On Baking Bread and Being Present

I think a lot of us are rediscovering the joy of slowing down, these isolation days. For me, that has meant being able to sleep in until just before I start my work day, rolling out of bed and across the hall to my “home office”, instead of rushing around to catch a bus or make the 40-minute walking commute. It has also meant a return to old hobbies, ones that require uninterrupted time at home and a physicality that we don’t always pay attention to. While I can easily lose myself in a good book, the uncertainty of the present moment has had me seeking out activities that make me feel grounded in both time and space and allow my mind to rest while my body works. I’ve been seeking out activities that force me to work within the constraints of time, to practice patience, activities that permit me to get my hands involved, to practice presence.

And so, while I love to read and learn languages, to listen to music and chat with friends on Zoom about the Bible or development theory, I am finding these days a lot of joy in spending time on more physically present hobbies, rather than mental ones. Hobbies which, for this 23 year “old lady” are a pleasant return to things I used to love doing in my childhood: knitting, bread baking, long walks in quiet reflection. I am glad many people are learning these things for the first time. But for me, this has been less about developing new skills and more like putting on a well-loved, well-worn sweater and catching up with old friends.

As in any good quarantine household, there now sits a jar of sourdough starter on our kitchen counter, the lid poked full of holes and, often, a line and time written on the side in whiteboard marker. 11am, one inch high. 3pm, three inches high. After 6 weeks of careful cultivation, weeks of careful pouring and stirring and watching and spilling and waiting, my starter is thick and stretchy, spotted with bubbles that pop if I shake the jar and a slightly alcoholic, yet kind of sweet, yeasty smell. This is not my first go around with this baking ingredient and pseudo pet. In high school, I had a starter for a year or two but it sadly died off when I went to Switzerland for three months; sourdough requires you to give it love and flour weekly, if not daily. Life in residence and back and forth stints abroad have likewise prevented me from trying again but now, the slow, long days of working from home have given me the space to get back at it.

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But preparing my starter, affectionately named Khobz (Arabic for bread) is only the first step. Sourdough is an art that takes time and practice. Day after day I have measured out warm water and flour, gently squished the ingredients together in big bowls, carefully covered them in plastic wrap and damp towels, and waited (more or less) patiently for the dough to rise. When I go to do my laundry, all my clothes have bits of flour stuck to them; I always seem to miss some dusty white patch on the kitchen counter. This hobby is little bit messy.

I have been remembering that sourdough waits for no one and cannot be rushed or urged along. It is not something done on whim or without planning. While I often operate in whirlwind, fitting my hobbies in during bus stop waits, or in the 30 minutes between dinner and class, baking a loaf of sourdough begins 48 hours before I plan to eat (or gift) the bread. I have to feed the starter, make the dough, shape the loaves, leave them to sleep and rise in the fridge, bake at varying temperatures while taking lids on and off. It is a long process that requires a few minutes of attention in intervals of 30 minutes to 16 hours. It isn’t time consuming all in one go. But you have to be present.

One morning a couple of weeks ago, I got up at 4am to shape the bread after miss-timing a long proof. Sourdough waits for no one, slows for nothing. The next week, I spilt goopy starter on my laptop while trying to show it to a friend on Zoom. Sourdough is not a digital activity. Over the weeks, I have tested loaf after loaf, playing with lids and ice cubes and various temperatures, trying to get a crusty outside and soft inside with a labyrinth of holes. Sourdough is an art and an experiment. It requires me to be home, it requires attention, it requires touching and smelling and tasting to know just what to do next.

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Bread, the most basic of foods, has been helping me remember the powerful yet simple rhythms of time and patience, the mental peace that comes from kneading and working something out with your hands. For the sake of these lessons, I am grateful that we are an embodied people. We are not just our minds and our souls but we are whole bodied creatures who need to eat, to sleep, to move, to work with our hands. We learn and live through the five senses, through home-baked crusty bread and tight hugs from dear friends, from the smell of the sidewalk after a warm spring rain and the feeling of fresh cleaned sheets on our skins.

I live through the sounds of my roommates’ laughter below me as I try to fall asleep and of the neighbour practicing an instrument through the thin walls of our old crooked house in Sandy Hill. I taste red wine and think of Jesus, our Word who was there in the beginning, who created and knows the importance of embodied living…so much so that He came down to walk dusty roads and swim in cold rivers and feel the rumble of hunger in his stomach. I run along the river in the early morning fog, watch rabbits dart across the path, feel the chill of the wind on my cheeks and the burn of exertion in my legs and lungs; I sing the chorus of the best song on my playlist at top volume when there is no one else on the path. I knit for long hours, winding the yarn around my fingers to keep it taut, wrapping and dipping and sliding off stiches with the metallic click of the needles slipping against each other. I make coffee slowly, savouring the smell and experimenting with flavours. While my favourite to drink is espresso, I love the step-by-step of using my French press: measuring the water and waiting for it to boil, scooping out a heaping spoonful of fragrant grounds, brewing and straining and pouring out the coffee. I am resting by letting my hands work and my mind wait.

Online, I am struggling to connect with people’s disembodied voices and the long hours of working alone at my desk. I am remembering just how much of a whole-body human I really am,  how much I ache to be present with people and to go through the motions of daily life within the restraints of a 24-hour day. I am learning to slow down and be present here; I am wanting back the opportunity to be full-body present with my people. I have no idea what the world will look like tomorrow or next week or in six months and there are so many things I miss about normal. But I pray that when we emerge from our houses and get to be close again that we will lean into the physicality of our humanity, rather than see our COVID-tech adaptions as examples of not needing to be present together. Right now I am learning to slow down and bake bread; it is physically present activity. But so is loving people. I want to remember that when all is said and done.

