I sat across the table from a friend, a condensation lined cold-brew coffee cradled in my hands. My eyes settled on the horizon in the background, squinting as the sparkle of the late spring sunlight danced off the water and through the windows. Without even noticing it, I found myself completely lost in the moment and the view, which must have been obvious to my friend, because after a minute or so of my contemplative silence, she jumped in with a “okay, dreamer, what are you thinking?”
I laughed. Mainly, because anyone who knows me well (or really, even just a little…) knows that I’m a dreamer and visionary almost to a fault, often lost in a world of possibility and ideas and long-distance planning, and fueled by the potential of what can be. But, as I sat in that well-loved coffeeshop across from that dear friend, it hit me that my thought wasn’t of being somewhere else or in anyway consumed with what was coming next. My thought was that in that moment there simply wasn’t anywhere else I wanted to be.
Just a few weeks before, I sat with a dear friend on a park bench in a quaint and historic British town on the outskirts of London, the last stop in a month of travel that took me from the dusty village roads and crowded urban streets of colourful India, the cobblestone streets of snowy Oslo, snowy alpine passes in Norway’s interior, and the sunny harbour of Bergen; to artsy Bristol, the bustling streets of London-town, and the history-rich architecture of Oxford.
It was the kind of trip you plan and count-down to for months, an unusual combination of places, laced together because of the people in the places as much as (if not more than) the places themselves - and the budget-saving opportunities of extending and expanding international layovers.
And it was incredible.
One of the hardest questions to answer is the one you always encounter on the edge of a trip like this, when people eagerly ask, “How was it?” I never know how to answer that. It was an adventure. It was wonderful. It was tiring and life-giving all at the same time. Aside from a flight delay-turned expensive flight change between India and Norway and a terrible migraine in India, it’d be hard to have four-weeks better. The combined diversity of the places. The depth of the - very different - flavours. The slow mornings and full days and late nights with dear friends. The collapsing into bed at the end of every day, tired and overwhelmed with gratitude for all the ways God showed up and wondering how the next day could possibly match the day I just lived, but waking up and finding the next day to be a splendid gift of equal value and adventure all its own.
I stood on the shores of the Bay of Bengal, with a hot South Asian breeze flowing through my hair and sand between my toes. I danced in the rain with young students at an English primary school in the mountains of Andhra-Pradesh, got to preach about the hope and power of the resurrection (translated two times) in a remote Indian village, found myself completely captivated by the passion and hospitality of the Indian people, ate curry for breakfast, lunch, and supper, and in countless moments of having my camera to my face and the back-and-forth-take-a-picture-show-them-their-picture-and-laugh-together, with stunning children with sparkle and spunk in their eyes, remembered all the reasons I love photography and travel and the diversity of the world’s people.
I walked in Oslo while April snow fell from the sky, arm-in-arm with one of my dearest friends as we explored Norway’s parliament and the Nobel Peace Centre, breathed deeply of the northern air and was reminded why mountains and snow and clear northern skies are my absolute favourite, drove in the rolling Scandinavian countryside and collected stunning purple flowers from the forest floor, ate smoked salmon by the harbour in Bergen, bought extra strong black liquorice every single time I went to the grocery store, watched game six of the Norwegian hockey finals in a local pub, walked all over the city and up its hills to catch the sunset over Norway’s west coast, drank lots of strong coffee and spent hours talking and laughing and dreaming and listening to music.
I explored the (greater London-area of the) UK by train: meeting up with friends from Vancouver in Bristol and London and local friends in Guildford. I read about Banksy at a bookstore in his hometown, ate authentic English breakfast on back-to-back mornings, embraced the buzz of London town with three days of perfect sunshine, ate perfectly spicy tacos and Mexican hot chocolate along the River Thames, did a walking tour of the city of London, and took off to Oxford for a day where we geeked out about the history and architecture and the extensive collection of international development/human rights textbooks in the bookstore, ate gelato at the meadows by Christ Church Cathedral, and had drinks at Lewis and Tolkien’s go-to pub. And, as the perfect end to the trip and the best way to prepare for the new season that awaited me at home: I spent a gloriously relaxed and unstructured week in Guildford with two of my closest friends, watched films, drank cocktails, spent lots of time in prayer together, talked about music and life and marriage and finding joy in the midst of suffering, and was so lavishly blessed by my friends’ generosity and culinary creativity with every meal.
It was a gift, in ways I can’t quite describe. I think travel and adventure always is, in the way it inspires us to lean in and live more intentionally, more fully almost. How it wakes us up from some of the ways we can so easily just go through the motions in our own lives. How it it opens our eyes to see new things and to see familiar things in a new way. How it teaches us to be awed and inspired by the ordinary. How it reminds us about all the ways we learn and re-learn that we are not what we do. And shows us just how life-giving it is to give ourselves spaces to rest and reset and dream and pray and worship and just be.
