Flowers have always been a source of comfort, inspiration and joy to me. The intensity I exhibit in other areas of my life is noticeably absent when I work with flowers. Something about trimming leaves and thorns from the stem; arranging the blossoms; and setting the arrangement into a vase of clear water is meditative. Flowers are peace. With flowers, I am my best self.
After I stopped practicing law, I had plenty of time for flowers. The more I worked with flowers – the happier I became. My skills improved and I was proud to display my creations around our home and give them away to family and friends.
I was vulnerable during this time. I didn’t speak to many people and kept my circle small. Selling my firm and leaving litigation was removing myself from an abusive relationship. I was damaged and needed time alone to be quiet and heal. It was really just me, my family, a few close friends, God – and of course, flowers.
My isolation – while needed at first – became dangerous. I started to collapse into myself – detaching from those around me -and obsessively considering what I should do now that I was no longer a lawyer. During the day, I went through the motions of taking care of my family and home. I kissed children, packed lunches, did laundry and listened to the account of my husband’s day. However, in the back of my mind, I was dying to escape into the depths of my thoughts – alone.
I was determined to crack the puzzle of why (in my opinion) I had failed at law where others seemed to navigate the peaks and valleys of the profession with ease. Attorneys are ferocious at research. That skill did not leave me when I shut the doors of the firm. When the baby napped during the day – or after my family had settled in for the night – I spent hours online – researching researching researching – convinced that if I kept “working at it” – the answer of “who” I was meant to be and “what” I was being called to do would reveal itself.
I was not willing to be patient for God to reveal His plan to me. Instead I pushed, or “diesled” my way into securing an answer – now – even if it wasn’t the right one. An answer, any answer, was less frightening than the unknown.
So I didn’t wait. Desperate for a solution to address the wreckage of my legal career – I fantasized one into reality. And that solution – was flowers.
Following many late nights spent online, I bounced into our kitchen and announced to my husband that I was going to be a floral designer. He was washing dishes. As supportive as he had been about transitioning out of law – this news made him look at me like I was an alien.
“Come again?” he said.
I un-leashed a grandiose fantasy of how I was going to go to floral school in New York and open a design shoppe. I walked him through my business plan (I had acumen certainly) and expressed my passion for flowers (this is and always has been true). In order to reach my goal, “I must and absolutely must attend a [super-expensive] floral design program in New York,” I shared.
I had spent hours researching the proper schools and wanted to maximize my chance at success and floral design stardom.
If that wasn’t enough, I went on:
“It will only be a few weeks. I can arrange to take the kids with me or you can watch them. When I leave the program I will be certified and no doubt one of the top designers in the area. The program is only a few thousand dollars. I’ll have to find an apartment while I am there. I have found my calling! Aren’t you super excited?! Isn’t this amazing?!”
I practically finished my rant with a “Ta-Da!” Jeff stared at me blankly. Soap dripped from his hands onto the floor as our three young children paraded through the kitchen yelling joyfully at the top of their lungs.
If we were Catholic, Jeff would qualify for sua sponte sainthood. No martyrdom required.
Jeff has a high tolerance for my outbursts. He’s great at playing along when I want to throw a party; volunteer for a committee; or take on any other kind of crazy project that I typically end up regretting later.
I have learned that thinking something is “fun and awesome” and something actually being “fun and awesome”are two completely different things. Looking at the Sistine Chapel is “fun and awesome.” Painting the damn thing must have been a fucking nightmare.
Fortunately for me, my husband finds me entertaining as I chase after one idea or another. “You always keep things interesting babe,” he often says with a smile.
However, on the day I announced I was ditching my family to study floral design in New York – Jeff was not tolerant. A rare sight – he gave me the verbal equivalent of a WWE “Smackdown” and lost his cookies in the kitchen.
“Are you out of your MIND Cat?” he yelled, “In what universe do you think it would be okay to travel to New York to learn how to be a florist…”
“Um, excuse me,” I interrupted politely, “Floral designer…not just a florist.”
“We have three kids! Now that the firm is gone – I’m supporting us on my salary! What are you thinking? That I am going to work a million hours, come home and take care of three kids, while you are prancing around Manhattan with flowers? The answer is ‘no’ Cat. Do you hear me? N-O-!”
My eyes welled up. I was devastated.
I spoke harsh words to Jeff in front of the kids and blamed him for where I had ended up in life. Fear bubbled up to the surface and poured itself out as rage upon my husband that was neither warranted or deserved. I was like a drowning person – desperately gasping for air and grabbing onto anything I could to stay afloat – even if it meant harming the hearts of those I love the most.
I threw a spatula across the room and, like a moody teenager, stormed out of the house slamming the door behind me as I went. I got into our car, opened up the accelerator, blasted music and drove deep into the country – alone again with my thoughts.
During this car ride, I yelled at God. Everything that had been bottled up in my heart manifested itself into words of anger, hurt, disappointment. I demanded answers.
How could I have gotten this so wrong? How could I have let so many years go by while sinking deeper and deeper into a horrible career? How could I be this far along in life with no idea of who I am or what my purpose in this world is supposed to be? I blamed everyone who loved me. How could they have let this happen to me? Why didn’t they stop it? Why didn’t they save me?
Me. Me. Me. I. I. I. Not once did I speak to God about my husband or children. Not once did I give thanks for my blessings. I ranted and blamed. The seed of resentment had planted itself deep in my heart and took possession of every part of me. I was consumed by sin.
