Thirty Thousand Feet Above the Ground
Seven years ago, I was wide-eyed as I boarded a plane to Vancouver, BC. After an arduous university search and application process, I was faced with a choice between a few schools in various Canadian cities. Where to go? What to choose?
On the one hand, I'd heard Toronto was an exciting, big city. It was the Canadian homologous to New York. Multiple corporations had headquarters there, including some of the big 5 publishing companies in the world and some of the largest non-profits. But, on the other hand, there was Ottawa. I hadn't heard many exciting things about Ottawa, but I knew one thing: it was where the governmental power of Canada resided. And, I mean, I was going into Politics... It would only make sense I go to Ottawa, right?
Yet, there was also Montreal. I heard this is where most people from my country who migrated to Canada settled, and there must be a reason for that I assumed. I heard it was a place with so much culture, so much history, so much art. Oh, how I longed to be surrounded by these expressions of the human soul! Yes, Montreal might just be the place to reach that idealized image of me, in a long Burberry-style coat, fancy boots, staring into a classical painting at a museum and knowing just how to appreciate it. It might just be the perfect opportunity to meet friends who went with me to the opera, with whom I attended jazz festivals and discussed great literary works as we sat in perfect green lawns, under large trees with orange-tinged leaves, just like in the movies.
And then there was Vancouver. This elusive place I had never really heard much of. I had no idea what went on there, what it was known for, nor what my prospects for life, work and love were there. Why did it seem like it was calling me, then? Why did my heart race every time I opened my browser in search of answers. I had never been a "follow your heart" kind of girl. I made lists. I analyzed the pros and cons. I planned 5, 10 years into the future. For me, this choice was beyond where I would spend the following four years - in my 17-year-old mind, this decision would define my life.
I once heard a message in Church that God sees things "30 thousand feet above the ground." While I understood the concept, it wasn't until things started unfolding in my life, ultimately leading to important transformations and lessons, that I started to not only understand it at an intellectual level but to experience and believe it. As the anxiety of having to pick a school (and with it, it seemed, a destiny) increased with every passing day as the deadline to accept an offer drew near, something happened. This something might seem coincidental, the turn of events nothing more than a lucky strike, but now I know it was God working things for good at "30 thousand feet above the ground."
My dad had always had to travel for work. He had stepped foot perhaps in every continent, but for the life of me I could not remember the last time he had to travel to Canada. At this point, I should mention my dad was dead set on me going to Montreal. And as an obedient, good Christian girl, I wanted to both please and agree with my dad. But, something was not sitting right. And that's when it happened.
My dad called one day, in the middle of the day, to tell me that after 10 years he had gotten an assignment to travel to Canada for work, did I want to come with him on the trip so we could book tours and visit the schools in question? DID I WANT TO!? OF COURSE I DID! In a million years, never would I have thought it remotely possible to step foot in these majestic buildings before I even made a decision. I had only visited these places in daydreams when I let my imagination run wild, with the images I saw in brochures and websites as my only reference.
So we boarded that plane on a chilly March afternoon and headed together in search of answers that would finally bring to completion a decision-making process that had begun a year and a half earlier when I first expressed my desire to study abroad. The first city we visited was Montreal and I was baffled. The snow was knee-deep. This wasn't right. This is not how I saw it in my mind's eye.
We walked around the city centre for a bit, but I remained mostly in the hotel while my dad attended to his work commitments. In hindsight, this was a mistake because it left me with a bad impression of the city, but I don't blame my past self. Coming from a country where 25 degrees is our staple, I was in shock it was almost April and still had to wear multiple layers of clothing, and my best-suited boots for the occasion were - spoiler alert - still not enough. I've yet to go back one day and experience the Montreal everyone boasts about, but I will make sure to do so when I can comfortably wear flats outside.
The day arrived for the university tour and I was excited. Despite the temporary setback that the snow posed, I was still open-hearted and open-minded to the possibility of calling this home for the foreseeable future. The buildings, libraries, and university life descriptions from the tour did not disappoint. I could see myself here... I think. And then, as we ended the tour and walked back to the hotel, my dad noticed something he wasn't too keen on: there was a student pub right outside one of the university buildings and a bunch of drunk students in green outfits were walking out as their St. Patrick's day celebrations ran their course. I found it funny, but my dad was not impressed. Of course, one thing he and I didn't know at the time is that this was common in North American schools and that the university I ended up attending had, in fact, quite a few pubs from which tumbling students emerged multiple evenings a week.
