Alaskan Wildlife

Well, a lot has happened in the past few days and there is so much that I can share on. I decided to start with the one thing that I’ve been surrounded with for the last few days…  Alaskan Wildlife.

I have seen SO MANY animals! Let me just highlight a few that I’ve had the honor to come face to face with:

MOOSE:

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For the moose’s entire story, check out my previous post here.

MARMOT

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To read more about this little guy and his message to the world, “CHEEP!” (including the day I almost died), click here.

REINDEER or CARIBOU. 

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These guys were behind the fence at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center . That velvet on their antlers will be gone when it’s time to mate. This is a time when you DO NOT want to meet a reindeer in the wild. If you come between a male and his little lady… you are going to get hurt!

ELK

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BALD EAGLE

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A symbol of America! Majestic, strong and a picture of power.

BROWN BEAR

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This thing is a BEAST! I wouldn’t want to meet him in a dark field.

RED FOX: (No, I’m not talking about the guy from Sanford and Son!)

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This guy is kicking it in the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

BISON

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A large portion of these bison will be reintroduced into Alaskan wilderness in spring of 2015. A species has been revitalized and saved.

FEEDING TIME

 

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These guys are hungry, hungry, hungry. They came running!

Finally, we came face to face with the most terrifying and vicious beast in Alaska…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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THE GREAT XANDER BEAR! 

Be Blessed!

GP

 

 

 

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Chugiak, Alaska and a Moose in the Yard

In Alaska, I am continually experiencing things that I have never experienced before. From the food that I am eating to the places that I’ve been seeing… every day is awe inspiring. The other day, I also experienced another first in my life. I came face to face with a wild moose.

We had seen so many different animals, but the one that we still hadn’t seen was a moose. Everyone around me tells me that they can often be seen on the roadways… however, I hadn’t seen one yet. This was a fact that I was lamenting when my 14 year old looked out the window and said, “Oh My! Look at that!”

What he had seen out the window was none other than a moose! From my window, this is what I saw:

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I couldn’t believe that it was actually happening! I mean… a wild MOOSE!

So, I had to get a better view. This caused me to travel down the stairs, out of the house and into the backyard. I was worried that the moose would run away, so I was very sneaky (don’t underestimate my sneakiness) and was able to reach the moose. Check out the video here:

It was incredible to see him. After I figured out that he wasn’t going to run away, I became much more brazen. My wife and kids were watching from the upstairs window and all I hear from my nine year old was, “Come on dad! You can get closer than that!” Well, this simply empowered me to get closer and closer and closer.

As I am getting closer, I hear my wife say, “Get away Greg! Get away! It says here that more people die from Moose attacks in Alaska than Bear attacks.”

“Thanks for the advice, dear, now that I’m about 4 feet away.”

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When the moose was far enough away, we let the kids outside to see him.

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Later, this moose came back and made his way to the front yard. We were literally just a few feet away.

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Well, I have to tell you that I felt so blessed to have had this opportunity and honored to be able to share it with you. Coming face to face with a moose is a memory that I won’t quickly forget.

GP

Mountain Goat Video, Waterfalls and a Plummet to My Death

I need to begin this blog post by letting you know that the simple words that I am about to use have absolutely NO reflection on what I experienced yesterday. Words can’t describe the beauty and majesty and awesomeness of the journey that I went on. I will try to capture a few experiences for you… but just know that I will only tap into about 10% of what it really was. 

“So, yesterday I went on a hike.”

Those words sound simple… easy…. relaxing… fun. They don’t reflect the reality on what really happened. Let me try it again.

“So, yesterday I tasted death, breathed in life and explored an area that most will never see with their own eyes.”

The second sentence sounds a little truer to reality.

I hiked a mountain from sea level to over 3,000 feet. I went from sunny green to pure white snow. I breathed thin air and explored a hidden waterfall. I saw mines and wildlife and purity. Here are a couple photos of the journey.

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There were many different things that took place during this hike. From the wonderful guys that I was able to hike it with to the sheer beauty and massiveness of God’s creation around me, I was speechless. Here are a couple cool stories from the mountain.

CHEEP!!!

