Long time no blog!
For the past ten days, I have been in beautiful, bare, COLD Otterburne, Manitoba. Finally visiting Johnny’s school for the first time, meeting and getting to know his friends, and understanding his life here, and man, it has been like a dream to be able to do so.
I took off last Thursday afternoon from Hamilton, after a beautiful day with my sister to celebrate her birthday. I had planned homework and readings for the plane ride over, but instead found myself mesmerized by the overview of God’s world, humbled beyond words at His sovereignty, and just submitted myself to worship and prayer over the week. The Lord calmed my anxious heart and stilled me before Him as I prayed for those back home, and those I’d soon be seeing, and just that God would be glorified in and through this entire trip.
When the plane landed, my whole body filled with anticipation and excitement about just seeing Johnny. I’d told everyone as I was leaving: I keep forgetting I’m going on a plane, going to Manitoba… I’m just so excited to be with the person I’m in love with.
Exiting the plane, my phone dead, I was bursting with excitement and love, hoping Johnny would be right on the other side of the tunnel– but I had to wander to the top of a flight of stairs instead, which, at the bottom of, was Johnny, with a bouquet of red roses and wearing a smile that melted my heart more than it did two years ago. All the missing and praying and looking only and forever to Jesus of the past month of plunged me down that massive flight of stairs and into Johnny’s arms, and for a moment it was as if we were the only two people in the airport.
We grabbed food quickly before heading to Johnny’s hockey game, through big city Winnipeg into completely bare, prairie towns. Johnny decided to play in the hockey game despite us having missed the first half. I had been anticipating meeting many of the people Johnny has been telling me about for about a year and a half, and being able to actually be in this his everyday life was surreal. It took forever to sink in.
I sat with Johnny’s best friend’s girlfriend, LaDawn, and some of her friends to watch the end of the hockey game before meeting Johnny’s three best friends, and other friends on the hockey team. LaDawn and her friend Janelle, as well as everyone else I met, were so welcoming, and talking to them right away just made me so excited for new friendships. Again, I felt humbled and hyper-aware of how BIG the world is– how many people the Lord calls child, calls to relationship with him, and how easy it is to walk, rather, in our own bubbles.
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. EPHESIANS 4:4-6
One of the most prominent things I have learned in the midst of long distance dating is the vitality of genuine selflessness, and how much it is God’s whole heart. Oftentimes when I am just missing Johnny and pray, I am filled with joy reminded that God is always with him, loving him better than I could, more fully than I could… more period than I could even imagine. Worldly distance is nothing to God, so why should it be a major battle in our relationship?
Ha. Well, it is. It certainly can be. By no means are we perfect at it. But He is!
That night I also met lovely Jamie, Jay’s, another one of Johnny’s closest friends, girlfriend who soon became one of my roommates and beautiful hostesses, in addition to beautiful Raychel. They welcomed me in as if I were a long lost best friend, and we all bonded the moment we met. The gratitude I had for such welcomeness God used to remind me what an important piece this is in life. These girls understood that I was in a foreign place, and so went out of their ways– in the midst of school busyness, in their small shared dorm room, and in their gracious words– to make me feel so at home.
I woke up the next morning with the girls feeling like I’d known them a long time.
Johnny gave me a tour of the school the next morning, and, when meeting new people and being asked how I had been enjoying my time so far, I kept repeating that it was “surreal– my favourite thing was meeting all these faces.” How neat it was that a little university college in Manitoba could be so exciting to me, I later told Jamie. Her everyday routine was my spontaneous adventure.
Speaking of spontaneity, briefly I must touch on the fact that merely a year ago, a trip like this would have terrified me for the sole reason of food. (To read about my healing from an eating disorder, head here, here, and then here.
Now, the idea of not seeing Johnny and his life and having this chance to be with him because I would not be in control of food not only sounds ridiculously selfish, it sounds laughable, worthless, and downright sad.
