Expectations vs reality.

Nearly two months ago, I slipped on my glitter heels and swiped my badge for the last time. I was a big girl with a big girl job.

Choosing to resign with little savings and no further plan is not exactly trendy. I wouldn't encourage most to try it out.

Treatment has been monotonous and mainly uneventful. Some lovingly ask if I feel better yet. I don't. Activities the average young adult can tackle in a day are physically taxing for me. Monday, I caught up with a friend. Tuesday, I ran errands for an event. Wednesday, I made a meal. Normal life stuff.

After something as simple as showering, I feel like the big bad wolf in "The Three Little Pigs." My lungs huff and they puff. Tweezing my eyebrows is a task large enough to set my heart racing. I am exhausted by 11 am, when all I've done is gotten ready for the day. 

You might be able to relate.

But maybe you have all the energy I wish I had, and I have all the time you wish you had. Even then, we are probably quite similar.

We don't always get what we think we need. In one way or another, we look in the wrong places for security or regained hope. We are humans, and that's what we are prone to do.

I've got a knack for unrealistic expectations.

Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday were my stark reminders this week. I know when I've pushed myself, because the pain is always worse the next morning.

I thought a diagnosis and a treatment plan would bring the answer and stability I wanted, but I was wrong. If I am not constantly looking to Jesus, I will always be disappointed.

I am learning healing on earth has not been promised to me by a certain date. It is not something that has a due date, like a library book or a baby.

God does not owe me anything. He has given me everything I need.

Some days, that is very challenging to reconcile with. Other days, I am so full of peace, knowing He is more than enough for me.

God is not a fulfillment service, shipping out our orders and delivering them on our time. We may not understand His ways, but we can stand under His truth. Day after day, He will meet us in our weaknesses—whatever our portion may be.

So, this is where I'm at.

It's not what I thought, but it has been the best for my growth. I am thankful.

To stay, not go.

I was hardly released from jet-lag's hands when I traded the heat of Nepal and its unpredictable streets for the cold A/C and an organized cubicle in Florida.

I went from blistered bare heels to gold glitter heels. Hardly making cash to making hard cash. Seeing numbers of people to seeing people's numbers.

Only four weeks separated these extremes.

A quick visit with my precious family back in August was meant to be just that—a quick visit. I had plans to catch up, raise support, eat my mom's cooking, and sleep on my childhood bed. Maybe even play a few rounds of Monopoly Deal with my siblings.

It was going to be great. Then God placed a decision down before me, and even though I was tempted to pull a "Just Say No!" on Him, I had to stop myself and consider. I am defiant at times. I am human and I like to pretend I know what I need. I really have no clue. 

The plans had been set for me to return to Hawaii and staff a Discipleship Training School. That opportunity was drenched in the good things I had desired and yearned for. But what I felt God prodding me to consider was to stay. To stay in Florida, to gather finances, to further the relationships there, and to find a mentor, church, and place to serve.

I have left Florida twice now, and I think both times I declared it would be my last. With some irritation at the constant change, I took the decision to prayer. I laid it before my leaders and those whom I respect. I sought God's heart and voice through the Scriptures. And He gave me an unexplainable peace.

A peace to stay.

I made the decision on a Monday. Tuesday, my previous employer called me for an interview. Since my belongings were tucked into a suitcase at a house 4,724 miles away, I scrambled to Goodwill. I purchased formal work attire, changed in the store bathroom, lost my keys, found them in said bathroom, and showed up to my interview with maybe 30 seconds to spare. I got the job.

Staying here is not what I wanted or expected, and it surely was not the route I had planned for.

I have had many friends transition from being support-based missionaries to returning to their lives at home again. Some have been launched into ministry, missional living within their cities, or started their own businesses. Others have fought purposelessness, depression, and have even turned their backs on God. The move is often frazzled from emotions.

A sweet friend who has experienced the transition herself reminds me to take it "moment by moment, day by day". I am thankful for her encouragement, as I want to rush through figuring out why it is even good for me to be here once again.

The level of self-criticism, anxiety, fear, judgment, perfectionism, and oppression I now battle has rocked me. I get on my knees and thank God He is the Rock that won't move—because remember?

I am only human and I know not what I need.

