Cultivation

Once upon a time, I had a conversation with a friend. We spoke of past hurts and creating spaces to grow and experience wholeness. He even enlightened me to the reality that men should make this for women (if they love them).

It’s called locus amoenus (low-cuss a-moy-nhus). This Latin phrase translates to a “pleasant place,” according to the illustrious Google translator’s detection. It seems to be a phrase fraught with historical and social implications (one I don’t feel like exploring here).

This friend is a theologian of sorts, enamored with Renaissance notions of chivalry, polished to a beautiful pre-Industrial sheen. He’s as labyrinthine in logic as me, so I can’t claim to understand all his motives. I do know his reasoning for sharing this phrase with me.

As we sat on a back porch, sipping whisky and sharing sentiments, I had a moment of recognition. It was the first time I realized a man could love you incompletely the futility of utility (a.k.a., use). This moment was the start of something pivotal in my personal growth.

I needed to learn this truth from a friend not in love with me. I could hear the truth of what he said without distractions of personal motive. This rational epiphany gave me the moral objectivity needed for healthy introspection.

Before that conversation, I’d never considered what a man is supposed to do, why he’s called to it, and how I deserved it. We’ve all got self-esteem issues, sure, but when people you trust use you up, it changes how you see the world (and your place in it) forever. And for a long time, I didn’t feel like I deserved a pleasant place.

Insecurities aside, I realized I was more than worthy (we all are) of something secure and pleasant. It’s not a question of worth but a recognition of our inherent dignity. And too many of us aren’t raised to see that in one another anymore.

My parents raised me to see this in others. I could chalk it up to moral fiber, faith, their upbringing, or a million other little reasons. I know this: my father created a pleasant place for my mother when the world told him he owed her no obligation. And he strives to provide this space for her through every day of their union.

Mind you, I didn’t always recognize my father’s role in creating a space for my mother in his heart, but if a man loves a woman, he does this. I’d never describe my father as a gardener. Despite his deep appreciation for the natural world, he’s a hunter above all else.

But the same reverence he holds for God’s greenery he shows for the garden of my mother’s heart. And, damn, if that doesn’t move me to tears. I’m so blessed to have this model of love in my life. Make no mistake, I recognize it as the unicorn who rests in a garden.

Taming a wild heart is no mere task.

Taming a wild heart is no mere task. It often scars the man who tries, and it’s nothing to be taken lightly. This taming is even more challenging when the world disillusions both unicorn and gardener.

Over time, I’ve come to see these scars in my father. I saw those in my mother sooner—as we talk matters of heart and spirit more often. Seeing this legendary romance in those who reared me gives a good frame of reference for choosing the right man for me.

Garden of the Heart

Before I venture further into the man’s role of creating a space, I must write of the woman’s role, rite, and privilege, too. There’s a reason we refer to nature, and the earth is the feminine. Mother Earth, Gaia, and other cultural signifiers reflect femininity’s relationship with creation and life.

I’m a believer in the garden of the heart. It’s a fertile crescent, an Eden of potential for love and courage. But of the many metaphors for growth and discovery, there are just as many for corruption and decay.

When we think of the heart’s chambers as garden boxes to till and tend, think of everything from soil to leaves to vines to branches to sunlight to weeds to rot and to new growth. There are all sorts of lovely biblical implication to insert here, so there’s nothing particularly original to add.

I could mention our role as branches of the vine. I could also refer to the parable of mustard seeds or the weeds which grow up among the wheat. I could refer to the fruits of the Holy Spirit, too.

There’s so much rich imagery about harvest and growth and the price of neglect in the Bible. I really do love it, but my modern takeaway isn’t some primordial ode to the divine feminine, nor is it partial only to my Catholic upbringing. I’m talking about something innate to every womanly body.

We try to subvert or reinterpret natural truth, and it’s often to our detriment as a species. The kind of misconceptions we carry about our bodies is due to a myriad of maladies. Most often, it starts with a disorder untraceable beyond the subatomic—it’s of soul stuff.

