It’s been just over two months since I moved east from the Coast and I still feel a bit of a roller-coaster of emotions when I’m asked how the move has been or how I’m doing.
Change has a beautifully challenging way of shaking you out of habits and routines. Newness, while glorious and thrilling in its wide-open potential, requires intentional focus at level not often demanded in the familiarity of the “normal”.
Of course, this is a gift. A chance to grow and to re-focus and reset. But it’s also really hard.
And it takes time. Time to find new footing and time to find new rhythms and time to build new relationships. Time to sit in the unresolved and the unknown mystery of transition, trusting that God is working here too, that this isn’t wasted time, and that He will, always, continue to lead us forward in His goodness.
So far Edmonton has been both beautiful and stretching. We still haven’t found a local church where we’re going to root ourselves for our tenure here, my work has changed pretty significantly, the overall culture here is a big change from Vancouver, and on more than one occasion, I’ve cried on my drive home because I keenly miss my people, miss getting to do life with them and be with them especially as a few are walking through tough seasons (and phone calls and face-time and texting just don’t feel the same), and miss the proximity I had to mountains and ocean (where I most easily connect/reset with God).
But, it’s also been energizing meetings about potential partnerships with organizations doing valuable work aimed at breaking down barriers to employment for newcomers to Canada. It’s been running in the River Valley - on my now “go-to” running route that crosses the river multiple times and weaves through seemingly endless park space. It’s been building rhythms and space with Nick - carving out time together amidst the insanity of his dental school schedule and the joy of being in the same place. It’s been cherishing in-person meals and walks and coffees with one of my dearest friends - a friendship that for years has been sustained via distance. It’s been meeting new people and settling into a new team at work. It’s been a slower pace, which means I’m making it through lots of books, cooking real meals most nights, and have watched more hockey than even my normal. And it’s been using this time to take some steps towards some long-term goals: some more schooling and ramping up to start training for our Ironman in 2019.
It’s been beautiful and good and exhausting and growing. It’s been upheaval and it’s been peace. All in the same space. Which really is the true mystery of growth, eh?
I’ve had seasons of my life when prayers for newness - new life, new vision, new joy, new hope - were the rawest and most desperate prayers I could muster. And God, in His vast mercy, grew and healed and restored more in those spaces than I can recount. He did something so new, the winter that once felt persistently dark and cold is nearly unrecognizable.
This time, in God’s goodness and humour, the newness wasn’t what I asked for.
I didn’t want to leave - like really didn’t want to leave. I found deep meaning in my work (even when it was crazy), I had the kind of community that people dream of with a reach and depth that is hard to articulate, I was deeply connected to the local church and felt like I was actually a tangible part of what God was doing in the Lower Mainland. I lived in the city I love most in the entire world - a city that constantly energized me with its natural beauty and pace and West Coast food scene, and with its great need. Years ago, God wrote Vancouver on my heart, and it’s an etching that I suspect will never fade or diminish.
So while this season of newness and this particular location wasn’t what I wanted, God invited me here. He asked me to trust Him in this. He asked me to cling more tightly to Him than my calling to Vancouver. (We are, after all, never fully called to things or places, but rather always and only to Christ Himself and to the outworking of His gospel in all contexts and circumstances). And if I do anything with my life, I pray that I live in quick obedience to His invitation(s) and hold tight to Jesus with deep joy - no matter what He asks of me. That’s a daunting prayer, I realize, but is there anything more worthwhile?
This move was an invitation to trust that He would meet me here, that He knows where He is leading Nick and I (even though we have little idea), and that He has something for us here: things to learn, things to do, and most importantly, people to love - for however long we take up residence in this northern prairie town.
When God allows circumstances to strip us of all the things we’re holding on to - good things and good habits and less than valuable things and less than beneficial habits alike - the promise He gives us in return is a baffling one: that if we lean into Him in the process of growth, what we gain will always be the greatest gift. Because what we gain is more of God Himself. Or, rather, a more realistic understanding of who He has always been and how truly all-encompassing His Gospel is in its reach and beauty.
