Walk On: The Tension in Moving Forward

The Tension in Moving Forward

In some circles my story is really not that unique. In 2019, two days before Christmas, my family boarded an airplane to take a family vacation. Before we made it back to the city where we had lived for almost 11 years, a global pandemic struck. We didn’t realize that our carefully planned family vacation, holding the promise of much needed rest, would be the end of a chapter of our lives.  

Inside these circles, our stories are all very similar. We ask each other the same questions. “How many suitcases did you bring?” “How are you going to get your birth certificates back?” “When does your rent run out?” “Are you going to turn off your electricity?” “What are you going to do for homeschooling?”

Outside these circles, my story is absolutely crazy. And the questions are different. “How can a family of five live in such uncertainty?” “Don’t you have an entire house still inside the country?” “Haven’t you been wearing that shirt each time I’ve seen you online for the last three months?” “What about school for your kids?” Actually, that last question is still the same.

Like a lot of expats, we’d been living in a world of increasing turmoil. A global pandemic was only an unfolding part of political tension around us, threatening to take away the life we had built for our family—a life we didn’t feel ready to leave. Prior to COVID-19 we knew the choice to stay or leave wasn’t in our hands, but did a pandemic really have to be the final decision maker?  

Over the months as we watched COVID-19 spread to the entire world, the internal tension continued to grow. We couldn’t continue living with our hearts looking back, longing for our time to end differently than it was ending. And yet with the world living in such uncertainty because of COVID-19, how could we move on? I want to embrace looking back and wishing for a different end, but the only choice is to embrace the tension of leaving a life behind and moving ahead.  

COVID-19 pushed my family into the tension of transition. A tension we had tried to avoid. The tension of remembering what was, but not yet being able to see what will come. The tension of not doubting God’s goodness, but meanwhile also being gut level honest about the ache of the situation. The tension of being with others in the middle of a transition. The tension of knowing God’s provision in some areas while watching his seeming lack of provision in those same areas for others in our circle. 

We could not have foreseen what was to come as we boarded that plane, but God knew.  We didn’t pack and take with us the things we wish we would have taken, but inside our hearts God had done works of love and transformation that could not be taken away. We didn’t bring our stuff with us, but we brought all that God had done in us and through us during our years in our visa country.

We didn’t pack our suitcases to live as nomads during a pandemic and even if we had, packing our physical suitcases with the stuff of this earth is not our goal. The place I’m truly packing for, packing all the unseen, all the hidden works done for Christ and His glory, is a place I’ve never been. I miss my stuff that’s still in my visa country, but I didn’t leave behind anything eternal. I brought it all with me; it’s being packed and even sent ahead to my final, eternal destination, and it can never be lost or taken away.

And so even though it aches, we will walk on.

From my perspective it feels left undone. But God has another perspective. We feel like we can only take so much, but we will walk on, knowing that God goes both before us and behind us. We can leave it behind and walk into this next season, embracing the tension of a bad ending with the full confidence that God is building up an eternal story with a beautiful ending.

What are ways that God is asking you to walk on in the new year in the tension that 2020 has created? 

Are there places where your heart is breaking as you have to leave behind people, places, or maybe a season of life that you loved? What are the works of Christ, either in your heart or the hearts of those you have loved and lived life with, that can be celebrated?

These thoughts are inspired by the song “Walk On” by U2. Album: All That You Can’t Leave Behind. Copyright 2001.

18 Comments

  1. Ruth February 4, 2021

    Well, said. Thank you for sharing these thoughts. Prayers for you as you transition to the new place God has for you.

    1. Michelle February 5, 2021

      Thank you Ruth for your prayers!

  2. Elizabeth Trotter February 4, 2021

    “The tension of remembering what was, but not yet being able to see what will come.”

    YES. This was perhaps one of the hardest things about an unexpected transition this year. (As you said, “Inside these circles, our stories are all very similar.” I know other stories like yours and like mine.)

    May God give you a glimpse, in this coming year, of the way things will be.

    1. Michelle February 5, 2021

      Thank you Elizabeth! I want to share that even since writing this I feel like God has given new glimpses of what might be to come. He is always so good!

  3. Grace L February 4, 2021

    We didn’t have to leave our visa country because of the pandemic but because the government forced us to leave because of our religious activity. But we had 5 days to leave and say our goodbyes which now seems so much better than just leaving to go on a vacation and not being able to get back at all. May the Lord continue to give you and others in similar situations the grace that is needed for this season of transition. I pray that He will provide for all your needs and even some of your wants.

    1. Michelle February 5, 2021

      Thank you Grace for praying! I lament with you. Five days is not a lot of time to process such a big change. May He continue to give you grace in this new season you were thrust into.

