perspective

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.

California, the unlikely gift.

I traveled to Southern California wearing a baggy white t-shirt with the words, "found at sea" printed on the front. A TSA agent asked if there were more like me where I came from. He motioned to the three word phrase. Bewildered, I said I didn't know and hurried along.

Minutes later, this shirt had me laughing. If you were to find me, you would only need to try the bookstore or notebook aisle in Target.

But by the water? Unlikely.

— 

I'd been wanting to visit friends in California for a year, but didn't think it could happen while unemployed. With no savings in place, a trip 2,577 miles away sounded fit for dreams, and dreams only. I penned it in my prayer journal anyway, coming back to it now and then.

God had abundantly provided tickets and spending money for mission trips in the past. I knew it was possible, yet I wondered if a getaway like this—to visit friends and have fun—would matter to Him as much.

You can imagine my shock when at the end of July, roundtrip tickets were generously purchased on my behalf. I was set to leave in eight weeks, with that much time available to gather up pennies, pray, and see what God might do.

Besides the overdraft fees charged by my bank, five weeks passed and nothing budged. I wondered again—did this matter? God? Should I stop asking? Deep down, there was this assurance:

No, don't stop. I like it when you ask.

While I watched babies and prayed and waited, He was making a way where there seemed to be none. It took awhile, but my gratitude and trust were deepened as He provided every last penny.

It came together, just in time.

California 2016

The trip was a gift.

I got to stay with precious friends who moved to Long Beach last fall. They are missionaries, making home in a new city while constantly pointing others to an eternal Home. The gospel is lived out daily in their family. I witnessed grace poured out, teachable hearts, and a love that is inclusive, championing, enduring. 

Inspiration was there, as I walked by houses and landmarks bearing stories of the past. Laughter was there, found in the friends I made over tacos and games. Refreshment was there, thanks to slow mornings and reminders of truth. It felt like a new city I, too, could make home.

Once in San Diego, I reunited with my best friend I've known all but six months of my life. We made sure to fill up on food healthy for the body and conversations necessary for the soul. We visited Balboa Park's botanical garden and a marvelous used bookstore. We crossed an item off our bucket list and spotted a celebrity on the beach.

But more than that, we heard each other. Tell me more about this; help me to understand. FaceTime was now face to face time—irreplaceable, treasured, and rare for our friendship. I witnessed my friend's resolve. There's this perseverance in her that exists all because of God's grace pouring over pain. Our sufferings have become the other's. But so has our celebration.

— 

A week later, my best friend saw me off as I boarded my red-eye to Florida. Nestled in that window seat, one thought filled my mind. The thought of Him. God, the kindest Father. 

Below me was blackness draped in city lights. California grew further and further away. 2,577 miles of distance again. When I landed the next morning, I realized I'd asked God for over two months if this trip mattered. He confirmed something better with a singular message:

Erika, YOU matter to me.

Every morning, there was an invitation to set my eyes above the pain felt nearby. To look to Him as my hope and strength. There was not a day riddled with pressure. Illness never ruled or told me who I was. My thoughts—they were unclouded and centered on Jesus. I was free from proving myself to friends and those they introduced to me.

It was a simple trip enriched with connection. Yes, with people. But most importantly, with God. No outing, relationship, or ministry east or west could be what the Father is to me. 

Sometimes, like the TSA agent to sea, we pine after fantasies. We go places in our heads and in planes, searching for relief, security, answers, or anything—often coming up empty.

I get it. I spent a year imagining up ideals. If treatment works, how would I then serve God? Whom might I meet? What job to secure? Where could I travel to?

I'd been looking elsewhere when God surprised me. He brought me to California, by the water, without a healed body or employment. My ideals were not in sight. Of all places, He chose the unlikely one to remind me of the strength in His power, sufficiency of His grace, and faithful love through His Son.

There is none like Him.

Invisible in illness?

If you have depression, mental illness, infertility, lupus, lyme disease, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, arthritis, or any other invisible illness I did not listI am so very sorry. I know what it is like to carry around a weight that most people cannot see. That feeling of being constantly misunderstood, isolated, or angered? I get it. I have been there. And in many weeks like the last, I am still there. But I am fighting for perspective.

It's been about 180 weeks since my health began to decline, and I still don't know what actually is amiss. Chronic, undiagnosed, invisible. I am finding it is not as uncommon as I thought. (well over 100 million in America alone have an invisible illness.) 

