It is these kind of texts that cannot be ignored. Friends are available for all sorts of things. Shopping. Venting about our children. And weeding.
A lot of weeding, it turned out.
The use of the word “tackle” in Alissa’s text was not correct. I am thinking she should have offered “throw down the gauntlet,” or maybe “try to not to cry when you see it” instead. And so that’s how I ended up one morning, with Alissa, our friend Jaime, and one rake, staring at a small plot of land that was stuffed with weeds that were taller than I am.
“Wow. Those are… those are, like, really big. Is that a tree back there?” “Nope. That’s a weed.”
“Well, but what about-“
That is when the whole friend thing got tricky. I had a couple of choices. My first option was to back away slowly and then somehow fade back into my car and my home.
The second option was what I call “False Bravado Might Work!” Jaime, our other friend who had been suckered in for The Battle of the Weeds, said, cheerfully, “Well, let’s get crackin’!” She strode into that garden like Martha Stewart’s landscaper, and started whacking away at a corner. The weeds towered over her, and I swear I saw one of them nudge another and chuckle. I had to go in there. She was all alone, and I wasn’t sure she could make it out alive. This whole garden thing had turned a very serious, weedy corner.
I picked another corner and started in on a method that involved stomping and grunting and never looking up. Looking up would mean looking around, which would mean defeat. It was better to just pick a section and attack, head low. And miraculously, after two hours and forty-seven minutes, the weeds had been conquered. We all took a selfie and some Advil and tromped inside for coffee and scones.
Now, here is the part in the story where I would normally insert a Big Writing Metaphor that links my morning of servitude to my walk with Jesus. It’s what we do, we writers. We tag everything to Something Bigger. But not today.
That’s because after my bright, sunny morning with my friends, I drove home, stood in the living room of my house, and completely fell apart.
For more than two hours I continued to hack away at my day.
I have struggled with depression and anxiety nearly all my life. When I fought my way out of an addiction to alcohol in my mid forties, it was only then that I truly started to whittle away at this condition. It was hard work. Also, I think I expected God to fix me because I had been good. I was in recovery, after all. I had done my time. So, that early afternoon in my living room, as I felt the dread creep over me like cold fog, I wondered: Why doesn’t God understand that he needs to sweep out the cobwebs? He owes me the good life.
That day was not the good life. My living room floor was covered with piles of folded laundry that my cat, Steve, had evidently played Red Rover with when I was gone. My dishwasher had been misbehaving, so I left its unloaded contents all over my kitchen counters in crusty defiance to greet me when I got home. My house was the kind of scene that merits a similar fade-out that I had wanted to attempt with Alissa’s garden earlier — back away, head to the car, and this time find a Sonic.
But a messy house does not always erupt into depression. What happened? The house was quiet, and I missed my friends’ sweet chatter, but there was no real explanation for the dread that had descended. It could be hormones, the weather, or lack of sleep. I didn’t and still don’t really know.
But I knew I could pray. Jesus followers can always pray.
I didn’t pray.
I kept trudging through the next right thing. I didn’t try to figure it out. I just kept on with my list of six million household chores. I pay our utility bill. I re-fold laundry. I pet the dog. I lecture the cat. I try to figure out our dinner and curse my life.
For more than two hours I continued to hack away at my day. I managed to bring my household, and my brain, to a level of manageability that was slightly more comfortable. It’s when I stop the work and start to assemble lunch that I talked to God.
“Lord. I am tired. I don’t want to feel this way. Why do I have to feel this way? Please help.”
He didn’t help.
She nodded and said, “Well, I think you need to take a nap.”
I ate my peanut butter sandwich and felt lousy. I wanted a glass of milk, but suddenly everything was too hard. I sat down and started to sob.
I sobbed like I did when I was in my twenties and went through a pretty brutal break up with a guy that I never should have been with in the first place. I thought my life was over. I couldn’t see my future happy forest through the bad boyfriend trees.
Distraught, I ended up on my best friend’s doorstep, seeking solace. When Merri opened the door, her eyes widened. My face was swollen from crying, and as I tried to explain all the gory details, my speech was garbled by snot, tears, and drama. She didn’t ask a lot of questions, just handed me a jumbo box of tissues, and asked me how I was feeling, right then.
“I dunno…” I hiccuped. “I’m tired?”
She nodded and said, “Well, I think you need to take a nap.” I followed her, like a toddler, to her large, light bedroom, and she tucked me in. The window next to her bed was open, and a cool breeze softly clacked at the blinds. I pulled her heavy down comforter up to my chin, felt its poofy weight all around me, and closed my eyes. And then, she quietly came back in with a cool glass of water, set it on the table next to me, kissed my forehead, and let me sleep.
Merri didn’t lecture. She didn’t run to her bookshelf and start pulling down self-help books. She didn’t, bless her, offer me a glass of wine, which I think I would have gladly guzzled, as my addiction to alcohol really started warming up during this turbulent time.
Sometimes fighting works. Sometimes not.
She brought me water, and then she hung out in her apartment all afternoon as I slept for hours. When I woke, she reminded me to drink a lot more water and hugged me. She also brought me a bacon cheeseburger and a shake. I tell you, that girl is a blessing.
Fast forward to the breakdown in my living room, surrounded by wobbly laundry and a lot of pain. I remembered the glass of water. I pictured Jesus sitting with me quietly on the couch, and I kind of wished I could put my head on his shoulder or ask him to miracle up some water for me. And then, through the same kind of snot and tears I had showed up with on Merri’s doorstep, I prayed:
“ I am so sad. Here is my sadness. Thank you so much, for listening. Thank you just for being here. With me.”
Later that afternoon, I was on the back stoop, watching my boys play Let’s Whack Things. I had that cool drink of water. The sunlight tilted into evening. It would be nice to say here that I was feeling totally peaceful and serene, but that was not the case. I felt better, but the bite of depression lingered. I did all the helpful things: ate well, walked the dog, rested. I took my multivitamins. I knew the drill, and I was not entirely helpless. I have tools ready for days like this, but still I fight my feelings like a dog straining at a collar.
Sometimes fighting works. Sometimes not. That was a day in which I could only surrender and trust he is bigger than depression.
I get up, and walk over to push my five year old, Henry, on the swings. Our garden stands waiting, as I glance over. It is full of weeds. There will always be weeds.
And I turn back to Henry and push the swing.