“Wonder” was my theme word of the year for 2019. But I had no idea exactly what I was getting myself into when I chose it.
I didn’t realize when I chose my word of the year back in January that “wonder” is a double-edged sword.
The word came to me out of nowhere during a quiet moment, and I immediately got goosebumps. The kind that rise up as the overflow of a heart brimming with excitement.
Yes! I thought. 2019 will be all about opening up fully to experiencing the joy and magic in life, in God, and in myself. I was aglow with eagerness to receive the blessings God clearly had for me with a powerful word like that as the theme for my year.
But I gotta tell ya, friends: This year of wonder has been one of the hardest of my entire life.
What I failed to remember at the start of this year is that there’s more than one way to experience wonder. It’s not always spine-tingling, goosebump-raising joy at the marvelousness of life, the universe, and everything. Sometimes it’s gut-wrenching “why”s or stupefied shock.
Because wonder isn’t safe. It’s not chaste or elegant. It’s not demure or neat. It doesn’t mind its manners.
Wonder is wild. It’s passionate and messy. It’s brash and bold. It’s hilarious and still, curious and awed. It’s licking sticky fingers and weeping openly in public. It’s falling apart and fusing together. It’s just a little further, a little deeper, a little closer.
It’s God—in all His fullness.
That’s what I signed up for back in January. And it’s definitely what I got in good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over into my lap.
I’m not sure what my word of the year will be going into 2020. Starting a new decade means it’ll probably be something grand. I am sure, though, that despite the pain of the year of wonder, the fruit I’ve harvested from it has been so sweet that I’ll plant those seeds again if I can.
And so, as I close out this year and look into the one to come, I’m choosing to reaffirm the dangerous prayerI tattooed on my arms for my 35th birthday:
For all that has been: thanks To all that shall be: yes
Of more delays, a mental break (and repair), and arting outside the box.
The State of the Ellie is my monthly update on what's been happening this side of the screen for the last 30-ish days. It usually drops at the start of the new month, but I'm moving it to the end because it makes more sense and I don't know why I didn't always do it like this.
Immigration, Florida, and another Canadian winter
Welp. Here we are, staring down the barrel of November (seriously, how did that happen already), and despite our rosiest projections, there’s nothing to report here, except that, because there’s nothing to report, we are officially into next year for our big move. Between paperwork delays, the impending holidays, and the idea of driving a 20ft U-Haul through the Appalachian Mountains in winter, Lino and I (and our pastors) have re-re-re-calibrated our plans and are now looking at*giant sad sigh* April. Which means we’re woefully unprepared for the coming winter because this past spring all we could see in December were palm trees and beaches, so why would we need snow boots and gloves?
On the positive side, though, I had a breakthrough with my disappointment about the delays we’ve endured. I realized that Lino and I are on some kind of accelerated spiritual training track that’s growing our ability, capacity, and maturity in the Kingdom; God is stretching and growing us in ways we didn’t know we could (or thought we wanted) during this season. So I’m choosing to be content. I don’t want to miss anything by being impatient or distracted by jealousy or striving. Be here now, eh?
I accidentally facilitated a women’s workshop at our church.
Related to that accelerated training track, I was given an opportunity to lead a small group through the culminating event of this year’s series on dreams in our women’s ministry.
I sort of stumbled into it, honestly (which is how you know it’s God). Some folks couldn’t make it to the weekend retreat, myself included, so I offered to host dinner for those of us staying home. I got the green light, but because I’m me, rather than planning a simple night with friends, I wanted to tie our decor and conversation into the retreat material so everyone could feel included. Before I knew it, I was being handed official booklets and teasing out the story of Joseph with our pastor. I ended up presenting a full-blown six-hour workshop for eight women, including message, dinner, prayer, and declarations of the dreams we’ve hidden in our hearts.
And you know what? I LOVED IT.
