Monday, August 1, 2016

To Samuel on His 7th Birthday

Dear sweet, wonderful Samuel,

Happy 7th Birthday, my love.  Oh, how I love you.  I think of you, and I smile...and well up with tears at the same time.  There is so much joy in my heart that you were born, that you are mine, that I get to call you son.  But there is also sorrow that I don't know you as a 7 year old boy -- that I don't know your likes and dislikes, how you'd choose to spend your birthday, what your relationships with your siblings would be like, how you'd shape and change our family dynamics, how you'd feel about school starting back up in a mere 3 days.  There is an especial sorrow that I don't know what you'd look like at 7.  Would you have brown eyes like Caleb, Anna, and Eliza, or would you have the twinkle of Joel's hazel?  Or maybe, just maybe, you'd be our one child with your dad's beautiful green eyes.  Would you have a smattering of freckles across your nose and cheeks like your brothers?  Would your hair be bleached blond by the summer sun?  Would you tan deep brown like Caleb or be more fair like Joel?  Would you be lean and lanky like your sisters and Caleb or more solidly built like Joel?  What would you feel like in my arms in a huge birthday embrace?  Would you be soft and snuggly or all sharp angles and bones?  I long for a picture of you frolicking about Heaven, for some idea of your face and shape, some hint of how it would be to hold you and gaze at you on your birthday.  I want to know you, Samuel, and my heart hurts that I have to wait for eternity to do that.  But eternity is coming, and someday I will know you.  This gives my heart hope and stills its clamoring.  Someday will come.

I woke this morning to my stomach turning with nerves and grief and longing.  I reluctantly climbed out of bed and went for a run, choosing to listen to David Crowder, who I haven't listened to in a while, but this morning I knew I needed Truth.  I ruminated on something John Woodall, who has lost two grand babies, texted me and your dad this morning -- "with great hope and grace for today."  Those words anchored me as I ran: Hope for that coming someday and Grace for this very today.  I thought about last night when I snuggled in bed with your littlest sister, Eliza, and told her the truths we often tell your siblings -- that she is special, valuable, important, precious, lovable, lovely, worthy, wonderful, a blessing, a healer, a delight, and a joy.  As I listed those truths to her, she whispered each one along with me, which moved my heart in deep ways, hearing her internalize what your dad and I pray will be foundational for our children.  And I realized that you are living in the fullness of those truths in Heaven.  You are living them in completion, for you are living in the presence of the perfect One who made you perfectly.  You know without any doubt that you are special, valuable, important, precious, lovable, lovely, worthy, wonderful, a blessing, a healer, a delight, and a joy.  Those truths are complete in you, and that made me smile as my feet drummed on the pavement.  By the time I made it back home, my heart was peaceful, and my joy in this day -- your birthday -- was welling up.

Since then it's been a day with smiles and laughter: a trip to the library (which Anna declared you probably would not have liked, but I said, "Who knows?  Maybe Samuel would love the library." She nodded and said, "Like Caleb."), stopping by our old elementary (we were rezoned to a brand new school) to give hugs to teachers, and then swimming and a picnic lunch at the neighborhood pool with very dear friends (something we all think you would have liked).  Tonight we'll write our letters to you on balloons and eat birthday cake.

On Friday we went to Egleston for our annual trip.  We delivered 16 dozen cookies and a note thanking the doctors, nurses, RTS, and staff who work in the CICU.  It was the very first year where we didn't see anyone we knew from our time there with you, but we're still glad we went.  It is always good to remember, to keep our connection to you, to give your siblings something tangible to link to you, and, maybe most of all, to choose thanks -- to position our hearts in a posture of gratitude.  For we are so very thankful for you and for those who cared for you during your brief life.

It is easy to celebrate that you were born, dear Samuel.  I would never wish away your presence in our lives or your part in our family.  You belong in our family forever, and I'm so very glad that's true.  You will always be my son, and I will always be "Samuel's mom."  It's one of my most cherished titles.  I love you, little boy.  And I miss you more than words could ever express.  Happy Birthday, baby.  Someday I'll have eternity to catch up on all those hugs I'm missing out on.  Get ready, little man!  'Cause these arms won't be letting go for a loooooooooooooooooooooooooooong time.  I love you, and I always will!

Love, Mom


Saturday, August 1, 2015

To Samuel on his 6th Birthday

My dear, wonderful Samuel,

Happy 6th Birthday, my love!  Oh, how I love you, boy of mine.  I miss you ever so much and wish I could give you a hug and a bunch of smooches until you would wriggle out of my arms on this birthday.  Though I would never want to take you away from Heaven, I do wish I could pop in to celebrate with you for awhile, to snuggle you close, and to see your face as it grows and changes, and you move more firmly into boyhood and out of those early years.  I wonder what you'd want on your cake if you were here and how you'd want to spend this day.

Your namesake, Uncle Erik, is here this weekend along with your cousins Charlie and Grady.  Uncle Erik spent your last night of life with you along with Auntie Marta.  After they flew in with Grammie to meet you, they took the final shift, so Daddy and I could get a few hours of sleep.  (Daddy and I tried to stay together as much as possible and not divide up the hours between us because we wanted to walk through your life and death together, and we clung to each other every minute of those days.  God has faithfully used those days of connection to keep us close and grow and bless our marriage through our grief.  Many marriages of parents who lose a child end in divorce, but thankfully God has bound us together instead of allowing our sorrow to create a gulf between us.)  When your daddy and I walked into the CICU very early on your final morning, Erik and Marta walked toward us to give hugs and head to bed, and over their shoulders we watched your stats plummet.  We knew in that moment that you were ready for Heaven.  You got a night with your aunt and uncle, and you waited for us to hand you over to Jesus.  I'm so thankful for that.

Yesterday we went to Egleston on our yearly trip to remember you and to say thank you to the doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, and staff in the CICU.  As always, it was both hard and good.  I love to remember you in this specific way, but it's also gut-wrenching.  This year we took care bags to the families of kids on the cardiac floor thanks to a family friend, Allison Russell, who came up with the idea to give 31 Bags to the families.  People could sponsor a bag, and she ended up with 54 bags.  Guess how many beds on are the cardiac floor?  27 in the CICU and 27 in the Step-Down Unit.  We didn't know that going in.  How amazing is that?  Another little way God showed up in our Samuel story.  Each friend who sponsored a bag made my heart happy.  I love that people remember you and continue to honor your life.  I love that Allison had this idea and that each bag had a tag on it saying, "This bag was assembled for you with love in honor of Samuel Apinis, a very special little boy whose life touched many."  You did touch many -- mine maybe most of all.

