Georgia, you are not my experiment.


It's been 15 weeks since I pulled into my driveway that first night in Georgia.

A few people have asked if I've settled in and I recognize this usually means: do you like your job, are you happy, have you made friends yet? I have an aversion to chitchat so my answers take on an unintended intensity. Two minutes during church meet-and-greet or over iMessage is probably not the time to detail my "settling in," so here it is. 

An informal, scattered update for the curious.

It's been a fast road and God's faithfulness has not made any stops.
How can I contain my praise? 


Leaves would crunch like corn flakes beneath my feet as I wandered around my new neighborhood and now, at the end of February, I'm chasing down cherry blossoms. Pops of pink, white, and maroon already line the streets and if you're stuck in traffic on I-75, you'll notice them there too. 

Over these 3+ months I've borne witness to seasons rapidly turning over and it's been the clearest reminder of how there is a time for everything. I'm convinced even our bleakest winters have purpose and yet, thankfully, they also have an end. Spring always comes.

I've fallen in love with being outside. This is a reality I couldn't even consider in 2016 when bedridden and housebound. Remember that? When circling around the perimeter of Target was too tiring and when my skull felt pierced by sunlight? Now I can't slip on toe socks and Nikes fast enough. I'm working on building endurance and can currently walk a handful of miles just 'cause, which is crazy to me. 

My body and spirit are invigorated as the breeze pushes me forward and it is all a gift. When I'm playing outside and surrounded by nature, I'm most aware of God's presence and voice. For years I've been unable to meet with him in this way. These moments are sacred and beautiful and even hilarious. I recently noticed squirrels moving to a staccato rhythm, perfectly synced to the song playing in my headphones. I fell over from laughter as I shared this silent disco with rodents in the woods. Promise I'm working on making friends but hey, I've got Jesus and some squirrels.

On Thursday, I finished up some yard work, dressed up, and took myself to my first ever concert. The venue was in a part of the city I'd never been to but I found it and settled in the parking garage with no problems. (Baby Driver ruined parking garages in Atlanta for me. Also, I've been driving down the up-ramp by mistake...) It was a lovely night, chatting with strangers before the doors opened and listening to prophetic words of hope and beauty and reconciliation sweep through the air. Josh Garrels' artistry is brilliant, his live show even better than the albums. There was enough applause to lift him off his feet, but instead he sang with conviction and humility, firmly planted in the sweet mercy of God. 

The concert was one of many events I've shown up to alone and in relative anonymity. I hear Garmin's voice on every solo drive to church, classes, and bookstores. Wandering by myself hasn't bothered me. I expected it here. I guess what I didn't see coming was how true the old adage—out of sight, out of mind—would feel. Perhaps hopping off Facebook at the start of the year made this feeling more prevalent. Nevertheless, I am okay.

My new therapist is leading me through the Boundaries book and it's helping me see the pseudo and codependent relationships I've clung to over the years. There's a healthier way and I look forward to loving freely and not out of obligation. This will take practice and failure and grace. Hard for us perfectionists. In time, I trust friendships will be formed and they won't be rodents or GPS robots. 

Sundays have become my favorite. If you're thinking church, then you're right. I'm not only going again, but I'm fully for God's covenant community and want to be with his family. There have been some real rifts and shady actions in previous local churches I've attended but none of my bitterness, judgment, or arrogance towards Christ's body can be justified. I am no better, even and especially when I think I am.

"It's just me and Jesus," was the mantra since 2015 (or maybe earlier) and I'm now learning how wrong and impossible that statement is. "Jesus died for a people, not a person," my pastor tells us. Why have I not considered this more? How long have I been centered on myself and my private relationship with God? Though I've desperately aimed to follow and obey him, I'd removed myself from living on mission with the very brothers and sisters he'd given to be my family. I'd been severely missing out because of hurt, pride, fear, and ignorance. There is a kindness that leads us to repentance and I am turning that way now, towards God and his beautiful transcultural church.