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Bible Study

Most people hate Mondays because they mark the beginning of a work week. But this year, Mondays quickly became one of the highlights of my week. Monday evenings brought friends crowding into my living room, on the couches and on the floor, and even some standing by the door at first, so as to have an escape route if needed. Each week we gathered, a core group consistently and a rotation of guests intrigued and drawn to our funny mismatched group of Christians and non-believers. There would be chatter and shuffling and throwing off of coats as people got settled into their spots. Often someone would bring a treat: cookies, scones, chips. Mondays meant using every mug in my house for tea, an open invitation to bring along friends and quickly whispered prayers as I printed manuscripts 5 minutes before my pals arrived, prayers that the Holy Spirit would make up for my gaps in knowledge and, sometimes, for my woeful lack of preparation. And then, when most people had arrived and everyone had a pen ready, we would start. 

Together we would dive into the Bible, into the book of John. As we worked our way through the book, John became our trusted narrator and eyewitness to the miracles of Jesus; we knew he was on a mission to prove his thesis that Jesus is the Son of God. We contextualized ourselves as best as we could, trying to figure out what ancient Israel was like in John and Jesus’ time, what these events and words would have meant to people then and there. And then we jumped back to Ottawa, 2020, and we asked honest questions: some nit picky, irrelevant questions, some easily answered questions, some big picture philosophy questions, and some real life “more vulnerable than we maybe would have liked” questions about who Jesus is and what he was trying to teach each of us. All of us asked questions: those of us raised in the church, who felt like we should already have every answer, and those of us who had never read the Bible before, and all of us in between. We noticed themes, of light and darkness, of living bread and water, of Jesus knowing people intimately, of people asking and seeing and believing. We shared what we had seen that made us believe in Jesus, or what we would need to see, or what we were desperately hoping to see and had yet to. We sat in tension. We came together to study and we took it seriously but, we also laughed a lot. We became friends. 

And as we became friends, we chose more vulnerability and we learned more and more each week from the Word and from each other. A deep fondness for and trust in our group grew in my heart as we wandered through each passage. We became a team and as one of the leaders I learned to adapt to the strengths of my people. They didn’t need me to have prepared application questions or to drag observations out of people; they just needed me to show up. I trusted our team to navigate well together, to ask the hard questions and be engaged in trying to find answers. I trusted us to be ok with not always finding those answers, to be ok not wrapping everything up with a bow for the sake of simplicity. Unspoken, we decided to leave space to walk away still chewing a challenging question. As a leader, I trusted my team but even more so I trusted the Holy Spirit to keep teaching us throughout the week. That trust meant that I got to walk with people rather than ahead of them, to be vulnerable, to ask my own questions, and to be deeply blessed by conversations we had. 

This year, on Mondays, I fell back in love with the Bible and with my community. A mixed bag of experiences with manuscript studies before, I should have had low expectations. But in September, at the start of the year, God gave me vision for this Bible study. He told me He was doing something new, whispered that I would get to watch the Holy Spirit change hearts right in my living room. He gave me specific names of people who would be there (despite some of their own proclamations), reminders of how He desires to speak to His Children, promises of investment and consistency and engagement. And He has been faithful to those promises. 

God doesn’t have to let me play a role in His ever evolving story of redeeming humanity. But, thankfully, He is in the habit of letting His kids step into what He is doing, letting them see and participate in and be changed by His work, despite their (read, my) many flaws. This year, on Mondays in a small way, I think I got to watch and participate in and be changed by what He was doing through the Word in my living room. And dang, I am grateful. 

Walk boldly friends, into the places and with the people the Lord has given you vision for. It’s a gift and a joy to see the ways He is making all things new. Speaking of, the song “New Wine” by Hillsong has been a beautiful ongoing conversation this year between me and God. You should give it a listen.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” – John 1:1-5

Week 7

Today I sat on the porch while it rained and I tried to focus on my work. Instead I was distracted and, my eyes weary from staring at the screen, I spent much of the day looking out over my neighbourhood cocooned in grey clouds. I listened to the drops hit the roof in an irregular rhythm and observed how vibrantly green the moss on the tree out front looked, in contrast to the gloomy sky. I watched the people go by. The two small children in classic yellow raincoats who passed around lunchtime, walking slowly as if their feet were heavy weights. The tinnier one spun in a half circle, bent over to examine some small treasure in the grass of my lawn, then stood up again to ask the wet and tired looking father how much farther to home. I watched pairs of friends marching two by two, separated too, by two meters…usually. Runners going full speed and runners clearly out of steam passed by, the sound of their feet catching my attention, pulling my eyes away from the report I was attempting to read. A cute boy with too-long hair hanging wet in his eyes, walked his dog by our house twice in the span of three hours. A friend stopped by to drop off a borrowed dish on the porch and called my name. The UPS man got confused about where to drop the (then damp) brown packages he carried and I watched him as he paced up and down the street until he sorted it out. The birds sang brightly all day, despite the constant drizzle. Around 3pm, the neighbour came out onto his porch for a while and we both waved, then sat in silence. All afternoon, I got up to make tea more than was necessary. I was restless; the weather and the street were too.

