I used to gather my strength at the year’s end for a running start into the new one.
I’d limp through Christmas, the demands and social gatherings jabbing tender places. I’m no stranger to the ache and weariness the holiday season can bring. The twinge in your gut, that hollow space when everyone else seemed to be Christmas-ing better. Houses decked out with twinkling white lights arranged and tidy, fresh garland draping a stocking adorned fireplace, and each smiling child with flour frosted fingers cutting out gingerbread and sugar cookies. Everyone gathered for a nightly advent reading with the children sitting solemnly in clean jammies enthralled instead of rolling around on the floor and asking how much longer in that nasally whine that stretches syllables into angst.
I wanted simplicity and holiness, a stripped down way to anticipate Jesus drawing near to me, a Savior come to ransom me, but each year felt more like a struggle to get there than an arrival of a Christ to break into my broken.
But New Years held promise. A fresh start and a chance to make the upcoming year better.
It was foolish to think a new year would resolve the old me with some life goals and willpower because we’re all an aggregate of moments and days gathering into life. We can change, but to be transformed is holy work our hands mangle.
I’d gather resolutions and stack them tall enough to bolster my will for a few weeks. I’d determine this to be the year we made more memories, where I wouldn’t yell or lose my temper. This would be the year when I would master depression and anxiety, take my vitamins, exercise daily. This would be the year I would finish my book, take that trip, learn to speak another language. I’d read the books on my list and wake up early to have a quiet time complete with prayer and highlighting of important and meaningful passages of Scripture. I’d drink less coffee and go to sleep on time.
This would be the year when things changed, when I changed into a new and improved me. If I’m honest, Jesus didn’t factor into New Years at all. New Years was a chance for me to better myself with positive thinking and resolve. This was my chance to show God how I could better serve Him, how I was being sanctified and redeemed and made whole by willpower, determination, and organic vegetables.
I started 2015 with anticipation and goals stretched long into my sore muscles. I did squats and lunges and ate my vegetables. I’d daydream about skinnier jeans while before-and-after pictures danced in my head. I drank lots of water. I remembered that the scale wasn’t my friend and that the reward was in how I felt. And I felt good.
This was the year my broken bits wouldn’t master me. The weight I’ve carried both literally and figuratively would be conquered.
I believed to be godly I had to do so much more, and I was sick of the nagging feeling that I was never enough and a bit too much. I started a new Bible study and pinned meals on Pinterest that had kale and quinoa in them.
But February had different plans, and I was toppled a month in by unexpected health problems that gobbled up most of my year. I spent time in hospitals and waiting rooms, recovering from surgeries, standing in line at the pharmacy to pick up orange bottles filled with tiny pills only to return home and crawl back into bed.
All those months I resided in pain.
I longed for Jesus in the wreckage. My need for a Savior was as tangible as breath in my lungs but I had no energy to go looking. I needed Jesus to come for me.
There was now space to be interrupted by grace. The days slowed and became monotonous, a managing of pain and symptoms. I asked God to show me wonder again, on the days when my body ached and burned and crushed me, I asked Him to show Himself faithful and present. I found Him in beauty. The beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord but often that is found in wonder. An imagining and hoping in glory.
I lay in bed one night, the curtains drawn wide open like a theatre stage hosting an ensemble of stars. The inky black midnight was thick with them, like tiny seeds of hope embedded into dark soil, and I imagined the way that light navigated wisemen across foreign lands seeking a King. The hope for us all.
When lost and adrift, abandoning dreams like a sailor bailing water from a leaky vessel, I found myself open to the possibility that I am a whole version of me even when I am broken or weak or sick. When I am weak, He is strong. This year I know this down to my marrow.
What if weakness is my spiritual gift? What if in the brokenness and dependence on God, I am worshipping fully? What if I’m never enough and only God in me brings glory? This year solidified how grace makes all things new even while the old perishes. That to be changed is ephemeral but to be transformed is eternal.
I am a whole version of me because no resolution will ever complete what grace has already done for me. And this is the Christmas good news I so often missed during those years when holy and wondrous seemed a notch above me and continually out of reach.
The space illness has made in my life is painful but cherished. It slowed my soul enough to see beauty in peonies blooming by my bedside even though it was also covered with prescription bottles.
