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.

Choosing to value who I am, not how I feel

“What are your values?” I thought I knew. But it turns out I’ve been wrong for my entire life. I just needed to shift my perspective.

Waaaaaaay back in my past life as a headologist, in the wilds of 2013, I was doing some business planning. But not your usual, make-a-speadsheet-and-color-coded-calendar kind of business planning. This was deep stuff.

What do you most want to FEEL in your business?

I’d never considered that before, even in terms of my personal life–everything was framed as how I didn’t want to feel. The question sparked my curiosity, and I spent the next hour searching my soul and abusing the thesaurus.

I finally came up with four core desired feelings: affluent, sovereign, dynamic, tapped-in.

Mixed media artwork of my 4 core desired feelings for business

These words felt perfect. They reflected not just the limited scope of my business, but how I wanted to feel in my life as a whole. I breathed them in, letting their promise wash over me, seep into my blood, and become reality.

Except I never did get there.

I shuttered the business not long after, disillusioned by how tiny and helpless I felt in the face of trying to “make it” as a solopreneur.


Flash forward to last week.

I’m surrounded by a couple dozen of my nearest and dearest at a women’s workshop about dreams. The kind you set aside to go to school, to start a career, to change cities, to take care of the kids–because life happens and you discount your dreams as less-than compared to everything else. The kind of dreams that break your heart.

“We’re going to discover our core values,” the presenter says as volunteers hand around a list of 100 words. “Knowing what you value will tell you who you truly are. And when you know who you are, those stalled dreams can start moving.”

Inwardly, I roll my eyes. I’ve beaten this particular bush many times since that first go-round and not much ever comes out of it. Whatever I end up with seems to crumble too fast or change too often for me to build a real dream on. But I’m here and determined to stay open, so I play along.

We get two minutes to read through the list and circle the ten words that leap out at us right away, the ones that we think most strongly represent us.

Doing my best to dig deep and be honest, I choose accomplishment, connectedness, creativity, curiosity, ease, joy, orderliness, spirituality, truth, and understanding.

But the next step makes me realize this isn’t my mama’s values-finding exercise.

“Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you your top three core values. The ones that represent your truest self.

“You have thirty seconds. Go!”

My brain leaps into panic mode. How am I supposed figure out my truest self in half a minute?! There are so many things to consider!

“Ten seconds!”

I tell my brain to stuff it, close my eyes, take a breath, and ask. The answer comes without dissection, without debate–without my help at all.

Connection. Joy. Truth.

This time, there’s no surge of power, no tingling sensation. Just a quiet sense of yes. Tears sting my eyes as I recognize myself on the page.

As people read out their three core values, shouts of “that’s so you!” ring from all corners of the room.

The presenter quiets us down, though the excitement is still rising. “These values are who you are, the core of who you are created to be. If you think back, you’ll see that whenever you’ve felt most alive, most yourself, you were operating out of these three values. Make them your guide as you unfold the dreams in your heart, and you will be amazed at what happens.”

My completed worksheet for finding my 3 core values

It took me a few days to figure out why my core desired feelings from 2014 are so dramatically different from the values I chose in that exercise.

It isn’t that I don’t want to feel affluent, sovereign, dynamic, and tapped-in. I do. Everyone does.

The problem is that when I’ve outlined my values in the past, my focus was on what I want to feel. Projecting desires into the future for what I thought would light me up, fulfill me, save me. I was focusing on something that didn’t exist and trying to manifest it into being.

This time, I let myself be shown what’s actually in the core of my being. The truth of who I am, the essence of myself–that which already exists and has for my entire life.

Who I wanted to be versus who I am.

What makes this such a huge freaking deal is that, now, rather than grasping at what isn’t and striving to make it so, I can simply stand on what is. Each choice, each interaction, each feeling and thought, each relationship, each project can now be built on a solid foundation that’s uniquely keyed to my spirit.

Even better: It gives me an incredible inner compass.

Whenever I’m uneasy or uncertain, all I have to do is take a step back and ask, “Does this serve my true values? Where is the connection, joy, and/or truth in this?” If it matches up, great! Then I’m in alignment. If it doesn’t, it’s got to go. I’ve spent too much time, energy, and life chasing the wrong things. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

I walked away from that workshop feeling empowered in a way I’ve never experienced before–confidently peaceful rather than antsy to start something. It’s the difference between trust and fear.

And that is where dreams thrive.


If you want to do this value-finding exercise, too, here’s a worksheet. Take the test, then report back!

What are your three core values?
Share in the comments!