Today was Thursday, nearly the end of week 7 working from home during the COVID-19 lockdown. Week 7 of working from the worn-out yellow porch seat with a blanket over my legs and a cup of tea beside me, or from my bed with the covers pulled up, or from the floor in the corner of my bedroom, my legs crossed under me like a kindergartener. Week 7 of sitting on my couch with my laptop, trying not to be distracted by my roommates chattering over morning coffee, while I cross my fingers that the network connects easily and I can check my email without issue. Week 7 of daily Zoom calls, week 7 of missing chatting with colleagues in the bathroom and in the hallways. Week 7 of unsettledness, of an anxiety in my chest that comes and goes without warning. Week 7 of seeing the same walls and faces on an endless loop. Week 7 of dress shirts with pyjama bottoms, of sundresses while it snows, of lipstick as my only makeup, of not changing out of my yoga pants post morning flow, because I’m not going anywhere anyways. Week 7 of candles on my desk, sleeping until 8am, playing music and having a dance party at lunch time; it isn’t all bad. Week 7 of uncertainty about what comes next: where will I live, what will I do, how do I pray into this? Week 7 of working with choppy wifi and no printed documents for this paper and pen gal, week 7 of too much time staring at the light of my computer. Week 7 and I feel like I never know what day it is. Week 7…and I am tired. 

So today I watched the rain come down and I drank my tea and I tried to work, bit by bit. I accepted that this was Thursday of week 7 and that it was raining and that my brain, like the world, was moving a little bit slower than normal. Today I tried to work but really I just watched and listened and remembered that the world, while slowed, is still moving. It is raining and the moss is growing and the children are learning and the people are talking and the runners are running and cute boys are dog-walking and the UPS man is delivering  and the neighbour is waving from his porch. We are still living, still pressing forward albeit at a slower pace, day by day, in the sunshine and the in the rain. And we will be ok. It is week 7 and today I had to remind myself many times that we will be ok. 

Not Painting the Sea

Being in British Columbia made me wish that I was a painter. Despite usually feeling like my words are sufficient to paint images in people’s minds, these views had me speechless which happens very rarely.

One day I went hiking with my family and left them to continue the trail while I climbed down to the rocky beach. Kicking off my sandals and walking out onto the rocks, I feel more like a foreigner than anything else. My feet are soft, from summers spent on sandy shores in Georgian Bay, years of running through Beausoleil Island and Killbear Provincial Park. This pebbled beach, rolling under my feet and pricking the soles when a bit of shell peaks through, it feels different. It’s hard to believe this is the same Canada I know and love.

I get to the edge of the water, breathe deeply through my nose, inhaling the salty smell. This too is new. Canada, from sea to sea to sea, for me has always been a land of lakes, where I can dive deep, look up and watch the sunlight filter through the marbled green and blue water. I will not even try to open my eyes in the ocean.

The waves lap against my toes and my feet remind me that they are hurting on the rocks; the sooner I go in, the sooner I can float and let them rest. But the water is cold and it is not a hot day. My favourite black bathing suit, which I’ve been carrying around for days hoping to get close to the ocean, has been left in the car. I didn’t expect this hiking trail to led me to the water. Still, my red jumpsuit will dry quickly I suspect and I don’t know if I’ll get another chance to swim this trip. Now or never.

I clumsily walk into the waves, trying not to fall. A little girl runs toward the water a few meters away from me; clearly she is BC grown because she doesn’t even flinch at the rocks splaying out from under her feet. Her grandma trails behind and we look at each, smiling. I remember that I now look more adult than girl.

“Is it cold?” She asks me.

I smile again and nod. “I’m trying to convince myself to do it, just to dunk and get it over with.”

“It’s not bad, come on!” the little girl is kicking and splashing between us.

She’s right. My legs and feet have adjusted and I know the rest of me will too as soon as I convince myself to get in. I turn around to face the shore, count to three and fall backwards into the shadowy, rolling water. It’s a trick that always works but my breath still catches for a minute as the cold water engulfs me.

And then I let myself breath deeply. Lake or sea, water is water and I always feel at home when I’m floating. My clothes billow out around me but for some reason, it doesn’t feel scary, like swimming in clothes sometimes can. My lips taste the salt and my hair, loose and long, fans out around me, bits of it sticking around my neck and chest. The grandma has taken the plunge too and she and the girl are pretending to be dolphins; I can’t help but grin, remembering all the hours I spent kicking and spinning in the lake back home, sunlight dancing in patches on my skin, as I pretended to be a mermaid. To see me now, in the sea itself, long hair and bright eyes, I can almost fall back into the fantasy.

I start paddling out, awe struck by the mountains on the horizon. It’s this moment that leaves me feeling without adequate words, this moment where I curse my “lack of creativity” and wish my fingers knew the secrets of replicating the Artist’s greatest works. It’s a view all made of blue, the sea the sky and mountains layered in the distance. As if someone started at the bottom and ran out of ink as they shaded skyward, the mountains rise in groups of bluish gray, getting lighter as they dance towards the sky. Mountains always seem to me to be to be vibrating with their own rhythm and life, despite their strongly grounded roots.  The trees here look different too. Like Christmas trees in fairytale giants’ homes, they cluster around the base of the jagged hill. From far away, they don’t look green, but rather almost black, a contrasting border to the mountain shades. How wondrous it is that this fairytale view too is the country I call home.

I’m not sure how long I floated there, thinking about how small I was. Just floating in the sea and wondering at the mountains. Eventually my family comes into view over the ridge high above the beach and I know it’s time to go. My uncle is coming down for a minute; I think he wants to touch the sea before we leave. As I climb out of the water, my hair and clothes suctioned to my body, my uncle and the little girl’s mother on the beach are staring at something just behind me. My uncle points and I turn around.
“Orcas” someone shouts.

