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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Soul-Deep Contentment 


My mouth is dry and my legs ache. They’ve been contained, squished into small seat rows for the last 9 and a half hours. I’m out of water and I need to pee but the people beside me are both asleep. I’m not tired although I wish I could sleep to make the time pass faster. I also wish I had food other than a crumpled half eaten chocolate bar. 

And yet, there is this soul deep, contentment in my bones. I am on an adventure, a knowledge that keeps a smile dancing on my lips all day and ushers a long exhale of peace from my lungs. So many times I’ve prayed, begging God to give me opportunities to explore, to experience the world. Now here I am. Tired and cramped but soaring above the sea, headed to a place I’ve never been. My heart is so full of anticipation. Today all I’ve been able to think about is how GOOD my God is and how he truly does give us the desires of our hearts. It’s not always when we expect Him to, or in the way we hope but He gives great gifts. 

Like 3 short days in a magical country because He knows it will refresh and sustain my soul’s craving for adventure. He made me an adventurer, a risk taker, an off the beaten path, challenging the status quo, all heart and curiosity questioner. He KNOWS what I need to be fulfilled. Obviously I can’t (at this point in my life) just up and travel the world whenever I so please but it’s these little gifts – the kind of crazy ideas that I get and just feel in my gut that the Lord is telling me to go for – these little things that remind me again and again how much he cares for us. 

As I’ve acknowledged here more than once I do have a bit of a one track mind – I tend to latch onto an idea and go after it with all that I have. What can I say, I’m a passionate woman. This all in attitude however can also make me miss the small gifts that come in between the big milestones in life. Over the last couple of years, God has been teaching me more and more how to let go of the reins so to speak. To trust that the big things will come…and to embrace all the little detours in between. Just because I’m a student doesn’t mean I can’t also be a traveller. And just because a particular adventure doesn’t seem to lead towards a future goal doesn’t mean it’s not worth having. I’ve spent a lot of time wondering when I’ll get to go to Nepal and forgetting that there are SO many other places in this work I want to see. God wants me in Nepal, He’ll get me there when the time is right. Until then, I need to start grasping every opportunity I get that makes my eyes light up and my soul feel alive. Whether it’s taking an afternoon off studying to go skating or booking a trip to Iceland just for the pure joy of it, life is for living. And that’s something I’m trying to learn to be “all in” for. It doesn’t mean I’ll stop pursuing my future – I believe God calls us all to make full use of every moment we have. Sometimes, the best and fullest use of my time is studying hard and going to 3 meetings, 4 classes, a study group and a volunteer commitment before going home and cooking dinner (heck yeah I love being busy!). And other times, I’m coming to learn, God gives us times that are MEANT to renew us and bring us pure joy – GIFTS rather than things to accomplish.  I can’t believe that I’m lucky enough to know a God who creates opportunities for me to travel and meet new people and breath in fresh Arctic air. 

I’m also oddly excited to be by myself. Probably the first time any of you have heard that coming from this extrovert 😂. But it’s freeing to just be totally self-governed for a few days. No one else to consult or worry about or check up on. I can do whatever I want whenever I want. Want to stop and have a coffee in a cute cafe? Imma do it! Want to spend forever in the museum? I can! I’m really excited to just have totally autonomy and control over my adventure. It’s really Sam’s grand adventure and no one else’s! The other side of it is that I’m excited to meet other people. The type that frequent hostels tend to have all kinds of stories and experiences to share and I can’t wait to hang out and listen and learn from other adventurers. 

So yeah, I’m not super comfy at the moment. But my heart is happy and I am grateful to be in motion. Over the Christmas break I saw the new Disney movie Moana and ever since I’ve been telling anyone who listen (which is not a lot of people hahaha) that I’ve never identified so strongly with a Disney princess before. It might sound silly since she’s a Polyonuasian girl who sails the sea with a Demi God and I am a Canadian university student but for real, hear me out. I’ve always felt really connected to nature and particularly to water – swimming, sailing, canoing, rowing. You name it and if it means I can be on the water, I’m there. But that’s the shallow part. Her intense desire to see more than what is in front of her and her craving to explore resonated so deeply with me. Her stubbornness in learning to wayfind reminded me of the way I myself have dug in my heels to perfect skills – navigation aptly included. Her love for her family combined with her inner pull to voyage reminded me of my exchange – everything seemed to go wrong and my parents wanted it all to just stop but I pushed back because I KNEW it was part of God’s plan for me. The desires and passions that seem to literally feel like a fire in my heart drive me. Just like Moana feels the call to the sea in every fibre of her being because it is who her people were meant to be, I feel the wanderlust and pull to the mountains so deeply that I can only believe that God created me this way. 

