This is day one.

You are going to have to give and give and give, or there's no reason for you to be writing. You have to give from the deepest part of yourself, and you are going to have to go on giving, and the giving is going to have to be its own reward. There is no cosmic importance to your getting something published, but there is in learning to be a giver.
ANNE LAMOTT

Beware, these thoughts are trickling in at 9pm on a Saturday evening. I'm giving myself 30 minutes to write, the typical time it takes to craft three sentences at best.

This morning, I meant to sleep in. No plans are rare, not needing an alarm even rarer. Instead of lingering in my dreams or the weekend quietude, I bolted out of bed early and almost automatically, landing in front of the laptop. I opened my drafts, intending to write. Thoughts had woken themselves up and there would be no rest till they found themselves worked out on a page. Eventually, I lost myself to the internet abyss where I continued on in my usual way—ditching writing and clicking dozens of new tabs to inhale others' words and thoughts and creations. 

A few hours, gone. No contributions made. Not even a simple thank you given to this generous bunch—the writers and thinkers and creators before me. I have a digital stockpile of information and little to show for it. I've been taking in and not giving back.

After accomplishing nothing and dragging myself to make a fried egg, I pulled Bird by Bird off the dresser where covers are sorted in rainbow hues. Sometimes I forget they're more than decoration. When I do remember to read, I often get my hiney kicked... like today, by Anne Lamott.

Turns out, I'm darn selfish. 

I've done little with the skill or passion I have in writing. It's not been maintained through practice or challenged through discipline. To deviate from my old, attention-seeking days, I've overcorrected by deliberately keeping words and ideas to myself. Yet here I am, benefitting from what people give to the world, feeling connected and understood by them. Something is wrong here.

The books I adore only exist because their writers were generous. People who risked rejection and gave their time, honesty, resources, and whole hearts to write because that's what they were made to do. People who believed the act of writing was its own reward. I'm not like that, but I want to be. 

Today, September 1st, I'm aiming to write daily for 30 days. I'm curious to see why I'm drawn to certain content—specifically of those internet tabs lined in a row. I'll be asking myself, how will I respond to such and such compelling essay? Why does this art move me? What emotions are evoked? Whose work should I celebrate, thank, or promote today? And how might I learn to be a better giver, through words, and on here? 

That was more like 90 minutes, but hey, the words arrived before midnight. I'll see you tomorrow for day two. Now, I set my alarm for church and rest.

I'm not there yet.

Milton Avery,   Sally with Skull

Milton Avery, Sally with Skull

The girls I nanny like to pretend it storms inside their nursery. I'll offer my best booming sounds and give the lights a quick flicker. They'll giggle and hide below the purple umbrella till they're bored or till the thunder and rain voluntarily ceases. (Miss Erika is allowed to get bored, too.) One or the other eventually happens and we move right along, picking another game to play. It's innocent and sweet, so different than the tempest that's ravaged through my family these last 18 months.

Because much good has resulted from my move, sometimes I forget I'm recovering from trauma. Initially I typed I'm still recovering—with a hint of shame in that adverb—as if there's the expectation I should be dandy by now. Spoiler, I'm not. My mind is pinged with reminders of pain when I leave meeting rooms, dates, or conversations feeling overcome by fear. The awareness doesn't come immediately, though. I'll usually be circling in my thoughts, wondering what is wrong—why this amount of insecurity or emotional disconnect? Then, the ping. Or probably the Holy Spirit. It makes sense, but I'm a girl who likes to plow through challenges and besides, I'm tired of this storm. Can't we move on now? 

How easily I lose sight of God, dismissing the tender way he meets those with broken hearts. I get impatient and try to control how emotional healing might come. I know myself and my tendencies, having done this plenty of times with my physical health. A little whiny voice inside me cries, "Oh Lord, are we there yet?" There is anywhere but here, I suppose. Far, far away from the grief resurfacing, the anger I can no longer ignore, the haunting memories of abandonment and deceit. Sadness lines my eyes and seeps into my pillowcases, drop by drop. Tears and snot run downstream, carrying with them the very feelings I've wanted to bury. 