As we stood on the trail taking in the sheer awesomeness of our surroundings, we heard a sound that pierced through the silence. It was loud and sounded just like this… “CHEEP!” It was startling and I immediately turned to the sound. I looked over… then down… and saw this little creature staring up at me…

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This little animal is called a “marmot“. It looks a lot like a praire dog and is super cute. It would pop his head up and look at us. We were only a few feet away. After a few minutes it would throw it’s butt up into the air and dive into its hole. A few seconds later, he would pop up in a new hole. We spent some time taking photos and we were super still… enjoying the moment.

DEATH DEFYING

Then comes the story that my wife doesn’t want to read. So, if you are married to me… skip to the next story. But, if not, read on!

There are different ways to climb over a mountain. There is the well trodden path and then there is the “other path”. Robert Frost made this path so tempting in my favorite poem, “The Road Not Taken“, however when you are on that road… you may discover why no one takes it.

We chose the “waterfall route”. This would be the “road not taken” by most. I, at the beginning, was incredibly excited about this route. I love waterfalls. I love adventure. And… how hard could it be?

This waterfall was MASSIVE! Let me give you a better perspective on this “waterfall”. See if you can find the person in this photo…

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Now, this waterfall plummets double what you see. It is huge! We hiked around the corner that you see at the base of that waterfall. The waterfall continues up through that crevasse. This is the point where the story gets a little crazy.

Once we go around this corner we have to climb up a steep incline to get over this mountain. Now, I say “steep incline” and you may not understand. This is steep and loose rock. You are holding on to loose rock and climbing up a mountain. Oh… and did I mention that if you slip, you fall down that waterfall. Yes… hundreds of feet to a cold, Alaskan death.

We get halfway up and we have to move sideways on the edge of cliff on loose rocks for a space of about 25 feet. Needless to say, I was praying extra hard in that moment. I could feel the small gravel that sat on a steep incline that held me up from death moving under my feet and hands. I talked with God. I made deals with God. I searched my soul and confessed my sins and balanced two thoughts in my mind… “What on earth are you doing Greg!?!?!” and “This is stinking awesome!!!!”

This is the epitome of my life. I am continually wavering between those two thoughts in my mind. I look at what I have done, am doing and want to do and there is a balance between terror and elation in my heart. It is an incredible rush and I love it.

Well, since you are reading this you know that I didn’t die. I made it to the other side with limbs shaking and breathing deep breaths. I thought my story was over… but really it was just beginning.

ONCE IN A LIFETIME

After I made it through “devil’s crossing” (this is what I have affectionately named that spot), I still had to climb up a steep mountain which could lead to my death, but I was reassured by my guide Chase that I was to hold on to the moss. Yes… my friends… MOSS! That stuff which people slip on all the time. This is my life line. This is what I am white knuckled holding on to as I picture my plummet… and the heart attack that is sure to follow… in my mind.

I make it nearly to the top and am about 5 feet away when I see my two friends being incredibly quiet and pointing to something. It was at this moment that I see the mountain goat which is only three feet away from them. This NEVER happens! People climb mountains for weeks and never see a mountain goat and here we are only three feet away. With flowing hair and two sharp horns it looks at them and then looks at me.

Now, let me tell you what went through my mind… “Here I am cheating death and climbing up a cliff hanging on to moss and I have made it to the top. At this pinnacle moment of my life, God has brought a mountain goat to charge at me and buck me off the top of this mountain.” I don’t know if this was a mixture of fear and adrenaline pouring into my frontal lobe or what… but it is truly what I thought. 

So, here I am in the midst of this magical moment, clinging to the moss under shaking legs and the goat heads to me. I knew that I needed to capture this moment. I couldn’t let it pass before my eyes. So, with one hand clinging to the moss, I slowly reach into my pocket, grab my Iphone and take this video…

Needless to say, that was AWESOME!

THE TOP

At the top of this hike we were over 3,000 feet. It was covered in snow with a glacier lake. There was a small structure where you can stay if a storm sneaks up on you. I won’t waste your time with words… check out some photos from the top.

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2ND GLACIER

So, we hiked past the top in order to see a glacier. This is my second glacier in two days and I feel incredibly blessed to have had this opportunity. The glacier was beautiful! Here are a couple pics from the glacier. The glacier is circled in first photo and the second one is one of my hiking partners named Caspar.

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Well, that’s enough for now. I hope you enjoyed! Have a great day and remember… “Live Life to the Fullest!”

GP

Luis Palau, Rainbows and a Strange Man in a Coffee Shop

The rains have come, the clouds have descended and the great times continue to roll.