It’s become clear to me that my path includes speaking, teaching, facilitating—roles that involve holding space and being the one everyone’s staring at (roles that give me nervous poops)—in addition to writing. Running this workshop was 100% a confirmation of that calling. It combined things I know I’m good at with things I’m just starting to wade into, and it felt like everything clicked. I’m not sure where it’s all going, but I do know that I am fully strapped in for the ride.
I had a serious mental health problem, but I got better.
I don’t want to get into a lot of detail about this here because I wrote an in-depth post about it last week, but it was a major deal, so I do want to touch on it.
The TL;DR of that post is that I suffered obsessive, graphic, intrusive thoughts after seeing an Instagram post in which a four-and-a-half year old died in an accident. It got more intense and frequent until I was worried I needed to seek help, but I couldn’t seem to tell anyone about it, either. Thankfully, I was able to scrape together enough resistance to use a visualization technique I learned in counselling to remove the damaging thought and get relief.
If this happens to you, don’t wait around like I did. Find someone to talk to and/or call a crisis hotline (here, in Canada). Please.
Drawing isn’t my forte, but Inktober has been a blast.
I’ve known about Inktober for years but never participated because I’m, you know, not a visual artist. But it turned out to be the perfect thing for my sister-in-law and I to do together as mothers with small children who know they’re still creatives despite evidence to the contrary in this stage of their lives. We decided that rather than bemoaning the loss of artistic expression, we’d art for fun instead of the serious business we’ve become accustomed to. And it’s been hella cool!
I’ve gotten behind a few times (and am still behind today), and my quirk of adding a story to each drawing has made it unnecessarily difficult, but it’s letting me play where I used to only see work and has shown me that there are stories in here yet. 10/10: Will do again.
I can’t do NaNoWriMo this year, so I’m doing my own thing instead.
Speaking of challenges! I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month twice before, but I’ve struggled with novels since finishing Mirror of Ashes. As much as I’d love to dive into Apple of Chaos using NaNo as a container, with Mack nipping at my heels all day, it ain’t gonna happen.
But! About a week into Inktober, I realized that daily art is actually possible. (You’d think I would’ve figured that out after all the Noticing posts I’ve done, but I digress.) What if I did the same thing but with tiny stories? I asked a few people and got good feedback, so I ran with it, tweaking the concept to fit my writing needs and to be fun/challenging so other people could play, too. I even made a Facebook group. That’s how you know I’m serious.
Thus, No Novel November was born! We’re starting on Friday (omg tomorrow) writing microfiction from daily prompts, and I am super hype to properly stretch my writing legs after the great warmup from Inktober. I also have this tingle in the back of my mind that this Something Important, but I’m ignoring it so I don’t accidentally smother it with attention like a toddler with a kitten.
Lino and I are second-generation gamers, and as such, when the Enthusiast Live Gaming Expo came to Toronto, his mom took us as our Christmas gift. It was rad! We got to test so many coolindiegames, see some truly incredibleart, and I ate half a large pizza. A good time was had by all.
Mackenzie was in and out of casts again for toe-walking. We’re doing physio with her at home because money and are hopeful this is the last time.
I do not know how to Halloween as a parent. I seriously thought trick-or-treating was the Saturday nearest Halloween if it fell on a weekday, but nooooooo. WHY NOT. It’s supposed to rain like heck here, though, so I might be able to get out of it. This year.
How did October treat you? (Do I need to have a stern talk with it?)
I’ve always dreaded fall because it leads inevitably to winter, when my creativity hibernated under my depression. But this year, it’s different. This year, I’m free.
This fall is different.
I can feel it in the sharp slice of the air, smell it in the not-yet-moldering carpet of leaves, taste it in the vanilla caramel pastries. The sound of a lonely, optimistic ice cream truck trawling the neighborhood evokes a smile rather than a sigh.
Years ago, I discovered that my energy and creativity ebb and flow with the seasons. Maximum productivity in summer; gradual slowing in fall; hibernation in winter; reemerging in spring. One season feeds the next, my internal calendar matching up with nature’s.
