Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Truer Peace and GOOD NEWS

Shortly after Samuel died, I began to reevaluate my understanding of peace.  I have always been a person of intuition, a trait I share with my mom.  Sometimes I just know something.  Bryan tells me he has no idea what that means because he's never experienced it, but it's something I have experienced many times in my life.  For instance, I just knew I was going to marry Bryan long before we made any plans to marry.  I knew Joel was a boy from the moment I found out I was pregnant.  I knew Bryan and I were going to win Fellowship Christian High School's raffle drawing for a 1965 Ford Mustang in 2002.  And I knew that working with married community groups under the leadership of John Woodall was the job for Bryan before there were any job openings in that department and before anyone had ever mentioned the possibilty to Bryan.  To some extent, I have always trusted my intuition.  That changed after Samuel.

When Samuel died, I began to question my understanding of peace.  I had incredible, indescribable peace when Samuel was alive.  For the first nearly three weeks of his life, I interpreted that peace to mean that Samuel would be ok and would come home with us eventually.  When Samuel became so sick that death grew imminent, I knew my peace meant that God was with us and would carry us through the tragedy ahead.  After Samuel's funeral, as life fell into a new rhythm much like life before Samuel's birth yet entirely different from that life, I started to look back over my experiences with peace.  I realized that in the past I had interpreted a feeling of peace to mean God was going to do what I had asked, that my intuition was trustworthy.  I remember feeling really peaceful when I found out I was pregnant with Caleb -- I had a strong sense that I didn't need to worry about miscarriage.  I believed that peace was because my baby was going to be just fine.  I began to realize that my pattern with peace was to elevate WHAT God was going to do -- and to find peace because of how God was going to answer my prayers.  My peace was based on an assumption about God's actions.

When God's actions about Samuel so drastically failed to line up with my requests and yet I had a pervading sense of peace throughout my little son's life, I realized I had misunderstood peace all along.  Peace isn't about WHAT God is going to do.  Peace is about WHO God is.  Peace is knowing deep in my core that God is enough, that no matter what is ahead, He will be enough to see me through it, to carry me when I can't take another step on my own two feet, to heal my broken heart and enable me to smile and laugh despite my sorrow and grief, to be Hope in a dark world, to be a good God even when life is horribly hard and people are rotten.  Peace is truly trusting God to be who He says He is.  If I really believe that God is who He says He is, then I am filled with peace even in the face of tragedy, uncertainty, death, fear, betrayal, and destruction.  God is God always, and I can rest in Him.

I used to tell Bryan that I didn't like my new understanding of peace.  It wasn't as comforting as the old one.  I liked believing God was going to do what I asked.  In the last two months, I learned the fallacy of my preference for my errant understanding.  Nearly two months ago, Bryan and I learned wonderful news.  We learned that I am pregnant again!  Yes, let me say it again: I AM PREGNANT!  :)  I can't help but be teary as I write that.  It has been a long, long road to this place.  And I always expected it would be really hard if we ever got pregnant again.  I assumed the first months would be like the first months of pregnancy with Samuel -- a form of torture.  Since I was fresh off of two miscarriages when we conceived Samuel, I spent the first weeks in a constant state of fear and anxiety.  I went to the bathroom every hour to see if I was bleeding.  I would buy myself 5 minutes of respite after a trip to the bathroom, but soon enough I was counting down again until a reasonable time to go back and check once more.  It was awful.  I didn't have a peace that God was going to spare the life in me.  I wanted to know my baby would live, but I didn't know if he would or not.  It was an utterly peace-less few weeks.  I lived in fear that God wouldn't do what I was asking.  When I did start bleeding one day with Samuel, I thought for sure I was losing another pregnancy, and I wept on the bed in agony.  But in those moments and hours of thinking the worst, I knew peace.  I knew God was with me, and He would carry me through the very thing I thought I couldn't survive.  I should have realized then how wrong my view of peace was, but I didn't.

So, when Bryan and I learned our good news, I expected to be plagued with the same fear and anxiety.  I was pretty shocked when I felt peaceful right from the start.  A few days in, I realized that I felt peaceful because my peace was real and true.  My peace was (and is) in WHO God is.  He is God.  He is good.  He is faithful.  He is Healer.  He is enough.  So these last two months of questions and uncertainties, which continue of course, have been peace-filled and rich.  My peace is tried and true because my God is tried and true.

We are so, so grateful for this pregnancy -- no matter how it turns out.  We are thankful beyond words for this picture of hope.  I am currently 12 weeks pregnant, and on Friday we went to the perinatologists' office where I went every week the last couple months of pregnancy with Samuel.  We saw our little one swimming and kicking and heart-beating, and we were filled with more hope and joy and excitement.  Of course we have no idea what will be.  They won't be able to look at baby's heart (Caleb has named baby Tad, and Joel calls baby Sebastian -- incidentally, they both think baby is a girl and chose those names accordingly!) until 17 weeks, so we won't know anything until then.  Even then, we won't know anything for sure.  I will be monitored closely my whole pregnancy regardless of what they discover about baby's heart.  We have a 3-5% recurrence risk whereas the average person has a 1% risk of a CHD (Congenital Heart Defect).  CHD's are the number one birth defect.

In a letter I wrote to my extended family announcing the news, I wrote this, and it accurately describes where we are:
"As we navigate this road of another pregnancy after losing Samuel, we find ourselves trusting in God in new ways again.  This morning as we drove to the doctors' office, I was telling Bryan how comforting it is to know from experience that God will be with us no matter what is ahead, and He will be sufficient to meet our needs, to comfort our hearts, to heal any brokenness, and to see us through even the worst of possibilities.  He is tried and true, and I am grateful to know God in such a way that I can have complete confidence in who He is -- in His love, grace, goodness, faithfulness, presence, and kindness.  As He continues to heal our hearts from Samuel, I know He can heal any new wounds that come our way.  Of course we hope for the best possible result, and we fervently pray for it, but even if God says 'no,' I am confident He will meet every need we face and prove Himself enough yet again."

We covet your prayers for this new life growing in me and for us as we walk a familiar and yet foreign road.  Most of all, we give God glory for this new life, and we praise Him for WHO He is no matter WHAT He does.

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Couple Psalms

It has been a while since I've written on here. Months, in fact. This fall I have been taking a seminary course that covered, among other books, the Psalms. One of the assignments that we had was to write two original, personal psalms. One was to be a psalm of praise and the other a psalm of lament. It was an intense exercise for me. I thought that I'd share them here.

A Psalm of Praise

I praise You, Lord, for You are faithful.
Your kindness has never failed me.

You have shown your goodness to me,
Your mercy to my family,
Your kindness to the generations before me.

You send rain to refresh the land,
Blessings to the hearts of your people.
And provision to their hands.

I have lived with plenty all of my life.
Your hand has provided for me well beyond my needs.

Though the earth is filled with trouble,
You are still God.
Though this world is broken and given to decay,
The beauty of Your creation testifies that You are.

There is no end to the troubles of this world.
We are prone to conflict and confusion,
Destined for disease and death.

Yet in you there is peace and prosperity,
The promise of life.

Further still, You are my hope,
Not merely for peace in this life,
But for shalom in the world to come.

Though I taste of Your goodness in this life,
An everlasting feast awaits me.

While I glimpse shadows of Your beauty on this earth,
In the new heavens and the new earth I will see You face to face.

Now I hear but whispers of Your wisdom.
In the world to come, Your truth will resound continuously.