Here’s the break down of the past few days…

Sunday:

Woke up and went to church. We chose a church that is only about 10 minutes from where we are staying. It is called “The Crossing” and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The kids went to the kids ministry and we were able to go to the main sanctuary for worship and the word. The worship team was great and I got a lot from the message.

After church we headed back to the house and then went back to downtown Anchorage for day two of Luis Palau and “Love Alaska“. There were even more people there on the second day. We walked around, the kids had their faces painted, we watched a ventriloquist, played on some inflatables, watched Lincoln Brewster perform and then listened to Luis Palau and his son Andrew.

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Andrew shared his story on coming to Christ. He has a book if you’re interested in learning more called “The Secret Life of a Fool“. He did a great job communicating and his dad followed him. Luis Palau was relevant, thoughtful, funny and filled with grace. There were between 10 and 20 thousand people there (I think I heard  someone say about 17,000). Many people heard the gospel and made decisions to follow Jesus. I believe that they have the support of around 1,200 congregations that are committed to following up with these people to keep them growing. I was honored to be part of this event.

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Monday:

Zion decided that he wanted to partake in the VBS at the “Crossing” church that we attended on Sunday. So, the day started early. I dropped him off and then went to a coffeeshop called “Jitters”. I spent the morning working on my Father’s Day message for THE PLACE Church this coming Sunday. God gave me some great insight on a portion of scripture found in 1 Corinthians that I am excited to share.

The rain started falling on Monday. Not pouring… just a steady and gentle rain. It was nice. It is amazing because I normally hate rain… but because I live in Arizona, I never see it. Now, I appreciate it and don’t mind when it starts falling on my head.

At the coffee shop, there was a strange guy sitting across from me on his cell phone. He looked like this…

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Now, I’m not sure what he was doing under that coat, but I think he should really read my new book called “Porn Again: Breaking the Strongholds of Pornography“.

On the ride home we saw the most beautiful and bright rainbow that I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, I could only get a photo of the dimming side, but the other side was brilliant and hiding behind the trees whenever I had my camera.

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When we got home we went out back and started throwing around the frisbee. Xander is doing a great job throwing! I wish I was throwing as good as him at the age of five!

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That night… some serious Skipbo action. If you’ve never played it… go buy it today. Shoot… buy it here. You can thank me later!

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Finally, off to bed with the cloudy skies. It never got dark, but just dim enough and damp enough to offer an incredible sleep environment.

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GP

 

Family Memories, the band Kutless and Deep Fried Hot Dogs

For me, Saturday started out in the way that every perfect day should start… with a run. Running is very therapeutic for me and I try to run every time I’m in a new place. This, however, is a whole new kind of perfect. Running trails specifically leaving from the house where I am staying at… cloud cover providing the perfect 65 degree tempatures… small and steady inclines both up and down. I couldn’t ask for a better place to run. So, I took off and ran about 2.5 miles away from the house, turned around and ran back… finishing at 5.15 miles. A great start to a perfect day.

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After finishing the run, we decided to stick around the homestead. We have been running pretty hard lately and knew that it was good to give the kids a break. So, we cozied up in the theatre room and took in the movie “Flushed Away” and some “Full House”. There is nothing like “Full House” on the big screen. My kids were in seventh heaven.

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In the afternoon we headed out to downtown Anchorage. Our friends are helping to throw “Love Alaska” which is an event put on by Luis Palau. The event was an incredible success. There were THOUSANDS of people everywhere. Dirtbikes were flying through the air, bands were jamming, kids were bouncing around and games were being played. My kids were having a blast.

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They jumped, ran, sang and sucked down some deep fried hotdogs.

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We stuck around for my boys to see the band Kutless perform. It was Zion and Xander’s first ever official concert. There was a moment where Zion had his hand lifting praising God, Dylan was singing and Xander was clapping and I said to myself, “This is awesome!” That’s what it is all about… isn’t it? Allowing your kids the opportunity to experience a great time and put another positive memory in their belt. This one… is for both of us.

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The best memories are like that. They are for all of us. I will remember that moment and so will they. We will have different perspectives on what made it special… but it will be special for both of us. It wasn’t easy to make this memory come to pass, but it was well worth it and will pay out some incredible dividends in the long run.

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Think back through your life… what means the most to you? It’s probably not that car or that house or that thing. Most likely, it is a memory you made with someone who is close to you. It’s that story you tell. It’s the history you’ve made and are making.

