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Author: Ristow Family

In the Beginning…

In the Beginning…

Klaira’s Thoughts

“In the beginning God created the Heavens and Earth.”  A few months ago I started reading a really fascinating book about creation by an organization called Answers in Genesis. And then God put on my heart to actually read Genesis itself. At first, I had no idea that Genesis would play such a large role in my relationship with God but the more I study it the more clear it becomes that Genesis is a crucial part of the Christian Faith, and can even help us with Apologetics, or defending our faith.

Genesis 1:1 is a very popular verse. And, like many other verses we skip over what should be a basis in our relationship with God. Many Christians believe the Earth was created  millions and millions of years ago, and, if we don’t have a strong faith in God, we can fall into the deadly trap of believing the theory of Evolution. That is why it is incredibly important to believe the truth in those first few chapters in the Bible.  If we don’t believe the first few chapters of the Bible are credible, why would we believe the rest of the Bible?!  And if we don’t believe in what the Bible says, our hearts become hardened which ultimately results in eternal separation from God, the Creator of the world, and author of Genesis.

Living here in breathtakingly beautiful Alaska has confirmed to me that God made EVERYTHING, from the massive snow-capped mountains to the stunning details of a fish scale. Nothing was formed by sheer happenstance billions of years ago.

I hope you will read and study the Book of Genesis (especially the first 11 chapters).  In today’s world where the truth is under attack, understanding Genesis will deepen your relationship with the Lord and help you defend your faith.  And if you’re like me and are interested in the scientific facts about the beginning of the earth, I encourage you to check out the great resources at Answers in Genesis.

By faith we understand that the Universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. ~Hebrews 11:3

More of You

More of You

Old house

The Ristow girls with the new owners, Amy and their dog Zepplin.

It was one year ago today that we handed the keys to our beloved home over to its new owners. Tears burned my eyes as we strolled through the empty rooms and down memory lane one last time.  A small sob escaped from my lips and echoed throughout the halls.  It was time to go, time to close the chapter.

As we drove away from our home for the last time, Steve turned on the radio just as Colton Dixon’s song “More of You” began to play:

I made my castle tall
I built up every wall
This is my kingdom and it needs to fall
I want You and no one else
Empty of myself
Until the only thing that’s left is
More of you
Less of me
This life I hold so close
Oh, God I let it go
I refuse to gain the world and lose my soul
So take it all
I abandon everything I am
You can have it
The only thing I need is
More of you
Less of me
Make me who I’m meant to be
You’re all I want all I need
You’re everything
Take it all I surrender
Be my king
God I choose
More of You
Less of me
More of You
All to You I surrender
All to you my blessed Savior
I surrender all

We’ve listened to that song many times since then, and each time I find myself wishing that the lyrics were as easy to live out as they are to sing.

Please God, let there be more of You and less of us, and may we continue to experience YOU as we seek to build Your kingdom instead of our own.

Great Ball of Fire

Great Ball of Fire

I’ve never been a sun lover.  In fact, since moving to Alaska I’ve discovered that I’m really a snowman trapped in a human body (and all those years I thought I was sweating—turns out I was actually melting!).

But here in Port Graham where the mountains rise higher than the sun for three months out of the year, even a non-sun lover like myself can begin to feel the negative effects of sun-less days… weariness, sadness, depression, and a feeling of imprisonment (not to mention that terrible glow-in-the-dark skin color us whities get)!  Who knew the sun was a giant battery charger for our bodies?!  

A few days ago, just when I was convinced the sun had been swallowed up by a black hole and was never going to shine again, I caught a glimpse of that great ball of fire. For ten glorious minutes its beautiful rays shone between two mountains, and I stood in the middle of the road (children, don’t do this at home) with my arms spread wide, my eyes closed, and my face lifted toward the sun, basking in its warmth.  Amazing.

And then it hit me.  The physical effects we suffer from lack of sunshine are strangely similar to the spiritual effects we suffer from lack of “Son-shine”.  Weariness, despair, complacency, and prisons of addiction can plague our lives and slowly drag us away from the Son.  But unlike the physical sun in Port Graham, the Son of God can rise above the mountains in our lives and shine his forgiveness, grace, love, and healing into our souls.  

Are you feeling Son-starved?  Why not crack open God’s love letter to you and bask in the warmth of His words.  It will do wonders for your health.

 
“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'”   –John 8:12

Earthquake!

Earthquake!

