I turned forty-one last week, and to be honest, it was a total crock. I woke up that morning and nothing had changed. Actually, I woke up at 4:55 that morning because that’s when my six-year-old lumbered into the room, ready to begin his day. My husband Jason was already downstairs in the boys’ room with our youngest, who–like his dad–prefers to sleep in. But our oldest, like me, has a body clock that runs on a cocktail of circadian rhythm and anxiety, and he was certain that the day should begin early.

I confess that, in my early-morning exhaustion, I wasn’t very nice to him. I explained, through gritted teeth and eventually a raised voice, that he must go back to sleep. That no he could not look at the iPad this early. He cried, I sighed, and we eventually fell asleep beside each other in our respective bad moods. Happy birthday to me. My first gift was, apparently, regret.

Along with sore muscles, bad knees, gray hair, and hormonal fluctuations, because getting older sucks. What might suck most of all about it, though, is this: I’m the same person I always was. What a disappointment. Even after forty-one journeys around the sun and heaps of grace, I still lose my temper with the kids, am overly obsessive about cleaning, take my husband for granted, feel anxious all the time, and want to end all my runs early. Why am I unloading the dishwasher? I asked myself on my birthday morning, bitterly, from our open-plan kitchen overlooking the water as my husband made our coffee and our healthy children waited for their breakfast.

Our six-year-old has a spectrum diagnosis and, despite the fact that he can tell you more than you could imagine about cars, countries, and watches, has just recently become fully proficient at toileting (excuse me while I drop some more cash into the jar for his future therapy bills when he reads this). Cue the rewards blitz we promised and a general celebratory atmosphere. When he was first diagnosed, I was (a) in denial and (b) eager to prove that this would not disrupt our lives, that he was more than a label, that everyone who misunderstood him was dead wrong. Some of which is true. But my hard-line stance proved, yet again, that regardless of of my lofty ideals, I will forever default to a theology of glory when it comes to everyday life. I procured therapists and enrolled him in school and waited for the upward trajectory while reality proved to be more two steps forward, one step back. Or one step forward, two steps back–whatever, he’s the math guy.

My kids get the brunt of my expectations and frustrations because, in my addled brain, they are a constant indicator of How I’m Doing As A Person, of how well I follow the law–in fact, I turn them into the law, rather than seeing them as the invitations into deeper grace that they truly are. That unspoken demand for progress and performance isn’t limited to my children, though–oh no. I heave its weight upon my own back, and others’, daily, even as I trumpet the amazingness of grace in my writing. I expect to move from success to success even as grace penetrates my soul most deeply through failure, through the steps back, through the early-morning regrets.

My favorite show from the late 90s (and yours, if you have two eyes and a heart) is Felicity. In her sophomore season, Felicity not only sported an unfortunate haircut but she also received a new theme song that asked if one could become a new version of herself. Steeped in grad school, personal insecurities, a lackluster love life, I blasted the song through my car’s CD player daily, repeating the question and turning my answer into a mantra–YES I CAN!

Cut to me at forty-one, new wallpaper and shoe leather notwithstanding, all “Eh. Maybe not?”

I finally got around to watching Nanette, and I was just as floored by it as everyone else in my comedian-heavy Twitter feed. Floored, discomfited, saddened, enraged…all of it. What started as a comedy routine–indeed, a comedy routine about abandoning comedy–stayed that while becoming more. Kind of like…me?

The Gospel takes the measurable change that our world encourages, the kind that can be captured in a Power Point or Facebook post, and makes it incremental, fleeting, one step forward and two steps back, all over the place–because, ultimately, the story is not about us anyway. What a disappointing relief.

This is the good news: that I’m not on an unfailingly constant upward trajectory of positive change, but that no matter what kind of day or year I’ve had, I’m both home and headed there, never- and ever-changing, and always, always loved.