In this life I merely brush up against the intimacy you desire for Your people,
But an eternity of knowing and loving embrace awaits me.

You are my God, faithful and kind,
The hope of the world.

A Psalm of Lament

Oh, Lord, save our son.
Rescue him from death.

His lungs heave with every breath,
Gasping for survival moment-by-moment.

Though blood courses through his body,
It knows not the path it should take.

Though doctors surround him, answers escape.
The latest technology cannot simplify his condition.
The skilled hands of a gifted surgeon are no use to him.

Father, hear the prayers of this father.
You know what it is to see your son suffer.

Please spare his life.
Heal his body and relax his veins.
Direct his blood to right paths
And reform his heart that it may sustain his new life.

Though I fast and pray, I hear no answer.
Despite my pleas, healing stands aloof at a distance.
To the supplications of many, You give no reply.

My soul is perplexed, God.
My mind is in turmoil.
My heart is troubled.
My spirit cries out.
My able body is weak.

An old heart may fail
An aged man’s body may weaken,
And a wise woman’s breaths shorten.
This is the order of life on this earth.

But the steps of the young should bounce,
And the current of their blood should flow like rapids.
The aspiration of the young should be inspired with dreams and hopes,
Not desperation and grasping.

God, You do not make mistakes.
No accidents fumble from Your hands.

As You fashion all life, so You have fashioned Samuel.
You formed his body as it is, his heart and lungs in their deformed state.

But, death awaits him.
His infant body cannot sustain his own life.

Though You give him only 30 days, I will praise You.
Though his life spans only a month, I will still say, “God is good.”

Because Your Son died, my son will live.
Because Your Beloved rose from darkness to light, I will see Samuel again.

In the midst of my heartache, You are near.
You are my hope.

I am promised an eternity in which You and Your Son, and I and my son will be nearer still.
You are my hope.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Family Photos

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of ours offered to take a few family pictures for free, and we took her up on it.  Here are our favorite ones:

Thanks, Candy!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Tearful Baptism

Today at church, Bryan had the privilege of baptizing a friend of his named Richard.  Bryan first met Richard about two and a half years ago when he was asked to perform the funeral for Richard and Marty's six week old daughter, Olivia.  I remember hearing Olivia's story and shuddering.  I couldn't imagine being in her parents' shoes, getting a phone call from the NICU in the middle of the night telling me to hurry to the hospital because my daughter, who was supposed to recover from surgery and be home in about a week, wasn't going to make it through the night.  I could barely even go there in my imagination.  It was too horrifying.  I saw how much Bryan hurt for them over the course of several days leading up to the funeral and in the days afterward.  And it seemed like more than I could journey with Bryan through.  I was terrified to hurt with them because it just seemed so, so horribly painful.

We've run into Marty and Richard at church a few times since Samuel's death, and they always seem to have a knowing look in their eyes.  I know they get it -- the aftermath of losing a child, the ups and downs of grief, the good days and dreadful days.  I wish no one else knew this pain of grief, but there is comfort in knowing you're not the only one to walk a lonely and often barren road.

Today as I sat in church next to my dear friends, Adam and Tracy, I wondered how it would be to watch Bryan baptize Richard.  I wondered if Richard would talk about Olivia in his baptism video.  I wondered how Bryan would hold up.  When the video played, I was a wreck before Richard even got to Olivia.  Richard did tell about his sweet daughter; he told how her death brought him to faith in Jesus, something I didn't know.  I am so moved that losing someone so dear and precious could truly draw someone to our loving God for the first time.

And then when Bryan started to talk through tears, when he looked Richard in the eye and told him that because God raised Jesus from the dead, He will someday raise Richard and Olivia too, and they will be together in Heaven again, and Olivia will be more a part of Richard's future than of his past, I was wiping away tears left and right with my kleenex.  And I was so thankful for my friend, Tracy, who was crying right along with me and griping my hand tight.  It was good to not be alone in my grief.  And it was beautiful to watch Bryan talk so truthfully about God's redemptive work and the hope of Heaven and to see him battling through his own emotions and offering his own hope to someone who shares our sorrow and clings to the same promises we do.

After Bryan and Richard walked out of the baptistry, Joel Thomas, one of the pastors at North Point, came out on stage, and he told the several thousand people in attendance something I wasn't at all prepared for.  He said, "What many of you don't know is that Bryan and his wife recently lost a child too.  What you see here is real.  We aren't actors.  Their faith is real.  God really changes lives."  It had never occurred to me that I might hear our story told before the church without knowing ahead of time that it was coming.  At that point, I was crying buckets of tears, and I was doubly glad that I knew the person next to me and that she was crying with me.  I'm sure we looked like basket cases to the people around us. 

Though I was completely caught off guard by Joel's statements, I was really, really glad that God was using our story again.  As time moves on and Samuel's life is farther and farther in the past, the difference his life made feels farther and farther away too.  Sometimes I doubt that he has made a lasting impression on anyone other than me and Bryan.  And it's good to know that God can keep using Samuel for His purposes, that our story can still be told and still draw people's hearts to God. 

Bryan joined me a few minutes into the sermon, and I was relieved to have him next to me, to know my partner in life was with me as I continued to choke down tears.  When church ended and we stood up, numerous people came up to Bryan who must have recognized him from the baptism and thanked him.  Some were friends who were teary-eyed, and I appreciated their compassion, and some were complete strangers who patted Bryan on the back and said sincere thanks.  All down the halls, people were stopping Bryan and expressing thanks, and I felt so grateful to be his wife. 

I feel thankful for Samuel's life, and that once again, it has a chance to touch others and make a difference.  I feel grateful that Olivia's story is making a difference, too.  It is a good and kind God who uses the most painful and broken parts of our stories to heal us, to draw us to Him, and to show others what a faithful and true God He is.  Today I feel especially thankful to serve my God.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Recent Photos

Here are a few photos from recent family fun:
 My Halloween Cheeseburger and Darth Vader
 On a field trip with Caleb's class to Burt's Farm in north Georgia
 Joel-bears -- so cute!

 Trunk Fresh: A Cars Movie race car

Monday, November 8, 2010

Taking Time Out to Grieve

I know it's been a long time since I've posted on here.  I've recently realized that what started as an intentional break from the intense grief and mourning of August has seeped into an unintentional time of avoidance.  After August passed and the first couple of weeks of September were behind us, I looked back at those weeks of overwhelming grief and saw just how weighty they had been, how much I had been carrying on my shoulders every day, and how exhausted I was from walking through the one year anniversary of each of the days of Samuel's life and each of the first days without him.  Though I am so glad I did it -- that I went back every day of August and read what we'd posted on that day in 2009, that I purposefully remembered what we walked through, hoped, feared, and faced in each of those 31 days -- it took a toll on me, and I was in rather dire need of a hiatus from the heaviness of August.  So, I purposefully took a break.

However, as time has passed and September turned into October and then November, somewhere along the way I became complacent, and after a few questions from a friend, I realized that I have simply been avoiding grief.  Something truly changed for me after we passed the year mark -- especially after we passed the anniversary of the funeral and those first few weeks of numb, overpowering grief.  I was surprised by what a difference it made to know I had already lived each date without Samuel once, and I could do it again.  Though I had not expected it, life felt noticeably more manageable after crossing all the first anniversaries.  But I guess that more manageable state made it easier for me to slip into a lazier attitude and a degree of avoidance.

