How Georgia came to be.

Beginning of October, I reached 10% of my Peace out Florida savings fund with no opportunity to move on the horizon. A friend and I were on the road when I recited all the reasons I wouldn't be able to leave for a long, long time. My excuses circled around the state of my bank account, family, and health like they often do. This friend, reluctant to take my objections, challenged me with the "well, why not?" questions. I sat as a passenger on the trip, seat-belted to my fears. It was safer that way.

Sitting with fear felt justified. After all, the last cluster of months had been intense. The family structure I'd always known crumbled and as a new way to cope, I started coasting on feelings of "meh." Settling into indifference requires no work. You shrug your shoulders and forget about redemption stories where faith, hope, and love triumph. (Or hang as signs in a living room.) People would say they're believing for my family's miracle—brighter days, restoration, the prodigal's return. Everyone loves a good comeback. But they forget to tell you how much soul-crushing work it takes and how teeth-trembling it is to start believing God for good things again. The hope meter might rise, but so does the risk of disappointment. So instead, we keep driving on with our desires thrown in the trunk—out of arm's reach yet close enough to us.

I decided I couldn't withstand another major transition after this hell of a year and the clean up it required. Any new venture would be put on hold because surely my family needed me near. I was tempted to revert to my default: fixer Erika, savior Erika, hold-it-together Erika. Plus, having a chronic disease made it easy to create excuses to stay around. (it's amazing how loving and wise codependency can appear!) Truly, I was looking to live a life which required as little faith as possible. I wanted to regain control.

Well, I guess God can't be fooled. One week after that road conversation, I "randomly" received a text from a new friend with an invitation to move near Atlanta. She and her gracious family offered me a place to stay. They said to come, to figure the rest out later. I took three days to think and pray, thrilled and doubly terrified by the possibility. Unlike most everything in 2017, this answer was obvious. Somehow, deciding to go felt like choosing how to cook your eggs in the morning—hardboiled or fried? It wasn't strenuous or complicated. On that third morning, I quit my job with my boss' support. My family gave me their enthusiastic YES! to seeing me leave and suddenly, an exit plan was in motion.

In the four weeks from decision to departure, the unfolding move seemed more and more like the right thing to do. I couldn't shake the feeling that this time around, staying, for me, would be disobedience. So although I was scared of everything from driving highways to restarting in another state, I was going to do it scared and do it anyway. Connections formed quickly and provisions were supplied in a way I can only credit to a God who sees. Before I'd packed one thing, I received a free car and mechanic work, got a job 7 minutes from my future home, and was passed a handful of numbers to like-minded ministries and people I never knew existed. A few blinks later, I was saying goodbyes and Tetris-ing belongings into my Camry. 

Now, here I am, ever thankful for fuzzy socks and GPS as I settle into the fourth week of my new (and cold!) zip code. It happened just. like. that. Why the entire process went so seamlessly, I have no idea. Some might call it a lucky break. No—Georgia has been God's work of mercy and loving kindness in my life. I wasn't brought here because of a job or relationship or treatment. It wasn't the timing or even city I would've chosen for myself. I'm here because my Redeemer wouldn't let my gifts, desires, or dreams stay stashed in a trunk any longer. I'm here in Georgia as an act of faith, declaring my trust in Jesus and his ways once again. I want to rediscover the trueness of a hope that promises to not put me to shame. I'm flinging myself toward hope, toward Christ, and toward his plans for my life at the tail-end of a grueling year.

And that, my friends, is chapter 1 one of Georgia, me, and the surprising route God has put in place.

Grief is some, but not all.

Grief is some, but not all. | erikaspitler.com

If you've stopped by since I last wrote, you know my family received jarring news this spring. It pains me to say it, but my dad chose to leave us and his marriage for something new. And as he did, a decade's worth of carefully stowed brokenness was made visible. On March 1st, our family crossed into some formidable land—a land where many others live but few of us feel free to mention. (Especially us church folks, darnit.) The consequences of sin and its many ugly sidekicks have been emotionally flattening.

In 7 months, this burden has multiplied in weight and complexity, which I know isn't what you want to hear when you ask, are things getting better yet? I wish, friend. I wish I could say I'm leaping over hills of forgiveness, free from anger and trauma and the HOWCOULDYOU?! Would you be horrified to know some days, I've thought about huddling with bitterness on my doorstep forever? Thankfully, God snaps me out of it. I'm committed to forgiveness because it's right and I won't back away. You can be sure I'll need the Holy Spirit to give me courage on every inch of that gravel-filled road, but perhaps that's the point. It's too much on my own. 

Also, this spring, my grandmother unexpectedly died. I couldn't make the trip north for her funeral, so all I had to hold onto was an online obituary, the Hallmark cards I'd saved in her blue, swirly writing, and the distant memory of her voice. Emotions for me were at a standstill. Just this weekend, my cousin texted photos of our grandmother's things, asking what I might want to keep. I requested three juice glasses to remember her by, kitchenware I've likely never seen but will now have to myself.

