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]

State of the Ellie: June 2019

A (not so) brief summary of my May. Featuring a 90-day no-spending challenge, being okay with talking about my marriage, and the shock of missing working out. Read all about it, then share your May with me!

A woman asleep on a pile of open books holding several coffee cups on strings like balloons

The State of the Ellie is my monthly reflection on what’s been going on in my life for the last 30ish days. Everything you ever wanted to know but weren’t sure you should ask.

WORK

In perhaps the least-planned launch of my life, I went official with my writing and editing services last month, which is exciting! and scary! and wow! The announcement only went out two weeks ago, so I’m not full up yet, but I have a handful of leads/offers already, which is rad. I’m also hanging out the ol’ shingle on freelancer sites (they’re so competitive and official that it’s intimidating) and setting up a LinkedIn profile. So there’s that.

One of my biggest work goals is to get back to regular writing. I’m starting small: publish one blog post per week. This sounds ridiculous to me since I did that for years, but a four-year break weakens even the strongest muscles. I also want to write monthly short fiction. And write another novel. And run a writing workshop. And and and. One step at a time.

If you have any questions you’d like me to answer on the blog or topics you’d like my take on, leave me a note in the comments! Writing prompts are super helpful to get me moving.

MONEY

Obviously, the big news on this front is Lino being let go from his job. We spent the second half of May preparing the budget (and our souls) for what will be a massive shift in expectations. It’s going to be tight. Tighter than tight. But through a lot of late-night talks and a lot of prayer, we’ve agreed that this is actually a good thing. Lino has been struggling with golden handcuffs and relying on work for his sense of worth. Now, he’s free. The plan is for him to take EI for a couple of months while I ramp up freelancing (and possibly find a part-time job) to make up the difference. In the meantime, he’ll be growing his not-for-profit, connecting with related organizations, volunteering in the community, and serving more at our church. Come August, we’ll be off and running again, I’m sure! Until then, we’re cutting unnecessary expenses, eating more simply, and trusting God to provide as we go through this lean season. Think of it as a 90-day, no-spending, no-grocery challenge.

PARENTING

This category used to be called “baby,” but since she turned three, I feel compelled to change it.

Toddler life is a daily encounter with a double-edged sword. One side is bottomless wonder, curiosity, delight, and love; the other is unrepentant rebellion, fury, manipulation, and defiance. The first side is amazing. Her innocent joy is infectious and has done miracles in me. She’s asking more and better questions every day, and walking her through how the world works is deeply happy-making for me. Those are my favourite moments of the day.

It’s that second side that’s the trouble. That edge cuts deeper, more fatally. And when it’s your first kid, you don’t know the best way to equip yourself for battle–what armor, shield, tools, and weapons you need to both defend yourself and to land tactical blows that knock them down but don’t destroy them. Some days, you get it right. Most days you don’t. With Mack, she’s just upgraded her arsenal, and I am not doing a great job of keeping up. Like, she’s doing less acting out/blatant disobedience and way more emotional stuff now. She’s saying things like “I don’t love you” and “I want people to be sad” to hurt me on purpose. And it does hurt.

Honestly, there’s a lot of yelling right now. At the end of the day, we’re both exhausted. Logically, I know this is her growing, testing limits, searching for holes in the fence to make sure she’s safe, that I’m consistent and really who I say I am. But the older she gets, the less I see her as a baby and more as a tiny adult, so when she’s coming at me like a teenager, it takes a huge mental effort for me not to respond in kind. Not cool, mom.

This is (as always) an exercise in day-to-day grace. For me and for her. New mercies every day.

At least she’s potty trained now.

LOVE

I’m…hesitant to write anything here. Which feels silly given how open I’ve been in the past (I even got up in front of hundreds of people at Easter and talked blatantly about how we almost got divorced). But over the years, I’ve developed a reticence towards talking about stuff that involves other people. Part of that is from becoming visibly Christian. While a lot of my inner critics fled the scene when Jesus arrived, I did gain a new one by accident: the fear of what my faith family will think of me being super vulnerable and overshare-y online.