So much of today’s world pretends to protect when it poisons from within, a wolf among sheep, weeds among the wheat. I mentioned earlier how I experienced incomplete love from the men who used me. I’m not blameless here. I want to state that I returned the incomplete love I offered.

Most of the time, I didn’t see the love as incomplete, but hindsight reveals much. What I chose to do in my past relationships didn’t feel like use. We were happy and enjoyed what we shared, no matter how small and incomplete it was.

We were happy and enjoyed what we shared, no matter how small and incomplete it was.

The world tells us, guides and molds us into believing that we should settle for less. And when we have the truest good in our lives, less really is more. But most of the time, we supplement what we settle for because it falls short of the truest good.

We’re so incredibly gifted at lying to ourselves, at deluding ourselves into believing in an illusion of abundance. But the truest, most beautiful things are unicorns in gardens. They’re the cliched flower sprouting out of concrete. These things are often buried amongst the weeds, rarely standing out as the legendary things they are.

I’ve written before about taking time to look for these things. I’ve written of building the mindset, skills, and virtue to see and hear these things. I’ve written of appreciating everything for the golden moment it may be, and still I cannot see.

Still, I remain blind and ignorant to so much of what I try to see. It’s one of many reasons I find the notion of revisiting the past so healthy (assuming it’s not for self-blame or idealistic malingering).

I find my retrospections a consistent form of enlightenment, largely when they’re fertilized by sources outside my garden. For instance, pressed flowers may be the memories we choose to keep. The beauty isn’t the same as it once was; the life essence dried up.

But there’s still a beauty present, albeit a different one. The lingering scent of what once was intoxicates, all the same, a nostalgic perfume. And the blooms pulled from our garden hearts depend on how well we tend them.

Despite what modernity shouts at the tops of its lungs, there is strength in silence and patience. As a strong-willed woman, I struggle with this. Many of my peers fight this, too, seeing it as timidity, sexism, denial of agency, and worse.

But if we’re too busy yelling for attention, who’s ear do we draw? I don’t want to scream my throat raw to capture anyone’s attention. I may be loud, but it’s from my love of life (and a natural ability to project).

The garden of the heart must not harden into fallow ground, despite what fear and doubt and delusion demand. More than ever, we women must embrace our virtue. We must create a place of calm within to weather the maddening world outside.

If we neglect our gifts, our strengths, we neglect those we dream of one day loving. I say this for myself as much as any women who read this. This simple truth shouldn’t be controversial, yet some would deem it as such.

The truth is hard to accept, even once recognized. Acceptance means actions of sacrifice, change, and vulnerability. It means no more hiding in the quiet, cozy comforts of naivete and immaturity.

When we carve out a space for visitors to our garden hearts, we can dazzle them with once-in-a-lifetime beauty. But we must take the time to cultivate our gardens into things of beauty. If we wall them off, denying sunshine’s truth, they’ll wither and fade. And if we let anyone wander through, we risk more than we know.

Guarding the heart might seem like a wise solution, but alas, it’s not. If anything, we risk our hearts becoming overgrown, untended spaces for wild terrors to rest. A heart overgrown with wildflowers seems romantic (and in some circumstances, it is!)

A heart overgrown with wildflowers seems romantic, but everything that grows in the wild isn’t as beautiful as it seems…

But everything that grows in the wild isn’t as beautiful as it seems. Some wild flora and fauna choke out native plants. If foreign flora finds its way into your untended heart, you may find yourself overwhelmed.

There’s a reason gardens are hallmarks of civilization. Many cultures develop unique methods to tend their gardens, from the Arabic tendency for symmetry and balance to the Japanese emphasis on union and harmony to the Irish transition of utility to ecologic form.

Our hearts have their own ways of blooming, requiring different levels of care. Different things nurture different types of flora, some requiring more or less attention. Each of us blooms in our own season, and it’s important to recognize our inherent perennial natures.

Some parts of our garden hearts may rarely bloom. There are some flowers that only bloom once annually, or every few years, or even once a century. Some things bloom only once, fading into the dust of the past.

