Sunday, January 31, 2010

Stewarding Our Story

Today is 5 months since Samuel died in my arms.  I can't quit thinking about it.  Yesterday I broke down in the shower remembering that morning.  I suppose in some ways August 31st will haunt me for the rest of my life, and probably that's as it should be.  Most of the time I hate remembering that morning.  Sometimes what comes to mind is the incredible peace I felt when we walked in that morning and knew we were in Samuel's final hours, but more often it's the sights and sounds and smells and how I started dry-heaving after he died and I realized I was holding my dead son.  Or it's the doctor pronouncing him dead and asking if we wanted an autopsy or the clumsy moments when we we needed a whole force of people to shift Samuel from my arms to Bryan's and eventually back to mine.  I recall the shocking silence that followed when the doctor finally turned off Samuel's oscillator -- his very loud breathing machine -- and how overwhelmingly loud the silence was.  There are so many things to remember about that day.   Though it was a horrible day, I am so glad we were there, and I have these memories in my heart.  I can only imagine how heartbreaking it would be to wonder how Samuel died and how those hours were and not to have been there, or to have him die very suddenly without the privilege of holding him and handing him over to Jesus myself.  I am grateful in so many ways for August 31st.

Tomorrow Samuel would have turned 6 months old.  I've been thinking a lot about that too.  What would he have been up to?  We probably would have started solid foods by now, and Caleb and Joel would have gotten a kick out of seeing the baby foods and the mess Samuel's face would be at the end of mealtime.  He might have been learning how to sit up with a boppy around him on the playroom floor.  What I most remember about Caleb and Joel at 6 months is how happy they were, how full of joy and smiles, how they laughed and were so easily entertained.  It is a delightful age, and I wish I could see Samuel's smile and hear his laughter.  I will have to wait until Heaven for my first glimpse of his smile.  I wonder if he had dimples like his brothers.  With the breathing tubes I never got a chance to see if he did.  I imagine he did -- that it's one way he resembled his Momma and his big brothers.  How I'd like to be able to kiss those cheeks of his and proclaim again my love for him.

Bryan and I were talking this week about how hard grief has been lately -- and life in general.  In many ways we both feel like this is the hardest stretch we've yet encountered since Samuel's death.  I think Bryan especially is feeling the pain and brokenness of life right now, but I can sympathize and am "in it" too.  I was journaling about it a couple of days ago, and the best I can explain it is that the first month without Samuel was horrible, but it was hazy, foggy, and cloudy.  We were numb in many ways and in shock.  Life was a blur.  Now, however, life has come back into focus, and the edges are harsh and sharp and ugly.  I no longer walk around in a daze, but what I see is so much more gray and painful and broken.  It's like life is edged by broken shards of glass instead of the blurred clouds of September.  I never want to relive that month, but in some ways it was easier because our vision was so unfocused.  We were still getting used to Samuel's absence.  In fact, I spent about two weeks still hoping Samuel was coming home.  I knew that it was absurd, but it was true, and I couldn't seem to shake it.  Now I know he will never come home, and I know how empty his room is, and I know how broken life without him is.  And I know how heartbroken my family is and how broken I am.  I can see how we're suffering.  I can see how the people I love are suffering.  It all sinks in, and it's ugly.

Today in church Bryan was baptizing some people, so I sat down alone for the first 20 minutes of the service.  A few minutes after I sat down in an aisle seat, a couple sat in front of me with their newborn baby.  They put her carseat on the floor right at my feet.  I looked down at her sleeping face and thought, "Really?  I'm not sure I can do this today."  I was teary immediately.  Then across the aisle from me a family came in with a disabled son.  He might have been 10, and he was so excited to be in church during the music.  His mom stood behind him and held his waist while he rocked back and forth to the beat.  I saw both families love and treasure their child, and I was moved by their tenderness and evident love.  I cried for the family who never envisioned life with a disabled son, and I cried for the ways in which they cared for him and he delighted in church.  I cried for the couple in front of me who were clearly first time parents doting on their healthy daughter.  I thought about how there is blessing and brokenness all around me.  We are not the only ones hurting.  And we are not the only ones who are blessed.  And my God, who is good and mighty, is over it all and is faithful.  Why some people get healthy children and others do not is not for me to discern.  My job is to trust the good God who gives and takes away.  And so I will.

