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.


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

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.

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.

- - -

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