Stepping Stones

Walking through a garden requires some kind of path. It may appear as a simple dirt walkway, as concrete steps, or ornate mosaics handmade with care. These paths can guide us to new destinations or secret places off the beaten path. Where we wander is determined by many things, particularly the stones laid before us by our choices and experiences.

In dating, some people feel as if they’re stepping stones to the next person or experience. I find that people who feel this way lack perspective or suffered use from their dating partner. The best “stepping stones” don’t care what paths they’re part of; they’re too busy enjoying the journey.

I find wandering down unknown paths is intimidating, but it’s exhilarating, too. You can let yourself drink in the new air, the fresh sights and sounds, and smell some damn roses, too.

I can’t recall any time I ever knew at the moment that I was someone else’s stepping stone. I only recognize the roles I played in hindsight (and the same goes for those who lead me further down my path, too). I don’t begrudge those I helped along any more than I hope I am not resented for others’ parts to play in my growth.

That’s the thing about a garden; it never stays the same. No blossoms come back exactly as their original. Stones weather over time, with every passing season. We can choose which stones we follow, and even those put in our path on occasion. But we can’t stop the passing of time and how these stones wear.

Stepping stones aren’t just symbolic of use. They reflect the imprint of others’ on our lives. They’re the weight of regret, as much as the grounding stones and for hope. The largest stepping stones actually become cornerstones, foundations of our core selves.

Stones laid down can be removed from a path, but there will still be the impression of what was once there. We can’t erase others’ effects on our lives, regardless of a desire to ignore the past. Instead, we can choose what paths to follow, even choosing which stones make up which paths.


I know it’s been a couple of weeks, so I’m super grateful you stayed with me. Your patience is much appreciated, as well as the time it takes you to read my thoughts. If you’re new here and want more 🔥 content lighting up your life, sign up for email reminders. Or, you can follow my page on Facebook.

Ponderance

One of my biggest pet peeves is willful ignorance. People close themselves off to the truth, especially when it contradicts their preconceived perceptions. It’s a terrible habit we’ve all normalized to lull ourselves into false security. I’m no exception to this rule.

 I deny the truth for security or self-protection too often. I don’t typically consider myself a close-minded person, but I’m the worst when it comes to my head and heart. Closing myself to the truth seems like a good idea sometimes.

 Anyone who knows me personally wouldn’t argue my intensity, passion, or expressiveness. Rarer are those who recognize my tendency for deep introspection. My propensity for self-reflection often conflicts (and eventually resolves) and opposition between my head and heart.

 Most often, my heart’s dragging its heels as my head leads the way. Occasionally, my heart grabs the reins and sends me on reckless adventures. When I’m feeling brave yet afraid, I’m usually open to my heart’s yearnings.

 But other times, I guard my heart (and not necessarily in the best way). I overprotect myself, deny my feelings, and ignore God. And that’s no bueno.

 I’ve been blogging a lot recently about vulnerability, courage, and bravery. But today, I wanted to address a special kind of strength I struggle with most. I wanted to talk about the power that lies in acceptance.

 This conflict confuses the heck out of me, leaving me with one big question: WHY. And I have done so much to try and answer this question in my life. A lot of what I’ve done hasn’t helped but has hurt me (and others).

Responding to Uncertainty

 Lately, dating has me all kinds of shook up. My endless internal conflict is only magnified as I fight the intoxication of my ideas. When I dream about “missed opportunities,” I miss the life in front of me.

 Past me couldn’t stop this dangerous pastime of thought. I’d spiral out of control, wending my way through a labyrinth of pain and false hope. And it was a path I used to walk alone.

 I fought acceptance at every turn, isolating myself. This pushed me further and further into a downward spiral. It made the truth stranger than fiction (and thus, easier to dismiss).

 Healthier, stable me finally understands chronic vs. event-based mental health issues. And it’s made me a better human being. But knowing I’m an anxious mess makes me proactive.

 Knowing proactivity is a good thing, I usually take action. The issue lies with taking the initiative when you need to sit back and listen. Taking a less traveled road to acceptance is still taking action.

 I waver one minute from anxious to peaceful to hopeful resolution. The next minute, I’m hurting over fear, questions of self-worth, then struggling with acceptance. Sometimes, I’m in a rage and exhausted and want it all to stop.