Andy Stanley, our pastor, spoke today about the parable in which a master entrusts 3 servants with his money.  When he returns from a long journey, the servant with 5 bags of gold has doubled the money as has the servant with 2 bags of gold.  However, the servant with 1 bag of gold buried it in the ground and did not do anything with it.  He failed to steward what his master had given him.  Andy talked about how no matter which lot we've been dealt -- 5 bags, 2 bags, or 1 bag -- we have a responsiblity to use whatever we've been given for God.  We cannot whine about our poor circumstances (like the guy with 1 bag) and dwell in a place of "woe is me," but we should take what we have and honor God.  Some days I feel like the person with 5 bags -- so abundantly blessed and favored, while other days I feel like the person with only 1 -- who has gotten the short end of the stick.  Most of the time I feel like the person in the middle, with 2 bags, who is plodding along like just about everyone around me.  No matter who I feel like, I have a responsibility to use the story God has given me for His glory, for His kingdom, and for His purposes.  I want to do that.  I want to honor God with our story of Samuel.  I want to point others to Jesus, and I don't want to look back on this season of life and feel like we wasted it or were selfish in the midst of it or failed to grow through it.  I want to hear from my Master, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

So once again I am looking to Jesus and proclaiming my trust in Him.  He is my good and faithful God.  I want to be His faithful servant.  I want to be authentic about the journey I'm on and the grief I feel, but I also want to shout out about the God I serve and how He saves and rescues the fallen -- how He saves and rescues me.  I want to love others even as I am broken.  I want to serve those who are sorrowful even as I am filled with sorrow.  I want to pray for the many hurting people I know even as I am desperate for prayer.  I want to steward this trial and heartbreak for the glory of God.  Lord, help me honor You afresh every day of this journey and every hour of my life.  Amen.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Photos from Disney

Above we're with Jessie and Woody from Toy Story, 
and below my mom and Caleb are enjoying the carousel.

  Below is one of my favorites!  Caleb and Bryan with Roz.  Caleb can do an amazing Roz impersonation.
Above is the boys at Boo's door from Monster's Inc. (a favorite movie on our house).  Below is a picture with Mike and Sully.
Here we are hanging out with Lightning McQueen and Mater from Cars.
Waiting to go into Playhouse Disney...
Adorable Joel in Bryan's hat after a chilly swim in the awesome Beach Club swimming pool...  (How's that for a string of prepositions?)
Joel really wanted his picture with different statues in Downtown Disney.  Here he is with Buzz.  Meanwhile Caleb was making a painstaking decision about how to spend his money from his Great Uncle Tom and Great Aunt Jeanne.  He finally decided on a really cool book.  I LOVE that my son chose to spend his money on a book!!!

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Respite and a Return to Reality

This past week our family went to Disney World with my mom.  For the past three years, we've gone annually with my family.  Shortly after Samuel died, we decided to go again this year.  At the time I was looking for ways to see blessings come from heartbreak since we wouldn't have headed to Disney with a 5 month old baby who was supposed to be having heart surgery sometime between 4 and 6 months of age.  Though I would obviously rather have our Samuel than a trip to Disney World, I saw that Bryan and I would need to be able to embrace the blessings and joy that came our way -- even those that came our way directly or indirectly because of Samuel's death.  Disney World was one of those things.

Though I missed Samuel at every turn -- like when the woman next to me at Playhouse Disney asked, "Do you have two kids?" and I fumbled through, "No, three" and hoped desperately that she wouldn't ask any more questions after her repeated attempts to locate our third child and her "So how was the transition from 2 to 3?  I've heard it's horrible," -- I'm glad we went.  I'm glad we celebrated Caleb and Joel and got some time with my mom.  I'm glad Bryan and I finally got some time together while Mom watched the boys.  I'm glad we had a change of scenery and warm weather with sunshine.  I'm glad we could laugh and see our boys light up when they met a character and go swimming and "'splore" the parks and have some days without all the normal stresses of every day life.  We needed it.  Badly.

