The Art of Leaving Well

In our eight and [nearly] a half years of marriage we have made more than our share of moves.  As I’m counting now, I’m up to 10 moves in nine years so it’s safe to assume I’ve learned a little bit about myself and the process of moving and I can tell you that I’m great at some parts of moving and I’m horrible at other aspects of it.

One thing that I’m particularly bad at is leaving well.  This is something I’m desperate to change with this upcoming move.

What is leaving well?  For me it’s leaving an area gracefully.  Finding closure and saying goodbye to all of the important people and places in your life in this place.  I was able to leave well when we moved from Snohomish to Portsmouth.  Because of that, I feel like I was able to fully invest in my life in Virginia.  To this day, the friends I made in Virginia are still a huge part of my life and I treasure the memories we made there.

As much as I loved Virginia, I did not leave there well.  In the last weeks of living there I was finishing college and graduating, I had a four month old, and my husband was preparing to leave for Iraq in a few weeks.  All of this on top of the impending move back to Washington state.  I was in such a crisis mode I didn’t make time to say goodbye to significant people and places in a way that I felt was honoring or appropriate considering how significant they were in my life.  I was so emotional about leaving and everything else going on in my life that I bottled most of my emotions and fixated on the task at hand.  I stayed in this state of survival for the following 9 months while Mark was in Iraq and I lived with my parents.  I spent time with old friends and family, and consequently didn’t need to make new friends.

It wasn’t until Mark returned and we moved to Kingston (a couple of hours away from Snohomish) that I really started grieving.  I remember moving into our house, sobbing. Now that we were back as a family it was glaringly obvious to me how much I missed Virginia.  I missed our friends; I missed our life.  Because of the stresses up until that point I hadn’t taken the time to grieve the loss of that part of our lives.  There were several times during that couple month period that Mark and I seriously talked about staying in the Navy and trying to move back to Virginia.  We knew we weren’t called to stay in the Navy but the loneliness was so strong that we seriously considered it anyway.

We met some really neat people in Kingston but we struggled to let people in because we were still raw from leaving Virginia.  We knew we’d be leaving the area eventually (probably in 18 months) and didn’t want to grieve that way again.  Since we didn’t let people too close to us, leaving Kingston wasn’t as difficult as the previous move.  We knew that this wasn’t a healthy lifestyle and started talking about the joy of settling down now that Mark was getting out of the Navy.  We anticipated moving somewhere and investing in life there, without knowing in the back of our mind that we’ll be leaving in two years.

So fast forward a couple of years and here we are, happy in Portland.  We’re invested.  We’ve opened ourselves up and made great friends who have become family.

And we’re leaving again.

I guarantee you this move will hurt.  And this time it won’t just be Mark and me grieving, but the boys as well.  We’re not just leaving friends, and family, we’re leaving a way of life.  We’re leaving food, a climate and landmarks that we are comfortable with.  We’re leaving our language and our church.  We’re leaving a history that we understand and take pride in.  We’re leaving the country that Mark has defended.

Because we’re leaving so much, leaving well has become of utmost importance to me.  I want to make sure that we get to say a heartfelt goodbye to the people we love.   I want to make sure that the foods we like that we won’t have access to regularly (Starbucks, anyone?) are celebrated and enjoyed.  I want to savor Mariner’s games, Thai food and Barnes & Nobles.  I want to get a ton of time at the boys’ favorite park.  I want to enjoy bonfires and s’mores, and savor views of the Cascades as much as possible.

Please pray for us that we are able to leave Portland well.  I believe this will be the first step to starting our ministry in Nicaragua, and heaven knows, we want to start that well.


Image Credit

About mjstearns

We are Mark, Jenni, Tate and Theo Stearns. We currently live in Beaverton, Oregon, but are planning to move to Nicaragua within the next six months. We'll be serving as missionaries to Verbo Church, a non denominational church with several Nicaraguan locations. Specifically we'll be working at Casa Bernabe, an orphanage run by the church, assisting in vocational training and transition programs for the older boys.
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