“I spent a lot of years trying to outrun or outsmart vulnerability by making things certain and definite, black and white, good and bad. My inability to lean into the discomfort of vulnerability limited the fullness of those important experiences that are wrought with uncertainty: Love, belonging, trust, joy, and creativity to name a few.” – Brene Brown
One of the hardest pills I’ve had to swallow is the uncertainty that comes with a chronic illness. There I was … a new mom … with a new career … living the dream … until WHAM! A doctor slaps me with words like systemic lupus erythematosus and undifferentiated connective tissue disorder and antiphospholipid antibodies. With the final blow being there is no cure.
I can’t remember what my plans were before getting socked in the gut. But if any words can make you feel uncertain, it’s those.
Suddenly my thoughts were tangled. Will I be able to have another child? Will I ever have the energy to provide for my family? Can I be the kind of mom I want to be? What if my clients find out? What if my brain fog gets worse? Will my symptoms ever get better? Can I go to the beach? Why me?
Today I started thinking about this uncertainty and boo-hooing about how much it sucks to be me. But then, my brain went Click. And I realized that just being alive is uncertain. There’s no such thing as certainty—outside of dying, of course. And I ain’t there yet.
In fact, I realized that, at the root of everything wonderful in my life, there was uncertainty.
Think about it: Were you certain the first boy you kissed would kiss you back? Did the job you love today come tied with a bow marked You Will Most Certainly Love It?
Dealing with Uncertainty
Brown makes a few suggestions on how you can lean into uncertainty in this blog post. She suggests three things that you can do to embrace uncertainty.
The first? Pay attention to what makes you feel better (and worse). For Brown, feeling better comes down to self care. Something any person dealing with chronic illness should always keep in mind.
Number two is to create an emotional clearing. To Brown, this means finding moments of quiet (meditation, prayer, nature) to reconnect with your intuition. It reminded me of this quote by Carolyn Myss:
“The soul always knows what to do to heal itself. The challenge is to silence the mind.”
The third is to find support. She reminds us that it’s normal to feel vulnerable during times of change. But she also says that uncertainty is a necessary part of getting where we need to go.
Maybe it’s not illness that Brown was talking about when she suggests we embrace the vulnerability of uncertainty. But lupus or not, life is uncertain. Bad stuff may come … but it’s where everything that’s wonderful comes from, too.
I grew up on a farm in Iowa, a fact I’m sure I have mentioned a time or twelve. And despite my roots that grow from the deep, rich soil of the heartland, I’m not the best farmer. My Colorado backyard is Exhibit A. Thankfully, nature forgives—and often prevails—over the actions of the black-thumbed.
I recently spent a quiet afternoon in my backyard, where Mother Nature herself decided to speak to me. She reminded me of some things that helped me feel good, so today I’m sharing them with you.
Lesson 1: Wounds don’t impede growth.
We planted Aspen trees because of their relative non-fussiness and extreme fast-growingness (more than three feet a year!). But after they leafed out last spring, they were very top-heavy. Afraid they might break from the weight, we had the brilliant idea to tie them to the fence with twine. Now, remember how fast they grow? My parents discovered our error last fall. Removing the twine took hours, and with each revealed deep, one inch scars. We feared our beautiful Aspens wouldn’t come back this spring. But spring is here and the trees are thriving. They’re forever scarred. But they are still standing, still growing.
Our scars don’t prevent us from thriving, either.
Lessons 2 and 3: You can’t force something to grow, and life is always changing.
While shopping last October, my daughter grabbed a bag of daffodil bulbs and insisted they replace the row of tulips our dog dug up and ate earlier that summer (apparently we’re bad gardeners and bad pet parents). Being four, she wanted those flowers to grow overnight. But she soon learned that no matter how much she watered and watched over them, they would bloom in their own time.
The planting of the daffodils happened during a difficult time for our family. And the bulbs represented something we needed to cope: When the daffodils bloomed in the spring, life would be different. We couldn’t be sure those bulbs would grow, and we couldn’t be sure that life would be better. But it would certainly be different. Faith in the potential of those flowers got us through some difficult hours. Now that it’s spring, the bright and sunny blooms reminded me of how much we’ve changed and grown as a family since that fall day.
Change and growth happen in their own time.
Lesson 4: Everything leans to the sun.
When my brother-in-law’s granddad moved from upstate New York to Colorado 50+ years ago, he brought with him saplings from his lilac trees. As a housewarming gift, we received saplings from those same trees to plant in our own yard. But rather than Googling “best place to plant lilacs,” we chose to plant them in the coldest, darkest spot in our entire yard. Though they’ve grown half a dozen feet, they struggle to bloom each spring (a bummer, as aside from my family and friends, lilacs blossoms are my reason for living). Instead of growing tall, they’ve started to grow horizontally, to carve out their own space in the sun. They may be leaning—stretching way beyond the ideal—but they find the sun they need to bloom.
Growth can happen even when our circumstances are less than ideal.
Lesson 5: Without hard work, nature takes over.
When we moved in, our backyard was nothing but sod and rocks. We painstakingly moved the rocks (by hand) and added beds around the perimeter—work that thankfully we completed before I got sick. While we would never consider this project a gardening fail, it has taught us how much work a garden can be. Like the bald man with a hairy back, the lawn itself has bare spots but grass still grows strongly within those beds. Monitoring, weeding, and pruning are weekly jobs, despite the fabric weed blocker we installed.
To be what we want to be takes consistent, sometimes back-breaking, work.
Lesson 6: Nature is perfect as is.
When a petal falls off a daffodil, is it less beautiful? Are the Aspens we planted for shade less useful because of their scars? Do the lilac blooms smell any less wonderful because they are growing horizontally?
Nature is content to be what it is. I’ve never seen a tree cry or whine because it is not a blackberry bush. Kentucky bluegrass doesn’t try to make pretty purple flowers. And nothing that blooms feels the need to stand perfectly forever. Things change and things grow and it all happens in the right space and in the right time.
There’s beauty to be found wherever we are.
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Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” He may not have had my backyard in mind when he said this, but even an hour of quiet in my urban connection to nature has given me some much-needed clarity. You can bet I’ll be spending a lot of time in my yard this summer, sitting in the shade of my Aspen trees and admiring my ever-resilient lilac bushes, imaging the next project we’ll surely mess up.