Bryan commented that on numerous occasions he caught himself thinking as he was walking along, "What am I doing here?  This place has lost its joy for me."  And I can relate to that.  I certainly had moments when I felt just plain weird about being at Disney World when the people of Haiti are looking for their next meal and clean water and somewhere to sleep tonight.  But I've learned that grief has to happen bit by bit.  We can't grieve everything all at once.  It's more than we can bear.  We grieve it little by little as it comes, and we need moments and days of respite.  We couldn't function and be in the depths of grief at every moment.  So our days at Disney were part of my respite.  And I'm grateful for them.  I couldn't believe how much a different view affected my well-being and attitude.  Just being away and seeing sunshine (I swear it's been the rainiest 6 months of my life in Atlanta, but maybe I'm the only one who feels that way) was restorative to my soul. 

We got back home on Friday around 5 pm, and Bryan left 45 minutes later for his first weekend of his spring seminary class.  About 20 minutes after he left, I was making the boys' dinner, and I felt the weight of grief come crowding back around me.  It settled on my shoulders and in my heart, my breathing became noticeably heavier and labored, and within moments I was back where I was the week before -- burdened, dark, overwhelmed.  It reminded me that I can't run from this pain.  It will find me again no matter where I go or how hard I try to avoid it.  It will be waiting for me on the other side of respite.  It made me think about Bryan and how he went to Ghana with a program through our college about a month after his dad died.  Bryan was in West Africa for 6 months, but when he came home, all the grief flooded him, and he had a horrible 8 or 9 months facing the grief that had more or less given him space while overseas.  Grief has to be faced.  Though we need little breaks, we do have to come back to the reality of our sorrow at some point and continue to wade through it.  I am convinced it's the only way to healing and living an honest life.

The past few days I have worked to behave more joyfully even if I don't feel joyful, to focus on my children even when I am distracted and down, to respond kindly even when I feel grumpy.  For the most part, I think it's helped.  I am not pretending to be fine or denying how I feel inside, but I am trying to help Caleb and Joel feel more secure and valued and rejoiced in.  I worry about them when I am not doing well, and I know Caleb at least is keenly aware of how I'm doing.  Just today he said to me about 20 seconds into feeling annoyed and trying really hard to hide it, "Mommy, I can tell you're feeling a little frustrated with Joel right now."  Wow, was he right.  It was convicting to me.  A few minutes later he asked me, "Have we done a good job today, Mommy?  Are you happy with us?"  To be honest, his question broke my heart.  I don't ever want him to think that it's his responsibility to make me happy or that my love is dependent on his behavior.  Today both boys have been EXCEPTIONALLY well behaved -- saying, "Ok!" and "Sure!" at every request, joyfully obeying, and even taking initiative to do the things they know I'll ask of them.  (Caleb even got Joel on the potty while I was taking a shower!)  It's really sad to me to think their behavior is motivated by a sense of insecurity or a desire to make everything better for me.  That's not a burden they should ever have to bear.  So, I am working to make life more like Disney for them -- at least to make me a bit more like the mom they saw at Disney.  It pains me deeply to see the ways in which I fail them, and yet I know it's all covered in God's grace.  But I want to be to them the mom I once was.  That, however, I think is another entry for another day.

So I am still working hard to put my trust in Jesus afresh each morning, to let Him be enough, to lean on Him in each moment, and to show His perfect and unfailing love to my boys and to Bryan.  I know my love is faulty and imperfect and sometimes selfish, but His is not.  And ultimately it's His love that lives in me.  That's the love I want to shower my family with, and it's the love I am praying for the grace to show.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Signs of Doing Poorly

It's been a difficult start of the year for us.  Bryan is now full swing back into his seminary classes after taking a semester off.  He did an intensive week class at Dallas Theological Seminary while we were in Dallas for Christmas, and the past 2 weeks have been filled with paper writing and studying.  We've barely seen each other.  This has surely contributed to the rough weeks we've been experiencing.  We also started the year with some discouraging and difficult circumstances that led to a number of very dark days for me.