This was the first time I went to Egleston and wondered what it would be like if you were with us to go back.  Would you want to go and thank the doctors and nurses and marvel at the place where your life started, or would it be a place of stress and fear and knots in your stomach?  I wonder what your associations would have been.

Yesterday we saw one of your amazing nurses for the first time since you went to Heaven.  Mary Beth was your day shift nurse the last 3 or 4 days of your life.  She was so tender with you and so devoted.  I remember her telling us her first morning with you that when she knows a child is dying, she is extra attentive and gentle and works especially hard to take good care of her patient.  She did just that.  She was frank with us but compassionate.  She was very present and kind.  On one of her breaks, she took me through the staff corridors and treated me to a frappuccino.  She was a sweet blessing to us.  She was there the morning you died, but she was assigned a bed near yours.  Someone must have covered her child for her because she came over to us after you went to Heaven, and she gave you a bath and dressed you for the first time.  She helped Nurse Richard clean you up and wrap you in a blanket.  She was good to us, and it was so good to hug her and thank her.  Many amazing people made a tremendous difference in our lives over that month, and we're grateful for every chance we get to express our deep thanks.

As we enter August, I am always a little surprised by the crash of grief that comes over me. Even 6 years later, my longing for you can feel so raw.  A piece of our family is forever absent in this life.  I always live in that truth, but usually it's a quiet undercurrent.  As I was baking cookies to take to the hospital, I had an image of a zero entry pool that ultimately extends into the ocean.  If that pool is grief, normally I live in the shallow end with water just over my toes or maybe up to my ankles.  But as I move into August, I steadily wade deeper into the waters and my body begins to submerge.  After six years, I only end up chest deep, but that's a lot more than my toes being wet.  In that first year after you went to Heaven, I lived underwater, and sometimes the ocean encroached upon the pool, and a full-force wave would crash over me, and I'd wonder if I'd ever come up for air again.  But I always did.  And now the waves are very infrequent, though ever unexpected.  August continues to be weightier than the rest of the year, but it's always a beautiful reminder of just how much healing God has done in our hearts since we said goodbye to you.

Normally your birthday has some lightness to it since it's a day to celebrate your life and that God made you -- which I do! -- but this year it feels heavier than usual, I think because Mary Beth was such a part of your last few days, and that's when Erik was here, too.  So my mind has jumped to your Homegoing.  I will try to spend the rest of the day focusing on your birth, and the great joy we felt and still feel in becoming your parents.

Samuel, I can't tell you how much I love you because words fail me and could never do my love justice.  Just know I am so utterly and thoroughly grateful that God chose US to be your parents and that He made you just the way He made you.  I really wouldn't change our story.  It is so beautiful.  You are such a beautiful part of who we are.  God has done amazing things in us through you.  The me that loves you is a much better me than the one who hadn't met you yet or been heartbroken by your absence.  I love how you've shaped me and our family.  And I love telling Anna and Eliza about you and how they have been God's healers in our hearts.  Anna asks a lot of questions about you, and she already can't wait to meet you one day in Heaven.  Get ready, kid.  You've got one talkative, energetic, sunshiny, beautiful sister coming your way some day with oodles of questions about you and about Heaven.  :)

Samuel, thank you for being you.  Thank you for entering our lives and changing us forever.  Thank you for the gift of you.  I love you exactly as you are, little boy.  (Joel would never have let me call him "little boy" at 6!  Maybe you'll indulge me a few years longer. :))

Happy Birthday, Samuel Erik Apinis.  I love you to Heaven and back again.

Love, Momma




Friday, August 1, 2014

To Samuel on His 5th Birthday

Dear Samuel,

          Happy 5th Birthday, my precious son!  Can it really be true that 5 years have passed since you entered this world and took our hearts by storm?  From the moment I knew you were growing in my womb -- a much longed for and prayed for event -- I loved you.  That love grew exponentially when we learned you had a severe heart defect at your 19 week ultrasound, but none of that remotely compared to the love I felt for you once you arrived, and I could see your beautiful, perfect face and put one hand on the top of your head and one on the bottoms of your feet.  How desperate I was to scoop you up into my arms and shower you with kisses, but I had to content myself with touching your soft skin and staring at your tiny, adorable face.  You were so vulnerable, and that made my love fierce.  I was utterly smitten with you, and that love has done nothing but grow in the five years since.
           
          I miss you, sweet boy.  I wonder all the time what our family would be like if you were still here.  Who would be your main play buddy?  With whom would you bicker?  Where would you sleep???  Would we cram all three of you boys in one room?  Would you share with Anna who throws the occasional tyrannical fit at bedtime?  How would we fit you all in one vehicle?  What would you look like?  Would you resemble any of your siblings?  What would you be into?  And how, oh how, would I survive sending you to kindergarten in 6 short days?!?

         I've had a few heavy and sad days lately as August has approached.  Recently your daddy and I hung up a painting Caleb did, and the clear best place to hang it was in the upstairs hall -- where a collage of pictures of you has hung for the last 5 years.  We moved the collage to a less prominent place in the laundry room (where I still see it every day), and afterwards we both laid down on our bed with heavy, aching hearts.  I looked at your dad and said, "I can't believe how much grief it stirs up in me just to move a picture of Samuel.  My heart just hurts."  He looked over at me and said, "I know, right?  Grief is such a strange thing."  I was glad we were both in the crashing wave of grief together.  It hurt so much to think it was time to take those pictures out of the hallway, where you can see them from the front door of the house.  I know it's the healing God has done in us that enables us to think Caleb's artwork should have the place of prominence in the hall, but who knew healing could still be so painful five years later?

          I am still bewildered that next week would have been your first day of kindergarten.  I can't even imagine taking you to the boys' school and dropping you off with them.  In so many ways, you are forever my baby boy, so it's hard to wrap my mind around a you who would be headed to elementary school.  A kindergartener.  Oh, my.

