Quick recap: I used to be able to leave anyone, anywhere, anytime. But there came I day when I couldn't leave. I chose to surrender my power of leaving and was rewarded with finally knowing what "home" really means. And just as I was confidently walking in my new, connected, cozy reality, God asked me to leave.
So, I tell you that story so I can tell you this one.
The call to move to Florida and plant a church came in January, bringing with it a cavalcade of questions.
Why us? What could we possibly add to this team of pastors and elders? What do we tell our families? Where will we live? How do you get a visa? How do we get jobs? What’s the exchange rate? When does school start? Do we need to sell all our stuff? When do we go?
But one particular question didn’t join the flashmob. It stood patiently outside the throng, waiting for the excitement to die down and for every other question to settle itself as best it could. For two months, it waited.
And then one day, after all the paperwork was mailed and a launch date was set, it whispered,
It was so quiet and so sad, like the voice of a scared child, that when I finally heard it, I stopped washing the dishes, sat down on the kitchen stepstool, and cried.
Why now? Why—after years of painstakingly teaching me what it means to belong, to be from somewhere, to be part of a community, to have roots—why would God ask me to leave my hard-won home for a place I’ve never been and a people that aren’t mine? Why not before I lost the power of leaving? When it wouldn’t have hurt so terribly to think of saying goodbye? When I knew what to do with my belongings and my heart?
I prayed through the tears, begging for God to explain this cruel game of keep-away. But all that came was a concerned toddler asking why Mommy was crying. So I dried my face, hugged my baby, took a deep breath, and went about my day.
That was in March.
And every day that passed after, the question made sure I didn’t forget it. It greeted me when I woke up, slid into my thoughts during the day, and tucked me into bed at night. It was always there—never angry or demanding, but there.
Time didn’t help. Unlike nearly all of my other zillion questions about the move, it had no practical answer. There was no form I could fill out, no research I could do, no expert I could pay. No matter how I tried to resolve it, the question remained.
One morning, I was sitting at my desk, watching the hazy Hamilton sunrise, writing in my journal to work through the sticky emotions that cropped up from being delayed in our leaving yet again. The decision to stay until at least November when we thought we’d be gone by August compounded the question.
Why NOT now?
Why do we have to stay while the rest of the team leaves? Why are we being left behind? Will we get left out? Are they starting without us? Is there still a place for us? Are we actually meant to go?
Line after line, I tried to come to terms with the whiplash I felt, the disappointment and resentment and jealousy. The terror of abandonment. I scribbled my way through reminders that everything has a purpose, that the work is always here and now, and that people naturally pull away from what’s exiting their lives.
That reminded me of all the promises I’ve made to now long-lost friends during farewell parties. Pledges to stay in touch and to visit. I thought of how much I meant it at the time and how they wanted to believe me. I thought of how I knew it was bullshit even as I said it.
And that’s when the answer came.
You need to learn what it means to stay behind.
I caught my breath as understanding crashed over me. The pen quivered in my hand and tears sprang to my eyes.
Learning the meaning of home was only the first half of the lesson. Now that I know what it means to have your heart fully in a place, I need to know what it’s like to stay there when someone you love leaves. To have them slice off a piece of that heart and take it with them, most likely to dry out and rot, forgotten in the swirling excitement of their new life—without you.
I’ve spent my entire life being the one who leaves, the one who gets the fresh start, the one with a shining future ahead. I’ve never given a moment’s consideration to the feelings of the people I’ve left behind. And now God wants to complete my understanding of home by teaching me what it’s like to be on both sides of the leaving.
Because our friends here have to do the hard, brave work of filling the gaps we leave behind. People who are forever written into my story and me into theirs and who shouldn’t have to inherit my empty promises.
Because our families will be thousands of miles away, some for the first time ever, and we cannot rely on mere feelings of obligation to maintain our connection.
Because we’re going to Florida, a state with one of the highest immigrant populations in the union. We’re walking into a community filled with people who have left behind family and friends in search of a better life, as well as those who have been left behind themselves. How can I possibly have compassion for their experience—and the experience of those not with them, those that weigh so heavy on their hearts—when I’ve been so callous and blasé about it in the past? How can I hope to show the fullness of God’s love for them if my own heart has only seen one facet of the story?
Our delay has a purpose. But it hurts. It’s hard. I don’t like it. I’m sad and lonely and worried. I’m afraid of being forgotten. I’m afraid of so many things.
But in this pain, I’m healing. In the waiting, I’m learning to be joyful despite uncertainty, to engage instead of withdraw, to be hopeful when it’s easier to despair. This is where wisdom and compassion and wholeness come from. The strength and grace to help others through their own struggle for peace.
And where we’re going, I’m going to need it.