Life has swept me up and I am looking for a piece of comfort to still me from my failing performance.

"This, too, is good," He whispers.

Those four words hug my heart.

Friends, maybe you need to hear that as well. Maybe you need reminding that God is even good at all. I am holding to the belief that He has plans to redeem us and grow life from areas which previously brought ache.

You may discover the city which you've been placed in is hungry for the presence of the living God, too. Hungrier than either of us may have thought. Let us repent for the ways we have compared or cast judgment towards others and ourselves.

It matters not if we are far from our birth countries or tucked away in its very corner—because as the Church we have been called to live on mission, and that's not going to change.

We are not our achievements or adventures. We are frail and small. We need to be bent and broken, so the Maker can shape us and heal us. There is work to be done here and there. 

Be in Him, and let Him prune you for His glory.

Invisible in illness?

If you have depression, mental illness, infertility, lupus, lyme disease, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, arthritis, or any other invisible illness I did not listI am so very sorry. I know what it is like to carry around a weight that most people cannot see. That feeling of being constantly misunderstood, isolated, or angered? I get it. I have been there. And in many weeks like the last, I am still there. But I am fighting for perspective.

It's been about 180 weeks since my health began to decline, and I still don't know what actually is amiss. Chronic, undiagnosed, invisible. I am finding it is not as uncommon as I thought. (well over 100 million in America alone have an invisible illness.) 

Doctors have reviewed my negative test results and leaned forward in their chairs to tell me, "Ma'am, there is nothing we can do for you." Some have alluded to me making up the symptoms because they believed I craved the attention. One doctor told me he would "pound anti-depressants" on me during my next visit to help me cope with the frustration of not finding an answer.

The pattern has remained the same. They see nothing, so they give up. In my case, the illness and its diagnosis are both hidden.

It makes me feel crazy.

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I live with an unwanted illness.

But I also live wanting a pinpointed diagnosis so I could move forward with a treatment plan. So I could feel validated. Oh, to have an answer! A result of some kind!

I've often imagined the relief that would wash over me as I finally learn what the heck has been going on. To me, an answer would somehow prove this is all real. It would legitimatize the symptoms and my constant justifying could then cease. At least that's what I imagine.

This illness crept into my life summer of 2011 and has since bulldozed through my once-neatly-packaged views on God, relationships, purpose, and even myself.

It might be invisible in nature, but its effects have greatly impacted me as well as those close to me. My selfish and prideful ways have never been more highlighted than in these 180 weeks or so. I never knew self-pity could taste so gross or that I could be this headstrong in my distorted game of negativity. For something so invisible, such deep issues have surfaced.

Perhaps it sounds nonsensical, but somewhere along the way, I placed myself under the label of "sick girl."  In my naiveté, I allowed the lies to grow and confirm the preposterous belief that invisible illness meant invisible girl.

I thought I was doing myself and others a favor by isolating my emotions, thoughts, and even physical presence. Then came Christmas break in Virginia two months ago. I visited my best friends whom I had not seen in about a year and a half. During this trip, my cognitive symptoms experienced a flare up, which means conversation, comprehension, and retaining information expended the little mental energy I did have. In addition was the usual fatigue and chronic body pain which made me feel like I had piggybacked an elephant all night long.

I was only beginning to pull out of a long, emotional funk. Just the thought of inviting them into this mess freaked me out. I sat in the passenger seat as my best friend drove us from lunch when a certain thought riveted me. Maybe I should tell her. Maybe I should tell her what it's really like for me to be sick. I beat myself up for a good while, clenched my hands, and finally mustered up the courage to share. I had predetermined that even best friends wouldn't really care to know. If they did, wouldn't they have said something first? It turns out, she did care and has cared. She just needed to be guided into how I felt so she could try her best to understand.

As people, isn't that what we desire? To be recognized and embraced even in our mess? Whether it's illness, a job loss, an addiction, death, heartbreak, or whatever elsedon't we just long to be assured that we have not been forgotten? That what we experience matters? 

Although my best friends haven't experienced this themselves, they've been through plenty of painful situations which stole their joy, masked their identity, created feelings of shame and isolation, and kept them from speaking up.

We have suffered through our silences.

