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.

On 2016 : Never Removed

I spent the afternoon reflecting on all that did and didn't happen in 2016, writing out my thoughts and answering probing questions. It was a painful year, no doubt.

From 2016's start to finish, I was undergoing treatment, unemployed, and living under my parents' roof. Any precious energy I had was on sleep mode, saved for necessary things like: showering, driving 45 minutes to see my counselor, and maybe going to church. I learned that chronic pain doesn't take a vacation—not even if you get away to Hawaii. (which happened.) I went to the Big Island to gain closure from my time in YWAM and move my belongings back home. My treatment leaked on the flights there, emptying not only the bottles but my finances and hopes for better health. The doctor said not to worry. He didn't know worry and I were close friends. After that trip, I didn't step outside for 7 days. I later learned "I haven't seen the sun" is a cause for concern.

On 2016 : Never Removed | erikaspitler.com

A friend encouraged me to fill my days with creativity, so I made a few attempts. First, I conversed with artists and entrepreneurs and podcasters on Anchor, learning from strangers. I then tried sending weekly newsletters which I fondly called Offstage Notes. It was a short-lived but fun endeavor. Moving on, I taught myself embroidery and hoped (for two weeks) to start a business named ThreadRest. I quickly learned these projects were either not for me or were pursued at the wrong time. In the end, I kept up with one creative attempt: my reading challenge. This proved to be life-giving, educational, and a way to pass the time. Some weeks, my only visit outside the house was to pick up my books on hold. Our librarians brought me smile after smile as they commented on my latest read. Literacy is a gift I hold dear.

On 2016 : Never Removed | erikaspitler.com

My parents continued to house me rent-free, helping me in ways that are immeasurable. I prematurely took a job delivering groceries and resigned before my first day. I was weak not only physically but spiritually. Our family visited churches. My mom and I talked theology late into the night. I stopped going to church regularly due to severe disappointments, forgetting humans are imperfect and I, too, am one of them. I grappled with my faith, clinging to hopes of healing or marriage or ministry more than my hope in Christ. It's shocking to see how I'd plastered my heart in selfishness and pride for much of the year. I cannot believe how merciful, forgiving, and loving the Father is to His children. 

On 2016 : Never Removed | erikaspitler.com

If you know me well, you're aware counseling was the best present of 2016. In every session with my counselor, I experienced God's grace and truth. She gave me the permission to grieve losses, and I did. I grieved all things big and small in categories of relationships, ministry, health, and opportunities. Shame would lessen and anxiety would disappear. Asking for help was never so beautiful. Together, we created goals for myself. The largest goal written on her whiteboard was learn to live with Lyme Disease. The daily goals? Look presentable, step outside, get in the Word.

On 2016 : Never Removed | erikaspitler.com

Some reprieve came in the fall. I spent almost a month away in California and Georgia thanks to kind friends and the kindest God. These three weeks were like a soul retreat—nourishing, affirming, and comforting. I began to dream again. I was ready for anything. The anything which followed in those weeks was a whole lot of no's from jobs I'd applied to, people I cared deeply for, and a body which acted up whenever it so pleased. It was a wild election season, several of my friends were in the midst of intense suffering, the online world was clogged with negativity, and devastation in countries and neighborhoods and homes would not cease.

I wondered why I wasn't given a heart of steel—wouldn't that have protected it from breaking over and over? What about those hurting in my home, city, the world? But if heartache and rejection brought me anything these final months, it was clarity.

On 2016 : Never Removed | erikaspitler.com

The epilogue for year 2016 reads: 

Darkness could not win me over, for I belong and will always belong to God. All 366 days, He carried me. He has been strengthening me for the journey, beginning with the restoration of my mind and emotions. He gave me the space to cry out, to ask questions, to stay put. He helped establish healthier routines. He confirmed my call to missions. He held me and my tears day by day by day.

Calvinism or Arminianism? Japan or California? Homeopathic or antibiotic? I sought and fought hard for my solutions this year. I don't have all my answers, but I have the Lord, and He is what I need. The failures and sins of my past, present, and future cannot remove me from His love.

It's a time of new beginnings—to allow God's Spirit to soften me, revive me, and empower me to not just live with something like illness but to love Him and others well in the midst of it.

Although this was a very hard year, it would be ignorant to look only at mine. I cannot pretend to know where you're at, just a few days out from 2016. I don't know what big regrets or big hurts you hold inside. I've told you my answers are few, so I will not try and give you something I don't fully believe.

But this I am sure of: God will weep with you and heal you and answer you.

Come on home.

On 2016 : Never Removed | erikaspitler.com

On 2015 : Scattered Piles

At the end of each year, I like to choose a phrase to summarize the previous 52 weeks well. I couldn't think of one this year.

