The State of the Ellie: October 2019

Waiting on immigration (still), the Long Walk, werewolf toddler, body squish, and the lightning round.

The top-of-my-head update was awesome last time, so I’m doing it again. I admit this one is a bit janky, though. September was overflowing with busyness; October is shaping up to be more so; and I have eleventy-billion things clamoring for my attention right now. It makes it tough to focus. Also, 400 words died in a tragic misclicking accident, but this is already late, so apologies for the clunkiness. Onward!


Nope. Still don’t know when we’re leaving.

Immigration and the Florida Move (which sounds like a terrible island-rock band) are ongoing but without updates. A piece of paper here, a list of forms there. But no matter how many times people ask me when we’re going (or if we’re still going at all), my answer doesn’t change. I don’t know because it’s not up to me. Arabic has a great word for this that runs through my brain whenever the question comes up: inshallah, meaning “if God wills it.” I’m thinking of having it tattooed on my forehead.

In practical terms, we’re waiting for a letter with a special number that unlocks the online application process, which should speed things up. Math tells us we’re still looking at 6-14 weeks before we have the visa in hand, though. Woof.

And it was the best long walk ever.

Lino and his band of ruffians did their incredible Road to Recovery event a couple of weeks ago, and it was far and away the most successful year ever. New people marched the 148-kilometer distance, new Legion branches supported, there were tanks(!), and at current, the total raised for Operation: Leave the Streets Behind is over $60,000 and climbing—every cent of which goes to veterans facing homelessness.

I’m so wildly proud of my husband for the work he does with this organization. For the past six years, he’s put in countless hours of work to ensure that veterans and first responders are taken care of the way they should be. He never falters in his kindness, never fails to be cheerful despite blisters and sunburn and exhausted limbs. It’s his passion, a godly calling, and it shows.

If you’d like to donate to the cause, the page is up until November when the team presents a big ol’ cheque to the Legion. Click here to contribute!

Mackenzie is in a season of transition, not unlike that of a werewolf.

All month long, Mackenzie’s been riding some sort of emotional rollercoaster, the design of which is a secret even after she’s passed through the loops and dives. She’s alternately intensely clingy and intensely independent; she’s napping again but fighting bedtime; she’s more kind than ever and more manipulative, too; she’s creating extensive stories in her imagination that are sometimes delightful, sometimes horrific.

It’s a lot. For her and for me. There’s been a lot of snuggles and quiet talks and tears and discipline. Not saying who got what, but we’re navigating it together, one day at a time.

And every once in a while, she says or does something big kids do, and it reminds me that she’s only little for a little while. That, for better or worse, we’ll only be here once. It helps me to be patient; it makes her a bit concerned about why mommy is crying. It’s bittersweet, the quintessence of parenting.

On the upside, we’re watching Hilda together, and she loves it. Sharing things you love with your kid is the best.

My body is squishy again, and I’m not sure how I feel about it.

Between an ever-busier schedule and the carb-heavy diet our budget allows, my body isn’t gaining back its muscle and tone the way I’d hoped. The scale hasn’t shifted beyond normal fluctuations, and my clothes fit fine, but when I’m sitting on the couch, walking around without pants (don’t judge me, you do it, too), and getting ready in the morning, I notice softness where things were firm not long ago. And it makes me feel weird.

Last August, God asked me to trust that I wouldn’t fall back into disordered eating if worked out and tracked food to take care of my body. And I did. And it went great! (I should write a thing about this.) But after a break and this returning squish, I’m wondering if the challenge in my healing was not last year when I began, but now when I think I’ve arrived, that I’m “over it.” It may be.

Fortunately, my spiritual muscles haven’t softened, and I’m confident in Him to hold my worries for me so I don’t have to sweat it. (Well, beyond actual sweat. Still gotta get those gains.) I’m also actively choosing to embrace my body, no matter how squishy, for the bizarrely wonderful creation it is. I love my little godpod.

The lightning round

  • I learned so much about myself with the podcasting fast early in the month. The reset what super good for my brain. More about that in this giant post.
  • I decided to do Inktober this year for reasons I don’t understand. It’s way out of my area of expertise, and I’m bending the rules a bit, but it’s fun. Join me?
  • I made my first tres leches cake with a friend, and it came out pretty good! We definitely learned a lot about milk.
  • Lino went off coffee last month due to tummy issues and switched to tea, but I cannot for the life of me remember to make it for him. I hate tea. But I hate not being able to get in the bathroom more, so I shall persevere.
  • I volunteered to organize a staycation version of our church‘s women’s retreat this weekend! I am super excited! I have no idea what I’m doing! It’s going to be great!
  • I’m taking a class about the biblical concept of renewing your mind, through a neuropsychology lens, and it is blowing my mind. Definitely more on this later.

Now you! Tell me what’s been going on in your world this past month? What’s been good? Not so good? Let’s chat in the comments.