Figuring out what I would eat while here was one of the little details we had to pay attention to, though, as Johnny’s school is about an hour away from Winnipeg, the nearest big city, which is where grocery stores are, too. Johnny’s already paid to eat in his caf, but paying by meal would have been quite expensive for me, so we loaded up on groceries that first day, and Johnny had arranged for me to cook at his soccer teammate and friend, Herby’s, house. Twice we went there and I cooked different meals in bulk to keep in Johnny’s dorm fridge for meals for the few weeks. I also bought tons of snacks, and easy foods for breakfast and lunch. It was almost too easy, coming out of the mindset I was once in.
One of the meals I made that would serve five massive dinners over the week was my Pad Thai! I kept it cheap, not grabbing any of the spices I would usually use, but I’m taking the opportunity to share my staple recipe for it. This filling meal is one I don’t think I could get sick of.
Chicken Pad Thai
1 rotisserie chicken, cooked and diced (alternatively, use 600g chopped, cooked chicken of choice; I recommend a mix of white and dark meat for more flavour)
1 T grapeseed oil
2 T basil
2 T garlic powder
2 teaspoons chilli powder
5 teaspoons brown sugar
2 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup peanut butter
1 white onion, diced
2 cups broccoli florets
1 red bell pepper
1 package rice noodles, cooked and drained
- In a small dish, combine all spices with peanut butter and enough hot water to make a pourable consistency; stir well.
- Make sure your rice noodles are cooked and rinsed according to package. In a medium skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, and cook 3-5 minutes, or until translucent. Add broccoli and peppers and sauté until tender, 5-7 minutes. Create a space in the centre of the pan, pushing veggies to outside of the pan. Crack in eggs, and scramble in centre of skillet, adding more oil if necessary. Stir chicken into skillet, and then incorporate pasta. Pour peanut sauce over mixture, and toss to coat everything thoroughly.
- Top with crushed cashews, peanuts, bamboo shoots, and/or green onions, if desired.
Speaking of cooking, at Herby’s– another one of my favourite parts of this entire trip. Herby’s house is one of the most welcoming places I’ve ever been. I’d asked Johnny– “are you sure he’ll be okay with us using his house?”
Johnny told me Herby had said, “Of course– my kitchen is your kitchen.”
And that was totally how I felt. I caught myself, while cooking, feeling as though I’d cooked in that kitchen many times before. It was a full house of students, and each time a new person walked in, I didn’t feel in any way strange about being a stranger in their kitchen. I was wholeheartedly, joyfully welcomed and accepted.
I could talk about the welcoming greeting I felt from many of the people I’ve got to meet here– like Maddie, whose coffee shop we visited, where I had one of the many lattes I’d be sampling throughout my time in Manitoba. Johnny spoiled me much too much on this trip, insisting on paying for too many things and on my trying lattes where I always say it’s not worth the money. It was certainly a selfless act on his part, as he’s grown to love and care about my passion for coffee shops, even though it’s not something we share.
Here, the coffee spots we visited:
- Good Earth Coffeehouse
- Coffee Culture
- Espresso Junction
- Oakridge Cafe
We shopped that same day as visiting Maddie’s coffee shop, and even just that ordinary act of walking in the mall together felt like such a privilege. Time together for Johnny and I is not taken for granted– but it doesn’t mean we’re perfect at making it intentional, nor, have I learned, do we need to be.
Some of our time this week was spent just watching The Office, others of it listening to a sermon; some conversations very intentional, and others goofy and relaxed. And that’s just life, too– we can’t expect grandiose plans or picture-perfection out of the people in our lives. Since giving my life to Jesus, He’s debunked those lies that say I should live for myself, or pleasure, or to be served, and rather live for others, for joy, and TO serve Him. This attitude, I pray, He continues to colour my life with.
One of my favourite little parts of the week was one of my first nights here, when Johnny, his three best friends, their girlfriends, and some other friends used one of the school business rooms to project the new “It” movie for all of us to watch. Over sour keys and more laughs than screams, it was more special for me than I can put to words to just be chilled with Johnny’s friends. And by the end of the week, many of them became mine, too.