2015 has not been sorted through and folded like fresh laundry. You will not find it stacked one atop the other or put away in its appropriate drawers. In fact, much of 2015 is still strewn across its metaphorical floor - in scattered piles. Some parts clean, some parts messy. 

Today is January 1, 2016, and my day looks like it did last year (yesterday). I slept in late, curled up with a book, and spent most of my time in bed.

I love how the dawning of one day can bring so many people together in reflection and celebration. I love that this day is today.

But for me, the effects of 2015 still run deep.

I haven't finished up a journal and lined it on my shelf. I haven't thought of all I want to do or accomplish, and I still haven't found words to describe what the year I just walked out of was like.

Writing helps me process, so here's my best attempt.

- - - - -

the red leather couch.

While living in Kona, I spent a lot of time on the red leather couch in my apartment.

Naps, meetings, game nights, prayer times, and Netflix all happened around it. When I sat there the fourth Sunday of March, ranting to my dear friend and roommate, I didn't really expect anything out of the ordinary.

I shared with her about the Lyme Disease forums I found that afternoon. She patiently listened, as she is so good at doing. I went on, telling her about how unintelligent I had been feeling lately due to these cognitive symptoms, and how glad I was to now have something to justify my feelings of stupidity with.

My friend, in all of her love and wisdom, did not let me go on.

In no more than thirteen words, she called me up out of myself and into truth. She firmly believed it was time for me to stop caring what people thought.

Until then, I lived dictated by (what I assumed were) the opinions of others. I was mostly wrong in my assumptions, but I feared it nonetheless.

I believed I had to show people I was some inspiring missionary who braved sickness and ministered effortlessly through her pains. I felt that people had to know all the details upfront, before they had a moment to judge me. 

April's words changed my life that night. I don't know if she knows that, but they did.

If there is something I have been learning since then, it's that I don't have to prove myself to anyone. At the end of the day, what God says and thinks about me is what matters most.

over curry & ice cream.

"I wanted to see the hands of God, but I saw His face and everything was changed." Our new Nepali brother and sister gathered around our lopsided table in Kathmandu, encouraging three of us missionaries.

We came to Nepal to help provide relief after the recent earthquakes, but were each struggling with ministry. The seven weeks there looked nothing like I thought. I mean, nothing.

The bowl of rice made its way around once more. They continued to share about the importance of walking in faithfulness to God.

Ministry is not about impressive stories or a pressure for testimonies. It's not about "success." It's about seeking God, and Him alone. We do not love and serve Him only to gain something in return, to email a catchy newsletter back home, or to be seen as more righteous in the eyes of men.

I almost forgot that.

Then God graciously brought this couple into my life.

They are desperate for God's presence. They long to obey Him, no matter the cost. After lunch, they asked to pray and seek Him together. We cried out to our Father, as new friends who became family over coconut curry and little scoops of ice cream. 

Ministry will sometimes take an unexpected turn. You may be told you are no longer needed. Or, you may be told there's so much more you must do.

These two helped me remember it is God we are to follow—not a manmade dream or expectation. 

resignation letter, part II.

As written in my last post, after tiresome transitions and demanding decisions, I stayed in Florida. I was rehired to work in finance for an amazing company, and finally put away some money for my savings. Financial security and benefits sounded real nice.

But I resigned for the second time just as I passed my first 90 days. As I typed together that letter, it all felt like a joke.

The week of my last day, I flew up north to begin receiving treatment. My new doctor told me he expects me to get well—words I have never heard during an appointment before. 

I don't even like using the word sickness anymore. I don't like denying it, but I don't like paying it much attention either. Yet it's there. It's there, marked up on the six medical forms I had to fill out. It's there, even when I "don't look sick," and it's affecting my life.

I made the decision to quit my job, use my savings for treatment, and take time to recover.

I have no idea what this will look like or how long it will take.

I have been launched straight into a word that aggravates my people-pleasing, perfectionist, performer penchant: rest.

There is no specific revelation I have arrived at here.

I have not mastered the art of handing burdens over to God, or not worrying about anything. There is still so much I do not pray about, or do not give thanks for. He is still weeding out the selfishness in me, the fear of being honest, the deceiving suspicion He might change His mind about me.

- - - - -

2015 holds piles here and there of stories, lessons, and memories. Many of them.

It was the year a lot was taken away. I still grieve the losses at times. I can't help but think, the removal of something gives way for something else.

My hope and prayer for this year is not for more achievements or doings. Those may happen. But I don't want to hold to the comforts of relationships, ministry, financial security, or anything else. 

I want my life to be so open to God.

I look forward to seeing how He meets people like you and me in the midst of our chaos. God, who brings order to the scattered piles. God, our peace in the storm. God, to whom deserves all the glory. He is always kind.

"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self his being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." - 2 Corinthians 4:16-18