It was one year ago today that we left our apartment in Montréal for the drive west, back to BC. Tears were shed as we left the city and province we’d grown to love, and our daughter who came with us and stayed there.
This was also when we realized how wide-spread COVID was! It’s one thing to have a local emergency, but going through town after town, and province after province, and seeing the same protocols in place brought us face-to-face with the magnitude of it.
So, how have we transitioned, coming back in the midst of lockdown? We came back to our “familiar world”, but in an unfamiliar context. As recently as last week, people were saying, “oh, you’re back now” because we hadn’t seen them since we returned (let alone the year before). And yes, of course, we are back, back in our careers, church, and home, but in the same way that our world has been impacted and changed, so have we.
We have engaged with the local French cultural centre to the extent that we have been allowed to. We are more mindful of the “other” amongst us, having felt that as essentially unilingual anglos when we arrived in French Canada. Our radar is up for multicultural opportunities. We were in a coffee shop soon after our return and heard conversations around us taking place in languages other than English; we both sighed contentedly at that experience, and commented on how it reminded us of “home.”
The online reality necessitated by COVID has been a blessing too. We have numerous people we video chat with weekly or monthly who are still in Montréal. We had no expectation on our arrival in Québec, pre-2020, that this would become part of a new normal. We are so thankful for those continued connections!
So, yes, one year later, we are home and happy to be here. But, in the same way that we missed BC when we were living in Québec, we still miss Québec. We have essentially sentenced ourselves to lives of discontent, knowing there is always a home we aren’t in: loving where God has us, but missing the other place God has put in our heart!
Context—we bought a car this month to haul our stuff back to BC. This has allowed us to travel beyond Montréal’s public transit system for the first time since October.
PAST—first order of business with the car we are trusting to bring us across Canada was a road trip, so we loaded up, picked up Jaedyn, and headed 1000 km east, to the Gaspésie. It was here that my dad was born, and I believe that instilled a love for Québec in me on some subconscious level.
After nearly a year in a very urban setting, it was great to get out of the city. The Gaspésie is gorgeous! Most significant for me; however, was connecting with my family’s history. Thanks to my cousin who got in touch with her friend who, in turn, contacted people in Sandy Beach (my dad’s birthplace), I was able to meet the sons of one of my dad’s childhood friends, learn that they still call the place my dad grew up (which one of them owns) “the Harbour property,” and was able to go to the cemetery at St. John’s Anglican and literally find my grandparents’ gravestone as we drove up to the church!
PRESENT—as mentioned, we now have a car. Jaedyn has moved into her own place too. We are still doing our nominal custodial duties for the church’s apartment building where we have been able to live, and are doing the last few things to conclude our internship here, including some “good bye” visits. As mentioned in our last post, the things we are doing won’t really change though. We will continue with our small group from Église Gospelvie, and connecting with friends to help them with their English.
We have been thrilled to finally welcome guests again as Québec has begun to open up. Val’s brother & wife came from Calgary for the (cancelled) F1 race. We seem destined to have epic difficulties when it comes to seeing races live. Five years ago, we were in Austin, TX for the US Grand Prix the year a hurricane all but cancelled the race! However, Dan & I were able to walk to course the day the race was supposed to be run, and we went up to Québec City overnight together, which was poised to reopen the day after we got back to Montréal. It was still unusually quiet, but that did not diminish our time there.
FUTURE—this has the least certainty, of course! On some levels we are sad to leave Montréal; our daughter is staying here, we have made good friends, and we have seen God’s faithfulness when we haven’t had our own structures and systems to rely upon. And, despite the lack of money, not having a set work schedule (once we finished classes) has been wonderful. In some ways, it has been a sniff at what retirement may look like! However, our new Zoom reality means we’re not leaving our Montréal connections. We can still visit face-to-face whenever we want.
At the same time, we are excited to return to BC! I was reading 1 Thessalonians this morning. In chapter 1:3-4, Paul says “It is clear to us, friends, that God not only loves you very much but also has put his hand on you for something special. When the Message we preached came to you, it wasn’t just words. Something happened in you. The Holy Spirit put steel in your convictions.”