The next day we boarded a domestic flight for five hours as we crossed the entire country to greet the city we didn't know at the time would seven years later, still be home. My first impression was a very favourable one from the moment I off-boarded the plane. Not only was it considerably less cold here, the airport was beautiful! The cab ride to the hotel felt quite long, but from the window, I could see an interesting city. Not quite as cosmopolitan as I had envisioned myself in, but I still took it all in. There was something in the chilly night air that made my stomach churn in excitement. For some reason, this feeling has not disappeared. Even with the years, arriving at YVR and then taking a cab at night back to my place still fills me with the same sense of anticipation it did that first time.
Our greatest surprise came in the morning when we awoke to a bright sun streaking through our window, and as we opened the blinds, we were both stunned to silence by the beautiful view from outside our window. We were staying in a hotel close to Vancouver's famous English Bay, on the outskirts of Stanley Park. We walked all around the Downtown core and were fascinated by the varied distinct areas that made it up, all within walking distance. We went from having lunch with a seaside view, where everyone seemed to be completely unperturbed by the passage of time as they sipped on Margaritas and craft beer, to drinking our coffee at the historical, fancy and artistic Gastown just a few blocks away.
That night I could barely sleep. We were visiting the University the next day. My dad had been praising the city non-stop from the moment we arrived. This had to be a good sign. I was having a really good feeling about this. So I laid my clothes out, and went to sleep with an ineffable feeling that I was inching closer and closer to "my destiny." This was the "something" I had been craving from the moment this search started. A sense somewhere deep within me that confirmed: I was home. I just knew. I can't explain why or how. It was a certainty I had seldom experienced in my short life. This was it. The search was over.
To my surprise, my dad, who had spent the past few months randomly emailing me articles aimed at making me lean towards another school, was not only amazed at this place - he had felt that certainty too. In a few indecipherable words, his agreement came in as the last puzzle piece I needed. As soon as I got home, I logged on to the portal and clicked "Accept Offer." It was settled: I was going to spend the next four years in Vancouver.
For the remainder of the trip, I revelled in each sight. In the cherry blossoms lining the streets, in the ocean view that I found breathtakingly beautiful. I marvelled at the snow-capped mountains that provided the backdrop to the glistening water that surrounded the city. I even ventured into trying some new foods I had never even seen before, which for a faithful chicken and rice kind of girl, was a pretty big deal. "If there's one thing I don't worry about," my dad said, "is you going hungry here. There's food everywhere!" This, I found out twenty pounds later after my first year, was painstakingly true. I felt a weight had been lifted off my shoulders, and I felt excitement start to brew in the pit of my stomach. Hello, new home.
I recounted every detail as soon as I got home. It was beautiful, it was beautiful, was all I kept on repeating over and over again. It exceeded my wildest dreams. And for the rest of my school year and my summer, I simply could not wait to embark on this new adventure. Until the day arrived, on August 13th, my mum and I boarded a noon flight to LAX.
From the day I set foot in Vancouver, till the day I graduated, things just happened in a way that could easily be overlooked as simple coincidences. One of the ones I remember most vividly was, in fact, the very night we arrived. During the summer months, the university I was to attend opened some of its dormitories as hotel accommodations since they are unoccupied. We figured it was a good place to stay because it would make moving to my actual dorm much easier. What we did not know was how confusing some directions on campus are, nor did we know that there was so much construction going on on campus, which rendered every map basically useless.
We arrived around 1 am, exhausted, only to have our cab driver drop us off "close enough" to the hotel because there was construction right in front of it. I must mention we were carrying four large, heavy pieces of luggage, plus our backpacks, plus our carry-ons. We were at a loss. We couldn't see anything, we were scared of being out there so late and did I mention we were very, very tired? Out of nowhere, a gentleman emerged and asks if he can help. He not only pointed us in the right direction, he was actually also a guest in our same hotel, on our same floor, right next to our room. So he not only helped us find the hotel but also helped with some of our heaviest luggage all the way to our room.
We never really saw him again throughout our stay. But on that evening, whatever had compelled him to be outside in the right place at the right time as we were starting to lose it was, in our books, a demonstration of God's care of every seemingly small detail of our lives. Every day of that visit was filled with stories like that, and so was my first month, first year and entire University career. I can now see in hindsight where God truly was lining everything up thirty thousand feet above the ground.
But see, after I graduated, I lost this perspective. I lost my footing. Like it happens to many of my generation, I graduated feeling like the world was my oyster like I could face anything and change the world. This vision rapidly eroded with the worry of paying bills, immigration requirements and unsatisfying job prospects. But, God.