I stare at the horizon, straining without my glasses to see something far away. To my surprise, I see a fin rise up much closer than anticipated, maybe 100 feet or less from where I had floated minutes before. I watch, mouthing “wow” to myself again and again, unable to come up with anything else, as the rolling waves reveal three orca whales passing by close to the beach. I can hardly believe how lucky I feel; I shared water with these creatures. Their smooth black and white bodies are clear to see, despite my lack of distance vision. My uncle is trying to get a picture or a video but I feel rooted to the rocks, my tender feet forgotten. I want to be present in this moment with Creation. The rollercoaster movement of the orcas, up and down, coming into view further left each time, feels like a gift, handed specifically to me by the Creator. Lord, if you wanted me to fall in love with B.C., you’re doing a really good job of it.

Eventually, we can’t see them anymore as they round the corner of the island. The women tells us that despite coming here, to this beach, every summer of her life, she has never seen whales here, not ever before. I can’t keep the smile off my face; what a gift God has given me today. My feet could dance, even on the rocky shore.

I grab my shoes. I take one more deep breath of ocean air. Nature has so many smells and I’ve grown to love each one. From the mossy dampness of the forest, when you crawl out of your tent in the quiet morning after a storm, to the sprigs of lavender that dot the path in the meadow in late August, to now this salty, brisk, wild smell of sea in British Colombia, a new puzzle piece in my Canadian mosaic. I take one last look at the view. Even though the whale friends have disappeared, this view can hold it’s own for awe and wonder. The mountains in their magnitude, crashing into the bluer sky and melting into the untamed waves evokes in me gratitude, hope and a sense of adventure that fills my soul and reminds me, the way something beautiful does everyday, how glad I am to be alive.

I feel a moment of sadness, knowing that I am not a painter; I will never be able to replicate with misty edges and smudged colours, this picture that my mind will slowly let fade. But it’s ok. this feeling of foreignness and home, of wonder and of awe, of being small and one with Creation. This feeling will come again. I serve the Greatest Painter and He is always sharing with me His favourite pieces of art.

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Storyteller

When I was little girl, my Grandma Kelly used to write stories for me and my cousins. Every few months or so, we’d get a new one in the mail and each one was illustrated by hand, complete with cover pages and each sheet in plastic slip covers. Sometimes, one of us grandkids would make a guest appearance in the stories, which was always exciting. My whole childhood, these stories piled up until I had a binder about 3 inches thick called “Stories by Grandma K”. They were always part of the bedtime rotation and my favourite was about Cecilia, the cyclops who learns to love her big beautiful eye.

I remember so clearly the day I decided that I was going to write stories too. We were in the car on the way to visit my Grandma for the day and I told my mom I was going to make a story for Grandma K (illustrations included, of course). I was probably 7 and I wrote 3/4 of a page on lined paper called “Too Litle Grils Go for a Walk”. There were crooked trees lining the page and a whole lot of spelling mistakes but I was so proud of my story and couldn’t wait to give it my Grandma!! She loved it (or claimed to, hehe) and about a month later, a story by the same name, dedicated to me, appeared in our mailbox. Grandma had taken my idea and written a longer story, completing each copy with my story photocopied at the back. I was enthralled. Look at what an idea that had started as a thought in my head had become!

And so, the stories continued. In elementary school I kept extra notebooks and filled them with stories featuring my friends and I as the “Horse Helpers” who rode horses and saved people in our neighbourhood. I self published a poetry book called “Daisy Chains” and wrote my first “novel” in 5th grade. I thrived in creative writing classes and clubs and told anyone who would listen that I was going to be an author when I grew up. I entered poetry and short story contests and sometimes I even won.

And then the storytelling began to stretch beyond paper. I read a ton as a kid and would reenact the stories for my friends who didn’t want to read themselves. At camp I would drag a book out over a week or two, using funny voices and making the best (aka my favourite) parts last the longest. I loved when friends would ask what I had been reading or ask me to tell them a story. I remember going on canoe trips and making up tall tales about the trees following us as protectors on our voyage.

In high school I discovered blogging and loved that I could share my thoughts whenever I felt like it. I learned about spoken word poetry and fell in love with the way people could dramatically and passionately twist words into powerful performances. Even my everyday life became filled with stories of spontaneity and humour, sometimes even stranger than fiction, that I would retell to my friends, hands flying and eyes sparkling with excitement.

I love to tell stories, in every way, shape, and form. When I think about the core of who I am and what I am passionate about, my identity as a storyteller is always one that just feels right. It settles into my soul like it belongs there. I love words and the way creativity and the real world weave together like multicoloured threads, making people stop and listen and feel and engage. Remember the last time you read a book that made you cry or laugh out loud or wish you could have coffee with a character?

I want to do that.

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Transitions

Friends! It’s been a while hasn’t it? I feel like I always end up busier than I intend to be and suddenly important things get pushed to the side, like long walks catching up with friends and writing on this blog! Still, I can’t help but be grateful for the busyness; it means lots of chasing passions and meeting with people who make my soul smile!

Alas, another semester has come and gone and with it, a new transition and adventure is quickly approaching. Yesterday was my last day of co-op at Volunteer Canada, today all my residents have moved out and I had my last pre-departure training before Malawi, tomorrow I have to leave Leblanc (forever my favourite residence) and say goodbye to all my Ottawa people. Then I have a week at home before heading off next Sunday for 12 weeks in a new country, on a new (to me) continent. Wild.