Doctors have reviewed my negative test results and leaned forward in their chairs to tell me, "Ma'am, there is nothing we can do for you." Some have alluded to me making up the symptoms because they believed I craved the attention. One doctor told me he would "pound anti-depressants" on me during my next visit to help me cope with the frustration of not finding an answer.

The pattern has remained the same. They see nothing, so they give up. In my case, the illness and its diagnosis are both hidden.

It makes me feel crazy.

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I live with an unwanted illness.

But I also live wanting a pinpointed diagnosis so I could move forward with a treatment plan. So I could feel validated. Oh, to have an answer! A result of some kind!

I've often imagined the relief that would wash over me as I finally learn what the heck has been going on. To me, an answer would somehow prove this is all real. It would legitimatize the symptoms and my constant justifying could then cease. At least that's what I imagine.

This illness crept into my life summer of 2011 and has since bulldozed through my once-neatly-packaged views on God, relationships, purpose, and even myself.

It might be invisible in nature, but its effects have greatly impacted me as well as those close to me. My selfish and prideful ways have never been more highlighted than in these 180 weeks or so. I never knew self-pity could taste so gross or that I could be this headstrong in my distorted game of negativity. For something so invisible, such deep issues have surfaced.

Perhaps it sounds nonsensical, but somewhere along the way, I placed myself under the label of "sick girl."  In my naiveté, I allowed the lies to grow and confirm the preposterous belief that invisible illness meant invisible girl.

I thought I was doing myself and others a favor by isolating my emotions, thoughts, and even physical presence. Then came Christmas break in Virginia two months ago. I visited my best friends whom I had not seen in about a year and a half. During this trip, my cognitive symptoms experienced a flare up, which means conversation, comprehension, and retaining information expended the little mental energy I did have. In addition was the usual fatigue and chronic body pain which made me feel like I had piggybacked an elephant all night long.

I was only beginning to pull out of a long, emotional funk. Just the thought of inviting them into this mess freaked me out. I sat in the passenger seat as my best friend drove us from lunch when a certain thought riveted me. Maybe I should tell her. Maybe I should tell her what it's really like for me to be sick. I beat myself up for a good while, clenched my hands, and finally mustered up the courage to share. I had predetermined that even best friends wouldn't really care to know. If they did, wouldn't they have said something first? It turns out, she did care and has cared. She just needed to be guided into how I felt so she could try her best to understand.

As people, isn't that what we desire? To be recognized and embraced even in our mess? Whether it's illness, a job loss, an addiction, death, heartbreak, or whatever elsedon't we just long to be assured that we have not been forgotten? That what we experience matters? 

Although my best friends haven't experienced this themselves, they've been through plenty of painful situations which stole their joy, masked their identity, created feelings of shame and isolation, and kept them from speaking up.

We have suffered through our silences.

What I was told that afternoon meant volumes to me. She completely validated my illnessI was not crazy after all. Following that, my friend sweetly said, "Erika, I don't love you because of how eloquent or fun or intelligent you are. I love your heart and who you have been all of these years. It doesn't change." 

I don't want people to only know me from a distance. I want them to come close. I crave for them to. It has been a painful process to see the lies regarding my worth uprooted and to plant seeds of truth instead.

Like I mentioned earlier, just this week I felt misunderstood, isolated, and even angered. When I find myself feeling that way, it's usually because I haven't opened myself up to the truth or to the vast graces of God and the way He moves through His people. 

Yes, my sinful ways have never been so highlighted as they are now. But neither has the grace of God. The way He extends His love towards me is something I feel I do not deserve. His grace, His gift. The way He tells me I am enough leaves me in awe. He notices my every need and cherishes me more than even the best of friends could. I've never seen this part of His heart more visibly than now. He is whispering,

your illness may be invisible, but you are seen.

And maybe you need to hear that, too.

Through your angry days, your hard days, your painful days. Through the blood tests, treatments, medical bills, lost relationships and many "but you don't look sick" comments.

Through all of this, you are seen. You have not been forgotten. Your every need is fully known by God, who so desires to empower you with His strength. 

May you be open and allow His whispers of truth to fall afresh over your heart. And most of all, may He, the God who created you and your beautiful body, restore you wholly and completely.