The one place where I always find myself transported back to Samuel's bedside is during the worship songs at church on Sunday morning.  The first few Sundays of Samuel's life, we were able to go to church and still get down to the hospital just as the floor was opening back up for parents to be with their kids.  I vividly remember how much faith it took for me to sing the lyrics to praise songs in those days of such fear and an awareness of how very much I had to lose.  It moved me to my core to sing that God was healer when I didn't know if He would heal my son, that He was in control when nothing at all was within my control, and that He was so good when my son's life was so broken.  I believed those things with all my heart, but it took such tremendous effort to join the chorus of voices singing those truths to the very God I was beseeching to perform a miracle in Samuel's life.

And every week at church now, I find myself taken back to Samuel's side.  Almost always I go back to when he was dying, and we watched him grow sicker and sicker and saw his body decaying even while he was still alive.  It find myself choked up and teary, and again it takes great faith in my soul to sing God's praises while remembering the heartbreak of those days.  And yet, in some ways, remembering those days by Samuel stirs up the most praise in my soul, for during Samuel's life I saw God in more real, transforming ways than I ever had and perhaps than I ever will.  I knew God in an intimate way I can't possibly describe, and going back to that place elicits such praise from within me.  God has shown Himself to be so good -- even when life has not gone as I hoped.  He has proven Himself to be truly, deeply, and completely sufficient.  He has drawn my heart to Himself, and I am so very grateful.

Grieving for my sweet Samuel continues -- and always will -- but it is with a new rhythm and at a new pace.  I have to be careful to let myself grieve as it bubbles up -- and it certainly has been bubbling up the last month or so, but I have been ignoring it.  I see warning signs when I haven't "taken time out to grieve" as our grief counselor, Judy, often said in our sessions.  I get more snippy, am less joyful, and find life more frustrating.  I have needed to come back to this place of grief to create more room in my heart for other emotions, but as time has gone on, it's gotten scarier to come back here.  I am reminded just how much I need it: I need to grieve, I need to blog about it, I need to let myself dwell on Samuel for awhile.  And every time I do, I can see and feel how good it is for my soul.  So, I'm thankful for Sara, who asked me enough questions to prod my self-protected heart and helped me see how far off the path of intentionality I had come.  And I'm thankful for my God who sees me through it all and gives me pictures of hope along the way.  And I'm thankful for Samuel who may be toddling around Heaven these days and saying a few words already.  Who knows what he's up to in Heaven or how old he is there, but I do know some day I'll snuggle that son of mine again, and I am thankful.

Friday, October 22, 2010

October Family Fun

Every year we go to Berry Patch Farms and have a great time.  Here Joel is enjoying a huge pumpkin.
Caleb is looking so grown up to me lately.
Showing off our gourds

Last weekend we went on our first family camping trip.  My aunt, Colleen, and cousin, Jonathan, came with us.  It was SO much fun.  The boys were CRAZY about it and have been talking about it ever since.  I foresee a lot of camping in our future.  Here are the Jedi setting up our tents.
They were positively giddy about sleeping in the tent.  Caleb woke up in the morning and declared, "That was the best night of sleep ever!"  Joel, on the other hand, was so excited he woke up repeatedly through the night whispering away about when we could get up and talking about Cars movie cars.
Joel eating his campfire cooked hotdog.

In the morning we hiked around the waterfall.  Joel was our trail leader for part of the time, and he loved it.
At the Amicalola waterfall.  It was beautiful there.
The whole camping gang
At the start of the Appalachian Trail

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Hope of Reunion

Last week, the boys and I were glued to my computer, watching CNN's live webcast of the Chilean miners' rescue after 69 days a half mile underground.  We watched all day long, and they would both come running when they heard the sirens signaling the approach to the surface of the Fenix rescue capsule.  They asked a lot of questions, and every time someone emerged from the capsule, I was unable to answer them for crying.  Each reunion made me weepy without fail.

Caleb and Joel both asked me why I was crying, and it took me awhile to be able to figure out what exactly sparked my tears.  I knew I was moved by the picture of hope realized, love expressed, and joy overflowing, but I also knew there was more to it than that.  I marveled at the amazing and miraculous salvation of these 33 men, of coming forth to new life and second chances.  I was awed by death defeated and hope victorious -- something we didn't get to experience with Samuel.  But most of all, I kept putting myself in the family members' shoes.  For 17 days, they believed their loved ones were dead; they did not think they would get to embrace them again in this life.  And then for the following 59 days they feared the worst -- that the rescue team would not get there in time.  But all their fears were abated when their husband or brother or father or son stepped out of that capsule and into their arms.  They were reunited.

It's that picture of reunion that moves me to tears when I think about it.  Someday I, too, will be reunited with my son.  I have no idea how long I will have to wait, but I know it will be my lifetime.  I have no idea what Samuel will be like -- will he be a baby still?  Will he be grown up?  Will he even have a body?  I don't know.  But I do know I will see him again someday.  And we will be together again at long last.  And for the first time, I will get to hold my healthy Samuel in my arms -- maybe as a man taller than me, maybe as an infant cradled in the nook of my arm.

Whatever the reunion looks like, it will be more beautiful than I can imagine, and I can imagine some pretty incredible things.  It will be a reunion without all the fears of this life and the brokenness of this world -- without worry about how my son will handle all that he's endured or how imperfect of a mother I've been.  It will be a reunion covered in God's perfect grace and full of His undying hope, joy, peace, and truth.

Someday, I, too, will be reunited with someone I love and had lost.  And this moves me more than I can say.  It stirs my soul to know our separation is only for a while; it will come to an end.  And then we'll spend eternity together in God's presence.  I will look back on life on earth without Samuel and see it for the blink of an eye that it really is, and I won't be filled with longing anymore.  I will simply be fulfilled.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Fostering for our Family?

Several months ago our church started a partnership with a faith-based organization called Faith Bridge Foster Care.  They aim to solve the foster problem in the United States by utilizing the church to train up foster parents and raise up a community of people to support and help the foster parents, as well as in many cases support and help the children's biological parents.  In the US, there are half a million foster kids and exponentially more people who would call themselves Christians.  But there is a shortage of foster families to house and love and care for these children.  In our county alone, there are only 17 foster families, but there are over 60 kids in the system.  Faith Bridge aims to equip our churches to serve, love, and cherish these precious kids while their parents try to get to a place to be able to provide that love and care themselves. 

Bryan has had the privilege and joy of being part of the North Point team that is working with Faith Bridge, and over the last few months, he has come home excited and moved after every one of the meetings.  He would share with me about the initiative with Faith Bridge, and I would see more energy and enthusiasm in him than I have in quite some time.  At one point he told me that the team hopes to have 30 families equipped through North Point and 8 kids in beds by Christmas.  When he said that, I couldn't help but ask, "Do you think that should be us?  When I hear you talk about fostering, I can't help but wonder if that should be us."

I can remember hearing about foster care when I was in high school and thinking it was a really cool thing.  My sophomore year of college, I lead a Bible study of freshmen girls, and one of the girls, Kira, grew up in a family who fostered.  When she talked about it, I remember thinking, "I'm going to do that some day."  And ever since then, I've assumed we would do it...someday.  Bryan and I have talked about it a few times over our almost ten years of marriage, but we assumed it was in the future -- when our kids were older, maybe even out of the house.  And from the beginning, I have always imagined fostering babies.  I am a baby person through and through.  I love kids of all ages, but sometimes that love has to grow, but with babies, it's just there -- immediately and completely.