          Today our family went to Egleston Children's Hospital for our annual trek to remember you and thank the CICU staff for all their hard work and the ways in which they blessed and served us in your lifetime.  It's always hard to visit as nothing takes me back to our month together like Egleston does.    Driving down into the underground parking lot and searching for a spot (I always get a sinking feeling in my stomach at that part), the smell of the soap on my hands (!!!), the long walk down the yellow hall, the loud click of the big double doors opening to the CICU, wandering in the beautiful gardens…it all takes me back to you.  And to the holiness that was August 2009.  I still marvel at God's tender presence, His embracing love, His faithful care while we were in the thin line between life and death.  I've never known God so intimately, relied on Him so fully, experienced His goodness so tangibly as I did that month with you.  As we surrendered you to Him, we knew His goodness in previously unfathomed ways.  And though He didn't answer our prayers the way we hoped, He carried us through every moment of gut-wrenching pain, of dashed hopes, of worst fears realized with previously unimagined love, tenderness, grace, and faithfulness.  I am so thankful.

          God has done a mighty healing in our hearts, Samuel.  We still miss you every day, but when I think of you, I almost always smile, and my heart floods with joy.  God has gone back and painted almost all my memories with a brush of joy.  Your name, your face, your place in our family fill my heart with gladness and gratitude.  I am so thankful God gave us you.  I love the way he made you -- imperfect heart and all.  I love how He's grown us because of you.  I love that He trusted us to be your family.  I love the story He has written and is writing in our lives.  YOU are at the heart of that story in so many ways.  I wouldn't trade you -- or even losing you -- for any other story out there.  This story He is penning is beautiful, redemptive, and life-giving, and I am so thankful.

          Samuel, I love you.  We all do.  Daddy, Caleb, Joel, Anna, Eliza, and I all treasure you.  You are forever part of our family.  Someday, I can't wait to get to know you.  Will you meet me at Heaven's gates when I come?  I hope so.

          Happy Birthday, little buddy.  I love you.  I always will.

                                                                      Love,
                                                                           Momma
         

Monday, February 10, 2014

God Beneath

Every once in awhile, something drives me back here -- to read and remember.  This morning Bryan's former boss and mentor's granddaughter died after only 14 days of life.  I've been following her story and praying fervently for baby Olivia and her parents.  They have clung to Jesus in a beautiful way.  I am truly grieved for them as they face life without sweet Olivia.  And I can't help but remember Samuel and the day he died and the months that followed.  Though every story is unique, I can imagine what today is like for David and Danae.  

A friend emailed me this morning to tell me she is praying for us as she prays for the Woodalls, for she knows it must stir up a lot in us to see a similar story play out in someone else's life.  As I thought about her sweet email, I couldn't help but think of all the ways God cared for us after Samuel died.  I came back here to read some of my posts from those first weeks without Samuel, and I am so glad I recorded what I was thinking and feeling.  It is good to remember.  It is good to have a record of God's faithfulness.  Here are two paragraphs that echo my prayers for David and Danae as they walk in this valley:

"Once again I find myself at the feet of Jesus, depending on Him for the strength, joy, and courage to move forward and to face what this day holds.  He continues to be my portion, my rock, and my good, good God.  Is it weird that I am amazed -- truly -- at His goodness as I navigate the paths of grief? He is so very real, so very present, so very strong, and so very tender with me.  Can I say yet again, IT IS A GOOD GOD WE SERVE!"

"…despite being very, very sad and tearful and fairly unable to take care of ordinary tasks, I have a constant and steady peace underneath it all.  I know in no uncertain terms that God is good.  He is trustworthy.  He is worthy of my praise, and I find I can praise Him even in my darkest moments.  Though the world around me seems dark, and I feel burdened and literally weighed down -- sometimes to the point of suffocation -- the ground beneath me is firm and unchanging.  I know the bottom can't fall out from under me because my foundation is Christ, and He is always the same.  There is a safety underneath my grief, a sense of being held and kept on firm footing.  As long as I make my home on the rock of God, I am safe and peaceful.  I never would have thought there could be such peace in grieving, such confidence in my God, such assurance of His sovereignty.  But He has shown Himself good and loving even here, in the death of my baby boy."

As I think about David and Danae and all their family, as strange as it sounds, I have a quiet expectation that accompanies my sorrow for them.  An expectation of God's tender love for them, of His care, of His faithfulness to carry them through these days and to heal their broken hearts -- not from their grief but in their grief.  I experienced God's mighty love for me most clearly and powerfully after Samuel died, and I find myself expecting the same to be true for the Woodalls.  I quietly anticipate the tender mercies He will shower on them and the "refreshing springs" and "pools of blessing" He will bring from their loss.  I would never, ever wish this sorrow and loss on anyone, but when God takes someone down the road of losing a baby, I silently wait for the beautiful fruit He will produce from it.  And I remember.  I remember Samuel.  I remember fresh grief.  I remember the cruelty of life as usual for most everyone around me.  I remember the empty arms and overwhelming ache in my soul.  But most of all I remember God beneath me, God sustaining me, God loving me.  I pray it is the same for our friends.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Stockings and Tears

Last month as we were decorating for Christmas, our 8 1/2 year old gave me a precious glimpse into his heart.  Kathy, my mother-in-law and Bryan's step-mom, handmade Caleb, Joel, and Anna's stockings.  Eliza's will be next.  Caleb's stocking is of a large snowman hugging a smaller teddybear.  The stockings were newly up on the fireplace, and Caleb came up to me with something he clearly wanted to share.

Caleb: "Mom, something about my stocking is SO familiar to me."

Me: "You mean other than that you see it every year at Christmas time?"

Caleb:  "Yes.  Something about it really moves me."

Me: "Hmmm….is it something you experienced, something you saw, or something in your heart that's familiar?"

Caleb: "I think it's something in my heart."

At this point, I look over at Caleb and see his eyes welling up with tears.  I put down the things I was working on in the kitchen, and walk over to him.

Me: "I can see it's making you sad."

Caleb: "No, Mom.  They're happy tears."

I grab Caleb's hand, and we walk in to the living room and sit on the couch where we can see the stockings.  I pull him into my lap.

Me: "Do you think you're the snowman or the teddybear?"

Caleb: "I really think I'm the snowman."

Since the snowman is the bigger of the two, I start to wonder if perhaps Caleb is thinking of Samuel.  Samuel has been on his mind quite a bit lately, and he's shed a lot of tears for his baby brother in the last few months.  I don't want to plant that idea in Caleb's mind, so ask: "Is it you with one of your siblings?"