Most of all, Moana goes after her dreams and she has an incredible adventure that alters the entire future of her people. I want to be someone who goes after her destiny and leaves an impact on this world. I don’t need fortune or fame. But I want to use all my energy, talent, passion, intelligence, love and time to DO SOMETHING and show other people what it means to live a life of all out, soulful pursuit. 

My trip to Iceland may not be the epic journey that Moana takes to the island of Ta’fiti but I does give me a settled assurance that but by bit, day by day, bus by train by plane, I am following the complex and beautiful plan that God has for  me. Who knows who I’ll meet and how it will shape the way I approach my future adventures? If nothing else, I will get to explore beside towering waterfalls, have conversations with strangers over cups of coffee and breathe deeply in Creation. My soul will be satisfied by the place but more importantly by the knowledge that the One who created it cares for the desires of my heart. I don’t know about you, but that’s good enough for me. For now, I’ll watch the stars just out my window and dream about the geysers, glaciers and hot springs that await me. 

-until next time, Sam

“At night we name every star, we know who we are, we know who we are, who we are…we are explorers reading every sign” -We Know the Way, Moana. 


Roots

Curled roots with deep dug holds in the dirt,

the dirt and rock

of the place I call home.

This land has twisted itself into every fibre of my being.

Growing up riding

on Dad’s shoulders, hikes through

Awenda and summer nights spent

learning how to imitate a barn owl

“Who cooks for you, who cooks for you, who cooks for you allllll”.

Setting fires, long lazy debates about

log cabin or teepee styles,

an afternoon spent rubbing sticks together

and wishing for sparks.

Butterfly catching

and fishing,

holding snakes and thinking

how cool it is to live in Canada.

Swimming until my parents swore I must be part fish,

doing everything to be on the water.

Put me in a rowboat, a sailboat, a canoe,

I need to be out there.

Laughter ringing through the woods,

recounting tales that made me known as

the storyteller.

Long hilly trails,

tears and sweat under a solo portaged canoe,

the moment when you finally see the water again.

Weeks of my life spent in the wilderness of Temagami.

Months of my life spent on the Island of Beausoleil.

All the years of my life, spent on the rocky, hilly, grassy, sandy, forest filled, sunshine blazing, cold air in the morning country of Canada.

Home.

Now, I wake up in the middle of the night,

to firetrucks raging down the road outside my downtown window.

My tent stays wrapped, buried in my closet, next to my backpack.

Sometimes I wear my hiking boots to school.

My souls cries out for

trees and wide spaces

for sunrises and quiet places.

For rainy afternoons on the back porch with a guitar,

for heart to hearts in a tent in the dark,

for swearing we were about to be eaten by a bear

and actually being woken by a raccoon in the cabin.

For quiet songs by the campfire,

glazed eyes entranced by the dancing flames and crackling leaves.

For moments of feeling small, laying

under the stars.

Talking about the future

or wondering who used to do the same things

long ago.

I can’t feel the earth beneath all this concrete.

The buildings wrap tendrils

around my lungs,

make it hard to breathe deeply;

they make it hard to truly be me.

 

 

 

Illuminating Faith

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen; not only because I have seen it but because by it I see everything else – C. S. Lewis

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I wrote this quote in my journal on Sunday, intending to ponder it some more when I got some spare time (hahahahah) and today it suddenly started appearing everywhere I looked. I saw it on Twitter, it was used as two Instagram captions on my feed and a friend quoted it out loud to me. I figured I was supposed to take notice. Here are my thoughts today.