It’s just furniture, but also more than just furniture

Yesterday, we sold our first piece of real furniture as part of our Florida adventure. And I’m shook.

It’s just a cabinet.

That’s what I keep telling myself. Just furniture. Just wood and glass and tiny pieces of metal.

It’s just stuff.

But no matter how many times I say it, it still stings.

Yesterday, we sold our first piece of real furniture. We’ve been paring down and selling/donating/trashing our (surprisingly numerous) possessions for months as we get ready to move to Florida, but it’s all been inconspicuous stuff. Papers and glassware and endtables. That kind of thing.

But this cabinet? I love(d) it.

It was one of those little winks from God that says, “I know you.” I’m one of those people who likes to see their stuff, but I also need things arranged neatly. I’ve always wanted glass-front cabinets. Yet I never bought any because—I don’t know if you know this, but—antiques are expensive. So when my friend gave us this beautiful piece that fit perfectly into our home (and lives—I used it as a standing desk for six months), it was truly a thoughtful gift from my heavenly dad.

And if we weren’t getting ready to pack up everything we own in the smallest possible U-Haul and move two thousand miles south, we would have kept it forever.

But we are.

So we can’t.

It’s just not practical. It’s fragile. It’s heavy. It doesn’t actually hold that much stuff. And there are other much more important things that need its spot in the truck. My ten boxes of books, for example.

So away it went. Off to a sweet hipster couple who will probably paint it chalk white and put books in it that they’ll never read.

The reason this is even worth writing about is that it makes the whole “sell everything you own and move to Florida to start a church” thing a hell of a lot more real.

All the stuff we’ve purged up until now is stuff we should have gotten rid of anyway. Random things hidden in closets or mementos of past lives long outgrown.

Letting go of this piece that nestled so sweetly in my heart, this piece that would have become a family heirloom, reminded me that the sacrifices we’re called to make on this grand adventure aren’t superficial. This was just the sale of some boards hammered together—we’re leaving behind a community of family and friends, the fabric of our daughter’s universe, and a history of transformation and salvation.

This cabinet is just furniture. There will be more, even if it’s milk crates for a while (again—ah, college).

But it’s also a reminder that, the old has to go in order to make room for the new; that God promises double restoration to those who suffer in pursuit of his kingdom. It’s a reminder not to be too attached to the things of this world, for they’re passing away. That there’s more to this life and the next than what I think I need to be happy.

It’s just stuff. But it’s more than that, too.

Short, dark wood glass-front china cabinet with glassware and bar.

The State of the Ellie: September 2019

Delays, immigration, getting swole, the next novel, and 10kg of flour.

Gonna try something a little different, folks. I usually approach these as a comprehensive walkthrough of the previous month, but to be honest, it’s exhausting trying to remember all the tiny details.

So this time, we’re going off the top of the ol’ noggin. If you and me sat down over coffee and said, “So, how are you?” this is what I’d say.


Florida keeps changing and it’s making me insane.

The second part is a slight exaggeration, but the first part is 100% true.

We signed up for this adventure in January, aimed to leave for August 1, listened to wisdom and bumped to November 1, then Lino’s visa paperwork got accepted last week (way faster than we thought—woo!) and now, because of the way we filed, we’re here until question marks. Could be before Thanksgiving; could be after New Year’s. We just. don’t. know. *retching sounds of a control freak trying to get a hold of herself*

And while we’re happy that we’re not rushing around in a panic to sell/pack/move stuff and that we do get to say our goodbyes (unlike some of our fellow adventurers), it’s hard being left behind. Every delay, every change of plans, there’s another twinge of doubt about whether or not we’re actually supposed to go. I don’t want to live in the meantime.

But it’s not up to me. I meant it when I said that even if we are driving away in the moving van and that’s when God says to stop, we’re not going, then I’m okay with it. I might be angry and broken down for a while, but in the end, I know that I’ll be grateful for the process once I get to the other side of disappointment. I always am.

I am not grateful, however, to be staring down the barrel of another Canadian winter. Why, Lord?

American immigration is complicated.

Having gone through the Canadian system for myself and the citizenship-claiming process for Mack this year, I can confidently say that the US process is the most arcane of the three. There are so many grey areas and straight-up contradictory statements in the documentation that’s supposed to help you. I’ve shed more tears over this application than I have over Artax in the Swamp of Sadness.

There’s a reason for it, though. Every single family that’s going to the States has ended up taking a different route to residency—that’s not a coincidence. Neither is the fact that literally every adult on the team is now an immigrant, whether US–>CA or vice versa (or both). It’s become evident that God is using this process to tenderize our hearts with compassion for the people we’ll meet in Florida. While our exact situations may not be the same, we’ll get it in a way that a lot of other folks won’t.

Legal and political stances aside, I just keep thinking about someone’s 80-year-old abuela who needs cancer treatment trying to figure out all this crap. No wonder people sneak in. Desperation is a powerful motivator.

I signed back up at the gym!