This is the first time I’ve left Ottawa feeling sad to leave my home here. After first year, I went to camp for the summer. I’d only lived in Ottawa for 8 months and during that time I had rarely strayed from campus. Additionally, all my friends were also leaving for the summer and heading back to their respective homes, traveling, working at camp, etc. So leaving felt natural and although I was glad to go back in September, I wouldn’t have called Ottawa my “home”town. I even wrote a blog post about not having a “home” per say!

However, it’s been nearly two consecutive years now of living in this city.  I have adapted to this place’s quirks and it’s quiet culture. I have favourite coffee shops and I’m a regular at an open mic night. I know where to go to find green space and where to go to find quiet and where to go to embrace chaos. My network is large and supportive and I feel known in Ottawa which was something I missed a lot when leaving Barrie. I like to know people and be known and have connections in many circles.

SO this summer leaving Ottawa is sad. But it makes me all the more grateful to remind myself that I once wondered if I’d ever feel at home again. I do and I will, wherever I go. I remind myself that wherever I go, there are places I can find and call my own and people who will see me and choose community with me. This last semester especially I have found myself feeling rooted in the communities God has created for me here in Ottawa. And I have been reminded of all the different layers that make up a network. From the people I smile at when I pass on campus to my residents who I am meant to guide and support, to my co-workers at co-op and my fellow CAs, to my dear friends with whom I share my heart and my dear friends with whom I share laughs, to people in my program I can debate with and learn from and my friends in different programs who open my eyes to new things, widening my perspective, to my Christian community and my Outdoor’s community, to my people I catch up with once a semester and the ones I make sure to see every week. I am so grateful to have these intermingling and oh so important, layered, and real relationships. As beautiful of a city I think Ottawa is, it is the people I have learned to call “mine” that I will miss the most in Malawi.

Isn’t it funny how much longer it takes to fall in love with a place when you know it may be permanent? When I went on exchange I quickly felt at home in my adopted city of Geneva and I will always have a home on Kitchi sands, despite having lived there for a collective time of maybe a year. But when I came to Ottawa, it took 3 full years to feel comfy and settled here. I find that so odd.

I think it’s because it takes longer to admit that your real and permanent life is transitioning, that you are not adopting a second or third home but moving your main base somewhere new. I really doubt I will ever call Barrie home again. Not because I dislike or because there aren’t still people there that I love but simply because my career and my life will call me elsewhere. So, I think I held onto that being “home” for as long as possible, even subconsciously.

I also have higher standards for Ottawa than I ever do for temporary homes. All those layers and intermingled connections I talked about? Those take time to cultivate. Deep friendships can sometimes happen quickly but having networks of co-workers and acquaintances and classmates and church families and friends in different places take time. Having people to wave at in the streets takes time. Having the barista know your order at the coffee shop near work takes time. Having people you can ask to pray for you takes time. Your go to study people, your outdoor adventuring people, your “listen to my deepest dreams” people and your “come have a beer with me” people all take time to find. Finding all those things at once? Takes a whole lot of time!

I still love going home to Barrie too, don’t get me wrong. I was lucky enough to be born and raised in the same town so it always feels familiar and I love going to see my family. But my dad is moving provinces, my mom lives in outside the city limits now and most of my friends are also off on their own new adventures. Ultimately, my ties there get weaker all the time and to me, those relational ties are much more important than the physical streets and buildings (and even those I recognize less and less each time I visit!). They say home is where the heart is, and my family will always be a home to me but Barrie itself is less and less.

More than anything, you have to build a life in order to build a home. Ottawa is no longer just the city I go to school in. It has slowly and surely become the place in which I centralize my life. It’s my home base when I travel and the place I know the most people. It’s where I’ve invested in people and in places and in connections. And I am grateful to be sad to leave.

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Transitions have never been easy for me. I think by now I put on a pretty good face and make it seem like I’m fine but since I was little I have cried at goodbyes. I still cry every time my mom drives away and leaves me in Ottawa and I cried a little leaving my job yesterday. I just love a lot and so it makes it hard to leave ya know?

But not to fear, Ottawa, this is all just temporary. Before you know it, it will be August and I will be back to couch surf with all those lovely friends I mentioned!!!! Praise Jesus for friends with open arms and open doors because low-key I will not have a literal, physical home for 3 weeks during summer school haha.

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And on that note? I AM GOING TO MALAWI IN ONE WEEK. HOLY COW!!

I have barely let myself get excited until now because everything has been so up in the air but I have a tentative flight – still no ticket, but you know, trusting that everything will work out – and I am (almost) free from residence, work and school so now I have time to dream about my internship, the things I will learn, the places I will go and the people I will meet.

Until then I am excited to spend a week snuggling my family, hanging out in the sunshine, eating food I didn’t have to cook, hiking (hopefully), driving the car, singing in the shower and talking to Jesus about how to make this experience as impactful as possible (for me and all my soon-to-be friends in Malawi)!

Until next time,

Sam

P.s. This my 100th blog post on Sam’s Grand Adventure!! How wild is that? Thanks to all for sticking with me and my ramblings for this long!

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Morning Rhythms

This morning I was up before the sun.

A static melody fills my room as the radio alarm clicks on at “5am” which is really more like 4:50 since all my clocks are set ahead; my chronic lateness needs all the help it can get to make me be on time for something, anything.

