I think change is coming.

It’s a simple Monday afternoon.

I’m in a corner coffee shop—the one with enough outlets to go around, where I’ve had a few first dates but never a second, a spot best chosen for rainy days. Or so says my roommate… and I agree.

My knees are newly skinned from kneeling on the road, filling my tires with air while wearing a breezy dress. I wonder if anyone here has noticed. Probably not. People rarely seem to take note or care about such things. At least not as much as I assume.

It’s definitely not a rainy day—with 95*, summer attire, and asphalt scorching to the touch. And I’m not sitting across someone I’ve met for the first time, or anyone at all. No, I’ve chosen here because my laptop thinks it’s a PC, running only when connected to a power source. I’m here for the outlets. I’m here to work and think. Others are doing the same, posed with laptops and notepads and drinks melting by their side.

We’re all at the start of our week, in an unusually warm September, and I can’t help but look around, wondering where everyone finds themselves today. Form fields filled, last-minute projects edited, social media curated, numbers analyzed, information hoarded, inboxes cleared out to be filled again. As we sit before screens, a world outside spins on, our lives molding right to its never-ending speed. What are they working on, through, or towards?

For me? My week is put together by the nuts and bolts of anticipation. Held breaths, hovering hopes. The work of reconciling—it can’t be scrolled past or tweaked to appear as something it isn’t. Repentance and forgiveness are tear-soaked choices. I’m still committed to this work because I believe it’s the gospel way. My nerves remind me more Very Hard Things might result. Maybe they will. But, the Lord has carried me through and will he not again, for the umpteenth time? I’m nowhere as scared, angry, or cynical as I was even this spring. Growth that is of God’s grace, not mine.

So that’s up ahead, but right now it’s still Monday. A simple day off where I picked up baby pumpkins and begged fall to come, restocked the fridge, cleared up roach remnants, and put air in my tires. A Monday afternoon where I’m not bound by lies or my bedcovers, but able to breathe and feel hope and not be haunted by the past soon reentering my present.

The day is simple, subtle, and slow. A change and a season I will gladly welcome.

Cutouts of the old self.

Her round, three year-old fingers grip the kiddie scissors and with intense determination, she tells me, “I’ll do it.” I’m teaching her how to cut on my straight lines. I’ve drawn them out, pen strokes spanning the length of yellow construction paper. Her efforts are haphazard, but she’s committed to showing me how she can, in fact, do this. Today I am her teacher, but I distinctly see myself in her place, too.

_____

When the year began, I was deeply unsettled by some happenings around me. Weekly, hard conversations and news and pressures toppled into each other. People I love were betrayed, hospitalized, slandered, mysteriously ill, misled, and grieving. I was manipulated, wronged, and severely depressed. The list could continue. This emotional whiplash provoked all sorts of wounds and terrible insecurities. It seemed God fell asleep, so I unnecessarily took on burdens and neglected to care for myself—characteristic of being among the Helpers in this world.

I fastened myself to control, leaping at the chance to have a preferred outcome in my possession. When you set yourself as ruler, defeat ultimately sets in and rules you instead. Even while self-contempt reached a new tier, I tried to hold all things. I could see the lines the Lord had drawn for me, and I called them anything but pleasant. I figured I was doing him a favor, trying to sort through the dumpster of pain on my own. “I’ll do it.” And for a hot minute, I was convinced I could.

_____

Sitting next to her, I watch as her right hand tires at last. She has created yellow shark teeth edges and triangular slivers have dotted the carpet. Paper corners have either been bent or lopped off. Finicky, they are. This is all a slight deviation from my original instruction, but she didn’t ask for my help. Not yet.

A young child’s typical attention span has now been met. She looks over at me, right where I’ve been all along. I ask again if she’d like my help and with an eager smile, she finally surrenders. I’m handed the scissors and now jagged paper. “Would you do it?” she sheepishly asks. All resistance to my guidance has faded. I place those dimpled fingers into the scissors, my hand over hers—and together, we cut on the remaining lines. I tell her we can do hard things.

_____

In attempting to wave a wand over my life, I strayed from keeping my eyes heavenward. I snatched those scissors and didn’t just cut corners. I ran. The path the Lord was calling me to seemed too long and too narrow. Deny yourself? Love your enemies? Forgive repeatedly? Did those things really matter? Without realizing it, I was deviating. Heading towards an off-brand, cheapened version of godly living. You know, where people say and do the Christianly things to maintain approval, with little conviction inside. A perfect gateway to hypocrisy. Gulp.

When you’ve collapsed into the arms of suffering, it’s easy to make excuses for your unfurling choices, words, and behaviors. The chaos of this winter and spring revealed flawed systems and people, yes. But it eventually revealed the slime of my own sin and inarguable faults too. The Spirit works this way—illuminating what is to change within ourselves so we might become more like our Jesus. Sometimes the truth will jolt your very core, moving you to repentance and surrender once again. Other times it’ll be a soft nudge, an opening of the eyes, a kind whisper. He never condemns, for not one of us is irredeemable. Such astounding mercy, isn’t it?

I finally looked up from myself, overwhelmingly unhappy. Emotions in a heap and fragmented pieces everywhere, I saw him there. God, by my side, through all of the jarring circumstances. I was certain he had never left, never dozed off. Oh, I want his help. I need it.

Each day is a fight to brush away paper cutouts of the old self. Each day I ask him if he would do what I, on my own, cannot. Hand over hand and with all the patience, forgiveness, and long-suffering he has to offer, he guides me on this path. He tells me we can do hard things.

