Draw Back to the Garden

Motherhood is work.
And work is play
Until the demands of my duty
Fill the hours of the day

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off–then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Melville’s sea and my garden

My first flower order of the year came at the fresh and breezy beginning of May, after the first rush of rose blooms, before the dahlias, pincushions and zinnias start their takeover of my morning hours. The calendula is beginning to speak up. The snapdragons are showing promise. Here and there new flowers are whispering that they are ready for their first bloom. Some garden beds are a disappointment. Some feel more like an investment in the future.

“It will look amazing next spring!” I say, pointing to a bunch of transplant-shocked plants. I know I should transplant in the fall. I know it. But when the plants are healthy is just when I can see they are crowding each other and where its creeping roots might be severed to fill in the gaps of another bed. 

With the first flower order complete, and with ten more bouquets besides to sell bound or  The Loreto Market, an outdoor market we hosted outside our home. As the market progressed, my stand emptied out until the last bouquet sold.

After hours of clipping, cleaning, and arranging I thought how welcome a break would be. Let the bees have the blooms for a few days. Before two days passed, I was back in the garden, gushing over my third peony plant in bloom. Its scent wafted up my nostrils as I tied the arching stems to a stake.

“Motherhood is work,” a priest reminded me.

The simple words spoke volumes to my soul. Motherhood is work, and I do not need to make the other projects into work right now. I’m tempted to ambition, to dive deep into the next project, to go and go and go until I reach the boundary of what I can do, simply because I have the energy to do so. I have the energy, but no longer have the time. 

The thing that was a fun hobby then becomes a strain. Other duties call my name: a five-year-old, a toddler, an emerging 6th grader, field and flower. 

After balancing life and projects last week, I thought with satisfaction of letting the weeds go and leaving the blooms to the pollinators. But then a mystery flower was covered in frilly orange faces, the yarrow burst with sunshine, the bunny tails wiggled in the wind. I must collect them. They all move so beautifully together.

This hobby takes effort, but the effort is sweet. Its work balances my duties within the home. It draws me outside, into the wind, the sun and the dirt. I pause and contemplate. My senses spring to respond to the stimuli nearby. Pathways in my brain flicker with excitement as I draw relationships from color theory. 

I cut, I clean, I arrange. 

And my home is filled with flowers.

The woman who placed the special order listened to my gardening story, that story that begins in sadness and grief, but grew a garden. “You’ll always have this as the gift she left you, your love of gardening,” she said.

Many days of motherhood are filled with laughter and tears. To find the fruit of both, I go out to the garden.

Would that we all could find the hobby that energizes us, that balances us, that helps us find a central space around which we can pivot, flexing our muscles and growing in virtue is ways that pour over into all aspects of our life. This gift is not something only I can receive because of some privilege. It is available to everyone. And its path takes us through, not just the garden, but the good life.

A Girl and Her King: Loneliness

The story of A Girl and Her King, joins the young protagonist as she grows in her commitment towards her good king. She is young and he is old. He teaches, her watches over her, protects her. He has taken her to the battlefield, the arena, and now asks her to find her place inside the calm environment of her old home, where challenges abound to test her dedication to him in even in the smallest matters. She does not yet know what form their love will take, if he will one day bring her to live with him in the palace, or request she stay in that quiet home forever. But willing to wait, she receives the lessons he has in store for her.

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The night before Philothea cried in the king’s arms. She began to cry and he put his arms around her. It was a simple gesture, but so tender, so full of kindness. He allowed her to cry and to love him. When she lay down that night in her home, the peace he gave her helped her to laugh again, when a tear fell and tickled the inside of her ear.

He was not the king others imagined, cold, stern, distant. The king was gentle, funny, loving, tender, so funny, abrupt, impatient (in his love), courageous, and sometimes angry. Some knew he was jealous (in his love), but few understood what that meant. It did not fit their stoic marble image.

The king loved children and laughed often. He desired to make Philothea happy. Everything felt a puzzle to her. Those she knew to be strong, seemed weak. Her mother could not move. Philothea’s heart ached to see it.