What I was told that afternoon meant volumes to me. She completely validated my illnessI was not crazy after all. Following that, my friend sweetly said, "Erika, I don't love you because of how eloquent or fun or intelligent you are. I love your heart and who you have been all of these years. It doesn't change." 

I don't want people to only know me from a distance. I want them to come close. I crave for them to. It has been a painful process to see the lies regarding my worth uprooted and to plant seeds of truth instead.

Like I mentioned earlier, just this week I felt misunderstood, isolated, and even angered. When I find myself feeling that way, it's usually because I haven't opened myself up to the truth or to the vast graces of God and the way He moves through His people. 

Yes, my sinful ways have never been so highlighted as they are now. But neither has the grace of God. The way He extends His love towards me is something I feel I do not deserve. His grace, His gift. The way He tells me I am enough leaves me in awe. He notices my every need and cherishes me more than even the best of friends could. I've never seen this part of His heart more visibly than now. He is whispering,

your illness may be invisible, but you are seen.

And maybe you need to hear that, too.

Through your angry days, your hard days, your painful days. Through the blood tests, treatments, medical bills, lost relationships and many "but you don't look sick" comments.

Through all of this, you are seen. You have not been forgotten. Your every need is fully known by God, who so desires to empower you with His strength. 

May you be open and allow His whispers of truth to fall afresh over your heart. And most of all, may He, the God who created you and your beautiful body, restore you wholly and completely.

I know that I can trust You.

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Eleven hours before I was Hawaii-bound, I sat in the passenger seat of our Honda CRV, weeping. My dad and I drove to Target to pick up some travel items when I began doubting my departure altogether.

There in the parking lot, we talked through why I should or should not go.

I felt like I had very legitimate reasons for no longer returning and many would agree. With my financial situation and physical health having hardly budged in the direction I hoped, it seemed like I would be setting myself up for failure if I left. 

The confidence I had just days prior when hosting a missions event was gone. This missionary temporarily lost sight of the mission. Reality of circumstance suddenly took precedence over faith.

One of my biggest fearsthe fear of failurehad begun to consume me because of the lies I had given way to in my mind.

What happens if you cannot fully do what you feel so called to?

Consoling me with patience and grace, my dad said, "Remember, Erika. You are not a human-doing. You are a human-being." It caught me off guard.

This truth was the very truth I had wrestled with the last three months of ministry. And so the snot bubbles continued, no longer giving me a chance to maintain composure. Clearly, the deeper issue was now exposed. It was not really about whether I was healthy enough or had the money I needed.

The question really was, "Do I trust God with these areas of my life? In my health, my finances, my ministry?" 

I've wrapped my identity and worth around the good I am able to accomplish for God and for people. When you think about it, it is silly. I can do nothing apart from Him. Who am I to think I must please others or prove myself to be a heroine of sorts? 

That night, I remembered the yes I had given God.

There are two lines in David Brymer's "Wedding Song" that say, "And then I hear You call my name—it's the sweetest voice I know. I will leave it all behind, Lord—where You go I will go." Those words were my heart's cry; the words I read publicly at two missions events just days before.

But sometimes, I must tell God things and then I forget.

Or I tell Him in a swirl of excitement and emotion, unprepared to actually do what I just willingly said yes to. (like going wherever He leads.)

I didn't expect the "going" to feel so painful or risky that Tuesday night. Yet knowing God is worthy to be trusted, I packed up my suitcases and stuffed away my fears.
 

It's been two weeks since that Tuesday. I am back in Hawaii, and there is not much more that makes sense to me.

Daily, I am being challenged to place my trust in Him.

I am continuing to discover He is the One who understands my greatest fears, needs, and questions.

The other night, I knelt on the floor with my fists on the concrete, repeatedly shouting out, "I know that I can trust You! Even in my sickness! Even when I don't understand! I choose to believe You are good! I lean not on my own understanding!"

Over and over I sing to Him, "I know that I can trust You," and He gives me new strength for the day.

Something is shifting inside every time I close my eyes and thank God for His unending goodness. It does not matter whether my rent money is in sight or the doctor I need exists in the state. I said yes to a good God, not to a situation.