Ever since that day I asked, "Should it be us?", Bryan and I have talked frequently about fostering.  We've discussed it from a myriad of angles.  When Bryan asks what I see in our future, my answer always involves kids.  I love kids; I love being a mom; I can't imagine any future that doesn't involve children in some way.  And when Bryan looks forward, he sees us somehow helping what he calls "the least of these."  He has had a passion for the marginalized in society for as long as he can remember.  It seems that fostering may be the perfect merging of our two passions.  We both get really excited when we talk about it -- Bryan about helping and serving a group of people who are passed over and wounded, and me about a baby I can love on and care for for some amount of time until his or her own family can provide those things. 

But we've also wondered about the risks for our family -- specifically what will it be like to have another baby we don't get to keep.  Our grief is deep and still very real, and loving another baby and then someday saying goodbye -- probably forever -- is pretty terrifying, especially if the baby is returning to a less than ideal environment.  And we wonder what it would do to Caleb and Joel to have a baby come and go again.  Would they ever be able to believe a baby was going to stay if the Lord grants us another child?  Will we be scarring them in some unforeseeable way?  I've talked to Caleb about fostering numerous times, and he says, "It makes a lot of sense, Momma.  Perfect sense."  And this past weekend he prayed, "Lord, please help Mommy and Daddy know if they should be foster parents, and please help them to decide yes."  He has such a giving heart, and I love that about him.  It makes me well up when I think about his generous heart and truly kind nature.  Out of the blue he has asked me on several occasions, "Are you going to foster, Momma?  Are we going to do it?"

One thing Bryan and I have felt confident of is that if we're going to be foster parents, we must buy into the system.  We must accept a child with the goal of reuniting that baby with his or her parents or extended family.  We could not take a child into our home with the hope of it turning into adoption.  I just don't think that would be wise for our still tender hearts.  I am all for adoption, and I'm very open to it in our future, but I think we would have to pursue it separately from fostering.  We would have to follow a more traditional route.  If we do foster, and a child we care for becomes adoptable, then we would certainly have to talk and pray about that, but we cannot go into this hoping in the back of our minds that we'll end up with a child who is forever ours.  I really think we'd be setting ourselves up for heartbreak and devastation.  We would have to accept a child for the interm -- offering our hearts for the short time he or she would be with us.

We've also talked round and round about fostering older children, but we keep coming back to the same place.  We know we can provide what a baby needs -- holding, feeding, cuddling, soothing, but we aren't at all sure we have the emotional or physical margin to invest in an older child who knows they've been wounded, neglected, and broken.  And with Caleb and Joel at such impressionable ages, we just don't feel like it would be wise to have a child who is older than they are. 

After much discussion and prayer, we decided to go ahead and take the next step forward toward fostering and to keep taking steps until we hit a road block -- and perhaps we never will.  We may get pregnant again, which would be a road block, but who's to say the Lord will grant us another baby, and surely we could care for a baby during pregnancy.  So, this past weekend we attended the Friday and Saturday training at our church for foster parents.  Ahead of us yet is background checks, fingerprinting, physicals for the whole family, 44 pages of paperwork, TB tests (which is hilarious since Bryan has a ridiculously funny story about passing out slowly after a TB test, his hands sliding down the glass divider between the receptionist desk and the waiting room in the doctor's office -- and ultimately ending up passed out across the doorway heading back to the exam rooms), 15 more hours of training, and an extensive home study.  It will likely take us months to be approved, and who knows what will happen in that time.  But for now we will continue to move forward until something stops us.

Though it's a scary unknown in some ways -- loving another child who won't get to stay with us, holding a baby in one night longer than I was able to hold Samuel in his whole life, opening our home to a world of inconvenience, and facing the reality of heartbreak these foster children experience -- we are confident that fostering is a good thing.   Loving "the least of these" is God-honoring, and God never promised us that following Him would be easy or painless or even gratifying.  In fact, He tells us the opposite: serving Him leads to persecution, suffering, and sacrifice.  But we can do it joyfully, and we rejoice at the thought of fostering babies.  So forward we will continue to step, and who knows, perhaps we'll have a baby in a crib in a few more months.   It's exciting to think about what God might do.  Perhaps God will foster growth and healing in our family as we offer those very things to a baby in need.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Nothing to Fear

In the past few weeks, several of my friends have had babies.  Each time I find myself so extraordinarily happy for them.  I also find myself longing for a baby of our own.  As another month has passed without a pregnancy, I am growing even more desirous of another little Apinis.  At the same time, I am fully confident that our future is in God's hands, and He will do what He knows is best, and I can trust Him in that.  I can trust His heart to be good, and I can trust His work to be good -- even if it's not the work I am begging Him for.

A few days ago we went to Northside Hospital to meet our friends' little son; it was the first time either of us had been back since Samuel was born there.  Walking in and walking to the room to meet baby Grayson was difficult -- mostly because what I remember about the last time we arrived was the excitement of Samuel's arrival, and going to our room after the delivery was the beginning of the unknown, of the waiting for news, of hoping that all would be well.  The night Samuel made his appearance, we didn't know he was fighting for his life in those five hours we sat and waited for a phone call from the NICU.  I was on the after-birth-adrenaline-high -- so proud, so happy, and relatively unafraid.  Bryan had more sense that something was seriously wrong.  It was hard to be back in that place that was so full of hope a year ago and to know how the story ends.  But once I got to our friends' room, it was easy to just be there with them, to rejoice in Grayson's healthy life, and to love holding their newborn son.

A couple of weeks ago we went to see our very dear friends' newborn daughter, Annabelle.  She is beautiful and so tiny, and I didn't want to put her down.  Joel was enamored as usual and kept putting her bare foot against his cheek to snuggle her.  We told him he could only touch her feet since she's so tiny, and he is a germy boy.  When we left he asked, "Is she a healthy baby?"  It's heartbreaking to hear my three year old ask that question -- that he should even know the answer could be "no" makes me sad.  Once we got in the car, Bryan immediately said, "I want one of those.  Oh, Lord, may it come to be."  Me, too.  I want one of those, too.

As time has continued to go by and we are still not pregnant, I regularly struggle with surrendering my hopes for a healthy baby to God.  I battle fear -- fear that I won't ever be able to get pregnant again, fear that I will have more miscarriages, fear that I will have another baby with a heart defect or with underdeveloped lungs.  In the last two plus years, I have fought and fought against fear.  A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting in church, and something clicked.  I think it was a combination of a study I'm doing in my wives' group, a song we sang that morning, and something our pastor, Andy Stanley, said.  Suddenly it hit me that I have nothing to fear.

In our time with Samuel, God met our every need, and He positively carried us through the minutes, hours, and days.  We lacked for nothing because He was so palpably present, so gracious, so comforting, so peace-giving.  He gave us what we needed to face each new day, each delivery of discouraging news, each realization that we probably would not get to take Samuel home.  And in the months after Samuel's death, He carried us again.  He comforted us, He calmed us, He quieted us, He sheltered us.  He faithfully gave us what we needed to face the moment before us and to trust Him in the midst of our sorrow.  He was fully faithful, fully sufficient, fully good.  When I look ahead and fear what the future holds, I'm afraid of walking though another valley, afraid that I won't be able to do it again, afraid that I won't come out the other side.  But my experience has taught me something totally different.  God WILL be with me, God WILL carry me, God WILL give me peace and courage and hope and comfort.  Whatever comes our way, God will be faithful to provide what we need to face it and trust Him.  So there is nothing to fear.  I have my God and always will -- no matter what I do or say or feel.  I can trust Him to provide.  Just like our song of hope and comfort from last August says, "All that You ask, Your grace will provide."  Or in the words of the Beth Moore study I'm doing, "I found Him faithful yesterday.  He will not be unfaithful today."