Caleb: "No, I don't think so."

Me: "Is it you and Puppy?"  (Puppy is Caleb special stuffed animal.)

Caleb: "That's what I thought at first, but I really don't think that's it."

Me: "Hmmmm….."

Now Caleb's tears spill over and stream down his face.  With more tears pouring and his voice cracking, he tells me: "Mom!  I know what it is!  It's me with my future children! That's me when I'm a dad!"

I am speechless.  Seriously?  What 8 year old cries (I mean really cries!) happy tears when he envisions being a dad someday?!  I wouldn't believe it if I wasn't there witnessing it.  The only thing I can do, because now I'm somewhere between a sob and a disbelieving guffaw, is pull Caleb in tight and wrap my arms around him.  This kid's tender heart is something else.  I cannot believe I've been entrusted with its care in his childhood.  My, what a gift this kid is!

Caleb's stocking is the 3rd from the left.



Saturday, October 5, 2013

4th Anniversary of Samuel's Homegoing

I know it's been over a month since the anniversary of Samuel's homegoing, but I want to document it nonetheless.  Most of that day was surprisingly light and ordinary.  We headed to the grave in the morning after our traditional stop at Michael's to select new flowers for the grave.  Now that there are six living members of our family, the arrangement is rather full, with each person choosing two flowers for the vase.  We arranged the flowers, and Bryan and I spent a little quiet time remembering, thinking, mourning, and missing our Samuel.  Meanwhile, the kids were behaving exactly how I should have expected but somehow didn't -- they were running around, goofing off, squealing (Anna, of course), complaining about the ants, saying how hot they were, etc.  Anna, who watched her brothers run down a mildly inclined sidewalk, wanted to emulate them.  Part way down, she fell and scraped her knees and shed lots of tears and got some good howling in, which we totally saw coming.  All ordinary kid behavior, but somehow I hadn't thought about it before we got there, and I found myself caught off guard by the normality of being outside with our children -- like we weren't at a graveyard at all.  Part of me was irked by their irreverence, but another part found it refreshing.  They can still skip and play and find fun even amidst the broken shadows of lives gone passed.  They can look at Samuel's grave one second and be lost in make believe the next.  They aren't weighted down by grief and don't find his death debilitating.  It's as it should be, but it's not natural for me to join them in their lighthearted play -- not while at my son's grave, anyway.

After we'd been there for a while, Caleb grew somber and blue and wanted some time to reflect, so I loaded the other three kids into the van, and Bryan and Caleb spent a few still minutes processing.  Then Bryan and I traded places, and I got to talk to Caleb a little.  Later I learned Bryan had said many of the same things I did.  We both talked about how grateful we are that God gave us Samuel and even how grateful we are that Samuel is in Heaven.  As weird as it sounds, we praise God that He wrote the story the way He did, for it's His story, and it's beautiful.  We both talked to Caleb about God's faithfulness to us and how He has grown us and blessed us through sweet Samuel's life and death.  It was precious time for Bryan and I both to grieve with our oldest, introspective son.

That evening we went to Red Robin for dinner, like usual.  The boys look forward to it, and it helps make the day a little softer.  When we got home, we found my dear cousin had left Sonic slushes and a bag of Cheetos on our porch.  It was a welcome blessing and made us feel loved and cared for.

After we tucked the kids in bed, Bryan and I both commented that the day had been strangely normal.  But then we sat down to watch our video of Samuel's life, and the weight of the day came crashing in.  I hadn't watched it in a long time, and most of my thoughts of Samuel and memories of him are happy and joy-filled.  When I think of him, I smile.  But when I see those pictures, I remember just how horribly sick he was.  It's one thing to be able to acknowledge that, which I always can, but it's another altogether to be confronted with the images of his sickness.  By God's grace, those aren't the images I carry in my heart.  I think of him as the beautiful baby he was when he first came into the world -- tiny and perfectly formed and delicate, with an itty bitty nose and round little face and small features.  His month of life transformed him so utterly, that you would never know he was the same baby if you saw two pictures side-by-side -- 1 day old and 31 days old.  His extraordinary illness altered him beyond recognition.  And seeing those pictures knocked me down.  I hadn't cried all day until then.  It was probably good to enter in to the grief, but the suddenness of it overwhelmed me.

In the month plus since then, Bryan, Caleb, and I have found ourselves facing a rawer grief than we've experienced in a long time.  My dear mom had a portrait commissioned of Samuel, and it arrived a couple of weeks after the anniversary of his homegoing.  She wanted to capture what Samuel might have looked like without all the tubes and wires.  It's a beautiful painting.  But it has really stirred up our grief.  Caleb has been especially sad, and I've found him shedding tears on quite a few occasions.  Once he was silently crying at the dinner table, tears just pouring down his cheeks.  When I asked what was wrong, he initially said, "I don't even know" but then admitted, "I just really miss Samuel."  Apparently he had been repeatedly climbing up on one of our chairs and pulling down a photo of Samuel to kiss.  Just last night he burst into tears as we were tucking him in, again lamenting, "I really miss Samuel."  So he's been sleeping with one of Samuel's stuffed animals from the hospital as well as a framed picture of him and Samuel.  Poor kid.  He feels life so deeply, and I hurt with him as he misses his baby brother.

I am grateful for marker days that make us go back and remember.  Not only because it's good to remember my son but also because it's good to remember how God carried us through it, how He poured His grace out on us, how He proved Himself faithful and good.  It's important to remember what He's done in us because of Samuel.  And these marker days bring me to my knees in thanks for our third son.  What a blessing God granted us when He entrusted Samuel to our care.  And look how faithful He has been to continually heal our hearts.  Happy Anniversary of arriving in Heaven, sweet Samuel of mine.  We love you!

In the gardens at Egleston Children's Hospital on our annual trek to take cookies and thank the CICU staff for all their hard work

Friday, August 9, 2013

To Samuel on His 4th Birthday

Dear Samuel,                                                                            August 1, 2013

Happy 4th Birthday, sweet boy!  I really can't believe it's been four years since you came into this world.  What an incredible blessing your life was and continues to be.  I am so thankful God gave you to us -- that He chose us to love you, treasure you, rejoice in you, and be forever changed by you.  Your mark on my life is permanent and beautiful, and I am overwhelmed with gratitude for you and your precious life.

