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.

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

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.

The road goes ever on: Where we’re moving and why (mostly)

Don’t feel bad if you didn’t know: It’s been a secret since January. Here’s a quick-n-dirty FAQ on our expatriation.

This past weekend was a big one for me and mine, not just because of the incredibleness of getting to start over fresh in my marriage after 10 years, but because of a second huge announcement that most of you likely didn’t see.

After nearly 20 years of serving the Hamilton area, our church is starting a new campus in Orlando, Florida this summer.

And we’re going.

Supernatural Dean what excuse me what GIF

I know. We were surprised, too.

I’m sure you have a zillion questions, and I’m going to do my best to answer them, but I need to ask you for two things.

  1. Please read the entire post before you comment/DM/email/text/call so we’re on the same page, and I don’t have to repeat myself too much.
  2. Understand that this is an extremely complex situation with a lot of moving parts and question marks. I won’t explain it all perfectly the first time.

Okay? Okay.

Here goes.


Gold toy car on a road map of Orlando Florida (via Alamy.com)

Why are you going?

The short answer is because we were called.

Yeah, that made me groan and roll my eyes, too. But it’s the truth. Cliches are cliches for a reason.

Our pastors invited us to join the launch team in the plan’s nascent stages in a turn of events that could only have been divinely arranged. (If you want to hear the full story, just ask! It’s too long for this post.) When we heard what they were planning, our spirits leaped for joy, although we didn’t have any clue why. We sat on our answer for three days but knew full well we were going. We just knew.

But why you?

You have no idea how often we ask ourselves that on a daily basis, especially as the days count down to go-time. We’re not pastors, elders, or ministry leaders; we’re a couple of laypeople who haven’t even been saved very long.

However.

Practically speaking, Lino and I have unique skillsets that are surprisingly useful in planting a church. Lino’s become an expert in community outreach through his work with Ruck 2 Remember, and he’s an Excel wizard with experience in all stages of business operations after a decade in call center management. For my part, it’s become abundantly clear that God wants to do something with my writing, and I’ve learned to channel my perfectionism into organizational skills, which are crucial for any startup.

We’re also discovering ever deeper wellsprings of hope, love, and trust as we continue to say “yes” to the call despite the increasing obstacles and attacks that kind of commitment invites. It’s really shown us what we’re made of. So, even if on the day we drive the truck across the border God says to go back and stay in Hamilton, I say it’s been worth it.

Also, the fact that I’m American helps.

Why Orlando?

It’s weird, right? I mean, missionaries get called to Haiti or Sudan or China–places where things are realrealbad and folks need hope. You don’t get called to Disneyworld.

And yet, there’s a need.

Our pastors have been vacationing in the area for nearly 10 years and have become increasingly aware of a ferocious desire for God’s love among folks who claim to already know Jesus. They’re hungry and thirsty for divine love, for a new way of living in this world, for relationship over religion.

We’re going to Orlando to stir up the wonder, glory, and joy of God in the hearts of those who have forgotten it–or never knew it in the first place–in the midst of a land overflowing with buildings but starving for church as it’s meant to be: a community that loves like family.

Fortunately, that’s exactly what we do best.

When are you leaving?

Um, well, we aren’t sure. We’ve known we were going since January, but the truth is we don’t have a solid moving date yet. As it stands, we’re aiming at August 1. Which means we’ve got about a month to get all our ducks (alligators?) in a row. But we truly have no idea. Could be Christmas. I’ll get back to you.

Will you be back?

You’ll see us again! As visitors.

We’re treating this as a permanent move. We decided from the start that if we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it all the way. No lukewarm, half-in bet-hedging. We’re taking the stuff we can’t bear to part with and making the Sunshine State our new home.

So, what now?

There are still so many things unsettled–including jobs, housing, schools, and immigration statuses–so it’s all constantly in motion even at this late hour. But since it isn’t a secret anymore, I’m able to share the journey with you as it unfolds. You’ll be hearing a lot more about our antics soon.

For now, we’re stepping into July with fear and trembling but also hope and certainty that whatever may pass is good. Don’t get me wrong: this is scary as hell and I’ve cried rivers. But every step we’ve taken forward has been accompanied by peace in the midst of chaos, provision in the grip of lack, and reassurance in the face of doubt. And that tells me we’re on the right track.

So.

Now.

Tony Stark end of presentation ready for your questions

How we killed and resurrected our marriage: a 10-year anniversary story

No one’s more surprised that we’re still married than my husband and me. By all rights, we shouldn’t be. Let me tell you the story. [VIDEO]

I never expected to be married for 10 years.

Hell, I never expected to be married at all.

And six years ago, I expected to be divorced by now.


Lino and I haven’t had an easy marriage. It started out strong—we coasted on the heady fumes of infatuation way longer than most couples—but when the rosy glow wore off, things broke bad. Real bad.

I’m talking lies, gaslighting, manipulation, cheating, separation.  Horrible stuff. No one would’ve blamed us for walking away. In fact, most of our friends and family gently (and not so gently) encouraged us to do just that. Sometimes we encouraged it, too.

While we didn’t hate each other, we sure as hell didn’t like each other—not to speak of love. Everything about our relationship screamed divorce. And yet, no matter what awfulness we perpetrated against each other, we stayed together.

But rather than try to explain WHY in writing, I want to tell you in person.

So grab your drink and settle in. It’s story time.

Click here to read/download the transcript.

Now, I tell you that story to tell you this one:

This weekend, Lino and I are renewing our vows.

Ten is the number of completion, so our 10th anniversary is the perfect time to close the book on the story of our old marriage and to forge a new covenant, to start a new life with Christ at the center.

We’re bringing every broken promise, every wound, every sin to the altar where we’ll repent and forgive, washing away our past, then make new vows to honor one another and the God who’s always had our backs, even when they were turned on each other.  

Honestly, it’s more like a baptism than a wedding.


I don’t know what the next ten years will hold. While our relationship is wildly better than it was, it’s not perfect (not that it ever will be). We still fight, still ignore each other, still overwork, still cling to old hurts. We’re still human.

But what I do know is that the God who started a good work in us is faithful to complete it—and he’s done some killer work so far. The three of us are on an adventure together, walking the long road from where we started to where we’re going, and only one of us knows the way. So Lino and I will follow, carrying only what we need as we start this next phase of the journey, our eyes on the horizon, watching as the sun rises on a new day.


“If anyone is enfolded into Christ, he has become an entirely new creation. All that is related to the old order has vanished. Behold, everything is fresh and new.” [2 Corinthians 5:17 TPT]