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.