The nights you can see only your shame

It was two in the morning and I was wide awake. My body was exhausted. It felt as though my lungs were made of bricks, heavy and full. If I tried to get out of bed, I knew I would tip over.

I could see my failures play like a movie in front of me. It was as if there was a projector reeling videos on my white wall beside me -- everything was abundantly clear. There I was: failing, sinning, screwing up again and again. I sat on my bed and watched the movie clips play in my head.

Tears streamed.

"I am a failure," I told Jesus. "Look at all of the times I have failed you. Look at the moments I chose to ignore you. Look at this pile of shame."

I was small and cold and sad. But I didn't feel alone. It was 2 am, and I felt like Jesus was sitting there beside me.

I felt like soft clay. My hardened edges were long gone. I was too tired to carry them with me any longer. In my softness I heard these words, "You have to grieve these moments. See them all and grieve them, Aliza. But once you're done grieving you need to move past them, and know that they do not define you."

I wanted to be strong, not weak. Grieving felt too vulnerable. Couldn't I skip the grieving stage and simply move on to the part where I was fine again?

But it's in these moments -- the 2 am moments -- where my anxiety and shame creep in and reveal to me the state of my heart. I was not fine -- I was ashamed and untethered, barely holding on to anything or anyone. And Jesus knew what I needed: I need to see my shame and grieve -- only so I could truly move on towards healing and freedom. I needed to see all of it so I could finally leave it behind.

When the movie reel had finished playing in my head, I saw another picture: Jesus, taking all of those moments, and wiping them away. He was healing me, slowly. He was healing me, not by my own strength, but through a tenderness I could hardly stand.

I woke up the next morning, tired but not afraid.

I was clean, I was fresh, I had been entirely made new.

And I am healing.

The woman on the way to Georgia

You sat next to me on Thursday evening.

I was beside the window, purposely, so I could go to sleep. And you sat next to me and you took out your Kindle, and we were silent while people hurried to find their seats around us.

I forget who smiled first. Probably you, because I had a plan to go to sleep and I really wasn't in the mood for talking. But you smiled, so I gave you a smile in return because I didn't want you to think me rude, and you asked me where I was going so I told you.


And you?


The honest truth is, I didn't want you to ask me any more questions. I was tired, you know? Tired, and I think a bit nervous, but I was trying hard not to dwell on that. I leaned my head back against the chair and I thought about closing my eyes if only to give you the hint.

But then you looked at me and you looked so kind. I kept my eyes open.

You asked me, "What do you do?"

With that seemingly unimportant question you gave me options for my life. What did I do? I thought for a moment, weighing the syllables heavy between my lips. I could tell you anything. A barista, a student, a daughter, a sister. An astronaut, a ballerina, a botanist, a child prodigy.

I told you I'm a writer.

"What do you write?"

She believed me! I thought. You didn't even question if I was a real writer or not. You made me feel less like a fraud.

I told you how I'm scratching out words for a novel, and I explained my blog and (in)courage, and then you asked me what I wrote about. Before I realized what I was saying, I heard myself explaining about my mom. 

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"She was sick." I told you. "But God healed her. I wrote a little about that."

I saw your face and I knew. Because you were looking at me in that way and I knew you knew cancer, too.

I waited for you to tell me about it. I wasn't so tired anymore.

"I was sick as well," you said. "Three years ago. I actually had cancer twice. The second time it came back six months after the first, but God healed me too."

You've had a hard few years. You talked to me about how you miscarried the day you were first diagnosed. You're only thirty-five years old.

You have a good husband, and you love God, and now you have beautiful 5-month-old twin girls. You told me their names, and one is the same as my older sister. You and I laughed, and I felt tears sneak into my eyes a few times during that airplane ride. It was dark, so you couldn't see. Although I'm sure you wouldn't have been surprised.

You're lovely and extraordinary and kind. You should know that.

And lovely, extraordinary people do still exist, let me tell you, even though somedays I have forgotten that. But you reminded me. And without knowing it, you have extended me a hope beyond which I ever thought could be extended.

I hope you rock your precious girls to sleep tonight, and I hope they grow up knowing how remarkable you are. I hope your husband kisses you often, and I hope he makes you laugh so hard tears slip down uncontrollably. I hope you continue trusting God who loves you more than anyone, and I hope you keep telling your story -- your beautiful, painful, extraordinary story.

Thank you, at least, for telling me.

the story of her strength


I saw the scars on her wrists, her arms, her shoulders. Tiny marks she had tattooed to herself, as she ripped the blade into the depths of her skin.

I don’t cut. I’ve never cut. The thought of cutting myself makes me wince, because pain isn’t something I’ve ever been very good at dealing with.

But she cut. And she’s smiling.

I try not to stare at the scars, because I don’t want to make her feel uncomfortable. And yet, I’m overwhelmed by their raw and tangible beauty. She’s standing there, smiling, scars on her arms and strength in her voice, and I see those scars not as shattered flesh, but as things that tried to kill her, and yet didn’t - and there she stands, tall and victorious.

And she is strong.

She doesn’t cut anymore. Instead she smiles. She smiles a lot, actually.

And those scars bear proof of her strength. She may think them ugly, but I think they’re beautiful. 

Her scars tell the story of her struggle, but they also tell the story of her strength. 

I think our scars and our struggles and our strength go right there, hand in hand, and that beauty comes from the depths of our pain. It is real and it is human. And maybe that’s why the scars are so beautiful to me. Perfection is incredibly unattainable, isn’t it? It’s something so many of us desperately strive for, and yet it’s simply a facade no one can possibly keep up.

But raw, broken, scar-worthy beauty? That’s human. That’s real. And that’s beautiful.

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I look at her again, and this time I don’t see the scars, or even the smile that lights up her entire face. Instead, I see a girl who once was broken, and now is on her way towards becoming whole. Who once needed the companionship of a razor blade to feel complete, and now rests in the comfort of Jesus. Who once thought seclusion was the only way to live, and now knows authentic relationships with people brings healing.

She is the face of one girl, but she represents so many.

We as people, young or old or in the middle, can share - not only about our scars, our struggles and our strength - but about the hope that is formed in the midst of it all.

Our scars tell the story of our struggle, but more than that, they tell the story of our strength.