I have found myself thinking for the first time since Samuel died that I'm not doing very well.  Neither is Bryan.  My fuse is short, and my patience is thin.  In fact, I have actually blown up at the people dearest to me three times in the last week.  In my nine years of marriage to Bryan, I don't think I'd ever yelled at him before last week.  And my poor children have experienced my anger twice when it was utterly unmerited.  I have been horrified by this rage boiling out of me, and honestly, it's been quite shocking.  In addition to being uncharacteristic, I haven't had any warning that it was coming, and suddenly I've been beside myself with anger.  I am frightened by this new manifestation of grief, and I've been searching my soul to see if I can discover what's fueling it.

As far as I can discern, there are a multitude of contributing factors.  Most obviously, I miss Samuel and am still in the throws of grief.  I also feel disconnected from my dear husband because of how little time we've had together (I am a huge quality time person).  Furthermore, I am frustrated by some significant circumstances in our lives that are causing me a lot of stress and fear.  And I've been having some pretty horrible dreams (unfortunately this is very common for me), and they have painted a bleak picture of our future.  In one of them, I was pregnant again and was at an ultrasound.  I found out we were having our 4th boy, and moments later I learned he had a more serious heart defect than Samuel.  We were going to have to live all of this all over again.  Later in the dream, I gave birth, and the boy was rushed away immediately.  I spent the rest of the dream trying to find him and learn if he was ok.  It was an awful dream.  On top of that, Bryan and I have both noticed a decided trend that our friends are moving on from Samuel's death.  After months of being deeply and amazingly cared for, it is becoming infrequent that people check in and ask how we're doing or tell us they are praying.  This is perfectly reasonable and natural, but it's left Bryan and I both feeling increasingly isolated and occasionally even abandoned.  I don't fault anyone for assuming we're doing better or for not being able to stay in this place of pain.  I get it.  But it's still hard.

This past week Caleb was the Star of the Week in his class, and we had to gather some pictures to take in to preschool.  Caleb, Joel, and I looked on my computer at pictures and videos from when Caleb was younger.  As I watched videos of Caleb playing with Joel as a baby, I had a visual picture of what I am missing in Samuel.  The joy and delight of Caleb entertaining his baby brother was heartrending to see.  And I kept thinking about how both those little boys in that video are younger than my boys are now.  I had 2 "babies" to care for.  Now I have none.  As the days go by and Caleb and Joel grow in independence and abilities (as they should), Samuel's absence grows too.  The baby I longed for is nowhere in this house.  His room and drawers full of baby clothes are an ever-looming picture of  what is missing.  These days I hate going in Samuel's room.  I feel like I miss Samuel more with every passing day.

On Tuesday I spent a couple of hours journaling, and I realized something pivotal.  I don't think I am angry about Samuel dying, though I admit I could become angry if I cease paying attention to my soul and sincerely searching out my heart.  Instead, I think I am angry about the picture of our future that I have assumed God is painting.  I have been trying to gird myself up for more heartbreak -- either in the form of another sick baby who dies or in the form of no more children from my womb.  And this has me a bit panicky and overwhelmed.  I have unconsciously been trying to adjust to a whole new future -- one in which all my children are in school in 2 more years, and I'm lost at home and wondering what in the world to do with myself.  I have always thought that I had at least 5 more years as a fulltime mom -- and hopefully more years than that.  So in addition to plain, hard grief, I've been trying to reinvision my entire future.  It's been more than I can bear, and understandably I must say.

