Recently, my seventeen year old daughter “Sparrow” was needing some ideas of how to spend down-time before bed, since we ban cell phones from bedrooms after a certain hour. “What helps you when you’re brain dead but need something to do that is just yours and no one else’s?”
“I garden. I don’t need much brain power to stand there and pour water on dirt, or pull weeds out of the earth… and yet I’m creating something beautiful. I’m doing something God has created me to do, to care for the earth… and that feels good.”
The last few months have been intense. I feel like I’ve been sprinting the distance of a marathon, and my mind is tired. Early summer was consumed with working hard to renovate our house in order to make space for Mossy. Then we jumped straight into full-blown summer with kids at home, swim team, advocating to bring Mossy home in time to get set up for school, and preparing the hearts of our other children for the big transition. Finally, we brought him home in early August. The transition from one state to another turned out to be ten times harder than the last time I went through this process. Getting an appropriate education in place took longer than expected, and Mossy was home with me for a month after school started. He finally started school in mid-September. I was left tired, depleted, and in need of a recharge.
With several hours of alone time for the first time in months, I made the choice to put the “to do” list aside and look for a nearby garden. We have a small one near our house that I take the kids to from time to time, but I wanted one so large I could lose myself in the midst of plants. Well, thanks to Google Maps, I was reminded that the National Botanical Gardens were only minutes away!
While driving into the city, I wondered why being surrounded by plants seemed like the best way to rest my weary mind. Betty came to mind. My grandmother’s yard was filled with gorgeous roses, gardenias, petunias, azaleas, dogwood trees, and more. She loved to garden, and was a warm and loving woman, with a laugh that captivated the room, during my childhood. However, her earlier life was marred by depression, alcohol abuse, and a couple of psychiatric hospitalizations. Like so many women in the early 1940s, she lost her first love to WWII. She was a young newly wed when he was killed. Her own childhood was stifled by a stern, controlling mother. It’s no wonder that the chaos of raising four children drove her to alcoholism and uncontrolled outbursts of anger, which led to physical harm. How could she pour out over and over, every day, if she herself was empty? As she aged, the kids left home, and life slowed down. By the time I came along, she was a cheerful and loving grandmother. I wonder if gardening was a therapeutic outlet that soothed her worn down spirit.
Betty passed on her passion of gardening to her daughter, my mother. I don’t remember a time in my life that Mom was not growing something. Our island home was surrounded by hibiscus, bougainvillea, and more who’s names I do not know. She taught me to root philodendron cuttings in water, to stick toothpicks into an avocado seed, and to love growing life from the earth. Mothering was not an easy task for her either. Thankfully, though she cussed like a sailor in stressful moments, she did not take the same path my grandmother took with self-medication. Through her faith in Christ, she found the strength each day to mother us with understanding and loving nurture. We all remember her falling apart, frantically yelling, when she had lost her patience with us, but I was never afraid. She had taken a step forward from her own childhood, and never disciplined us in anger.
I see my own emotional struggles, and wonder if this is what it feels like to be a middle-aged woman with four teenagers, or if I take after the women in my family line. Perhaps there’s a little bit of both. In some ways, I see my grandmother, mother, and myself, facing a similar struggle with managing stress and anxiety. I see our propensity toward depression. I see our struggle to cope with our overwhelmed feelings. As I ponder the depleting, selfless side of motherhood, I wonder how many others find themselves overcome by anxiety and depression. I’m grateful for my grandmother’s legacy of gardening; and that, as I tend to my dahlias, I’m still connected to her strength. She survived. She stayed. I’m grateful for my mother’s legacy of creating life in a garden, as well as trusting Christ. As I quietly lift up my burdens while watering cherry tomatoes, I’m connected to her strength.
I look at my two daughters by marriage, and hope I’ll be around and coherent enough to walk with them through middle age and motherhood. I pray that they will hold fast to their faith, and find a way to nurture their own souls through seasons of constant pouring out. Perhaps they’ll garden, perhaps they’ll paint, or hike, or read.
Sparrow and I discussed some activities that are more tailored to her interests and can be enjoyed in the sanctuary of her bedroom. The last few nights, she’s been sewing…creating something beautiful.
When we come into contact with stress, our natural response is to push through.
We don’t want to be in need or fail to meet others’ expectations, especially our own. We beat ourselves up for not trusting God. But, God offers us a different response. Rest. Kindness. Comfort. Instead of being harder on us, Jesus whispers – “Come to me, all those who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28 When Jesus was surrounded by pressing needs, Scripture tell us — “Jesus would often slip away to the wilderness for prayer.” Luke 5:16 Jesus took time to rest because nurturing his soul with his Father was more important than what He could do. Putting our hearts first—letting Jesus love us—is a new journey of resting with Him. As people of faith, our response to stress is not to avoid it. What we need is rest.Excerpt from “Finding Spiritual Whitespace” by Bonnie Gray