It woke me to wonder at the skyline’s swirl of clouds and the sunlight breaking through while stuck in traffic.
I unwrapped my arms and gathered my children and on days when I couldn’t get out of bed; they came to me and offered their tiny hugs, and homemade art, and clumsy prayers. And it was glorious too.
Pain breathed into me God’s presence both as Savior and as one who is incarnate, taking on the anguish of this world to bring healing and redemption.
A God who breaks into the brokenness is the only One who could ever understand how desperately I need Him.
In the here and not yet I somehow missed the call to be still and know that He is God.
This year everything looks different. Christmas was filled with beauty in the mundane and miraculous. I saw God, not only as incarnate and knowable, but also majestic and unfathomable.
There’s a great mystery to grace and that should leave us all in a state of wonder, breathless as kids gathered around the tree on Christmas morning. Living with wonder.
New Years ushers in a new me, one born in grace, one who is broken yet whole, lost and yet found, free and yet ransomed, lacking and yet redeemed. One who Jesus came for, just as I am.
Lynn D. Morrissey says
Alia, this is breathtakingly beautiful. I’m so sorry for your illness and pain, yet am rejoicing at how the Lord met you in them and transformed you. I’ve been reading Andrew Murray’s Absolute Surrender, and God is meeting me through it in ways I had not expected. I’m learning it’s impossible to live the Christian life without the power of Christ. When we refuse to admit our weakness, we are weak anyway, but without His power. The whole Christian life really is one of weakness, because we are indeed broken. But the secret of the Christian life is that Christ is strong in us when we surrender our weakness to Him. May the Lord continue to manifest this truth in your life–that when you are weak, Christ is strong. May He be all in all to you (and to me, too).
Happy New Year, dear one.
PS I love your description of stars, and will never again see them in quite the same way.
We are weak anyway. So true. Sometimes admitting it is the greatest act of worship and surrender. And the stars, we moved to a house out in the middle of nowhere and I can’t remember seeing stars like this since I was a girl out camping away from the whole world. Maybe like travelers or sailors adrift. It felt like God was pouring out light just for me to see again.
Diane Bailey says
“What if weakness is my spiritual gift? What if in the brokenness and dependence on God, I am worshipping fully?”
Excellent post Alia. Thank you for sharing your heart, your life, your…you. Love you friend.
Thanks. Love you too.
Hi Alia! Thank you so much for the telling of this story, this chapter in your life. It is a grace to see how the Lord is making good out of it through what is being given through it. I am sorry that it has been a time of suffering for you; I understand. There is a kind of peace in bringing our sufferings, our weakness to Him, knowing that He understands, that leads to His joy. The world would say that that is strange and wrong. I love how you and Lynn put these thoughts, how yielding is the truest answer, the loving answer, that requires great trust in Him. While I don’t understand it all yet, I am learning that its okay, seeking Him as He pursues me. Thank you for letting Him answer a prayer through you. May your New Year be blessed in His grace and mercy 🙂
It is grace to see the Lord at work. We always hope to trust Him no matter what but to see the fruit of it from time to time is pure grace and mercy. Have a wonderful New Year!
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
I do believe that weakness can be a spiritual gift. I have found that when God has sidelined me with surgeries or with episodes of anxiety and depression, these have been opportunities for Him to take me to an even deeper level of His amazing, grace-filled love for me. It awakens in me the realization that I am deeply loved, not for my doing, but for my simply being – even if my being is in a broken state. When I am broken, God holds me ever so gently and I am able to see that He is a good, good, father! God is using the weakness in your life to display His awesome strength and that, sweet friend, is a beautiful testimony of His love. Thank you so much for being brave enough to share your brokenness so that I/we might see His strength. May you be richly blessed in this New Year!!
There is a depth to the underside of suffering and weakness that is more than refining, it’s dependence. And a good father knows how much we need Him even when we don’t and is willing to take us to the place where our lack meets his provision. Thankful for your encouraging words as always, Bev.
Meg Bucher says
Wow, you have a gift for words, sweet sister in Christ!
Your sentiments on the new year popped up in my inbox in perfect time.
This morning, my commiserating came to a finale over the way my husband and I chose to build our house. “I wish we’d have faced it towards the lake…what were we thinking?” I puzzled, as I pondered the most inspirational place to move my writing desk to.
