faith

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.

I know that I can trust You.

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Eleven hours before I was Hawaii-bound, I sat in the passenger seat of our Honda CRV, weeping. My dad and I drove to Target to pick up some travel items when I began doubting my departure altogether.

There in the parking lot, we talked through why I should or should not go.

I felt like I had very legitimate reasons for no longer returning and many would agree. With my financial situation and physical health having hardly budged in the direction I hoped, it seemed like I would be setting myself up for failure if I left. 

The confidence I had just days prior when hosting a missions event was gone. This missionary temporarily lost sight of the mission. Reality of circumstance suddenly took precedence over faith.

One of my biggest fearsthe fear of failurehad begun to consume me because of the lies I had given way to in my mind.

What happens if you cannot fully do what you feel so called to?

Consoling me with patience and grace, my dad said, "Remember, Erika. You are not a human-doing. You are a human-being." It caught me off guard.

This truth was the very truth I had wrestled with the last three months of ministry. And so the snot bubbles continued, no longer giving me a chance to maintain composure. Clearly, the deeper issue was now exposed. It was not really about whether I was healthy enough or had the money I needed.

The question really was, "Do I trust God with these areas of my life? In my health, my finances, my ministry?" 

I've wrapped my identity and worth around the good I am able to accomplish for God and for people. When you think about it, it is silly. I can do nothing apart from Him. Who am I to think I must please others or prove myself to be a heroine of sorts? 

That night, I remembered the yes I had given God.

There are two lines in David Brymer's "Wedding Song" that say, "And then I hear You call my name—it's the sweetest voice I know. I will leave it all behind, Lord—where You go I will go." Those words were my heart's cry; the words I read publicly at two missions events just days before.

But sometimes, I must tell God things and then I forget.

Or I tell Him in a swirl of excitement and emotion, unprepared to actually do what I just willingly said yes to. (like going wherever He leads.)

I didn't expect the "going" to feel so painful or risky that Tuesday night. Yet knowing God is worthy to be trusted, I packed up my suitcases and stuffed away my fears.
 

It's been two weeks since that Tuesday. I am back in Hawaii, and there is not much more that makes sense to me.

Daily, I am being challenged to place my trust in Him.

I am continuing to discover He is the One who understands my greatest fears, needs, and questions.

The other night, I knelt on the floor with my fists on the concrete, repeatedly shouting out, "I know that I can trust You! Even in my sickness! Even when I don't understand! I choose to believe You are good! I lean not on my own understanding!"

Over and over I sing to Him, "I know that I can trust You," and He gives me new strength for the day.

Something is shifting inside every time I close my eyes and thank God for His unending goodness. It does not matter whether my rent money is in sight or the doctor I need exists in the state. I said yes to a good God, not to a situation.

I was not provoked to give Him my yes because it meant a life of riches, perfected health, or a blossoming ministry carved out for me. I simply said yes to trusting and following Him because this life is about obedience and a love response to the One who has given me everything. 

I know that I can trust Him.

O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles?
O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights?
Have you never heard?
Have you never understood?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.
Even youths will become weak and tired, 
and young men will fall in exhaustion.
But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
They will walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40:27-31

His affection in affliction.

Sometimes I write to make more sense of my life. It's how I process.

Other times I write because someone else needs to hear it—even if I'm unsure where it will go or what I will say. Kind of like right now.

I know I've been given a voice to communicate truth and must stop shying away for fear of being misunderstood. As I write, I like to pray God would take these simple words and breathe His life over them in a way that is uplifting, because I can't write through any season without Him. It just wouldn't be worth it.

. . .

It's not right for me to expect you to understand what I will share. That's just not how it works. But I do want to honestly explain where I've been in my pain and limited perspective so I may then speak of God's perfect and personal hope.

There are afflictions of different kinds in life. Mine has been physical distress—sickness, in other words.

Every morning, before I hop off my bunk bed, I face the reality of my weakness. Regardless of the sleep I get the night before, I rarely wake refreshed. Since spring, I think I've slept through the night once.

Chronic fatigue is a tricky little guy.

After using what little energy I have to get the day going, I take a quick assessment of my inflammation, fatigue, and joint pain levels. On the worst days, it feels like I'm piggybacking a baby elephant. (I've never actually done that before... but I imagine it would be similar.)

As I apply makeup, I fight against insecurities that appear, hoping people don't notice my face worn with exhaustion.

When I arrive on campus, I get slightly anxious because I know many will ask in passing, "How are you? How do you feel today?"

How does one with chronic sickness honestly answer without being such a Negative Nancy? Did they care to actually know? Unless I'm piggybacking an elephant, I ignore my health altogether and give a cheap answer.  