I'm standing at a visible junction, caught between choosing self-protection or leaning into God, my Protector and Shelter. Writing out my fears and their paralleling thoughts is helpful as I aim to healthily process. I'll share some below, and maybe you can relate? 

I'm afraid to trust. How do I let people in again? And trust them with my emotions or struggles, not merely facts? This skepticism has gotten icky. I'm tired of sharing like I'm reading ingredients off a cereal box. I don't want to rehearse vulnerability. Also, as I think to the future and my desire for marriage, I wonder how this might impact a relationship? 

I'm afraid to be myself. Who am I and where do I fit in the new normal? My identity as a child of God has not budged, but the way I interact with those truths have certainly altered. I miss the twinkle in Old Erika's eyes and am not sure if this version of her—rougher and more melancholy—will be as readily accepted.

I'm afraid of getting duped. I attribute this phrase to a wise, encouraging woman I got to meet with today. She's 100% right, I am. When you've been successfully manipulated or betrayed, you're left feeling like you should've known better. I scope out potential scenarios as a way to prevent further hurt or shock, deeply intertwined with my lack of trust.

I'm afraid God will change his mind. This fear (or some form of how I relate with and view God) is what all the others crescendo into. Is it true he will not tire of me? He will always be with me, loving me without condition, providing all I could ever need? Will he make right every injustice and provide comfort for every storm's aftermath? Will he stay and keep his promises to his people?

If I've learned anything while dealing with trauma and grief, it's that the way forward isn't charted out in obvious steps. You'll feel like you're living on a question mark. Some days, you're fearful or numb or plain angry. Other days, the sadness simmers and you feel fine. Today my friend gave me the okay to be where I'm at, unashamedly. There's permission to not rush ahead—to not try and suppress or escape the tumultuous feelings inside—because it's the desperate here, not some idealized there, that the Spirit meets us.

Shelter us with your wings, Lord.
It's in you we find our refuge, our comfort, our peace.

___________

FOR COMFORT:
Read Psalm 61 & Psalm 91
Listen to Shelter by Pastor Sam Crowley

Summer's honey.

My brain is still off vacationing in the land of snails. If I'm not watchful, I could easily let cognitive decline drive me to despair, swallowing up what's been good, lovely, and brushed with hope. It certainly has before. But God is showing me a different way forward, reshaping my thoughts about myself and my life. Writing is tiresome and inconvenient right now, so this post is an act of persistence. I'd rather keep my words to myself, never having to risk what you might think of me, my roller-coastering intellect, my lifestyle, convictions, or anything else. Alas, I couldn't ignore the nudge inside. I decided I'd write today not because I must, but because I believe it's a gift meant to be used and shared. I'm learning to offer my best based on my current abilities—which can change daily—and not what I once had or long to have.

I'd like to share what I've been grateful for this summer. These posts are hard to put together because I get concerned how easily special moments can be misconstrued. But I want to get better at celebrating the highlights, the honey, the sweet stuff. After all, not everything in life stings.

I've experienced God's generous care as people from church have extended friendship, resources, and opportunities to me. My family at Renovation has been the sweetest surprise while I've settled in Georgia. Bit by bit, the church-related wounds and skepticism I'd hauled up here are diminishing. I used to grumble when I heard talk of "life together." Now, I wouldn't want it any other way.

A theme has emerged the last few months. One of my pastors told me last week, "It's on you to make your needs known, and it's on us to respond." Uncomfortable, but I'm trying to directly ask, and then, the hardest part: to receive. It wasn't till I moved that I saw how unhealthy and lopsided certain relationships had become over the years. Some were built and sustained on me solely meeting needs. Rarely would I request help, but then I'd get bitter when few read my mind and rallied around me. My love of connection and fear of being forgotten drove me to pour out almost relentlessly. It looked and felt like love, but now I see how self-seeking much of my efforts were. (Apparently I'm The Helper or a 2 on the Enneagram... can you tell?)