Something has happened to us here. We are not the same people who arrived last August. We have been impacted by the Québécois people and culture, and are excited to figure out how that new piece of our lives will be used for “something special” in BC.
A couple of final notes--
Richard Rohr recently wrote about liminality, a word that, if I’m completely honest, I did not know. However, as soon as I read it, I knew that I “knew” it!
He said that “Liminal space is an inner state and sometimes an outer situation where we can begin to think and act in new ways. It is where we are betwixt and between, having left one room or stage of life but not yet entered the next. We usually enter liminal space when our former way of being is challenged or changed—perhaps when we lose a job or a loved one, during illness, at the birth of a child, or a major relocation. It is a graced time, but often does not feel “graced” in any way. In such space, we are not certain or in control. This global pandemic we now face is an example of an immense, collective liminal space.”
I like this explanation.
This is our, and everyone’s, current reality. Present experience gives us time to rethink the way things are done.
Living in this liminal space has thrown our initial plans out the window. Now, we’re looking at new ways of connecting that we wouldn’t have considered before quarantine happened.
In that regard, we realize that we no longer have two plans, one for our last couple of months in Québec and another to launch upon our return to BC, but one. As Zoom, Facetime, Google Hangout, and Messenger video chats have become de rigueur, we are seeing people from across town and across the country every day. Why do we need to stop that? We don’t!
So we started a new group online this week! For now, it just has people from Montréal, but the plan, hope, and prayer is that this group will start to incorporate people from the Okanagan, living life and grappling with matters of faith together—authentic community, while creating more BC/Québec connections!
Otherwise, we continue in our daily reality of life at home—reading, online meetings, Netflix, and walks in the neighbourhood. So glad we get along well! May includes our anniversary, Mother’s Day, and both Val’s and Jaedyn’s birthdays. When we celebrated my birthday in March, I didn’t know we’d still be isolating for theirs!
The pictures below are from our walks (still more layered up than out west), occasional forays onto transit, and from our anniversary (celebrating with take-out poutine that ended up lasting for 3 meals each). Selecting them has made me realize, as we start to think about our return to BC, that we will miss being here like we miss home now. Perhaps we have sentenced ourselves to lives of discontent, loving where we are but missing our other reality?
Happy Easter everybody! As I type, it's quiet outside. Not a lot of movement. But there is something out there. Bells. Lots of bells. While Québec is post-religious, on days like today its history is remembered, and we hear bells.
As we've been under quarantine, we've allowed ourselves daily walks in our neighbourhood. At Val's suggestion, we started counting cathedrals. We have now walked by 20 of them, either active, closed, or repurposed. Two of these pictures were taken from the same locale, simply by taking one, and then turning around to take the second. These are all in walking distance.
So Québec has changed, but these days you can argue that EVERYWHERE has changed! While we lament the isolation, we can learn from it. Father Richard Rohr reflects on this, saying:
"I believe the Christian faith is saying that the pattern of transformation is always death transformed, not death avoided. The universal spiritual pattern is death and resurrection, or loss and renewal, if you prefer. That is always a disappointment to humans, because we want one without the other—transformation without cost or surrender.
We ordinarily learn to submit and surrender to this scary pattern only when reality demands it of us, as it is doing now. Christians are helped by the fact that Jesus literally submitted to it and came out more than okay. Jesus is our guide, the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith,” as the Letter to the Hebrews puts it (12:2).
Each time we surrender, each time we trust the dying, we are led to a deeper level. We are grounded for a while, like an electric wire, so there is less resistance and more available energy to trust it the next time. Yet it is still invariably a leap of faith, a walk through some degree of darkness."
Easter is the ultimate story of surrender and transformation. While we are living in strange days, let me encourage you to have your eyes open to how and what we can learn as we contemplate Easter in the midst of pandemic.
All God's best to each of you!
Well, isn’t this interesting? Of any scenario I considered as we were preparing to move to Montréal, global pandemic was not on my radar at all! Like you, I watched the news out of China with mild curiosity, but now? Yes, it’s a bit more front and centre, and directly impacts us as we stay home.