Philothea was sad, and she knew it. The king handed her a little yellow box, a gift wrapped for her. She opened it. It was a smile. “Swallow it,” he said. How simple. “I want you to have it always inside you.” How sweet. She swallowed it and she could feel it rest in her heart. Yes, she was smiling; her heart was smiling and she was happy. Very sad, but strangely happy.

It was hard to show it though. Interacting with people inside the walls reminded her that although she laughed very often with the king throughout the day, she was sad. No one knew.

They asked how she was. She responded, “okay.”

“That’s good,” they said. Vague words.

The girl tried to be grateful for her weakness, grateful to see her mother’s humanity. Philothea hurt to see someone she loved hurting. She tried to see some good in it.

But she was powerless. She had no friends to share her pain with. The king tried to console her when she visited. But her sadness deepened. “I wish you could make me happy, all the way happy, just for a moment.” He caught her during a yawn and made her laugh.

He understood her pain. Philothea could not put it into words to anyone else. She tried, but no one understood. She told someone she felt scattered. He responded, “pull yourself together.”

 …

The Shepherdess by Millet

Philothea reminded herself she was no martyr. This was not a dark night. At one time, the girl would hold her head very high and say “all for the king.” Now she understood to be close to him was to hold her heart very close and say, “yes, all for you, king, and for your kingdom.” She should not boast, even to him, and she must not be falsely humble.

But the sadness remained. During a beautiful celebration at the palace, Philothea saw she desired someone extra, someone whose shoulder she could lay her head on. She wrote down her request to the king. He could make all things possible.

There was a woman among the people whom the king loved. The woman was a servant to him. Her mother was a noblewoman and one day, she too would be. Philothea and she were old friends. Two servants together. She had been gone away and the king brought her back. Near her, Philothea always felt some relief, like being around the princess. Philothea asked for prayer. The two girls sat in the palace when it had emptied out. Philothea placed her head on the woman’s shoulder and cried a little. The king approached them with his love and the woman told the king the little things she wanted for the girl, the family and all the world. The king nodded. He knew. He watched as his beloved heaved sighs and tears, almost vulnerable.

When Philothea fretted over her tasks, the king reminded her bluntly, “if you’re not going to have peace in it, don’t do it.”

After a dream, she began to become aware of that third creature. The princess had pointed out two. But it seemed there might be a third, just jumping around, cowardly, unable to get into her room. It wanted Philothea to doubt her king’s faithfulness. She heard it scratching a little at the door. She would not allow it to enter. Philothea took the news to the king.

The king pointed out her training weapons. “You may have used them in training, but they are little to be trifled with. It will kill any beast approaching you.” He leaned in and whispered “they’re scared of you, darling.” Philothea smiled with excitement. She knew they feared children, but her? He nodded. Ah, she was excited. She was not at the mercy of these things.

“We’re going to win the war,” she said to him.

“Yes, darling – and you’re going to be at the front.” She looked at him. He looked straight ahead. He meant what he said – he did not need to explain it.

While at table with a young girl, Philothea told her of the third creature. Concerned, the girl put a name to it. More complicated than doubt, Philothea decided she must bring it to the court.

There in the court her fears were put to rest. Philothea was reminded that she was the subject and servant of the king. She must remember his power in these situations. He was not merely a doting friend. The members of the court reminded her that she must be faithful to his call in her life, his placement of her inside the walls. Philothea may visit him each day, but that would have to be enough. This was the king’s wish. She must stay in her home inside the walls. The king would take care of the rest.

Reflections on Strange Gods, Chapter 4: The Idol of Prosperity

What follows are the excerpts that stood out to me and my reflections on Elizabeth Scalia’s book Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Every Day Life, Chapter 4: The Idol of the Idea. Click here to read my other reflections on Scalia’s book. There’s more to read than my reflection contains. I highly recommend you check out the book for yourself.

 …

“He was warning us that holding on to anything too tightly—our lives and the stuff in it—will prevent us from being able to open ourselves up to him.”