Once I noticed this innate rhythm, I intentionally wove it into my work. I wrote furiously in summer, launched and scheduled in fall, dreamed in winter, then spooled up again in spring. By knowing when I had energy (and when I didn’t), I could work with my natural flow. I could stop fighting myself and have ease all year instead.
And it felt so good.
Unfortunately, boss-level productivity was not the only side effect of this realization.
Rather than enjoying the fullness of each season, I started to dread fall because I knew what came after it.
Winter, with its hibernative atmosphere, not only put my creative energy to bed, but tucked it in with a smothering blanket of depression. Grey skies and bitter winds followed me everywhere. I often wouldn’t leave the house for a week at a time, sleeping to avoid thinking about how little I was accomplishing, holding on to hope as I crossed days off the calendar until spring when I could be reborn.
Knowing it was coming didn’t help. Predictability isn’t so great when you know you’re about to go down for six months (yay, Canada).
So for the last several years, I’ve hated fall. Not because of anything it did to me personally, but because of what it heralded.
But more than leaves change when you have a kid.
Since Mackenzie came along, I’ve had to do things differently. Basic stuff like showering and grocery shopping, sure, but also creative work. My desire to write raised its head again long before I found my feet as a SAHM. At first, I didn’t know what to do with it. My preferred way of working—six uninterrupted hours of butt-in-seat, Monday to Friday—didn’t mesh with baby life.
It took me a year to accept that, if I wanted to write, I’d have to be flexible. (All the Ones in the house said, “OH NO.”) I started writing in smaller chunks, experimenting with different times of day, leaving myself notes, not trying to write a novel again (yet). Piece by piece over the last year, a different method of working has fallen into place. I discovered I actually could adapt to a new flow; I even realized I was okay with having no flow at all.
And, because everything is connected, once I embraced that, my attitude towards winter changed.
Forcing myself to bend in new ways to continue writing opened up the possibility that I could still work in the winter. Despite the low energy, despite the oppressive weather, despite my self. If I could completely upend what I thought I needed to be productive in spring and summer, what else could be transformed come the winter?
Suddenly, the season of hibernation held no anxiety for me.
Sure, I still hate being cold and the snow can go back to the Arctic thankyouverymuch, but when I look ahead, down the barrel of another Canadian winter, I’m not worried about it. I may still feel like a grouchy, sleepy bear, but writing is possible. Living is possible. I know that I can do it. Even if it’s slow.
Which brings us back to this fall.
I knew I was free from the cycle of dread when I walked outside on a cool morning in early September, filled my lungs with the sweet, sad air and said, “Man, I wish we could go apple picking.” I was even cheerful about getting out the sweaters and putting away the shorts.
Who even am I.
Because winter doesn’t equate death for me anymore, I can experience the wonder of this season. The escarpment is blazing beautiful with the last fireworks of maples and elms. Spicy tea and coffee warm me inside and out. A tinge of melancholy in the air reminds me to be present, for everything in this world is passing away—and will be reborn.
All this to say, I’m enjoying that I’m enjoying fall.
At long last, the story of our 10-year vow renewal. A resurrection story told in vows, photos, scripture, and song.
As you may recall, my husband and I decided to renew our vows for our 10-year anniversary back in June. And while the actual event was for less than 40 people in a small backyard, it was the most important event in our lives, second only to our salvations.
And because it is such a big freaking deal, I naturally wanted to write and tell you all about it. But I don’t know how.
So instead of trying to capture the fullness of it in a story, this post is a collage of moments that, I hope, reveal the tenderness of this day that was more like a baptism—a consecration, a resurrection—than a wedding.
Dear Ellie, I’m sorry.
I’m sorry for my moments of faithlessness, and how that hurt us. I’m sorry for my anger, and the chaos it caused. I’m sorry for not listening, for being more focused on being right than being compassionate. I’m sorry for the times I didn’t cover you, for the times you were left to figure things out on your own. I’m sorry for the man I was when we met, and that you had to be present as I figured out who I was and what mattered.
