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.Leave a Comment
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
Thank you for sharing the raw, unfiltered, beautiful, delighted in, YOU! I am a “hot mess” as well. Having lived with episodes of ocd and depression, I know that of which you speak. I, too, am “flakier than the wood man” (love this). But even though we repeat cycles that we would rather not repeat, our stormy side, I believe, produces in us a compassion and deep care for others that would not be there otherwise. We tend not to live life on the surface, but dare to go to the deep places. Deep places in others that need love, understanding, and healing. I think the fact you’ve had to deal with bipolar depression gives you an empathy for others that you might not have otherwise. You know how to love well. And, isn’t this truly what life is all about? Loving others well….loving like Jesus loves. The greatest commandment, as Jesus said is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind and to love others like you love yourself.” That’s what Jesus did – He loved others well and He was able to do so because He knew pain and suffering. Each cycle with suffering that we go through builds perseverance, perseverance builds character, and character, hope. That hope does not disappoint. Beautiful post Alia….love your pierced but oh so caring heart!
Amen! Your heart said what mine struggles to get out!
Alia Hagenbach says
Bev, thank you for your compassionate and encouraging heart and your willingness to faithfully be here in the comments championing our words and our faith. I so appreciate you, lady.
I love this Bev. You write beautufully but most importantly from your . Blessings to you
thanks for this post. I’m in the midst of a grief struggle tied up with physical illness from being rundown. Physical illness has plagued me, thank you crummy sinuses, for my whole life. I do the exhaustion, sickness, bad days followed by the I feel Good, Let’s Go, oops I did too much, days. So in many ways, I relate. I struggle with being kind to myself. There’s so Much to do and I’m So Far Behind and no one Gets It. So Thank You for Getting It even though our stories are different. Your raw humanity blesses those of us who needed a kind sister to come alongside and say, “It’s OK to be Really imperfect and dependent on God. It’s what He cherishes!” And the rest of the world can march all orderly and looking good. Good for them. We do march to a different drummer. Our own physical/emotional struggles seem to control the beat, but really it’s God’s Drumbeat of Love. We will march to That!
Blessings on you and yours.
Alia Hagenbach says
It is ok. And yes, I’ll march alongside you because I’m usually bringing up the rear. 😉
Cindy Oliver says
Some of us clean up better, but we all come starving and empty to grace. This statement says it all. This is so true! Thank you for being honest, and transparent. I tire from going thru seasons. I tell everyone that at my age, and all that I’ve been thru, I feel that my life should be perfect…without bumps in the road. Ha ha! But with each of these seasons, and bumps, I learn to depend on Him more, and I grow closer to God. AND those around me witness what happens when I let go and let God be in control.
If our lives were perfect, our children would not be who they are today. They learn from us. I don’t want a perfect life if it means that my witness for what God has worked in my life will not exist.
Alia Hagenbach says
If only we could “arrive” but those bumps in the road do offer the opportunity to depend more, grow more, and know God better. And you’re so right, others get to witness it. Thanks for sharing here, Cindy.
PY Pyshora says
Julie Garmon says
Beautiful. Just beautiful!
I so appreciate your vulnerability and the gift of your sharing! It encouraged me greatly today! THANKS and have fun with that driving permit! 🙂
Alia Hagenbach says
Thank you for being here, I’m so glad you were encouraged. And the driving! It might just be the death of me. I’m sending him to drivers ed because I might just kick a whole in the floorboards of my car trying to stomp on my imaginary brake. 😉
This was amazing. You have touched me and helped me to see so much in just a few minutes. I love the line “some of us just clean up better than others, but we all come starving and empty to grace.” In a world of social media, when people only show their “highlight reels” it makes so many of us feel inadequate or unworthy but this line helped me so much. It doesn’t matter if I can’t do what others are doing, if I can’t decorate my house like them, if my kids wear athletic clothes instead of the Kelly’s kids. To God we are all the same. You are amazing and your journey is inspiring others. Thank you!
Alia Hagenbach says
Oh social media. It is wonderful and horrible all at once. It’s so easy to compare and that gets us beyond nowhere. We’re all just doing the best we can and maybe others are in a different season or maybe they’re angling the camera so you only see the bright bits. Either way, in God’s eyes, we are all in need of grace just the same. Thanks for sharing and amen to athletic clothes!
Your post was beautiful, and so brave, thank-you for posting. Your son sounds very sweet and wise. Yesterday I started off with good intentions. By mid morning a misunderstanding with someone left me feeling like that limb. Later as I sat and read a piece my grandmother had made, these two words stood out, ‘God and light’.
I hope you all have a blessed day filled with an abundance of light……
Alia Hagenbach says
My son is an absolute gift and his heart is so tender. I’m often shocked by the wisdom and faith he’s beginning to show. I know all about starting off with good intentions. Hope you have a wonderful blessed day as well.
Love this vulnerable, eloquent and raw share…. blessings in your journey. And thanks for sharing your story!