My dad's and grandmother's absence both happened suddenly. The family framework I'd always known snapped in two months and while I successfully functioned on autopilot at first, my physiological response was eventually clinical depression. I call it the summer of darkness—the one where I lost all interests, struggled to converse or socially engage, spent my off-hours sleeping or taking 6 hours to pull off the covers, couldn't make meals or carry through with obligations, and only whispered (or screamed) a prayer with microscopic faith once in awhile. Life was two-dimensional.

After the diagnosis, my therapist and I started an important conversation on medication and what that could look like. Upfront, neither of us wanted to rush me to the pharmacy counter but as the weeks plodded along, the help of a pill seemed more necessary. I couldn't recognize the girl I'd become in this low-functioning state and condemned myself for the nothingness lingering inside. Being a follower of Jesus and dealing with mental illness are not mutually exclusive and I knew that full well. But the remains of old, faulty theology showed itself and let's just say it: shame is a beast.

All these months, I'd been working at a school for students with severe physical disabilities. My interview was the morning of March 1st, mere hours before I sat weeping with my mom and sister. This was no accident. Later I would thank God over and over for his timing—even the timing of very, very bad news. He gave me the peace to accept my dream position after 15 months of unemployment. He knew the joy of being with those kids would be the only motivation to get out of bed. 

On my second morning of work, I'll never forget driving under a rainbow. That image has stayed with me—a moment I realized beauty and sorrow can occupy space together. It's been a gritty (rhyme with an offensive word if it's your style) year so far and we're still recovering. Yet grief is not the whole of it. When my boss took a chance on me, God showed me the kind of work which livens up my soul right in the middle of death, loss, and depression. This August, with no medication, color miraculously returned to my world. My therapist and I were astonished, knowing God didn't have to lift it. He did, though. I could begin giving real feet to my grief, consciously walking through the effects of trauma. The fall came, and I started to study again after 7 years. One of the course modules is focused on a theology of suffering. Timely, right? I hear stories from around the world of people gripping onto hope through illness and disability and societal wounds... and I get to join in. There's one more I'd add, but it requires a post of its own. God's kindness is all over my family's messiest year. Beauty, sorrow.

These prolonged periods of pain are awfully uncomfortable. I might pay to find a fast forward button on suffering one day. But till then, I'm taking today's moment, which is all I have, and believing in a God who wastes not one thing.

My faith is a tiny, tiny sprout.
However, it's there, and I think he can work with that.

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* This post was updated 10/19 to provide further clarity.

I'm living on a question mark.

I'm living on a question mark. 

I don't think I'll ever forget that day, that dreadful first of March. I'd just returned home from a job interview when I received the news that struck down my family. There's hardly (if any) preparation for such things, is there? A longstanding nightmare turns reality, then what? You try to make sense of it but you can't. In words taken from Hamilton, this has been a "suffering too terrible to name."

A bold line distinguishes life before crisis and after. I'm living in the eleventh week following and each week since has been sad, intense, and exhausting. My heart still bleeds out. I've heard life after trauma shapes into a new kind of normal, or something like that. The alterations are significant.

So now, I'm living on a question mark. The surety has faded. I'm less willing to face the pain straight on. Each step on the bridge to healing is a timid one. These feet are dragging and the days are too. Who talks about this?

It's hard to find someone who won't try to fix and direct your pain with hopeful platitudes. And it's even harder to find someone who won't avoid you or your suffering. Lately, I'm uninterested in any of the Christian clichés. Do we toss them around to convince each other we still love and trust Jesus? Is it okay to confess: I'm broken, I'm grieved, I'm struggling? And to say back: I'm broken for you, I'm without words, I'm sorry?

Oddly, I want to push everyone away and hold everyone close. I want to keep myself shielded from further misunderstanding, betrayal, disappointment, so I isolate. I want to be remembered, looked after, supported, so I overshare. I'm not at all graceful in this process.

Trauma changes people on both ends of relationships. It's hard, I know—for both the griever and the griever's friend. Pain is a complex, giant web and we're never the only ones caught in it. How do we choose to stay when leaving looks so easy? 

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I'm afraid to write publicly because I'm afraid of accumulating more hurt. This suffering is shared, a pain not just my own. Several hearts have been twisted and turned, deceived and diced. To honor them, I can't use details. When is it better to stay off the screen and keep words only for yourself? And when is sharing worth the possible gossip, rejection, or silence?

Along with that, I fear people can sniff out self-pity. I certainly have no use for collecting pity from anyone, including myself. But it's obvious, I do hurt a whole lot. I'm still shocked, not ready to forgive, and only beginning to grieve. What if it's too early to write and I regret it?

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Just now, I read this paragraph by Rainer Maria Rilke, the poet and novelist:

"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

Maybe I'll stop trying so hard to understand. Maybe we don't need reasons for a March first kind of news. Maybe those things will come, but maybe instead there will be God's peace and a certainty of His presence. Could that be enough for all our bleeding hearts?