But if my recent, uncut thoughts were held to a microphone, my response would be:

"Well, I slept for ten hours last night but I'm crazy tired! My body hurts everywhere—and I don't know why. Especially my hands. I tried taking notes and typing earlier, but my fingers are so swollen from arthritis I had to stop. I'm freaking out inside, hoping you don't ask me what I did yesterday. I probably won't be able to remember because of my poor memory. And as much as I love talking to you, conversations drain me. I'm trying not to slur my speech or show how disappointed I am. I know I could have it worse. I know God is good. But today? I feel like crap."

This is the negative, prideful perspective from which I've been living out of until mid-August. This was my reality. The painful truth.

Then, I was shaken up, and there was no stopping me. 2+ years worth of disappointment, embarrassment, questioning, and fear poured out of me in the form of weeping before the Lord.

To this day, the dried mascara stains on Psalm 73:26 serve as proof of what happened that August afternoon. I told Him I couldn't do this anymore. I couldn't hoard all of these wrong feelings, shutting myself off to the door of hope.

If I was going to be weak forever, I had to believe the Lord would be my strength forever. He promised He would. 

When the answers to our prayers are delayed, and our circumstances reach emergency proportions, God uses the crisis to break us open, to empty us of everything that is not of Him, and to soften the soil of our hearts with tears.
- Bob Sorge

Following that time of weeping and surrender, one might imagine my health got better. It didn't. I had more days of feeling off, my physical pain was heightened, and it actually got worse. There was this tension I was living in.

I recognized my reality, but I knew Heaven's perspective carried something I could not see and I wanted to set my heart on that instead.

After a particularly difficult week where I never left the house, my dear friend encouraged me to read one of her favourite books, The Fire of Delayed Answers.

It is through Bob Sorge's personal lessons from pain I am now gaining a perspective on affliction I have never had before. Instead of complaining this all away, my eyes are being opened to the mercy of God to me. Although my prayers for healing or immediate relief aren't being answered, I am being given great grace to persevere. 

I know I am just at the beginning.

I have more valleys to grow in and out of, more mountaintops to traverse. But there is nothing quite like the moment hope expands in your heart as you lean on your Father, refusing to give up in your suffering. (Romans 5:1-5)

I have found His deep affection for me in this affliction, and there is no turning back.

Morning peace.

THIS MOMENT was a gift.
I want to cherish it forever. 

Part of me wishes I could save lovely smells in a little perfume bottle... if I could, I would keep the scents from: garlic roasting on an oven, fresh basil atop a handmade pizza, freshly shampooed hair, and as this morning proved – the cool air at dayspring. (among many others!) 

If I had to choose one of my senses over the other, smell would be high up on the list. Is that too strange?

There is something wonderfully refreshing about mornings like this. I think I will make it a habit of waking up earlier. How can I not, when there is this much morning peace? My newfound appreciation for mornings is... well, extremely new.

For the past few months, I have had a terribly hard time sleeping. My thoughts have run to + fro, causing my physical body to toss + turn. Restlessness. Lack of peace. In turn, my mornings become dreaded. No one wants to wake up early when they've hardly slept or slept smoothly in a long time.

But it's all changing.

I can only thank Jesus for the peace He has put inside me as I lay my head down and also awake. The storms of this life cannot overwhelm me, for HE is my rock and refuge. A friend of mine sent me verses from Psalm 91 at the most perfect moment. Although she was unaware of the difficulty I have at night and the fears that I feel, Jesus used her to encourage my heart.

The following verses are my favourite from Psalm 91:

(v. 1) Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

By living in fellowship with Him, I will find rest. I will find deep peace, comfort, and protection.

(v. 4) Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night, nor the arrow that flies in the day.

For me, fear comes in the night. The possibilities of what could happen in the darkness, when I am not awake or able to "protect" myself or my family have often frightened me. But then I read this verse, and remember I do not have to be afraid. He is keeping watch, just like it is written in Psalm 121:5, "The Lord himself watches over you! The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade."

(v. 9-11) If you make the Lord your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter, no evil will conquer you; no plague will come near your home. For he will order his angels to protect you wherever you go.

Every time I read this verse, I get extremely excited! If I dwell in His presence and choose to trust Him with my life and my family's, then what do I have to fear? He is the Conqueror over all. We are protected!

I opened the window early and breathed. I took it all in. There was peace as I slept – no nightmares or waking up frequently. And when I woke up? It was far before my alarm threw a crazy party with its sounds. I was thrilled to be up and soaking in the stillness of the morning.

This is all such a gift. To be alive, to be breathing, to be at peace.

Like gentle whispers into my ear, I feel Him saying, "Erika, slow down." Not by taking more breaks for social media, napping, or having less on my schedule. But by taking the time to enjoy this life.

Morning, you may have just become a favored part of my day. Night? You will no longer scare me either. My Father watches over me!

"The Lord keeps you from all harm and watches over your life. The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever." (Psalm 121:7-8)