So, get ready today… make a memory… create some history… go do something great and fun and memorable. It will surely be worth whatever you invest in it!

GP

p.s. I am trying to learn how to some stand up this summer. I wrote my first jokes. It’s amazing how they just started flowing when I started writing. They crack me up… if that’s all they do… it’s worth it 😀 

Waterfalls, Lamb Meat Pizza and Skipping Rocks in Alaska

06.06.2014

8:30pm

As many days are spent in Alaska… today we spent the day in the great outdoors. There is so much to see in Alaska and the weather has been absolutely FABULOUS our entire stay so far. The weather has held around 70 degrees during the day with no rain. This is perfect for some outdoor activities and today was one of beauty.

We started out the day staying at our house and hanging around the movie room. We took in a showing of Madagascar, tore up some lunch and headed out the door.

First stop… caffeine. We headed to a cool little spot in Eagle River called “Jitters”. The place was packed with people and over half of them were pint sized. Looking around, I saw that many of them had the same T-shirts on. It was a “Boys and Girls” club and they were all sucking down Frappachinos like they were going out of style. I ordered my regular… a Hazelnut Latte… and found a spot by the fireplace. It was a nice place with a good vibe. I am sure that I will be making a few more stops in this place before my time in Alaska is done.

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Next stop was a place called “Thunderbird Falls”. This place was a little more elusive as my GPS took me 20 miles in one direction and then 20 miles in the other direction. I finally received GPS coordinates and set off to make it happen. We parked, plunked $5 in the “honor box” for visiting and headed down the trail.

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I was assured that this hike was an “easy hike” by many people. It starts off with a hill that is pretty long and at a steady incline. For me… no problem. However, my wife is six months prego and I kept picturing her going into labor on an Alaskan trail. The bears would be the least of my worries at that point. We pushed through the trail which wasn’t as “easy” as we expected. The falls were beautiful, but the swarms of mosquitoes that were waiting for us at the end of the trail made the waterfall less “amazing”. Between swatting the ones buzzing my ears and killing the ones landing on my neck, I just wanted to squeeze out a few photos and get the heck out of there.

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Finally, we made it out of the den of malaria and headed back to the car. Hitting the car, we searched out Yelp for another fun activity. It led us into the heart of Anchorage to a place called “Point Woronzof”.

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This spot was amazing. We parked at the top and followed a trail to the bottom. I couldn’t determine which was cooler… the rock beach or the planes that seemed to be landing in the parking lot. The seals actually come up and hang out on this beach, but they were all out fishing or sleeping or watching reruns when we were there. The kids threw rocks into the ocean as we tried to skip oversized boulders across the salty waves. They went “plunk” and disappeared under the liquid… only to be pushed to the shore again.

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On our way back we stopped off for some pizza. We went to a cheap little hole in the wall called Napoli’s Pizza. We got crazy and ordered one with gyro meat and feta cheese. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried one of these before… but it was delectable! A new fave… for sure.

Now, I’m back at the house with a lamb meat hangover. It’s been a great day so far. The beauty around me astounds me every moment that I’m here. I appreciate the mountains and the trees and the water and even the mosquitoes! (I’m sure God put them here for some reason).

That’s how you have to look at life sometimes. Sure… the mosquitoes are a pain in my butt. They make me miss out on enjoying a great moment. But, there is some reason for them. And, I have to simply accept that.

We all have mosquitoes in our lives. Maybe they are people or things that seem to steal a little bit from our lives. We didn’t put them there… but they are there. So, we choose what we do with them. Swat them and keep smiling or choose not to leave the house.

Some people never go out because of the bad things or the negative things that “could happen”. They never take a risk or a chance on something bigger because they fear what may happen. They have been bit in the past and never want to be bit again. So… they stay at home. They choose to do nothing and are left wondering why life is so boring.

I want to encourage you to go hiking and get bit. Risk something and fall down. Reach for something and miss. Because, it is only in reaching that you stretch and trying that you do. You only have one life… make it count!

GP

Here’s a random shot of the cute cat who is staying with me. His name is Oscar!

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Alaska, the Story of Your Life and a Halibut Sandwich

06.05.2014

11:00pm

Wow… What a day! I have been all over the world… from Brazil to Africa… and what I saw today could literally take my breath away. It was truly the MOST BEAUTIFUL thing that I have ever seen. Sure… I took pictures, but they can not come close to describing what I witnessed. It was amazing.