So whatever is ahead -- continual infertility, miscarriage, an unhealthy baby, another baby who dies, or even a fully healthy baby who I fear losing -- I do not need to be afraid.  Even more, there is nothing to fear.  God IS sufficient.  God IS good.  God IS faithful and trustworthy and present and true and loving.  He will be with me, and I don't need anything more than Him.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

More Extraordinary Pancakes

I am way behind on pancake Saturday morning postings, so here are a few of the most recent edible art Bryan has created:

The Sheriff of Nottingham from Disney's Robin Hood
Robin Hood himself
Boba Fett from Star Wars
Mace Windu from Star Wars
(I think this one is especially impressive)
Buzz Lightyear --I wish the batter had turned out darker on the head b/c it actually say "LIGHTYEAR" under the helmet
Lots-O-Huggin' Bear from Toy Story 3

Bryan is awfully impressive.  I often tell him he could go into business if he could charge enough to make it worth the 45 minutes each pancake takes.  :)  It always feels like a bit of a shame when the boys gobble up their pancake art.  And they think this is normal -- that anybody's daddy could produce pancakes like this.  I tell them all the time how Daddy is the only person I know who can do this, but I don't think they get it.  What blessed boys they are!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Anniversary of Samuel's Homegoing and the Start of September

I have been delaying writing this post, and I'm not sure why.  Maybe it's because I just want August to be in the past, and I want to live more light-heartedly in this September.  But the truth is, September hasn't been a carefree stroll in the park.  Much of the weight of August lingers, and I still feel the claws of grief upon me.  I am really relieved to be in September, but in some ways September hasn't been as kind as August was.  August was unexpectedly gentle compared to what I had anticipated; September has been callously like June and July were -- still ripe with grief.  There was no magical hump in passing the one year mark, and I knew that would be the case, but I hoped September would be pleasantly lighter than August.  So far it feels a lot like the past year has felt -- moments of great joy countered (or perhaps complemented) by moments of heavy grief.  

Yesterday I felt really crabby all day and found that my fuse was short and my parenting was lacking grace.  I was perplexed as to why I was having such a rough go of it, and then on my walk with Bryan, it hit me.  When I woke up yesterday morning, I registered that it was the one year anniversary of Samuel's funeral, but I quickly shoved the thought aside, not wanting to dwell on that day and how painful it was.  Though I purposefully spent time every day this August remembering last August and the time we had with Samuel, I intentionally chose not to continue the practice into this month.  August bears remembering because it held Samuel, and I always want to remember the days I had with my sweet son.  But September was wretched -- and without the beautiful balance of a precious son to treasure.  The last few days of this August I read a couple weeks of our blog posts from last September, and they were hard to read because they were so raw.  That's when I decided to give my "return to blogposts of the past" a break.  But I think that stuffing the knowledge of yesterday's anniversary of burying our son resulted in an impatient, grumpy, and discontent me.  Some of those same qualities were keenly present this morning too.  Ugh.  I don't like when I'm this way -- and I'm quite sure my family doesn't either!  I'm not sure what the balance is between acknowledging the trials of this season last year and stepping out of the depressing cloud of reentering our pain day by day.  There has to be wisdom in living the grief that surrounds us now, in September 2010, and not trying to grieve for what we endured in September 2009.  However, ignoring last year's first days without Samuel doesn't seem to be the wisest course either.  It's a quandry I don't know how to solve.

Tonight we were out exchanging some of Bryan's birthday gifts that don't fit, and I found a shirt at Old Navy that made me profoundly sad.  The baby section of any store usually makes me pretty blue, and generally I avoid them when it occurs to me.  But tonight we were waiting for Bryan to come out of the dressing room, and that meant standing by all the baby clothes.  The boys wanted to see the graphic tees on a table next to us, and I was holding them up one by one.  I came across a 12-18 month shirt with Yoda and Star Wars written on it, and my heart sunk.  What fun it would have been to put that shirt on Samuel so all three of my boys could parade around in their Star Wars gear.  Caleb and Joel wear a Star Wars shirt every day one is clean, and the thought of Samuel in one too made me feel wistful.  It was one of those moments when grief suddenly comes hounding down.

But I have veered off course here.  The reason I got on here was to blog about the anniversary of Samuel's homegoing.  (I've decided to think about it as a homegoing instead of the anniversary of his death.  It's more hopeful that way and easier to talk about.)  The night before, I went to bed praying that God would grant me sleep.  Since Samuel died in the morning (around 9:15), I knew I might struggle to quiet my soul throughout the night, thinking about what was coming and what we lived a year ago.  I woke up numerous times throughout the night, but I always whispered to myself, "peace," and I went right back to sleep.  This was evidence of God's graciousness to me.  When I woke up in the morning, I immediately thought of what day it was, of how a year ago we were holding our son for the first and last time, and of how excruciating it was to live those hours.  But I asked the Lord for peace, for grace, for endurance, for joy, and for courage.  And He faithfully granted me those things.

Bryan and I both drove Caleb to school that morning, and then we headed back home for a little while.  We sat in the backyard and prayed together while Joel played around us and kept making us smile.  Joel is so adorable, and every movement of his has bounce in it.  He is full of life and joy, and he is good, good medicine for my sorrow.  We couldn't help but laugh at him even while we were praying about our grief and loneliness for Samuel.  Joel is another picture of God's grace to us -- as is Caleb.

After Bryan headed to work, I spent some time reading our blog from last August 31st and thanking God for the many people who prayed for us and stood with us.  I shed a lot of tears, but they were the gentle, healing kind that refresh -- not the kind that make me feel like I might drown or make me gasp for every breath.  All day long I cried off and on, but every time I felt blessed by it and not overwhelmed.  I enjoyed remembering our Samuel and thanked God for every day we had with him.  Mostly I spent the day feeling grateful for Samuel, and that was a really wonderful thing.

After the boys got up from nap/rest time, we all headed to the grave.  Bryan hadn't been since last September, and none of us had seen the grave stone that arrived a few weeks ago.  The cemetery where Samuel is buried has all flat stones; none of the grave markers are raised.  Most stones have a vase of fake flowers in them.  Neither Bryan nor I are big fake flower people, and we don't really think the arrangements there are particularly beautiful, but when given the choice between a stone with a vase in it or a stone with a hole for vase in it, we chose a vase.  We weren't sure what to do about flowers because we were pretty sure no matter what we would find them somewhat tacky.  But Bryan had the great idea for the boys to help with the project.  So we stopped at Michael's on the way there, and we each picked two flowers to go in the vase.  We purposefully didn't try to coordinate them and let everyone do just as they pleased.  We thought that if we couldn't have beauty, at least we could have something sentimental with meaning to us.  Joel, of course, picked a huge orange flower for one of his, and Caleb picked a big purple one.  Bryan was thoughtful and picked flowers that most resemble a painting we have by his grandmother and the flowering bush we have in memory of Samuel.  And I picked some fall leaves (I love fall leaves).

When we got to the grave, the boys used some wetwipes to clean off the stone, and we all spent some time looking at the stone we'd chosen.  For me, it made a big difference having the gravestone in place.  I felt more peaceful about being there, and I'm pleased with what we chose.  I think it marks Samuel's life well.  Someday maybe I will write more about why we chose what we did.

