Our neighborhood is on a peninsula in the old part of Hendersonville on land that used to be a part of an old plantation. The original house, its white paint dingy and peeling in places, still stands off the main road, hidden behind overgrown trees and shrubbery which outline the permitter of the property. The back yard, holding remnants of crestfallen gardens, is haunting, and, if it wasn’t for the road paved in between, we would share a small corner of our back yards.
Oftentimes, I sit out on our back patio looking across the horizon toward that old, mysterious house, and, although it is hidden behind a high wall of shrubbery, I still imagine it there.
I calculate the distance from the back door of that house to the magnificent, preexisting tree that our house was built around that sits about a hundred feet from the concrete steps off our back doorway.
That tree is the only thing that we have in common.
On our side of the street, spring time comes alive fully, awakening all of the senses with so much goodness to take in if I’m only patient and quiet enough to let it seep through my skin. The variations of green – from the dark hues of the shrubbery off of the patio to the grass kissed with sunlight out on the horizon – is breathtaking.
Up in the tops of the trees, the birds are plentiful and singing in their familiar gospels to one another in friendly greetings. There is a magnificent celebration of color and sound amongst the soft scent of the honeysuckle and hydrangeas. The newness creeping in, offering up the cold and stillness of wintertime, gently peeks out of gardens and window boxes, letting me know that life is still moving around me, as always, without fail, year after year.
For me, there is something special about this back patio and these surroundings. There is comfort found in the seeing the lilies I planted last year blooming again with giant leaves fanning out in every direction, casting shadows on the ground in the evening sunlight.
This time last year, when I dug through dirt to plant the roots of those lilies in their large pots, life had gotten still and quiet.
At the time,
I thought I was dying.
It’s the best thing that has ever happened to me.
Although, I didn’t know it at the time,
I desperately needed the change.
Having been a avid runner for sixteen years, the injury that swept in unannounced, limiting my movement and my lifestyle drastically, brought my life to a sudden halt.
I used to walk around in a fog so heavy and thick that I didn’t notice it filling up the spaces all around me. I can’t even tell you exactly the moment that it crept in, but I know that I let it, little by little, mistaking it for a good thing.
Within the smoke and the darkness, I was only able to focus on what I could see directly in front of my face. And, for a while, it served me well.
There were babies who had to be cared for, toddlers who might fall off of furniture, and a husband coming home with baggage from work. All of the things that needed to get done were set upon countertops, in the sinks and laundry baskets, and they rested in boxes that blockaded all of the doorways.
There was always something that needed to get done.
There was always someone who needed me to take care of them.
And I did so…very well.
I homeschooled the kids. I made the Executive feel good again. I cleaned the house and made wonderful meals. I played at the parks and laughed with the girls. We read wonderful stories while I breastfed and juggled sippy cups. We enjoyed hot chocolate, freshly baked cookies and sledding with friends on snow days.
In fact, if Pinterest had a mom who could stand as their poster child for the trendy How We Think It Should Look Campaign, I would have wanted to be her.
I missed the mark.
EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.
She was impossible, even with all of her beauty and happiness.
She was unattainable…
in all of her glory.
But, like so many, I believed that the right thing to do
was to always be reaching for her,
even if I killed myself trying.
She was always telling me that I needed to be thinner and more attentive to my husband and my kids.
She told me to not focus on myself because that was too selfish, still…
She expected me to be happy and fulfilled anyway.
She needed me to to make sure my girls were in acceptable clothing, monogrammed if possible, and dressed to the hilt for every season.
My girls sometimes had shoes to match their outfits. If their hair was brushed, it was a good day. Still, I would never let myself believe those things.
Life needed to look organized and lovely to feel good, like something I would see in a JCrew catalog, or in the season’s best Pottery Barn Magazine. Articles would be written about how to do this, that and the other, and I would follow someone else’s rules for life religiously.
I will never forget the day I walked out of the YMCA across the parking lot to my van. The girls were all at school at the time, and I noticed a friend of mine walking toward me with a baby on her hip, one in a stroller, and trying to manage her bag on her shoulder while her preschooler protested loudly at the car about the travesty of leaving his blankie behind.
“Hey,” I told her. “Let me help you.”
“Thank you so much,” she replied. “You just have it all together. I’m just a big old mess.”
“No, not at all.” Her comment caught me off guard. I didn’t expect it. I didn’t know it. And, anyway, it was so far from the truth.
I wanted to tell her:
“I’m just like you. You are just like me. We are all just trying to figure out how to go about doing essentially the same exact thing within our own lives and our own families. I know…I know…it’s really, really exhausting.”
But, I didn’t say anything.
I, too, was so unsure of everything because I was always trying to gain my footing following someone else’s lead.
I loved my children and my husband dearly. I made meals for friends and scheduled extracurricular activities. I reminded my husband of birthdays for extended family and reminded him to call regularly. I read the books and the articles I would find on Facebook shared over and over a million times; they always contradicted one another and left me with a fresh new organism swimming in my cesspool of insecurities.