I FEEL SO MUCH BETTER, YOU GUYS. There’s still a little stiffness and physical crabbiness going on, but like 90% less. I’m so glad I listened to my body telling me to move and didn’t get (too) caught up in guilt for spending money when things are so tight.

I also discovered that despite not working out for four months and being super not attentive to my eating, I barely gained any weight AND after only three weeks back at it, I’m nearly back to my previous lifts. *flexes mightily*

I confess that I’m in a bit of a transition phase, though. When I originally signed on, my goal was to shed extra weight. That’s almost taboo to say that these days, but it’s true. I felt sluggish and uncomfortable in my body, and between working out and changing how I ate, the weight came off. But then my surgery happened. Going back now, I have to change my goals—trying to lose weight would be dipping back into the pool of dysfunction. So for now, I’m gently shifting my focus to endurance (run a mile without stopping) and strength (move from machines to deadlifts). It sounds small, but it’s huge for me as someone who’s struggled with body dysmorphia, anorexia, and bulemia for the better part of twenty years.

Gonna get swole.

Is that still what we say? Swole?

Provision.

I already knew this but had forgotten, and now God is using this lean financial time to remind me: Need expands to your resources. While we’re living on 30% of what we had this time last year (or four months ago), somehow, there’s always enough. I do our books, and I do not understand how we’re not defaulting, bouncing, and overdrafting constantly. We just…aren’t. There’s always enough. It truly is miraculous. It’s also made us pissed at ourselves that we’re still drowning in debt after living so high for so many years and somehow barely making it. Shameful.

Even if we don’t end up in Florida and the only thing God is doing with this whole thing is teaching us to steward our finances better, then so be it.

Freelance work is stretching me, and I want more.

That being said, I am still looking for new, cool people to work with. My best work is done when I’m helping other writers accomplish their book-creating goals, and I’m dying to grow this wing of my business.

If you (or anyone you know) wants a battle buddy for a creative project, please do drop me a line, m’kay?

I’ve also been working with Rebilly as a Real Copywriter, which is so far out of my comfort zone that it seems to have looped all the way around to become doable. I’m deeply grateful my handler/boss gave me a chance despite my utter newbieness and for all their grace, patience, and teaching. It’s giving me new skills with which to build both the Kingdom and my family’s foundation for the future. Bless.

Forgotten Relics is on my mind.

(If you have no idea what Forgotten Relics is, don't feel bad. Short version: I used to write urban fantasy novels, and I quit just before getting pregnant and haven't been able to finish the last book of the series since. I promise to write about this someday.)

I re-read Mirror of Ashes last month, and you know, guys, that book is actually pretty good. I know writers aren’t supposed to say that about their own work, but it just IS. When it came out, a reader told me it’s the best book I’ve ever written—I didn’t believe them until last week. I wrote it at the height of my career, when I was the most engaged and fluid with my work than ever before, but I was also totally burnt out from the sheer pace I’d been operating at for three years. I didn’t want to quit; I had to quit. It was eating my soul alive. I shudder to think how wretched I’d be now if I hadn’t stopped when I did, especially given how much internal work I had to do to prepare for parenthood shortly after.

But Cora and Jack and Sofi and Manny are still with me. Even Wex and Samir and Eris. The world lives on. And I’ve carried this burden of needing to tell the rest of the story and finally closing that door with honor for the past four years.

And yet, something’s in the way besides the obvious barriers of time, energy, and braincycles natural to the SAHM with a toddler. A staticky heaviness that materializes any time I open the Apple of Chaos notebook or scratch out a paragraph in the file. Anxiety of some kind. I don’t know if it’s a warning (“it’s not time yet”) or a challenge (“rise above”), but I’m still pushing, still testing, still wanting. We shall see.

Miscellaneous: Not everything is a neat sentence.

  • I am feeling Fall this year. Usually, it makes me sad—my heart is a heart of spring—but there’s a loveliness in the air this go-round that’s got me smiling and thinking all things are possible. You, too?
  • Did you see the massive bag of flour I bought? I’ve been baking all our bread, plus being the dessert person for any dinners we have/go to, and I was going through those normal-human-sized bags every other week. This was quadruple the amount for half the price. I think this officially makes me a Real Baker? Anyone need a cake?
  • I can’t with this Murakami book. I heard “The Second Bakery Attack” a while back, then got the collection as a gift, but for whatever reason, his “wild, imaginative genius” is not clicking for me. What am I missing?!
  • I do not PSL. Just in case you were wondering.

That’s it for me! Now it’s your turn.

Take a nice, long sip of that beverage and tell me how you are doing lately. What’s been going on in your world these last few weeks?

How to be left behind: the power of staying

In the first half of this story, I learned what home means. Now, I have to learn what it means to be left behind.

Two women in silhouette sitting on a guard rail waiting for a train at night

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,

Why now?

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.

Why now?

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 now?
and
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.

Of course.

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.

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.