Our family is at Pine Cove Woods Family Camp right now, and it is a sweet place to be as we remember you.  This place has had a tremendous impact on my faith and relationship with Jesus, and it comforts my heart to be here -- where so much growth toward God has happened in my life -- as we celebrate your birthday.

This afternoon we'll all write messages on balloons and eat a special snack in celebration of you, and we'll release the balloons on the bridge on the lake.  I'm glad that in some small way you get to be part of Pine Cove, too.

This morning David Daniels gave a talk on suffering.  He referenced Ecclesiastes 6:13-14, and it hit so close to home on this day:

                       "Consider what God has done:
                                  Who can straighten what he has made crooked?
                        When times are good, be happy;
                                   but when times are bad, consider:
                        God has made the one
                                   as well as the other.
                        Therefore, a man cannot discover
                                   anything about his future."

God made your heart crooked, sweet boy.  He wrote your story of only 31 days.  This is the story He penned, and it is lovely.  David talked about how our theology is laid bare in the struggles of life, and when I remember our time with you, I see how our feet were firmly planted in the truth of Jesus.  Your life refined ours, deepened our faith in God, and purified our love for Him.  He brought such beautiful things from you, Samuel Erik Apinis.

There is a new member of our family!  Eliza was born on April 29.  You now have two older brothers and two younger sisters.  They are all precious.  We talk about you regularly in our family.  Anna is learning more and more about you, and Caleb brings you up from time to time.  We miss you, and your hole in our family is felt.

When I was pregnant with Eliza, people often told me how perfect two boys and two girls are.  But I know it's not perfect as you are missing.  I think 3 boys and 2 girls would be just right.  :)

Samuel, I love you, and I always will.  You will always be my third son, and you will always be part of our family.

Happy 4th Birthday, little one!

                                                      Love, Momma

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Samuel's 4th Birthday

We spent Samuel's 4th birthday at the Pine Cove Woods Family Camp in Tyler, TX.  I grew up calling the place my second home, attended camp at the youth camps from 2nd grade to 9th grade, and worked there for six summers from high school until after graduating from Wheaton College.  I brought Bryan with me the summer we were engaged, and then we spent the first year of our marriage working there full-time.  It was our first time back in 12 years.  We knew our kids would have an absolute ball, but we didn't know how it would be for us as adults.   Turns out we loved it even more than we could have anticipated.  I could go on and on about how fantastic our week at camp was, but that's not really the point of this post, so I'm going to restrain myself.

By total coincidence, we knew the director of The Woods from college.  Bryan was in a small group with him our junior year at Wheaton, and though Chris had never heard of Pine Cove back then, by a series of events, he ended up working there in 2008.  When we got our first communication from Pine Cove, it was signed with Chris's name, and Bryan and I both thought it was impossible that it would be the same guy we knew in college.  But it was.  Since Bryan knew him, he felt comfortable emailing and asking if they had a helium tank for our birthday tradition of writing letters to Samuel on balloons and releasing them.  They didn't have one, but Chris said they would consider it a joy to pick up balloons for us. 

So when Thursday at camp rolled around, and I woke up to the bittersweet knowledge that it was Samuel's birthday, I rejoiced in knowing we could continue our balloon tradition.  After breakfast and family devotions, I contemplated skipping the morning speaker session and spending some time alone with my journal and Bible and Jesus, but we opted to go to the session instead, and I'm so glad we did.  David Daniels, pastor of Pantego Bible Church in Fort Worth, spoke on suffering that morning.  He walked through Ecclesiastes 7:13-14. He didn't know our story, but he spoke directly to it.  He referenced a family who lost a baby after a few weeks of life, a college kid who lost both her parents before she graduated (like Bryan did), and Job 1:21: "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.  May the name of the Lord be praised" -- the very verse on Samuel's gravestone.  He talked about God's sovereignty in suffering and His faithfulness to use it for good.  It wasn't new information to me; it was a beautiful reminder of all God did and taught us and grew us through Samuel's life and death.  It was a sweet time of remembering God's faithfulness.

Later that day, we came back to our room and had balloons and a package of sharpies waiting for us.  We took the family out on a bridge and released our balloons there.  There was something very sweet about Samuel being a part of our time at Pine Cove in a way he wouldn't have been any other week of the year.  Pine Cove is a genuinely significant part of my story and made a bigger impact on my faith and relationship with God as a kid and teenager than anything else apart from my parents.  At Pine Cove I was challenged and encouraged and pushed and humbled.  It was the place I thought of when I craved peace and quiet moments with my Savior.  In fact, once in high school when I was extremely nervous about a solo music competition, my dad taught me to picture a place of rest and peace to calm me.  I chose a remote dock on Pine Cove's lake.  I loved inviting my family into this place that is so special to me, and being able to include Samuel was really beautiful to my heart.

That evening, Chris told Bryan that they had a cake for us.  We had never mentioned a cake, which is part of our family tradition on Samuel's birthday.  We were so moved that they thought of that.  Late that night, Bryan, Caleb, Joel, and I ate cake in the little hallway outside our room while Anna and Eliza slept inside.  We laughed together and smiled -- things we would have done if Samuel had been with us.  Again, it was so sweet.  And earlier in the week, Bryan and I had peered into a window of the staff's back dining room, and on the chalk board he saw prayer requests, one of which said "continued healing for the Apinis family."  I'm teary even as I write that.  There are moments in life when you feel very personally loved and cared for by Jesus, and Samuel's birthday was one of those for me.  Little touches throughout the day reminded me that God was with me, that He loves me, that I can rest in Him.  Sweet is really the word I would use to describe Samuel's 4th birthday.  It was a sweet, sweet day.

Once again, I am so grateful for the Lord choosing US to have Samuel.  I am so thankful Samuel was born.  I am so glad we get to celebrate him every year on his birthday.  What a privilege to be Samuel's mommy.  What a joy to have loved him for his 31 days of life.  And what an honor to be forever changed by him.  Thank you, Lord, for Samuel and for the gentle and beautiful reminders of Your love.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Namesake

Bryan and I welcomed a new nephew into the family on Anna's second birthday.  Bryan's sister, Marta, and her husband, Adam, had their first child just in time to share Anna's birthday -- born at 11:01pm (and my birth day is 11/01.  :)  This number loving girl loves that!).  And if those reasons weren't enough to make me crazy about him, they named him August Samuel. 

