running in love: an update

My sweet friends. You are not forgotten. It is late and I must publish this now so forgive the errors you are bound to discover.

I’m writing this for two reasons. One, it is a way to share general information about Team Watts’ state of affairs so that we are not repeating ourselves at each and every social gathering. (We’d rather talk about you and not ourselves.) Two, there is a bigger story to tell. The words below are much more than an update. I’ve been drafting this since May, chipping away here and there and now the loose ends are tying up and a new story has emerged. The perspective one gains after watching the seasons change is precious. But first, a bit of an update.

Some of you are still asking, “What has your husband spent so much time working on?” We academic spouses ask ourselves the same thing from time to time. Can I capture five rigorous years and 88,000 words in four sentences? Maybe.

Steve’s thesis explores the significance of written correspondence between a friar, Jordan of Saxony, and a nun named Diana. The pair exchanged letters in the 13th century as he traveled from Paris to Bologna and beyond, serving as the first successor to Dominic, founder of the Dominican order. His words affirmed her vocation; he was her ally in faith and ministry and he sought to empower her. The letters have been preserved dutifully over the centuries, unlike emails, the intangible mind clutter that evaporates from memory in seconds.

Steve titled his thesis Let Us Run In Love Together: (insert academic subtitle which I cannot remember for the life of me here.) His supervisor, Frances, was apprehensive about the unusual headline. I think the Australian in Steve saw it as an opportunity to poke fun at the seriousness of academia. He went ahead with it.

I adore the title, the call to arms. Let Us Run In Love Together could (and likely will) double as the title of my memoir to sum up this academic obstacle course we’ve explored and endured as a pair of starry-eyed (but mostly bleary-eyed) lovers and friends.

Not that we’re actually running. That’s the irony. We’ve only ever run together once and it was on the first day of our honeymoon in Australia. We didn’t know what to do with the unfamiliar cocktail of wedded bliss and jet lag so we hit the pavement like all good honeymooners do.

No, when I refer to us running together I’m leaning heavily on the biblical metaphor that compares running a race to living as one who pursues Jesus in daily life, holding on to an eternal perspective and not getting distracted by the details. It’s not really a race – it’s a long distance spiritual adventure and everyone is invited to win. Yes, we’ve been running toward the immediate goal of the PhD but our higher goal has been to honour God and obey His command to love and serve one another.

So before I fill you in on where we currently sit, allow me to entertain you with some romance.

Long before Steve and I started running in love together, we literally walked. Our story began with a spontaneous late-night stroll. I’m gradually preserving the details for another time but for tonight’s purposes, all you need to know is this: roughly ten years ago, Steve, a guy who I had briefly met through mutual friends but to whom I had never offered my cell number, summoned me via phone to join him for an impromptu walk. Boy, was he tenacious. He did not take no for an answer. His bold move led to a most memorable night. We explored Vancouver’s winding seawall into the wee hours, harmlessly breaking the ice, sipping tea from paper cups.

This is how things happened once we navigated our way under the Burrard Street bridge and began heading toward Yaletown.

“So you work as a tutor?” Steve asked, tossing a modest dash of eye contact.

“Yeah. I love teaching,” I replied. “I work with high school students. I was actually studying to become a teacher but a friend at lululemon challenged me to drop out and follow my passion for food. I’m going for it. I start culinary school in late October. What about you?”

“I just started my Masters at Regent College.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“Masters in what?”

“Christian Studies. Interdisciplinary stuff.”

“What do you want to do after you graduate?”

“I think I’ll go abroad somewhere and do my PhD. After that I’ll probably teach, be a professor or something like that. I see myself retiring somewhere warm. Tuscany, maybe.”

I intentionally filed his response deep into my psyche. It was far too early to be making plans as a couple but I realized in that moment that if things went favorably for us, I would likely be his teammate as he pursued his academic goals. It sounded like an adventure and I was interested.

Let’s be clear. I had no idea what studying abroad involved. I didn’t grasp the sacrifices necessary for completing a PhD nor did I understand the long-term implications for a family. But I knew Steve was no ordinary guy and I wanted to be with him. If we made it past our first date, our story would be an experience. I desperately wanted to make it past our first date. The bit about retiring in Tuscany?! Come on.

We haven’t made it to Tuscany but lucky for us, we’ve enjoyed several more dates. We’re ten years down the line and somewhere along the way we picked up a marriage license and two kids. We’re still posing questions to one another, still walking side by side along the water, whether in Vancouver or Scotland. The difference is that we’ve elected to bail on tea and now sip gin and Scotch on our seaside strolls. Steve also no longer has plans to pursue a PhD. He’s nearly Dr Watts. (**UPDATE: It’s official. Steve is now Dr Watts.**)

Rewind.

Way back in May, I laced up my trainers for the first run of 2016. My legs escorted me to West Sands, the iconic shoreline captured in Chariots of Fire, the expansive beach that will forever take my breath away. I ran first along the road parallel to the waterline. Eventually I cut through the long grass and onto the pearly sand beach. I spun slowly, taking in the view from every angle before focusing my attention toward home.