Then we set about cutting the flowers and placing them in the vase.  It was good for the boys to have a job to do, and they liked being a part of it all.  In the end, I think we all actually kind of liked our arrangement.  It symbolizes each of us in some way, and when it was all together, there was something beautiful about it. 

Then we all gathered around the stone and held hands.  We went around and each shared a memory of Samuel.  Caleb talked about meeting him and kissing him and holding his hand, and Joel talked about going to the hospital.  Then we all sang Grace Upon Grace and prayed as a family.  It was precious in so many ways, and I'm so glad we did it.  I feel like we sang and prayed over Samuel one more time, like Bryan and I did every day of his life.  And I feel like we were able to be there all together -- to remember as a family and miss him as a family.  It was a sweet time.

Afterwards we headed to Red Robin for dinner.  My mom had given us money for dinner out in our envelope for the day, and we ended the evening on a happy note for the boys, which I think is good for them.  I don't want their associations with Samuel to be all sad and melancholy.  I want them to be able to think of Samuel and have some happy and even excited thoughts.  So a fun dinner out was a good thing.

All in all, it was good day.  It was very peace-filled, and all day I was reminded of God's goodness to us and His faithfulness.  It was a far better day than I hoped for.  I was really happy to go to bed that night and know the next morning I could turn the calendar and no longer stare at the word "August."  I was glad September was coming.  But mostly I was glad God granted us Samuel, even if it was for so brief a time.  And I was relieved that God once again gently carried us through the sorrow and grief and fear.  I think I should start to expect God to show up and lift us through the worst of days.  He has faithfully done it all through this journey.  I don't know why I would think He would stop.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Stepping in to These Days

A year ago today was the last full day we spent with Samuel.  It was a hard day.  I remember how awful it was to wake up every morning to our alarm at 5:45am after a fitful night's sleep at best.  We'd be clinging to each other on a twin cot, too sad and heartbroken to sleep in separate beds, and we'd be immediately flooded with our reality and the fears of what the last 5 and a half hours had brought for Samuel.  Silently, we would rise, dress, pop a piece of gum in our mouths, hug each other for a long minute, and begin the long, interminable walk downs the halls to Samuel's pod.  Each step was filled with the weight of fear, grief, longing, exhaustion, and pain.  They were the longest walks of my life -- those 2 minutes every morning from our sleep pod to Samuel's side.  I dreaded what news we might hear, how much more swollen he would look in our six hours away, and what our first glimpse of his stats on the monitors would reveal.  I woke every morning with my stomach in the soles of my feet and my heart in my throat, and I wonder if that's why I've started every day the last week with my stomach in knots and feeling anxious.

August 30th is the day we signed a DNR for Samuel.  We weren't at a place where we wanted to remove his support, though we wondered if that day would come, but we did know we didn't want a "Code Blue" called when his heart stopped.  We didn't want doctors rushing in to revive him so he could keep on with his living death.  We wouldn't be reviving him to any sort of real life -- just to machines and another heart stop around the corner.  And if doctors did try to revive him, we wouldn't be holding him as he died.  So with great confidence we signed the "Do Not Resuscitate."  It felt so strange to do something so morbid, but we were completely peaceful in that decision.  As it turns out, we didn't need it, but it gave us some peace of mind those last 24 hours to know noone would be pushing us aside when the time came for Samuel to go home to Jesus.

It's been a hard week for me in different ways than I expected.  Under normal circumstances, I am someone who does not like to be busy.  I love being at home, having a clear calendar, and just being able to live each day with my boys.  Life has been full for us lately, and I prefer the opposite.  This past week has been especially full because of unexpected car shopping.  Bryan and I have spent countless hours doing online research, making phone calls, driving to used car dealerships and to meet private sellers.  Our search has stolen my hours of quiet, of reflection, of intentional grieving, and I find myself really resenting that.  I have felt rushed through this process of finding a new car -- because it's complicated to be a one car family when Caleb has school in the opposite direction of Bryan's work (and his day ends way before Bryan's day ends).  Bryan and I have both felt rushed to buy a car, and last night as we sat over his birthday dinner (Happy 33rd Birthday, my love), we both admitted that we don't feel peaceful about it.  Something in us feels uneasy, so we've decided to slow down and be more patient.

I realized that I also have felt rushed through this last week of August as a result of the car -- like I've been robbed of the chance to really be in this week, to take time to grieve and pay attention to my soul.  At 11:30 on Saturday night, after a day of car shopping and going to our church's Group Link to form a new Just Married small group we will be leading and preparing for Bryan's birthday, I still had not had a moment to sit down and read our blog entry from last year and all the comments on it.  I hadn't had a chance to enter into our story and grief -- things I really wanted to do and felt like I needed to do for my own sake.  I was on the verge of tears from frustration and thought back over the week.  Numerous times this frustration has bubbled up in me unexpectedly and burst out of me from nowhere.  One day at lunch with the boys, Joel asked me something for the eighth time (something he's a pro at -- that child is persistent!), and I growled -- seriously.  I stopped for a second and said, "Mommy is feeling...something.  I just need a minute.  Can you be patient and quiet for a few minutes, please?"  Joel, in typical fashion, went to ask again, and Caleb -- bless his heart -- whispered across the table, "Shhh, Joel.  Mommy is feeling something."  It made me smile even in the midst of the inner turmoil and raging emotions.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it is pent up grief forcing its way out because I have not given it ample time to come out in healthy ways.  So I am glad Bryan and I have decided to take our time a little more in this car search, and I am really, really thankful that my friend Libby emailed this morning and said she was coming over to watch the boys and would let me drive her car to Starbucks for a couple of hours -- where I am now, spending some time in our story.  I'm taking deep breaths, feeling still for these moments, and actually able to be in today.  Thank you, Libs.

Throughout this month, I have also gone back and read my journal from last August.  Here is some of my entry from August 28, 2009:

"This is a hard life.  I'm weary and exhausted, and everything that's ahead seems more exhausting and overwhelming.  I don't know how we'll make it through this.  I don't know how we'll ever get over this pain.  Our little Samuel is so precious to us, and I want to bring him home and have him play in the backyard and have him wake me up at midnight and 3am to eat.  I want to hold him and take care of him.  But this is not what we've been given.

"Dr. Cuadrado and Dr. Warshaw both expressed the inevitability of Samuel's ultimate outcome.  Dr. Cuadrado actually said it's 'inevitable,' and Dr. Warshaw, the nefrologist, said the best we could hope for from dialysis is for Samuel to die less puffy.

"Bryan and I have not left the hospital in six days.  We are tired, and we both hate waking up and facing the reality of our situation again and another day of this life.  Once I get in by Samuel, I tend to settle down again and find some peace and even joy in being with him. 

"Dr. Cuadrado told us to consider a DNR or even taking Samuel off of support.  What I know is this: I want to usher Samuel into God's arms.  I want to be holding him, singing to him, and praying over him.  I don't want to be shoved aside while doctors violently try to bring him back to life.  I want to be with him, holding him, soothing him, and gently handing him over to Jesus.  And I think I would always regret not holding Samuel.  As much as holding him would increase my pain at losing him, I think I would have a forever ache of not having done it if he's not in my arms while he's still alive.

"I obviously don't know how it will work or how it will happen, but I want to do everything possible to make it as gentle for Samuel as possible.  I hate the thought of him being in pain and of him suffering.  Oh, Lord, give my little baby boy comfort.  May he not be fearful or anxious or in pain.  May he be resting easy, and may he know he's loved and treasured and that we're with him.