Accordingly, our new reality thoroughly embraces isolating. We still get out for walks daily, but we smile at pedestrians from a distance. The picture below is from Wednesday. Normally you would NEVER be able to take photos in Vieux Montréal without having anyone else in them!
I feel for parents of younger children, as the three of us can all keep ourselves happily occupied (and know how to read). By contrast, I’ve seen many parents at local parks, looking hopeful that the trip will expend some of their kids’ excessive levels of energy.
However, physical isolation hasn’t meant social isolation. We’ve had great video or text chats with many people, chats that probably wouldn’t have happened if we were all still on our regular schedules. One couple we’ve connected with are new friends from university. She’s in our French classes and asked Val if we would be willing to help her and her husband with their English. They already speak Chinese, Korean, and Japanese; she speaks French too. What’s one more language? So, we meet every week in English, and share life with each other!
Before classes were cancelled throughout the province, we were invited to co-teach a pastoral counselling class at l’Institut Biblique du Québec (IBQ) in Longueuil by the prof, Freddy, who also coordinates our internship at the church on behalf of the FIT4M program. We had about 30 minutes to teach… in French. We put together an outline (less than a page), but needed over 15 pages of script to say exactly what we wanted to say in French. While we aren’t yet fluent by any means, it was satisfying to have these pastors and adult students nod in agreement with something one of us said. They understood us!
Another thing we’ve been able to do a lot more of these days is reading. Amongst the things I regularly read are daily reflections by Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest from New Mexico. He had this to say about COVID-19:
Right now I’m trying to take in psychologically, spiritually, and personally, what is God trying to say? When I use that phrase, I’m not saying that God causes suffering to teach us good things. But God does use everything, and if God wanted us to experience global solidarity, I can’t think of a better way. We all have access to this suffering, and it bypasses race, gender, religion, and nation.
We are in the midst of a highly teachable moment. There’s no doubt that this period will be referred to for the rest of our lifetimes. We have a chance to go deep, and to go broad. Globally, we’re in this together. Depth is being forced on us by great suffering, which as I like to say, always leads to great love.
What else can I say? We are living in strange times indeed, but I am praying and hopeful for greater depth and love for all of us as a result.
With love from Montréal!
Happy Valentines Day!
We celebrated today by going to our favourite place – Cocobun – and happily ate honey buns, drank coffee and read across the table from each other…without having to talk. That’s love!
We have realized that the last time we were able to spend so much time together (aside from holidays) was during our dating days in Bible college. Here, we are together ALL the time. Through this, however, we have learned that...we still love each other. We still can make each other laugh and we enjoy each other's company. We are best friends. When one is down, the other can be up. Where Tom is stronger in speaking, I am stronger in comprehension.
Every week or two, Tom and I still have a ‘We live in Montréal?!’ moment, even though we have now officially passed the halfway mark. Through all of our experiences here, we know that when we return home we will not be the same as when we left.
We have made some exciting connections with classmates this new semester. One classmate asked me to help her with an interview that she was going to be having in English, and another just recently asked if Tom and I could help her and her husband with their English through conversation. Meanwhile, our speaking and French comprehension continues to improve. Just recently I was sitting in our ‘Français par Projet’ class (How to do research in French) and while the teacher was speaking it donned on me, 'I actually understand what she is saying!' No, she wasn't speaking English. In the same class, our major assignment is a group research project - group work apparently being a big part of the culture in the working world. We have to do a half-hour presentation in front of REAL people who are not just students. With French being the only common language of our group of five, it is a challenge, but yet another way we get to connect with our classmates.
Time is ticking so we are pushing hard to learn as much as we can.
As I sit and type this, our apartment is full. Full of life, love, and laughter…and bodies, as we have our 2 sons here, joining our daughter, Val, and me for the holidays. Christmas in our family has a lot of traditions, and while we’ve been able to preserve a couple in this new context, we’ve done new and different things as well.
A cultural surprise was NOT singing Christmas carols at church, and no service on the 24th. Apparently in the culture of our congregation, New Year’s Eve and Day are the big connecting points, and Christmas is a more private, family affair.