This Georgia life is not a trial run. It's not an experiment to see if God is able to sustain me. It's not to prove I've reclaimed adulthood or independence, either. I pray and pace the length of my room, overwhelmed as thanks pours through tears and words. Then it hits me. This is the place God miraculously guided me to—an oasis in a stretch of hard desert years. It's where I'm supposed to be. It's becoming home.

Green peas & the truth they help tell.

 Green peas and the truth they help tell.

Wednesday evening, I chanced dinner with a new recipe involving peas—one of the few foods I've always firmly disliked. I was on a time crunch to get this dish prepared before Bible class and couldn't think of an adequately swappable vegetable before marching out of Publix. Plus, I'd polled my housemates over text and they all liked peas, so it was decided. Half an hour later and I'm in the kitchen, slicing an enormous amount of mushrooms and microwaving the spherical veggies in question. Y'all wouldn't believe it. I am now perfectly pleased by peas.

For maybe a week now, I've been rethinking the role of writing in my life. Before work, during church, past bedtime. All that evaluation and here I am, with 96 words on the serendipity of green peas. Try the recipe and thank me later?

Truly, though. I'd like to give some notes on my writing lest you think I've suddenly become a food blogger transforming Picky Nickys of the world.

Another person tells me I'm inspiring. They've clicked a link and read my words. After decomposing dozens of sentences, it's those words I've chosen to make public and with them, I've aimed to be truthful. Please God, I don't want to be inspiring. Not anymore.

I entered vocational ministry when I was 18, writing newsletters and Facebook posts chronicling my stay in Mozambican villages and beyond. I traded the traditional route of college for it and my friends back home began to say...

I could never do what you're doing. 
It takes a special kind of person to do that.
Only 18? I wish I was like you at that age.
You're so brave!
So inspiring.

They had elevated my choices and I'll admit, it made me feel good for a few years. In 2015, I left the missions organization and returned to the U.S. mainland. Since then, God has thrown out and ironed flat many wrong beliefs—as he does with all his growing children. I can see how this expectation to be only inspiring or spiritual began to develop 7 years back and an ocean away. I'd unconsciously made a god of myself. Many areas have been touched by this faulty expectation, writing included. I wish I could easily crumple up that darn lie.

When in its proper role, writing aids the life I'm living off paper and screen. It helps me call to mind what God has done and challenges me to make better observations of his gifts around me. I know something is whacky when I write to resemble someone I'm not. That's not hard to do, you know. I decided about a year ago if I'm not experiencing or interacting with God and the world apart from parchment and pixels, there's nothing to say. I'm here for sincerity, not make believe.

Here's the truth: my day to day life is not reserved to only depth or passion or grief, though they are present. It's more ordinary, practical, and amusing (the stories are endless!) than it appears. And I love those parts, too. If my writing is an extension of all I'm learning from God and his creation, then I want to do so more freely. 

I've done you a disservice by writing from an obligation to remain "inspiring." It might've been a self-imposed expectation, but I'm through with it. Bob Goff wrote this brilliant line in Love Does, "I used to think rules were made by someone else, but now I know we get to make some of our own." 

These are 5 new rules I'm giving myself on this little patch of internet-land:

01. I will write when moved by passion, brokenness, discomfort, and joy. But sometimes I will feel none of those things, and yet God will still lead me here, to the screen and to the keyboard, to keep up with the practice of writing faithfully even when I'd rather not. I will write even then. 

02. I will write to collect and share memories. This means I can celebrate sometimes, mourn other times, and delight often in the ordinariness of life without feeling shame.

03. I will write earnestly about what I'm learning. As an outcome, I hope readers might actively join me in seeking God and his upside down ways. I hope they don't sit and think, "Inspiring. Could never do it." 

04. I will write as a way of exploration. With words, with topics, with humor, with art, with my voice. It's okay to not get it right. It's okay to merge my altruistic personality and quirkiness and inner dork together here. 

05. I will write and welcome others to come along. And I will also always give permission for someone to click away, to stop reading, and to choose to spend time elsewhere. 

