Bear Witness: You Have Seen God

Bear Witness: You Have Seen God November 1, 2018
Photo by David Dibert on Unsplash

My word of the day app keeps opening to the word fenestrated. I look up the definition because while I consider myself well read, fenestrated is a jumble of foreign syllables to me. It says provided with a window or windows. I look out the windows.

The dark still awaits the break of dawn and the moon everyone is posting on Instagram is nowhere to be seen. I don’t know why my view is lacking, but it is. There is nothing but endless pitch, darkness in my eyes.

I look again at the app on my phone. Alternate meaning: having perforations, apertures, or transparent areas. This makes more sense to me. This word for my day. Maybe the word for my life.

I twist the top of my prescription bottle and shake out the antipsychotic I’m prescribed. I shake out a Xanax because last night I faced my tormentor. My own broken mind, a hive of fury unleashed with such force, I was spitting rage one moment and then a collapsed mass of tears. How can pain come so swiftly when it seemed moments before I had seen the face of God? Nighttime recedes but the dark remains.

I feel sad and tired again. The medicine is working because I’m making my descent back to ordinary. But I’m coming in hot. I write on Instagram that my mind is turbulent, like an airplane making its descent through gathering storm clouds. Like one minute you’re drinking your complimentary beverage, eating your bag of peanuts, excited about your destination, and the next, the warning light is telling you to stay seated and buckle up while your stomach somersaults and you wonder if you updated your will in case you crash.

The medicine is working but I don’t really want it to, even though I know it must.

For almost ten days I was capable. Not weak, not tired, not downy brained like my synapses were packed kindly away in cotton wool for safekeeping.

No, I was a mind on fire, ablaze with thoughts and words humming steadily like an orchestra only I could hear. They oozed out and dripped down my fingers, my keyboard devouring them greedily, the page filling with story, a receptacle for my language of hope.

Most nights I only needed two or three hours sleep before I’d spring from my bed with a lusty ambition to conquer the world. Some nights I didn’t sleep at all but instead dove headfirst into my regular day.

Josh would find me in the morning, my side of the bed still made, still cold, my body absent, my mind maybe more so. He’d come to the living room and see me in the same place he’d left me the night before, my fingers like angel wings, anointed and flying across the keys.

I filled my notebook and my hand never bothered to cramp. Or if it did, I didn’t feel it. I forgot to eat and wasn’t hungry when everyone else ate dinner. I’ll eat later, I’d say or I’m right in the middle of this thought, and then I’d plunge back into my work. I have two chapters left of my book to write and my deadline approaches. It made sense to harness the power of this mania and use it to carry me to the finish line, even while I faithfully took medicine to subdue my stride.

And all the while I chatted with writer friends on Voxer, my voice spinning through my throat at a faster pace like a record set on fast forward. We talked about marketing and platform and how to get our books into the actual hands of readers when they hit the bookshelves. Each of us with small faithful readers but nothing to brag about in terms of large platform or celebrity. We talked about hard asks and the vulnerable obedience of putting ourselves out there hoping our words will be needed.

I emailed two large influencers, at my publishers request, to do the awkward ask of early endorsements and forewords. I heard, silence. Every day I’d check my email to see if I got a reply but there was nothing. So I figured no answer was in itself, an answer.

I was proud of myself for not taking it personally, for not letting the voices of doubt climb too readily into my head. I know writers are busy, it happens. I remained hopeful, buoyant, my feet never fully touched the ground, my toes skittering about as I did this hard work of producing. When doubt would come and I worried, I’d push harder into the manuscript, I’d make it better. I’d make it perfect.

I clung to my enlarged capacity and imagined how different my life would be if it remained. This hypomanic thrust of energy makes me believe I am the woman I was created to be. I see God. I am unafraid. This is the hardest part of bipolar. Knowing it can’t and won’t last. That the meds will bring me back to some kind of salivific ordinary and if I refuse them, I know the descent into madness too.

I know how lethal the days are when full blown mania or blood leeching depression takes hold and demands your whole soul. I know a mixed state of bipolar friction will leave continents adrift, a pull of tectonic plates shifting my hours to little earthquakes while everything shatters at my feet.

I know brokenness. I know what it means to be poor in spirit. I wrote a whole book about it. It’s my exploration of the empty and vulnerable places where I’ve seen God. It bears witness to a small and humble ministry of weakness, his goodness in all of the places you’d never expect it.

Only I don’t want it right now. I don’t want to see God’s goodness because it costs something to confront our beggarliness. To know our need. I am three rooster crows cackling in the wind as I forget what it is to only want for Jesus.

On the tenth day, I feel my meds splinter the mania, I know immediately they’re working. I feel sad and tired, like a balloon sagging wearily after the party guests have all gone home and you’re left in the quiet. The orchestra has broken strings. I feel the souls of my feet firmly planted on the cold hard floor beneath me but my knees buckle. My hand aches from the burden of words.

I feel the pain again. It comes like a flood and I cannot catch my breath in the tempest.

I’m scared. I don’t know what to do when I feel this way but muscle memory drives my tongue and fingers back to the keyboard and I type out my confession of hope. I tweet

Vulnerability isn’t just no makeup selfies, or letting someone see our piles of laundry, or dirty floors. True vulnerability is a confession of the places where we doubt, the places where we’re not sure God is going to heal or touch or show up in. It’s the places we worry will always remain a little too broken, a little too human, a little too frail for polite company and pristine Sunday mornings. It’s admittance that on our own we are lacking, desperate, in need. True vulnerability says, I believe, help my unbelief and goes on to tell the story of how, if we’re honest, we all reach our fingertips towards hope, grasping for a hem to make us whole again.