"God give us the strength we need to face what's ahead -- and what's right now.  I obviously can't do this without You.  If ever I needed You, it's now.  Be my Strength, Comfort, Hope, and Joy.  Oh, how I need You.  I need courage, peace, faith, and strength.  And how I'm going to need Your healing.

"I don't know how I will parent Caleb and Joel as they need after this.  Will I ever get my joy back?  Will I be able to fully engage with them and enjoy them, or will this tugging sorrow always be in my heart and throat?  Will I ever be able to hold a baby again?...

"...And then there's a funeral and people coming and staying and giving hugs....Oh, God, how I need You.  Give me strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.  Carry us through each horrible, painful step of this process, and make it beautiful somehow.  Redeem it, transform it, make it into something beautiful.  Help me to trust Your perfect ways.  Help me to rest in the shelter of Your wings.  Give me peace moment-by-moment.  And keep my love for You steadfast and my faith in You rooted deep in Your truth, love, and goodness.  Hold me up, Jesus."

I look back on my entries from last year and feel thankful for how God answered my pleas.  He did grant us strength and peace and faith and the many things we beseeched Him for.  He was gracious.  And when I think of Samuel's life, I think of how beautiful it was and continues to be. His life shines brightly in my life and in my heart.  Every second of Samuel's life was sacred and holy, and I can't say that about anyone else I know.  God was completely faithful to us over Samuel's life and has continued to be in the year since he died.  I am eternally thankful for my third son and his month with us.  And I am thankful for the people who have served us once again this month -- for the Elliotts who babysat, the Tisdales who let us stay in their condo, the Windhams who helped with the condo and made us the gift basket, my mom who kept the boys for a whole week and gave us envelopes for something special every day this month, the Thiels who hosted Samuel's party, the Carrolls who gave me a necklace, the Russells and Hansons who babysat last night so Bryan and I could celebrate his birthday, Libby who is with the boys now, my wives group who gave us a bush that blooms in August to plant in our yard, the McCraws who babsysat for all our grief counseling sessions this year and who printed all the pages of our blog, and the many people who have sent cards, prayed, given us a Starbucks gift card, commented on the blog, or sent flowers.  I am thankful beyond my ability to express.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.  We love you guys and feel so tremendously blessed to be the recipients of such love, kindness, and service.  Our lives are forever marked by your generosity and encouragement.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Family of Five -- Still

This morning I woke up with knots in my stomach.  I think it was two-fold.  A college friend of mine, Erica, has a 6 month old daughter, Savannah, who is having open heart surgery today to repair a VSD (hole in her ventricle).  I woke up probably five times last night, praying for their family and thinking about them.  It's such a heartrending road to walk -- having a child in the ICU, not being able to fix the little one you love, facing fears you never wanted to even acknowledge.  And I hurt for them that they're having to endure this.  At the same time, I hope from my depths that they get to experience the supernatural peace, grace, and love of God that we felt last year.  It's a life-altering experience to know God so intimately and personally, to feel His care in tangible ways, to be absolutely carried through a nightmare, and for the nightmare to feel like a path of pure grace and goodness.  I pray that they get to have that wonderful assurance of His faithfulness and presence.  It's something I would never trade.

I think I was also anxious when I woke up because a year ago today held two unforgettable and significant memories.  August 26 was the first time our family of five got to be all together.  It's when the hospital relaxed their rules because Samuel was dying, and as a result Joel met Samuel for the first time.  Cami, an wonderful photographer who volunteered her time for Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, took pictures of our family together that I look at every day around our house.  I remember waking up last year a ball of knots.  I was so nervous about how the morning would go.  I was terrified that I would bawl through the whole thing and frighten Caleb and Joel.  I didn't know how I would be able to enter into that precious 30 minute window, fully present and yet mostly dry-eyed.  We so desperately wanted our time together to be a great memory for Caleb and Joel, but we didn't know if we could do it.  I vividly remember getting ready in the shower room and thinking, "All month I've been parenting Samuel.  This morning I am going to parent Caleb and Joel.  I am going to walk them through this day gently, lovingly, and present for their needs and questions and fears and sorrows and joys.  This morning, I am Caleb and Joel's Momma first and foremost."  And God was gracious.  I did just that, and it was an amazing time the five of us.  I was dry-eyed except for a few silent tears that trickled out while huddled together as a family of five.  Later that morning we told Caleb and Joel that the doctors didn't think Samuel would get to come home.  It was a heartbreaking conversation, and the grief of that morning has been with me today.

The other significant event from August 26 was Samuel's downturn from which he never recovered.  After our scare a few days before, his stats had rallied a bit, and that afternoon we even got a word of hope from our most pessimistic of doctors.  But while we were kicked out for shift-change and eating dinner in the cafeteria, Samuel turned far south, and he never gained back any ground.  From that point forward, I was certain Samuel was going to die.  It was a matter of time.  For me, it was a turning point.  Though I had assumed the worst was in our future, before that night I had a glimmer of hope that things might change.  It was miniscule, but it was there -- and it had been kindled a bit that day.  However after seeing him that night, I knew death was imminent.  Honestly, it enabled me to just enjoy my moments with him and not worry about his stats trending south.  They were going to go south; we knew that.  This was precious, blessed time together, and I soaked up every second I could and had more peace and calm than I'd had before.  In some ways knowing how it was going to end -- that it was going to end -- freed me up to just love Samuel and not worry about the future.  This was my time with him.  And I made the most of it. 

Last night when I came home from hanging out with the wives in my women's group, I noticed a lone gardenia blossom on our bush.  I stopped and took a deep breath.  So it was our bush that produced the two blossoms Mom and the boys sent us at the hospital last year, that assured me life was still beautiful and good.  I drank deeply of their scent then -- so different from the smells around Samuel -- either sterile or death-like, and I drew in their breath last night, too, holding it in and thanking God for His goodness and eternal nature.

The boys haven't talked about Samuel very much lately, but he does still come up from time to time.  Yesterday Joel was looking at a long basket on our table and saying, "Moses' basket."  Then he smiled and said, "Samuel's basket."  I saw him furrow his brow, and then he said, "Who hasn't died?  Who has a baby who hasn't died?....June's basket!"  It was heartbreaking to watch him realize it couldn't be Samuel's basket and then to hear him articulate his thoughts -- thinking about his dead baby brother and wanting instead to think about a live baby.  It made me sad.

Caleb mentioned Samuel to his teacher on his first day of kindergarten a couple of weeks ago.  I hadn't had a chance to tell her about Samuel yet, so when he brought it up, she didn't know what to think.  Apparently they were talking about the months of year and how this is August, and he said that he had a baby brother who was born and died in August.  It makes me wonder if Caleb feels the way I do -- that meeting new people is hard when they don't know about Samuel.  I feel weird until I am sure they know about Samuel's existence.  I'm not sure what it is, but it feels really wrong for someone to meet me and think that my family of four is complete, that this is all of us.  I feel like it dishonors Samuel, and it always makes me uneasy inside until I can mention that there is a third son who is no longer with us.  This summer the boys took swimming lessons, and we saw their swim teacher probably ten times.  It was always uncomfortable for me to think that in her mind I only had two sons.  On our last lesson I found a way to tell her naturally, and I felt a lot better that I did -- even though I'll probably never see her again.  I can't help but think Caleb might feel similarly. 

