Today, Erika speaks to us about the Bible passages that were her go-to verses during chemo, her deep peace, and going deeper into Scripture. She is a boss.
Tell us a bit about how you grew up and your childhood: I grew up surrounded by our huge Puerto Rican family, who I’m sooo close with now, even though I live thousands of miles away. My mom is one of nine and half her siblings lived in the same 4-family home we grew up in. My brother and I were always with our cousins. We grew up in Newark, NJ, which isn’t the greatest place to raise a family. My mom knew we would get sucked into the wrong things if we weren’t focused, so she made sure we played sports all year round until we were in high school. My mom is Catholic and my dad is Christian. I grew up Catholic and am now born again. I always loved the Lord, but didn’t really know Him PERSONALLY until after college. My mom’s devotion to living out her faith and trying to be like Jesus was always inspiring. My dad’s faith and prayer life always stood out to me as something really special. I only now understand how deeply I was impacted by their examples and am so grateful God chose them to be my parents. Outside of faith, I’ve always loved sports and lived an active lifestyle. I also loved writing and reading as a girl, which included having a diary or journal practice at a young age (and has continued to be one of my daily habits). I always asked a lot of questions and cultivated deep relationships with friends and family. I just always loved people and God. I still do.
Inspiring biblical passage of the moment: Psalm 91:1-6 (has been my go-to through all of chemo!) and Isaiah 40 (all of it! God has had this passage show up 3+ times in the last 7 days alone…)
Spiritual growth focus at the moment: I’m really interested in understanding primary, secondary and third tier issues learning more about how to discern core doctrine (check out Phylicia Masonheimer’s podcast episode from 6/9/2021 if you haven’t taken her free discernment class!)
Profession: Life Coach for Christian Women and Claims Supervisor @ major insurance company
If you wrote a memoir, what would the title be? “Saved, Sealed and Delivered”
How would you describe Jesus? Jesus is the eternal Son and the living Word. He’s fully God and fully man; perfect in all ways. He is the epitome of how to love and live well.
“He is the epitome of how to love and live well.”
How has your relationship with Him changed you? Wow, what a loaded question. This question comes to mind: “What did you do before Him?” My response to that is, I was broken; shattered into a thousand pieces. I was hurting and numbing with substances and people. Being in relationship with Him resulted in my WANTING to make better decisions and let go of the things that couldn’t fill me like He does. He is why I stopped desiring same-sex relations, drugs, alcohol and validation from the world. He is why I’ve been clean for almost two years. He is why I’m cancer-free. He is why I’m no longer depressed and why anxiety doesn’t last more than a moment. HE is why I’m not afraid of sharing my faith and why I had the courage to let go of people who didn’t respect HIS place in my life. HE strengthened and encouraged me when nothing and no one else could. My relationship with Him has resulted in true freedom, joy and a deep, deep peace.
What has been the darkest time in your life, and how did you see God in it? A couple of years after college, I was in a really dark and deeply sorrowful place; and I was far from the Lord. I was definitely depressed and coping with drugs and alcohol. The Lord was pursuing me and I finally heard Him and came back to Him, which was the beginning of a long journey of healing, knowing Him and becoming who I am now. I know He positioned the right people in my life and delivered me from a lot of dark experiences and times. He kept me safe from physical harm and spiritual warfare. I was in some really weird and seriously [spiritually] problematic stuff; and He straight up delivered me. I can recall so many times when I could’ve been harmed or wound up dead; and He was there; delivering me from the evil one; giving me chances; and loving me, even when I wasn’t ready and even when I was worthy to receive that perfect love.
“I know He positioned the right people in my life and delivered me from a lot of dark experiences and times.”
What has helped you grow spiritually in this season? Meeting Him in my prayer time and Bible Study has produced so much good fruit in this season. I’m finishing up chemo and can say, with absolute confidence, this has been one of my favorite seasons of life. Going deeper in my Bible study and really seeking Truth in His Word resulted in a deep, deep peace that people are seriously baffled by, especially with what’s gone on with my health and having a newborn at the same time. Only Him.
“Going deeper in my Bible study and really seeking Truth in His Word resulted in a deep, deep peace that people are seriously baffled by, especially with what’s gone on with my health and having a newborn at the same time. Only Him.”