When we moved to Alaska, we were on an adventure to experience God.  Little did we know that would include a taste of His power through a 7.1 magnitude earthquake!    Early Sunday morning, we were jolted awake by a loud “Crack!” followed by a whole lot of rattling, rumbling and rolling.  For over a minute (which seemed like an eternity) the ground beneath us shook, shimmied, and swayed, and then it stopped as suddenly as it had started.

The next morning at church when the Chief of the village asked if I was going to give a sermon on the power of God, I replied, “I’m pretty sure God preached that sermon last night, and I have nothing to add!”  Thanks be to God who protected us (and our village) from any serious injuries or property damage.

Today our nerves have calmed down, our wall pictures are straight again, the contents of our cupboards are newly organized, and we are grateful we didn’t have to do any tsunami surfing…God is GOOD!  Thank you for your thoughts, prayers, phone calls, texts, and emails over the last couple days.  It is such an encouragement and blessing to know that although thousands of miles separate us from most of you, we are close in mind and heart.

Let There Be Light

Let There Be Light

A few weeks ago I discovered a treasure at the local store.  I found some of those battery operated tea light candles (it’s the small things!).  Candles of any sort are a little hard to come by in the village, and these little tea lights were going to put the finishing touch on one of my decorations.  

With great anticipation I opened my package of candles and flipped the power switch to “on”.  Expecting the warm glow of candlelight to emanate from my new decoration (okay, so maybe LED light isn’t exactly warm, but you get the idea), I was quite surprised and more than a little disappointed when nothing happened.  No flickering LED light, no warm glow, nothing.  

Thinking the problem must be the battery, I opened the back of the candle to investigate the reason for the lack of light.  What did I find?  A little plastic shield that prevents the battery from providing power to the candle. Of course if I had read the instructions, I would have saved myself some frustration because the instructions clearly stated that you “must remove the plastic shield over the battery before the candle will operate”.  Oh.  Right.  It’s amazing how things work when we follow instructions!

Isn’t that just like our life?  When we discover the treasure of Jesus and choose to embrace him, he promises that we are a brand new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) and we will be a light to the nations (Isaiah 42:6). Sometimes however our light doesn’t work and we wonder why.  But when we read God’s instruction book, it clearly states that in order for Jesus to power-up our light we have to remove the thing that prevents us from tapping into His power:  sin—anything and everything that displeases God (Romans 8:13). The more we indulge our sinful nature, the further we get from God’s power, and the dimmer our light grows until it finally disappears altogether.  

Together, let’s turn away from the sin in our lives that prevents us from tapping into God’s power.  Then, and only then, will the warm glow of the Holy Spirit emanate from our souls and shine so that those around us will discover the treasure of Jesus, too.  (Matthew 5:16)

21 Lessons Learned

21 Lessons Learned

1. When learning a language be sure to verify the pronunciation of new words before trying to converse. If you don’t, you might mistakenly call your host another name for a donkey when you thought you were asking for a cup of tea. Oops.

2. People over productivity – Opportunities to spend time building new relationships always trump getting things done on the “To Do List”.

3. Which is scarier? Large animals outside the church that go bump in the night, or a stark white pastor investigating said “bump in the night” in his skivvies armed with a flashlight and a loaded 9mm pistol? Pastor won.

4. Count your blessings. Friends, family, haircuts, and burgers are a luxury—don’t take them for granted!

5. God provides. Always.

6. Riding an ATV with your mouth even slightly open guarantees a non-vegetarian meal. Yumm!

7. Silence is golden.

8. God’s armor: don’t leave home without it! There is an intense war waging for our souls.

9. Remember the plug or your boat will sink….rapidly.

10. Everyone in the village owns multiple pairs of binoculars, and they are often aimed in our direction. We like to think of this as built-in accountability for practicing what we preach!

11. Remove suckers before eating octopus legs.

12. Hurt people, hurt people. BUT Jesus has compassion on them, and we should too.

13. Eskimo Ice Cream will never be Baskin Robins’ flavor of the month. Somehow Crisco, fermented fish eggs, and mayo don’t go down as easily as Pralines and Cream.

14. Don’t just read God’s Word, know it!

15. Seal oil is an immediate (and very effective) laxative….enough said.

16. Pets are angels in fur.

17. God can use loss to bring blessings.

18. Who needs entertainment when you have crazy white man in village?

19. Observation is the best teacher when learning to live in a new culture.

20. God’s will, not ours.

21. John 3:16. JESUS is the answer for everything and everyone, no matter what culture you embrace, language you speak, or where you live.

