The power of leaving and the meaning of home

The first half of the story of my journey from flight risk to community member after a lifetime of not knowing what it means to be home.

Snail House (Inktober #4) by nik159 via Deviant Art: A black and white ink drawing of a giant snail with a shell with stairs, a door, and windows like a house.

I’ve lived in 24 different places since graduating high school. If I reach all the way back to birth, the total is closer to 35. An address for each year of my life.

It’s something in my blood, I think. My mom has the travel bug, never staying still for long, but even after I left her house, I continued to shuffle from place to place, following the whims of my heart. I seamlessly changed my location between states, cities, and neighborhoods. Regardless of how long I’d lived there—whether years or weeks—or who I’d come to know and love, the desire to go inevitably struck, steadily tightening its grip until I packed my things and drove off to the next place, ready to be at the start of a new adventure and to leave behind the mushy middle of the old one.

Having the power of leaving is both magic and mayhem. Not many people have it, this ability to untangle themselves from the life they’ve built and then slide away to build a new one without grief, chaos, or regret. It gives you a rare variety of freedom that most people envy. It makes them say, “Wow, I could never do that,” in voices that waver between admiration and disgust. It sets you apart in the best and worst ways because having the power of leaving means you aren’t safe to love or be loved. Because at any moment, you could disappear. Any day could be the day you run.

Sometimes it’s running to something.
Sometimes it’s running away from something.
But it’s always running.

When we moved into what I still think of as “our apartment” despite having not lived there for two years now, I’d been living in Ontario about six years, and I was starting to feel the itch. Hamilton had grown too familiar, too known. Although we were in the middle of a dramatic shift in our social circles, I felt like I was done with the people I called my friends (which had nothing to do with them and everything to do with me). My Canadian residency was nearly expired, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to renew it. It was just time.

But it wasn’t just about me anymore.

I had a husband to consider, the one I’d recommitted myself to after the roughest year of our lives. There was also this business of deciding to have a baby even though I didn’t really want one (story to come—someday). Add in my recent salvation, plus knowing that my health needs can’t be easily met in my home country, and the mathematics of leaving didn’t add up the way it used to. I calculated and recalculated as the desire to go tightened its grip, but no matter how many plans I came up with or how I justified myself, there was no solution to the problem that met all the criteria.

Eventually, I realized that I couldn’t leave. I had to stay.

Oh, how my heart ached.

I don’t know how long I sat with the depression that engulfed me after that. Weeks, for sure. I had touched the bars of my golden cage and gotten a shock so powerful it threw me to the ground, knocking the breath out of me. For the first time in my life, leaving was not an option. I had to confront the fact that without the power of leaving, without being able to start over when it got too hard or too messy, I didn’t actually know how to live my life.

Oof.

What I do know is that one day I was sitting at our high dining table, alone in the middle of the day, staring at nothing, when I heard a voice slide through the thick darkness.

I will teach you what home is.

It wasn’t my voice. But I knew who it belonged to.

The statement was simple and quiet, but it shook loose decades of detritus created by my perpetual state of leaving—loneliness from the lack of close friends, anxiety about wasting an unknown but limited amount of time, inability to commit, uncertainty about the future, independence far beyond what’s healthy—and revealed beneath the rubble an unspoken longing for home.

My heart raced at the idea that, after an entire unanchored lifetime, I could have roots and a history. That I could give directions on the street because I know where I am. That I could know the back way, could witness the rise and fall of a city’s fortunes. That I could be part of the fabric of a place. A denizen, a regular, a friend. That I could be from somewhere—not because it’s where I was born, but because it’s where I choose to be. That I could belong.

That one thought completely reshaped me.

By surrendering the power of leaving, I made room for the power of connection. For friends who know me and whom I know beyond the superficial or practical, for seeing a familiar face each time I leave the house. For art to replace steel, for favorite restaurants to go in and out of business, for the local economy to matter to me. For driving to be a joy rather than a means of escape, for the landscape to be more than GPS markers. For knowing the names of homeless people because I see them every time I go to my preferred movie theater with its sticky floors and sketchy sound. For opinions about taxes and healthcare and infrastructure. For planning where my baby will go to school.

By relinquishing the way I’d always operated, I made room to become part of the life I was already living but couldn’t fully participate in because I’d always held something back, something precious that would have been broken in the leaving. I gave myself permission to sink into the intimacy of the city and its people and be received in all their messy glory.


I walked into this year knowing that God had made good on his promise. After living in one place for nearly a decade, I finally felt connected, rooted, engaged, known, and seen in my community.

I’d finally learned what home means.

And that’s when he asked me to leave.

to be continued

What I mean when I say I’m a Christian

The labels we choose for ourselves are, at best, shorthand for the full story of our heart.