Most of all though, I’m sorry I didn’t lead us to Christ sooner, that it took things falling so far into seeming hopelessness before suggesting that, perhaps, we could find reprieve in God.
Before you, our friends, our family, our daughter, and our God above, I repent for these things. Please forgive me. (I do.)
In the past ten years I have learned, essentially, that C.S. Lewis was correct about love, and my own understanding was flawed. He says: “Ceasing to be ‘in love’, in the way that we were in love the day before our wedding, need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense — love as distinct from ‘being in love’ — is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself. They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be ‘in love’ with someone else. ‘Being in love’ first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. it is on this love that the engine of marriage is run being in love was the explosion that started it.”
I couldn’t phrase it better myself. God, work, commitment, grace, and habit—these things are the new foundation of this marriage.
Ellie Di Julio, I promise hence forth…
To love you unconditionally, without expectations or conditions, without reservation, and to choose to do this every day no matter what struggles we may be facing.
To cover you and our family with Godly wisdom, and to lead our house in all ways, regardless of how uncomfortable it may make me.
To focus my attention on you, every day, and to choose you as a priority, as my favourite human.
To remain steadfast in my faith and work daily to keep our family on that narrow road which leads to life. Whether in the good or the bad, to remind us that He is a good God.
To be slow to anger, patient and understanding, eager to listen, that I might benefit from your wisdom and your gifts.
To be faithful to you, and only you, from now till the end of our time here.
These things, in front of all assembled and our Heavenly Father, I promise to you.
I never thought we would be standing here.
12 years ago, I wasn’t interested in getting married. 7 years ago, I didn’t know Jesus. 6 years ago, I thought we were getting divorced. But here we are.
The marriage we’ve had over the past 10 years is not the marriage we have starting today. Because God has rewritten our stories, individually and together.
Today we have the chance to honor God’s miraculous healing of our relationship by making a completely new covenant.
To me, that begins with washing away the old one. And that begins with repentance and forgiveness.
I repent to you, Lino. For punishing you with expectations. For being unfaithful. For giving up. For my stubbornness, my withholding, my distance, and my rage. I’m sorry for the thousand cuts of the last ten years.
Do you forgive me? (I do.)
And I forgive you, Lino. For hiding from me. For straying. For silencing my conscience. I forgive your stubbornness, your withholding, your distance, and your rage. I forgive the thousand cuts of the last ten years.
Do you receive my forgiveness? (I do.)
All of this is washed away, now, by the precious blood of Jesus.
And because 10 is the number of completion, now we get to close the book on our old marriage and start over fresh. A new marriage full of new promises.
Lino, I promise you that I am here, with you and for you.
I promise to back your play, to look out for your best interests, and to believe in you when you don’t believe in yourself.
I promise to have right priorities. To put God first and to put you ahead of myself; to allow you to have your rightful place as the leader of our family and to honor your decisions once they’re made.
I promise to fight fair, to speak the truth with love, and to receive correction with as much grace as I can muster.
I promise to protect my heart, to be fully yours in every way, to seek you out first and only.
I promise to stop throwing away your stuff without asking first, to cook breakfast for dinner at least once a week, to always cry at the end of 300.
I promise that I will love you for who you are and for who you’re becoming, through all our changes, inside and out, until God calls us home.
I saw Heaven and earth new-created. Gone the first Heaven, gone the first earth, gone the sea. I saw Holy Jerusalem, new-created, descending resplendent out of Heaven, as ready for God as a bride for her husband. I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” The Enthroned continued, “Look! I’m making everything new.” [Revelation 21:1-5 MSG]
This is my resurrection day Nothing’s gonna hold me in the grave This is my resurrection day Nothing’s gonna hold me down Say goodbye to my yesterdays Ever since I met you I am changed This is my resurrection day Nothing’s gonna hold me down . Rend Collective, “Resurrection Day”
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.
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 firsttres 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.