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.

Christ's coming.

Christ's coming by Erika Spitler

This time of year as a child was characterized by a different world. I practically breathed in Tchaikovsky's famous score while rehearsing hour after hour for my studio's ballet performances of The Nutcracker. Step, arabesque, and pas de bourrée meant everything to the young girls who danced as Clara. When I was 11, I got to dance that very choreography. It was my favourite Sunday in December (or ever, possibly).

Back then, the holiday season began with that frenzy of hairspray and false eyelashes and bouquets. To me, Christmastime was cousins in town, coordinating outfits for family photos, wish-lists curated from AmericanGirl catalogs, presents made by hand, church on the 24th, and Kenny G on the speakers as we giggled over boxes and bows and Barbies the next morning. We sang happy birthday to Jesus and it felt like the most wonderful time. It felt like something merry and bright.

We're four days away from Christmas and I've not sent out cards or seen the lights or sung carols and hymns or put up decorations. In commitment to our yearly tradition, my dad, siblings, and I did pick out a tree together. It's rugged and so tall it's unbalanced. It fits us well.

When December 1st rolled around, I made a list of things I wanted to do this season. It turns out, nostalgia isn't reason enough to carry out plans or activities. I did, however, manage to do one thing off that list, and that was borrow Russ Ramsey's Behold the Lamb of God. Let me tell you, getting to read through this book the last 21 days has entirely reshaped my perspective on Christmas. It has helped me see and appreciate the beauty of Advent in a way I haven't before. I am seeing the grand narrative from Genesis to Revelation, understanding a tad more of this "already, but not yet" tension. Oh, how I feel it.

In today's reading, day 21, Jesus was born at last. This moment—His appearance on earth—was one I'd waited all month to read. I love wondering what it must have been like, all those years ago, when "God pushed into the world the long-expected Prophet, Priest, and King" as Kevin DeYoung writes. As I remember Christ's first coming, I find my heart simultaneously leaning in—expecting, waiting, and longing for His promised return.

This December is not the same kind of wonderful I knew as a girl and gosh! I'm finding that's okay. Heartache certainly doesn't pause so we can be all holly jolly. Some of you are like me, feeling unable to lay aside your grief, confusion, and disappointment. It's exhausting, isn't it? Especially when you feel demanded to evoke feelings of warmth and cheer, because hello, it's Christmas.

I sat across from my counselor on Monday, wanting to deal with the emotional triggers I've had the last month. Her soft eyes welled with tears, giving me the permission to break and cry. This process of moving toward healing is unrehearsed. I stumble and fall, saying things I never wish to say in anger, feeling ashamed for situations beyond my control, confessing where I've gone wrong, and yet oddly holding onto hope all at once.

Before I leave her office, we close in prayer. She thanks God for His son Jesus, and I do, too. We know we wouldn't be there, clinging to an eternal hope this season if it wasn't for our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Like our tree, I'm a bit rugged and off-center this Advent season. But I'll keep leaning, awaiting His glorious return. That's all I know to do.

Good, beautiful news.

When treatment began last December, my family and I kept our eyes open, hunting for signs of improvement to share with praying friends. We were sure positive results would unfold—my body just needed to respond! But a few months into treatment revealed this was no quick fix. I was broken and my hope threadbare.

Winter, spring, and summer were arduous and humbling; all seasons spent grieving, excavating shame, and building a healthier framework from which I now live. By the grace of God, fall has brought a shift in perspective and rhythm. I'm suddenly doing things (like applying for jobs!) I hoped for but didn't expect. 

On my résumé, potential recruiters will notice an employment gap eleven months wide. An 8.5" x 11" page doesn't offer space to tell the stories squished between the lines. But if it did, mine would tell of our merciful God and His saving help.

David articulates this deliverance in Psalm 40 when he writes:

I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.

Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord. 
Psalm 40:1-3

Early on, there was unmistakable loss as illness often brings. But grief—that squirmy topic we like to keep hushed—helped nurse my fragile soul. Grief made room for me to experience a 2 Corinthians 1 kind of comfort. And because of this? I now desire to enter into suffering with others, offering love and compassion as the Father does for me. 

