One year ago, my dad planted flowers in our backyard. Some of them bloomed right away, and like his visit, they brought much-needed beauty into our tumultuous lives. But some of the flowers he planted needed more time. They needed water to fall and sun to shine before they could thrive and grow.
Almost overnight, the flowers I’ve been waiting for have bloomed in our yard. There are yellow ones, purple ones, and magnificent ones with orange and ruby swirls that resemble the setting sun. Together, they bring glorious color to our yard. Though I appreciated his work and found all the gardening my dad initially did impressive, I don’t think I really understood how fruitful the seeds he planted would eventually be.
One year ago, this very week, I lay on the couch in our living room. A comedy was blasting from the TV, but I didn’t have enough energy to watch. As it grew later, I began to feel as if I were drifting away from my own body and floating above myself. I was hot – so very hot – and tired. I could barely keep my eyes open though I’d been sleeping all day, and finally, when my temperature reached a dangerous high and I began to sweat through my pajamas, despite the air-conditioning being on full blast, we knew it was time.
I’d avoided infections and hospital stays throughout my previous three rounds of chemo, which was not only helpful in keeping my spirits relatively high, but also fairly amazing, considering many people only receive DA-R-EPOCH while being closely monitored in the oncology wing of a hospital. But I couldn’t avoid the hospital anymore. And though I hated to leave John Paul, even just for a few days, the pain from my mouth sores and wrecked digestive system was so intense, and my energy so low, that I welcomed the blood transfusions and intravenous hydration and pain medication only the hospital could offer.
And so off to a cloistered, germ-free wing of the emergency room we went. I’ll never forget Mike telling me how he watched my face turn from white to pink as someone else’s blood entered my body. And I’ll never forget how grateful I felt in that moment, for that precious gift.
Two days later, my fever was gone, they’d pinpointed the type of infection wrecking havoc on my body, and I’d begun treatment to get better before my next round of chemo. Finally, I was allowed to see people without their smiles being covered by face masks. My parents and Mike’s parents came to visit us at the hospital, and with them, came little John Paul. How grateful I was to finally hold him again, even in that hospital waiting room, even under the circumstances. How sweet he smelled, and how content I felt.
Still, just below the surface of my happiness lied fears I couldn’t erase: what if they hadn’t gotten my fever to settle or my infection under control? What if I had never had the chance to hold my baby again? What if after all of the pain and suffering I’d endured during chemotherapy this terrible disease still got the best of me?
But here I am, the same person with the same sweet baby, in a different summer, on a different day. I’ve made it to the other side of suffering, and though I know there is surely more hardship to come in my life, I also know that God is good and faithful. I have learned firsthand that pain always ends, and no matter how bad or hopeless things seem, relief and peace is always somewhere in our future. No matter our circumstances, we’ll all eventually feel joy, heavenly joy – joy even greater than I feel sitting in my yard with John Paul as the sun warms my face and the breeze of the wind blows at our backs. Is it easier to say this now, here, healthy and growing stronger every day? Yes. But saying it – affirming it, even – in precious moments like these is what helps us say it in the times when heaven seems that much further away, when the seeds we’ve planted and sown seem like they might never come to fruition.
My garden isn’t perfect. But its growth and perseverance through extreme heat and a long winter amazes me. My faith isn’t perfect. But it’s growth and perseverance through extreme pain and suffering amazes me. The credit and thanksgiving all goes to God. And I can feel it, sense it, see it, how my faith, like my garden, is slowly becoming something strong and beautiful.
In my garden, there are dead flowers. Though they are shriveled and small, and in no way dominate the space with their presence, they are still there. It will take time, and much pruning, for them to be completely erased. Even then, their fragrance will linger on, reminding me of where I’ve been, what I’ve survived, and where I’m heading.
In my garden, there are new flowers. After lying dormant for over a year, they have finally begun to burst forth with vibrant color, bringing hopefulness and optimism.
In my garden, there are buds. These buds need more nurturing before they too can burst forth with life. And just as surely, in my garden, there are seeds of flowers to come. They lie small and still beneath the mulch and dirt, as our hopes and dreams, anxieties and fears lie deep in our hearts. But I believe that someday, with love and nurturing and God’s grace, they too will grow and bloom into something worth seeing, something beautiful.
John Paul and I enjoying the garden and sunshine today.