My friend lies broken in a hospital bed across oceans and continents set adrift by her loss. I’ve sent prayers into the heavens on days when the clouds hover, petitioning for miracles, the kind that pop up in two tiny pink lines and no more blood. The kind that come in flutters and heartbeats and lab test results delivered with a smile instead of a somber tone. The kind that pushes out with life and arches backs wide and straddles miracle and wonder and life.
But she’s left with why? It’s not an answer I have, it’s not an answer she knows.
I wish I could gather my strength like wings, weave hefty breaths under sinew and stretch my arms out and command a stop to the pain. I wish I could play God when He seems to have it wrong. When this tiny life could have been saved, but was not.
I wish I could gather words and quilt them together into a story with such heft it would warm that cold hollow.
There are barren spaces among us. In us. I know the hollow well.
How do we speak to the void we feel when prayers seem to echo unheard and vacancies take place in our hearts?
I feel the loss in my bones and I find myself weeping for a child I’ve never known. For a mother that’s yet to become. If she were here or I were there we’d share tears. I’d sit by her side and hold her hand and cry with her. I am realizing the importance of weeping with those who weep.
I am learning to love in the way I long to be loved. I am learning to love with a ministry of tears.
A few days ago, I gathered my things and lugged the suitcase out of the garage navigating my way through stacked cardboard boxes and piles of things we’re getting rid of, the neon garage sale stickers slapped onto items as they’re tossed aside to make room for the change that’s coming. I am stifled by the reminder that we’re moving and this four-day jaunt across the country will do little to help me get my to-do list checked off.
I drag the luggage up the stairs and lay it open on my bed. My closet is mostly packed away by now. I’ve a few dresses hanging still, ones I wear over and over, and I toss them in. They’re the same ones I wore last year to the (in)courage retreat. I will be the same but different. Last year I came without need or want. This year I come famished and with so much need I wonder if it lingers on my skin like a haunted thing reeking with longing.
This year has spread me thin. I am contrary. Worn thin like a wisp, sheer as gossamer yet weighted down with hefty burdens. I come weary and raw, tears just shy of the world always at the ready. I know to pack waterproof mascara if I pack anything at all.
My friend asks me why I’m stalling, why the suitcase sits open and empty at 11 pm when I have to leave by 3 am to make my flight. I tell her I’m having anxiety and I don’t want to go.
“What’s the scariest part for you?” she asks.
“Falling apart in an unsafe place where I will be judged for my lack of success and fragility and not being able to pull it together. The pretense of niceness but not understanding, “ I text back. I don’t even have to think about it.
I am afraid of wide circles and pity. I am afraid to be unfine. To be found poor and wretched and offering so little.
I am afraid of platforms I won’t reach and questions I have no answers for and the shadow of me at the corner of groups. I feel like I am in middle school all over again and I hate that I care.
I am afraid of my reputation. I thought I was past this. Last year I stood confident in my place. My obedience and faithfulness felt like enough. Maybe there was pride too that I was untouched by want, contented with God at my side, faithful to sew words in my small places.
This year obeying God has cost me, and I’m desperate for Christ’s presence and 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 hungry eyes in search of the Kingdom of Heaven, ravenous desire and such a keen awareness of all I lack on my own.
A few months ago I spoke — no, I preached — and the message burning holes in my bones and scorching holy ground was simply that when we are weak He is strong.
“Weakness is a holy invitation to allow grace to do it’s work. What if weakness was a spiritual gift?” I whispered through eyes brimming and full. I’d felt the cost then and knew its worth. And I felt the spirit of God carry me through because I’d been limping for so long.
I am crippled for glory, I thought, and that’s ok. Just give me Jesus.
I’ll stumble along all my days if it means being close to You, Lord.
Could it only have been months since I prayed those things? Weeks even? I am three rooster crows cackling in the wind before I forget what it means to only want for Jesus. I don’t want to be sifted anymore. I don’t want to have the scars it takes to resemble my Savior.
So I’m staring down unpacked things and the emptiness of my spaces and I’m desperate for the fullness to come back but scared about the fissure breaking me open to more of Jesus.
I sit in the back of Nester’s barn, pulling up a chair on the margins hoping to keep myself contained. Hoping not to make any more of a fuss among these Jesus women. I’ve shed tears all weekend long, everything is surfacing in knotted up wads of Kleenex and runny eyes.
And women are sharing and worship floats up into the beams and rafters and everything is beautiful and pure and white and suddenly I’m panicked because I feel it rising in my chest, a sob so heavy it carries my multitudes and I’m plunging my face into my hands and trying to push it back down. To make it stop. I do not want to be unfine here. A spectacle of brokenness and need.
