It was a tough row to hoe – bedridden abruptly at 35, a mystifying disease and dark pain constant companions. After months of isolation, there was one request that could bring a ray of sunshine to the young woman’s day.
“For my birthday I had asked for herbs from friends – and a couple of tomato plants,” niece Sarah Luginbill reminisces about how badly she had missed gardening this past spring. “Friends came with potted plants and put them on the deck. My only outside area is my upper deck, my ‘outside world.’”
But no one brought her a tomato plant.
While Sarah tended to her herbs, she also spent hours tending to her unexplained ulcers that had appeared out of the blue in February.
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“I got a lump on my arm – big! At first they thought it was a reaction to a spider bite,” the attractive sandy-blonde recalls how the disease then moved to her legs, both arms and her hand. “My right hand ballooned out so huge, like something out of a sci-fi movie.”
Not only were the other bumps hot to the touch and excruciatingly painful, but the ulcers also grew one by one to the size of softballs. As doctors debated and researched, the bumps collapsed leaving huge open wounds where skin, fat and muscle tissue once had been.
“By that point they’d tested me for everything known to mankind,” the Snohomish resident calls to mind the frustration and fear she and husband Keats experienced. “We knew what I didn’t have, but not what I had.”
Painful days. Prayer-filled days. For weeks on end she lay in bed or occasionally used a walker – one leg supported on the seat – to stare forlornly at her greenhouse just beyond her deck. The organic vegetables Sarah had envisioned for the season wouldn’t be.
But in July, around the time doctors finally diagnosed her autoimmune disease – what they believed was a reaction to a prescription drug and a subsequent bacterial infection – Sarah saw something in the greenhouse.
“Me, the hawk-eye knows there’s something out there,” the devoted gardener remembers her first sighting of something green. “I know there can’t be weeds in there, not in my greenhouse,” explaining how Keats dismissed it as a weed. I made that dirt so I know what’s in there.”
Being a meticulous hands-on garden buff, Sarah, in late fall had thoroughly emptied all her huge outdoor pots of their variety of vegetable plants—cucumbers, tomatillos, melons, peppers and tomatoes – knowing anything left behind would mildew. Then she stored the pots in the greenhouse for the winter.
Now with the unusual summer’s heat driving the temperatures to over a 140-degrees or more inside the greenhouse, nothing could possibly flourish, especially without water. And yet, something inside that building was growing.
“I can see the greenhouse from my bedroom window and I kept asking Keats to go check,” Sarah remembers her curiosity, but also understanding his commute to work in the Seattle area and her care were all consuming.
Housebound and alone all day, Sarah eventually asked a close friend to venture into the scorching heat of the greenhouse to retrieve the “infamous weed.”
“She repotted it and brought it in to me – one of the few friends I could see occasionally – and I said, ‘Are you kidding me?’”
There stood a 12-inch tomato plant, diminutive in size for mid-summer but thriving nonetheless.
“What is weird is that it had never been pinched back and should have been a skinny stalk, but instead it was a bushy tomato plant,” Sarah marvels at how it wasn’t wilted or droopy. “The seed shouldn’t have even opened. When the seedling came up it should have just gone ‘bonk,’” noting there were no nutrients left in the used organic soil.
And yet, it appeared to have had immaculate care.
“Trust me, my husband wasn’t secretly watering,” Sarah rejects that possibility. “He was already doing so much to take care of me that he didn’t have time.”
Then in September with the help of her “green thumb,” the first tomato grew among the leaves – now a deck plant that had given Sarah a new focus beyond her worry and pain. She figures it must have germinated right around her birthday.
A gift Sarah nicknamed “Di-vine Tomato Plant" that has brought a ray of light and hope. She's certain God cares for her, too.
Lucy Note: My niece has an uphill health journey still ahead. Please remember her in prayer.
If you have a story idea for Light Notes, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Lucy on Twitter @LucyLuginbill