Just read/currently reading (and what has it taught you?): In June, I finished Embodied: Transgender Identities, The Church and What The Bible Has To Say by Preston M. Sprinkle and Beautifully Distinct: Conversations With Friends on Faith, Life and Culture (written by a number of different authors and edited by Trillia Newbell). Embodied taught me a lot about the trans experience and how complex it is. It also reminded me to value ALL people as people, not as labels or conditions, etc. It sounds like something obvious, but I hear a lot of people talk about “the trans community” or “the LGBTQ community” as if the people who are part of those communities are exiles in a foreign land. They’re literally our brothers and sisters; and they are worth loving and respecting, especially because we don’t experience the struggles they do. Beautifully Distinct taught me to be more aware of the influence today’s culture has on my subconscious; and reinforced my commitment to comparing everything to scripture. I’m currently reading People To Be Loved: Why Homsexuality Is Not Just An Issue by Preston M. Sprinkle. I haven’t formed an opinion, yet. Check my newsletter @ castrostrong.com to get my thoughts once I finish!
Top three essentials: Bible, journal and water.
How did God speak to you recently? He kept showing me Isaiah 40 and kept bringing people to mind. I was praying for them and, when I reached out, learned that these specific people were going through some hard things. I was able to share Isaiah 40 with them. (Isn’t He so good?!)
Hobby: Reading, writing and fitness.
Top three practical tips for staying spiritually strong: 1) GET IN THE WORD. 2) Get yourself an accountability partner for Bible Study… It makes a HUGE difference and is really helpful, especially when you have questions or want to dig into your study a little more deeply. 3) Develop the habit of seeking God’s guidance and wisdom on EVERYTHING. I mean it; from what you’ll say to your partner in a hard convo to whether/not you should unfollow/follow someone on social media. Seek His wisdom and HE will give it freely (James 1:5).
Favorite person in scripture? Besides Jesus, there are a couple guys I really dig, including Samuel and Daniel. I also have a newfound appreciation for Mary Magdalene because she was a true disciple. I’ve heard people try to argue that there was something going on between her and Jesus, which is terrible (and I hope those people repent). She reminds me of me. If I was tormented by demons and went through all the things she went through (and I kind of did, in my own ways), I would be near the living God AT ALL TIMES… In His presence, there’s freedom, restoration and safety.
“In His presence, there’s freedom, restoration and safety.”
What do you want people to learn about God when they look at you? That He uses even the broken. I want people to know that when you SURRENDER, you can really know and appreciate all He is and does.
How do you engage with your community? In my online community, I tend to connect with people in private, then actually show up in their real-life events and endeavors (if they invite me). In my physical community, I kind of do the same thing. I gravitate toward individuals and get to know them better, little by little, then show up in “random” circles of people because I’m not afraid of supporting others and being in places where I know no one.
Favorite holiday? Christmas (Have you ever done Christmas with a Puerto Rican family?! Ya need to!)
A goal you have? This year, one of my top goals is to write a study on Psalm 15, which was a special assignment the Lord gave me. It’s been in the works since January, so I’m working on finishing that by the end of this year!
A special tradition you and your family engage in or keep: Being at the beach each year for my birthday and on January 1st.
Question you will ask when you get to heaven? When were you most proud of me?
Thing you want to raise awareness about: Suicide Prevention – If you’re in crisis, please call (800) 273-8255 OR text TALK to 741741. If you want to learn more about how to get involved, including donating, volunteering or participating in your local Out Of The Darkness Walk, head to www.asfp.org or https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ – both are great starting points!
What does your morning routine consist of? I shower, hang w/ the family for a little while (coffee w/ my husband, feed the baby, read BIble stories w/ my daughter), then have my quiet time w/ the Lord. Quiet time consists of journaling my prayers and giving Him thanks, followed by Bible study.
What is on your nightstand? My “Keep Calm and Let God” mug, My Cultural Background Study Bible, the baby monitor, a picture of my daughter when she was 1 and my glasses.
Define Christianity in a sentence: Letting go of who you think you are and life, as you know it, to follow Christ; and allowing Him to refine you, give you a new identity and use you to build His kingdom.
For more Erika:
Instagram and Pinterest: @mrsdiazcastro
Business website and blog: www.castrostrong.com
Personal blog: www.frwdmvmnt.com
Podcasts: True To Your Core Podcast and Stronger Than You Think Podcast (both are on apple, spotify, all the podcast places)
Until next time, keep witnessing!