This week my mind has been pretty constantly on Samuel and what we endured last year this time.  I am so thankful for a record of his life.  And I am thankful that we had a month with our third son, for how he changed us forever, for how the unimportant things in life don't rattle me as much (like our car dying on our way home from Florida last weekend and being a one car family until we can buy a new one).  Samuel has enriched me so much, and I thank God every day for him.  But, I am really looking forward to September and being out of this month of August.  I'm glad it's almost here!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Remembering a Turning Point for Samuel

A year ago today was the beginning of the end of Samuel's life.  At least it's when it became very clear to us that Samuel was dying.  Strangely, August 23 is also the anniversary of when we found out we were pregnant with Joel.  Four years ago today, we found out about new life and were filled with joy and wonder; one year ago we found out about impending death and were filled with sorrow and fear.

Yesterday marked a year since we last saw Samuel's eyes open and saw him move.  It was also the last night we spent sleeping at home in Samuel's life.  From August 23 - August 31, we never left the hospital.

Here is what I wrote in my journal at 1:35pm on August 24, 2009:

"We are waiting to get back to see Samuel.  We've only seen him for 20 minutes today.  I feel like we've been waiting forever.  Another baby on the pod passed away around noon.  Thinking about it turns my insides upside down.  I feel ill.  And I know that may very well be us in the near future.  The thought is so nauseating. 

"Yesterday was a pretty horrible day.  Samuel had had a bad night, so we scrapped our plans for church and headed to the hospital.  Around noon his NIRS started to decline quite rapidly. (NIRS measures oxygen to the brain.)  They were normally in the 40's-50's and sometimes even in the 60's and 70's.  Once they drop below 35, they start to flash and turn red.  Samuel's plummeted to the teens and stayed down for about 90 minutes.  We had previously been told that if a baby is going to go south, the NIRS will register it first. 

"Dr. Das came up to us and told us, 'Samuel is critically ill.  I cannot over-emphasize how ill he is.  Anything could happen at anytime.'  Bryan and I both understood and spent the next hour and half praying and singing to Samuel.  My mom came (she had already been on her way b/c of the bad night report), and the three of us spent the rest of the afternoon/early evening with Samuel.  I was weak-kneed and exhausted, but I truly did feel a peace.  In those 90 minutes, I truly thought Samuel was going to die then.  Mostly I wanted to comfort him.

"Now he is more stable, but he is still critically ill.  I think the 'anything could happen at any time' statement is still true, but his stats are not currently drifting south.  He's back on the oscillator and therefore the paralytic.  This is sad to me, but I am so relieved our son is still alive that I haven't grieved the return of the paralytic much.

"I know God can heal our little guy, and am beseeching Him to do so.  Oh, Lord, heal Samuel and get all the glory for it!  Please, please grant us this son to love and to raise.  Reach down and heal his kidneys, his lungs, his heart, and his liver.  Oh, Jesus, please.

"And hold us close.  Help us to trust You more.  Give us 'strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.'  Help us, Lord, for we cannot do this without You.  Be our all and our portion.  Be all that we need.  Help us to glorify You in this.  Help us to bring You honor.  Draw others to You through Samuel's life and story, and be magnified in him and in us.  Amen."

Friday, August 20, 2010

Celebrating our 10th Anniversary at the Beach

For the last week, Bryan and I have been in Panama City, FL celebrating our upcoming 10th anniversary.  (Our actual anniversary isn't until October 21.)  For the past six months, I have been hesitant about taking this trip in August, but it's when my mom, who teaches at a university, could watch Caleb and Joel.  I was hoping that a week away smack dab in the middle of August would be a little grief reprieve, but I worried that it would just be a sad week and not really celebratory. 

Before we came, we talked to Judy, our grief counselor, about our time away, and she suggested that the very first night we arrived, we do some sort of ceremony for Samuel -- do something intentional to grieve him.  She said doing so would make room in our hearts to experience other emotions while away.  I immmediately thought what a great idea it was and how much it could help me.  That's so often how I feel about blogging.  All the grief piles up and grows and grows, and I have to do something to let it out; after I blog I feel the swelling of emotion calm down, and the tide of grief is on its way back out for awhile.  A few days or a week pass, and then I have to write again to make room for the other emotions in life.  Blogging releases a lot of the grief in me that gets pent up, and I could see how intentionally grieving Samuel once we got to the beach would be pivotal for me to be able to enjoy our time on vacation in the midst of a hard month. 

When we left home on Saturday, I felt extraordinarily sad.  I cried pulling out of the driveway, saying good bye to Caleb and Joel.  I probably cried for the first 10-15 minutes of our drive.  And then I cried probably five more times on our drive -- especially after I found out at our first stop that once again I'm not pregnant.  Once we got here (which was a bit of an adventure complete with car troubles) and got settled in to our beautiful condo, we set out for the beach with a candle and matches and heavy hearts.  We lit the candle and wrote Samuel's name in the sand and spent about 15 minutes grieving together in silence.  I cried alot and then cried some more.  After the wind blew out the candle, we spent some time praying and thanking God for Samuel, for this trip together, for the kind and generous people who enabled us to come here, and for nearly ten years of marriage together.  It was a sacred time for me and really did open up room in my heart to enjoy this time with Bryan -- even in August.

Most of this week has truly been a grief reprieve.  In fact, until today I didn't even really have any waves of grief come crashing down on me.  Bryan told me a little while ago, "I'm sorry you're having a hard time today, Babe" and I said, "It's ok.  Honestly, I'm just really amazed it took this long for me to have a hard time."  God has been gracious in granting us this week to rest, enjoy each other's company, sit on the beach and read, swim, go to a movie every day, and eat out for dinner every night.  I feel so, so spoiled by this time just the two of us.  And I feel more grateful for my amazing husband than I could ever put into words.  He is the man I hoped for, the one my heart will always love, and the joy of my days.  And ten years with him have been richly blessed.  Though I wouldn't have written our story the way it's played out, I would never want to walk this life with anyone else.  He is one of God's greatest and kindest gifts to me.

Another really wonderful thing about this week has been how we ended up here.  Last year after Samuel died, three people offered to let us stay at their beach getaways.  We just accepted the first one that was offered, assuming the other offers were a one time thing.  But in May we got to enjoy another one of the places with our boys, and then the third offer was renewed for us to come here whenever we wanted.  Bryan works with small group leaders at North Point Community Church, and every group leader ideally has a couple who they're preparing for group leadership in the future: an apprentice couple.  Well, the Tisdales are apprentices of one of Bryan's friends, and they followed Samuel's life last year.  They own this gorgeous condo right on the beach, and they generously let us come here for free this week.  I've never met them (except to get the key from Neal last week at church).  To top it all off, Michelle and Lori (the apprentice and group leader wives) made us this fantastic goody basket to bring with us, and I have gotten such joy out of all the wonderful things in it.  My lunches every day have come from the delectibles, and the snacks are....well, let's just say I might be shopping at Trader Joe's from now on.  :)  I feel so undeservedly blessed.  And so, so grateful.

We really have had a great week together.  One day we even rented a jet ski and rode out to an island and had dolphins swimming a few feet away from us.  Bryan loved every second on the jet ski, but I did spend about five minutes of it thinking we were going to die.  :)  Once we got past a really choppy part, I had a ball too.  Since it's just the two of us, basically all the pictures are self-portraits (or of only one of us), but here are a few of them even though it's basically the same picture over and over in different clothes.

Thank you, Tisdales and Windhams, for your kind generosity and for enabling us to have a truly wonderful, healing, joyful, celebratory week at the beach!  We are so thankful!!