 My feelings about uncertainty put me out. When I’m only certain of my uncertainty, I itch for action. But not looking before you leap can land you in shark-infested waters.

 I suck at waiting. And the path towards graceful, peaceful acceptance is an uphill battle. I get tired of climbing that muddy, uneven slope.

 The upturned earth trips me, chips away at my resolve. Each step gets harder the closer I get to the top. I persevere, knowing that view is so worth it.

 What slows that climb isn’t the earth I trod. It’s the weight I bear. It’s a weigh unborn by the likes of Atlas or Sisyphus. It’s a weight all women carry.

 We, as women, were made for receptivity. We receive the phenomenal weight of life, no matter how we try to deny it. Our literal capacity for bearing life defines so much about our inherent strength.

 To be a woman is to receive the weight of so much expectation. How we bear that weight and what we do with that strength is what defines us as individuals. It’s what makes or breaks a phenomenal woman.

In a world where femininity is thwarted by a culture prone to cancel the truth, the weight we bear increases evermore. It’s a two-way street, too. The more we have to accept, the more support we need from our male counterparts. Eventually, it’s too much to bear for anyone.

 One of the truths of feminine genius is the crossroads of acceptance, vulnerability, courage, and strength.

 One of the truths of feminine genius is the crossroads of acceptance, vulnerability, courage, and strength. We don’t roll a boulder uphill until it hits the top. That’s the punishment of a purposeless man.

 Those of us women who try to follow the same Sisyphean path are bound to the same fate-never reaching a proverbial top. And those of us who bear the world on our backs will bow and eventually break (just like any man).

 And this is not our calling. We’re called to a grander ponderance, one of mobility and progress. We may never literally bear life (not all of us are privileged with this gift).

 I spoke with a couple of girlfriends last weekend about our calling to receptivity. And I boldly claim, “I can’t befriend someone who’s not open to life’s possibilities.”

 And I stand by this claim. If you’re not courageously vulnerable to life’s uncertainty or can’t accept you won’t always understand or have clarity, then you’ll never fully live. The beauty of acceptance is its simplicity.

 Earlier this week, our morning formation struck a particularly relevant chord. I hated how true it was. The relevance was providential, as the apostolic letter came out last December. Here’s what hit home the most,

 …Set aside all anger and disappointment…and embrace the way things are, even when they do not turn out as we wish. Not with mere resignation but with hope and courage. In this way, we become open to a deeper meaning.

Patris Corde of the Holy Father Francis

 There’s nothing overly original about these words, but their context shed new light on uncertainty. My ongoing and historic struggle for clarity and forced resolution revealed something. The desperate pursuit of truth distorts the objective truth.

 Despair, often fueled by fear and faithlessness, reveals weakness and doubt. If you chase down answers, you blind yourself to other possibilities. One of the joys in faith is a revelation of something already before you in essence; it’s a mere perspective shift.

 Understanding the toll desperation takes creates a space for hope and patience in your heart. This space is vital, especially for pondering tough stuff like suffering, trauma, and old hurts. The only way out is through. Otherwise, you get stuck rolling a boulder up a hill for a proverbial eternity.

 At the Crossroads

 I find myself in a place of uncertainty pretty often. But I know that being amid possibility and potential is a rare place to be. That up-in-the-air feeling permeates my very fiber, thrilling me to the core.

 The thrill invigorates me, pulling taut the muscles of my patience and preparation. The courage needed to open myself to this thrill comes from hope, not strength. The thing that takes the most strength is acceptance.

 Bearing a weight, considering a burden, being a woman necessitates ponderance. Ponderance means weight, importance, a thing of consequence. It’s the intention behind acceptance that requires strength.

 When you take desperate action, you ignore the weight of a thing. And avoiding ponderance leaves you clawing for a “why” you might never get. That’s a dangerous thing in any part of life, especially with love.

 Opening my heart to dating to another kind of crossroads brings memory lane into view. Some things come back I’d tucked away or artfully forgotten. And working through those things without regretful dwelling is hard.