God has been abundantly gracious, though. He has put friends in my life who are imperfect and kind and committed to his upside down ways. Once upon a time I thought Georgia-living would consist of Jesus, the squirrels, and me. I'm glad that didn't last. 

Two girls and I meet together weekly as part of a discipleship group. We'll check in with each other, spend time praying, and usually discuss points from Sunday's teaching. I've never been engaged in something like this. Staying committed and consistent has proven to be extremely life-giving and helpful. Life can be a bumbling road, but we hope to walk in the light with one another. I know these friends have already held out flashlights of grace and truth for me... hopefully I might be able to do the same.

I've been growing not only as a believer, but also a leader. In June, I started a yearlong internship at my church and I'm still amazed it happened. The girl who once had her qualms about all things church and vocational ministry is now working there? Yep, you bet. God is certainly bringing redemption, but he's also giving vision. There's this pulsing inside as I dream of what it'd be like for my brothers and sisters with disabilities to experience the Gospel and Jesus-centered community without any barriers. Do I know the right answer? No. Do I know where to start? Not really. But I believe he's provided this opportunity for me so trembly as I am, I've said yes. The pastors and staff have already been supportive, passing on courage and coaching that's desperately needed. I'm looking forward to sharing with you what I've been learning and researching.

A few weeks into the internship, I drove my AC-less '93 station wagon to middle-of-nowhere, Alabama for Hope Heals Camp. That's right, friends! YOU ALL DID IT. You financially helped send not only me, but other families to camp and you did it in less than 24 hours. In fact, your generosity was so great we got to increase the fundraising goal, which was then surpassed by a few dollars. Thank you hardly covers it. I'll be writing a separate post about the week at camp because there's far too much to say. A camper called it a piece of heaven; a place where people were embraced with their disabilities, whether visible or hidden. 

My 25th birthday was spent at camp. Families and volunteers took the time to celebrate me with love notes, singing in the cafeteria, and even a bundle of kombucha. The night finished with a talent show and I cried a stream of happy tears seeing the body of Christ come together like this. Of course, the show was unrelated to my birthday, but it felt like the sweetest "God wink" as Katherine would say. Later I climbed into bed and as all nine of my cabinmates slept, I continued to cry, recounting God's faithfulness through the last seven summers. It seemed too obvious. This was all because of his sovereignty—God weaving together moments and meaning in a way I never could've anticipated.

I journaled that night: Look at all Lyme disease has afforded me. The gift of Lyme disease, seven years later. The gift of being able to connect to a deeper story. The gift of beauty in pain. The gift of solidarity. The gift of Jesus being glorified in my very weakness. He is good, faithful, and kind. 

When I returned to Georgia, friends gathered over BBQ and a popcorn bar to play games. It was all I'd wanted as I turned a quarter of a century. The remaining five of us concluded the party in worship. United Pursuit's Take A Moment to Remember flooded through the house and we did just that. We remembered together. I thought back to where I was a year ago—crawling through what I'd named the Summer of Darkness. Clinical depression had drained color, dreams, and personality from my life. God has worked wonders! Yet he's also carried me through many valleys using the practical love, service, and presence of other hurting and hopeful humans. In that moment of remembrance, I realized years of prayers and wishes had been answered. There they were, around me. My friends.

A few weeks ago, my childhood BFF moved to the city with her husband. They'd been placed here for campus ministry which stuns me, as it's been over a decade since we lived near each other. Neither of us ever imagined Atlanta for ourselves, and yet, this is where we've reunited at last. My heart is soaring to have her 35 minutes away—or 85 during our city's infamous traffic hours.

I'll finish up by mentioning my station wagon, Perry, is no more. He was wonderfully resilient all these months, withstanding potholes and stop-and-go nonsense. Maybe it was the Alabama trip or him also turning 25, but he decided it was time to end his career as I pulled off I-75 last month. There were no warning signs, no reasons to suspect I'd be without a vehicle that soon. He was good one second and towed off to the scrapper the next. I'd been praying for reliable transportation since I moved, knowing 300,000+ miles on a car would eventually take its toll. Three days before Perry quit on me, a friend (who is also a mechanic) called, telling me about a car he was fixing that could potentially be mine. I thanked him and was excited about the possibility, but didn't think I needed it. God knew. Two weeks later and a couple gifted me with their car—the one my friend had repaired. Enter Baxter. He has AC, working windows, and yes, I 100% named him after the jovial, fun-loving Buster Baxter from Arthur.