Like my resolutions, no matter how I rearrange my house, it’s still not good enough. I’ll drag heavy furniture around the house and feel so accomplished the first five minutes after the move, but the new arrangement always ends up feeling cluttered and annoying.
Why can’t I sit still and be thankful and joyful and revel at the blessings God has smacked me in the face with?
Maybe that’s why my word for 2016 is so appropriately coined, “obedience.” I pray to be more obedient in my praise and thanks for God’s blessings in my life, and not to let a little rearranged furniture steal my joyful moments.
Thank you so much for snapping me out of my waning this morning!
Happy New Year!
Happy New Year to you too! I get that discontentment that comes when I’m focusing on all the wrong things. And yes, God has been known to smack me in the face with blessings because I am looking the wrong way again. Sounds like you’re right where you need to be for 2016, heavy clumsy furniture moving and all. 😉
Christan Perona says
Alia, you are speaking my language… the way you describe “limping” through the holidays watching everyone “Christmas-ing better”. We often feel guilt and shame when we long, when we crave the simplicity and intense greatness of what Christ’s birth really means. We all need your perspective: to see a wrecking of our plans as not failure, but as God’s graciousness. May we cease striving and chasing achievements. May we pause and LISTEN and reflect on His beauty. It’s so hard, but I so appreciate your challenge and exhortation. You’re a beautiful writer.
Thank you. I love God’s gracious plan wrecking sometimes, even when I hate it.
Goodness gracious, Alia. How do you always do this? How do you always put words to the aching-for-words truth with which my heart is bursting, yet has never found the words to fit it?
THIS: “I am a whole version of me even when I am broken or weak or sick… What if in the brokenness and dependence on God, I am worshipping fully? What if I’m never enough and only God in me brings glory?”
Thank you. I am so glad to read this today.
God is cool like that. Always speaking in the language we need most. This was the first post I’d written in the months since my sabbatical and a few days later I had that horrible anxiety and panic attacks followed by 3 horrible days of depression. I wrote it before I wrote the post about being unfine. I wrote this before I knew I would need it. I would need to be reminded of those words right there. Funny how that works. Sometimes I think I am writing just for myself over and over so it’s really quite a bonus to see the times it resonates with others and I’m reminded how a body works. Each part caring for the whole. Love you cousin.
This was decidedly what I needed to hear as I begin the year. Thank you for writing! I struggle intensely with looking to myself as the end all of what I think I need to be. Ah, how easy it is to turn our eyes to ourselves and forget our Abba Daddy and Savior!
I appreciate your words and the story behind them!
Thanks Frannie. Thank the Lord it doesn’t begin and end with us, yes!
Rebecca Jones says
God uses weakness, so He can be our strength. The enemy attacks but He is there asking us to depend on Him. Your spiritual gift is writing. Excellent post, Alia.
Thank you Rebecca. I appreciate that.
Grace Girl says
“Broken yet whole” I thought I was just broken…thank you for this
We’re never “just” anything to God. You are broken yet whole in Him who loves you.
Alia, I loved this statement. “A God who breaks into the brokenness is the only One who could ever understand how desperately I need Him.” Yes, yes, yes. There is the joy that is stronger than the fallen world. Thank you for sharing your heart, for serving the Lord with your words when leaving the house is straining, and for persevering in the midst of things trying to stop you from running your race. Your words bring light. Thanks!
Wini Schiemann says
Your story brings out the beauty of weakness & brokenness. There are so many times, in moments of pain, that I can only inhale & exhale the name of Jesus. Thank you for sharing your story with us Alia! Happy New Year!
Inhale and exhale Jesus. Yes, this.
Thanks Chara. We have to remember that when we look around or even within and all we see if fallenness and brokenness that our Redeemer lives.
Anna Smit says
Alia, these are beautiful words. And words that resonate deeply. I do not know physical suffering, but in returning home this Christmas my grief deepened…but just like you I discovered: “Pain breathed into me God’s presence both as Savior and as one who is incarnate, taking on the anguish of this world to bring healing and redemption.” And like you I found myself beholding God in wonder, as His majestic creation left me both yearning for more of Him and awestruck. A friend gave me a book to read around the same time that spoke volumes: Tozer’s Knowledge of the Holy. He quotes from many inspirational men and women of faith, including Julian of Norwich and this really captures this “breathless” wonder you speak of and I was drawn to this Christmas:
“with endless wonder at this high, surpassing, immeasurable love which our Lord in His goodness has for us…we can never stop willing or loving until we possess Him in the fullness of joy”
Thank you for your words today.
