If God continues to have mercy on us while on this Oxford adventure, it seems that one day (hopefully soon!) I will receive some kind of piece of paper saying the degree of Doctorate of Philosophy in Theology has been conferred upon me. It will have some names on it, no doubt – including those signing off on the ‘conferred’ piece.
But one name surely will not be on that piece of paper, and this will be a grave oversight: Julie Turnbull.
I am now in my eleventh year of full-time theological education (don’t worry, they weren’t all consecutive!), with the final number looking to come in at twelve (12 tribes, 12 apostles, seems fitting). But as strange as it is to recognize and write that, it pulls me up short with gratitude to consider that Julie has stood up for our call to it all along the way (not to mention her completing her own theological BA).
Amazingly, she has faced the drain on time, focus, and finance without a touch of real resistance. This, I believe, emerges from her trust in God and her own sense of His call on our lives. As we have talked and prayed together, read Scripture, and listened to wise friends, she has often been the one more sensitive to God’s leading at key junctures in our life together, and the step onto this path that runs through Oxford was no exception.
A Mix Tape for the Red Rocket
When Julie and I were first going out, believe it or not, mix-tapes were still a thing. She was commuting to Kwantlen College every day, about an hour each way, in her red Toyota Tercel, as she completed her diploma in Public Relations; and the ‘Red Rocket’ had a little tape deck. So this was the perfect way for me to fan the flames of our young romance even when I couldn’t be with her. One of the most memorable tracks on the mix-tape I made for her was Three Times a Lady by the Commodores (Lionel Richie): “Because you’re once, you’re twice, you’re three times a lady…” (never mind the part about them coming to the end of their rainbow). The song was well before our time, but I must have picked it up from my parents along the line; so it was on the quick draw of my romantic arsenal.
Though all the good gifts we enjoy in life come from the gracious hand of God, there have been key graces which I am acutely aware I haven’t deserved. Being a student at one of the world’s great universities is certainly one of those. But greater still, second only to the grace of personally knowing Jesus Christ himself (!), has been the gift of walking with Julie in marriage for nearly seventeen years. If she was unable to do anything, and just was, it would be a gift of grace to be her husband. But she does a lot, and has tackled some of the hardest work involved in this Oxford adventure.
So I Thank God for Julie:
- For her allowing us to sell our first family home, which she loved and had poured buckets of her own creativity into, to help finance the journey to Oxford.
- For my first academic year, and her willingness to move in with her parents in Greater Vancouver while I was away in Oxford for three terms, which were eight to thirteen weeks long.
- For her passion for God, which is manifestly the primary drive informing her desires for, and parenting of, our children.
- For her working two jobs, in addition to the primary work of child rearing that this stage brings.
- For her consistent care of our home and her genuine concern for our family’s diet.
- For the space she creates in her life for genuine friendships with a few other women.
- For her forgiveness, which I have had to ask for on far too many occasions.
- For her willingness to be away from her immediate family members and closest friends – whom she loves deeply and drew so much support from while home. And for the quiet but ever so potent tears she cries every time she has to say goodbye to her friends and family again to come back to Oxford after each summer home.
- For her patience with me in the times of stress and struggle that the doctorate inevitably involves.
- For the courage she displayed in learning how to drive in this country, not only on the ‘wrong’ side of the road but with insanely narrow streets (by Canadian standards), and with all those confusing multi-lane roundabouts!
- For the fact that her work ethic often challenges me to work harder.
- For her adventurous spirit pushing our family to seize brief windows of holiday to strike out to other parts of the UK and Europe, while they are easily in reach from England, and the significant thought and planning she puts into these little trips.
- For her becoming a bike commuter of note in this car-adverse city, getting not only herself but three kids to school on bikes nearly every school day, towing one of them!
- For her persistent thrift, which pays massive dividends on a student budget.
- For her occasional participation in the worship leadership in our church, using her gifts of singing to the blessing of many – me not least!
- For her taking time at the end of nearly every day, though tired, to read a small portion of the Bible and pray out of it – thus forging another channel of spiritual life into our home.
- And most of all, for the comfort of her intimate companionship and the encouragement of her genuine partnership in the Gospel.
Just a Canadian Girl in a British World…
Of course Julie’s value is not defined primarily by these things she does for our family. She’s certainly worth more than I can know let alone tell! The very hairs of her head are numbered by God, Jesus tells us. And Julie won’t like me sharing these things. But no attempt to honour God by recognising His provision along this Oxford adventure would be complete without telling something of what He has given to us through her.
So here’s to inking her name into that certificate when (or if!) it comes. That certainly won’t do justice to her work in Oxford, but it’s a start.