This post is part of a series telling a longer story. You can find part 1- I Am From White Also, But Not Only here and Standing at the Margins: I Don’t Belong here and You’re Good Enough here. It makes more sense if you read them in order but I get that you probably also have a life and may not have the time to read 5,000+ words. Carry on.
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 it’s burdens into the cool dark of night, sun slipping lazily in the sky. And darkness gives 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 4 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. Josh said to write the reminders. So this is me cut open, rings showing. This busted open trunk is my altar to remember.
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 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 broken-hearted 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 was clutching the door a little lighter.
God is well pleased with me.
How can that be? I mean, truly? But there it is, when I look at the reminders on days when my eyes go weak, I see nothing but His grace and gentle kindness. I see love poured out again and again. I see a God who thinks I’m worthy of being seen and Jesus showed up for me. Again and again, God shows up and says I see you.
I see roots that used to be flimsy and unearthed so easily have grown down in the darkest places and broken open and that crushed seed, too small of an offering to ever amount to anything, has found it’s way back to light.
God is well pleased with me.
Last year my one word was nourish. I wrote one post on it with the intention of writing more about it. I didn’t. The bad days came again and again. My body broke and it was beautiful grace that my mind didn’t follow.
I reflected back on the year that I had and contrasted that with the year I imagined.
I had imagined the year to be one of growth, upward and onward. I was going to exercise and eat healthy. I was going to write more and better than ever before. I thought when I chose the word nourish it would mean God was nourishing the hunger in me, that I would be full. I didn’t realize that the nourishment would be for my family and the small secret places no one sees. The places that don’t get Instagrammed or blogged about. God was firming up roots in the storm.
This year God is doing a new thing but I won’t be surprised if we circle back now and again.
I belong here.
I wrote this in yesterday’s post, “ The biggest battle to get words to the page is believing you’ve got a story worth hearing. That you are enough to show up for.”
I think it’s safe to say it resonated with people because it doesn’t matter if you’re biracial or poor or uneducated or overweight or have mental illness or chronic illness or you’re just flaky. It doesn’t matter if the only muffin top you have is with your decaf soy latte on the way to your important job and you have so many letters dripping off the end of your name you can’t fit them on your embossed business cards and you’ve never gotten an angry red cutoff notice from the water company, because we all wander from our true identity.
The lies that this could not be our true identity lurks beneath everything we do and are. It shouts into the fear like a raging wind or whispers it into those quiet thoughts, you are not good enough.
Why do we doubt we have a place? Why do we doubt we’re worthy of being seen? What are we so afraid of?
My greatest fear is no longer that God is good, but that I am. Am I good enough?
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.
My true self is showing up, those rings are expanding, everything is tender with new growth.
I came home from the Author’s Retreat for People of Color with fire in my bones. It lasted two days and then I sat down to start writing.
And it was the hardest writing I’ve ever done. Not necessarily the best, or the most polished, or the most profound, but my true self was showing up and I wasn’t hushing her and telling her she was stupid and to sit back down.
I am fingers bent forward over the keyboard prostrate in worship as I type out my love song, a song of the beloved and seen. I am a writer’s frenzy, an anthem of freedom when I shake them loose. I am skins shedding and breaking bark. I am circles overlapping and widening and growing toward light and every part of it hurts.
Remind me, Lord? Am I good enough? Who do you say that I am?
I am God’s beloved and He is well pleased with me.
I am a tsunami of tears for days on end.
On the third day I was on twitter as some who are avoiding writing are apt to do, and I saw this tweet from a friend of mine who invited me to come speak at a conference in Portland.
I met A.J. Swoboda at a speakers dinner and there were a bunch of us gathered together having the kind of conversation that makes my mind and heart feel full and happy. He has a new book out called The Dusty Ones and it’s about wandering. The tweet caught my eye.
“The most effective pulpits aren’t sturdy wood, they are broken people.”
— Alia Joy (@AliaJoyH) March 1, 2016
I went on scrolling through the rabbit hole that is social media.
And then A.J. Swoboda tweeted back to ask if we had met at Faith and Culture Writer’s Conference in Portland and I said yes, and how I was looking forward to reading his book.
@AliaJoyH You’re actually in the book. In the intro. Not by name. But by inspiration.
— A.J. Swoboda (@mrajswoboda) March 1, 2016
So, if this was some kind of book selling scheme, A.J’s cornered the market, because who wouldn’t want to read what someone wrote about them? Because I had already preordered, Amazon delivered it into my hot little hands the next morning.
We already know I cry, I was even crying in the acknowledgements. It’s what I do. I never used to. I think maybe I stored tears for too long and I’m making up for lost time.
It has been a year since that conference and that conversation when I confessed to A.J. that I’m small, that sometimes there are five readers but those readers feel less alone when I write. I feel less alone when I write. Not only because of the people who read, but because of the God who sees.
I cried because I had just spoken my guts out in my session about The Art of Truth Telling and I came weak and empty and God spoke anyway.
I cried because I am good enough because God sees me.
A.J. could’ve googled my name or asked someone from the conference, or found me on twitter. I am so glad he didn’t. I am so glad my name escaped him because I didn’t need to know God saw me a year ago, I knew it then. But those cycles and circles and seasons of growth, they come back on you. I needed the reminder today.
God sees you. You are good enough. You are beloved. Write down the reminders. And then have yourself a good long ugly cry. #moaningMyrtle
I’m done with this series. These 5,000+ words felt like
an introduction giving birth and learning to walk and speak and breathe again. I’m sharing next steps in my semi-private newsletter so be sure to sign up if you haven’t already and thanks so much for journeying with me. I love you all. You make me cry in the best possible ways.