Alia Hagenbach says
Thank you. I just turned 60 and have been going thru some really hard times. I’ve been feeling a lot lately like I’m not getting anywhere. Disappointed, disillusioned, disconnected. My heart yearns for wisdom and let’s face it if I haven’t gotten by 60 is that why I’m “stuck”?? Your words are from exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you.
Lately, especially after being in the deep dark emotional Valley of the Shadow, I have only started to emerge to be hit down again an unsuspecting adversary who truly wishes me harm. Sometimes I feel cursed and far from the love and favor and blessing of God. And then I remember, I remember, and even though I’m worn down to a pulp, I remember and I’m grateful. Perhaps God is stripping away all that needs to be taken away in my false ego and making me more aware amd thirsty with each day for his peace that I’m after and then everything will be added.
Melissa May says
I’ve always thought of my heart’s life’s terms of seasons, but never thought about growing like a tree. I love that! I love what your son said. And due to ADD I’m flakier than the wood man, too. My kids sigh but I guess like you said – they’re learning to give and hopefully receive grace and mercy by always needing to offer it to me. Thank you, sister.
Thank you! Your words are so encouraging!
Jolene Underwood says
Good, good stuff here, Alia. You are a beautiful writer and I’m so glad you keep on persevering through the hard days that wanna’ break everything in you. God keeps shining through and we’re all blessed because of it.
Your post hit so close to home that I couldn’t finish reading it. Maybe someday, but today is not it.
Kim Waguespack says
Alia, I can only pray that my children see God working through me the way your son sees God working through you. You are doing something so right when your 15 year old son observes, “Mom, when has God done anything glorious through you in a place that wasn’t scary and vulnerable?”
That just blows me away. Praising God for your words today, and as the mother of a soon-to-be driver, praying for your peace as you sit in the passenger seat.
As I typed that, God put it on my heart that we all need to sit in the passenger seat and let Him drive. Jesus take the wheel! Amen!
Alia, I would have to agree with Kim about what a blessing it would be to have our kids see God working thru us as your son can see happening with you. He sounds like he has a lot of soul that one! I pray your relationship with him remains close as he enters some interesting years for boys ( I have an 18 and a 21 year old!). And I love your beautiful analogy of the rings of a tree…going to think on that one and your lovely words about that for awhile. Blessings to you and your family!
I found your article timely. As I navigate through life I am learning at 55 how to be somewhat kind to myself. I have been my own worse enemy for so long I find it hard to love me. Your article of truth and grace was refreshing and it reminded me to let go and let God. As a mentor to many women I will be sharing this piece quite a bit. Thank you for your vulnelnerbility. It brings me to a place of peace. Praying for you and your family and for each woman that reads your article.
Rebecca L Jones says
We all come to the table starving for His grace. He doesn’t see us a mess, but a tree of righteousness, we have to stay rooted and groundend in the storms of life, and there’ll be many rings. He plants us by still waters, He restores our soul. Don’t be afraid to ride with your son, I just heard that’s the best place to talk to teens. You can’t expect boys or men to always understand a woman’s mind and heart but Jesus does and you offer so much in your beautiful writing. God bless.
Crystal Storms says
“Some of us just clean up better, but we all come starving and empty to grace.”
Alia, these words confirm what God is speaking to my heart. I think of some sins as unpardonable, but some of us just clean up better. I forget I’m the one empty and starving for the love our God so lavishly He pours out. Thank you for sharing. : )
Alia, thank you for this beautiful and tender posting of the Lord’s words from the heart-needed such a gentle reminder to persevere today. How good He is to us in the broken, the joys, the heavy weights that plague some days in exhaustion, victories, rest, forgiveness. I have more physical and emotional problems than one can shake a stick at, barky “flakes” flying and all, and am grateful for the gracious reminder of how the Lord fills and pours out through our broken the love that is needed in the rings of the world. Its how He so gently grows each of us, “all come starving and empty to grace”, filling our begging earthen, cracked vessels as we carry His dying and new life. So amazed by your son’s grace-filled wisdom and love, how it speaks of your courageous and gentle, mothering love that the the Lord gives you thorough the broken that leads to surrender in His arms. Its amazing to see His work in each person here, in the spirals of their posts that touch each of us with His mercies. May we each tuck ourselves into His grace-filled, abundantly forgiving, soft yet strong arms today, hearing Him whisper His love to our souls for the pouring 🙂
NANCY ROE says
As always, LOVE, LOVE LOVE!! your words, your heart, your gift, and your life!! Thank you!
Beth Williams says
Thank you and God bless for opening up and being honest about a touchy subject. Most people live life on the surface. “I’m fine thank you,” afraid to go deep and expose themselves to this cruel world. As believers we need to love like Jesus loved and go deep into those crevices that they hold near and dear–kind of like empathizing with the person. I do that with friends dealing with aging parents. I have been there done that and have lots of sympathy!