A young woman desired to emulate the poverty St. Francis. This balanced the love of things she admitted to having and was tempted to indulge. Desiring to be holy, I wondered if I should feel this way as well. As time went on, I knew I loved stuff. I did seek to eliminate clutter, to not own what I did not use. But each time we moved, I came to the same conclusion, I need this stuff; I have too much stuff. How I could I need it when other do with so much less? I felt guilty for my lack of detachment.

“Benedict said, instead of being a source of pride, it should be a source of humility, because it is better to need less. Every worldly, every thing you “need” is something else that can come between you and God.”

St. Benedict used examples of those who are unable to fast, as I have been through pregnancy and nursing, or those who need a nightlight to sleep, which would seem to some as a less obvious “need.” On a pilgrimage the young woman said she would travel like St. Francis, with a spirit of poverty. I decided I would do the same, in the spirit of poverty. My bag was twice the size of her’s! I thought to myself, to be truly poor, I will just use what I have; I won’t buy anything new or special for this trip. Hence the size of the bag. I shed some belongings as the journey went on.

Each time we move, I cannot believe the amount of stuff we own. But certain things I won’t get rid of because, anticipating future children, I would have to buy it again. We don’t have the funds for that. In my guilt of owning so much stuff, Elizabeth Scalia’s words and Benedict’s rules are comforting to me. I’m not wrong to want to need less, because it is better to need less. For years I told myself, I should need less. Now I understand that some people do, realistically need more. I don’t need my candle holders and all my trays, but I have needed a changing table because of back pain, a crib so baby can sleep in a quiet room, the millions of bibs because babies have little faucets just inside their heads that leak. I have needed the ridiculous amount of clothes because they span 50 pounds of weight that I put on and take off depending on whether or not I’m carrying someone inside me. That’s life. That’s a message I needed to hear.

And it turned out, I was not as bad as I thought. When we moved to a smaller home, it was not difficult to get rid of things. I saw that I am not as attached to things as I thought. I’m not trying to praise myself here, because my primary temptation is to condemn myself or be anxious, so these are important lessons for me. To see that I am a little closer than I thought to the way I think I ought to be, to the way I know it is good to be, detached.

But there is another area that could stand some growth.

Scalia writes this about Dorothy Day.

“Divesting herself of material things, she also rejected prestige, power, and office (Given her influence, her connections, and the high regard many held for her intelligence and energy, she could have had them.) She encouraged others to reject power and its trappings, too, because she knew them for the false gods of busy-bodiness and tyranny they were.”

I will ask myself, why do I want to step forward in my career? I love my job in a deeply, incredible way. I benefited from my education. We’re making payments on loans. We have all we need financially. Why do I want to advance? I know I want to be able to meet with clients for longer periods of time, and provide therapy for them, beyond the coping skill building and support I provide now. This is cause for my to examine myself. How much of it is for prestige or more money?

We can fall into worshiping a god of prosperity, setting up one’s retirement, make-a-buck, make-a-buck. On Sunday, the priest preached a message on prioritizing. Money can be replaced; possessions can be replaced, but time cannot be replaced. I looked at my husband as he held our baby. For us, for our state of life, for our financial status, our parental status, for the moment, I knew we were doing it right. We were answering the call as God has called us.

The grand Victorian Barn

There was something transient about my upbringing, something very concerned with independence and “the new.” My family was stable, quite stable. Motivated by the loss of his mother, during my young adulthood, as I boomeranged home, my father instilled in me a reverence for the elderly, in particular, my maternal grandmother. There was old furniture in the barn, a barn remodeled, heated and lit to protect the pieces that moved with my father during his life. He was a collector of the old. He saw life and value in it.

But I rather think my mother was a student of the new. She saw value and sentiment in particular old pieces, held onto them in immaculate condition. My father’s antiques were chipped, scuffed and broken, but their value lay beyond their varnish and veneer, to something unseen, a history in the soul of its surfaces and joints.

