“Well,” he said frankly, “those are exquisite orchids.” He tilted his head and an unwarranted look of skepticism spread across his bearded face. His words and his expression were incongruous. I would eventually recognize the look on this man’s face but at the time, I didn’t know what to think. Leaning in, he squinted to get a better look. “Mary Ruth, have you ever seen those before?”
A loud voice called back. “What’s that, Loren?” She looked mildly confused. The volume in the crowded room was testing her hearing.
“The orchids.” He pointed at my bouquet. “Have you seen that variety before?”
“No,” she replied simply. “I don’t think I have. They’re magnificent though.” She turned to me with a glowing smile. “Do you know what they’re called?” I shook my head. “Well, they are truly splendid. Please tell us if you find out.”
This is a loose interpretation of my first vivid encounter with Loren and Mary Ruth Wilkinson, two of Regent College’s beloved faculty members. They attended our wedding in November of 2007.
Years ago when Steve was studying at Regent, many students escaped Vancouver to find solace at Loren and Mary Ruth’s home. They live on a considerable plot of farmland on a tiny island called Galiano off the coast of Vancouver. Steve’s peers spoke about the Wilkinsons in wide-eyed wonder and with good reason. I eventually discovered it for myself.
I said in a earlier shout-out that my sewing teacher’s generosity was one of my favourite wedding gifts. Loren and Mary Ruth’s was another. Besides a basket overflowing with homemade treasures from their farm, they invited us to stay with them on Galiano. I had no idea how lucky we were at the time.
You must know that Loren and Mary Ruth’s reputations precede them for good reason. They are delightful characters, real salt-of-the-earth people. The way they meticulously care for the environment inspires many. Together they wrote a book on the subject. They also host Regent’s ever popular summer course called FOOD: Communion, Community and Creation. It’s on my bucket list. (Here’s a little video teaser if you’re curious.)
Their family home is nestled near the coast. The property stretches inland from the rocky beach, wrapping the house in thick grassy pasture and then rolling way back into wooded trails. Cabins of various shapes and sizes appear along the narrow road winding through the farm. Sheep graze in the distance. It seems as though everything on the property is homemade. Loren and Mary Ruth have lovingly tended to the land for a couple decades and it shows.
Their home oozes character. It is lined with books. I imagine this is common when academics build a life together under a single roof. Books on walls, books on shelves, books on tables. Books in stairwells and in cupboards. Everywhere you look, books cataloged neatly, eager for the next curious mind. The spacious sitting area floods with daylight and the kitchen is home to a commercial gas range that makes my mouth water. If only their cast-iron cookware could talk. So much of the food they serve is homegrown or sourced locally. Everything is beautiful to me because everything is real. Everything has a story. I get goosebumps when I dream of their home and I know for a fact I am not the only person who feels this way.
Steve and I finally took them up on their invitation ten months after our wedding, shortly after the car accident that turned my career on its head. We abandoned the city for a long weekend, boarded a ferry, and met Loren on the other side. My spirit was heavy, my body weary.
Staying on the Wilkinson’s farm was therapy. The sublime setting allowed my soul to breathe. I remember carrying my Bible and journal into the sitting room and collapsing onto the sofa. I scribbled in the margins and composed my pain into prayers. I asked God a lot of questions. I dreamed of new life. I patiently listened and cast vision for our future. With hot tea in my mug and hand-knit socks on my feet, I visited with C.S. Lewis, Alice Waters, and Banksy all in the same afternoon. Steve and I even rolled up our sleeves and earned our keep as farm hands. We feasted on homemade pasta. I savored every minute and washed it all down with a healthy amount of wine. By the time we left the island, God had restored my spirit.
We returned to Galiano to celebrate our third anniversary before the move to Scotland. I was four months pregnant and still recovering from my draining summer at lululemon. Once again, their homestead was a little slice of heaven where I met with God. Our third visit was an unexpected tour while visiting Canada from St Andrews. We brought wee Isaac along for the ride, tossed rocks into the Pacific together and lounged on the patio eating grilled cheese sandwiches made from homemade sourdough. (I’ve included photos below. Oh, that bread! I’m still drooling.)
Loren and Mary Ruth, thank you for inviting us to Galiano. Your home is holy ground. On your farm, it seems God’s creation is more radiant because of your gentle care. You have created a space for people to gather and enrich each others lives. Together you have generously sown seeds of knowledge, wisdom, and love both to those at Regent and the community at large. I am but one person God has blessed through you. I long desperately to follow your lead in ministry.
God doesn’t abandon us when things get chaotic in the city but it is much easier to enjoy His presence in stillness, in places where trees dance and waves sing and the Holy Spirit’s work in people’s hearts is evident in their words and deeds. Your environment illustrates this to the letter.
Thank you for carving out time to visit us while you were briefly in St Andrews. I wish we could have returned your generosity with a warm meal and some impeccable wine but that will have to wait. It’s a shame you’re not on Facebook to read this but I’ll make sure it finds its way to you. You’re likely sorting recycling or catching up on writing or tending to the farm anyway. I won’t interrupt you.
Love and thanks,