This weekend I went on a canoe trip with a bunch of complete strangers. I have to say, no matter who you are with, there is something absolutely magical about sitting around a campfire, dark skies and crackling wood. I, for one, am mesmerized by fire. Aside from the beauty of it, campfires seem to spark vulnerability. 

Strangers. A diverse group. Undergrads and PhD candidates and people who weren’t even students anymore. Canadians and exchange students. 9 people in the woods together by chance. And yet sitting around a campfire answering questions like “what do you care about”, “what is your biggest dream in life”, “tell us about a place that means something to you”. Vulnerability. All weekend, I had this total peace of being exactly where I was supposed to be, knowing firmly that God had placed me on this trip, with these people for reasons I will never fully comprehend.

In the canoe during the day, mentioning my faith and ending up having life chats about how good and faithful my God is. Praying with and being prayed for by a total stranger because my God doesn’t do randomness; He always has a plan.

In the tent at night having long discussions about faith in the darkness, trying desperately to explain how present Jesus can be in my life; struggling to show two new friends (both atheists) how I look around at the fiery changing trees and the lake, misty at dawn, and see the hand of an incredible artist. How it makes me want to shout praises at the top of my lungs. How faith is so much more than naively pushing logic aside to feel comfortable. Not being very convincing and yet having one of them ask me the next morning as I sat by the water if I was thinking about God’s role in my life. I think he was teasing me and yet, my heart smiled at the thought that something I said had stuck with him even a bit.

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Being able to breath in fresh air.

Listening to stories as sparks rise up in the smoke. Getting to know people’s passions and histories and dreams and senses of humour.

Getting lost on the way there and getting locked out of the car on the way home.

Climbing to the top of a cliff to look out over the trees and water, having to sit and catch my breath but knowing in that moment how blessed I am to be able bodied and alive.

Writing a list in my journal titled “Things I am Grateful for Today” and having it spill over and fill more than 4 pages.

Lazily waking up to the sound of rain on the tent walls, smiling at a friend while everyone else still sleeps and not moving, just enjoying the quiet of morning.

The way nature has a way of evoking prayer from my every breath, connecting me to Creator God and making every other thought one of praise and thanks.

Laughter

Singing

Cold mud squishing between my toes as I push a canoe off the shore, almost tipping it over

Kneeling alone in a canoe pivoting and paddling, circling the small island where everyone sits eating lunch. Pride and contentment in the satisfaction of practicing skills I worked so hard for. Getting to share those skills with others, sharing my passions

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Sharing “no-bakes” with people

Racing the other boats, laughing and yelling as the two boys in my boat splash me in our excitement to win.

Cooking food over a fire, slightly burnt and smoky, better than anything I’ve had in weeks

Hugging goodbye at the end of the weekend, promises of sharing pictures, Facebook requests, catching each other for a drink sometime. Hugs from friends, no longer strangers

This weekend was one of complete rejuvenation. It filled my soul and gave me joy. In a place I’d never been, God catered to my heart’s desire for adventure. He gave me people to love even for just a short period of time. He gave me natural beauty and deep questions and conversations that went past the surface. He gave me a time of prayer and vision and hope for the future.

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I don’t believe in Jesus just because of faith. I believe in Jesus because I see Him permeate every aspect of my life. He is active and present. He gives GOOD gifts. He is faithful. He fulfills the desires of our hearts. He rejoices in our success and is the quiet whisper of peace and grace when we struggle. He is a master storyteller, weaving threads I would have missed, never forgetting a single detail, introducing characters at just the right time, crafting a plot of adventure and victory. Like the sun, He illuminates my days, allowing me to see the world as a place that is inherently good and full of light, despite the darkness that seems to swallow the streets and fill the news.

Today, I had a hard day. Mondays are long for me and this was not a very nice one. But God is present. Today, this quote by C.S. Lewis (one of my favourite authors) was all the reminder I needed of His faithfulness today and everyday.

This weekend is my answer to my friends in the tent when they ask how I know God is real.

Faith is the choice to put God’s perfect gifts into perspective.

Joyful until next time, Sam

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