Ryan pokes his head through the kitchen door and greets us in his typical sing-song British fashion. “Jogger Pairs!” he exclaims, unlacing his military boots to join us at the table, “very nice.” I squint at him quizzically, trying to decipher what new British terminology he is now introducing. For the past month, Ryan and his wife Leah have been tutoring us in the wild and wonderful subject of British Anglicisms: “Pudding” is dessert and “custard” is pudding. “Asian” is South Asian and “car boot” is a trunk. What, I wonder, are “Jogger Pairs”? Is he referring to someone’s sweat pants? So I ask.
“You know,” he answers, gesturing to the jug of pears sitting on the table, “jogger pairs!”
Ryan is a rare species to me – one of few straight males I know interested enough in home decor to actually notice and compliment a jug of pears. He’s the same way with cooking and fashion. His wife Leah is a lovely, soft-spoken, blue-eyed, innocent looking creature with a handbag fetish (in England, a “purse” is for coins), a case of dormant road rage and opinions to match. I myself am a closet Britofile, absolutely tickled to pieces that God has chosen to drop this idiosyncratically cute yet powerhouse couple off on the front step of our humble little church.
Bristol Meets Vancouver
God sent them on loan to us for four brief months. The day before they flew off to Canada, two year-old daughter Elizabeth in tow, they had looked up local Vancouver churches on the internet and stumbled upon ours. They landed on a Thursday and that very next Sunday, walked through the church doors. Within moments, they said, they felt like they were at home. Our church family did not dispute!
Ryan and Leah balk neither at cultural diversity nor at economic differences. Our church has plenty of both. Ryan is a music therapist who had a hand in starting a non-profit prison ministry in Bristol and Leah is a teacher and trainer with experience in social work. Their daughter is now three, and though she is their only child, she was not their first. As newlyweds, Leah and Ryan bravely took on the task of fostering then-11 year-old spark plug and bundle of energy, Isaac. At a high personal cost, they parented the spiritual orphan like he was their own. They persevered through tantrums, vandalism, finger-biting moments of fear and insecurity and yet many sweet moments of grace.
Christ’s command to love the unloveable permeates Leah and Ryan’s attitude to life. Their stay with our church family was short. And that much the sweeter. It was a needed reprieve for, I think, both us and them. It’s a long haul when we are convinced that to be a Christian is to live a life of service: We desire to live incarnationally. We walk prayerfully through storms. We hold hands with the younger in faith and younger in experience. We dodge landmines of loss, frustration and disappointment. And we cling on to God’s promises of the here but not-yet Kingdom.
And every now and then, we taste fleeting moments of harmony and unity without strife. These are moments when a young British family arrives unannounced on your Canadian church doorstep and slides seamlessly into your community life.
Leah and Ryan have introduced me to the Great British Bake-off, to the wonders of Fruit cake (the older the better…mmm…years even), to the English fixation with old houses and to the art of having good conversation over dinner that will last into the wee hours of the morning . But most importantly, this lovely trio of globetrotters reminded me that God is bigger than cultural divides, far larger than the span of the ocean, and continually at work in weaving together the story of redemption, even half-way across the world.
Spoiler alert: It’s a Canadian perspective, eh?
The last time I was in the US of A on Independence day, we were in Charlotte, North Carolina in 2011. I’m sad to say it was slightly anti-climactic. In comparison, 2013 was… a cupcake…literally.
Approaching our hotel in the city on July 3, I already felt my excitement beginning to mount. South street is a hipster kind of deal, stretching for miles with no grass and lots of cute little townhouse looking colonial buildings squished up together amongst unique boutiques and restaurants. Our hotel was down the street from a stern and aged ornate kind of city hall, surrounded by antique churches with cemeteries and brick buildings with character, sitting on top of hidden eighties-style underground malls. Parking is a nightmare. But once parked, we were able to freely explore.
Lesson 1: From now on when I travel to big cities, I will choose hotels in central locations over suburbs or ‘burrows’ as the east coasters call them.
