on change. on newness and familiarity. and re-learning how to ride a bike.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how quickly our definitions of “normal” can change. How, depending on the season, things can be both so familiar and so new at the same time.
Like re-learning how to ride a bike.
This past year has represented more change and growth than any one year prior. And this past month marks the biggest change of my adult life.
6 weeks ago, the norm was being a vagabond in 13 nations in 10 months. Today, the “norm” finds me back in North America, with bills to pay, a house to clean, a car to fill with gas, graduate school textbooks to purchase, and faced again with the familiar questions of how to live as one completely captivated by Abba in this country and culture.
For months, my diet was based on what was placed in front of us – generosity and providence that filled our plates with both simple sustenance and more extravagant local flavours. My calculated, previously spotless vegan diet became a bit more flexible and for the first time in years, I ate white bread and white pasta and nutella and cheese without having an internal panic attack. Daily manna came in the form of Khmer rice and fried vegetables, Filipino rice noodles, Pad Thai and Mango Sticky Rice off the streets of Thailand, French Baguettes and crepes, Swiss Chocolate, sandwiches with authentic Dijon mustard, Italian antipasti, Israeli cucumbers, hummus, and falafel, countless cups of British Tea, and lots of muesli and (full-cream) yogurt.
Community was a daily reality. It was impossible to describe who we were or what we were doing without terms like “team” or being “part of ___________”. Ministry was community and community was ministry. I moved from a room with four roommates in Hawaii (and nearly non-stop daily interactions with the 100 staff and students in my school), a shared room in Cambodia (and leading a team of eight people), an “urban camping” experience with five ladies in Thailand, a large room with amazing roomies and friends across the hall/building in Switzerland, a month-long road-trip/church-floor slumber party with eight people in Europe, to an international hostel in the heart of urban London, and shared rooms in community houses in small-town Guildford, UK.
But more so than the housing, community was a daily reality in the way we made decisions together, the way we pursued the things that Abba had spoken, and the way we learned to lean on and encourage each other. Worship was constant - both scheduled and spontaneous. Prayers were readily offered. Hugs, encouragement, and a shoulder to cry on (or space to escape with the Lord) were nearly always there. Abba went to the core of my desire to put up walls, to cling to self-sufficiency, and my unreasonable self-imposed standards of perfectionism and “having it all together.” Vulnerability became normal, and more so than normal – highly valued.
For months I slept wherever able (never before have I been so thankful for a body-sized piece of floor and a sleeping bag or a plastic coated budget mattress), lived out of a backpack and duffel bag, wore t-shirts and long “missionary” skirts or the same outfits over and over, and followed a schedule that was rarely, if ever, the same two-days in a row. We were vagabonds - home was wherever we laid our heads for the night. Hospitality was a stunning gift that Abba prepared for us everywhere we went – recipients to so much kindness and generosity within the body of Christ.
For the past year, ministry was my job. All of the resources I needed to live and “work” were funded by Abba’s provision through friends, family, and the body of Christ around the world. The ways the Lord provided were simple, miraculous, and extravagant. The days were long and often tiring, but my main job description was to know and savour Christ and make Him known – so every ounce of energy required was beyond worth it.
And, ministry was almost entirely cross-cultural. We were always the visitors, the “team” coming in to help and serve and sometime even lead - for a season. We looked different, talked different, and carried different perspectives on life and culture (sociologists call these memes) due to the different places we were born and the different socioeconomic and sociocultural backgrounds we each carried.
Ministry was often focused on seeking the Lord for and praying into the redemptive purpose and identity of the nation and culture in which we found ourselves. We were called – for a season – to stoke fires that were already burning and to come under the vision of long-term workers and the local church. Each nation is stunning in its own way and carries pieces of Abba’s heart and are covered in His fingerprints, and each is entirely desperate for His gospel of grace and Kingdom of Light.
It was beautiful. Parts of the journey were hard and parts were so incredibly easy (as if to scream with every moment – this is what I was made for!). I’m not the same person I was a year ago because of all of the ins and outs and ups and downs of this adventure, and am humbled by the ways that Abba revealed Himself, how He lead me and provided for me (us), and absolutely astounded by the work He did in and through me (us).
But it was.
And now this is.
Now, I’m re-confronted with the realities of food justice and sustainable choices, eating and training in a way that will get me back to racing weight and racing shape, and re-introduced to the daily dilemma and personal priority to eat ethically, locally, and healthily as much as possible – and yet somehow to also maintain a strict student budget. My meals, on my own, have become practical, routine, and often entirely unadventurous. Oatmeal w/Flax nearly every morning; brown rice pasta with a little bit of olive oil, lemon juice, sea salt, & cracked pepper; brown rice with black beans or spiced lentils, toast with almond butter, and carefully rationed smoothies – over and over and over.
I now have my own place. For the first time in my life, I live by myself. It’s surprising how much 750 sq. feet feels like when it’s just me. I bought a mattress and was blessed with gifts of furniture and kitchen supplies. I’m enjoying every moment of making this place mine, finding affordable furniture and finishing touches, and filling this space with the things I love – art, books, music, worship, sports, and tea. (Is it still considered nesting if you’re single?)
I’m back in the world of music and books and art and movies and fashion. Re-introduced the dilemma of what parts of pop culture are beneficial to consume, and what parts are best left alone. Getting re-acquainted with my teams, but not wanting to get too emotionally investing in the outcome of a sporting match.