But you know what? No. That’s just another lie I’m buying into that smothers my soul, and I’m not beholden to that BS anymore.

Lino and I are actually doing great! Although the past couple of years have been a blind-corner rollercoaster due to the struggles with his work, the moment we found out that was over, it was like a switch flipped inside of him. All the weight, stress, and worry he’d been carrying–the poisons leaking into our marriage and keeping us from being close–evaporated. He even shaved his beard, which I do like when trimmed to Tony Stark proportions, but was long and smelled like stale coffee and was getting up my nose, which resulted in less kisses (and other things *waggles eyebrows suggestively*) than we’d like. We’re also united in purpose in a way we’ve been longing for since we stopped LARPing (if you don’t know what that is, message me. Have I got a story for you). Yet another way that the job loss has been more helpful than anyone could rightfully expect. As we go into the summer, we’re both paying closer attention to one another, being intentional about our precious time, and finding our intimacy again after spending so many years living under the same roof as strangers.

HEALTH

Man. This has been all over the place in May. I’m pretty sure I had the same cold all month in various stages, which added another level of difficulty to everything. But my hip surgery recovery went swimmingly, aside from the usual muscle weakness, butt pain, and whatever is making my neck weak (probably my phone) that we’re dealing with in physio.

The most shocking health thing for me, though, is that I MISS THE GYM. I have never even thought that sentence in my entire life. I had to stop at the start of April because surgery, but my gym accidentally cancelled my contract instead of holding it for the six weeks I needed off. So, no lifting for me. I can feel my weight creeping back up as my strength fades, and it is not cool. My body is antsy, and I need a bigger calorie allotment, dammit. There are cakes to bake. So I may have to take up actual running. Please don’t watch.

MISCELLANEOUS

My dear baking-nerd friend and I made the most incredible lemon and strawberry rolled cake the other day and you guys don’t even know. I also frosted Mackenzie’s three-tiered birthday cake with a butter knife and am immensely proud. The challenge of tackling a project more complicated than banana bread has become a surprising source of satisfaction this past year. I’ll never be a pro, but it feels so good to make something with my hands.

I’ll probably write a proper article about this soon, but I bought all three of Austin Kleon’s books on creativity for myself for Mother’s Day, and I cried three times reading the first one in public. They’re ministering to my soul. And changing how I want to interact with social media: less noise, more art, more learning.

I’m also trying to figure out how to do meal planning for a family of three on a major budget, so suggestions are greatly appreciated.


Your turn! What was May like for you? What are you looking forward to (or dreading) in June? Share in the comments!

Sometimes you find a rock right when you need it the most

Of job loss, scarcity demons, uncertainty, stones, and–most importantly–hope.

It’s been a long week month season. Since the start of the year, I’ve been pressed, squeezed, and tested in ways I never imagined I would be, much less that I’d survive. I’ve been more excited and sure than ever; I’ve cried and doubted more than ever. Life has been increasingly wondrous and terrifying at the same time.

Perhaps the biggest suckerpunch of all came last week, when my husband was told his last day of work is May 31st. After 10 years of service, loyally shepherding the company and its people, his job is being “phased out” because his company is “restructuring,” and there are no plans for him to “transition” to a new role. Which wouldn’t call for scare quotes if they hadn’t promoted the protege of the most money-hungry, least compassionate director in the company the same week.

Translation: Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

I got the news in the car headed for the Disney Store. (Their displays are always changing, they have shows to watch, and they don’t care if you’re not buying. It’s like going to the playground without getting all that nature on you.)

My body autopiloted us to the mall. My brain seized up, whirring in processing mode, trying to comprehend what the news meant for us.

Both of us came from low-income families, and Lino worked sacrificially hard to get into this tax bracket. It’s allowed me the freedom to be a housewife, to build businesses and write books, and to stay home with our daughter. It’s been an honor and a privilege for us to be a single-income household.