However, over the fall, Val and I have been involved in kid’s ministry at our church, so we were invited to the department Christmas party last weekend. A majority of the workers have Haitian roots, so we were treated to special Haitian dishes for dinner, after I gave a short message…in French. At the very beginning I said something and immediately asked if I had used the right word. I was told that, no, I had not, but they understood what I was trying to say. Ironically, I was talking about humility and discovered that’s a difficult word for me to say in French. Yes, that’s very humbling!
Two nights later we were at a classmate’s apartment. She is Syrian, so we had another enjoyable, yet different, experience with her friends and family. Through the course of the evening, we heard many Syrian songs spontaneously erupt, and started to get to know our classmate in a fuller context. Apparently, there is a strong Latin American influence in Syrian culture, so half-way through the evening we were offered maté. The fact that we knew what it was, and enjoyed it, thrilled our hosts. Thank you, Joy, for that!
All this reinforces what we’ve written about before; the absolute diversity of this city. We love the privilege of being able to connect and look forward to more now that we have a bit more French proficiency under our belts (brag moment: after 4 classes completed each, the lowest mark was a B+).
And, of course, it has been so great having all the kids around! I remember my mom talking about how thrilled she was when we or my sister and her family were home, and I understand that quite a bit more now. We don’t even have to be doing anything, but that we’re together is what has been so gratifying!
2020 is right around the corner, and we continue to learn and connect. All God’s best in the new year and whatever adventures you may have in store.
If you’re like me, and live in any part of English Canada, you probably don’t think twice about what a privilege it is to have grown up speaking English. Since being here in Montréal, I have begun to understand what this privilege means. Another definition for ‘privilege’ could be ‘an advantage gained primarily by no work our own doing’. In other words, I was born in BC to English-speaking parents, it just happened and I didn’t have to do anything to receive it. It’s a privilege. The difference between being an English speaker versus any other language, is that it is the language of the world. One in five people can speak or understand English. It is also the language of media – music, film and the internet. So, you might be asking, ‘I speak English, so what’s the big deal?’ THAT is the big deal! If you don’t realize it, then you are privileged. We take it for granted.
Things we take for granted as native English-speakers:
All this to say, if someone who isn’t a native English speaker is ever having difficulty communicating to you, and they have a strong accent, be patient. You did nothing to learn English. You are privileged to know what you know. If you are travelling, and you find people who know English, be thankful and courteous. You are privileged, and they worked hard to learn your language.
After a spectacular autumn, it's safe to say that phase of the year is done! It's snowing as I type, but without wind, which is a good trade-off. All my friends who have lived out here gleefully tell me to "just wait" until it's really cold. I have no doubt that I will reflect on this picture and laugh as I recall how balmy it was!
We have now been here for just over two months. We had guests in October, so weren't as "on" for our homework as we had been in September. We are now full-swing into full-time studenthood as bigger projects come due. Nice to be in the same classes, so that we can misunderstand things together! We both completely missed a project last month (we did the practice, but missed the actual assignment) that our prof graciously allowed us to submit afterwards as we weren't the only ones who missed the differentiation. Small comfort, but comfort nonetheless. Otherwise, we are showing we can get into study life, and have done well with everything we've remembered to submit! It helps to have a direct competitor to compare with.
We are settling into a routine at our church as well. Every other week we are involved with the kids ministry, and we have been attending an Alpha course in French. Language continues to be the biggest barrier. Very humbling to be with a 5 year old and having to ask him to repeat himself slowly. I have learned "rendez ça à votre ami" (give that back to your friend) as a result, though.
In short, life is good. We have our struggles and insecurities as we strive to acquire the language and understand the culture, but it is a good experience. Otherwise, we look for new, or usual, routines to give us context moments. Please note the thrill on Jae's face as I took yet another picture of going for the first "holiday beverage" of the year.
Thanks, as always, for your prayers, well-wishes, and check-ins. While Montréal isn't THAT far away, it can seem so at times.
Finally, I've finally bumped up to 2005-levels of technological prowess! One of the churches that is supporting us asked for an update, so I created a Youtube channel (I know, right?) to post a video update on. Feel free to check it out if you'd like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CfjGi8dmqrk Take care and, again, thanks for remembering us!