As usual, the view from West Sands was stunning. The familiar skyline of stone and glass absorbed warm light and appeared to glow chartreuse against the inky backdrop. To my left, the incoming tide danced in teal and purple. To my right, incandescent clouds, rolling hills, tattered fences and swaying grass illuminated by the setting sun. (Sound like a postcard? For real. This happened. This is life in St Andrews.)

My stride was strong so I escaped to my thoughts. My gaze rested on the little town’s profile and I pondered what the place had been for us, both as individuals and as a family.

St Andrews welcomed us as bewildered foreigners in 2011. Its weather witnessed my first frightening grand mal seizure. Its winding streets and stretching shores taught me to enjoy running and helped keep my mind off the pain as I trained for my first half marathon. It was the birthplace of lifelong friendships; it was the birthplace of our baby girl.

As I reflected that night on our experience in St Andrews, the title of Steve’s thesis sunk in heavily. Let Us Run In Love Together. Not Let Us Run Together and Lose Our Sanity and Drown In Dept, Citations, and Seminars. This chapter of our life has been an act of love. There’s been a hefty amount of sacrifice involved, not just for us but also for our friends and families. The epiphany hit me swiftly in the chest and I simply could not run anymore. My feet stopped. I couldn’t breathe. I began to sob into my cold trembling hands and tears blurred my vision. (What can I say? I’m a reliably emotional person.)

The title. Our story. West Sands. My run. For the first time, I felt equal exhaustion and bliss both in my spirit and body. All this time, we had been running together in love, chasing down this PhD as a team. The timeline of our shared history has been consistently measured in semesters for ten years.

Our romance began as we walked the seawall long ago. It picked up momentum when made our vows. Then we stepped on a violent treadmill when the kids came on board and the thesis took over. Thankfully, this chapter will be complete soon. Like, very soon. In roughly three hours and thirty minutes. (**UPDATE: IT’S OVER! HALLELUJAH!**)

While the pursuit has made us both weary, the endorphin rush at the finale has made it more than worthwhile. It’s finally drawing to a close. This has been a test of character and stamina for both of us. St Andrews was the hardest yet sweetest terrain. God made it abundantly clear that Scotland was the path for us and we ventured out in faith. He equipped us and provided more than we could have asked for. It was an obscure and wonderful journey, lonely at times but also very satisfying. He’s helped us finish well.

Amidst all the happy memories, the grief on this side of the pond is dreadfully heavy at times though. We just departed from the place that holds all our prized possessions – our memories as a fumbling young family and our rich community. And the dairy! Oh, the sweet clotted cream and biting cheddar haunt me. I literally started crying when I found Scottish cheese at a market in Seattle. (I’m so reliable.) It was a bittersweet moment. Grief is a unexpected guest.

So where to from here? That’s what we are also dying to know. It certainly doesn’t feel like we’re running now that we’re in Canada. We’re idling, I’d say. A thick fog sits over our immediate future and for the time being, our way ahead is unclear. While there is work on the table for both of us, there is no dream job in the wings. Not yet, at least. This is the nature of the beast called Academia.

Job opportunities crop up in the fall, a scholarly harvest of sorts. Interviews often take place in the following January and carry on through spring. People dressed in suits make big decisions and by roughly May or June, successful candidates are notified and the fun of planning life in a new location begins. Our life is on hold until the harvest. Dr Watts will start applying for work soon.

For now, we plan on staying in the Lower Mainland. Where exactly? Good question. (I feel like perhaps what I considered the end of our race is really only the beginning of several training races.) We’re starting from ground zero. The PhD was in the cards when we got married so with this in mind, we never invested in furniture, let alone property. After ten years of married life and the addition of two children, our earthly possessions fit into three small boxes, five suitcases, four duffel bags, two carry-ons, a purse and a computer satchel. I know because I packed every last item. (**CORRECTION: We have boxes in crawl spaces and a collection of vinyl that I nearly forgot about. Who needs home equity when you have Aretha on the turntable?**) There is no picket fence, no down payment, and no car (until January.)

So if you know of any furnished homes or cabins that need loving tenants, please get in touch. We will likely be taking care of a home on the west side of Vancouver from early January until mid February but after that, things are wide open and we are happy to explore. We don’t plan on signing rental agreements or leases while we’re here because we need to be nimble when a job offer arrives. We sound like gypsies and I’m beginning to think we are. But gypsies are awesome. They belly dance.

Before I sign off, I want to make two things clear. First, we are grateful above all else for the opportunity to study in St Andrews. It was challenging. It was wonderful. Even if Steve never gets a teaching job, he and I both agree that our time and finances were well spent. Thank you for being a part of our journey. Second, we are not afraid and for the most part, we are not anxious for our future. God is a good father and He is faithful. Always. The story is not over yet – not ours and not yours. Be encouraged. Let us run in love together, friends.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” – 1 Corinthians 13:13

For more on our story, hop over to our family diary.

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