But suddenly being a no-income household is uncharted territory, and my old scarcity demon seized its chance to claw its way up from the depths.

Strict budget. Meal planning. Cut the gym. EI. Get a real job. Daycares are full. Sell the car. Cancel life insurance. Get to the dentist and fill prescriptions before the benefits end. Cancel your anniversary.

The familiar litany of fear and control rolled through me as I got Mackenzie into the stroller. The parking lot was fill of warm sun and the sweet smell of spring, but they couldn’t reach me. I was tumbling too fast down a darkening path, getting lost in thoughts I didn’t want to think.

That’s why I’m surprised I noticed it.

A tiny splash of fuchsia on the concrete by the automatic door into the mall.

I swerved sharply to look. And when I realized what it was, tears sprung into my eyes.

A purple pink colored stone with the word HOPE written on it

Hope.

One word. That’s all. Painted on a stone lying right where I would see it. Dozens of people had passed it in the time it took us to cross the parking lot, but no one had noticed it. Except me.

I picked up the stone and closed my fingers around it like a lifeline, its reassuring weight in my palm also gently pushing down my rising anxiety.

Thank you, but no. You aren’t needed. She is taken care of. She is mine. Stand down.

“What you find, Mommy?”

I opened my hand to show her.

“What is it?”

“It says, hope.

“Why?”

“God’s trying to tell Mommy something.”

I gave the stone another squeeze and tucked it into my pocket, then hit the button to open the door, leaving behind fear with every step.

There is hope, even here.

35: Thanks and Yes

For my birthday this year, I tattooed the most dangerous prayer on myself. What have I gotten myself into?

For all that has been: thanks
To all that shall be: yes

I first heard this (roughly translated) quote by Dag Hammarskjöld in high school. It followed me through my teens and twenties, bouncing around in the junk drawer of my soul, until I hit my thirties, when the drawer got opened and Marie Kondo-ed by God.

It’s one of those feel-good type sayings that people throw around to sound ultra-spiritual, right up there with “the universe provides” and “WWJD?”. It makes us feel faith-full and righteous. At least for a little while.

It’s also an incredibly dangerous prayer.

For all that has been: thanks

The first part is truly beautiful. It feels impossible, but it’s so necessary for us to find even the tiniest, quark-sized piece of gratitude for our painful pasts. God orchestrates those moments (or years) of suffering into a symphony of wonder if we have ears to hear it—each trauma, each loss, each failure becomes its own note in a holy composition.

That second part, though. Ay, there’s the rub.

To all that shall be: yes

What are you agreeing to without knowing?

Heartache or joy?
Bankruptcy or abundance?
Famine or feast?
Abandonment or community?
Sickness or health?
Persecution or protection?
Cursing or blessing?
Death or life?

All of it. You’re saying “yes” to anything and everything that God has planned, even if it hurts, hoping that it’s good, trusting that it will be great, with absolutely no hints about which paths you’ll take except the small circle of light around your feet.

It’s giving up your will, your way in total surrender to His will, His way.

Like I said: a dangerous prayer.

And despite knowing all that comes with such a bold, foolhardy statement of faith, I was compelled to tattoo it on myself to mark my birthday this year.

This past year, one I (stupidly) considered barren and fallow, God has done a work in my heart.  And every time I found myself weeping incoherently on the floor, no matter what I thought of myself, my situation, or my god, it was this prayer that bubbled up. Over and over. Its oddly balanced weight of gratitude and trust comforted me like a familiar sword in my hand as I faced off against enemies in the dark. And every time, I won. Because of this prayer—this battle cry.

As I close the book on 34 and open the pages of 35 with these lines written on my arms, I don’t know what I’ve said “yes” to. But this is a milestone year. That much is clear. And as I take small illuminated step after small illuminated step towards the things I have been shown, I trust that what I haven’t seen is part of heaven’s plan, even if sometimes it might feel like hell. 

Two forearm tattoos in handwriting script font. "For all that has been: thanks/To all that shall be: yes." Dag Hammarskjold