Even though I want to snuggle down into the covers and wrap myself in the cozy denim coloured jersey sheets, I force myself to put my feet on the ground before I think twice. Half asleep, I hit boil on the already filled kettle and scoop this morning’s caffeinated drink – vanilla matcha – into a wide mug I need both hands to hold. Almost on auto-pilot I brush my hair, get dressed and gather my things for the day. Before 5:30, I am out the door, green drink in one hand, grey bible in the other. I head for the common room.

I spend the next hour or so sitting in front of the window. I journal while music quietly plays and sip my drink while reading about this week’s “spiritual discipline” of choice – gratitude. I pray and ask God to meet me, to teach me, to change me, to grow me, as I open the Word and read the Psalms. I am almost brought to tears by the beauty and emotion of the Bible’s poets. I praise the Lord for the truths I read: that He is my refugee, that He alone gives peace, that I ask and He answers, that He is angry without sin, that He delights in me, that He gives joy in the darkness. I do not feel the tiredness in my body any more. You could argue that it is the matcha kicking in but I can feel the Holy Spirit filling me with so much excitement about being alive. I ask for forgiveness for the times this week I spoke in anger, for the times I was lazy or selfish or unkind or prideful. I ask the Holy Spirit to be with me through my busy day.

I practice gratitude all the way to work. I realize that for the first time this year I can hear birds chirping in the tree on the Leblanc front lawn and think, “what a gift that is to me!” I watch pink streaks wind their way through the sky and smile to myself as I step into puddles. Whether or not it lasts, this morning feels like spring and I am grateful to be alive.

I talk to God about how much I love writing and getting to know people. I pray about the book I want to someday write and the blogs I have in the back of my head. I thank Jesus for the plans He has for me today, tomorrow, this summer and six years from now and day dream about all the countries I will visit soon. I remember my last year’s trip to Iceland and am thankful all over again for a God who fulfills the desires of my heart. I remember how I prayed last August that I would be able to find a non-profit to do co-op at this winter. I walk through the downtown core of the city I so love and cherish on my way to the job that is everything I asked God for, and more. Like the bonus of having Friday’s off to accomplish tasks for my many other commitments. I thank God that He actually does give me more than I can handle but never more than He can handle; I am grateful I have to rely on Him and not my own stubbornness and pride.

I pray for friends near and far. I pray for people I do not call friend. I pray in French and thank God for language and rain and my residents and for being a God who is “tu” and not “vous”. I stop and buy a tea. I tell the women behind the cash how grateful I am that she got up early to serve me this morning.

I get to work 20 minutes early. I sit and talk with my co-workers about how beautiful long-lasting friendships are and I think about how excited I am to catch up with my best friend on the phone tonight. What a blessing it is to have technology to keep in touch.

I sip my tea. I start up my computer. I make my to-do list. I get to work.

I gave up sleeping in for Lent and it is not easy to resist the snooze button. Sometimes I mess up, like last Friday when I convinced 3 friends to meet me on campus at 7 for prayer and then I slept through the alarm and missed it. 5am comes oh so early. But a 5am start to my day means I have time to meet with Jesus and focus my day on the Lord before the busyness of everything else kicks in and more and more I am finding beauty in this rhythm. I am truly giving God the first of my time and getting His view on my day long before the stress of work or obligations kick in. At 5am, there is nothing I need to do but sit in the presence of the Lord.

Morning rhythms, quiet cups of tea, birds chirping. I get to pray and meet with the Creator while most of Creation sleeps. Wow, if that doesn’t help me cultivate gratitude, I don’t know what will. I am so thankful for the life I get to live.

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” – Mark 1:35

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An ode to 2017

2017. What a year.

Thank you for being one of the best yet. Thank you for allowing me to pursue myself, to pursue passion, to pursue learning, to pursue adventure, and above all to pursue Jesus and the plans He has for me. It’s been so good.

2018: you’ve got a lot to live up to…somehow I’m believing you’ll be even better.

So here’s to you, 2017, with all your jumbled joy and challenge. Thanks for being:

 

A year of adventure and of travel.

A year of learning.

A year of working and a year of rest.

A year of strangers and of friends and of family.

A year of thriving.

A year of passion, of cultivating dreams, a year of sparks being fanned into flames.

A year of church searching and finding.

A year of getting lost and of laughing.

A year of rain dancing and mountain climbing, a year of paddle buying and canoe trip leading.

A year of address changing.

A year of deep question asking

A year of meetings and long days in a cubicle

A year of language learning and poem reciting.

A year of climbing and of hiking, of dancing and of stretching

A year of coffee shops and life chats that lasted until the wee hours of the morning.

A year of geyser watching and waterfall chasing, of cave swimming and pouring rain zip lining.

A year of book reading and blog writing.

A year of coffee drinking and bread baking.

A year of bike riding and of long walk taking

A year of chasing the future and a year of quiet nights taking it the now

A year of back porch dreaming and fairy light hanging

A year of prayer and of pensiveness

A year of breathing deeply in Creation

A year of gratitude

A year of changed plans and positive attitudes

A  year of late night essay writing, of co-op interviewing, of office hours visiting, of difficult exam taking.

A year of duty and floor meetings, of loving residents and loving my teams

A year of bucket lists actually fulfilled

A year of inspiration

A year of loving people and of being alone

A year of contentment and of peace

A year of ignition, a year of climbing to the high diving board and getting ready to leap

A year of being spontaneous

A year of being unapologetic in pursuing who God created me to be.

Sometimes a year of anger, of fear, of frustration.

Mostly a year of hope and of joy.