I love this. I was beginning to write a blog post about my one word for this year and this captures so much of it. The wonder and enjoyment of God. Thank you.
Caryn Jenkins Christensen says
Well my friend, your words found a home! Your writing is always such a beautiful reflection of Christ in you ~ honest, full of grace and hope. I’ve missed your words over these past months, but can see that you have been on a courageous healing journey. Love to you and in all you are becoming. <3
Love to you too, friend.
Joanne Peterson says
You have this nailed. Many years ago, my counselor talked to me about the gift of pain. Recognizing the gift of Jesus to see His face, His character, His hand, and crying tears of joy of His goodness…at the song on the radio, sensing His Presence suddenly and being overtaken by His love, seeing in my being how precious my children, my husband, my life is to me and to Him. New eyes to see, and a new heart to see other people and their brokenness, and the beauty of brokenness, it’s His brokenness for us, and yet His strength that carries us. This brokenness is a treasure because it makes us dependent on Him and makes us vulnerable in our deepest places. Walls are broken down by this pain. Even if we hide, He pursues us, and gains our attention. I am speaking all of this by my own experience, and watching the women I am privileged to be with experience this on a gut level. We are only strong when it is in His power, there is not such a thing as our own strength and being effective, we are merely operating on our own agenda then. This weakness requires faith and the belief we are pleasing Him when we listen to His voice, pray, obey and watch what He does and trust Him to make come alive the beauty for ashes, gladness for mourning, etc. The new thing. I didn’t mean to write a book, I am so touched in my deep place and reminded of His goodness from your devotion/Truth today. I hate seeing the pain, it’s hard to watch in other people, and you’ve written of it this year, but the outcome I see now is the pearl of knowing Him deep in your being, learning Gospel and in a personal way, deeper Who Jesus is. Blessings, Joanne
The gift of pain is something no one wants. Even Jesus knowing what was to come asked the Father if there were any other way but entrusted Himself to His Father’s will. There is an identity that comes from suffering, an identity with Christ that you can’t get any other way. It’s grace that He makes even the pain and trials beautiful and worthwhile. Thank you for your encouragement.
Joanne Peterson says
No, no one wants the pain. I know I fought the raw pain, and got deeper into trying to control people around me and the painful circumstances, and eventually becoming emotionally numb. Then I saw the God’s face and His hand looking back, and He inviting me in, and learned/am learning to be present and invite Him in and the other people in. His Words in the Word became to me alive instead of just phrases on a page. I know He may not change my circumstances for many things, but I know He pursues me and seeks me out even when I am unable to say anything more than help, or unable to say anything at all, He is still talking, caring, cherishing, nurturing and correcting. This brings the joy and the gratefulness. This came as a result of pain. Your post stirred up all of this again deep and I am grateful you wrote of this. I hate watching this through your writing knowing you’re going through this, but love from your experiences you are seeing the gifts from it.
Deb Anderson Weaver says
Yes, we are too broken–we need Him to come to us. So much beauty, hope, and peace in this. Thank you for sharing.
Linda Stoll says
raw truth, beautiful wisdom … and deepest grace.
love to you, Alia!
Thank you for your encouragement Linda. It means a lot to me.
Ashley Hales says
Alia, I wish I could give you a hug and we could share a cup of tea. Your words — even in weakness — are such an offering, such gifts.
Yes a hug and tea sound like perfection. Let’s do that.
Pam Brusoe Steinke says
Thank you so much for these beautiful, meaningful, words! The thought that our gift could be weakness, goes against all the puffed up longings that so many of us have, to somehow achieve some form of greatness “for God “. I love this!
If I’m honest there are many (most) times I’d rather have something a little more tidy or impressive than being weak but God uses what He gives and this is what we all are deep down after the pretenses are stripped away. So thank you.