So many underserved gifts. They taste sweeter now than perhaps they would've a decade, seven years, or even one year ago. Every waiting room, dark road, and lonely place is an invitation to meet with the living God—to trust him with all of my all as I once heard it said—and believe he might bring something beautiful again. I've faltered over and over, embittered by my circumstances. But God. Oh, sweet and merciful God. He's teaching me how to remember and receive—broken body, brain, and all.
 

As I dwell up here where the air is clear
Where the light is bright and there's no more fear
I know my place, I know my name
I know You've called me to do great things

UNITED PURSUIT, Take A Moment to Remember

A disassembling brain.

When I was a kid in the late 90's, "The Brain" to me was the nickname of a smart, grey sweater-wearing bear from Arthur. Remember that TV series?

Fast forward and the brain I now know is housed under my skull, not in Elwood City. Lately, it seems that organ is in hiding. Stress is usually the trigger—even good stress is enough for the onset of a flare up. So, cognitive functions lag again. This affects my verbal fluency, short-term memory, and ability to process information or problem-solve. It's like thinking through black carbon.

I hold no background in neurology but research tells me what Lyme can do to the brain. Damage is possible and decline, in some ways, has already come.

Several times a week for the last several weeks, I've prepared to write. I'd sit down, open a blank page like usual, ready to share about spring and summer happenings. Over and over again I'd try to form sentences around these recent events but then, there it would go—my brain running off somewhere unseen, bringing the writing process to a reluctant end. I'd close the laptop and then my eyes, crying out to God for his comfort and truth. 

Loss rearranges us. Once provision, health, or people slip away, there's finally an admission of what we've taken for granted. Loss upends control, jolts priorities into place, and reveals the value of what's been near us all along. I surely didn't appreciate my brain until it began disassembling. Perhaps this sounds familiar.

Yes, there's neuroplasticity and treatment and if those don't work, there's also the promise of a redeemed body to come. But if I'm honest, cognitive impairment in real-time feels alarming. My friends call certain experiences unforgettable and yet, I cannot will my brain into remembering along with them. It's beyond my control. As memories lose vibrancy and words fall off their proper shelves, I'm tempted to hide my weakness. If I can't wow others, I immediately self-protect. Seven years into illness and I wonder, can I trust my Creator has good purposed for me? I've been afraid to let go of my pride and control—prizing fond memories, intellect, and others' perceptions over my Jesus. I still think I know what's best. 

Without God, these losses—memory or the like—would seem like an awful joke. But I'm not one without him or without hope. Instead, I have the Spirit of God living in me, untying me from fear and redirecting my affections to what matters. My brain might labor against bacteria, but guess what? This hollowing out creates more room for my Savior to step in and meet me. More awareness of him, more prayers to him, more love for him. When I experience Jesus and his unfailing love, I know I'm not empty-handed. And that, to me, is the true healing I need.

This post is dedicated to my friend Abby: Abs, thanks for believing me when I say it's been hard and for pushing me to write anyway. You help me call to mind God's faithfulness. In all my Dory moments, you never judge. Thank you.

Let's give hope away.

Disease has morphed my life into an arrangement of days and weeks and months which have been altogether strangely beautiful. Of course, I wouldn't have always called it that. During the first 5 years, I logged thousands of hours bed-bound and voiced a litany of nearly hopeless cries to God. Desperate for answers, for support, for understanding.

