within that which we have no control over. And we will smile and laugh and accept that it is what it is.

And our journey will continue on.

Of Faith and Flowers

Have you ever woken up to the crisp morning air of spring and felt the world change from death into life? Have you ever looked out across a field and seen a single flower in bloom? Have you ever crept close to a blossom in the attempt to escape into the explosion of fragrance and the overwhelming burst of color? Have you ever closed your eyes and laid back in the open fields to feel the breath of wind across your skin?

STK_1325 (edited)I know back home, the colors of fall bursting forth as winter closes in around us, but here in the southern hemisphere, the first touches of spring are breaking through the frosts of winter.

Flowers are in bloom. The petals are emerging from their buds. And life is returning from the grasp of death.

The other day I was wandering through the New Zealand Botanical Gardens here in Christchurch and I found myself fascinated by the flowers. I’ll be honest, I’m not really a flower guy. But I started to see the beauty in them because I saw the work of my God in each petal and leaf.

STK_1304 (edited)My Lord in Heaven, who created every flower, who placed each vein with gentle detail is the same Lord who has guided me through the darkness thus far, who has guided each step along the way.

And like the blossoms of spring bursting forth in their glorious beauty, I am reminded that my Savior rose from the grave, conquering death. His blood was spilled as a sacrifice of love, a reminder that, though we have fallen short, we have been washed clean, lifted back up to bask in the full glory of God.

STK_1332 (edited)As I walked among the paths of the garden, I couldn’t help think of the gifts that these flowers were giving back to their King and the lessons that we could take from them. They didn’t seem to care if anyone walking by had noticed them, but they continued to reveal their beauty. They have been given a gift of life from their King and each flower revealed it with reckless abandon.

Think what joy would fill your heart if you allowed the gifts your King has given you to consume you with reckless abandon. Think of the love that would pour out from your bones and the hope that would radiate from your soul into the darkness of this world.

What life that would bring to the world around you. What light into the darkness of death.

I have returned several times to those gardens in the past several days, while we wait to hear when our flight is able to take us down to the land of ice and snow, and each time I wander those paths, I am filled with joy. For I know I have seen a glimpse of the beauty of my Father’s love for us.

And as much as I enjoyed the flowers, I found myself drawn to the trees that towered over us. But that will be for another post.

Until next time, may God bless your path and reveal the beauty hidden thought the world around you.