An abstract painting of a mouth and a megaphone surrounded by colorful swirls and shapes

When I say that I am a Christian, what you hear is probably not what I say.

When I say that I am a Christian, I mean

that I’m alive when I wanted to be dead

that I’m married when I should be divorced

that after thirty-five years of the horrors of war—of attack and betrayal and torture and mutilation of self—that there is peace on this battlefield

that I finally recognize the voice of my enemy, which used to sound like myself but now sounds like sweet honey over a worn-out clutch grinding in the distance

that nothing is wasted, not failure or success, not disorder or delight, not bitter or sweet, not time before or time after

that it’s all been worth it.

When I say that I am a Christian, I mean

that lost and found aren’t fixed states but an ongoing game of hide and seek

that fear nips at my heels when it should be crushed beneath them

that I still swear and drink and ignore the homeless man at the intersection and eat my feelings and hurt people sometimes

that I am broken

that I am holy anyway

that I am made of words and earth and breathe borrowed breath and wield power I have not yet begun to grasp

that I am reclaimed and remade, translated and transfigured, chosen and changed

that I am myself.

When I say that I am a Christian, I mean

that I don’t have all the answers and never will and am learning to be okay with that

that what I do know is that there is a love longer and wider and higher and deeper than any and every poets’ ideal

that such love has a name

that I am more interested in the vibrancy of your soul than your partner or your politics

that I love you whether you believe me or not

when I say that I am a Christian.

State of the Ellie: August 2019

A (not so) brief summary of my July. Featuring a nagging case of FOMO, professional maturity, toddler attitude, and being bored with my health updates.

Another Way by Justin Peters - A man in a black leather jacket holds an umbrella with a road and landscape on top

The State of the Ellie is a monthly reflection on what’s been going on in my world for the last 30ish days.

Since the last one was late, this month’s update is of the quick ‘n’ dirty variety to avoid belaboring past points. Also, while July wasn’t calendar-busy, it was internally busy, so buckle up.

Florida

The news here is the same as last time: we’re shooting for November. As we get closer to Thanksgiving, I’m sure things will get nuts again, but for now, we’re back in hurry-up-and-wait mode. Which has given me existential whiplash. It took me a while to figure out why I’ve been feeling so tender, distracted, and lost after the timeline shift, but it’s so obvious now. We were running full tilt getting ready to go for August, then had a concrete wall slam down in front of us. Of course I’m discombobulated—going from 100 to 0 hurts.

I’m also coping with a nagging case of FOMO (as inadvertently evidenced by the story I wrote last week). Most of our team is heading south this month, and frankly, I’m jealous. The delay in our departure makes sense (for more than just immigration purposes—see “Family” below), but there is a huge part of me that just wants to go. To be there, to be starting. There’s another, crappier part of me that’s sulking about feeling left out. I know God’s using this to root out pride and abandonment issues, which is good, but uggggghhhhh. Unpleasant. Right now, I’m choosing to be excited for everyone else and to be as patient as possible until our number is called. It’s not how long you wait but your attitude while waiting that counts, right?

Work

There’s a serious leveling up happening here right now. While I don’t have a full slate of clients (yet), the work I’m doing with them, the way I handle my schedule, and even the rates I charge are morphing from wobbly-legged amateur to sort-of-confident professional person. I’m taking on challenges that make me uncomfortable but not uneasy. I’m valuing my time and skills more. I’m finding new ways, places, and times to work that seemed impossible five years ago.

I’m growing, you guys.

There’s still a fair amount of chaos, and I’m still looking for clients, but there’s a new undercurrent of competency I’ve never felt in my business life before. And I kinda like it.

Also: I wrote my first fiction last week for the first time in two years. I had to double check the dates because that doesn’t seem real. I miss it so much. I have tons of story ideas, and I want so badly to finish Forgotten Relics. But I can’t seem to pull my mental/creative/temporal shit together. Then I fall into the comparison trap—“XYZ author person writes all their novels while working 40 hours a week and homeschooling their five kids and…”—you know. Anyway. The desire is there. I can’t make any promises, but I will say there’ve been inklings in my prayer time that full-blown fiction is returning. Someday.

Family

Less than a week after we had to delay Florida, we found out why we needed to: Lino’s mom was rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night with heart issues that resulted in her getting a pacemaker. I’ll spare the long story, but the upshot is that we’re really glad we decided to stay. She’s facing a lot of changes in her life that we need (want!) to be present for and to support. On top of that, my sister-in-law is expecting her second baby mid-August, so we get to be present for and to support her through that newborn season, too. So it turned out that what we’d been angsting about as a setback to building the Kingdom was actually a green light (reminder) to be doing it here, now.