Yet another pair of these special, welcoming people were Tim and his girlfriend Maddie, who took us flying in a little plane.
Tim is in school to become a pilot, and he kindly and professionally took us up in the air in a me-size plane.
And, similarly to my plane ride here, I found myself in awe of God’s creation, laughing at my own smallness and humbled before His mightiness.
Over the next several days, Johnny’s school very quickly began to feel like home. I couldn’t thank Braeden, Hunter, and Jay enough for treating me like they’d always known me, and putting obvious effort into getting to know me.
And Jamie, Jay’s girlfriend and my roommate, has quickly become someone who feels more like a long lost sister. I couldn’t begin to put to words the selfless way this lady took me in, learned genuinely who I am and cared to get to know me, and walked alongside me. Through endless laughs, late nights talking, double dates, and long talks over coffee, Jamie, I feel like I’ve been doing life with you for much longer than this blissful little week. I have a strong inkling you’ll be a big part of my life forever.
Just as special was the chance Jamie and I had to have coffee with LaDawn, this bubbly, sweet soul who I was so grateful to get to know as well. Bonding over our boyfriends’ love for each other, their many similarities, and our many similarities has felt like a long time coming for me. And how looking to the Lord, submitting to Him as head and loving Him first and fore mostly, ahead of our guys, was the utmost important and umbrella of our relationships.
Again, not that any of us are perfect at it. Or even close. How blessed we are to have the perfect GOD we do.
Do not turn aside from any of the commands I give you today, to the right or to the left, following other gods and serving them. Deuteronomy 28:14
Our triple date evening was a trip to the Old Spaghetti Factory and, Winnipeg’s most famous attraction, The Forks, a beautifully lit skating trail with a fun and vibrant little market.
As terrible as I am at skating, and as AMAZING Johnny is, Johnny hung back with me and patiently, expectantly, and lovingly took his time to teach me, confident in my ability to improve. 50% of my then improving and skating more confidently than I ever have, then, was Johnny’s amazing, unconditionally loving attitude. Which carried straight through when my hands froze and started bleeding, I couldn’t feel my fingers, and we went inside early. When everyone got mini donuts and nothing seemed to be dairy-free, Johnny didn’t stop till we found a cafe that was open and served something I could enjoy too. I watch and feel and experience his spirit put me before himself time and time again, and know that this ultimately comes from his heart to serve his God. Thank-you, my dear Johnny, for teaching me what love looks like in sooo many ways.
And one of the coolest things for me has been growing in understanding Johnny’s love and passion for sports. Getting to watch him play hockey, and practice soccer, all on teams with awesome people he has grown to love and care so much for felt, too, like such a special privilege. His athleticism blows my mind!
As my time here draws to an end, and this weekend is full of low-key studying, I am reminded sadly of just how precious it is to be typing here next to the man I love as he studies. Even as he bugs me, pushes his hands in my face, playfully tries to push me off my chair. It feels normal and it is, but knowing missing each other certainly makes it difficult to go from being with each other constantly to not at all for a stretch of time. Simply put, he is my best friend.
And, I am constantly reminded, forever and always looked after and tended to through and by the Holy Spirit, who will continue to love him and grow him and draw him to love Jesus, and thus love like Jesus, more every day, and does not need me to do so. Our lives are for God, together or apart. Just like all the beautiful people I met here, who I am also sad to leave.
Though I am so, forever grateful we made this trip, as it was worth any money, any minor inconveniences, to be a part of the life Johnny’s been living and the people he’s been serving. To see the way people so clearly look up to him in this place. To be answered in prayer that the Lord is not done with him here. He’s not only teaching and growing Johnny here in ways he didn’t expect– He’s using Johnny in important ways in the lives of others. I need only support, and live the life He’s called me to.
I’m not saying it’s easy to be apart. It so is not. But God shows us the why and the how in this season.