I have been gardening for 12 years and as I think back through all of the gardens in my wake, there are a handful that stand out as exceptionally memorable.
But the one that I learned the most from was during the hardest summer of my life. During my darkest period of sorrow. During a time when I thought I was going to break.
In March of 2010, I was pregnant with twin boys and I ended up in the hospital at 21 weeks into the pregnancy. To make a long story short, I was flat on my back for 2 1/2 weeks in a desperate attempt to save my babies lives.
The first baby was born at 23 weeks and was resuscitated and rushed to the NICU, his life hanging in the balance. And then, because they were in separate amniotic sacs, the second baby was born three days later and was also resuscitated and rushed to the NICU.
We were told by the doctors that the first baby was doing very well, considering how early he was born. But the second baby was very sick. He had caught an infection. During his second day of life, we were told that his body was shutting down and there was nothing else that they could do for him. My husband and I spent some time considering what to do and praying for guidance. After some time, we felt it was best to take him off life support and allow him to return home to Heavenly Father. We held him in our arms and cried as he slipped from this life to the next.
Grief washed over me and consumed me for a very long time. Losing a baby is excruciatingly hard. Long after the funeral, I continued to struggle and hurt. The things that kept me going were my husband, my 4 year-old daughter, and my other son.
I spent every single day for 4 1/2 months at the hospital doing everything I possibly could for my surviving son. I was not allowed to hold him because he was too fragile so I sat by his incubator and held his tiny hand for hours. I pumped milk for him. I sang to him, talked to him, and prayed for him.
After a month, he began to improve. I was allowed to hold him but only for short periods of time and only with a great deal of medical support.
And then slowly, day by day, he began to improve. I held him more often as he got stronger. Soon, he was learning to nurse and was moved out of his incubator to a regular bed. Not too long after that, we were able to bring him home.
But not without challenges.
He came home with a feeding tube and a monitor and his lungs were still very fragile. My routine became breastfeed him, feed him with the feeding tube, pump milk, and wash all of the equipment. Then I had about 20 minutes before starting all over again.
Around the clock.
Slowly but surely, he needed the feeding tube less and less and eventually he didn’t need it anymore.
Life got a bit easier.
More normal (whatever normal is).
I tell you this not for you to feel sorry for me but to paint a picture of what was on my plate that summer.
Ever since I started gardening, I felt a pull every spring to plant things. This year was no different. As soon as the weather started warming up in spring, I feel the desire to plant seeds.
But I thought, “How can I even THINK about planting a garden this year? My kids need me way more than my garden needs me. I can’t garden, I need to grieve.”
But as I continued to think about what to do, I thought, “I’ll just put some seeds into the ground and see what happens. If they grow, they grow. If the don’t, they don’t. If the weeds or insects or birds get the best of them, well so be it. At least I can say I tried.”
Boy am I glad I did it. I learned so much from that one decision. The biggest thing I learned is what I like to call “the art of speed gardening.”
Whatever amount of time I had available (usually only 15 minutes here and there), I would say, “I only have 15 minutes. How much can I get done in that amount of time? Go!” And as fast as I could, I would weed as much as possible, plant as much as possible, or harvest as much as possible. When the time was up, I would stop wherever I was at and be done for the day.
My goodness, I got a lot accomplished during those speed bursts.
Looking back, if I knew then what I know now, I would have mulched heavily to keep the weeds down because I seem to recall an astronomical amount of my speed gardening sessions being spent on weed control. Now I know there is a better way called mulch.
I also learned that I needed the garden more than it needed me. It gave me a place to stay anchored to my spiritual self. There is something about being in nature that heals and lifts.
I found myself pouring my tears and my heart out to the Lord while I was in my garden. It became a sanctuary for me during my hour of need.
The garden, for me, was more than just a garden that year. It was my place of hope and help and healing.
I’m so grateful for all that it taught me.
If you’d like to see a video that my husband made showing our children’s stories, click below. Warning: you will need a tissue or two…