And then I came home. And I teared up when I walked off the plane and was greeted at YVR with the familiar “welcome to Vancouver” sign - three words that have proven more comforting every time that I see them than I before knew they could be. Reminding me that one of the very best parts of leaving is the way coming back reminds you that home is beautiful in a different way than anywhere else can be. And that as beautiful as it is to explore and adventure and see new things, there’s something particularly profound about the places we live our ordinary, everyday lives - the places we sleep and buy our groceries and cook our meals and build community and go for walks and meet with friends for lunch or drinks after work and dream and pray and worship and do laundry and hike and live the vast expanse of the both the mundane and extra-ordinary moments of the human experience. There’s something about the streets of our own neighbourhoods and our regular coffeeshops and favourite restaurants and routine running routes and the messiness and familiarity of our offices and places of work. Something about the beauty and brokenness of our own cities.
Credit the generosity of jet-lag, for the first few days home, I woke up early (even earlier than my usual) and walked down to the ocean to walk or bike along my favourite stretch of the sea-wall and take in the sunset over the familiar Coastal Mountains-meets-Pacific Ocean horizon. I watched the sun rise over the buildings and streets of this sleeping city and I teared up and freaked out a bit with all the ways God has a knack for wowing us with how creative and stunning He is if we’re willing to open our eyes to see it.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the quote (credited to St. Irenaeus) that says, “the glory of God is man fully alive.” Mulling over those words as I sat on the plane headed back west to BC, as I helped pack up the house where I grew up and the last place with memories of my Dad and cried on the trail where we'd mountain bike and beside the lake where I spent countless hours in high school, as I celebrate birthdays and engagements and weddings and babies with friends, as I wash the campfire-scented laundry from my camping trip with dear friends this past weekend, as I make tea and lounge around in my urban apartment, as I sit by the ocean and soak up this stunning early summer sun, as I pay bills and update my budget, as I walk to and from my downtown office and to meetings at coffeeshops, and as I lock myself in the library trying to find/force the focus I need to finish my thesis.
And it's hitting me over and over that this ordinary, walking around life is the. most. incredible. gift. These tears. This pain. This beauty. This hurt. These dreams. This confusion. These responsibilities. These joys. This hope. This strength. This weakness. The full gamut of emotion and experience and wonder and frustration and faith and failure. All of it: the most. incredible. gift.
Because all of it is an invitation to know this God who hung the starts and yet cares about all the tiniest details of who we are. And invitation to enjoy Him forever. To live with no guilt in life and no fear in death. To rest in His unchanging character. To dive deep (and deeper still) into His heart. To taste and see that He’s good. To savour and celebrate all of the beauty and wonder and whimsy of a life fully embraced, not in the sense of selfish humanistic hedonism, but in the sense of living with open eyes, hearts ready to love boldly, feet ready to move, and arms ready to embrace all the beauty and challenges that life and breath have to offer us.
And maybe I’m starting to get it just a little bit more: the crazy gift of this ordinary, walking around life. These moments we mistakingly call “normal.” These spaces that become far-too-familiar. Maybe the most radical act of worship we can give is to truly engage and be here. right here. right now: with these faces, these streets, these views. these flavours. these sunsets & these sunrises.
Where being fully alive means a be-still-and-rest-because you-don’t-have-anything-to-prove and you-don’t-have-to-earn-love kind of living. A life that embraces the terrifying and yet freeing vulnerability of being willing to be seen and known and loved for who we truly are, not just the versions of us we try to perpetuate. The kind of living that tears down the insecurities and hesitations that hold us back from being the best versions of who we are.
A kind of living that is fully present and awake to our own hearts beating and breaking and the beating and breaking hearts all around us. A living that surrenders to the range of joy and laughter and pain and hope and sorrow and weeping that come with chasing dreams and stepping into difficult things and opening our hearts to give and receive love.
An all-in kind of living, where worship meets us in every moment, because we walk into every place knowing that Christ is in us and sustains us and leads us and is crazy in love with us and madly in love with every.single.person we ever lock eyes with. Where the simple things are the big things. And the “ordinary” things are the extraordinary things: A fully alive kind of living.
A month away at the end of a really really hard season may have reminded me a bit more - in a thousand beautiful ways - of what that can look like, but this summertime sunshine dancing on these mountain peaks and city side-walks and these conversations with friends who are like family and all the ways that Jesus meets and wows us and sustains us and invites us to know Him deeper and more fully in the day-to-day is reminding that it's here too: right here. right now.
And (right now) there's no where else I'd rather be.