Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Of apple trees and surgeries

[A year ago today I was still blissfully pregnant.  I had had no serious issues with the pregnancy.  This blog, thus, glances back at last year, but then settles in on the events of today, June 26, 2013.]

Two thousand twelve was an abnormally warm year. Winter broke into spring prematurely, practically skipping the cold season altogether.  In mid-January not only was the snow gone, but I was transplanting blueberry bushes in the back yard without a jacket on.  By mid March the apples and cherry trees had all decided to let their buds pop.

An early spring is dangerous territory for fruit farmers.  In late March and early April the hard frosts returned, and the cherry and apple blossoms were lost.  The fruit crops were decimated.

Naturally,  this is the year we decided to buy an apple tree.  Two, actually.  I guess we weren’t deterred by our neighbors’ lost crops.  We were drawn to the promise of applesauce made from Cortland apples – just like mom used to make, and the memory of the crunch of Honeycrisp apples, one of my favorite to eat.

So in late May 2012, we packed us all into our small car and headed to a nursery.  I’m not sure what we were thinking, buying two trees without a truck. Turns out trees don’t fit in a standard size trunk. Thankfully my pregnant belly was not too big, so I could wedge the two pots at my feet as Steve drove home. The branches of the trees went over my shoulder and right between our two girls in the back seat of our Saturn. To make things more interesting, we stopped for fast food on the way home. Two kids, two trees, two
adults, and my pregnant belly. Navigating the distribution of food to the back seat with a shrub over my shoulder was quite the adventure.

The trees weathered an abnormally hot summer well and, one year after transplant, are doing great. We were excited to see that the Cortland budded in the spring. Usually it takes two to three years before seedlings produce buds or apples.

When many of the buds began to grow into apples, cross pollinated with a neighboring crab apple, I got very excited.   There were two dozen apples growing on that small tree!  I told my colleague, a gardener herself, the good news.

“You know, I hate to say it,” she said, “but you’re going to have to prune off some of those apples if you want the tree to grow well.”

“I know,” I replied.  But I didn’t want to know. I wanted it to keep doing what apple trees should do – producing fruit. Taking off fruit – that’s not right.  Fruiting is what an apple tree should do.

But not this season. The tree should be working on roots and not apples – and the branches really aren’t that strong right now. I need to take a few steps back in order for the tree to keep moving forward as it should. The Honeycrisp was doing what it should do – growing strong before trying to bud. The Cortland needed to do the same.

A few weeks ago I finally pruned off a half a dozen apples. This is my compromise. I have a difficult time letting them all go. Can you blame me?  The birds took care of a few more, and so now only a dozen apples are being allowed to grow.

It’s a hard lesson, though. Knowing that the steps backwards are necessary doesn’t make the steps any easier.


June 26, 2013.  Today is the day of Jonathan’s eighth surgery. You’ll hear about the other seven as I look back over the past year. None of them were easy. Like the pruning of the apple tree, they all seemed like steps backwards. For half of the surgeries, my son was already breathing on his own, but he had to be put back on a vent when he was sedated.  That means a machine breathed for him.  Once it set him back for two weeks of intubated breathing.  The last time they were able to remove the breathing tube before I saw him (“extubate” him) but he remained on oxygen through a nasal cannula for about a day. I know it could have been much worse, it usually is for micro-preemies, but that didn't make it any easier.

When I finally saw my son’s full face with nothing on it, for a brief moment at three months old, I felt like I was meeting him again for the first time. I never wanted to lose that.  It isn’t fun to see him change from a boy full of energy to a lethargic sack on the hospital bed.  Prior to the last surgery, three months ago, he was rolling from his belly to his back.  Then he stopped.  He only recently started that trick again.  These things are hard.  This season has been hard.

But this is a season for pruning, right?  Organ by organ we are making up for the early spring, for the premature birth that nearly took his life. His roots are deepening. He is getting stronger.

Come to think of it, perhaps I’m gaining roots too.  I’m certainly not growing fruit. I like to give, to be involved, to help others. The two years before 2012 I was a full time student, full time parent, and a full time employee.  I was working with refugees and college students.  I was training for a triathalon.  It was a good life. Busy, but very good.

Now I felt like it is an accomplishment to get a load of dishes clean and a load of laundry washed in a day.  Despite the fact that Jonathan has been sleeping through the night for four months, I’m still exhausted.  Always exhausted.  A day talking to people leads to a day of sleep to recover from all that talking.  I’ve started running again, looking for regained energy, but every step of the run is a struggle.

I have had to dig deeper. It is all right that I am tired, that I am worn. This is what I tell myself.  This is a season for roots, not a season for fruit.

My son has come through much.  We have come through much.  And, in some ways, this gives me greater anticipation for the years to come.  The fruit, when it comes, will be that much sweeter.  At least that’s what I tell myself on days like today, an hour and a half into surgery, when I’m still waiting to hear how it all went.  At the very least, I have learned how to grow.  I have not been able to rely on my own strength, and so I have had to accept help, I have let my roots grow deeper. My soul home had to be moved off the sand.

"Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness."  Colossians 2:7


  1. Great analogy! I, too, am in a season of hurtful loss and pruning. It is never easy but gives such a new way to see God and His work and glory in our lives. It builds much stronger roots in Him and one day He will allow us to share it with those who need what we have learned the most.

    1. Thanks for sharing Lee. I hope your 2014 gives you much healing and hidden blessings.


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