There you have it. Accidental rules on writing because somehow I formed a mantra on peas when I meant to have an essay on loneliness. (now that's a mouthful!) I won't feel poorly over it, either. Rule 02 exists because I need reminding even our most ordinary days have something to delight in. I could've been inspiring but today, I chose sincerity instead. 

I'll write onward—with those rules like lampposts lighting my way.

On 2017 : Unexpected Littering

 Erika Spitler - On 2017

I started making my way through a set of year-end questions on January 1st like many of you introspective folk did, but never finished. Sitting with my Pilot G2 pens and thinking through 2017's life lessons sounds less appealing than it did that first, fresh day of the year. It's mid-month now and I'm wondering, how are we already here? 

The new year always has a charm of its own. I do like getting to jot a different digit in the corner of journals and imagining the possibilities of what I might record in them. Sometimes, though, I forget pain is no respecter of new calendars. We still feel remnants of the year prior and it'll be there for us to work through come January 1st, when "yesterday" and "last year" are synonymous. For me, this is helpful to remember.

2017 was littered with unexpected change. To recap, it went a little like this: gained employment after 15 months without, dad left the family, grandmother died, clinical depression hit, returned to formal studies, Lyme flared up, parents' pending divorce, best friend got married, moved out of state, changed jobs, began learning a new city, found a church, started dating again. To separate significant transitions with mere commas seems detached and almost wrong—like they're items on a grocery or honey-do list. Maybe that's revealing of where I'm at in this grief process?

In the fall, I was told it was good and admirable to hear me talking so level-headed about my family's recent dysfunction. Especially since it hadn't even been nine months. There it is. It's not that I was far enough along in my healing to talk openly or calmly about it. No, I was still up close. Too shocked. Afraid to examine the emotional carnage around me. Then life sped by, and God plucked me out of Florida with almost no planning on my part. For nine weeks I've been zipping on more layers, going on more walks, and spending more time in solitude than ever before. (God is so funny. I thought I was moving near Atlanta for the rush of a city and I end up on the outskirts, in a smaller town than where I came from.)

Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years here were all wonderful but it hardly feels like real life when you're blazing through the holidays and the house rotates with guests. The celebrations were a sweet reprieve from reality, but they have since settled and so have I. I can't stuff myself busy for long before my INFJ kicks in and reminds me to slow waaaaaay down. Starting a 21 day fast with my church has helped create space to seek, gaze upon, and hear from God. There's clarity that didn't exist before the holidays, and guess what I see? I kind of hate it. I see pain. Like gum to the sole of a shoe, it clings to anything. I could probably ignore it awhile longer, but it'll keep sticking and eventually harden into a black, nasty blob. No one likes nasty gum blobs.

Dating at the tail-end of 2017 falls under the "Totally Unexpected" and "What Just Happened" categories. God so, so graciously allowed me to meet someone whose friendship changed me and whose compassion and grace I won't forget. It was sweet, joyful, and a whirlwind of a gift. Although laying aside the hopes of romance and handing over a good thing hurts, (and not what I wanted), I think the decision was right. There is a healthier version of Erika out there and while I understand I'll always be in process, I desperately want to stay focused on the path to healing God has placed me on. My love will be truer, deeper, and freer because of it.

Jesus has been delivering me out of darkness and I know he will continue that work in 2018. It has taken time to familiarize myself with my current surroundings, but his nearness I know anywhere. If only I'd open my eyes! The walking trails across my street have become like a refuge—a place where I regularly retreat to. While I walk and pray, I imagine all my pain and adoration being hurled heavenward. It sounds violent, but it's a "I have nowhere else to turn but you" kind of way. He meets me in the woods and in the early mornings stuffed under three blankets and as I drive my rattling Camry through potholes and one-way streets and on Sundays as I stand among a transcultural group of believers where we, like King Jehoshaphat pray, "We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you." He is the way to my healing and yours. I'm sure of it.