Today I believe him.

On a particularly sad, but beautiful spring day. | Piedmont Park, Atlanta

On a particularly sad, but beautiful spring day. | Piedmont Park, Atlanta

Many months later...

“love yourself & others. change the world for good!”

“love yourself & others. change the world for good!”

It’s been nine months since I’ve published a post or written almost anything. I’ve deliberated scrapping this blog altogether—for what worth is it now? How do you show up this many days or weeks later, with little to offer, still?

Still. That pesky, five letter adverb and a word I’ve mostly associated with shame. I hear it in all tones and voices, remnants of people projecting their own insecurities onto me. The enemy loves to gobble that up, you know.

Still sad?
Still no answers?
Still talking about your diagnosis?
Still feeling depressed?
Still returning to that sin?
Still caring what people think?
Still not over it?

Still, still, still. Maybe it comes to haunt you, too.

The question isn’t always asked disapprovingly, of course. Sometimes people are genuinely curious, wanting an update, or checking to see if their prayers were answered. But prolonged pain also makes people uncomfortable. Few of us are naturally skilled at knowing what to do or say when someone’s life has been the same kind of hard. I’m not.

I’ve long internalized opinions and reactions and words, resulting in this ludicrous timeline I’ve charted for myself… and God. Definitely God. I want to calendar my healing. I want to quickly extract lessons from pain. I want metrics to prove I’ve grown. And then, I’ve thought, God will be pleased. He will see that I have “learned my lesson” and give me a break. He will get more glory because I’m not still wrestling.

I scrutinize my life and wrongly expect you’re doing the same. So I put off the catch ups, the texts linger unanswered, the pen never touches paper, and my prayers are delayed till I can’t bear this withdrawing a second more. When I’m alone with my thoughts (usually on my commute), I know I am afraid. I fear I will be unable to recover from what illness, abuse, or my own sin has broken in me. And I’m afraid for anyone to notice and wonder—she is still hurting?

For years and years, I’ve been hard at work, curating how I’m perceived. I hoped for a reputation considered otherworldly, driving me to more control. As these months have been significantly painful, I’ve found it impossible to keep that up. There’s little left to offer from the “old Erika.”

I thought God and those around me would be displeased. But gosh darn it, what if there is a different narrative—one without shame—that I can actually live from? This is why I’m finally writing from my months-long place of cocooning and darkness. I want to discover who God is, who I am, and how the heck we are to live in this world.

This is my reminder for tonight:

I’m still growing.
I’m still a daughter, sister, friend, and truth-teller.
I’m still waiting on him, praying (maybe barely) and he still hears.
I’m still a disciple of Jesus, not exempt from his promises or commands.
I’m still asking questions, curious, and willing to learn.
I’m still laughing and interpretive dancing at inopportune times.
I’m still here, with a voice and a purpose.

I’m still God’s.

___________________

PSALM 13

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.

When I want to be in control.

Sometimes, I'm foolish. 

I'm not sure why I thought to start a 30 day writing challenge the week I began treatment would be a good idea. In a matter of seconds, I can revert to strutting around as a look-strong-be-strong overachiever. I tried to think of words between 1 and 2 am every night, justifying to myself how I technically wasn't late for a post that day because it wasn't midnight for Pacific Time folks. When I should've been resting, I tried to get this ol' brain to help me perform as a wordsmith. For the sake of what?

Growing in discipline as a writer is not a bad idea. But maybe right now is not the time for these higher demands. I wanted to skip from writing twice a month to daily, which is indicative of my personality and how uncompromising I can be. You should've seen me last night, worries radiating after I decided I'd forego posting and get sleep instead. A writing challenge seemed like a good way to develop my skills, yet I didn't seek God for what would be the best way to accomplish this or to use my time. It was an assumption, not wisdom.

I called a friend today, after cleaning large portions of the house (to which she pointed out my overachievement), bemoaning an area in life that's another not right now. My brother's favorite word is "cumbersome," and I'd say the waiting and waiting and waiting has become just that. This person/place/thing occupies more of my thoughts and emotions than it probably should and I'm close to defaulting to: take control! make it happen! forge a way! I could blame this on being all-or-nothing, but perhaps it's that I don't trust God with the scope of my life. 

Have I asked him what he wants me to give attention to right now? Maybe it's not to be spent finding a home or a spouse or words hidden in my brain. I'm going to be spending time seeking the Lord and asking how he desires I use my resources, talents, affections, opportunities, time, pain, and passions.

As I head into another week, I want to leave you with a song we declared as a church this morning. Even with all of the unknowns, I take comfort in this Immutable God I get to know and experience, right now. May these words touch and refresh you, too.

He is God and we are not.

Renovation Music | Immutable, John Vaughan

Nanny portrait.

"Miss Erika"  by a 3 year old

"Miss Erika" by a 3 year old

Not much to say tonight except how my heart beams at the opportunity to be "Miss Erika" to little ones. I've tucked multiple children into bed the last two evenings which doesn't happen often, as I'm a nanny by day kinda girl. But I've loved the brief moments after the toothpaste has goateed chins and before the snores kick in—where I speak life and God's love over them. I find myself praying for peace, for courage, for true rest, and hearts turned heavenward. It gets me teary-eyed. How important it is this next generation experiences God. Do I portray his character beyond nighttime prayers, when it's more natural to curse instead of bless? What is it they see?