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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

One Year in Toronto: When God Calls You to Leave

The Benedictines take a vow of stability, a promise to stay put. It’s been a long time that I’ve wanted to take a vow of that kind, wishing that it were God’s call to keep us rooted and make us permanent. Seven years in Chicago was the longest we’d lived anywhere, and I’d begun to hope we’d do our staying there. We're not the kind of people averse to change. In fact, the impossibly hopeless thing about Ryan and me is that we could live anywhere. Whenever Ryan and I have traveled, we curiously browse the local real estate and inevitably draw the same conclusion. “We could live here.”

Today is Victoria Day, a day Canadians more familiarly call, “May 2-4,” a tip of the hat to the ubiquitous case of beer they’ll consume on this day signalling the beginning of cottage season and garden planting. For us, Victoria Day means one year of living in Toronto, and this week here on the blog, I want to look back and consider what have been the challenges, gifts, and lessons of uprooting our family from the suburbs of Chicago and planting ourselves here in Canada’s biggest city.

Over a year and a half ago, Ryan had a call from a friend he’d worked with in Chicago who had taken a transfer to Denver. “You gotta come here to Denver.” But I had begun to think that the idea of leaving was growing too easy for us, and I urged Ryan to change his mobility status. I didn’t want to move to Denver.

A week later, one of Ryan’s colleagues walked into his office and asked him if he’d consider the position here in Toronto.

I have worried that we’re the perennially discontent, always in pursuit of our greener pastures. I have worried what transience will do to our children if we make it our habit to leave and leave again, towing them behind us in our dogged chase of dreams. I have been frightened by how easily emotional detachment comes to me, wearing distance from others like a pair of familiar, well-worn slippers.  Why am I good at goodbyes? It would have seemed to me that God needed less to teach us to leave, and more, to teach us to stay.

But leave is a Biblical call, too.  “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” Those were the marching orders Abraham received from God, and while I don’t want to seem to rationalize the choice that we’ve made by a bit of Scriptural proof-texting, I do want to say, if only to myself, that God can issue the call of His choosing, whether a call to leave or a call to stay.

As you may know if you’ve been reading here, I’ve recently buckled down with the book of Genesis, wanting to step into the enormous landscape of faith that is the life of Abraham. And no one does a better job than Eugene Peterson of capturing the lessons that Abraham accumulated along his journey. “Sacrifice was the motif by which he had lived for years, the letting go, the leaving behind, the traveling light. Faith, repeatedly tested by sacrifice, was a way of life for Abraham. Each sacrifice left him with less of self and more of God.”

There are lessons in the leaving and leaving behind that we’ve done this past year, and while I would hardly call our faith the faith of Abraham, nor would I ever make the case that we’ve sacrificed much to come here, it is yet true that our leaving has been a shedding, a molting of spiritual skin.

I’d like to think we’re traveling lighter than we did a year ago, having relinquished some of the weight we’d been carrying of fear and reluctance, and tomorrow, I’ll tell you about my journey out of fear.