Michele Morin says
I call it a merry-go-round, and I wonder if it will ever stop circling, but you have introduced a new way of thinking here, my friend. Thank you so much.
Carol Hiestand says
i have always thought as I follow your writing your children are learning things valuable to them. And I see it again here in your writing.
I really appreciate your honesty in writing about what it’s like living with bipolar. It is helpful to me.
I too think your experience gives you a voice and a way to minister to others in ways I could not. I have had much loss in my life and have found as I have worked on the grief journey, I can be there for people in grief in a way others cannot because they just can’t. I wouldn’t choose the losses as you probably wouldn’t choose your struggles, but as we learn in our own journeys, at some point we have a purpose for others. It doesn’t start out like that though. There is a circling around and getting to a place where most days we can be there for others. Somedays we can’t and I have learned to accept that.
than you again for your story. And i love the idea of growth as rings on a tree!
Your writing and honesty are beautiful and I see and FEEL His spirit flow across the page in your artful, battle-scarred words. Thank you.
Jessica Bates says
I’m trying to find the words that have tears welling up to streaming. “Thank you,” and “me too,” come to mind first. My cycle and the reasons are different, PMDD and my internal hormone calendar (is it bad to look forward to menopause?), but when you describe the down days, yeah – that’s uncomfortably familiar. The perspective, your children learning mercy through the dark and the raw, I needed that too. Those aren’t the lessons we hope to convey to our kids. Compassion, yes, but through watching me live it and give it to others, not be the one who has to receive it myself. (Oh, pride- when will you die already?) I need to learn that one about giving mercy to myself. Deep breath.
But I love the way you speak of cycles and rhythms, which He’s been teaching me too, and and that growth is circular and inward. I’ve been trying to find a good way to convey that in our Walk Agape training. I’d love to chat about how we could quite that and give you and incourage appropriate due.
Thank you again, friend. I needed this today. Shining some light in the dark; may the darkness flee from it.
Kim Ellis says
Thank you for sharing your heart and your struggle. This is so beautiful. It so clearly expresses my heart and how I felt raising my son. I had what we now call PTSD after the back-to-back loss of my brother and my husband. I was totally out to sea for years. My sweet boy saw me desperately search for God, wrestle with God, praise God, and do it all over again and again and again. Now, as a grown man, he tells me how much fun he had growing up. And he always tells me he loves me. And he is one of the most God loving, compassionate souls you’d ever meet. Someday, with God’s amazing grace, I hope to fully forgive myself for the bad times. I’m getting closer.
It took me 2 days to sit and read this post. This explains so well the words I can’t find on my own – to God or my family & friends. Depression, family stuff, work, church stuff all have become the “wood man” in my life. Living them in circles have made me so tired, so ready to throw in the towel and sleep in for next few years.
Oh but grace! God opened my eyes to your post as well as the last few from (in)courage. My tears have given a sweet release from the pent of frustration.
Writing reminders of the positives is a great new start & I thank you for the idea. I hate journaling! I looked back one day and all I saw was begging and struggling- books and books of it. My daughter always reminds me to see the positive things I’ve done when I’m having a pity party or being indecisive.
Thank you for your witness. Praying God’s strength & blessings for your journey.
Tabitha Deller says
I cannot express my gratitude enough for this post and God’s timing in leading me to it. Your words have directed me straight to His word and the truths that He has been repeatedly speaking to my heart, and I have been repeatedly complacent to their power and authority in my life. He is speaking to me in a very cyclic, circular way, and your opening paragraph confirmed His message. I still don’t have it all figured out, probably never will the side of heaven, but I have been encouraged more than you can imagine by your vulnerability and obedience to write this post. Thank you.
I love the tree rings as growth, and that we all come starving and empty to grace. I needed to hear this. Thank you for sharing. What a beautiful message.
I am 60 years old and since I was in high school I have had problems with anxiety. There were several good years when I had things under control and my husband and I were able to take a lot of nice day trips and also go on vacations. Then in 2007 I had a bad day with anxiety while we were several hundred miles from home. I was able to finish out that trip but then began to want to stick closer to home, but I was able to still do some of my normal activities. In 2011 I went through a period of illness and when I got through it the anxiety had kicked back in full force and I have missed a lot of family occasions, had to give up a part time job I held for years (although truth be told I was getting burned out anyhow). Fast forward five years later I am still sticking close to home but at least there are things I can do that were difficult like grocery shopping without feeling like I can’t be there due to the anxiety. My husband and I never had children and I look back and wonder what kind of life a child would have had with a mother like me so I think it is just as well that God did not bless me with a child. Now to top it off I have hearing problems which make it hard to communicate. But God is still God and whatever happens with the rest of my life, I will just take a day at a time and life will go on. The things that need to get done will get done. I will follow my friend’s lives on Facebook and we text each other. Each of us has our own challenges.
Lanna Webb says
Living with bipolar and OCD, I could totally relate to this article. Thanks for putting yourself out there!