Life is a confusing mess a lot of the time, and as years build on years, we lose sight of the deeper things. We often think we know what we’re doing and where we’re going, and then, something happens. We realize that the seasons have changed, the tide has shifted, and the time to move is near. Allowing yourself to let go and begin again is always hard, but within the difficulty, you find true growth and freedom.
I first saw Erika Strickland at a Women’s Conference at Bridgeway Church. She was playing the violin on the worship team. It was the evening session, and we were several songs into worship. As the songs continued building and the atmosphere in the room began to shift, it was evident that something was happening in Erika.
You could see her worship with ever-increasing zeal. The hairs on her bow were flying as she played. She was dancing and playing, and before long, she abandoned the violin altogether. Her legs and arms moved with greater magnitude. Her face was full of passion with tears falling, and through mascara-stained cheeks, she sang the words with all-out intensity.
I sat mesmerized by her freedom. I had only ever worshiped like that in the privacy of my living room. It was absolutely breathtaking. The intimacy she showed, the vulnerability she let seep out of her was powerful, and I know I wasn’t the only one crying with her. All around the room, people were worshiping with exuberant joy. I was so moved by her that I began to wonder what on earth was going on inside her heart?
A few weeks passed, and one day, I ran into her in town. We set a time to get coffee because I just had to hear her story.
She grew up in a small town in Iowa. Her childhood was simple. Her father was a church leader, and she was nurtured and brought up in the the body of believers. However, her Christian walk wasn’t filled with spiritual encounters or musings on the miraculous.
She was an adventurous soul with a bright personality, and she had finished her art education degree in college with student teaching in British Columbia. The Lord led her, through peculiar happenings, to join Youth With A Mission (YWAM) in Norway.
She spent the next three years in beautiful Norway beneath culture shock and spiritual oppression which gave way to a heavy cloud of confusion. Negative words were spoken over her early in her journey there, but despite this initial negativity, her time in Norway proved to be life-changing and formational. The relationships created there were powerful and strong. There were beautiful aspects along with the hard parts, and despite all the good, she let the bad take root, rob her of her joy and peace, and transform her into a shell of herself. The joyful spirit and whimsical nature she had easily lived in were hushed and muted by cultural and social expectation and inner confusion.
During these three years, she met her husband, Will. They got married and joined YWAM staff in Denver. The next seven years in full-time ministry were often humbling and stretching. They lived within a narrow window of creativity, functioning with a fog of control that they didn’t fully realize until later.
Hundreds of worship times, schools directed, outreaches led, young people mentored and two kids later they neared the ten-year mark of working in YWAM. She and Will began to sense that God was shutting the door on continuing their commitment to YWAM. They were confused and didn’t exactly know what it meant. As the door closed on YWAM, and with no clear path ahead, God slowly shifted their lives over the next two years.
They sought the Lord for direction, but He continued to leave it open-ended. They could hear the Lord saying, “Where do you want to go?” The freedom the Lord brought was hard to handle, especially because they had lived with such clear direction and obvious next steps for so long.
They began to look within themselves and could hear their Father saying, “I love what you love. I put what you love in you.” With awkward and resistant first steps, they began to walk in this newfound freedom.
Piece by piece and experiencing two closed doors for every open door, they began to navigate these new waters. Two years after selling their home, ending well in a decade of YWAM, leaving friends and the comfortable, learning to let God heal exhausted bodies and deep wounds, traveling cross country multiple times, settling then uprooting their four-person family fifteen times between Iowa, Montana, Colorado, and Tennessee, they found themselves at an Airbnb in Greenville, South Carolina. Phew, rest at last! But even as they found themselves in their new forever city, a place they, at first, were reluctant to go, there was still a lot of change to come.
Even in their new location, they still had no clear vision. With the money dwindling in their account and no secure job for Will, they agreed to move to an apartment with no idea how to pay for it. Stepping forward with faith that God, as their provider, would make a way, they packed and loaded their boxes.
Erika explained that, through this process, their strong grip on control had been weakening. Finger by finger their grip was letting go, and as their hands unwound, they realized just how close God had become, and how He was taking such good care of them through the seemingly impossible circumstances.
They settled into the church body at Bridgeway, and before long, doors opened for them to join the worship team. The cloud that had begun long ago in Norway diminished over the years, but it was still evident to Erika. She joined the worship team, excited yet somewhat distant.
She was faithful to the open door and continued playing in the band. After a while, she found herself at the Women’s Conference, and as she played, the Lord began to peel back the layers of fear and self-doubt. The cloud was leaving, and life was pouring back into her. The Spirit was breaking strongholds and releasing Erika to new places of freedom. Her trust had been growing through this journey, and now, God was bringing the old, forgotten promises within her back to life.
She began to realize that she didn’t need to be anyone but Erika. She was becoming aware of the presence of God with her and that He was taking great delight in her worship. As a child, the Father had said to her, “You are my beautiful daughter. Now dance for me.” It was a straightforward invitation into vulnerable intimacy. Over the years, she had gradually stepped away from that closeness.
The two years of breaking strongholds had brought her to a place where she let the Lord work in her, and on a stage in front of hundreds of people, her fear of man died. She let her walls come down. She let Him into the deepest places, and she danced. She never once cared that people were watching her. It never even entered her mind how strange she may have looked to some, and she worshiped fearlessly.
Erika says she doesn’t know all that happened within her that day. She doesn’t have to know. What she does understand is that her family of four is exactly where it’s supposed to be, and life is flourishing in this new season of promise and presence.
Often, following the Lord looks like wandering in a forest. The point is not the destination. It’s all about the journey and letting yourself slow down enough to look around, to see the birds and listen to the leaves rustle in the wind, to enjoy the exploring. Usually, you can only see a step or two in front of you, and even then, you aren’t too sure about your footing. It takes faith at every juncture, but with that faith comes a blossoming into freedom that you wouldn’t have known without the wandering. Following His voice is challenging and frustrating at times, but as Erika’s story attests, it is absolutely worth it. It is the place that gives life, brings joy, and brings unbelievable freedom, a freedom strong enough to dance before hundreds like no one is watching.
Featured Image by Aditya Saxena
InText Image by Matt Gross