So the love of history lay inside my heart. But other lessons were illustrated before me as I grew older. I saw my grandmother’s house, which my great-grandfather built, sold because “no one could afford to buy it.” My parents bought their home decades ago, a basic farmhouse, which had been worked on and remodeled over time. Too young to be an antique, too old to fully fit their needs. A brand new kitchen, developed gardens, it slowly became their own. In the culture of my larger family, children were expected to make a way for themselves, own a home, start a family, after adequate preparation through college and stable employment.

We broke the trends and I’m sure bewildered the relatives with our cross-country move, graduate schooling, embrace of family life while still in graduate school, still cross-country. One child, two children, three children, rental after rental, job after job. Finally, we feel settled. We live in a home that is not our own, and yet is our own, because it will be one day. It is a new home. It fit the budget and the needed specifications. It is not the home built in 1906 we wanted very much, but it is a beautiful home, it is our home.

 

Yet, today I saw something equally beautiful, deeply rich in meaning and soul. Described as a “Victorian barn” and a “kid paradise” I crossed the threshold into a wonder of time and history. Not a time capsule, but the embodiment of what home ought to be. It was a multi-generational home. Purchased and moved to an empty plot of land by a man who, like my father, saw the life in the old, saw the value behind the veneer, behind the effort of lugging the thing around. He moved this home and piece by piece made it a home for his family. Now his children live there. And their children. And their children. Four generations have crossed that threshold and put their stamp upon the walls. Four generations have sat in that kitchen, swept up messes, thanked the Lord for this piece of history that is as much a part of the family as any family heirloom. The home has taken on the dents and quirks of the family itself. A windowsill beat up by a grandchild. Rooms for designated styles of play. Endless crafts outside by a mother who stays on her feet even when she can rest, so ready for action, so ready to protect and love and shelter. Her mother stays by, ready to assist the grandchild made more beautiful by his special needs. With a sigh of wonder in their voices they tell the stories of each stick of furniture, each nook that some man put his hand to, to make more functional for a changing family. A family who opens the doors of this grand barn to welcome another generation, to make this their home again. That act of generosity is modeled in the time and dedication of one generation to the next. The house embraces its vocation. The grandparents embrace their vocation. The parents embrace their vocation. And the children play, faithful as all children are to their special vocation, to exist and to be loved.

With a whole-hearted joy, without envy, without longing, I sat in the warmth and light of the parlor sitting room, calm and serene. What a blessing to have seen this today.

Norman Rockwell’s Freedom From Want

 

AWAITING A NEW LIFE

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The soldiers knew and her family knew…wedding plans were about to be made. The girl just did not know when exactly the king would marry her. More time had to pass pass, but the girl knew the waiting would be beautiful, filled with white roses and wild flowers, just like when she was little. She could return to so many things in her past. She was so young, yet so in love. He had given her many wild flowers in the beginning of their relationship. Some said they were weeds. She never saw them in that way. “They’re flowers,” she said. The girl felt desperate to protect these gifts from the judgment of others.

In truth, the girl loved those weeds because when the king found her and she found him, she felt like the weeds he gave her. She felt rejected and unloved by all the things around her, by all the things she loved. So when he took her gently into his arms and called her beautiful, she felt beautiful for the first time. And he waited.

The king lavished on her gifts and love. He made known his intentions to make her his. Yet he waited until she could see how beautiful and valuable shew was before he would ask her to be his completely. He wanted her to move beyond simply finding value in a weed. The girl had to grow to understand that she was truly a flower. Little, of course, but beautiful. Not merely a matter opinion.

He waited and he waited and he waited until the time was perfect. She heard him perfectly, in that arena. Through the noise she heard his voice. He asked her. As the world stood still, she answered him.Hands and Flower3

She sat outside her home and reflected. Now they would wait some more for her to adjust to the outside, outside the arena, before he could take her into the palace to leave her family and live with him. The girl had visited the palace many times, visited it, received his gifts and love. Though it felt like home, there were places she may never ever in the palace before they married. It was a simple house. It was an oasis. “It’s made for you,” he told her. He wrote her name in the walls as it was being built, as he wrote the names of all those who lived there. “You belong here,” he said softly.