Larry Brook says
The way you share, the things you share are like rungs in a ladder ever leading me up to a higher understanding filled with compassion. I too had some thoughts about 2016 which I like to dub “Sweet Sixteen”. I wrote this New Year’s eve.
I often wonder where old years go. It’s almost like the weight you lost; where does it go? One moment it’s 2015 and the next it’s 2016; tonight an entire year disappears and upon rising tomorrow a new one will already have taken its place. Just another mystery that makes living life an adventure.
Years are not meant to stay, they pause to flip through their months and then quietly ride off into the sunset. My Mom once said, “When a task looks too big and daunting, chip away at it in small pieces until it’s all gone.” Just maybe that’s what Days are all about; take each one treasure it and live it to the fullest. Savor the moments, laugh and cry with neighbors, friends and family, give thanks and care for the fragile earth created by the hand of God, scatter joy where ever you travel and remember patience, grace, mercy, and love win out every time.
Happy New Year is too big a bite so I’ll just say, Happy New Tomorrow and blessed may it be.
Savor the moments sounds about right. Happy new tomorrow is good.
Nancy Roe says
Your story echoes mine. I have been literally physically broken too. This is good! Thank you!
Broken yet whole. God meets us there, yes.
Lina Rochette Hill says
I just love the way you write! Don’t stop. It pains such a visual masterpiece. Thank you so much for your amazing vulnerability. My husband suffers from bipolar disorder also & you have given me even more insight. 2015 brought me chronic migraines & other hormonal issues for my 50th year so it was a wild ride for us both. Thank you for your courage. It is so very encouraging to the rest of us. God truly is in the weakness. I found that too! God bless you dear girl.
That’s a lot to deal with. Chronic migraines are no joke and mental illness of any kind is such a beast to deal with both individually and for loved ones but you’re so right. God is most present when we are most available and nothing creates availability like lack. Thank you for sharing your story with me and for your sweet words.
Gail Noe says
Love this! It speaks loudly to the wondrous work God is doing in me. My holidays were slowed down, no traditions. The blessed focus became more about Him. His love in coming and the way He came. His grace that I need every breath. I saw Him as Lord for a very long time, but now I am seeing a Savior at every turn. I see the amazement of Christ in ME, the hope of glory. Thankfulness, forgiveness, new eyes, new ears,………………..
Slowed down can be such a gift. It’s amazing how God reveals Himself to us in so many different facets as we grow in Him. Love that you had such a beautiful Christmas season and that God was ever present to you!
Joy Lenton says
Oh yes, Alia, we are made weak and broken into beauty and your words are breathtakingly beautiful in their flow. Weakness isn’t for the faint-hearted if it is to be borne well and you bear it like a crown. God is certainly manifesting His strength and grace through all you’ve experienced. The wonder is how such a wondrous gift of writing as you have isn’t seen as your primary spiritual gift. I think it is, as is the empathy and genuineness pouring out of your words. We hear you, my friend, loud and clear. Sickness may have made you sad and stolen much, but it has also left its mark with the very human touch you bring to describing your walk with God. Thank you for sharing and helping us to feel less alone with our own weakness and pain. Blessings of health and strength to you! 🙂 x
Isn’t that the irony, weakness isn’t for the faint-hearted? And yet we’re made strong through Christ most often when we’re at our weakest. Such profound grace there. You bless me again and again. I’ve said it before and it bears repeating, your gift is encouragement and speaking life into people when they’re struggling or hurting or feeling invisible. I am so very thankful for your presence in my life, friend.
Pinterest worthy can cause a whole level of shame inducing anxiety that I cannot even deal with. I like it for ideas and inspiration but yes, it can feel like a whole lot of not measuring up. And you need to be gentle with yourself because yes, just being alive sometimes is a miracle all it’s own. I’m glad you’re feeling free from all that and able to start this new year with grace and the right-now-beauty that is available to you.
Beth Williams says
This is beautifully written! Sometimes God has to slow us down to get our attention!! He will take any measure needed for us to shift gears and see the beauty that is all around us!! To often we get wrapped up in celebrations, to-do lists, etc. and forget why we celebrate Christmas. God wants us Him and if pain, or a slowing down is the only way He can get us to bring our focus back to Him then He will use that!!
I loved this: No resolution will ever complete what grace has already done for me. His grace is something so amazing and we need to revel in it!