Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Life Lately: Killing my Garden & Self-Diagnosis

Ben and I began going to open houses just for kicks and giggles the fall right after we got married. We knew it would be quite a while until we could actually buy a house, but it was still fun to dream together. When Ben got his job at Citibank in January, though, that dream became much more real! I have my mother’s flair for decorating and was eagerly looking forward to making a house transform into the kinds of cozy homes my mom always provided for me. We moved in in April and although we’ve already dealt with some of the not so fun aspects of owning a home, it has been a joy taking care of something we can truly call our own.

When I knew I was going to have a yard, I got really excited about starting a garden. I have fond memories of watching my parent’s garden grow and thought “How hard can it be?” I will admit I got caught up in the magic of my childhood memories: the excitement of picking out just the right seeds with my dad at the store, watching him prepare the ground for planting, and pushing those tiny seeds into the ground with the hopes that they would grow into something wonderful. I can remember watching him come home over his lunch break and turning on the garden sprinkler to give the thirsty plants some water, marveling over the first green shoots that poked their tiny heads out of the dirt, picking the first fruits of all that labor.

What I don’t remember is doing any work! We had gardens when I was pretty young, so of course I didn’t participate in any of the hard work; I had dolls and make believe worlds to tend to! For a few summers I was in charge of watering the flower beds out front, but that chore took all but fifteen minutes of my time during the summer and mom and dad did all the weeding anyway! Now, before you go chasing after my parents for not making me work hard or instilling in me the value of a hard day’s work, I assure you they instilled those values in other ways J. But when it comes to gardens, I was pretty clueless about just how much work it takes to make anything grow.

And so, with magical childhood thoughts dancing through my head I announced to Ben that we should plant a garden. My sweet guy disassembled the broken swing set that the previous owners had left for us and transformed the frame into a garden bed, then prepared the ground for me. What a guy. A trip to the Home Depot came next and with a smile on his face he watched with amusement as I selected just the right seeds and tools we’d need for the garden. I researched which plants should live next to each other to help each other grow the best and then we got our hands dirty and just like I did as a kid, we pushed those tiny seeds into the ground and dreamed about the harvest that lay ahead.

Then I got pregnant and started working full time at the summer program, where I would spend 80% of my time outside at the pool or at the park.

I never knew the depths of what my mother went through four times in order to bring us into the world until I got pregnant myself. I never knew exhaustion until I experienced the first trimester! Even if I spent most of my time at the pool sitting on a lounge chair in the shade watching the kiddos splash around in the pool I would still come home feeling like I did a cross country workout. The last thing I ever wanted to do after coming home from work or on weekends was work in my garden!

And so it sat. I have to say, Mother Nature did a better job watering that dang garden then I did. When I noticed things were looking a little…sad…I would force myself to water it right away when I got home in the afternoons, but weeds had already taken over and I knew that the damage had been done. I accepted the fact that I had neglected this thing that I had once been so excited about, but I realized that even if I could save it still, I didn’t have the energy or excitement to do it anymore.

If you walk into my backyard anytime soon expect to hear a disclaimer about my little weed patch! I’m not one to beat myself up too badly about things like this and I am able to look at the situation and say: “You know, I have many talents and passions. Gardening is clearly not one of them!” and I am okay with this.

Now, this is more than a humorous tale of my sad, unfortunate garden. As the summer has passed and I have progressed further into my pregnancy, I can see clear connections to myself and that darn garden. I have always been a practical, perceptive person and taking social work classes has further sharpened these tendencies—it is hard for me not to look at my life situation with a tiny bit of fear that my life is soon going to look very much like my garden.

I am so thrilled to be welcoming a baby into my life in January. I want to gush about it to everyone I meet, but people don’t always make it so easy to do this. The same thing happened when I got engaged. I wanted to be the head-over-heels in love bride-to-be and talk about it every chance I got, but my life situation made people give advice that wasn’t asked for and frankly, wasn’t appreciated. Those closest to me and Ben knew our history well, knew that the dreams we had for our lives could easily be accomplished as husband and wife. But others felt the need to ask and say things such as this: “Don’t you think you’re a little young?” “You know, marriage isn’t what you think it’s going to be. It’s a lot harder than you probably think!” And on and on. The world has this idea that you need to do XYZ before you can do anything in your life or you will one day look back on it with disappointment. So far I’m not disappointed. Am I living in a dream world where I think life and marriage will always be this easy? Nope. Like I said, I am practical and perceptive—I know that tough times surely lay ahead for us, but we’re choosing to build our marriage off of Christ and seeking Biblical wisdom in order to make it work.