The girl had no regrets. Nevertheless, as she sat thinking, the girl thought of the places she would never visit if she married him now. She was so young. When the girl spoke these thoughts to him, the king reminded her that this was what she always wanted. As a child, her only dream was to fall in love and be loved. This was her dream. This was real.

Nineteen. The number echoed in her mind. At thirteen the king told the girl he loved her and wished to marry her. He proposed when she was eighteen. She once thought she heard him whisper that she would marry him at nineteen. The king was unclear now. She wondered. Was it real? Would she miss the things of the world? What were they compared to love? She was so young. But she knew this was right.

So she reassured herself: she would wait and see. He would tell her. She was not afraid. Soon though. She would not be disappointed if he wished her to wait longer. If he waited till she was old, she would wait happily. But if she was old, she would ache for it. It would be hard to know and wait so long. If it meant she could grow to love as he loves, she would do anything.

It seemed like there was more for her to experience before marriage. Everything seemed to melt away when she was with him. Yes, she would choose him before anything else. He had already chosen her. He was calling her. Whenever he said the word, she would run to him, and they would be together, closer than they had ever been, only to draw closer still.

 

At home she did not feel too far from him and the wisdom with which he taught her. It was difficult to be out of his shelter. She felt confused. The girl felt drawn to other things and people. It wasn’t as pure as in the arena. She felt selfish.

Before a long journey, a friend gave her a beautiful ring, with a tanzanite stone and white gold. She moved it back and forth from hand to hand wondering what such a gift meant. Did the king ask the girl’s friend to give it to her. Was it truly just for her or must she return it? It was so different than all other gifts. She held it, but felt as though perhaps it would not be her’s forever. She saw her friends’ reflections in it and the girl felt confused. The sense she had must mean something.

The girl needed to adjust to the feel and the weight of that beautiful ring. “Don’t make it an engagement ring yet,” her friend told her. The girl looked for signs. What did it mean? She looked at her king with perplexed eyes. The king was silent.

He placed his hand on her back and said to her, “peace. It will make sense. Hold on now; look at it in peace. Do not be afraid. These things are good. I love you.”

To cool her anxiety she reminded herself that the king would never forget his love. All that he willed for her was good. Love wills only wills good for the beloved. The troubles that lay just around the corner, on the other side of the wall, she would face it tomorrow. That was reality. The king stood tall on her right side. She looked up at him, lay her head on his chest and thanked him. “I know it doesn’t make sense, my dear king, but…I trust you, I do.” He wrapped his arms around her and they stood together watching another sunset. Life was changing quickly. Her king stayed the same. “Are you afraid of me?” he asked.

“No,” she answered. “Not anymore. I don’t remember when it all changed. Perhaps, last winter with my new heart, but I know you better. I understand you. You let me understand you.”

“Yes,” he said smiling. She knew he was faithful. That is why she trusted him when it seemed there was no one she could trust.

That night they sat together longer than usual. The arena was almost a week gone, her fellow soldiers almost a week gone, and her heart had been through so much since then.

He sat beside her on her couch. They faced the same direction. He turned his head to look at her, then slowly turned his whole body and gave her his attention. The girl told him, “I want to serve you again, through everyone.” He was proud of her desire to support his mission. The moment energized her. She felt a that familiar zeal of the arena and the battlefield.

“Fear not,” he said. He moved closer to her. She rested her head on him again. The king told her, “stay here tonight. Tomorrow I will take you out to the battlefield again.” The girl knew he did not mean the battlefield where she had been before. It meant they would be away from each other. She would have to fight her own fears, her own loneliness. She was afraid of the independence he pointed her to. The girl feared thinking she was closer than she really was, thinking they were closer than they really were. She had to trust him.

So tonight she would stay and love him. She would await tomorrow with eager love.

The next day, it felt like a battlefield. She felt sad. The girl reminded herself that he was her king and she was working for his kingdom. She felt broken. It was difficult to remember both his greatness and his tenderness. He was not only her friend, but a great king. She felt broken with love. Of course, the girl was not at the battlefield. She was beginning her life at home.