Parenting

I always feel like I should have so much more to write here. How do those mommybloggers do it?!

Each month that goes by intensifies Mackenzie’s toddlerness. The last couple of weeks, her attitude has ratcheted up to teenage Valley Girl levels, including once telling her daddy “don’t worry about what I’m doing and mind your own business.” I….what. We’re at a bit of a loss as to how to discipline that, but are doing our best to be consistent with what we know to do. We also suspect that, after six months of not needing a nap, she might need one again. The couple of times we made her lay down due to a late night, her attitude was markedly improved. Hrm….*strokes beard*

Also (TMI ALERT): Mack’s big accomplishment this month is that she all the sudden decided to start pooping on the little potty in the morning and then get right back in bed to wait for her wakeup call. WHAT. She’s been daytime trained since May, but we’ve purposely not started night training because we don’t want to deal with any stress-based regressions in the mattress department due to moving. But, hey, if she wants to poop on the potty, I’m all for it.

Health

Guys, I’m so bored with this category. It’s one of the regulars, but honestly, it’s the same stuff all the time. Cold symptoms, aching joints, weird stuff doctors don’t care much about because it isn’t bad enough. Blah, blah, blah. You guys deserve better than this. Suffice to say, I’m on sinus infection #2 of the year. Two more and the ENT will give a crap about what I say. Hooray?

Miscellaneous

  • My reading life is picking up! I wrestled that Tolkien to the ground, finally, and rewarded myself with Redshirts and a few YA graphic novels I randomly grabbed at the library. Going on to Murakami shorts next. Gotta retrain my flabby brain after four years of basically just reading nutritional labels.
  • Our local libraries show movies for free in the afternoon, and we’re taking Mack to train her up to go to the Real Theatre. Moana tomorrow. Let’s see if she can sit still for the whole thing.
  • It’s starting to be too dark at 5:30am for me to safely walk our neighborhood. This makes me sad because a) I need to exercise, and b) it reminds me that winter is coming. Argh. I might have to find some room in the budget to get back to the gym.

That’s it for me this month! Now it’s your turn.

Jump in the comments to tell me how YOUR July went and what you’ve got planned for August.

The small mercy of an almost parking ticket

I deserved to get a parking ticket after what happened. But I didn’t. And that made me feel some things.

I put all my money in the meter for an hour and a half in the public parking lot, way more than was strictly necessary. If it took the dentist longer than that to file down one pointy filling, I would definitely have to switch docs.

When my “you have 10 minutes until your meter expires” alarm went off, I asked the receptionist if everything was okay. She hustled away, then back, then speed-walked me into a chair at the back.

In and out in under 3 minutes after waiting for over an hour past my appointment time.

Five minutes left on the meter.

I did my own speed walk through the winding corridors of the mall, sprinting across the street to my car. And as I passed the huge SUV parked next to me, I saw it: yellow paper folded into my windshield wipers.

A parking ticket.

I looked down through the glass and saw that my dash was empty. I must have left the car unlocked and someone took it. Frustrating, but not unusual downtown.

I swore not quite under my breath and snatched up the ticket, already planning to fight it, even without the proof of the missing receipt, boiling with righteous indignation.

I unfolded the paper and, instead of a list of charges, it said: 

“Please ensure your ticket is displayed on the dash. Have a good weekend.”

That’s when I noticed the white paper lazing upside down on the steering column. My heart tied itself in a knot. It must have slipped off when I shut the door earlier.

I reached out and turned it over.

A parking lot ticket showing the time

One minute to spare.


This happened last week, and I can’t stop thinking about it. I even keep the ticket up on the kitchen shelf where I can remember it as an object lesson.

Parking enforcement is srsbizns in downtown Hamilton. I’ve been ticketed for parking within 30cm of a driveway and for being parked too long at the curb despite having moved my car two blocks because the chalk on my tire ended up in the same position as it started.

Ruth. Less.

But that day? The day when I was whizzing through task after task–both for the big move and my nascent freelance biz–and was frazzled after being patient too long with an overflowing dentist’s office?

That day, I got mercy.

When I didn’t deserve it. When it was my fault for breaking the rules. When it would’ve been a poetically just cap to my hectic, frustrating day.

Because that’s when mercy matters: when we least deserve it.

Not getting a parking ticket is a small thing. But the relief I felt, the rush of endorphins when I realized the parking officer had every right to punish me and chose not to–that mattered. It straightened my perspective. It reminded me to hold on a little looser, to breathe a little deeper–to remember that love shows up in the strangest places but never fails to change things.

It also reminded me to make sure my dang receipt is on the dash next time. Geez.

State of the Ellie: July 2019

The (not so) brief summary of my June. Featuring a revised timeline, freelancing joy, receiving help with grace, and nothing being wrong with my hearing apparently.