From late 2011 to early 2016, I believed physical healing was the best kind of reprieve available and if I did not receive it, something was wrong. Either my faith was not persistent enough or God heard every knock on the door and didn't hear or care. Right? If you're someone like me, you start repenting for anything you can think of, periodically checking your faith measurement levels. How was my belief today? Healing-worthy? I would constantly assess myself and think of ways I might gain more of his attention—as if then this God who was Creator and Healer would give me what I was sure I needed. When nothing changed after awhile, I started to think it was less to do with me. Maybe he just wasn't as kind or good as I'd been taught?

People in the church assumed a miracle in my body was my only need or request for prayer. I kept right on thinking God's highest form of wholeness and redemption for my brokenness would be physical healing. Many grace gifts were around me in those early years but I was too disappointed to see or enjoy them. I was like an angry guest, demanding an exchange or refund at the counter. This wasn't what I ordered. Take it back. My theology had only a toe-sized space for suffering.

I won't detail the winding road here, but it's important to note in December 2015, I'd received my long-awaited diagnosis and started treatment. For at least half a year, all efforts seemed futile and only costly. There was some visible improvement in 2016, but transformation was largely inward. Grief led to comfort, questions to peace, self-pity to empathy for others. Only God could bring such change, saving me from the rulings of disease and my personal quest for a pain-free life. I began to marvel at his great sovereignty though admittedly, it still freaks me out at times. I also began to know Jesus as the Man of Sorrows and it's his intimate care—his offering of hope for my soul—that gave me life again. Healing was happening inside, and it was the healing I didn't know I needed.

After 15 months of unemployment and being confined at home, I entered the job search and jumped into work I'd never done but felt suddenly and tremendously pulled to: working alongside people with disabilities. I had no work or volunteer related experience but what I had was my personal journey of chronic illness and the way it birthed empathy for those with disease and disability. My former boss took a chance on me and my struggling health. Her trepidations were made clear but her belief in what God could do were even clearer. It was there, amongst the students, I came alive.

When I moved to Georgia, leaving the school and students was probably the hardest. We'd shared so much together already, celebrating academic and therapeutic successes to processing life to having dance parties. Some were ambulatory while some used wheelchairs. Some were hilarious and some were sassy. Some loved computer games and some preferred music. Some communicated through devices and some used their gaze. All had primary diagnoses of physical disabilities and all bore the remarkable, wonderful image of God. I love them and yearn for them to live in a world set up to support them.

Most recently, I enrolled in a course to learn how to better reach families affected by disabilities. These individuals and families desire so many things aside from physical healing. Grace to endure. Funds for therapy and schooling and equipment. Healing from societal wounds. Vibrant relationships. Supportive communities. Less pat answers, more compassion and listening. Babysitting. Date nights. Shattered perceptions. Invitations to Bible studies and birthday parties and book clubs. Dignity. Opportunity. Value. Hope. Their voices are the ones I want to hear rising around me—especially from within the church. I want to give these families the right resources they need so they might flourish.

It excites me to be following God in the direction of disability ministry and I'd like to share an opportunity I'm beaming over with you. In June, around my 25th birthday, I'll be joining Hope Heals Camp for a week in Alabama to give Christ-centered resources, rest, and relationships to individuals and families with disabilities. Katherine and Jay Wolf have been faithfully pointing these families to hope out of their own suffering and this camp is another extension of their mission.

My application has been filled out for weeks but when I thought it was impossible I could go, I emailed the coordinator and told them I wouldn't be coming. But last night, God nudged me to move forward and at 10 pm I sent off an email again, asking if I still might be able to join...to which they said YES! 

I have a big ask and four days' time to make it happen. Honestly, I couldn't imagine a better gift for my 25th or a better way to spend it than in Nauvoo, Alabama with the campers. I need $600 by May 1st so I can serve and so we can pay for a family to attend for free! If you'd be willing to give, I would be so grateful. Many of you've encouraged me to keep persisting through the years, and I'd love to now come together and encourage others to do the same!

For the souls fastened to God forever, healing has already happened. Restoration for all things is coming. I have seen what hope can do and I am convinced—it really does heal and make whole. Let's see hope multiply. Let's give it away. 

My sunshine people.