 I used to think love was a waiting game, something I needed to bide my time for until it came along. But I was so very wrong. Love is no waiting game, but vulnerably living, brave yet afraid.

 Love is no waiting game…

 Suppose you’re not full of self-doubt. I applaud your superhuman ability to forgive yourself and accept yourself as who you are.

 Usually, it’s a particular person (or series of similar persons) we allow to hold back our growth. Much of our time is spent resenting exes or never moving on, maybe trying to win them back.

 Meanwhile, said exes are moving on and growing up. They’ve chosen to let the past be in the past. It’s not necessarily apathy as much as having outgrown past relationships. Ideally, this doesn’t mean cutting all ties, but that is now all too often the case.

 Until a few weeks ago, I’d chosen not to date. What began as yearlong abstinence from dating eventually became three years.

 After two relationships ended back to back, I needed some me-time. As a wise friend put it, “Concentrate on you, girl. In a correct, positive, nourishing sense. Not the silly, modern selfish sense.” And that’s precisely what I’ve been doing.

 Three years ago, my mom and I spoke about the difficulty of growing up. As she accurately put it, “You’ve been in a holding pattern ever since you got out of college and came home.” There was no disagreeing with her then.

 Now, I have space and desire to grow. When I graduated from college, I was so set on forcing the things I wanted to happen. Instead of preparing myself for what I wanted, I “waited” with impatience and resignation.

 Impatience reflects reactivity; patience reflects proactivity. One comes with clear, targeted goals, the other with muddled feelings of frustration and resentment. It requires more strength to accept where you are instead of forcing change.

 I speak of strength, for I am a willful woman. Too often have I attempted to force fate’s hand. It began in my eighteenth year, before one of my more significant life changes.

I speak of strength, for I am a willful woman. Too often have I attempted to force fate’s hand.

 I was in a two-year relationship, and all I could think of was its end. I feared what parting ways meant or what a burden another year of long-distance dating would be without any declared intent. I was selfish and afraid, so I forced change.

 This began a series of forced changes, some in the ending of relationships or trying to initiate them. I’ve learned since then that turning the wrong way down a one-way street puts you in a world of hurt. At best, you’re in for an awkward turnaround. At worst, you get wrecked.

 During the paths of growth I wandered while single, I set some new rules for myself. Considering my past willfulness and frustration in the realms of romance, these rules are necessary for many parts of my life, especially dating.

 Let the Chase Happen, But Don’t Wait

 Men are supposed to take the lead for a reason. It’s only natural for men to be the ones to seek a woman’s attention. Every other mating species on this planet has some ritual. The males prance, dance, engineer, or coerce (yikes) to seduce a mate. Of course, their mating is a 9.5/10 about genetic propagation.

 So why are men any different? Despite cultural adjustments or gender revolutions, men are still proposing marriage, and women still have to say yes. What’s the difference between a man asking a woman out on a date?

 So much of modern dating involves inorganic interaction. The removal of that face-to-face pressure also removes any impetus for men to be truly masculine.

 The responsibility for initiation becomes a question when it’s not supposed to be. If you match, swipe, select, et cetera on someone, who’s supposed to message first?

 Some dating sites and apps are engineered to give women the first choice. As much as I’ve appreciated this in the past, it’s entirely uncharted territory. Too often, forward women have a higher agenda than men lacking initiative or in need of organic encouragement (i.e., higher stakes with other men around, potential friends serving as a wingman).

 That’s why I’m not dating like I used to. I’m letting men do their thing, as they’re supposed to. Despite any mutual feelings I may share with some, it’s not on me to have the cajones and initiate. Too long have I been the one deciding how things should be, and it’s exhausting.

 This is my whole new world. It’s going to take some getting used to, certainly. Impatience has been my holding pattern for so long. I’ve finally realized that patience requires clarity of purpose, firm intent, and cultivated willpower. I’ll get there eventually, and when I do, it’ll be life-changing.


Thanks for bearing with me as you read about my journey through love, dating, and life in general. I hope my stories help you in some small way. If you’re a big fan of my stuff, sign up for email reminders or follow me on Facebook to get notified about my latest posts.