And so it begins. again.
I have the same reaction to being really happy and really overwhelmed. Both result in the same thought that seems to take over my heart and mind: I’m just going to run away to the mountains. Going to drive up to my beloved Coastal Mountains. Or over to Banff and Jasper. Or impulsively book a flight to Kathmandu (don’t worry, Mum. I promise I won’t actually fly to Nepal alone…yet.)
There’s something about the alpine air and the mountains peaks that makes both the best and the worst parts of life better – more beautiful almost. If God’s stillness and rest can be represented in any geographic setting, surely it’s found in water and peaks and pine trees. Surely the snow-capped masses of granite are a tangible representation of both His extravagant gentleness and His immense power. (A friend of mine once joked that mountains are my love language and I think it’s actually completely true.)
But, my mother wisely told me that one of the things I’ll need to pay attention to my whole life, knowing that my mountain default is a when and not an if kind of occurrence, is that when the “mountains are calling and I must go” itch hits, I need to be able to articulate when it’s wise and beautiful to go and the moments when wisdom and beauty means pushing through the things I’d foolishly or prematurely be running away from.
This morning I just wanted to run away to the mountains. To throw my camera and a sweatshirt in my bag, grab my running shoes and my hunter boots, and jump in my car and disappear for a while. And it took me an hour of tossing and turning in my bed at 4am and a 45-minute run with the sunrise – both laced with an ongoing dialogue with God, to figure out if the reason I so keenly wanted to get away was the good kind of running away or the not-so-favourable running away.
I tried to rationalise in favour of the first (Whistler anyone??), but I settled on the second.
I start school again today. It’s the last first day of my master’s degree, 8 months away from wrapping up this program that has come at such a formative and immensely difficult and yet incredible time in my story. And I was really hoping I’d be excited and ready to go and keen to transition to the autumn rhythms of heavy-reading and articulating academic positions and the late nights and early mornings of words and ideas and deadlines.
But I’ve found myself clinging to the last glimpses of summer like a little kid does to their favourite toy. With the same hesitation I used to have when my parents would call me inside after the sun had already gone down on perfect summer nights. I’m usually the girl who reads course descriptions and syllabi early and this year, I’ve put those tasks off until the very last minute. This year, I’m more in tune with the changes to the Canucks’ roster in the off-season than I am with my upcoming classes.
And in so many ways, I think that’s actually a good thing.
Because my heart needed this past summer.
I went into the summer hoping it would be a summer of balance – of rest and rejuvenation and preparation and that I’d walk into this fall ready to go. Ready to tackle the upcoming season of the LSAT and law school applications and finishing my MA (and only one day on campus which means more days in the city!) and transitioning from my full-time labour relations internship to a 20hr/week position with the same organization and amazing things happening at church and running races again.
But, if balance means 8-hours of sleep every night and a consistent schedule, this summer wasn’t that. (In fact, if balance means that, then I have even more work than I already know I do at learning to find a sustainable balance in my life. I’m working on that…)
This summer was running in my door from one good thing and on to the next. It was packed to the brim. Packed full of so many beautiful things. There may have been less sleeping and leisurely reading than I would have hoped, but there were Suits marathons with friends and laughter and goofiness and campfires and lots of soccer games and bike rides and finding gluten free beer that actually tastes like beer (this is a big deal, people) and finding the best recipe for fish tacos and happy tears at friend’s stunning weddings and early morning skype dates with friends across the globe and preaching and wine-tasting and road-trips and city sunsets. I wrote for the sake of writing and simply because I love it and I kept most of those word to myself and I picked up my camera enough (in no pressure contexts) to remember why the sound of a shutter is one of my favourite sounds.
There was a full-time internship that was (is) challenging and interesting and took up most of my time. There were coffee dates with friends and dancing in excitement of finding out about friends having babies and God continuing to grow our church and somewhere packed in the margins of that there was a good chunk of LSAT studying. There were late-night outdoor adventures and early morning rendezvous with Jesus ocean-side and time to sit and linger in the Gospels and encounter Saviour-man Jesus all over again and fall completely in love with Him again and again.
And those spaces have marked me and changed me in the kind of way only God can change us and speak new life into our dry bones when we start to feel like we might always be broken.
At the beginning of this year, I wrote down a prayer I thought was a crazy dream, because at the time it felt like the farthest thing from reality. I clung to the idea of laughter and joy in the midst of that painful place because I so desperately wanted to believe that it was coming, and was already there in glimpses and slivers even if I couldn’t always feel it.
But one of the stunning and mind-blowing things about hope is that it does shine in shadows. And joy does light up the mornings.
And so many of the things I hoped would come but that at times felt so far away, have started to come true in my heart and right in front of my eyes. Not necessarily in the clear answers of still-lingering questions and aches and waiting, but in the restoration of joy and the excitement-laced reminders that the reason we give all that we have to follow this God.