August has multiple significances: Augusts (with the "s" on the end) was Bryan and Marta's Latvian grandfather's name (sidenote: Apinis means hops in Latvian), and it is the month in which Adam and Marta were married.  As Mart and Adam discussed the name, they realized August is also very important to Bryan and I as it is the holy month we spent with Samuel -- a month that changed our lives forever.  Samuel joined our family on August 1st, and he left our arms for Heaven on August 31st -- giving us one perfect month with him.  All those elements factored into their choice.  And they chose Samuel in honor of our son.  How truly touching.

Marta called a few weeks before August was born to tell us the name they'd chosen and to be sure we were ok with it.  When Bryan told me about it, I teared up immediately.  How could it not be ok?  It hadn't occurred to me that anyone other than Bryan and I might use Samuel as a way to honor our son.  I love that my nephew is named after Samuel.  Love it.  And I love that August now has such a beautiful association.  For the first year after Samuel died, I didn't think I could ever again hear the word August and not think of Samuel -- the pain we endured, the unbelievable rollercoaster of hope and despair that we rode, and most of all losing him.  But as time has gone on, sometimes August is simply a month, and other times it stirs up joy in remembering the time we had with Samuel.  There are still moments when it conjures up all that pain and loss and heartache, but it isn't always the case.  It has become a gentler association with time.  I doubt I will ever disassociate August and Samuel, and now the two are linked even more in my sweet nephew.   I am grateful that August now also brings up thoughts of this baby boy, such a wonderful and positive association.  So August will now link my son and my nephew, two cousins who will never know each in this life, but who are inextricably connected.  I love that. 

Memories of Samuel are rich in both sides of our family -- now with August on Bryan's side and with my niece June, who was born 16 hours after Samuel, on my side.  I love that I can look in the faces of my niece and nephew and see glimpses of my son in Heaven.  In June I can see how old he would be, how big, what new skills he would be learning, and the friend he would have played with at family gatherings.  In August I will be able to see someone carry on his name and give me new, precious reasons to love it.  It means more to me than I can say that Samuel is a part of our extended family and not just part of my nuclear one.  I love that he continues to matter to others, that his impact hasn't fizzled out as life has gone on.

I love my new nephew, August Samuel, and I can hardly wait to meet him.  Welcome to the Apinis clan, little buddy.  I can't wait to get my hands on you. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Naming Eliza-Loo

It took Bryan and I a long time to settle on sweet Eliza's name though Eliza has been on our potential name list since I was pregnant with Caleb.  I was wishy-washy on it for a long time and was afraid I wouldn't love it once we gave it to her.  I don't personally know a single person named Eliza, and I wondered if I would like it as much once I heard it out loud all the time instead of just hearing it in my head.  But thankfully, I love it more and more every day.  I am so glad we chose it for our little love.  It's just right for her.  Little Miss Eliza Larissa Apinis. :)

Eliza means "dedicated or consecrated to God."  Bryan and I always choose a first name with a significant meaning -- something we can pray over and for our children all their lives long.  Dedicated to God fits the bill perfectly.  Not only do we want to raise our daughter with the mindset that she is God's -- that we have open hands and dedicate her to Him, not clinging to her but trusting her to God -- but we pray that she will grow up dedicated to the Lord.  We pray she will follow Him wholeheartedly, joyfully, and faithfully, that she will live a life pleasing to Jesus.  We want her to be set apart for the Lord. 

Our children's middle names are all family names.  Larissa is after Bryan's sister, Marta Larissa.  Though we seriously contemplated using Marta, we live in the Atlanta area where MARTA is Metro Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, and we didn't want everyone to associate her with a train or bus, so we decided to use Larissa.  Bryan's sister is amazing.  She is vivacious, giving, fun-loving, caring, and the world's best aunt.  Marta can make anything fun and is the best sport I know.  She's up for anything.  She loves others deeply, is genuinely thoughtful, and courageously follows God.  We all love being around Marta, and we'd be delighted if Eliza shares some traits with her spectacular aunt.

So, Eliza Larissa Apinis it is!  What an incredible gift she is.  I can't get enough of my baby girl.


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Eliza's Birth Story

I know I'm super delayed in writing this, but there isn't a lot of margin in life with four kids at home.  :) 

Having a history of fast labors, Bryan and I wondered if Eliza's arrival would be really stressful.  The week before she came, Bryan was working at Buckhead Church for the huge singles' service day in the city, and as a result he was farther from home than usual.  Not only could he be fighting Atlanta's horrible traffic to get to me, but he also was spending several days working on the lower parking deck of the building where there is no cell reception.  We were both a little on edge all that week.  Bryan was really hoping Eliza wouldn't make her appearance until after Do.Justice (the serving event), so we both prayed she'd hold off.

Bryan got home late on Saturday night after Do.Justice, and he was exhausted.  He really needed some time to recover from his very late hours the previous couple of weeks.  We hoped Eliza would wait another day.  Sunday I kept imagining my water breaking at church and all the embarrassing possibilities that could accompany it.  Though I've never had my water break on its own (my doctors or the labor nurses have always broken it while I was in labor), I had a strong feeling that was how Eliza's labor was going to start.  That morning I had a pretty constant lower back ache which persisted through the afternoon.  I told Bryan I felt like something was going on, but I didn't think it meant labor was imminent -- just that my body was preparing for labor in the not-too-distant future. 

Mid-afternoon I left Bryan and the kids at home napping and headed to church to serve in the nursery like I do every week.  I told my fellow volunteers that I was praying for Eliza to come the next day.  For some time April 29 had been my preferred birth date and what I was praying for -- and I was hoping she would come in the morning so we could be home for most of Joel's birthday on May 1.  I'm quirky about numbers; I like odd numbers -- prime ones, especially.  Our kids birthdays are all on odd days (Bryan and I have odd birthdays, too), and we were all born on odd years.  I wanted the trend to continue.  Plus we all have a birthday buddy except Bryan.  Joel, Samuel, and I all have a birthday on a first (May, August, and November).  Caleb's birthday and Samuel's birthday into Heaven are on a 31st (May and August), and Anna and Jesus are on a 25th -- plus my Aunt Kay was born on Anna's birthday as well.  But poor Bryan was the only 29th in the family.  :)  I told my volunteer friends that I could believe April 29 was possible based on my body's behavior, but I wouldn't be surprised if she didn't come then. 