Last weekend, sunshine visited me in the form of three precious humans: mom, sister, brother. We celebrated my mom's birthday and the pure-hearted, resolute woman she is while also becoming further acquainted with Atlanta. I played city guide for those 2.5 days which really means Yelp and my trusted friend named Garmin did their jobs. I'm still learning my way around but can find the important places like church and Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams—both of which I enjoyed introducing to my family. We've moved a lot through the years but never lived in a bustling city like this one, so it was great fun seeing all Atlanta offers together.

Although the dining and art and shops here are excellent, the best moments were spent back at my house. Friday night we sat huddled on the floor, eating too many snacks and laughing till our notorious nonsense cascaded through the hallway. We've been through a hellacious year so to have enjoyed life and each other like that was God's kindness extended to us. I'd missed being in the same room with people who share my last name and history. First time introductions and small talk opportunities have abounded since moving, and I have grown weary. My family's company was refreshing. 

I cried as they pulled out from my driveway, headed south to the Sunshine State. I've cried at least three more times since and today as I write, the Peach State agrees in raindrops. These three—mom, sister, brother—pointed me back to the Father, in whom we all have a place and a family to belong. I am thankful this could even happen, knowing how pain has stung us four in swarms. Knowing betrayal, truth-twisting, and foolishness have wounded us and knowing we are capable of inflicting great hurt all the same. Yet here we are, still hanging on. I can look these three in their darling faces now and believe I don't have to fix or save or hold anything together for them. And that, for me, is growth. We've been hard pressed and struck down in this recent narrative, but our hope in Christ will not burn out. He beams brightly and clearly through these people...

March made a year.

March has been an angsty month.

It started off with the 1st as all months do, but that particular date is now stained with the memory of earth-shattering news and will probably be a somber one for all years approaching. My family is no longer what it once was—or what I thought it was. Over a year now and though it seems others have forgotten, we haven't. How can we? Trauma bleeds through our hearts in Sharpie.



Our clocks recently sprang forward and we collectively lost an hour of sleep. The adjustment was grumble-worthy and inconvenient, but soon it was like nothing ever happened. I imagine this is what it's like for people indirectly affected by grief. They hear the bad news, they too are saddened and jarred, and after a little, on their lives eventually go. If this is true, you'd think I'd be more understanding when there was no acknowledgment as March 1st rolled in. Oh, how I lack in love and grace.

. . 

We sign up for MoviePass, field trips, worship teams, Spotify, CrossFit, newsletters, 5ks, and credit cards and when we do, we generally know what to expect. Our yeses can be submitted deliberately or carelessly, and I'm finding it's no different when we choose to follow Jesus. I've wobbled from both extremes and will still be surprised by the price we're to pay. It's almost subversive, what Jesus asks of his followers. Trials will present themselves and I'll act like there's fine print in the Bible I missed. Is this what I signed up for?

. . .

When I was in junior high, my dad had a rocketry club. I didn't know a thing about these cylindrical objects but I sat in a few meetings, happy to see him lead my peers and give them some support. They worked formulas and got matching shirts and talked combustion chambers. They never did win, though I guess they could've come close with a leader like my dad.

Years later and I've learned pride without intervention can launch higher than those rockets, volatile and bound for a hazardous end. Blaming was easy until I realized I'm part of the club. I'm among the group of sinners Christ died to save. Thinking I know better and love better and am better—who am I apart from the grace of God? Fingers, to whom will you then point?

. . . .

After watching Gifted twice this month, I made a playlist where the end credits song runs repeatedly for 25 minutes, the length of my recent commutes. "This is how you walk on, this is where you belong," Lightbody sings over and over. The song was written for the movie and every time I play it, I hear a father's dream for his little one. A chorus I wish I could hear for myself. Lyrics won't fill a paternal absence, but they remind me of what is already possible as a child of God. Hope, forgiveness, restoration, identity. 

While we've been busy breaking vows and yeses and God's heart, he keeps his and keeps on loving with a covenant love. Father, hear my cry and know I need you. 

One year and it still hurts. And still, he is so good.