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.

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.