But it’s too late. It unfurls in heaving, working loose my broken parts, my body curled down trying to disappear and I feel Amber’s hands on me and then Lisa Jo’s and I mumble prayer needs that scratch the barest surface of the truth but it’s all I can manage.
And the women pray. I see tears not my own and I feel what it means to have those who will weep with you.
I am an unclean woman being healed by touch, by a ministry of tears, by Jesus turning in the crowd to lock eyes on me, to say I am seen and known and called Daughter. To go and be healed.
I am learning to love the way Jesus loves. Broken open and weeping. Finding my way home.
So beautiful, Alia. Tears here just reading your heartfelt words. Bless you.
Thank you Agnes.
Sarah Geringer says
This is beautiful. I like your line “I know to pack waterproof mascara if I pack anything at all.”
And even then it was no match for the amount of crying I did. 😉
Charity Walton says
Thank you, Alia, for sharing what it really means to be real.
Sometimes we have no choice but to be real, even if we’d rather appear to be more together, less messy, less broken. But I’m learning over and over that God uses the poor in spirit. God uses the messy and weak parts in us to show His strength. I need reminding of this so often.
Barbara Keegan says
This is absolutely beautiful. Thank you so much!
Thanks for reading, Barbara.
Sharon Phillips Earls says
Oh dear sister, my declaration for last year was taken from Philippians 3:10, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings.” I did not want this to be my declaration but felt compelled to it. I even poured over it with my precious husband of 42 years. His words were, “It is our declaration and it will not be easy, but you need to ask God to give you the grace to walk wherever he takes you.” I do not embrace pain, rather I run from it, have dedicated my life as a registered nurse to eliminating or relieving it. Now my husband is awaiting my arrival in heaven and I am grappling with pain greater than I have ever known, but I have learned how good my God is and how precious my brokenness is to him. I spoke in church Wednesday night on the pain and difficulty in surrendering totally to God. It is hard and it is scary, but it is not optional if we are to really know our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Yes! This is so beautiful Sharon. God is still good and we know Him in a deeper way when we stop trying to hold things together and we just reach for Him in that desperate way. He will always meet us. I will pray for your pain today and for God’s presence to be thick with you, surrounding you and holding you near.
Beth Williams says
Such beautiful words! So sorry for the loss of your husband! I pray God brings healing, peace and knowledge of His resurrection to your mind, body, and soul! May God ease the pain little by little day by day.
Sharon Phillips Earls says
Thank you for your prayers and kind words. God truly has met me, comforted me and taught me. I have become desperate for him and he has proved to be altogether wonderful and sufficient to my every need. My messiness and neediness has opened doors of ministry that my ordered little life never would have. Blessings to you.
Beth Williams says
God can bring beauty out of ashes!
Joanne Peterson says
I have been there in the seasons with everything close to the surface, and brimming over. Afraid to be vulnerable, and too much for other people to “know what to do with,” not wanting to be needy, being told I should just turn it over. The grieving and the sadness just a regular part of my life. Then the Lord brought me into different seasons, back and forth through the seasons.
This neediness is what makes the ministry of tears, the gift of mercy. Being able to deep down feel someone else’s pain and grieve with them. It’s a hard gift, and a risky gift, being able to feel someone else’s pain, and pray with them, accept them where they are. It’s a risky gift because it can be a position of being misunderstood, of the possibility people expecting more than you can give, of questioning your motives, speaking for those who have no voice yet. But, it is also a beautiful gift, to be part of the privilege of healing. But, love is risky, community is risky, tears are risky.
I’ve watched you taking the risk in your words of speaking for those who have no voice, who are marginalized, who are needy. You’ve displayed courage that makes me think of my own fears, and realizing I need to take the risk to love other people more. I’ve tried to be too safe, but I’ve also missed the living, staying in community being in a bubble. Thank you for the depth of emotions, and picture you’ve drawn with your words to help me to take the risk again, the possibility of the risk to also be understood.
I didn’t cry for years. Literally about a decade of no tears and I had very little mercy for others. And then God brought me through some incredibly hard things and everything softened and broke and there’s no holding it together now. It is risky, and vulnerable, and tiring but I wouldn’t trade it most days because I understand Jesus in a new way. And yes to what you said about seasons, because there is joy too and beauty. Sometimes I think that a ministry of tears is simply about making space for others to admit, me too. Thank you for your encouragement.