I have kept much of my excitement about our baby to myself because I fear the reactions of people who think they need to offer me advice. I know that I am young and I will honestly not have a clue how to take care of a newborn, you don’t need to tell me this. I am scared enough without your reminder. I know that my situation is unique. I wish I could capture “the look,” as I like to call it, when I explain what our winter and spring is going to look like. When I found out I was pregnant in the spring, my first worry was that I wouldn’t be able to finish school on time and that I’d have to extend my senior year by one semester. God has blessed me with a kind and understanding advisor who pursued her own social work degree later in life as she was raising her children. Knowing that it would be possible—tough, yes, but possible—she assured me that I could get done on time. In two weeks I will start my final semester of classes, have this sweet baby in January when I don’t have to take any classes thanks to interim, and in the spring I will complete my degree with an internship at the County Welfare Office. I realize that I will have a full plate; that I will be running on lack of sleep and that I won’t want to leave my little one at daycare. But it’s what I have to do! I don’t want “the look” when I explain my situation—the sad smile you give me because things will be difficult. Believe me, I am completely aware that my life will no doubt resemble the sprawling patch of weeds in my backyard that used to be a garden. The organized, quite life I am living now is going to transform into something I won’t recognize. The phrase “post-partum depression” has begun hanging around in my mind and I am so angry that simply the fear of being sad and overwhelmed about welcoming my sweet baby into the world is already crowding out the overwhelming joy that used to be there! I’m trying to be practical by realizing that this winter might not be everything I thought having a baby would be like, but I don’t want to self-diagnose myself and walk into the next few months with fear dragging me down.

But then I take a step back and look again at my garden. Sure, I neglected it. Even from the beginning it never got the care it deserved, but it grew anyway. It rained just enough in May and June to give it a healthy start, and even though the weeds came up and the ground cried for moisture as the weeks went on, it continued to grow. The harvest will not look anything like I imagined it would, but I will still pull a few things out of that mess and gosh darn it, we will enjoy it J. Looking back, I know I could have done things differently and the garden could have grown into the kind of garden my parent’s always had. There are simple steps I could have taken to make things better. The fact that it grew anyway reminds me that some things are simply beyond my control. Maybe I will be completely overwhelmed and maybe I will experience “the baby blues.” But I am confident that whatever weeds threaten to choke me out will not completely overwhelm me because, unlike my garden, I have a gardener with a much more caring, compassionate heart. Someone who won’t be too tired to stoop down and pull those nasty weeds from my life, who will give me water when I need it most and who won’t give up on me when things begin to look bad. My harvest won’t look like what I always dreamed it will—raising my family will be messy; it will require more work than I ever thought possible. But I’m not the one it charge and thank goodness for that!  

Maybe God is smiling down as I shake my head at my sad little weed patch. Maybe he planned from the beginning for this to happen because he knew I would over-analyze it and come to the conclusion he knew was there all along:

This mama is gonna be just fine.

I’m going to be just fine because He is the one wearing the gardening gloves and because I know from watching weeds take over that there are steps I can take to make it better when it seems like everything is out of control. This winter and spring, and for the rest of my life, really, will be a time of learning. Of making mistakes and realizing that I can’t do it on my own. Of being humble enough to reach out to others for help.

So while I have thought through all the different scenarios of what having this baby will be like, ultimately I know I won’t fully understand what it will actually be like until the time arrives! If we run into each other in the meantime, let me work through these conflicting thoughts with you—let me be completely, blissfully happy, let me be scared. Pray for me and offer me good, Biblical advice. Keep “the look” to yourself and just walk beside me.

Remind me who is in charge.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”
            —John 15: 1-4