Where I once tasted the bitterness of my diagnosis, I'm focused now on drinking in the Lord's endless kindness. Feasting on the truth of His Word and not my pity or suffering is what I'm after. Like Peter urged believers in a time of heightened trials, I want to consistently choose Christ for my nourishment. My sustenance is Him, not pills or diets.

I used to routinely don fear. Pinned in bed with questions and doubts taunting me, I prayed for liberation night after night. Through God's faithful intervening, I was gifted with counseling and resources to help me sort through these many anxieties. As my emotions and thoughts have grown healthier, I've been able to set up practical routines which help ground me. The enemy cannot use fear to keep me from missions, family, education, jobs, or even rejoicing in suffering. I have purpose and I have hope.

This gap, pit, or whatever you name it, has not been a waste.

As I stepped out of the counseling office for my last session, I thought of the United Pursuit lyric which asks, "Will I learn to see beauty in the making?" The door shut behind me. My counselor's words of blessing echoed in my mind... and then, I saw it dimly. I saw beauty. It's been here, along these last eleven months, forming underground and tethering itself to healthy roots.

I'm a different person than when this all began. Jesus, a beautiful Savior, making broken people alive again. What good news, friends. Really good news!

So, as I venture forward, I ask for your prayers. This month, I'll be traveling to Virginia for my in-person appointment. I'm not sure what the doctor will say, but this I know: I'm not waiting around for healing. I'm waiting on the Lord. I must respond to whatever He speaks and wherever He leads.

In suffering, in health, in anything here on earth—all my praise goes to Him.

Let's grow healthy emotions.

When I reread my oft-borrowed copy of Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy in May, I knew something needed to change.

I texted a friend and told her it was time to get emotionally healthy. The idea of seeing a counselor suddenly thrilled me. It just seemed right. That was a pretty big dream, as I had been unemployed for five months at that point and was currently saving cash for deodorant. I asked God to provide and moved on.

For months leading up to that, I felt stuck. angry. grieved. insecure. confused. pressured. lonely. embarrassed. defeated. These were constant feelings.

As spring concluded, I noticed how week after week, my prayers and journal entries resembled each other. The theme of desperation was cyclical in nature, echoing through every line and every plea. Looking at those emotions lumped together seemed colossal, but I was exhausted from pretending they didn't all exist.

I felt like a fake.

It's extremely uncomfortable to say, but I think I desired a self-made, reputable image more than I desired to be transformed by the Spirit of God. Have you been there before? Running on months (years, even) of being more concerned in setting a "good example" than addressing what's gone awry inside? 

Some have reminded me that as a believer, I need to count my blessings, to simply know I am loved, and to think of the hurting world beyond myself. You can imagine the shame, then, when counting or knowing or thinking in such godly ways felt contrived.

In conversations, it was always the same deal in my head—

Hurry up and hold it together, Erika.
Share just enough, but keep the rest to yourself.
Finish it off with, "but God is good."
Then at least they know you still love and trust Him.

It turns out, those mantras were causing a wedge in closeness with not only people, but the Lord.

After a physically terrible week in June, I scratched out these thoughts: "He deserves my highest praise and all the honor I could offer. But what if I'm actually doing Him a disservice as I say fluffy things rather than approaching Him with honesty, love, and pain? It just makes you stop and wonder. I mean, He's certainly not shocked by the stuff of our lives, and He knows most that we are human."

Eight or so days later, my first counseling appointment was scheduled. God had remembered my cry! A Saturday mail delivery brought money enveloped by a generous friend—the provision I prayed for. I could buy deodorant and I could go to counseling. There was more than enough.

If emotions are a garden, mine was overgrown, wilted, and furnished with weeds. I had no idea how much shame, negativity, and hurt had amassed until I had more emotional triggers than I knew what to do with. But now, just a few short months later, I am telling you the breaking and the pruning aren't so scary.