This process of growing and letting go – of places and people and things to which I can hold to too tightly or to which I can too quickly attach my identity or validation - makes the sufficiency, faithfulness, and enduring goodness of Jesus that much apparent.
Where do I run when I don’t have community to lean on? Jesus. Where do I find joy when I cannot find that joy in close proximity to dear friends or in close proximity to stunning natural beauty? Jesus. Where do I find energy and focus and meaning when I’m not as easily able to pull those things from the work of my hands or my day-to-day context? Jesus. Who do I trust in the midst of upheaval and unknown? Jesus.
Over and over and over again, throughout every season and context and emotional state: Jesus.
All I am and have and ever hope to be.
In “resettling” in a new place, there’s a huge temptation to want to rebuild something here that looks as similar as it can to my life in Vancouver. But if I did that I’d be missing on the opportunity to lean into what God has for me (and for us) right here: in this city, in this context, in this exact emotional and mental and political and geographic space. I’d be trying to store old-wine in new wine-skins and missing out on the promise that God is doing a new thing.
And let’s be real, I’d also be endlessly disappointed. Edmonton and Vancouver are vastly different cities, cultures, and contexts. They each have beauty of their own - deep beauty, but it looks very different. Aside from their location in the western half of Canada, their ties to soccer phenom Alphonso Davies, and the reality that God is deeply in love with every single resident of both areas and at work in both cities, you’d be hard-pressed to find similarities between the two. Comparing the two - and what life looked/looks like in each isn’t a particularly useful process. Comparing makes me miss home even more and, most dangerously, if I’m not careful, it can breed discontentment or create an idol of Vancouver. Likewise, comparing singleness (and the ways I filled my time and made decisions while single) to marriage (and what it means to make decisions with Nick and walk in the same direction and in the same pace) is dangerous.
But God is doing a new thing. And that’s beautiful and important and good. And I have to remind myself of that multiple times a day right now. We’re hiking a new trail here - with eyes set on a different summit. It looks different than any trail I’ve hiked before, but it’s still motivated by the same reality: God with us, God for us, God in us. And sustained always, by the reality that the invitation to know Love (in Christ) and be Love (as He has loved us, so we endeavor to love our neighbours) never reaches a full conclusion until our breath here ends.
There are a lot of things I know about Edmonton: It’s cold. It’s (mostly) brown. It’s (mostly) flat. It’s a university town (University of Alberta), a Government town (credit its status as the provincial capital), and an industrial town. There are lots of Oilers fans here and McDavid is the shared hero of just about every Edmonton kid. It’s located on the shores of the North Saskatchewan River and boasts a claim to an impressive amount of park space - almost entirely in a stretch of protected park ground generically referred to as “the River Valley”. It’s a hub of settlement for newcomers to Canada, the “gateway” to Canada’s northern economy, and despite the relative flourishing of the Alberta economy (until recent years at least), it is home to a large population of urban poverty.
Here’s the most important thing I know about Edmonton though: It’s the northernmost city in the world with more than one million people and God is deeply, relentless, and extravagantly in love with every single one of those people. I know that there is no place where God is not at work and no city (or town or village or wilderness) separated from His relentless love. Straight up: God is obsessed with this town.
I also don’t see any space in Scripture to speak anything but life over the cities where we make our homes. Christ himself wept for Jerusalem because His heart was for her. He sent prophets to proclaim mercy and life. He sent his own people as outsiders to make their homes and to seek the good of the places they found their dwelling (however long-term or temporary). Over and over, the vision of the Kingdom is one that invites us to invest, to dive deep, to not look down on “small things or small efforts”, and to pray and labour for the good of the places where we make our homes.
His vision is love and His vision is presence.
In all contexts and situations.
I don’t love Edmonton yet. I want to. I’m growing in that - slowly. I’m praying every day for a deeper love for this place and these people. And I’m asking Jesus to lead us only deeper into what it means to know His love and be His love: that He would grow persistent faithfulness and enduring joy in me - and in us - regardless of where He calls us.
Right here. Right now. May He give us only a deeper glimpse of His heart for this Prairie town.
In Edmonton as it is in Heaven.