This past week I remembered something I learned while pregnant with Samuel and while he was in the hospital.  God gives me the grace I need for each moment -- moment-by-moment.  He doesn't give me the grace I will need for the year all at once in January and leave me to budget it out so that I'm don't run out before the end of the year.  Each day, He grants me the grace I need for that day.  It's like the manna God gave the Israelites in the wilderness.  They couldn't hoard it for a week's supply of food.  They had to trust God afresh every day to provide for them and to meet their needs.  When I was pregnant, I could live each day joyfully and peacefully, but when I looked ahead to delivery and the days following Samuel's birth, I was scared and jittery.  In August, I could face each day and enjoy my son, but when I thought about tomorrow, or probable upcoming surgery, or taking him home, I got very shaky and started to fall apart.  I learned to live each day in the shelter of God, and God was so faithful to us.  I need to do that again.  God has not given me what I will need for whatever is ahead; He has given me what I need for today.

I have also been very burdened for those in Haiti.  I think having experienced suffering so deeply and personally this year, my eyes are simply more aware of suffering period.  It penetrates my soul instead of bouncing off of me.  I can't quit thinking about the people there and what they must be feeling, witnessing, and experiencing.  The amount of grief they must be under is incomparable to anything I can imagine.  I am grateful for the way in which my heart is burdened and I am continually prompted to pray for them, but it is painful, and my heart is weary.  

When I think about all these things, it's no wonder I have been unwell.  I have been dealing with so much internally and emotionally.  I don't have any emotional margin.  I feel like I am very precariously balanced, and any one thing more will send the whole thing toppling down.  But, again, that's looking ahead.  Do I have what I need for this moment to trust God, live peacefully, and enjoy my many blessings?  Yes.  Do I have now what I will need for tomorrow?  Nope.  Will I have it when tomorrow comes?  Most certainly.  So, I will strive to live today in light of God's goodness, presence, and promises.  And whatever tomorrow holds, He will be with me when it comes.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Collection of Pictures

My children still talk about Samuel every day.  They initiate it, and he's clearly still on the front of their minds.  Sometimes they bring up Heaven or ask a question about Samuel or mention missing him.  Sometimes there are tears involved.  Sometimes they pretend they are Samuel or one of their stuffed animals is their baby brother.  The way they talk about him varies from day to day, but the consistency with which they think about him tells me how much more emotionally capable children are than we give them credit for.

Shortly before Christmas Joel accidentally broke a hurricane lamp on our table.  Caleb immediately burst into tears.  I was amazed at how he could articulate his sorrow.  He told me, "That lamp had stars on it that reminded me of the nativity at Gab'm's house.  The nativity reminds me of Jesus.  Jesus reminds me of Heaven, and Heaven reminds me of Samuel.  I am afraid I'm going to forget him."  I was fairly astonished at how Caleb could trace his associations and tell me what was going on in his little heart.  I assured him that he won't forget Samuel -- a concept I have not mentioned to him before and one that I wouldn't have thought he'd consider.  I showed him all the pictures we have of Samuel around the house and reminded him how we talk about Samuel.  I promised we won't stop talking about him or having pictures in the house.  This seemed to comfort Caleb.

A few mornings ago, I walked into Caleb's room to find him sitting on the floor, drawing on his new white erase board.  He announced, "I'm drawing Heaven."  I took a picture of it.

He carefully explained what everything was.  On the left is a huge swimming pool which he later decided is actually a big fountain.  The small blue spot near the center is an indoor pool.  Beneath that is a some pink and purple that Caleb says are roofs -- and under them is where Samuel is currently sleeping.  The green patch is partly a field and partly tennis courts.  The big brown spot is a playground.  And the black up in the right corner is where God and Jesus are staying right now.  Just below the black square is a black line -- it's the bench where Jesus sits to watch the children playing.  I love having a glimpse into how Caleb imagines Heaven, and I love the idea of Jesus watching my Samuel playing.  I can imagine Jesus delighting in how Samuel's running, laughing, and enjoying Heaven with complete abandon.  It's a sweet picture, and I am grateful to Caleb for it.

I thought I'd also post some random pictures from the last few weeks or so.  Here is Bryan's latest pancake masterpiece.  It's a Transformer:

And here is a picture of the boys' stockings from before Christmas.  I love the snowman theme.  It was actually a happy accident.  Joel had a different stocking, but his Grammie surprised us and made this one for him.  I was thrilled to find it's a snowman as Caleb and Samuel had snowmen stockings already.  (Grammie made Caleb's too -- when he was a baby.)