He orchestrated things in such a way that allowed me to start working in a ministry I had come to love, which was my local church. Unknowingly, five years before my first day on the job, He had called me to serve in Children's Ministry there and throughout the years led me to be involved in events, projects, and programs my church ran that made the transition to working there full-time much easier. When I was feeling purposeless and directionless, He placed me in the right place at the right time, where the sense of purpose and direction abounded.
After one year there, however, I fell sick and had to resign. But God lined up things in such a perfect way into another position where the pace was slower, and where I could make a lot of progress in my healing. And then, when I least expected it, He had been preparing me through both of these positions for a perfect position at an institution I love, with a vision I'm passionate about, with the most amazing team of people, where I get to exercise and develop multiple of the gifts He has given me. I had prayed for a job like this, but I couldn't even really say what it is I was looking for. Thankfully, God knows what we need before we even ask. And boy did He place me in a workplace that is beyond what I could have asked for or imagined.
Right around the time I changed jobs, my roommate and I were also thinking of moving, He opened a door in the most unexpected of ways through an old colleague who randomly texted me in the middle of the day to tell me a suite in her building was being vacated, and ta-da that is the apartment I am writing these words in. A beautiful, rare gem in Vancouver at almost 1000sqft. Where we have been able to peacefully quarantine and set up a home office.
And even with all of that, some thoughts entered my head that made me doubt. Should I really be in Vancouver? Perhaps I was cutting my 'youth' short by staying so long in one place. I was sure I was meant to go somewhere else. I was sure I was meant to see the world. I mean - and this is true - I always saw myself moving around and experiencing living in many different places during my lifetime. While others dreamed of "settling down," those words terrified me in my youth. While others dreamt of the elegant, white dress and the huge wedding party, I dreamed of boarding planes galore and experiencing what it would be like to move from New York City to Tuscany, and from Barcelona to Cartagena. And then COVID happened. And I was forced to take a good inward look, why did I think my time here was coming to an end? Why had I lost my love for this city?
As we were prompted to stay home with the onset of the pandemic, I churned on this word... home. Up to this point, whenever I travelled to El Salvador, I would say I was going home. Whenever I travelled back to Vancouver, I would say I was going back to Canada - not "back home," not "second home," just Canada. And now everyone was issuing orders to stay home. Was this home?
As I sought to stay active during this period because of my health, I started going out for walks, runs, and bike rides. Slowly, I started seeing Vancouver with different eyes. Yes, this was home. As I walked along the trails on the seaside, smelled the saline water of the pacific coast, opened my eyes to the snow-capped mountains I'd long since taken for granted, I felt the answer in my heart: Yes, this is home. And right then and there, I felt that ineffable flutter in my stomach that had been dormant for almost seven years. And once again, I just knew this was where I was meant to be, at least for the foreseeable future.
For all its beauty, Vancouver can also be a tough city to live in. Multiple studies and reports pronounce it to be one of the loneliest cities in Canada, and in my experience, this has held true. Deep connections, like the ones I used to take for granted growing up, are hard to establish. Perhaps it's that people are constantly in flux or that everyone seems to always be so 'busy', but more than once I've found wondering if I were to leave, would my relationships here even be something I factor into my decision?
Besides the loneliness, Vancouver has been the place where I have experienced some of my lowest points physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. There have been more nights than I can count in which I've silently sobbed to sleep. I've experienced multiple disappointments, failures, heartaches all of which are not only part of migrating, but of living in this world. But in the midst of it all, God has remained faithful, loving, patient.
He has continued lining up things in a way I sometimes can't understand at the time. Yet, he unfailingly then shows me how He has moved the pieces, making it all line up in place to work His good purpose in my life in more ways I could recount in a single post.
I'm still human, and despite me knowing God and how I need only trust, I still fear, I worry, I fall, I complain and I sure still (naively) try to control. But at the end of the day, I always come back home. I'm always lovingly ushered back to that place of deep conviction that no matter what I see now, He is working His good, pleasing and perfect will because He's done it before and He will do it again.
I don't know if this is where I'll always be, but I know that this is where I need to be for such a time as this. This is where I'm currently growing, serving, maturing in my faith. This is where He has set me to seek His kingdom and fulfill my call to Him, and that is enough. Perhaps in five years He'll lead me elsewhere and show me how where I am now was all part of Him preparing me for the next step. Perhaps it will be settling down here for good. For the 18-year-old who thought she had to have her life planned out, even the prospect of saying that is, on some level, terrifying. But for the 25-year-old writing this, seven years after hitting the 'accept offer' button, not knowing has become exciting because she realizes that no matter how high on her tiptoes she stands, she will never be able to see thirty thousand feet above the ground.