Alaska Wide

Alyeska Resort

 

Today, we took a road trip. We traveled about an hour and a half to a city called Girdwood. There is a ski resort there with a tram that you can take to the top of the mountain. You rise over 2,000 feet and share in some of the most scenic views that you can imagine. Snow nestled in pockets at the top of the mountain as the sun radiated from above. In many ways… it could be described as the perfect day.

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In Tram

At the top of the mountain we took some photos and then dove into an epic snowball fight. Fingers numb, we threw one after another at each other. We talked about the wildlife and what it must have been like to live on the top of the mountain in the “round house” that was now a gift shop.

The mountain provided some great entertainment…

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A guy jumped off the top of the mountain with a parachute on his back. We were able to watch him descend as he would do complete 360 degree flips in the air (pretty stinking amazing)! Then, a tram full of half dressed snowboarders hopped off with cameras in tow. (We found out that they were filming for MTV). Then… there were the bald eagles.

I have to be honest… I’ve never seen a bald eagle in the wild. It is stinking amazing! You see this mammoth brown bird flying through the sky and you wonder where his head is… and then you see that it is white and hard to see against the sky. It is a bald eagle and you have to pinch yourself and realize that they are just like a vulture in Arizona… a common site.

We walked all around the park after we descended the mountain… took some killer photos of the kids… drank a latte… played fooseball with Zion… took a great photo waiting for the bus… and then took off. From there, we headed out to a “surprise” for Xander. The Girdwood Community Center Park!

Alyeska Family

Fun times at the park. Xander loved it (and it’s pretty stinking amazing for a town of a couple thousand). A full skate park, basketball courts and a castle playground that attracted a ton of kids. Dylan and Zion made friends quick with a kid named Sage who showed them how he could do a “kick flip”.  (Zion is officially wanting a “long board” now.)

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Xander Girdwood Park

After allowing the kids to release some energy we began our drive back. We stopped at a pipe that was coming out of a rock which is known to have the best water known to man. We stopped and partook and it was delicious. Freezing cold and fresh as a mountain stream (oh wait… it probably was a mountain stream). We were told about it by the stewardess from our plane ride to Alaska.

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** Funny story ** On our flight from Oregon to Alaska there was a stewardess. Zion drew a picture of her on the plane and showed it to her. She made a big deal about it and showed the other flight attendants. It was super cute. When we got out of our car in the parking lot to get the tram, that stewardess was waiting for the same bus that we were. She remembered us right away and we had a great chat. She told us about the spring and Zion may have blushed a little too!

Stopped in Anchorage for a bite to eat at a little place “Arctic Roadrunner” and had the best Halibut Burger that I have ever had! (OK… so it’s also the only one I’ve ever had, but I will be going there for another one before I leave!) Then, back to the homestead.

At the house we had a great conversation with our hosts. I was able to talk with Hayden and his brother Chase and all the others who call this Chugiak abode home. Now, it’s midnight and as bright as noon outside. I type these final words with a gratefulness in my heart and a settling in my soul.

Life is a lot like that tram ride today. People that somehow pepper the stage of your life sometimes make an encore appearance. Sometimes, they are there for a reason and we are there to try to figure out why. For us, it led to a cold water experience and a story to tell. For others, it may be something else… but there’s always a reason.

Sometimes you have to go on a ride to see something for the first time. If I wasn’t on the top of the mountain, I never would have seen the adrenaline junkies getting their fix. Their rush brought joy , to me. It was a moment… and experience… a memory.

This whole ride is just that… a memory… a story. But, the beautiful thing is that it is a story that I get to  share with others. Sure, I’m living it and it is my memory. But as I open up and let others in my life to experience what I am… it becomes part of their story too. In many ways, this can only make my story so much richer and worth reading. Not only in the moment, but in the future looking back.

So, now I’m going to grab my newly purchased “sleep mask” and drift off into oblivion. May your lights shine bright and your stories get richer each and every day. With every person and every experience, another twist appears in your story. And… the best stories are those that have the most twists!

GP

Alaska Bound… Thoughts From an Airplane

06.04.14

2pm

Family Travels - Alaska

So, here I am once again flying high above all creation nestled between a window and my adorable five year old. There are worst places to be. I am over Canada right now and, from my current perspective, it is filled with nothing but water and pine trees. The plane will land in an hour or two and I will be able to cross off another state off my list of places visited… Alaska. However, this trip feels like it will be much more than just a simple “check off experience”. It feels like a much needed walk into the wilderness as I forage into a last frontier.

