I used to think accomplishments and a gold-starred behavior would safeguard me from pain. I couldn't have given that belief language, but I know I always wanted to be two things: impressive and good.
So, I worked really hard to appear better than others.
I inhaled attention from the stage as a dancer. I fixed people's problems. And when it came to God, I upheld a religious list of dos and don'ts. You could say it worked for a while—this keeping from trouble and pain—but really I learned to mask, to quiet, to tuck away from reality and ignore suffering.
After a stint in college, I quit studying and ballet to join a missions organization instead. For the first time, I saw the stacks of pride in my heart and suddenly the gospel, the very good news of Jesus, became real to me. I entered vocational ministry with little understanding of the Bible and holes in my theology, but a desire to serve and follow this God I'd fallen in love with.
Then my health began to mysteriously decline.
I was daring and youthful, with that fresh wonder for God and the world in my pockets. Surely He will heal you, Erika. Just have more faith. I heard it all, unsure what was what but desperate for answers and the return of my old self.
Over four years later and I still had a very sick body, with a life oriented around this unwanted invisible illness. I shuffled cities, reentered international missions, resigned from jobs, moved back to my parents', spent months in bed, and lost memory, strength, friendships, money.
In December 2015, I was finally diagnosed with Lyme Disease and began treatment. I started counseling in summer of 2016. Both have continued to this day. Both are gifts of grace.
There are moments (or decades, even) we as humans would never plan out. You know the ones. Our lives are deviations from what we expected and none of us are exempt. For me, that's been illness and most recently, the trauma and loss my family is experiencing.
I've stopped trying to avoid suffering. I'm learning how to live with it, show up for others in it, and sincerely love my Creator through it.
We don't need all the how's and why's. We simply move one foot and then the next, knowing we are not alone for even a second. Jesus has wept with me and held me, delivered me and restored me. However life unfolds, I have a hope in Him that cannot be stolen.
If you've been on any road to recovery, you know it's neither airy nor romantic. It's simply necessary for life. Countless times I've confessed: I'm not who I thought. I'm broken and weak and not at all impressive.
And I'm okay with that. I think God is, too.
I'm Erika, a quirky, pensive girl with the laugh of a hyena. I love to learn and would live in a library if I could. I get to work with kids who have disabilities and it's the wildest joy. I'm fascinated by people, but especially the ones who've been strengthened through pain.
I recently moved to the Atlanta area and now live in my ninth zip code in the USA. I love the arts and education and staying curious about the world. But nothing is like following Jesus and the very upside down way he prescribes.
This is a sliver of my story, one that is changing every day.