Thursday, September 25, 2014

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Recently, I did some gardening. It was really a forced activity. You see, last year I had this grand idea of creating a flowerbed in my front yard. Not just any flowerbed. No no. It had curves and bordered over half of the yard. It was intricate, and when it was done, it was beautiful. I was so happy to see it completed and almost exactly what I had pictured in my mind. Then I realized a year later that you can't just plant a garden and hope it turns out okay. Hope doesn't tend gardens.

So needless to say, my flowerbed turned into the eyesore of the block. We're talking weeds taller than my knees, root systems so complex that a 4th grader could do an amazing science experiment on 'em, and a scene so unsightly that I refuse to post a before/after image. While I was toiling away, I began thinking of how much this flowerbed was like marriage. I began saying things to myself that couples commonly say in my therapy office. Things like this:

"I didn't know it was this bad."

I seriously didn't. There was no way to prepare me for what was ahead when I finally decided to take care of my garden. I started, and I seriously almost quit right after I realized how much work there was to do. I didn't know it had gotten this bad. At times, I was yanking out weeds, and I was feeling better. The flowerbed looked better, but unless I got the root, I knew it was going to keep coming back. Good therapy addresses the root of marriage issues, not just teaching communication skills and address surface level issues. It's hard and takes longer, but those weeds didn't grow overnight either. Pulling them all out is tough stuff.

"If I had known, I would have done this sooner."

So many times I walked to the mailbox or pulled in the driveway and saw weeds coming out of the ground. I was embarrassed then but thought that I'd just get to it later. How much easier it would have been for me to just pull a few weeds out of the ground months ago rather than putting in all the work I did after it had gone way too far. Research is clear that couples wait and average of 7 years before attending therapy. Sometimes by then, it's too difficult to move on together after so much hurt. If you're in the River Valley, click here to begin that process with me in counseling. I'd be honored to join you.
"This is really hard work." 

Like... really hard work. Props to all the gardeners out there. You all have my utmost respect. I have been so sore that I have woken myself up at night just by turning over. I am sore in muscles I didn't know I even had. My legs were shaking like I had just left my barre class while I was yanking weeds out of the ground just 30 minutes in. Just like gardening, working on marriage issues is tough business. It's not for the faint of heart and requires perseverance. As mentioned before, it's not enough just to pull out the green stuff and leave the roots behind. As hard as it is, nothing will have truly lasting change until you address the roots. 
"There was never a good time to work on it."  

Yeah, there really wasn't. It was either scorching hot this summer or raining endlessly or I was really tired from a long day or my allergies were acting up or whatever excuse I had until my flowerbed turned into a big ugly mess. There's never a great time to weed the garden, and it doesn't really ever feel like there's a great time to work on your marriage either. I actually tried one day a few months ago to pull out a giant weed while walking back from the mailbox, and some stickers jabbed and stuck into my fingers. Probability went way down for me to try that again. Sometimes you try to address something in your marriage, and you get hurt; it's not worth it to let that continue to grow even though it makes sense why you'd shy away from something that hurts. (See Four Reasons Why You Won't Go to Marriage Counseling). If you wait for perfect conditions, you'll end up waiting forever.

"I can't believe all the work I put into this turned into a big mess."

This was hard for me. I was so proud of my flowerbed last year. It literally took ALL day to complete. Multiple trips to Home Depot, Walmart, Lowes. Supplies. Help from my family. Sweat. Possibly tears. But the end was so great. I was so happy to have checked off that project and have it be something so beautiful in our yard. I found myself disappointed in my lack of responsibility in between my handfuls of weeds and bugs. I could relate to couples who had great expectations and hopes for their marriages and suddenly realized the mess they were in. 

But hope is not a plan. Marriages, just like flowerbeds, require work... and not just once a year. They require care and the decision to pull "weeds" up from the root, even when it's risky and hurts. They deserve the hard work, even when it's inconvenient, difficult, and messy. Take a lesson from me and tend to your marriage before it gets too far. 