The last year or so has been amazing and difficult and hopeful and tiring and an adventure.

Many changes have happened in my life. I have a 1.6# baby growing in my wife’s womb that I can’t wait to meet. I have seen the church that I pastor at grow exponentially and many lives be touched. I have launched a powerful book called “Porn Again” that is being sold worldwide. I have traveled to Africa and back.

But… in the midst of the highs, there have been “not so highs” too. Between my friend and FT employee from our church taking off for another job, the weight of a church renovation nearly wiping me out and countless attacks, both emotional and physical, on the leadership of our church…. It has been one heck of a year!

But, that’s life… isn’t it! There’s ups and there are downs. There are amazing things that happen and some horrible stuff too. We wrap it all up and call it the ball of life. However, you have to know when to take a step back. You have to know when to say when. So, for me, this is my moment to say…

WHEN!

Phoenix to Portland

I know I need to recharge. I know I need to refocus. There are some major changes that are going to be happening in my life. From bringing another little baby into our lives to adding new staff members at the church to countless interviews and speaking engagements… this is going to be a busy time. And, I hold on to the belief that…

“God will never give me more than I can handle.”

I am reminded of the words of Mother Teresa who said,

“I know God won’t give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish He didn’t trust me so much.” 

God is calling me to some great action and in order to focus, He is allowing me a moment to breathe.

The very fact that I’m on a plane is a miracle. Friends who love Jesus made a way for us to come. It is almost like they knew that this was going to be a season where we needed to breathe and focus and turn inward for a moment.

We have to do that every now and then. It’s not bad. It’s not ungodly. It’s not selfish. When you live a life that is focused on serving others, the ones that miss out the most are normally those who live under the same roof as you. It’s important that they at least get as much as you are giving everyone else.

So, that’s my goal. I want to unplug. I want to listen and talk and laugh and forget and dream and believe. I want God to whisper and scream. I want my kids to know that they have my full attention. I want my wife to have an audience with me… and just me.

So, that’s it for now. I love you guys and can’t thank you enough for your presence in my life. Keep praying for us and I’ll keep sharing life.

In Alaska

So, if you’ve been to Alaska, what do I need to see? Where do I need to go? And, where’s the best coffee in Anchorage?

GP

Family Time: An Overlooked Priority

There is something awesome about locking yourself in a car with your family of five for thirty hours. If you all are able to make it out alive, then you are sure to learn a little bit about patience, stress relief, biting your tongue, gripping the steering wheel hard, smiling through gritted teeth and proactive parenting. You will learn about constructive ways to discipline and you will learn the beauty in those little things that you often overlook. You will see the beauty in your children…

In fact, this trip… so far… has been the single most important decision of my life when it comes to my children. I really love my kids, but don’t get the time to share that love with them enough. Sure… I tell them I love them. I hug them. I kiss them. I bless them with stuff. But, this only means a little bit to them. This isn’t how they “experience” love. They experience it in the cheapest and most expensive thing that I have to give…

My TIME!

Time is the way that they experience love. It is in the moments where you pick up your four year old and hold him in your arms or take time to play a game with your eight year old or have a conversation about life with your fourteen year old. It is in these moments that they truly experience the love that you have so deeply for them.

I had one of those moments yesterday. After wrestling with the fear that there could be an alligator lurking in the depths of the pond/lake in our backyard, I decided to throw caution to the wind and go out for a swim. (It helped that there was another family a few homes down splashing around in the water. I figured if they hadn’t been eaten yet, then my odds were pretty good.) As soon as I brought up the idea… the boys were ready to roll. In a few short minutes, we four boys headed down the steps to the water.

It only took about five minutes to coax the kids to enter the water. Zion was convinced there were alligators (the gator tour in Louisiana didn’t help this), but as I dove in and swam deep in the waters, I could see his fear beginning to dissipate. I would hear his voice… “Are you SURE there are no alligators?”

I’d answer, “Do you think I’d be in here if I thought there were gators?”

