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.

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.

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.

Change hurts, which is why no one wants to do it (but you should)

Changing your life doesn’t usually spark joy. It usually sucks. Like, a lot. But it’s worth it.

by Eiko Ojala - A layered digital papercut of the inside of a person's mind with small figures digging in it

Googling “change your life” turns up 5,370,000,000 hits in less than a second.

Five.
BILLION.

Humans are clearly looking for advice, resources, and tactics to take what we’ve got and make it into something better.

Trouble is, we don’t actually like change.

We like the idea of change.

When we run across stuff like The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up or The Happiness Project, we jump on it like Mario on a mushroom thinking we’ve found the solution to all our problems. High on hope, we breathlessly share our life-changing aspirations with anyone who will listen (and some who’d rather not).

I mean, who doesn’t want to quit smoking, clean up their eating, purge their house of clutter, delete their social media, quit their soul-crushing job, and move to a tropical island? That’s the stuff that dreamboards are made of.

But….

Who wants to suffer withdrawal from nicotine or sugar or caffeine, face their hoarding and attachment to objects, lose friends and be left out, start over at the bottom rung, and be alone in a place where they don’t speak the language?

Nobody, that’s who.

And so while we love to talk about changing our lives, very few of us do.

Because we forget that change has a cost.

We forget the struggle, the lack, the fear, and the pain we’ll suffer as we reach for our heart’s desire.

To truly change our lives, we have to sacrifice things that bring us comfort and security, things we’ve lived with so long we don’t know who we’d be without them, things we’ve accepted as our identity. Ideas, habits, beliefs, relationships.

We have to choose to leave the old behind to step into the new, even when it hurts like hell to do it.

As I stand on the precipice of a life I’ve never known, I find I must become a person I’ve never been. I’m shedding my skin, sheets of old me sloughing off by the week, taking with it my assumptions about who I am and what I need to not just survive, but to thrive.

And it hurts.

Letting my husband take his rightful place when I’ve been in charge for years hurts.

Allowing my daughter to have big feelings when I want to stop them hurts.

Selling my creative services when I’ve only ever used them for myself hurts.

Accepting changed friendships without trying to reclaim them hurts.

Confronting a call to speak in public when I’ve dropped out of classes to avoid it hurts.

Living faith-forward when I’m so good at controlling the details hurts.

Working with my body when I’ve been at war with it for decades hurts.

Shedding the dragon skin hurts.

But there comes a point when the pain of staying the same outweighs the pain of change.

And on the other side of that is a life even dreams can’t imagine. One free of the itchy tightness suppressing my spirit. One where I walk upright, fully myself, unburdened by fear.

One I want–but have to pay for.

Enduring the crucible is the only way to truly change your life. There is no easy way out, no magic bullet, no fairy godmother. In order to be different, you must be different. And most people choose not to because it’s hard, it’s messy, and it hurts.

But it’s worth it.


Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. [Joshua 1:9]


What changes are you facing that are costing you more than you bargained for? How can you remind yourself that it’s worth it?

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!