One of the highlights of Incarnate is to walk with a student through a deep spiritual journey—a journey deeper perhaps than either the student or me expected. An unexpected journey. It might be healing, reconciliation, a bondage of some type, an unrecognized lie believed as truth, or an identity crisis. Maybe it’s a creative block, which almost always signifies a spiritual or emotional block.
Erica was such a one. Let me tell you her story (with permission).
Our first few weeks showed us the playful Erica: a gifted illustrator, who drew whimsical characters, an ironic sense of humor, a runner, voracious reader, and lover of country dance. Erica gave us a much-needed diversion one evening by teaching us dance, which helped forge community in those critical first weeks. As leaders we were grateful; as human beings, we had fun!
To see this delightful young woman begin to sink then, saddened me. I noticed her shedding tears with increasing frequency, not unusual in itself at Incarnate, but this usually led to a request for a conversation, which was not forthcoming. We watched and prayed; as a rule, we encouraged students to seek God in these times, and come for help if necessary. We don’t probe until the student is ready to ask for help, ever conscious of the sacred line between short circuiting a work God might be doing in a heart and bearing one another’s burdens. But Erica was clearly in a tailspin; was it time for an intervention?
Finally, at the insistent prodding of another student in our small group, Erica asked to meet me, and I quickly agreed.
A torrent of words and tears spilled out, and I got a glimpse into Erica’s complex world. One issue after another tumbled out, as I pulled tissue after tissue out and handed them to her. But then it was dinner time; and Erica, an athlete, needed to eat. We scheduled another time to meet and walked into the cafeteria together. Erica seemed well able to reel in her emotions and socialize; I didn’t know if those were good coping skills or good masking skills.
The days rolled on, and Erica’s tailspin—what she called a ‘spiritual flu’—continued. It was as if everything she had ever believed was collapsing, every emotion running erratically through her. Her creativity blocked and she needed time off from the studio. We continued to work with her and pray.
One Saturday afternoon, when most of the community was away on outreach, I invited Erica and the rest of our small group over for coffee. Only Erica showed up. It became a God-appointment as more of Erica’s story unfolded, and we ate, prayed and talked together.
Still Erica didn’t seem to be making any progress; she was caught in despair. I asked one of my partners, then another, to join us; perhaps as a team we could diagnose this spiritual flu, and at least Erica would have more helping hands than just me.
And then—imperceptible to Erica, but obvious to all in the community—her face and eyes brightened. She began smiling more. We were delighted the day Erica stepped up before the entire student body, and confessed her lack of hope. Deeply touched by the bravery of other students in confessing sin, making choices, reconciling, speaking out where voices had been stolen, she had decided, in her words, “to keep going” in her Hero’s Journey of faith because of the Hope we have. A small, but critical choice. I could have leapt for joy, but probably would have embarrassed Erica :)
Erica went back to the studio. She produced two paintings for her final exhibit, depicting the restoration of two houses in ruins, and entitled them, “House of Healing” and “House of Joy.” She shared how God had been wooing her, with words from Isaiah: “Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.” (Isa.a 58:12) Giving visual expression to an interior process, they couldn’t have been more accurate to her spiritual process—or more beautiful. One of our staff bought one on sight.
As Erica gave her Artist Talk during the festival week, she startled me again: “I didn’t know they were self-portraits.” Yes they were, and I’m glad Erica didn’t miss it!
Erica is currently in Moldova, pursuing her passion for missions, art and faith. Last time I checked Facebook, there was a fantastic mural being painted in a new church being built. Although she is not sure how to go forward, Erica learned at Incarnate that she cannot go back to the place of despair. Pray with us that she can find the deep joy and healing she can so beautifully visualize.
“The Lord will perfect that which concerns me.”—Psalm 138:8