Oh Sweet sister. You are not alone. I Praise the Lord for using you in your brokenness. We think that it is our strength that encourages others. We think that having it all “together” is what inspires. It is our faith…your faith…that encourages and inspires us to seek more of Jesus.
Your honesty and raw courage have given words to the cries of my heart. I am so unworthy. I feel like a sham. I find myself in a position of leadership and I am broken and wounded and full of self doubt. I grow weary of being the “example” to follow. I am worn thin by the expectation of having a ready answer for those who question and a ready word of comfort for those who hurt. You are not alone in your brokenness…and I am thankful to know that neither am I.
Thank you for being transparent. You have encouraged my heart today. Your words are like salve for my wounded soul. Thank you. A million times, thank you.
Oh this fills me up. No, you are not alone.
Elizabeth Stewart says
Your transparency sets others free to be themselves too.
It’s funny because I know this to be true of others but sometimes I think when it’s ourselves, we forget the truth in that because it feels so awkward. Maybe that’s why God keeps reminding me over and over and over. 😉
I relate so deeply to this. Especially the words, “I thought I was past this”. Tears are rolling down my cheeks because I feel that deep pain of not being okay but knowing that I’m not alone helps and reminds me it’s okay to not be okay. Thank you for heart felt words Alia.
Yes, Chelsea, you are not alone. God is near to the brokenhearted. Praying for you by name today.
Thank you so much for sharing. May God bless you ❤️
Something about your words reaches right inside my heart and makes me feel so much less alone. I stand with you in the feeling like we’re back in middle school and trying to disappear. Yep. If we only had Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak. And personally I cannot stand to cry in public because I don’t like to appear weak (or what I refer to as “pitiful”) but I’m learning that God can use my weakness to encourage others, and if that’s the case, I’ll let the tears flow. When I was a teenager and was a brand new Christian I used to bawl every time we had the Lord’s Supper. The magnitude of Christ’s sacrifice was just too much for me to take. And I cried during the Sunday service, during the music, etc. My youth pastor stopped me one day and said he’d wanted to tell me something: Don’t ever be ashamed of your tears because that’s a sign of the Holy Spirit in you, that your heart is tender and He is working in you. I have never forgotten that.
I have mostly gotten over crying in public because in the past 3 years I’ve done it so much. Before that it was almost a decade of no tears so yeah, I get it, it feels like being naked in a crowd. And I am not a pretty crier. No dramatic single tear flowing down and dewy lashes. I ugly cry with full snot and puffy swollen red eyes. Seriously, the worst ever. But it’s broken something open in me, made more room for Jesus if I really think about it, and even made more room for others in so many ways. So yeah, that thing about not being ashamed because it can be a sign of the Holy Spirit. I believe that even though I forget that means I need to be ok when it comes and messes up my makeup in front of others. Also, I love you Kim.
Erica Naughton says
“I’ll stumble along all my days if it means being close to You, Lord.” This is a relief from perfectionism. In my weakness, He is my strength. This does not excuse my stumbling, but I am certainly covered with grace.
I am leaning into God, while my sister leans into me. I pray that she will find God as her strength to break out of a destructive lifestyle. I get so scared for her, but God sees her and he knows her.
Alia, I’ve. Been. There. In that place where you pray the sob will just stay deep, and you’ll deal with it later. The fear of not being embraced for who you are, warts and all. Wanting to be unfine all by yourself. Yep, been there.
This post brought tears to my eyes, for you . . . and for all the times I’ve been there. I am so, so glad God has surrounded you with women who get it, who weep with you. It’s in the weeping that healing can begin, it seems. Sometimes, it takes us being real to open other hearts to be real. Thank you for that reminder—that it’s okay to be unfine and weepy in our safe places. Thank you for the reminder that it’s okay to weep with those who are weeping. That’s what brings comfort to broken hearts. I needed these reminders today. Thank you.
Sometimes, it takes us being real to open other hearts to be real.<— I think this is it right here. You never know who else is hurting and bottled up, you never know who else might need permission to admit it's harder than it looks, you never know who might need to reach for Jesus and be seen. Thank you, that's so good.
I love you, beautiful Alia Joy.
Thank you for being a safe place. I was undone by your grace.
Linda Stoll says
The words born from your release of pain are life-giving to all who are blessed to read your truth.
When you write, I’m there.
Love you from afar …
Thank you so much, Linda. This made me smile. I’m honored to have you as a faithful reader.
“I am crippled for glory, I thought, and that’s ok. Just give me Jesus.”