He finally saw the fun that we were having, threw caution to the wind and waded out into the waters. Before I knew it, we were splashing each other and jumping around. It was great! The kids were having a blast and I tapped into a joy that I hadn’t had in a while. In fact, there was a picture taken as we were lounging around in the water…

My boys and I in the Georgia Water

My boys and I in the Georgia Water

 

A smile that can only come from family. A smile that can only happen when you know you are doing the right thing. A smile when broken paths become whole again. A smile that God brings to His children and a smile that my children brought to me.

There’s a joy that comes from loving your kids and putting them high on your priority chain. There is a peace that comes when you express love through time to your children. There is a happiness that many people long for but don’t often achieve when you look outside of your own ambitions to meet the needs of another… and how much greater is that happiness when those you look to are your own children.

I want to encourage you to take the time for your children today. Call them on the phone if they are out of the house. Tell them they matter. Tell them that you care. Spend some time with your kids this week. Wait… I said that wrong.

I don’t want you to “spend” any time with your kids. This is not how I want you to see it at all. Instead I want you to…

“Invest” some times in your kids.

When you “spend” something, you often don’t get anything in return or that which you do get is not as fulfilling as you had hoped it would be. But, when you “invest” something, you are sure to get much more than you put in to it at the beginning. Choose to “invest” some time with your kids this week. Whether they are in diapers or have a family of their own, invest in their lives this week. 

Keep Shining!

GP

Punching Pastors, Bouncy Houses and Southern Hospitality

We have had a couple BIG days!

First, we had the cross country jaunt from New Orleans, Louisiana to Valdosta, Georgia. The kids did great enduring the trip as our packed out SUV careened throughout the clear highways of Louisiana, Florida and Georgia. We have made a deal with the kids that has already paid off quite well. It is a deal that I would encourage any family that is traveling cross country to do. It is this…

For every state that the kids make it through without fighting (OK… maybe it is just keeping the fighting to a minimum.), they will receive a dollar. That’s right… one slightly used greenback with the not so smiley face of George Washington staring back at them. The result has been a cross country trip that has been fairly peaceful which has only cost me about five bucks a kid. Well worth it!

It’s worked in a great way! Try it out. If you have teenagers, it probably won’t work as well… but my 4th grader can still be controlled with the promise of a dollar 😉

So, here we are in Georgia and it is beautiful. I have practically been blinded by all of the green. Being from the desert, green is a sight that I often don’t get to see. However, I have been so happy to be surrounded by the trees and grass and have absolutely fallen in love with a thing called “Spanish Moss”. It hangs from the trees and looks gorgeous on the Georgian landscape.

Spanish Moss in Georgia

Spanish Moss in Georgia

On our first day in Georgia we just grabbed a bite to eat, regrouped and hit the hay. It had been a long day of driving and we were happy to be at our home base. The next day we hooked up with a pastor friend of mine by the name of Kelly Barcol. Kelly is the only pastor that I personally know that has fought in a Mixed Martial Arts battle and won! He is an inspiration, a church planter and an incredibly charismatic dude. He has an awesome faith community called The House of Joy in Valdosta, Georgia.

Pastor Kelly Barcol from the House of Joy

Pastor Kelly Barcol from the House of Joy

Pastor Kelly with the Victory!

Pastor Kelly with the Victory!

I love Pastor Kelly! He has such an awesome heart and his desire is to reach people with the love of Jesus (plus he could probably break my arm in one of his “atomic arm bars”. I don’t know if he calls it “atomic”, but that sounds really cool! He should.)  He is an evangelist at heart and I can see this gifting and passion being utilized in great ways. He is doing a phenomenal work in the lives of many in the community of Valdosta.

On day two in Georgia, we hung out while the kids went to an indoor bouncy house warehouse called Jumping Jacks. The kids ran around like chickens with their heads cut off… which was great after our eight hour car ride… they needed to expel some energy. 

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Jump’n Jacks in Valdosta, Georgia

But, the reason for my visit to Valdosta happened today as I was able to preach at the House of Joy. From my very first steps onto the campus of this church, I knew that I was at home. Kelly has done a great job planting this church as a “parachute drop in church planter” ten years ago. I love church planters and the creativity that goes in to reaching people for Jesus and I could see this “heart” manifested in his team. I loved their commitment in setting up the different areas and praying for the service and going out of their way to make sure that new people were served.

I heard testimony after testimony of how this church had impacted the community. From drug addicts who the pastor would never give up on to intellectual college professors who were drawn in by the church’s love for family… the testimonies kept coming and coming. It was great to be able to give back to a community like this. The message went over amazingly and I was so honored to speak into the lives of these wonderful people. I hope and pray that this isn’t my last visit to Georgia and that the church I pastor, THE PLACE, and the House of Joy can do many great things together in the future!