I send it out to the world and try to fit my head on a pillow that won’t receive my frenzied thoughts. When I wake in the morning, I know which combinations of meds to try. I am ever grateful for psychiatrists who give out their cell phone number.

At 3 am, my eyes shot open and a few hours of restless sleep evicted me. I dragged myself to the living room where I pondered the word fenestrated and thought about the areas of transparency I couldn’t even bother to hide, the punctures where I was leaking air.  I prayed, Lord, why? Why won’t you let me stay whole? Why do you keep leaving me? Where are you, Jesus?

I worried about being able to find words to finish well. The doubt crashed against my bones, a tidal wave of insecurity, weakness, and lack. How will I ever get the things done I need to with such a small capacity? I’ve tasted my own strength and I want it more than anything. How I lust for my own glory, to put my hand to the plow and work myself into a fine sweat and show God how faithful I am.

I look back at my twitter feed. I see this tweet from the night before. I don’t even remember typing it out.

The Lord God has given me the tongue of disciples, that I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word. He awakens me morning by morning, He awakens my ear to listen as a disciple. Isaiah 50:4 

How do you remain fluent in the language of hope?

Sometimes we sit with God in the dark. I am a disciple of words, of reminders, of altars in the world that set my eyes back on my Savior who comes for me again and again.

Later that afternoon, my phone started buzzing like it birthed a nest of stinging pests. My tweet was being retweeted again and again. My vulnerability a last grasp at Jesus’ hem, resonated with a community of believers who bolstered my spirit and confirmed that this message was not only wanted but needed.

And I realized, God didn’t make me wrong. My vulnerability isn’t a liability. It’s an invitation to taste and see God as he really is. Our everything. Our ransom and our great prize.

The anxiety remained but now it had context. I may fear being capsized on a tiny vessel but Jesus can build or destroy platforms in a second on words tossed out in the midst of despair and agony or at the peak of jubilee. It didn’t take mania or strength to surrender to God. It took weakness. Those words never belonged to me in the first place.

I am a child playing at sandcastles and trying to keep safe on the shore when He is the master of the waves and the wind. How easy it is to doubt we’ve ever been called to step out onto the water and reach our hand to Jesus trusting he won’t let us drown.

My inbox and DM’s started to fill up with people’s shared stories. I say in my book, our honesty is our invitation. And then I felt that old familiar nudge. I don’t always trust my feelings, they’re savage and treacherous when I’m not well. I needed only recall the night before when I stared at the screen and couldn’t imagine that anyone would ever want a single word from me. Couldn’t imagine that my presence in this world was still required by a single soul. I felt unseen and ignored. But this was something different. Something I’ve learned to pay attention to.

This was the voice of God. I can only explain it as an idea and an agitation, a pebble in my shoe I can’t shake loose that blisters me until I heed it. Until I pull it off and walk tender footed before God.

I thought about the direct messages and emails I’ve received over the years and felt the nudge to share about it. I hadn’t showered. I had cried most of the day and my eyes were puffy and red. I had no makeup and was still wearing pajamas but I went on Instagram live and shared clumsily about the night before, like so many nights of unrelenting brokenness and I shared how sometimes we get to see God come close and say, I’ve got this. The retweets and recognition didn’t matter as much as the message God was showing me. How merciful and present and kind he is even in the midst of our despair. Even in the midst of our doubt and our fumbling awkward prayers cast about in the middle of the storm.

And 6 people watched while I cried through half of it. It was raw and unpolished and honestly not very good. My body shook from anxiety and the cocktail of medicine rocked my neurons like a lullaby making my speech awkward and rambling. And then it ended and I wondered why I thought that was a good idea. And then a bubble popped up above my feed notifying me there was a private message.

It was a girl who commented on my blog before and I know struggles with mental illness too. She was sitting all alone in her house trying to figure out how many pills would end the agony. She was trying to find wording for her suicide note on her phone. And just then, the Instagram live button alerted her I was live. She tuned in and Jesus came for her. He came for her and reminded her she’s not alone. And then she reached out to me because she’d lost her language of hope, she needed someone to speak it to her in slow syllables, she needed someone fluent in her pain so she could hear that native tongue and grasp hold. She called her doctor.  She called her loved ones. I checked back in. She said to pass it on, to speak her new words to others even as she stumbles about in the dark and seeks help for her sorrow.

And then I cried. I fell to the ground and worshiped. I don’t need my own strength. God’s is enough. He comes for us. He fills our mouths with praise, he gives us our psalms and our lament and our great wild hope. Being poor in spirit is the birthplace of all grace. I know it well.

I write the reminders.

I wrote over 2,000 words tonight and I cried through every single one. I know we say to write from our scars, not our wounds. But sometimes, sometimes, God says no. Sometimes Jesus says, bear witness to my goodness while you’re still limping because you have seen God.

Originally published on Jan 31, 2018
About Alia Joy
Alia Joy is an author who believes the darkness is illuminated when we grasp each other's hand & walk into the night together. She writes poignantly about her life with bipolar disorder as well as grief, faith, marriage, poverty, race, embodiment, and keeping fluent in the language of hope. Her first book, Glorious Weakness: Discovering God In All We Lack, is available for pre-order now. Sushi is her love language and she balances her cynical idealism with humor and awkward pauses. She lives in Central Oregon with her husband, her tiny Asian mother, her three kids, a dog, a bunny, and a bunch of chickens. You can read more about the author here.

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