Alia–this is bringing that feeling in my chest, the need to sob. I am too tired though. This one line touches me so deeply because I am I have Cerebral Palsy and I am too keenly aware of my need for Jesus. I am not a fan of the stumbling, of the slowness of my steps, of when I pick up speed, I’m more likely to fall. And he’s always there with me when I would just like to go as fast as the world.
Or as fast as people who walk. But I think my brain goes fast enough.
Thank you for your raw honesty. Makes it a little easier to share that mess I just wrote.
Julia, oh this comment just kept revisiting me today until I could get back here and reply. I often feel the world moves at a pace I can’t keep up with for different reasons but my need for Jesus is no less. We’re all stumbling, it just looks different on the outside and sometimes there’s a crack in the surface and you get to see the real stuff pour out. The desperation for Jesus. It’s not a bad place to be. Your words were not a mess and I’m honored you would share them with me. thank you.
I am fretting over an upcoming conference next weekend, and desperately NOT wanting to go and to be seen “unfine,” and was just praying about that when the Lord led me to this blog post. Thank you, Alia! I still don’t want to go, LOL, but I am learning to be unmasked and unashamed.
Thank you for leading the way through open-hearted humility.
Nina Ruth 🙂
I so understand that feeling. I hope you have peace next weekend and that whatever comes you feel God’s presence with you, unashamed.
Joy Lenton says
Lovely Alia, you touch hearts and lives far more than you know. These words spoke deep to me:“Weakness is a holy invitation to allow grace to do it’s work. What if weakness was a spiritual gift?” Yes, what if? What would that look like? Women (and men) weeping with Jesus’ tears, compassion reigning, souls singing glory out from broken places where God meets oh so powerfully with them. And all able to be fully themselves because weakness is our default position and yet we all shrink away from owning it.
You are a beautiful, transparent sister, a woman of valour who is giving all of us a glimpse into who we are meant to be – wounded, (mascara) messed up people redeemed by grace who cannot help but proclaim His glorious story while laying bare our own. Blessings, love and hugs to you. You did great, girl!! Xx <3
A writer once told me to make a file of nice comments and emails I get from my writing because on the dark days you can revisit them and know your words have made a difference. I haven’t done that but I swear your encouragements have been some that have meant the most to me. I love how you call out the best in people, Joy. How you see it. It’s a gift and I’m so grateful for it. Love you so stinking much.
Lina Rochette Hill says
All I could think is that if there were ever a safe place to brake open it must be with those lovely women of (in)courage… they are my daily reminder of strength and purpose and God’s love. But, being a crier all my life, I understand the fear and the uncomfortable-ness of it all. I will share with you what a man told me in CODA (12step program) years ago. I was truly the “town crier” of the group and I often set the mood for tears. As I was sharing that I hated that I cried all the time he shared that he couldn’t cry, that he hadn’t cried in years and he saw it that I had a gift…. I was caught short by that comment and the thought of not being able to cry and believing that to be far worse. I like that I have a ministry of tears to share with others… Praying for you.
Setting the mood for tears. Oh yes, that would be me. I lived through most of my teens and twenties never crying. Ever. Some people just don’t that often but for me it was a symptom of a hard heart and a rebellion against God. Once God started working in me the tears started and just haven’t really stopped. I know the Holy Spirit is at work when I cry like this.
Mary Carver says
I’m so glad you braved the barn, my friend. Ohhh, I can’t even begin to list out all the parts of this post that resonate with me, that speak to me, that ARE me. I know the ministry of tears. You’re not alone.
I love you friend. Thank you for letting me ugly cry all over the place and for your prayers and understanding. Seeing you was one of the highlights of being at the retreat.
Karrilee Aggett says
Gah… just all of it – every word that bled out and laid flat on the alter… every whispered prayer and shakey hungry inhale… Yes and Amen… (and you know the drill: Insert -the rest of the- Gushing Comment here!)
I showed my mom the vox you sent with the picture at 2 and how you prayed faithfully for me and no matter how this whole writing on the internet thing turns out for me, I will always be infinitelly blessed by your friendship. I know I could ugly cry all over you and not even have a moment’s hesitation. That is a gift I cherish. And then blah blah blah mutual gushing here. 😉
This. Resonates. In. Me. “Falling apart in an unsafe place”, middle school, unclean woman. Whoever you are, I get you.
I think so many of us feel this way. So many.
Jennifer Cleveland says
“I am learning to love in the way I long to be loved. I am learning to love with a ministry of tears.” <—- that is beautiful. The broken and beautiful. I am no good with tears, especially in public places but what you say here gives meaning and value to them. So glad for safe places and the people who God puts around us when we're the most vulnerable.