Right now, community seems like little more than a past memory or a far off dream that captivates my heart. I know it’s coming. And that it’s going to look different than ever before. It’s an odd thing for me to get a place of my own when community burns in my heart - in a town that is a suburb of the city that I love, but I so strongly feel the Lord’s guiding hand over each step. This is the beginning stages of a long journey – the vision for which will be lived out in community - shared amongst two, a few, and someday many. Relationships are coming. Connections are coming. This is a season of preparation and networking. A season (as all are) of waiting on the whispers of His Spirit for the who and where and when. A season of obedience and patience for Abba’s perfect timing.
Now, I’m home. I’m not the visitor any longer, nor am I the one without a vested interest or understanding of this culture and people. By looks alone, I don’t stand out. This is my culture. This is my city. This is my nation. And, as much as my heart pounds in my chest for the nations (and seemingly paradoxically knowing that the Lord has called me to a life of “ministry” to the nations), no nation holds a place on the forefront of my heart like this one and no city both captivates and at the same time breaks my heart like Vancouver.
Living here isn’t a short-term thing. Everything (SD, AZ, HA) before this felt short-term, but this one is different on an unexplainable fundamental level. There may be seasons of being sent out and investing in the redemptive purposes of other nations/cities, but my heart cries that this city is as permanent as anything in this flickering–gone-in-a-flash-always-open-handed-before-Abba-and-obedient-to-the-leading-of-His-Spirit–life can be. My biggest dreams are for the redemption and renewal of this city, worked out in Kingdom focused community. For the merger of journalism, effective creative media, and artistic collaboration with international sustainable development and sport for peace and development – both here in BC and around the globe. For culturally relevant, human-rights focused, Kingdom-illuminated (though not necessarily with religious labeling) collaboration and partnership between all spheres and facets of society – law and political science, media, arts, sports, education, and the church – for the renewal of this city and the rest of Canada and the nations.
Now I’m the long-term worker, carrying part of the long-term vision, with a specific role to play. And (in this season), ministry is not my full-time job. My job is ministry, but it’s also the required method of paying the bills. It’s the means to an end. And, at the moment, I don’t have a job – and am faced with the reality of stepping forward in faith and trusting Abba’s provision even when a huge part of me wants to (and has) panic and freak out at my looming bills and lack of income.
It’s still (it always is) my joy and duty to “know and savour Jesus and make Him known”, but that takes on a different lens in the context of a job in the public sphere. That takes on a different lens in Canada than it did in Thailand. No less fully after His heart, but different – as the cultures are different, and as my role is different.
In the world of iPhones and cars, with the looming stresses and emphases of finances and “success” - how do I honour Him with my resources (or lack thereof)? How do I fully trust and lean on Him, while investing in community and new relationships, in the context of a largely individualistic society? How do I walk forth boldly as He leads and believe Him for the things He’s promised while staying fully present and patient in today? How do I truly love Him with my heart, soul, and mind as I study, write papers, and pursue the career I feel called into?
All of a sudden Asia, Europe, and the Middle East seem so easy. They weren’t. But in some ways they were. In some ways it seemed like “real” life was on pause and Abba was so tangible, the Spirit closer than my skin, dreams and visions celebrated, and the necessary details of adult life nearly absent from my mind.
Real life wasn’t on pause, nor is Abba any less tangible here, but my heart knows that a significant page was turned and a new chapter embarked on – and the gap between the last chapter and this one seems bigger than a single blank page.
And that’s absolutely beautiful.
This season, though difficult at times, is exactly where I want to be. and the only place I want to be.
I never want to be the girl who lives in the past, who dwells on past memories or moments. I’m a writer, so it’s impossible for me to disconnect the beginning of the story from the parts unfolding or the foreshadowing or outlines of the story to come, but I always want to be on right on the heels of the pen, waiting with eager expectancy for what’s next. Always believing the Lord that greater things are still to come. And (to borrow the words of Jon Foreman) that today is all I’ll ever have.
Now I’m (re) learning (and growing in) how it looks to encounter Abba in the simple beauty of today and in the beauty of this culture. It’s like riding a bike - you never un-learn how to ride, it’s so familiar, but, to get into stellar biking shape after a long hiatus away, the beginning is a bit shaky and takes time to work out the kinks.
My eyes are re-learning (and in many ways seeing with more clarity than ever before) to see His hope all over the tiniest and seemingly most insignificant of moments and things. To rejoice in the reality of dreams coming to pass, rather than looking to those that are yet to come. To be blown away – literally speechless by the beauty that surrounds me and the place that is my home. To cherish the rhythms of life - waking up in the morning and going running with Him, time to write and read and sit in my own little kitchen with never-ending cups of tea – and to savour each sip. To invest in the friends I already have here and to try to actually enjoy the process of meeting new people (an introvert nightmare!) and reminding myself again and again that friendship takes time and even though I’m the “new girl”, I’m fully known and fully loved by Him.
And, almost paradoxically, when everything seems too overwhelming or too big or too far away for me to handle – I’m banking on past stories of His faithfulness and reminding myself that the things He has promised will come to pass – in His way and His time, following the whispers of His voice. That I won’t be alone – and that my story was never meant to unravel alone. That this story will someday be even more multi-generational than it is now, and that the legacy and prayers I’m sowing into this city and nation will be the inheritance of my kids. That there’s a redemptive future for this city and this nation that is only now a faint glimmer. That connections to nations and cities that I can only now dream of are coming. And, that starting graduate school – and the coming seven years (?) of being a student again will be a journey of going deeper and deeper into His heart and His plan.
I’m not content to get up and ride the same bike at the same pace for the same distance again. I want to get up and ride farther, faster, and with more true motivation than I did before. And I want every season to be a growing one and a new training standard.
Even if it’s a bit wobbly at first and my muscles ache. It may be both foreign and entirely familiar, but there’s no where else I’d rather be.