After church, we went out to eat at a restaurant called “Cheddar’s” and this is when it really hit me. It was something that had been rising up from beneath the surface for some time, but it wasn’t until we hit this place that I truly began to understand the meaning of two words that I had heard used together many times before… but didn’t truly understand. These words are:

Southern Hospitality

It’s so true! People are different here than anywhere else that I’ve ever been. I’ve never been in the “deep south” like this before and I’ve never experienced this kind of hospitality. Let me give you some examples…

#1: We went in to get the kids a haircut at Walmart and didn’t walk out until 90 minutes later. Why? Because the guy cutting the kids’ hair was so talkative and friendly. I would look forward to getting my hair cut if this guy were the one doing it. He talked to people like he had known them for years and was filled with kindness and a story for everything that we talked about.

#2: We went to a restaurant and the server couldn’t do enough for us. She found out we were new to the south and made sure that the cooks made us up some “fried okra” so that we could have a southern favorite. We washed that down with some “sweet tea” and were good to go!

#3: In the line at the Salad Bar I overheard a conversation between two people. The one was telling another about Jesus and how to live a life that honors God. In fact, these kinds of conversations are heard everywhere. I am definitely in the heart of the Bible belt and everyone is incredibly open with their faith and their love for Jesus.

#4: I have had more “long conversations” here than ever before. People seem to want to talk. From the gas stations to the grocery store lines to the church parking lot to the men’s room… there is always a conversation to be had. And, they never seem rushing off to do anything else. They want to stop and talk and spend time with you. It has been so therapeutic to my “running full tilt boogie” way of life that I normally have.

The southern pace has been so nice for me. I am so happy to have had this time with these wonderful people to learn more about them… but also to learn more about myself.

I have been reminded of the words of Jesus as he spoke to His disciples in Mark chapter 6: “And He (Jesus) said to them, “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” Mark 6:31

In ministry (and life) we can get moving pretty fast. And, when we get going, we find ourselves having to keep the pace that we have created. We have to keep it because it has been the standard. It has been the thing that has allowed you to get where you are and the only thing that is going to allow it to continue. But, instead, the opposite is really true.

Southern hospitality understands it… Jesus understands it… and I think that I’m reaching the place where I understand it too. In order to excel, sometimes you need to slow down.

It reminds me of a recent ride that I went on through the desert in my buddy Roy Fegley’s ATV. It’s a “ranger” and a ton of fun… at least it was until I was about two miles in the desert and the engine stopped working. There I was in the middle of the dirt with the sun pounding down on me. I was wishing that I was more mechanical or knew more than the location of the gas pedal… but I didn’t. I had no idea what to do. So, I did what anyone would do, I opened the hood and stared at the engine like I knew what I was looking at. What I saw was something that definitely wasn’t right… there was green liquid all over the engine.

Calling Roy on the phone, I asked him a single question… “Has this ever happened before?”

His answer… “No.”

My answer… “OK. Just wondering.”

His answer… “OK. Talk to you  later.”

My answer… “Bye.”

Hanging up I realized that I was back where I started… hot and perplexed in the middle of nowhere. So, I sat and waited and thought and waited. After a while, after the engine cooled, I was able to start it and limp it to safety. Reaching the autoparts store, we bought antifreeze (the green stuff), filled it up and kept going.

By stopping… by checking under the engine… by addressing the areas that needed addressed… we were able to drive home at full speed. We were able to operate at full potential.

My life is the same way and so is yours. Some of you may be broken down in the desert right now. You are frustrated and don’t know what to do. You have popped the hood and you know that there is something seriously wrong, but have no idea on how to fix it.

Others have started to let the engine cool and you are limping it back to the garage. You are working on the problem and have slowed down enough to get your life to a place of safety. You are on the road of recovery.

Either way, you have to open the hood and look at the engine. You have to take time.

Follow the words of Jesus.

Exercise some southern hospitality…

Or, better yet… receive some southern hospitality.

Don’t rush here and there. Don’t operate at a break neck pace. Slow down and appreciate people and situations and the life circumstances that you find yourself in.

If you do this, you just might find God moving in the midst of the peace. Take time today to rest. Take time today to listen. Take time today to simply “be”…

GP