A grey short hair cat with a takeout box on its head that says "supreme"

The State of the Ellie is a monthly reflection on what’s been going on in my world for the last 30ish days (a bit delayed this month because life).

I don’t know about you, but my June was IN-SANE. Just looking back at my day planner is stressing me out, and it’s stuff I’ve already done.

Let’s see if I can break down the madness into bite-sized chunks.

Florida

Honestly, not a lot happened with this in June. Which is sort of the refrain of this year’s song. We continued to prune our house and make arrangements with doctors, etc, but aside from the plan finally going public, we had to pause everything for the vow renewal (see below). I’ve certainly grown a lot in terms of being able to spin more plates than ever, but handling an international move and a (re)wedding at the same time is too much for one human.

BUT! We spoke with our pastors and an immigration lawyer this week, and yada yada yada we’re staying in Hamilton at least until November 1–together. (And this could get changed again, depending on processing times.)

Which, I realized after having a meltdown about more delays, is actually a relief. Now we don’t have to DO ALL THE THINGS in the next three weeks, plus we’ll be here when my new niece arrives. And, you know, not splitting up the family for an indefinite amount of time is certainly a bonus.

Work

Is it unprofessional to say I’m shocked at how well this is going? Because I am a bit. Since going freelance in May, I’ve started working with a handful of clients who have super interesting, fun projects on the go, and I love that I get to help them bring their writing babies into the world! I even made each one their own themed Trello board. And now that Lino is home, he and I split the childcare week, meaning I get three whole days to do whatever I want (read: work like I’m on fire), so although I’m busy, I’m also more productive and more peaceful than I have been in my working life for a long time.

There’s room to grow, though! I’m always looking for editing and writing gigs, and there are only 3 consultation spots available. If you or someone you know needs a boost on their writing project, let’s talk!

Money

This part is…less good. While I’m bringing more to the table these days, June saw Lino’s last official paycheck after being laid off. He’s applied for employment insurance, but it hasn’t started yet, and our savings are dwindling. We’re cobbling together a best-case scenario for both of us to work, pay the bills, have Mack taken care of, and also prepare for the eventual exodus. It’s a lot. And we’re scared. But. Some embarrassingly-kind people have stepped in to help us out: two gave us unsolicited grocery cards, one threw huge bags of frozen meat at us and ran away, many are inviting us over for dinner. God is taking care of us. We might be living way closer to the edge of disaster than we’re comfortable with, but that’s where He does His best work.

Parenting

Mackenzie continues to be three. The fact that I can’t think of much in the way of wins and losses tells me that either I’m getting acclimatized to toddler life or I’ve lost my mind. Our day to day is a whirlwind of activities, meltdowns, laughter, half-eaten food, and wondering if I can get away without bathing her for another day because it’s already so late and she doesn’t smell like pee so it should be fine right. I will say she’s loving having Daddy home on the regular, although it’s been quite a mental adjustment for Lino. He’s gone from a high-stress corporate management job handling hundreds of employees and millions of dollars to a high-stress small human management job with one employee and no dollars. He loves it, though. They’re so stinkin’ cute together.

Love

Of everything that happened in June, our 10-year anniversary and vow renewal was far and away the best. There was a fair amount of drama leading up to it–mostly because I panicked and bought a totally different dress, then had the tailoring adventure of a lifetime and didn’t get it until the day before the ceremony–but! like all major events you plan yourself, once the day rolled around, everything went perfectly. Keep your eyes peeled for an awww-inducing post as soon as the photos are ready.

My favourite part, though, wasn’t the ceremony or the party. It was the next day when my husband turned to me after a long silence and said, “I know it’s stupid because it’s not actually different, but it just feels different today, you know?” Nothing could have made me happier. Because it is different. That’s the whole point.

Health

On one hand, I’m happily exercising sans gym by doing physio stretches and walking around the stadium weekday mornings (thank you, 5am Club). On the other hand, the ENT appointment I waited four months for to diagnose my constant low-grade cold symptoms and a slow but appreciable hearing loss turned up exactly nothing. I managed to hold it together afterward just long enough to make it to the bathroom where I burst into tears that didn’t stop until I got back to my car. I have a history of being “too early” with things happening to/in my body; I report illnesses and wonkiness long before it’s of concern to doctors. And this is no exception, it seems. I was given a prescription for FloNase and welcomed to being middle aged. It broke my heart. For now, I suppose I’ll keep going to the doc too early and asking people to talk louder until the day it’s bad enough to get help.


That’s it for me this month! Tune in the first week of August to hear how July went.

Now it’s your turn!
Share your June thoughts and July plans in the comments.