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 |

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 |

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 |

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 |

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 |

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 |

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