Then July 4th happened. It was singularly fascinating. Andrew and the kids partook of the free historical Once Upon a Nation Story-telling Benches tour. I and my sister-in-law went wander-shopping and philly cheese steak hunting. But the cupcakes!
We stumbled upon 1776 cupcakes that were free and frosted red, white and blue, nestled neatly on a 30 foot L shaped table to resemble a huge Stars and Stripes banner. In the light of my particular love affair with baked goods and party planning, it was intoxicating. I had read online the night before about this nation’s ‘largest street party’, without expecting that we would actually be able to weave our way through the crowds to find it. So I was dizzy with excitement to actually unwittingly stumble upon it and end up being 15th in line, in air conditioning, while the rest of the line, in hundreds, snaked around the block several times in sweltering heat. It would be the cake that fed 2000 people. Historic in a kitchsy Americana Biggest and Best kind of way. So our blind exploring had us line up for half an hour, taking turns to hold the line whilst the other two went for water and bathroom breaks in the Philadelphia Visitor Center.
Lesson 2: Research and plan for your trip. I know. State the obvious. But I’m not a natural trip planner. And since my sister-in-law and husband are information hound-dogs, I tend to sit back and let them loose. I follow their trail and it usually takes me to good places. But I know if I hadn’t taken that little bit of effort to do a google search or two and click on one or two links, I wouldn’t have known ahead of time what those cupcakes were for and I wouldn’t have had the presence of mind to quickly nab a spot in line. It pays to be informed.
This is my husband Andrew to the hilt.
He’s on a bike, the best way to see the spacious, heavily regulated, tourist-infested National Mall in Washington DC. He’s learning about his roots and soaking up American history (he has American/Canadian dual citizenship). He’s following his nose, shunning all maps. He’s here before all the other tourists are awake, he’s on a free bike rental, and he’s doing a wheelie in front of the Jefferson Memorial. Andrew has to have the best of everything, before everyone else, at a frenetic high pace, and ideally for free.
We were in DC with Andrew’s sister, Grace. She is used to keeping pace with Andrew; it’s second nature for her. She doesn’t bat an eye hopping over curbs, down National Monument stairs and across busy intersections on a bicycle. I, on the other hand, just want to play it safe, stay on the sidewalk, freakishly tie myself to a map and go slow, praying that I just don’t hit my shins on the pedals or get my purse caught in the chains. It is a good thing that being married to Andrew for twelve years has already taught me a thing or two about biking and a thing or two about following others into new territory. Keeping pace with him for the past twelve years is probably a hundred blog entries and a whole book unto itself. Suffice it to say that being partnered with such a high energy person has been one massive hardcore lesson in other-centered living. For both of us.
Before we were married, Andrew was a youth group leader. When he took his group on road trips, much to the chagrin of the other leaders, he would promptly lose their tail and his car would show up alone at the destination, minutes ahead of the rest. He would have, of course, unwittingly left the other cars behind, confused and directionless. Soo, another leader, would eventually arrive, convulsing with fury. Over the years, Soo and Andrew suffered at each others’ hands (or personalities, really) and gradually eked out a system of friendship where both had to change.
I find this ironic because Soo and Andrew are actually two of the naturally kindest and most compassionate people I know. I suppose when we walk in friendship with someone, no matter how similar or dissimilar they may be, God will bring us to bridges that can only be crossed by mutual understanding, patience and Christ-likeness. I love the familiar old words from Scripture: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4, ESV).
On the panel of the southwest interior wall of the Jefferson Memorial, you can find excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, among which appear the apparently ‘self-evident truths’ – “…that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. But when our pursuit of happiness conflicts with someone else’s pursuit of happiness, perhaps we need to recognize that the pursuit of holiness actually precedes and provides true happiness.
Perhaps biting my tongue, swallowing my pride, and following thirty feet behind on a bicycle might actually bring surprisingly pleasant results.
(Photo Credit: Grace Cheung)