My mascara assures me it won’t budge, its waterproof formula guaranteed to hold strong and not break down, even when I can’t make those same promises about myself.
I tell her my story. She’s the first psychiatrist to really ask for it. Usually, they just ask what meds I’m on, which ones I’ve tried, which ones have left me sobbing into my pillow and gasping like each breath is heaving multitudes and cracking my ribs like bird’s wings where I am a caged girl, trapped from the inside out.
She wants to know which meds have passed my lips faithfully night after night, but still, the darkness comes. The color drains from the days and drags me into a palette of gray tones, muddied and crackling on the canvas. Which meds have I stood in line to pick up, only to feel the fever build until I am frantic thoughts, my manic mind overflowing with colors and meaning, everything so beautiful it physically hurts. Nights when I am undone schemes and my head can’t find my pillow, when my thoughts run rampant through my greasy hair, tangling my ideas into knots with their sticky fingers.
Usually, doctors have my file open, and they read questions on a checklist, never looking up, never really seeing me. Sometimes they don’t even bother to sit but wash their hands, scrubbing off their last patient, and then they stand at the entrance to the exam room like they’re halfway out the door before I’ve even said a word.
I am a woman with bipolar depression, with anxiety, with chronic health problems. I am a name scribbled on a prescription pad.
But this doctor is different. She settles back into her chair like we’re going to be here for a while, her eyes are soft and her hair is down, the salt and pepper waves looking neither fussy nor unkempt. She looks like a woman who is accustomed to hearing people tell her their darkest thoughts and greatest fears. She looks like someone who won’t scare easily when I tell her how the dark comes for me. She looks me in the eyes and her smile is kind, like she’s kneeling before an animal of prey, a broken-winged girl, and she’s coaxing me to come closer, palms open, no sudden moves.
My eyes flick past her and up to a set of art drawings framed on the wall. There are marker drawn animals, reminding me of the art I display under a magnet on the fridge when one of my kids brings me their creation. I need help because I want to see what else my kids create.
My eyes settle on a rhino, and the rest go blurry. I hope my mascara will not fail me with a black stream of tears. Just in case, I dab at my eyes, holding a fistful of wadded up tissues clenched in my palm like I’m crushing all my memories down to something manageable I can toss in the trash and leave behind on my way out.
Sometimes, I cannot imagine good could come of this. I worry my weakness disqualifies me. I wonder if I’ll do anything more than survive my days.
I think of all the ways I fall short as a woman. Other women manage to keep their houses clean and artfully decorated with pristine white walls and glowing granite countertops, their thrift store finds repurposed to look like an Anthropologie catalog. Other women don’t show up to the school bake sale with cut and bake cookies and spit up on their shirts, their buttons wonky from misaligning one on the rush out the door.
Other women run marathons and start nonprofits and have careers and travel and speak languages that roll gently off their tongues. They have passports needing additional pages. Other women have degrees and so many letters dangling off their names from prestigious universities. Other women speak and people listen, they fit in and throw their heads back when they laugh, wide toothy smiles. They don’t hunker down in the sofa and pull the throw pillow over their belly while trying to think of something to say.
Other people minister, other people matter. In these moments, I tell God He made me all wrong.
Because I am in a psychiatrist’s office, so exhausted from my depression that the simple act of throwing on a clean pair of clothes and driving here leaves me depleted. I want to curl up on her couch, curving my spine into a question mark and rock myself back to sleep.
I tell God, I don’t want to have the scars it takes to resemble my Savior. I’m scared of the fissure breaking me open to more of Jesus. I do not want to be a spectacle of brokenness and need. But God promises, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” I am that — poor in spirit, lacking and beggarly.
So I come to Jesus empty. I offer all my anguish and fear and despair, my inability to fix myself for him. I offer all the restless beatings of my heart. I howl like a feral animal confessing how often I do not trust, even though God’s shown me again and again He is good.
Faith is living out the belief that God is who He says He is even when circumstances would say otherwise — even when the medications lined up in bottles don’t work, even when the prayers seem unanswered, even when God seems silent.
I’m desperate for Christ’s presence, and I’m beginning to understand more of what it means to be poor in spirit, a longing so tangible it aches for just a touch, a glimpse, a taste. I am an unclean woman grasping at the hem of His garment. I am desperate at the well with lips cracked like the face of the desert and a thirst so strong from choking on dust. I am hungry eyes in search of the kingdom of heaven, ravenous desire and such a keen awareness of all I lack on my own. I am a wide open space, longing to be filled.
Maybe this is how the kingdom comes? We come poor in spirit and realize weakness is a holy invitation to allow grace to do its work. What if we asked ourselves, What if weakness was a spiritual gift? What if it’s the richest place of all? What if it’s glorious?
Throughout her story of brokenness, Alia Joy offers an unfiltered image of her bipolar disorder, chronic illness, and other traumas that brought her to the foot of the cross. In recognizing the role of weakness in God’s divine plan, Glorious Weakness: Discovering God in All We Lack ventures to create a conversation that acknowledges suffering, poverty, and lack as a place for learning, growth, and ultimately, reliance on God.
We’re excited to celebrate the release of Glorious Weakness (coming out April 2) by giving away FIVE copies of it here! Leave a comment telling us how you have experienced grace do its work through your weakness.