  4. Violeta February 4, 2021

    Thank you for sharing from your heart. We left our visa country for visa related and pandemic influenced reasons thinking it would only be a few months and would return with our visa situation resolved. Eight months later and having stayed in 5 different homes awaiting our return, we are not sure when we’ll return.. We so want to go back but in the back of our minds is the reality that we may not be able to, at least not anytime soon. That makes me sad. It’s so nice to share “inside these circles” because we can understand and relate to each other. Outside these circles it’s really hard to explain. It’s tiring and discouraging. All we have is hope. I tell friends that the only thing I’m sure of is that God loves us all and He’s in control. Praying for all of us in transition and on hold. Thank you again for sharing your heart.

    1. Michelle February 5, 2021

      Oh Violeta, I hear you! One day I sat down with my kids and counted all the beds they had slept in during 2020. I won’t share the number, but I will share that the saddest part for them was that not a single one of those beds was their own. Praying for grace for you today and that He would carve out a path for you either back to your former home or into a new home.

  5. Joy Feser February 5, 2021

    Our story is quite a lot less dramatic, but similar in some ways. We left for a week of routine medical appointments; Covid came, and we were persuaded that we would be foolish to go back. Medical facilities are sooo much better where we are. We only moved to the country next door, and we knew that we would be moving later in the year (Work Permits not being renewed). So we say that we accidentally moved. God taught us about how very little space and how few things we need to live quite comfortably.
    We were able to get a couple of truck loads of belongings out between lock-downs. We are still waiting for the rest of the needed permits here to be able to move the last of our household. It is hard for both us and maybe more so for the staff we left behind not to have been able to say any goodbyes.
    We are extremely thankful for Zoom, Teams, and Whatsapp allowing us to carry on almost all of our ministry from here. Packing remotely via Whatsapp was another interesting experience.
    However, the grace of God has covered all of the transitions. (We are seniors, and my husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s during those med appointments.)

    1. Michelle February 5, 2021

      Thank you Joy for sharing your story. I love all the creative ways you used technology and other resources to transition well! And I’m so thankful for His care and kindness in moving your family to a place with good medical facilities.

  6. Becki February 5, 2021

    I love your thoughts about the eternal suitcase and that being what matters. The things that matter you brought with you! Wow! Spoken from the true nomad with eyes fixed on the goal. I’ve been impressed again with the verses about he who leaves father and mother etc. I would not trade the richness of my worldwide family!! But sometimes having bits of my life scattered through different countries feels hard and even unfair. Thank you for this good reminder of what matters!

    1. Michelle February 5, 2021

      I’m so there with you Becki about the feelings of “unfairness.” On one hand I really embrace truth that the eternal things can not be lost or left behind. On the other hand I miss my favorite pillow. I’m so encouraged by the last chapter of 2 Timothy when Paul asks Timothy to bring his cloak and parchments. I think all of us global nomads can relate.

      1. Grace L February 5, 2021

        In our situation, we did not get to take our favorite pillows, but we were able to leave with 6 suitcases, and after our return, we were able to have a local person ship a lot of our stuff to us here in the states. Our house, which we owned, is still in the hands of the woman that we employed and she continues to run the small factory in the house. We are able to do video calls and it is wonderful to see our house being used by the people we loved so much. It is bittersweet.

  7. Ellie February 5, 2021

    Oh Wow, blessings to you Michelle and others who’ve shared. It’s so massive. I am not in the same situation as we moved back to our passport country several years ago with shortish notice of a few weeks. But I hear you in that pain and uncertainty and yet trust in God. I am now looking back on it very glad that we are here and time and God have healed lots of pain and shock and I can really see how God is using what we went through in different ways but you put it so well Michelle – the tension of being secure in God’s plan and also grieving and fighting with what we wish could have been different, and Violeta, you’re right explaining yourself hundreds of times is exhausting. So good to be with people who “get it”. Love to you all.

    1. Michelle February 5, 2021

      Thank you Ellie for your sweet note and encouragement to Violeta, myself, and others. And thank you for reminding all of us that after the season of transition there are new seasons to be lived as well!

  8. Elizabeth B February 7, 2021

    Dear Michelle,
    Thank you for sharing this encouraging truth that our souls carry eternal gifts the treasure of friendship with us, and no situation on earth can take that away. I was pulled from my country of service almost 2 years ago because of political turmoil. I understand it is different than the surprise of a global pandemic. But very similarly to many here, I had two suitcases and a few days to pack up my home of 4 years, and no chance to say goodbye to most of my friends or coworkers. My last days in country I spent with my fiance, who is still there. At that time it seemed no other missionaries were facing this challenge. It felt like the fibers of my soul were pulled apart and there would never be closure. I tried to return many times, but then the pandemic shut the doors to the whole world. I read your thoughts and I am so thankful for this precious community where we can share our earthly burdens and our heavenly hopes. I pray to return there very soon, and I’m praying for all of you as well. The Lord is faithful to provide, to restore and comfort you, and to walk with you even when it feels like we are on the dark side of the moon. Blessings to you!

    1. Michelle February 8, 2021

      Oh Elizabeth! That is so hard. I’ll be praying for you too! Just like you said, that He would provide, restore, and comfort. And that you and your fiancé would be reunited soon!

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