Yes, safe places. You deserve those Jennifer and you might could use a good cry too every now and again even if it’s not in public because believe me if I had a choice in the matter I would’ve saved the snot-fest and ugly cry for another time. God breaks open places and I’m learning to relent to His work in me, even if that means ugly crying in a room full of people. Hoping for safe spaces and hands to hold when you need to cry.
Susan G. says
Beautiful Alia. You are not alone…
Lisa-Jo Baker says
Heart in my throat as I read this. It’s the most holy gift – to be trusted with someone else’s tears. I love you so much, sister and I’m so glad you share your story with us. And I am 100% over-emoting as I read it and walk in your shoes and count down days toward how the story of your house ends.
We’re signing the papers to close in the morning. There are miracles here and I’ll share them later. I wanted to vox you but it was late after my husband’s birthday party. So yeah, thank you for walking with me and hearing my heart and holding space. I love you too.
All the love in the world to you, dear Alia. So thankful for you *and* your tears. xo
I just got your book today and I can’t wait to read it and share it. When I think of you, I always think of someone who is gracious and kind. You make safe spaces and room for people in ways few people can. Maybe because you’ve been through so much change and transition yourself. Anyhow, I adore you.
Natalie V says
Oh wow, what an honest, open word about the brokenness we all feel at times. In our weakness He is strong. Thank you for laying it all out there.
Thanks for reading, Natalie.
Emily Rose says
Oh this is what we all long for, to be not fine and so loved. What a beautiful community to have around you in that time of acute need. Some of the work of the Church is to demonstrate that we mustn’t be strong at all, nor independent. Everything you write here, I feel so strongly in my heart too. Thank you for daring to put it into words for the rest of us.
Yes, this is the work of the Church! I love that. What would it be like if the church truly felt like a safe place to come broken? For so many it hasn’t been that. But if it were, if we were, people might just see Jesus.
Emily Rose says
Yes. And I feel like first, we must know how we are broken and be willing to admit it genuinely before our brothers and sisters – not in a safe way, or in false humility that still has dignity and some level of “fine-ness” to it, but in a shameless, not-face-saving way that is raw and real about what life is for us in this moment. Just as you wrote and experienced firsthand. There’s a way to say that we’re broken, but there’s a way to demonstrate that we know by how we live, and by how we compassionately embrace others in need.
And I find the latter much harder to do.
Diana Fleenor says
Alia joy, as I read this, my mind and heart reel with thoughts and feelings which relate to so many things you shared. Such truth and love is expressed here! I long to know Jesus in every way including the ministry of tears. Yet, I find fears rise up in me of being that vulnerable because it’s so risky. I am experienced in being one of “the parts of the body that seem to be weaker” or “we think less honorable” as 1 Corinthians 12 speaks. But, I have also felt the sting of judgment for being this weaker rather than being considered “indispensable”. What I see in your story is a true acting out of the way “God has so composed the body” as you wept for your friend across the seas and as the group of ladies came alongside you and wept. I am encouraged and hopeful that in time I will too experience more of this. I pray daily to be a part of this kind of “love one another”, I will pray for you, and appreciate anyone’s prayers for me in it. Blessings to all.
Alia, I don’t know you but I sure do feel the pain and longing of your soul. Been there – trying to keep my “fine” intact – yet there comes a time no matter how much we suck in air, put on our big girl panties, Spirit comes and says “this is a safe place – it’s okay for the dam to break” and it seems you could not have been in better company than these women, in a barn, in a remote town in NC. God bless you.
Beth Williams says
Thank you for sharing something so personal. It is beautifully written.
Loved this: I am crippled for glory, I thought, and that’s ok. Just give me Jesus.
I’ll stumble along all my days if it means being close to You, Lord.” That’s what He wants. He wants to come to the end of ourselves-that’s where we find Him and true relief! He sent you to that place to be with wonderful, caring Christian women who would understand and love you without judgment. We are all called to love one another no matter what!
I am an encourager by nature so I take on other’s pain. For the last few years it has been my turn. I have cried buckets of tears. It has been hard watching my elderly dad slowly deteriorate with dementia, psych, balance, etc. Also find it a little hard to have to quit my job to be there more for him. Through it all I have had wonderful friends who pray with me and stand by me.
DA Schuhow says
As my life spun out of control these past 2 years……..I am crippled for glory, I thought, and that’s ok. Just give me Jesus………..I’ve arrived at this conclusion also. May you find God ever so tender Alia