Just before climbing in bed late Sunday night, I lost my mucus plug.  It prompted me to email my sweet friend Kaylan who was on kid-watch duty in case Eliza was born before my mom's scheduled arrival Wednesday afternoon.  I warned Kaylan that I was praying for a next day birth and that God had humored me on all my previous preferred birth dates with the exception of Anna, so she might want to be ready just in case.  After pushing send, I climbed in bed with a bit of a flutter in my stomach.  Would baby girl come the next day?  I sure wondered and hoped.

At 6:00am I woke up and half a second later, my water broke.  I jumped out of bed, ran to the bathroom, and announced to Bryan on my way by, "My water just broke."  He was out of bed in no time.  I called the midwife and asked her if we should rush right in like we would do if I was having contractions or if we should wait awhile.  Since I'd never had labor start with my water breaking, I wasn't sure what she would advise.  She said to take a shower and then come when we felt like we had our stuff together.  "Labor should start in the next hour or two" were her parting words.  I hung up the phone and had a contraction about a minute later.  I jumped in the shower, and my contractions continued, quite close together.  Once I was out, I timed them; they were a minute and a half apart.

I woke the boys to give them kisses and to tell them we were on our way to the hospital for Belle to come.  Joel's sleep-blurry words were, "You got the birthday you wanted!"  So sweet.  I peeked in Anna's room to see her as my baby one last time.  By the time I was walking down the stairs, Kaylan had arrived. We hopped in the car and headed to the hospital.  I texted some friends to tell them we were in labor and guessed that I still had several hours ahead of me since labor would likely be longer and harder starting with my water breaking instead of with contractions.  I tried to prepare myself for a long haul.

As soon as I got out of the car in the hospital parking lot, my contractions increased in intensity and frequency.  I had three strong contractions in the time in took me to walk 20 feet.  Once in the lobby, we had to talk to someone in admissions and answer some routine questions, but I was past the point of being able to talk, so Bryan fielded them all.  While he sat and spoke politely to the woman at the desk, I was bent over leaning on the counter, focusing on breathing and noting how much stronger every contraction was getting.  It felt like we were there for 20 minutes, but Bryan tells me it was more like 10.  They offered me a wheelchair to get to the delivery room, but I couldn't even imagine being able to sit -- or stand back up -- so I declined and walked instead.

We got into our delivery room around 7:45 or so, and the nurses (Heather and Camille) instructed me to go to the bathroom to change into a hospital gown.  Haha!  They almost immediately saw that I was in full-swing labor and getting to the bathroom would be impossible, so they helped me change while standing by the bed in the seconds I had between contractions.  They wanted to check how far along I was, but I wasn't getting a break between contractions as they were coming one on top of the other, so I couldn't lay down.  Finally there was a tiny breather -- like 10 seconds! -- and Camille said, "I don't want to miss this chance to check you.  Let's get you on the table."  I was 6 cm.  I told Bryan on the drive that I was prepared to hear I was only 3 cm, so I was relieved to hear 6. 

Contractions continued to escalate in intensity, and the nurses asked in a mildly panicky way if I wanted an epidural since my window was rapidly shrinking and there hadn't been time to give them my birth plan.  Having delivered Caleb, Joel, and Samuel without medication and then having an epidural with Anna, I had decided I wanted to go back to my natural ways, so I passed.  Good thing, because I never could have gotten it in time.  I asked the nurse to check me again (it had maybe been 5 or so minutes since she checked the first time) because I wanted to know if I was progressing quickly or not, and I was an 8.  I had planned to get back out of the bed and on my feet as it's how I labored with all the boys, and it enabled Bryan to give me some relief with counterpressure on my back, but once we knew I was an 8, we all felt better about me staying in bed.  I wasn't sure I could manage to stand up anyway, as my contractions were giving me absolutely no break.  One contraction would just start to lessen in intensity when another one would start.  Bryan said that the monitor showed my contractions going off the chart, and when we first got there Camille said I was having "pretty good, strong contractions" when the chart showed them registering about 2/3 of the way up the graph. 

By this time, I was in serious pain.  None of my other three natural labors compared to the pain I was experiencing.  Bryan later told me that he nearly threw up watching me be in such pain.  At some point the midwife came in and told me I could push.  With Joel, Samuel, and Anna I barely had to push.  Joel and Anna I pushed once -- not even through a whole contraction.  So I expected the same to be true on my 5th go.  But, I think because I had been laying down from 6 cm on and hadn't had gravity helping me out, I had to push more.  It still was a short period of time, but it caught me off guard.  I could literally feel Eliza moving down the birth canal during my pushes, which I have to say was unpleasant.  After 7 or 8 contractions, I suddenly felt Eliza slip out.  I was shocked because no one had told me she was crowning.  I keep saying, "She's here?!  I didn't know she was coming so soon!"  In retrospect, I think I would have handled the pushing better if I'd known how close I was, but instead I felt like one of those women in movies who make a lot of noise.  I've always said how unrealistic that is and how it's not like that, but now I have to eat my words because I totally was like that.  Eliza came into the world at 8:29am -- two and half hours after my water broke and a mere 40-45 minutes after we got into our hospital room.  We (really Bryan) were answering the nurses' admission questions until minutes before Eliza was born.  There wasn't much time to spare!

I'm telling you, Eliza was my hardest and most painful labor.  I think it's because it was so intense.  All the work of labor was condensed into so short a time that there was just no break between contractions -- even when I was pushing.  My contractions with her hurt more, pushing hurt more, and getting her out hurt more.  For days afterward I told Bryan, "I don't know if I can
do this again."  In all my past deliveries, within 30 minutes I was saying, "I could totally do that again.  It wasn't that bad."  But I couldn't shake the memory of the pain this time.  Now that a month has passed, I think I could do it again if I had too, but I don't relish the thought of it.  :)  If there is ever a 6th Apinis baby, I won't lightly discount the epidural road, though I didn't love it when I had Anna.  I'm glad I chose to deliver Eliza naturally, and I wouldn't change it if I could, but I won't soon forget how crazy intense it was.

