grief

I'm not there yet.

Milton Avery,   Sally with Skull

Milton Avery, Sally with Skull

The girls I nanny like to pretend it storms inside their nursery. I'll offer my best booming sounds and give the lights a quick flicker. They'll giggle and hide below the purple umbrella till they're bored or till the thunder and rain voluntarily ceases. (Miss Erika is allowed to get bored, too.) One or the other eventually happens and we move right along, picking another game to play. It's innocent and sweet, so different than the tempest that's ravaged through my family these last 18 months.

Because much good has resulted from my move, sometimes I forget I'm recovering from trauma. Initially I typed I'm still recovering—with a hint of shame in that adverb—as if there's the expectation I should be dandy by now. Spoiler, I'm not. My mind is pinged with reminders of pain when I leave meeting rooms, dates, or conversations feeling overcome by fear. The awareness doesn't come immediately, though. I'll usually be circling in my thoughts, wondering what is wrong—why this amount of insecurity or emotional disconnect? Then, the ping. Or probably the Holy Spirit. It makes sense, but I'm a girl who likes to plow through challenges and besides, I'm tired of this storm. Can't we move on now? 

How easily I lose sight of God, dismissing the tender way he meets those with broken hearts. I get impatient and try to control how emotional healing might come. I know myself and my tendencies, having done this plenty of times with my physical health. A little whiny voice inside me cries, "Oh Lord, are we there yet?" There is anywhere but here, I suppose. Far, far away from the grief resurfacing, the anger I can no longer ignore, the haunting memories of abandonment and deceit. Sadness lines my eyes and seeps into my pillowcases, drop by drop. Tears and snot run downstream, carrying with them the very feelings I've wanted to bury. 

I'm standing at a visible junction, caught between choosing self-protection or leaning into God, my Protector and Shelter. Writing out my fears and their paralleling thoughts is helpful as I aim to healthily process. I'll share some below, and maybe you can relate? 

I'm afraid to trust. How do I let people in again? And trust them with my emotions or struggles, not merely facts? This skepticism has gotten icky. I'm tired of sharing like I'm reading ingredients off a cereal box. I don't want to rehearse vulnerability. Also, as I think to the future and my desire for marriage, I wonder how this might impact a relationship? 

I'm afraid to be myself. Who am I and where do I fit in the new normal? My identity as a child of God has not budged, but the way I interact with those truths have certainly altered. I miss the twinkle in Old Erika's eyes and am not sure if this version of her—rougher and more melancholy—will be as readily accepted.

I'm afraid of getting duped. I attribute this phrase to a wise, encouraging woman I got to meet with today. She's 100% right, I am. When you've been successfully manipulated or betrayed, you're left feeling like you should've known better. I scope out potential scenarios as a way to prevent further hurt or shock, deeply intertwined with my lack of trust.

I'm afraid God will change his mind. This fear (or some form of how I relate with and view God) is what all the others crescendo into. Is it true he will not tire of me? He will always be with me, loving me without condition, providing all I could ever need? Will he make right every injustice and provide comfort for every storm's aftermath? Will he stay and keep his promises to his people?

If I've learned anything while dealing with trauma and grief, it's that the way forward isn't charted out in obvious steps. You'll feel like you're living on a question mark. Some days, you're fearful or numb or plain angry. Other days, the sadness simmers and you feel fine. Today my friend gave me the okay to be where I'm at, unashamedly. There's permission to not rush ahead—to not try and suppress or escape the tumultuous feelings inside—because it's the desperate here, not some idealized there, that the Spirit meets us.

Shelter us with your wings, Lord.
It's in you we find our refuge, our comfort, our peace.

___________

FOR COMFORT:
Read Psalm 61 & Psalm 91
Listen to Shelter by Pastor Sam Crowley

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.