‘Nough Said

‘Nough Said

This morning when my computer entered the cyber highway, I was greeted with a giant sign that read, “San Bernardino Tragedy Proves God is Incompetent”.  Wow.  The irony is stunning.  This country removes God from everything–schools, courts, Pledge of Allegiance, liberties, basically America in general–and then tragedy strikes and we immediately point the finger at God, label Him “incompetent”, and conveniently forget that we dethroned Him from our nation a long time ago.

“If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people, and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to the prayer offered in this place.”  2 Chronicles 7:13-15

Does that sound like an incompetent God to you?  ‘Nough said.

Super Glue Blessings

Super Glue Blessings

Here in the village oral hygiene is not a priority, and the closest dentist is a $172-roundtrip-airfare away, so you can imagine my distress when part of my permanently cemented retainer popped off my tooth.

My quick-thinking (and very thrifty) husband immediately advised me to call my dental assistant friend for advice. She gave me two options: super glue it or remove it.  Neither option sounded too appealing as they both included Steve’s bull-in-a-china-shop hands tinkering in my mouth.

After weighing the options, I reluctantly decided to let Dr. Steve glue the retainer back in place.

The scene would have made any dentist cringe.  First, Steve made me swish with rubbing alcohol “to dry out” my mouth (note to self: using rubbing alcohol in the mouth is akin to gargling with fire and will subsequently cause the mouth to salivate uncontrollably in order to cool itself down).  After I recovered from the oral inferno, I laid down on the less-than-sanitary church floor while Steve blasted my mouth with a hairdryer “to dry it out”.

When my mouth felt as dry as the Sahara Desert on a summer day, Steve worked diligently to keep the super glue from touching anything that wasn’t supposed to be glued while Assistant Maddie held an all-purpose flashlight in my mouth, and Assistant Klaira tried unsuccessfully to keep Riley (our dog) from licking my open mouth and the dental tools (which Steve later informed me were used on his Great-Grandpa’s sheep farm–lovely).  Meanwhile, I was choking on the paper towels Steve was stuffing into my mouth “to keep it dry”, and praying he wouldn’t take this vulnerable opportunity to glue my mouth shut.  Several long minutes later, my retainer was back in place.

But Dr. Steve wasn’t done yet!  Enjoying his debut in dentistry, he decided I needed my teeth cleaned, too, so he scraped off some plaque and “polished” my pearly whites with a toothbrush.  Remote dentistry at its finest!

The whole ordeal was completely unsanitary but my retainer is once again retaining, my teeth are cleaner, and my mouth isn’t glued shut.  Success!

Through this Alaskan adventure, God is teaching us to be aware and grateful for even the smallest things (like a tiny $10 bottle of super glue!).  We pray that you too, are experiencing some of God’s “Super Glue Blessings”.

A Place to Call Home

A Place to Call Home

There is something about anniversaries that makes us very reflective.  It was a year ago today that Steve and I stepped off a tiny bush plane into the unknown world of Port Graham, Alaska.  The streets were deserted on that frigid Monday morning and my spirits felt as dreary as the weather.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t what I found.

Understandably, the villagers we met that day were kind but cautious—was this just another white family moving to Port Graham for the thrill of remote living?

After our village tour, the Chief drove us up to the site of our future home, the church.  My spirits sank further still as I walked into the cold, stark building, void of any personal touches.  Fighting back tears, I wandered through the rooms wondering how I was ever going to make this into a home for my family.

None too soon, it was time to fly back home.

Home…the place where our family and friends lived; a beautiful house with plenty of space and a spectacular view of Mt. Hood; a comfortable salary with benefits; the backdrop of so many wonderful memories; a place we knew well and a culture we understood. Was God really asking us to leave everything behind and follow Him into the unknown?

Over the next weeks and months as we went through the motions of “letting go” of our comfortable life, I would often pour out my heart to God.  Sometimes I would be angry with Him for asking us to give up the life I felt entitled to (after all, hadn’t HE provided it for us?!).  Sometimes I cried on His shoulder for the tremendous sense of loss we felt as our worldly possessions found other homes, we said good-bye to our pets, and friends turned their backs on us.  And sometimes I just wanted to know why.

