“When Life Gives Lemons” 8×8, oil on gallery wrapped canvas $100 Buy Now SOLD
When I was still living in New Orleans, Jen (whom I wrote about yesterday) and Stephanie (whom I’m writing about today) instituted what we called coffee club. We were all teachers and would schedule after-school meet-ups for coffee and company. Eventually babies started coming to our club, and, to be frank, it just wasn’t the same. In the early days it was just us.
Jennifer and Stephanie had been friends for a while before I entered the picture. I got to know Jen first. I think I can name the moment Stephanie and I became friends– on a bench outside Mount Carmel Academy during lunch. There were students everywhere. When I think back to it, the background noise stands out more to me than our conversation. Excited chatter, frequent yelling, exclamations, but on our bench just quiet.
I was nervous. I told Stephanie, who had been trying for quite some time to get pregnant that I was pregnant. I told her all of the back story, terrified I would be to her what all those facebook pregnancy announcements and happy, glowing teachers in the faculty lounge had been to me– proof of my unworthiness. It was the first time we talked about what we’d been going through. The first time we opened up.
Stephanie’s currently pregnant with her second child.
What follows is what Stephanie wrote to me a couple nights ago.
“Like Kristi, I doubted whether I had a story worth sharing with you, if you even still need them. But sitting at home this evening, watching Kate and debating on whether or not I can feel Baby 2 move yet or not, I thought maybe I do. So I have two for you, that you are willing to take or leave.
The first is the obvious, my children, and the second, not so obvious, my grandparents. However, both are connected for me because they both remind me about the power of God and the role He plays in our lives. I’ve never considered myself to be a deeply religious individual, but when I was thinking of what I could share with you, for the first time I saw this tie between my children and my grandparents.
So the obvious one first: Kate and her future sibling:
While Stuart’s and my pregnancy journey is NO where near the journeys or struggles of others, like yourself or your friend Laura, I don’t think I will ever forget the 1 1/2 years of trying we went through, the feeling of failure and hopelessness month after month, or the irrational anger I felt toward people who were announcing their pregnancies or complaining about pregnancy symptoms during that 1 1/2 years. I became completely bitter, and honestly, I don’t know how Stuart or my friends put up with how depressed I was or with my mood swings or my anger and bitterness. I was so angry that God was choosing other people (who in my mind deserved far less than us to be parents, which is a terrible thought that I hate to admit that I had frequently) over us. I had taken a lemon from the St. Joseph’s altar, as whatever tale suggests women wanting babies should do, and I was angry at St. Joseph too for not holding up what was supposed to be his end of the bargain. Completely ridiculous and irrational, looking back on it. And then came our Kate, my miracle baby. A baby who we had a 2% chance of conceiving at the time, according to the fertility doctors. But she happened. And my not-deeply-religious self decided that were this baby to be a girl, her middle name should be Elizabeth, after the mother of John the Baptist, who became pregnant though considered barren. John, like Kate, was conceived against the odds and by the power of God. Now, as we wait for the arrival of Baby 2, whose due date is March 19, St. Joseph’s Day, I’m reminded of how angry I was at St. Joseph. At the end of last school year, I was talking about that with one of the religion teachers, and she said, “Did St. Joseph give you a deadline?” And I thought, what a religion teacher thing to say. But with a baby due on the feast day of the very saint I was so angry at, I can’t deny the role God has had in the conception of my children.
The not so obvious one: my grandparents:
If someone asked me to describe God’s love, I would describe my grandparents. In 1997, my grandfather had a brain aneurism that nearly killed him and left him with short term memory loss. My grandmother slept in the ICU waiting room for days until my father and his brothers convinced her to stay in the hotel that was connected to the hospital. I went to the hospital one time. It was one of the most powerful and frightening days of my life. When we went to my grandmother’s room at the hotel, I first noticed her Bible from her house on the desk. Then, when we looked out the window, we noticed that her room was directly across the street from my grandfather’s in the hospital. If both their curtains were open, she could see directly into his room and be near him in a way, when visiting hours were over. Since 1997, my grandmother has never been away from my grandfather for more than a few hours. When doctors said that most of his memory would be gone forever, my grandmother refused to accept it. She read books, went through exercises with him, to bring back as much of his memory as possible. And while his short term memory is sketchy, she was more successful than the doctors thought. She taught him ways to remember recent things. She insisted he learn to drive again. She got him to quit smoking after who knows how many decades. She has seen him through multiple surgeries and cancer treatments in the last couple of years. She has never left his side or asked for a break. The two of them are inseparable in my mind. There is not one without the other, and that to me, is what God’s love is: to be completed devoted, regardless of difficulties, flaws, or shortcomings. And more importantly, she never turned on God as I did when I struggled with becoming pregnant. She still went to church multiple times a week. She prayed the rosary over and over while my grandfather had surgeries for cancer. She brought her Bible when he was in ICU all those years ago.
And so it seems to me that all my life God has been showing me what it is to truly love another, what His love is like, and just how much of a role He has in our lives. Truly, we are on His time schedule, not our own, no matter how much we want to deny that.
And that’s my story if you want it. No worries if you don’t.”
Needless to say, this is a story I wanted, and one I needed to hear.
I’m about to turn thirty-three. Young, I know, but as people around me build their families and their homes, I feel like I’m not keeping up, like I’m losing ground. Sometimes, like I’m not as valuable.
Stephanie’s story is a reminder to me about timelines and control– and I’m getting rid of both.
Like the tomatoes, I think these lemons are about love. The coffee mug in the back is, of course, a nod to our friendship, our “club”. In fact it’s one of the mugs I used during our coffee dates when we all lived in the same city. Since I’m telling stories, I can’t seem to resist writing into each of my paintings. This one includes a prayer to St. Joseph.