And here is a picture of Bryan holding our sweet niece June:

Over Christmas we went to a portrait studio and had pictures taken of the extended family.  I love the one of my mom with all the grandkids, but Samuel's absence seems so noticeable to me.  The one of our immediate family captures, to me, the reality of all photos of our family now.  We are "four of us" instead of "the four of us."   I am sad we'll never have another picture with all of our family in it.

Lastly, I snapped this picture on our drive home from Texas.  We had had a horrible night's sleep in a hotel at the halfway point, and both boys konked out on the second day of the drive.  I turned around to see them holding hands while sleeping, and I love that.  The moments where I see Caleb and Joel's friendship are so wonderful.  What spectacular children we have!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Promise of Himself

I don't really know what I want to post about today, but I know my mind is a buzz.  I am continually working to rest in the Lord, to let Him be enough for me.  I am at Starbucks right now thanks to my dear college-aged cousins who volunteered to watch Caleb and Joel for a few hours, so I could get some time alone.  I spent quite awhile in Psalm 34 when I first got here, and it's a Psalm I've visited several times since Samuel's death.  Different verses jumped out at me today than the last time I read it a couple of months ago. 

Today I am dwelling on verse 8: "Taste and see that the Lord is good.  Oh, the joys of those who trust in Him."  I am trying to remember that He is indeed good (that part is usually pretty easy for me because I have experienced it with such intensity and clarity) and that what He gives me is good too.  This part is harder for me to remember.  What God gives me is good, for "every good and perfect gift is from above coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows" (James 1:17).  And I am thinking about the joy of trusting in Him.  When I trust Him, I don't have to fear what is -- or isn't -- ahead.  I can have the joy of knowing everything is in His hands, and I don't have to worry about the next step.  This is harder for me these days because I now know how painful the next step could potentially be, but then I am reminded how faithful God has been in my heartbreak, how He has given me what I need to face the death of my son and to lean on Him in the sorrow and now in the hope for what is before us.

Verses 9 and 10 both reference God's taking care of and providing for His children, and I find myself wrestling with these verses.  Verse 9 says, "...for those who honor him will have everything they need," and verse 10 says, "...But those who trust in the Lord will never lack any good thing."  In some ways, they don't feel true to me because He didn't give me Samuel, whole and well, to watch grow up and to have run into my arms someday.  But what has God given me?  He's given me Himself.  And He is truly all I need.  Do I want more?  Well, yes.  But has He given me Himself in abundance?  Absolutely.  Has He been everything I've needed to grieve my son and to find there is still joy and goodness and wonder in life even without Samuel?  Yes.  And is there any good thing greater than my God?  Not a chance. 

I find myself thinking about the main promise God has made to me.  He has promised me Himself.  He has not promised me an easy life, healthy children, more children in the future, or a life spent living out everything I hoped for.  But He has given me the ultimate promise: life with Him.  I cannot look forward and expect God to grant me what I ask.  I can't expect Caleb and Joel to stay healthy and to live to be old men, married, with plenty of kids to play at my feet as a grandma.  I can't expect God to open my womb again someday and to bless me with a healthy child with a perfectly working heart and strong, full lungs.  I can't expect Him to let Bryan and I live out our days together in relative health.  But I can expect Him to walk with me down any path that may arise.  And He will be all that I need in every trial, in every fear, in every devastation.  He will be "close to the brokenhearted;" He will "rescue those who are crushed in spirit" (verse 18).  And I can count on Him to keep that promise.  He has promised to be enough for me.  Can I rest in that?  Can I live a joyful, satisfied, content life with only the promise of Him?  Today I can answer the question with a firm "yes," but I keep having to work my way back to that place of peace and confidence.  It's a daily reaffirming of my faith in Him and His goodness and sufficiency for me. 

For today, I can say I truly believe "The righteous face many troubles, but the Lord rescues them from each and every one" (Psalm 34:19).  He rescues me with Himself and with the promise of His presence in every moment and every turning.  And I am praying for the faith to rest and rejoice in that truth.