I am no expert, of course. You will find God is tending to me even now, doing work that is surely supernatural. Yet it is a hard, humbling process. It is neither airy nor romantic. But necessary for life. I am learning to weed out the lies I found comfortable to sit in. With dirt slipping under my fingernails, I dig and make room for healthier seeds. And then?

I grieve. I surrender. I trust. I show up the next day. God brings the healing, the strength, the redemption, the growth. I have been declaring through my days Psalm 28:7, 

"The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to Him."

Friends, sometimes, we might know truths about God, but there can be a discrepancy between what our hearts consider as true. We don't have to pat God on the back. He doesn't need reassuring that we're sticking around and not abandoning the faith. Sometimes, there is painful questioning. Sometimes, people will be shocked by your confessions.

But sometimes, there will be a person who will look at you with peace in their eyes, whispering, "let's take shame off the table now." And they will reflect the heart of our Wonderful Counselor, Jesus, so well.

You, too, can taste the rich soil of mercy and grace again.

healthy emotions

There's no cure. I see hope.

A few days ago, my dad and I discussed treatment plans and the decisions surrounding it. These conversations are unpleasant for me. I'm weary of reevaluating my health status so often. I don't want to be reminded of how painful these last few months (or years, even) have been. Yet to ignore this topic would be foolish.

Can we still afford treatment?
How much longer will you give it a try?
Is this even working?

When I resigned from my job and began this particular protocol in December, I imagined by mid-2016, I would see progress. I marked out a timeline for myself—fairly certain by the end of June I would be healthier. Just in time for my birthday.

Early this morning, I began to look at this situation rather plainly. It's necessary to grab views detached from my emotions. I can't deny the facts about this disease. It is what it is. Regardless of what my body or a medical report reveals, I pray I will cling to God's truth.

The facts say there is no cure for chronic Lyme Disease. And once treated, over 63% of people could still face debilitating symptoms. No one can promise me I will feel better on this side of heaven. Not by June 2016, and not in 20 years.

I've heard this before, but I guess I was hoping for a different story.

This road could be a lot longer than I ever expected. I could still be asked, "are you feeling better yet?" in five years. Or maybe by then, the question will be stale and hardly a topic for discussion.

In my efforts to rush ahead, I put terms and conditions before God. 

Lord, if this treatment works, I could focus on You more.
Lord, once I feel better, I will serve You in many ways. 
Lord, it would be amazing to be miraculously healed.
Then wouldn't others wonder at Your goodness?

Do your prayers ever sound like mine? As humans, we love to have the ideals portioned out like they're baking ingredients. We've got recipes in mind and measurements memorized. Our prayers often uncover whether we've put God to a timer, expecting Him to whip up a treat for us when we see fit.

June is approaching. My self-made timer wants to count down the days.

But this is what I know. The abundance of life (John 10:10) is not going to be found in regaining my health. Or the community I once had. Or money in my bank account. Or living on my own again. Or traveling overseas. If true life could be found in any of those ideals, I would be left out of something God has promised, making Him a liar. And He cannot lie.

David says in Psalm 25:15,

"My eyes are ever toward the Lord, for he will pluck my feet out of the net."

Turning my vision away from myself and off the calendar, God helps me see differently. He reminds me of the eternal life I have now (John 17:3) and of the future glory to come (Romans 8:18). He leads me into truth—guiding me through life's interruptions with no fear in His step.

I don't have to count down the days until a desired date, because I can start counting up right now. I count up God's goodness. I marvel at how He can accomplish much in this frail body of mine. His Spirit does the work, renewing me (2 Corinthians 4:16) and giving me the doses of daily strength I need. Unlike my bottles of treatment, He will never run out.

There doesn't need to be a healing visible to the eyes for me to prove or believe He is good. Hope is alive inside me despite the pain and the losses—how incredible is that? How incredible is HE?

The facts about Lyme Disease are real. I have studied them, and I know them. But I also know a truth which sets me free from those fearful facts.

When I look to the the cross of Christ, I see that my dream life doesn't begin once circumstances align to my liking. He is eternal life, and I know Him now.

Lord, help me keep focused on You today.
I will seek after You. I will serve You. I will see that You are good.

Seeing differently