God did not speak to me. The car was silent. I stopped yelling – turned the music off – and drove back home. I didn’t feel any better. I felt like a lost asshole who had not just failed at her career – but had failed at life in general.
Our little white farm house was a beacon in the dark. I pulled into the driveway got out of the car and stood silently. I didn’t go inside. I leaned against the car and looked out over the country field. The corn rustled in the wind and fireflies lit up the yard like diamonds in the night.
I stayed there for awhile – staring and losing myself in the beautiful rich darkness. I don’t know if I leaned against that car for minutes or hours – but eventually, I breathed in deeply and went inside the house.
It was late and my family was asleep. The kitchen was clean. Jeff had left a plate of food for me on the kitchen island. A swell of emotion filled my heart. I immediately regretted the words I had laid down on my husband; the man who lifted me up physically, emotionally and spiritually. I had damaged him and put a ding in our marriage.
What a disaster I was.
I walked up the stairs and went into the girls’ bedroom. Each was nestled into her pink princess bed, snuggled under the covers. My oldest daughter’s mouth was open as she snored softly. The little one was hidden under her blankie. I laid my hand on top of each of their heads, kissed and blessed them.
I went into my son’s nursery. He was laying flat on his back – arms and legs spread out, with his chunky belly rising up and down as he slept. He had his dinosaur pajamas on. I stroked his beautiful dark hair and leaned over to kiss his cheek, blessing him. He made a smacking sound with his lips and rolled over onto his tummy.
I tip-toed into our bedroom. Jeff was still. The tv was on – playing an old black and white western film. I washed my face, brushed my teeth and put my pajamas on. I crawled into bed next to my handsome husband and touched his arm with the tips of my fingers. I whispered softly, “I’m so sorry.”
Deep in sleep – or awake and not ready to acknowledge me – he rolled onto his side and turned his back to me.
Right there I realized what I had done. What I had been doing.
My entire focus had been on my career; life; journey – and what litigation had taken from me over the years. It was as if I “came to” and suddenly noticed the beautiful family that shared the same real estate I did. I was ashamed. I had spent so much time and energy thinking about myself – that I failed to consider the needs of the people I love the most. I had used this transitional place in my life as an excuse to be selfish at the expense of those closest to me.
What if my career had nothing to do with any of it? What if the problem had been – well – me? Me, all along.
I knew that God’s silence in the car had been purposeful.
I confessed. This time my words to my Father were not laced with anger and resentment – but with regret and contrition. I had fallen far from Him – far from the Son – and had been going astray for sometime. I stated each of my sins aloud – lingering over some more than others. I created a list of those I had hurt and begged for forgiveness for the harm I had caused against each.
The more I offered up, the freer I felt. Each sin restricted me like a lock and chain. As I acknowledged my trespasses, I flung these heavy burdens off – one by one – until I felt weighted down by nothing. I knew that I had been forgiven. I slept that night – knowing I would seek forgiveness from those I had harmed during my downward spiral.
Well-functioning families are incredible vehicles of grace. Jeff, the kids, me – we have all failed each other (or the family unit) in some form or function. My husband and I learned early on in our marriage to give each other grace freely – but to confess our shortcomings candidly in front of each other and our children.
There is something about taking ownership of failures – especially in front of your kids – requesting forgiveness – and then asking the family to pray and support you to be more successful in the future – that teaches an important lesson to the next generation of believers.
People fuck up. A lot. We’re messy and ridiculous. That’s why we need Jesus. And that’s why we need to be quick to “forgive those who have trespassed against us.”
Here’s an important lesson: none of us are immune from being assholes. Which is exactly why we should be bold in forgiving others. Set the standard early and often by saying “Hey, I forgive you for being a butthead – because Jesus knows it will only be a matter of time before I am an even bigger butthead – and I will need you and Him to forgive my stupid self.”
The day after my floral designer fantasy meltdown – I went to my family and asked for their grace. It was given and we moved forward.
I returned to flowers, albeit, not as a fantasy to escape the reality of life and the hard choices that lay ahead – but as a source of comfort, joy and beauty. A little miracle in every mason jar – proving the perfection of God’s design and His masterful artistry.
I started to see flowers as an analogy for where God had neatly placed me in life. Made in His image – raw and un-finished – I, just like the grocery store flowers I buy every weekend, have the potential to be transformed into something unique and lovely. But I need to let the Great Creator use His hand in executing the design – and I can’t force it; not anymore than I can force a daisy to be a rose.
Rather than using flowers as a venture to generate revenue, I began to view them as a testimony for where I was in life and I started to give them away. Not just to friends and family – but to the elderly at local nursing homes; at the coffee counter at church; to new neighbors on our street; to the homeless shelter in our downtown.
Flowers – if you can believe it – became a ministry in our home – and still are today.
Every Saturday morning, my children and I purchase flowers from the grocery store. We bring them home, trim the leaves, cut the stems, style them into pretty little arrangements and place them into the cool water of a mason jar. Not for ambition. Not for fame. Not for financial prosperity. We do this because the flowers are beautiful and the delivery of them to others brings joy – both to the receiver and the giver.
And this is enough. It doesn’t have to be anymore than this.
Cat Battista is an attorney and writer. She lives with her family in the suburbs of Chicago. To connect with Cat click HERE.