Always a year of Jesus, a year of faithfulness, a year of promises fulfilled.

Thank you.

2018. I am ready for all you have to offer.

 

Quiet Moments in the Crazy, Busy, Goodness of a Life Being Lived as an Adventure

I can finally breathe.

I’m sitting in a coffee shop in the student neighbourhood beside campus, drinking tea, listening to the classic coffee shop music and enjoying watching the people come and go.

Today is the first day since the middle of August that I have nothing I absolutely have to do. No commitments and no responsibilities. Yes, I should study. And yes, if my residents ask me a question I’m going to answer it because that’s just me. Yes I could prep for my interviews next week or I could finally get around to balancing my budget for a trip I led or I could do the research I haven’t had time to do for my volunteer project. But honestly I’m going to take full advantage of this unexpected time off.

Let’s be real, if you know me, you probably know that I would never have planned a “nothing day”. I absolutely thrive when I am busy and productive and surrounded by friends and adventure. And so, that’s what I planned for this weekend. I planned my third Outdoor’s Club trip in three weeks. I planned to take 10 people to the Adirondack mountains in New York state, my first time to go there. I spent three weeks planning logistics and signing people up and running around collecting gear and making sure everything was ready to go and I packed my bag, ignoring the fact that I was tired and my weekends off were meant to be restful, not stressful.

See I’m not that good at saying “no”. And apparently I’m not that good at listening when God is trying to tell me to “stop”.

Let me tell you all the things that went wrong while I was planning this trip:
– People didn’t show up to sign up and we spent days running all over campus to collect money
– A driver dropped out
– Then we found another driver
– Another driver dropped out
– Then we convinced another exec member to come and be a driver
– Then we realized no one had sleeping bags or tents and all the club ones had been rented out
– So we spent the day before the trip running all over the neighbourhood, posting on Facebook and tracking down as many sleeping bags and tents as possible.
– Then we couldn’t find the stove we were planning to take
– Finally at 10:30am the DAY OF THE TRIP – a driver cancelled because they were sick. After everything else, I almost wasn’t even surprised.

So, I took one for the team and I didn’t go. We managed to squeeze everyone else into the remaining two cars and I stayed home, after three weeks of thinking, planning and preparing for the trip. I was really sad but after running through all the options, this was the only one that really made sense. I’m not looking for praise for sacrificing my trip for everyone else to be able to go (which is what I’ve gotten from a lot of friends) because honestly, it just reminded me of all the things I’ve learned about being a leader over the years. A leader puts the team before themselves – I wasn’t necessary to the trip and I didn’t HAVE TO go. There are two other leaders still there and I was the least necessary to the well-being of the trip because I didn’t have experience in the location. And as the president of the Outdoors Club, I put in so many hours of organization to allow other people to experience the wonder and transformation I’ve always felt outdoors. I didn’t want to take this experience away from anyone else and so it made sense for me to give up my adventure so others could have theirs. That’s what a leader does sometimes.

So here I am.

And last night and today as I was getting ready for my unexpected day off, I reminded myself that everything happens for a reason, that God the Father knows what I need long before I do. Although I thought what I needed was a day in the cold mountain air, a day spent pushing my body to it’s limits and climbing and doing something new, God had other plans. I have to continuously remind myself that when you surrender your life to God, you surrender the right to be angry when plans change. A long time ago I surrendered having total control over my life and I asked God to led me down the paths that are the BEST for me. Not just good or better but BEST.

Trust me, I thought the mountains were a good path. I still think it would have been a great weekend. But I can see God’s hand in this. If I truly believe that God knows me better than I know myself AND that He cares for me and gives good gifts (I do believe that), then I also have to trust when He changes plans on me. That belief also means trying my best to take changed plans with a positive attitude and an open heart to learn from whatever situation I find myself in. I think it wasn’t so much the mountain adventure that wasn’t God’s best for me – it was the constantly being responsible for others that I needed a break from. I didn’t even realize it before now but I think I needed a weekend to be just Sam. Not a CA, not a leader, not a student, not a friend or anything else. Just me.

I’m taking this “weekend off” as I nudge from God that I need to slow down. That I need to remember to do simple things, to have Sabbath times in my life, whether or not that ends up being a Sunday morning. I need to be taking time to breathe.

Today I am drinking coffee and taking time to blog. I’m going to go finish my book in the park and I’m going to go to the mall and buy new jeans. I might do some readings for class but only if I feel like it. I’m going to go for a long walk and listen to worship music and maybe see some friends. And tomorrow I’m going to go to church which I haven’t done in weeks because it’s been a month since I’ve been in Ottawa on a Sunday.

And come Monday, I’ll be back to my crazy life; don’t get me wrong, I love it. This semester is full of light and life and goodness and excitement. I’m actually really thriving in the busy, crazy goodness of it all. For the first time in a long time this season feels like I am exactly where I need to be. I feel like I am doing the Sam things and that God is preparing me to springboard into even more exciting seasons. I’m truly so so happy. I’m taking six classes in three languages and I’m in my favourite residence with amazing first years, I’m running a club that I love and am so passionate about and I’m volunteering with a food security project at the university. I’m applying for coop jobs and spending time with people who I am incredibly blessed to have in my life. I’m spending lots of time outside and lots of time with Jesus and my heart feels happy and full.

I just need to remember that it’s ok to take a break from the chaos, EVEN WHEN the chaos is GOOD. Life is crazy and busy and above all full of goodness and sweet, simple gifts from God. I just need to remember that it’s ok to say “I can’t sorry. I just need to go have a coffee and be Sam.”

