If you’ve ever felt like you are going in circles, in cycles, in seasons, it’s because you are. We live a life of rhythms. Day easing its burdens into the cool dark of night, sun slipping lazily in the sky. And darkness giving way to dawn break and the rising hope of new mornings.
Our growth isn’t linear, it’s circular.
It bends back on itself and overlaps in loops and swirls and curves. We aren’t marching forward on a timeline so much as we’re adding rings to our core like aged oak, firming up roots, breaking bark raw like shedding skins, limbs reaching and stretching and yearning for light.
There are droughts and rings like slivers, scratching out our captivity like hash marks on a prisoner’s wall. There are monsoons when we soak up the earth and we drink so deeply and everything expands.
Children dance in soppy wet puddles and you see a bit of miracle in the aftermath when the storm clouds tuck themselves back into bright blue skies, because you’re still standing. The sun comes back out and people find you because you provide shade and a soft place to escape the scorch and blister of the growing years.
And then there are our ordinary days and those make you doubt growth the most. Because the world expects you to grow forward, march down a timeline. Do more, be more, have more.
You have traded in your beater car for an SUV, your one-bedroom apartment and a roommate for a four-bedroom house with walk-in closets situated in a nice neighborhood with good schools. We are a culture of upgrades, always moving forward, moving upward.
But God is not about upward mobility so much as inward expansion. God’s Kingdom lives in the ever widening rings, the core and the hollows. God’s Kingdom growth mostly happens on ordinary days.
I’ve written about the good days and the bad days. Life with bipolar disorder can make you feel like that’s all you’ll ever get. The highs and the lows and nothing in between. No steadiness to the rocking, swaying storms. To the dark nights and the blistering days. No respite from the mania and the thoughts that come feverish and frantic.
I live my life in cycles a day at a time. We all do, really. Mine are just more noticeable.
So I’m learning to pay attention. My husband said to write the reminders. So this is me cut open, rings showing. This busted open trunk is my altar to remember.
My true self is showing up, those rings are expanding, everything is tender with new growth.
The most vulnerable place to be is with your true self. The most powerful place to reclaim the Kingdom of God at work in your life and all around you is when your true self shows up.
He said it as a joke in passing. “You’re flakier than the wood guy, Mom.”
The wood guy? The guy who we contacted off of Craigslist for firewood who didn’t show up, not one weekend, but two, and who finally came with wood that wasn’t seasoned, hours after dark when he was supposed to arrive. I’m like that guy?
I wanted to argue with my fifteen-year-old son who was bringing up how we still hadn’t gone to get his driver’s permit even though he was halfway to sixteen.
But he was right and I knew it.
I have bad days. On those days, things don’t get done. On the good days, I’m always playing catch up. There is never enough of me to go around. This year I’m learning to be gentle to myself in the transitions.
Sometimes I joke about being a hot mess. But the truth is, there are limits to how often you want to show up at the table with no place to sit and nothing to offer. There are days you’re tired of being pitied. There are days when no one understands. There are days when I fear my own thoughts and I wonder if my children would’ve been so much better off without a mother who has so many bad days.
On my good days, I see they are tender and compassionate and kind, and it breaks me open that they’ve learned mercy by loving me. I wish it were different but it’s not. They’ve learned grace and the gospel by seeing my weakness again and again. They’ve learned that God does not despise a needy one, and the gospel invites the poor to the table in nothing but filthy rags.
Some of us just clean up better, but we all come starving and empty to grace.
It can’t get more gospel than captives being set free and the binding of the brokenhearted, and while we were sinners, before we were good enough, Christ died for me.
They see the poverty in me, the deep hunger, the desperation for God, and they know it’s not just about some Bible verses and making good life choices, it’s not about having it together or doing more for God. They know there is a holiness I long for, but it’s born in the surrender, in the ever expanding, not my will but yours. It’s born on the ordinary days, when I wonder Am I good enough? And God’s answer to me, when I write down the reminders, is I have made you good.
We went and got his driver’s permit (and now I fear for my life and stomp my foot on the passenger floorboard as if this can help save me) and I asked for forgiveness for the ways I’ve failed.
“Mom, you’re doing good. We all have our battles, and I was just joking. I love you,” and I remembered how when I was struggling last year about a decision that was scary and had me doubting myself he said, “Mom, when has God done anything glorious through you in a place that wasn’t scary and vulnerable?”
And as we drove off I clutched the door a little lighter. This journey looks familiar, I’ve been here before.