It might not be too late. 

im thankful.
carrie anne

Thursday, September 4, 2014

How I Learned to Risk: Part One

In 8th grade, I decided to try out for drill team. I was done with majorettes (that's baton twirling for all you non-band folk), and I wanted to be a Chaffin Charmer. An important fact to point out is all of my dance class history, which was zilch. Another important fact was my athletic ability; I was at the point of my life that I classify as the "awkward phase." Not my best few years. But, nevertheless, I signed up anyway. I went to the classes that taught the tryout dance, and my best friend at the time, Keely (who was 100% athlete and grace combined) helped me many afternoons to perfect my skills. I'll never forget her telling me how great I was at pointing my toes. 

So tryouts came, and even back then, they were a BIG deal. I got in my group of girls, headed into the gym, and did my best. I remember thinking in my head as a 14 year old chubby girl, "Do your best," "Smile," "Show your personality!" I walked out of the gym feeling like I had done what I could, and I felt secure in that, whatever the results came out to be. 

So back at this time, the Internet was not was it is today. The results of who made drill team and cheerleading were read after tryouts in the gym with everyone there to see your face and hear your cries. Spoiler alert: I did not make Chaffin Charmers that year. I didn't bust into tears or sob in my t-shirt. I was simply ready to exit the gym and get home. The only thing worse than being around all my peers in that gym to get those results was facing the barrage of screaming, hysterical, ridiculous moms waiting outside the glass doors outside. I will never forget one mom literally grabbing me and screaming, "DID SHE MAKE IT? DID 'SARAH' MAKE CHEERLEADER?!!!?" She shoved me aside before I could even answer. It was as close to a circus that I have ever been to. (Read Kevin Thompson's Blog What a Child's Mistake Reveals About a Parent for more insight on that area).

My tears didn't come until I walked up to my mom and had to tell her that I didn't make it... with all my green and gold good luck balloons, flowers, cards, and candy in my hands. I remember her hugging me, saying, "Oh baby. I'm so sorry. I'm sure you did your best and that it was great." We went home, and we talked more about the tryouts and the day I had getting these gifts and notes of good luck and a gigantic card signed by everyone I loved at the time wishing me the best. Even in my moment of "failure," my mom comforted me, supported me, and loved me without making me feel any shame. 

This memory came as a fleeting thought last week, and I cried as I began to think of how powerful this has been for me in my life. I cried talking to my husband about it, and I'm crying now as I type. I started thinking about how I had NO business trying out for a dance team - what was I even thinking? How did I even think I had a chance? How many times in my life did I attempt something that was completely out of my reach? How was I able to do that?

It's because of my mom. 

When I had a grand idea or some lofty dream, she was there to tell me I could do it and do it well. There was no doubt or discouragement when I said I wanted to try out to be a Charmer; she sent me the biggest good luck balloon there was. When I said that I wanted to to try out to give a speech at my high school graduation (when really I should stick to just writing and not really ever public speaking), she was my audience for a mock performance giving me the standing ovation in the living room. When I wanted to move across the country to spend a summer in Atlanta, she threw me a goodbye party, rode with me halfway, kissed me goodbye, and said I'd be fine. When I wanted to go to graduate school, she was there to say I could do it and that she was already so proud. When I wanted to go skydiving, she said I love you and be safe and watched as I got on a plane.

*Photo Cred: Stuart Lippincott

Mom, you were my safety net when I stepped out on unsteady tightropes. You were my parachute when I jumped out of tiny, beat up planes. You have been my safe place of loving support for my entire life, and it's because of you that I learned to leap and not fear the fall. You have given me a gift that many kids don't get... that will last all of my life and into my future children's lives. To say thank you is not enough, but thank you from the bottom of my heart. So many times I swung for the fences, not even knowing that I was a t-ball player in a major league game... all because you confidently held up a pendant reading "YOU CAN DO IT!" from the bleachers. You are the reason I can risk... because I know that you will be there if I make it or not, saying I did my best and that you love me anyway.

im thankful
carrie anne