Thank you Jesus for knowing what I need long before I do. I’m so blessed.

 

(Don’t) talk to strangers?

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I met these friends just two days before our adventure to Gatineau Park

Every little kid knows the rule growing up: don’t talk to strangers. And fair enough! The world is a dangerous place. Kids are vulnerable. You never know people’s true intentions. However as we get older, the narrative continues. Especially as a girl, I am continually encouraged to keep my guard up around people I just met, not to trust too quickly. Stranger danger becomes a way of life, a way of looking at the world.

While we definitely need to be thoughtful, wise and aware, I think that the intense and immediate distrust of strangers, the assumption that people are bad or dangerous until proven otherwise, is a communal mindset that drives us towards a more individualistic and frankly, more boring society. As children, yes, a blanket rule of thumb is required for safety. But as adults? I would argue that we all could use some more stranger “danger” in our lives. Not literal danger y’all, just a couple steps outside our comfort zones will do!

Choosing to interact with people you don’t know in a genuine and engaged way brings so much joy and interest to our day to day lives. It teaches teaches us about what true hospitality looks like and helps foster an encompassing sense of community that humanizes the “other”.

Friends have, I’m sure, heard me say it before, I may have even written it in the blog, that “strangers are just friends I haven’t met yet”. I don’t say that to be naïve. I’m not assuming everyone will like me and I’m not disregarding the fact that there are indeed dangerous people out there with malicious intentions. However, that is not the majority. Everyone you have ever known was a stranger at some point. Maybe you were introduced by a friend or had a class together and you got to know each other in what is societally considered a safe space.

But

Who’s to say that guy reading a book in the park isn’t also going to be super cool and share your love of skiing?

Unless you ask her, how will you know that the women sitting next to you on the bus has walked the entire Great Wall of China or that she has her pilots license or that she and her husband have the best love story you’ve never heard?

If you don’t talk to strangers you may never hear why someone would want to be vegan or how one goes about building their own sailboat or what it’s like to work in a brewery or what it’s like to be a diplomat in Syria. My parents always told me, “you can’t do everything”. They were right! But SOMEONE out there has done everything. Don’t you want to hear their stories?

Aside from being purely interesting, it also teaches us how to love more fully. Inviting someone into your life and into your space isn’t always easy and it may require a little bit of sacrifice. But choosing community and choosing hospitality is SO WORTH IT.

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In the woods, exploring with Remi, Jess and Mike

As many of you probably read last week I ended up going to Montréal by myself. While we’re on the subject, thank you all so much for the support! I received countless messages of encouragement after my plans got flipped on their head. Spontaneity and risk taking y’all, it pays off.  Now I could have spent all weekend exploring by myself but where’s the fun in that? I strongly believe that everything happens for a reason and so I couldn’t wait to get to know these people that had been unexpectedly thrown into my life. Getting to know people and hearing their life stories was one of my favourite parts about my trip to Iceland and I didn’t see why Montreal had to be any different!

 

I ended up meeting people from all over: Scotland, England, France, Germany, China, Australia, Brazil, etc. Everyone had different reasons for traveling, they were of all different ages and we spoke about all kinds of things, from music to politics to language learning to sailing to what it’s like to be Canadian. I wasn’t just talking to strangers. I made friends. 

And although it might have made my mom uneasy, I actually ended up inviting a couple of guys, David and Frank to stay at my apartment back in Ottawa with my roommates and I as they continued their Canadian adventures. You know what? It made my week having them there. Aside from the fact that they were completely respectable houseguests, they were also fun guys! We took them to see the light show on Parliament Hill, went to a karaoke bar, went to Blue’s fest and also just chatted. My roommates and I felt a little lonely when they finally moved onto the next leg of their trips, after each having spent 4 nights sleeping on our couch!

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David and Frank, our couch surfers. They were trying to see if the cucumber would scare our cat?

They were strangers. Who quickly became friends.

This isn’t the first time I’ve made fast friends about people and welcomed them into my life. There are a couple of people I’ve met through blogging/Youtube who I’ve actually met and hung out with in real life. There are a couple of girls I connected with on Facebook before coming to university who are still friends of mine. My host family in Switzerland were total strangers and they were some of the most wonderful and kind souls. Speaking of exchange, my current roommate is a girl I met in the airport on my way to Switzerland 3 years ago. Our other roommate was literally a stranger.  And you know what? I love them both so much it’s crazy.

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Roomie love

I’ve made friends with strangers in the park and random people on buses and in coffee shops. I’ve had fantastic conversations with people I will never see again. I’ve gotten to go on outdoor adventures with friends of friends of friends because I decided to talk to them.

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More strangers turned friends!

It’s scary to talk to strangers. They represent a total unknown. They could be rude. They could be having a bad day (in which case maybe a friendly banter with you is exactly what they need?). Maybe they re someone unlike anyone else you know – and maybe that makes you uncomfortable. Maybe they have incredible stories to tell and maybe you’ll find them incredibly boring.

But try. Invite someone to have coffee with you. Treat acquaintances with more warmth and hospitality than they are expecting. Smile at the man standing next to you at the cross walk. Take time to step outside of the individual bubble we’ve all taught ourselves to walk about in. Start seeing people as the complex, puzzling, dazzling pieces of art that they are. I promise that your life will become infinitely richer with each story you tell, each face that becomes familiar and each human being you choose to call friend instead of stranger.

Until next time

 

Sam

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Ready for an afternoon paddle – with a bunch of total “strangers” as per the usual!