God was kind to humor me yet again and grant me my preferred birth date.  Not only did Eliza come on April 29 to be Bryan's birthday buddy, but she also came at 8:29; Bryan's birthday is 8/29.  :)  She is perfect and wonderful and so far our easiest baby.  For the first 2 1/2 weeks, she hardly cried at all -- maybe totaling an hour or two.  Now she cries some, but she's laid back and delightful.  While she was in the womb, I guessed she would be a laid back baby based on her activity and behavior during pregnancy. (All my children have exhibited some of their personality traits while still in the womb.)  She is such a joy, and we're all smitten.  Anna is particularly taken with her. 
First Look

We praise God for our 5th child, our sweet and precious Eliza Larissa Apinis.  (Hopefully a post about her name is soon to come.)

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Introducing...






Eliza Larissa Apinis
April 29, 2013
8:29am
8lb 4 oz
22 inches

We are so thrilled to welcome our 5th child to the family!  Eliza is a joy already, and we all adore her.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Anna Sings

Bryan caught Anna on video singing "10,000 Reasons,"  and I thought I'd share.  She can sings parts of all the verses, but this is the first verse and the beginning of the chorus.  She melts our hearts!

(In other news, I will be full-term on Tuesday.  3 weeks and 2 days until my due date...)

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

10,000 Reasons

There's something about Matt Redman's songs that speak to me deeply.  I remember the first time I heard "10,000 Reasons" I choked up as soon as we sang "For all Your goodness I will keep on singing/ 10,000 reasons for my heart to find."  And every time I've sung it since, that line strikes a chord deep within my soul.  It always makes me think of Samuel -- of how thankful I am to be his mom, of how faithful God was throughout Samuel's short life, of how God has grown us and blessed us through Samuel's life and death, of the rich blessings of loving my third son and of handing him over to Jesus, of how grief has refined me and shaped and made me more like the woman God wants me to be, and 10,000 other Samuel-related reasons.  My heart has so, so many reasons to praise God -- ones connected to Samuel and ones that aren't -- but it's the Samuel ones that always spring to mind when I hear this song.  It's the goodness of God in the desert place that unearths such gratitude from me -- the way He turned a desert into fertile soil and grew beautiful things from our sorrow and brokenness.  Only God can do something like that, and I am so thankful.

Lately Anna (who is now 21 months old) has learned parts of this song.  She requests it every time I put her to bed.  She tries to lay her little head on my chest, but my now seriously protruding belly has her sitting on my knees and her head barely reaching the top of my wriggling, kicking belly bump.  Poor kid has no lap to sit on anymore and bedtime rockings are often accompanied by a chorus of ouches from Anna Pea who simply cannot get comfortable.  Once she settles on a position (which never last more than 30 seconds due to that pesky baby sister of hers :) ), Anna lifts her head and asks, "Sun come up?"  So I start singing the opening lines of the song, and Anna chimes in with me, asking, "Anna sing too?"  She sings in this high-pitched squeal with absolutely no sense of the rhythm, but many of the words are correct.  It melts my heart, and I grin my entire way through the song, struggling to hang on to the melody and tempo as Anna is so completely off.  It's priceless: praising Jesus with my daughter.  It is hands down one of my favorite things ever.  And when we get to that line, I am flooded with gratitude for Anna's big brother, for Anna our little healer, for "Belle" who will soon add even more layers to that healing, and for how God will someday redeem the hard parts of Anna's life as He has redeemed the hard parts of mine.  It's a washing joy that pours over me as Anna I together declare the Lord's goodness. 

As I approach the end of this pregnancy (I'm 35 weeks, and we are still nowhere near ready for Belle's arrival), there have been numerous times when my memories of Samuel have reared up unexpectedly.  In general people tend to give me weird looks when they see me with the big boys, Anna, and my huge belly.  I think people believe I'm crazy to be having another child.  Honestly, it's been a little shocking and unsettling to Bryan and I to see how often people judge us for having another child.  There is some mental line between 3 and 4 kids, apparently.  It's on the bigger side of normal to have 3 kids, but 4 is just plain irresponsible.  Or at least that's the message we often get.  I keep thinking, "If they only knew that this is really our 5th!  What if Samuel was alive and walking with us.  What kind of looks would we get then?" 

And then there is the frequent question: "Is this your 1st?" if I happen to be alone, or more often when I'm with just Anna and they've already asked me if I'm having a boy or girl, "Two girls, huh?"  I have not yet found a satisfactory answer.  In one day I tried three different responses, and none of them really worked.  "Actually it's my 5th" is almost always followed by, "what are the ages of the other 4?"  And then I make the stranger feel visibly uncomfortable when I say, "7 1/2, 5 1/2, our third son would be 3 1/2 but he is no longer living, and 21 months."  Not 10 minutes later I tried, "Well, we had three boys first, then a girl, and now this one", but it lead to the same line of questioning.  After trying more variations of this answer in one day and making every single inquirer squirm, I broke down and said, "Well, there are two older brothers as well", but it sat terribly with me, and I felt just wrong about leaving Samuel out for convenience.  It's such a simple question, but there is no simple answer.  When all the kids are with me, and it's obvious that I'm having at least my 4th child, I just smile when people say "Two boys and two girls.  How perfect."  I don't mention that there's another brother in the family, and I'm ok with it, but I do wonder how it feels to Caleb and Joel not to hear me acknowledge Samuel.  And though 2 boys and 2 girls is pretty wonderful, it's not perfect.  Someone is missing.  Strangers can't possibly know that, of course, and I don't blame my friends and acquaintances when they say the same thing because I know that they mean well and are rejoicing in "Belle."  But it does always tug at my heart because I miss that middle child of ours, and we are not complete without him.

Despite the hole Samuel's absence leaves, more than anything his life gives me cause to declare with joy and gladness "10,000 reasons for my heart to find! Bless the Lord, oh my soul.  Ohhhhh, my soul.  Worship His holy name.  Sing like never before.  Oh, my soul.  I'll worship His holy name."  Our God is good and great and worthy of every ounce of praise in my heart.  And His overwhelming kindness in bestowing Samuel on us -- that alone generates 10, 000 reasons for my heart to praise His name.

(If you haven't heard the song, you can listen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9jYLTn4fKYQ)

Thursday, March 28, 2013

LOVE YooooooUUUUUU!



This is from last week while we were in Kiawah, SC.  Hours later the stomach bug hit our family, and 4 out of 5 of us went down.  It wasn't pretty!  But the 2 1/2 days before that, we had a lovely time relaxing on our favorite island.  It was our last trip before "Belle" comes.  Only 5 1/2 weeks until she's due...