growth

Good, beautiful news.

When treatment began last December, my family and I kept our eyes open, hunting for signs of improvement to share with praying friends. We were sure positive results would unfold—my body just needed to respond! But a few months into treatment revealed this was no quick fix. I was broken and my hope threadbare.

Winter, spring, and summer were arduous and humbling; all seasons spent grieving, excavating shame, and building a healthier framework from which I now live. By the grace of God, fall has brought a shift in perspective and rhythm. I'm suddenly doing things (like applying for jobs!) I hoped for but didn't expect. 

On my résumé, potential recruiters will notice an employment gap eleven months wide. An 8.5" x 11" page doesn't offer space to tell the stories squished between the lines. But if it did, mine would tell of our merciful God and His saving help.

David articulates this deliverance in Psalm 40 when he writes:

I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.

Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord. 
Psalm 40:1-3

Early on, there was unmistakable loss as illness often brings. But grief—that squirmy topic we like to keep hushed—helped nurse my fragile soul. Grief made room for me to experience a 2 Corinthians 1 kind of comfort. And because of this? I now desire to enter into suffering with others, offering love and compassion as the Father does for me. 

Where I once tasted the bitterness of my diagnosis, I'm focused now on drinking in the Lord's endless kindness. Feasting on the truth of His Word and not my pity or suffering is what I'm after. Like Peter urged believers in a time of heightened trials, I want to consistently choose Christ for my nourishment. My sustenance is Him, not pills or diets.

I used to routinely don fear. Pinned in bed with questions and doubts taunting me, I prayed for liberation night after night. Through God's faithful intervening, I was gifted with counseling and resources to help me sort through these many anxieties. As my emotions and thoughts have grown healthier, I've been able to set up practical routines which help ground me. The enemy cannot use fear to keep me from missions, family, education, jobs, or even rejoicing in suffering. I have purpose and I have hope.

This gap, pit, or whatever you name it, has not been a waste.

As I stepped out of the counseling office for my last session, I thought of the United Pursuit lyric which asks, "Will I learn to see beauty in the making?" The door shut behind me. My counselor's words of blessing echoed in my mind... and then, I saw it dimly. I saw beauty. It's been here, along these last eleven months, forming underground and tethering itself to healthy roots.

I'm a different person than when this all began. Jesus, a beautiful Savior, making broken people alive again. What good news, friends. Really good news!

So, as I venture forward, I ask for your prayers. This month, I'll be traveling to Virginia for my in-person appointment. I'm not sure what the doctor will say, but this I know: I'm not waiting around for healing. I'm waiting on the Lord. I must respond to whatever He speaks and wherever He leads.

In suffering, in health, in anything here on earth—all my praise goes to Him.

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

Blessings in sickness.

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Since Friday afternoon, I have been thinking a great deal about living with health challenges. 

I had just returned from an appointment with a new endocrinologist and had a nicely bruised left antecubital space to prove it. (I learned that word seventeen seconds ago when Googling "opposite side of elbow.")

This visit was vastly different than most. It was the first in a long, long time where I felt the doctor was not only willing to work with me, but desired to. As she listened to me recount my symptoms in the most drawn out fashion, I saw tenderness in her eyes.

Unlike the doctors who told me last fall there was nothing they could do for me, she carried herself in a way that proved her desire to help.

"This is my problem to fix," she whispered gently. 

Immediately after her exit, I sat in the waiting chair with little happy tears dotting my cheeks. In my struggle for good health, there are two things I have consistently appreciated: someone who listens and someone who seeks to understand.

She had done both. Suddenly, I did not feel so alone in this. 

On the drive home, I thought about people who endure sicknesses of all kinds.

I thought about the selfish and devious twists self pity adds to life. I thought about how I no longer want to be a part of it regardless of my physical state. I thought about a lot of things, much of which is irrelevant to what I am trying to say.

That same day, the day of many thoughts and moments of rejoicing, I purchased an eBook, "Believing is Seeing," written by Laura Lawson Visconti. I think, perhaps, she is the reason I write this post tonight.

Laura is a remarkable creative (artist, writer, speaker) who is losing her eyesight due to a rare degenerative condition of the eye.

As I read through the fifty-five pages in one sitting, all that once seemed so mysterious actually made some sense. Although our journeys differ in magnitude, she spoke a language I could relate to. Again, I did not feel so alone.

She writes:  

Here is the difficult truth I have come to believe with every ounce of my being: He is not concerned with my comfort as much as He is concerned with my heart. This took a very long time to understand, but now that I get it, I can laugh at the negative implications this disease has on my life and instead be grateful for the blessings it has fostered, for the voice I am blessed to have.

"Grateful for the blessings it has fostered." 
The blessings. Because in all things and in all seasons, there are blessings. 

SOME BLESSINGS:

  • Being able to take life much more slowly, enjoying the drawn out moments.
  • Returning home for 1+ year with my family and growing together.
  • Challenging myself in creative pursuits thanks to beautiful, online friendships.
  • Waking up every morning knowing that God's strength will sustain me.
  • Beginning to identify with those who are broken, sick, and pained.
  • Questioning and seeking – because it has only brought me closer to Truth.
  • Learning to cook food that is healthy and nurturing.

These "blessings" used to have negative connotations to them. (i.e. returning home was once so bittersweet because I believed it meant I was too weak to be involved on the mission field). But slowly, my perspective is transforming.    

I see pieces from Laura's life now  and can't help but be encouraged at the way she continues to live with grace, humility, and freedom.

This struggle with sickness is not to withhold me from living fully. No, it is the stepping stone to bring me into the fullness.

Through it, I am becoming more aware of my constant need for my Savior. It's okay to be a little bit weak and a little bit broken.

In fact, I think it's the best place to start.