What no one could see from the outside looking in, and what I was really good at hiding even within myself, was how empty I was becoming trying to make life look appealing and pleasing to everyone else.
I would push myself to run marathon distances, never finding my heart in it, but seeing my own intuition as a weakness to overcome as I pushed myself through injury after injury.
My body became taxed; my hormones were grossly off balance. I was tired all of the time, living on pots of coffee and glasses of wine; the latest trend in exercise hype; the shakes; the bells; the whistles; and all of the other coveted “things”.
What I didn’t realize at the time, was that I was setting up a single path to walk upon from my brain to my nerve endings, bypassing my heart and soul when it came to serving my own needs. My air was cut off little by little, making it continuously harder and harder to breathe.
My lungs would begin to feel collapsed throughout every run, even though my endurance had been up and my milage monumental for me; I was slowly losing my steam.
My legs became sore in places that never seemed to heal. When I finally broke my ankle, I was so driven to succeed on someone else’s path of expectations, that I let it heal for merely a few weeks and ran a half-marathon on it anyway.
That was the last race I would ever run.
At the time, I was devastated.
Thank God I sustained that injury.
I would run a few more times over the course of a year, but my body seemed to be giving up on me. Eventually, I would push myself just a little bit more before tearing a hole in my abdominal wall right above my c-section scar. The pain was intense and horrifying. Only time could heal it, but the anxiety that crept in – the way I worried that the doctors missed something – tensed every muscle in my body up so tightly that I couldn’t sleep.
My organs hurt…
my brain seethed.
All I could manage was sitting as still as I possibly could because simply moving and eating became exhausting.
Once I accepted where I was:
Down on the ground. Praying from my knees.
The Our Father and Ten Hail Mary’s
Eventually, the entire rosary.
I would start to feel a tad bit better.
I would plant a lovely place to sit for a while. Day after day. Until I could begin to experience again the fullness of me in my surroundings.
It wasn’t lovely at first…
The exercising of what had become the demons always telling me what to do to be better because I wasn’t good enough:
To be thinner.
To cook better.
To make my children and my husband happier by providing an optimal lifestyle for them…
even if it meant sacrificing my own dreams.
I would start to ask myself,
“How can you teach the girls about living life boldly and creatively – from the inside out with joy and gratitude and grace – if YOU aren’t going to be brave enough to do the same?”
Because, you see…
When I was still enough and quiet enough…
I was able to start piecing things together. I was able to see far beyond the fog that had settled in, to the places inside of me that needed to be dragged out into the open, dealt with, and never let back into their clever hiding places.
All of the self-doubt.
All of the negative thinking.
It ALL had to go.
Family and friends who couldn’t let life just be without getting so involved that they would set out to bleed their own negativity on top of what I had already laid down on myself…
They had to go.
I had to rip out the foundation and start clean.
Slowly, with each praying of the rosary, and with each new soul I came across on my journey who would teach me something new, I was able to shed away layers of weight that held me down to the ground where the fog was so thick that it became hard to even see my hand in front of me reaching out, desperately trying to grab ahold of something.
Little by little, the depression lifted and the anxiety released. I stopped worrying so much about everything.
The fog was lifting.
I let go of people who laid their weight of criticism on my shoulders, and, instead, surrounded myself with people who loved me and helped me to see things within myself that I had never even realized were there all along.
That I had light to give.
Love to share.
And that I was simply good enough exactly the way I am…
beneath all of the layers.
Reminding me that I didn’t have to prove anything.
(Thank you, Felix.)
As I emptied my life of things that no longer served me well, I was able to plant new seeds in the empty spaces where so much darkness had been.
I would step onto a yoga mat for the first time with my rosary serving as my drishti, an external place to rest my thoughts and intentions upon before drawing them back into my soul with a greater sense of purpose. I would hold poses for long enough to allow the thought processes that didn’t serve me well to rain down from the surface of my skin, landing in large droplets on my mat. As I drew in each mindful breath, a newness and a lightness began to creep in, creating an ecosystem sprinkled with fresh hope…
So that a newness of faith and love could begin to grow in the empty spaces.
So that I could take that love and share it with the world around me.
To grow like the branches of that old tree that has seen more than my lifetime can imagine.
To fan outward like the lilies to offer up the cool shade of grace in my immediate surroundings.
I transformed from the inside out.
When I was patient.
The gratitude has been overwhelming.
When I look across our yard coming alive every morning as I sit out back and have my coffee, I don’t wonder so much about that old house that sits sadly across the way. The stories there have been told, and, even though there is a lull in life over there, I know that someone again, some day, will come along…
Revitalizing the grounds with a new sense of spirit and awakening.
Inviting in the gospels of springtime.
Because with every dark season of life.
There is the possibility that things will get better again.
And in the process…
Life will be even more beautiful than ever before.
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