We follow Him because He is worthy of all we have and that even the hardest spaces and struggles do not diminish His splendour and worth and sufficiency and goodness. But, we also love Him and give Him our lives because He’s so absolutely just. really. freakin’. incredible and loves us with a love that we will never be able to articulate. And because in His presence there is the fullness of joy and that in His perfect love all fear is gone. And because all of the love we can give Him and every word we could ever speak or write about love will never come close to matching the depths of His love for us.
I almost forgot that second half for a bit there. Almost forgot the reasons that He completely captured my heart in the first place. All the reasons why He’s still my favourite thing/person to talk about. Almost forgot the adventure that is being loved by Him and following Him. Almost forgot that just as He’s the Father who carries me when my feet gave out and my eyes swelled with tears, He’s also the Father that wants to give good things to His children and cheer as I run and the Father who delights in my laughter and joy.
This summer I've come to more fully understand and embrace the prayer that He restore unto me the joy of my salvation and renew a right spirit within me.
When I sat beside a mountain lake on the morning of my 24th birthday this past July, I cried for how hard and long that night season felt and how tender and raw my heart still feels. I cried happy tears for how clearly faithful God has been and how continually gracious and gentle He’s been with my heart through it all. And I laughed because the thing I’ve heard him speak over and over and over throughout the hardest of moments is that the darkness will never consume the light, that hope is never lost and beauty is never silenced, and like the rising of the sun, so His promises are to us. And when I felt the most alone and broken and afraid to dream, I dug my heels in that space and made my home in those words and slowly and graciously - in so many spaces where I saw it coming and a lot where I didn’t, I found myself starting to feel alive and free and willing to move forward again.
And now fall.
And I don’t feel ready at all. Not ready to face the schedule change and the necessity of focus. Overwhelmed by the idea of stepping back into the academic world that I have always had a love-hate relationship with. Scared to face the season of applications and exams because they may end in results different than those that I hope for and sometimes when I’m really honest with myself I like the safety of possibility rather than the challenge of reality.
I find myself wrestling through so many thoughts, among them the familiar desire to walk away from my studies and just go work with refugees in my own city or across the globe and the questions of why I need to be in school at all. Wrestling through the humbling reality that in a world of so many without access to primary education, why do I get the extravagant opportunity to cultivate my mind to this level? In a world of so much pragmatic need, what is the actual purpose and value of theoretical and philosophical examination?
It’s lunchtime now and I’m sitting at my table with a kale and blueberry smoothie, home after a morning at the office - where I kept praying while I was working that God would do something in me that would get me ready – eager even - to step back on campus in 2 hours because I still don’t really want to go. (And here I am poking at my computer, so that would indicate that the answer is still largely a not yet…)
My body is tired because I haven’t been sleeping well for the past few weeks and my is heart feels heavy with the realities of how messy life can be and how much I want to – but can’t - protect the people I love from that messiness. And, all of a sudden the tears slammed against me because I remembered that I would always talk to my Dad on the first day of school and we’d laugh about the ridiculousness of academia sometimes and then he’d remind me that it was still a worthwhile endeavour and that he was proud of me – and sometimes I forget that he’ll never be on the other side of the phone again.
But, even with all of that, and louder than all my persistent attempts to justify my escape to the mountains, I keep hearing God whisper: remember why you started.
Remember why I started.
Remember why I chose this and have persevered this far. Remember how He’s carried me and sustained me and remember that I’m not the same person I was when I started. Remember how much of a gift this space has been and how much God has grown my heart and my mind and shaped me in this season – inside and outside of the classroom. Remember that the long and boring days are worth it and that the pursuit of long and meaningful lives dedicated to loving mercy and pursuing justice look like a bunch of different things in a lot of different seasons. Remember that someday the value of this season will be even more evident. Remember that there are parts of this I really do love. Remember that this is a gift.
Maybe one of the best gifts God gave me this past summer was the tangible lesson that freedom comes when we stop trying so hard to have everything figured out. That in the stillness and the surrender and the packed full schedules and the long workdays and the nights of too little sleep – that leaning in to Him is the most important thing – and that can look like a lot of different things, but it always looks like freedom. And maybe this summer is a testament that I’m maybe – just a little bit – getting a bit better at doing that: of letting Him love me and fill me and then living from that place of freedom. I’m so grateful for that.
I’m hesitant to let go of this summer because it’s been so beautiful and I’m hesitant to begin the fall because I don’t feel ready. But, maybe this whole feeling ready thing is over rated, and the being prepared as my type-A personality would like to be prepared, is not the most important thing.
Maybe the not feeling ready means that He gets to shine even brighter in this next season, instead of me trying to start off by leaning on myself. Maybe the right here and right now - with all my seemingly contradictory impatience and hesitancy is the exact place He wants to keep growing me and showing Himself as both worthy of all I have to offer and absolutely incredible in His leading and His love.
Because I know that the uncertainty and fullness of this next season will not diminish the really beautiful work He’s been doing in me this summer and all the big and small ways that joy and laughter are being restored and all the ways that He’s been giving me a new song to sing and reviving dreams and planting new ones. This movement and growth doesn’t need to stop because the rhythm of my days changes.
So, here we go.
Ready or not: goodbye sweet sweet summer & hello beautiful fall.