Georgia

Georgia, you are not my experiment.

Hi.

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.

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.