I was not provoked to give Him my yes because it meant a life of riches, perfected health, or a blossoming ministry carved out for me. I simply said yes to trusting and following Him because this life is about obedience and a love response to the One who has given me everything. 

I know that I can trust Him.

O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles?
O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights?
Have you never heard?
Have you never understood?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.
Even youths will become weak and tired, 
and young men will fall in exhaustion.
But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
They will walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40:27-31

His affection in affliction.

Sometimes I write to make more sense of my life. It's how I process.

Other times I write because someone else needs to hear it—even if I'm unsure where it will go or what I will say. Kind of like right now.

I know I've been given a voice to communicate truth and must stop shying away for fear of being misunderstood. As I write, I like to pray God would take these simple words and breathe His life over them in a way that is uplifting, because I can't write through any season without Him. It just wouldn't be worth it.

. . .

It's not right for me to expect you to understand what I will share. That's just not how it works. But I do want to honestly explain where I've been in my pain and limited perspective so I may then speak of God's perfect and personal hope.

There are afflictions of different kinds in life. Mine has been physical distress—sickness, in other words.

Every morning, before I hop off my bunk bed, I face the reality of my weakness. Regardless of the sleep I get the night before, I rarely wake refreshed. Since spring, I think I've slept through the night once.

Chronic fatigue is a tricky little guy.

After using what little energy I have to get the day going, I take a quick assessment of my inflammation, fatigue, and joint pain levels. On the worst days, it feels like I'm piggybacking a baby elephant. (I've never actually done that before... but I imagine it would be similar.)

As I apply makeup, I fight against insecurities that appear, hoping people don't notice my face worn with exhaustion.

When I arrive on campus, I get slightly anxious because I know many will ask in passing, "How are you? How do you feel today?"

How does one with chronic sickness honestly answer without being such a Negative Nancy? Did they care to actually know? Unless I'm piggybacking an elephant, I ignore my health altogether and give a cheap answer.  

But if my recent, uncut thoughts were held to a microphone, my response would be:

"Well, I slept for ten hours last night but I'm crazy tired! My body hurts everywhere—and I don't know why. Especially my hands. I tried taking notes and typing earlier, but my fingers are so swollen from arthritis I had to stop. I'm freaking out inside, hoping you don't ask me what I did yesterday. I probably won't be able to remember because of my poor memory. And as much as I love talking to you, conversations drain me. I'm trying not to slur my speech or show how disappointed I am. I know I could have it worse. I know God is good. But today? I feel like crap."

This is the negative, prideful perspective from which I've been living out of until mid-August. This was my reality. The painful truth.

Then, I was shaken up, and there was no stopping me. 2+ years worth of disappointment, embarrassment, questioning, and fear poured out of me in the form of weeping before the Lord.

To this day, the dried mascara stains on Psalm 73:26 serve as proof of what happened that August afternoon. I told Him I couldn't do this anymore. I couldn't hoard all of these wrong feelings, shutting myself off to the door of hope.

If I was going to be weak forever, I had to believe the Lord would be my strength forever. He promised He would. 

When the answers to our prayers are delayed, and our circumstances reach emergency proportions, God uses the crisis to break us open, to empty us of everything that is not of Him, and to soften the soil of our hearts with tears.
- Bob Sorge

Following that time of weeping and surrender, one might imagine my health got better. It didn't. I had more days of feeling off, my physical pain was heightened, and it actually got worse. There was this tension I was living in.

I recognized my reality, but I knew Heaven's perspective carried something I could not see and I wanted to set my heart on that instead.

After a particularly difficult week where I never left the house, my dear friend encouraged me to read one of her favourite books, The Fire of Delayed Answers.

It is through Bob Sorge's personal lessons from pain I am now gaining a perspective on affliction I have never had before. Instead of complaining this all away, my eyes are being opened to the mercy of God to me. Although my prayers for healing or immediate relief aren't being answered, I am being given great grace to persevere. 

I know I am just at the beginning.

I have more valleys to grow in and out of, more mountaintops to traverse. But there is nothing quite like the moment hope expands in your heart as you lean on your Father, refusing to give up in your suffering. (Romans 5:1-5)

I have found His deep affection for me in this affliction, and there is no turning back.