Retrospectively, I can clearly see God’s hands masterfully carving out a new home for our family, and I can hear His still small voice speaking truth into my anger, sadness and fear.

When I bemoaned leaving my family and friends, God reminded me that He “sets the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6). And then He opened the hearts of the community to welcome us.

When I complained, “We can’t live in a church—we need a house!”  God pointed out that living in His house is a privilege. David said, “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock.” (Psalm 27:4-5)  And then God provided the means for us to transform the church building into a beautiful place of worship on Sundays and a warm and welcoming home during the week.

When I worry about finances, God smiles and promises, “[I] will meet all your needs according to the riches of [my] glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19).  And He has.

When I fret about the lack of sunshine in the winter, God gently says, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12). And then He surprises us with care packages of Vitamin D and Happy Lights from our thoughtful friends!

When I remind Him that I am not “Pastor’s wife” material, He fully agrees with me but explains, “Now [I], the God of peace,…[will] equip you in every good thing to do [my] will, working in [you] that which is pleasing in [my] sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever.” (Hebrews 13:20-21). And then He gives me grace as I step into that role.

When I ask, “What is there to do in Port Graham?”  He quietly recites, “Be still and know that I am God…” (Psalm 46:10). And then He quiets the noise and fills my soul with an inexplicable peace.

And in those moments when fear of the unknown is lurking at my doorstep, God shouts, “…do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10). And that is exactly what He continues to do.

Today as I reminisce back to that unforgettable trip one year ago, I am humbled by God’s patience with me as I struggled to obey His calling, and I am grateful that we serve a God whose “ways are higher than our ways” and whose “thoughts are higher than our thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).  For if God had given me what I thought I wanted, I would have missed out on the tremendous blessing of being able to call Port Graham…home.

 

Emergency in Remote Alaska

Emergency in Remote Alaska

Our skin is a pretty remarkable organ.  I just read that we have 19 yards of blood vessels, 95 oil glands, 650 sweat glands, and over 19,000 sensory cells in ONE INCH OF SKIN!  Wow.  Did you know that the average adult’s skin covers an area of 22 square feet?  Now that is a serious amount of vessels, glands, and cells!  And did you know that our skin renews itself every 28 days?  Our skin is like a really cool suit of armor that’s tailor-made just for us.  It keeps all our insides in and an army of harmful stuff out, and when it’s damaged it heals.

So a few weeks ago when Steve nicked his finger on a fish tooth (does it count that it was the tooth of a really big, beautiful, and tasty silver salmon? 🙂 ) he didn’t think much about it.  48 hours later his finger looked like a polish dog from Costco, a fever had taken up residency in his body, bright red streaks were lighting up his arm like fireworks on the fourth of July, and he was in excruciating pain (not a good combination when one lives in remote Alaska!).  Steve needed to get to a hospital immediately but the howling wind had grounded all the planes, and the swirling seas would have turned any skiff into a coffin.

Nearing a state of panic I called the experienced village health aide who took one look at Steve’s swollen digit and diagnosed him with “Fish Handler’s Disease” (you’d think an avid fisherman would know about such diseases!).  She kicked into high gear, calling ER doctors from Homer to Anchorage, looking for approval to dispense a much needed antibiotic.  Two hours and more than a few ibuprofen later, our angel in scrubs handed Steve the miracle in a bottle.  I’ve never been so happy to see an antibiotic in my whole life!  It got us through the night (and bad weather), and the next morning Steve was on a flight to Homer for a trip to the ER.

Fast forward sixteen days, two rounds of antibiotics, and $5,000 later (I’ll spare you all the gory details of a giant blister, oozing puss, and blackened skin), and Steve’s finger is still attached to his hand and looking…well, almost normal.  Thank you, Jesus.

In this adventure with Steve’s giant sausage finger, I learned that without the proper care, the tiniest little nick on our skin makes us vulnerable to extremely painful, ridiculously expensive, and even deadly infections.  Funny how the same lesson holds true in our spiritual lives as well.  If sin nicks our spiritual armor, it sends infection into our system.  Left unattended, it will be exceedingly painful, horribly expensive, and eventually it will be deadly.  Don’t let the trials of this world penetrate your spiritual armor.  Read God’s word daily, know what it says, and follow it without compromise.  There’s no better antibiotic for the infection of sin than that.

P.S. – A special thanks for all the prayers (and help) during this incident–I believe they kept Steve’s infection at bay, and I know they kept me from being admitted to the loony bin  🙂