Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Lovely Dwelling Place

Today is the second anniversary of Samuel's homegoing to Heaven.  When I was nursing Anna this morning, I turned to read Psalm 84 because verses 5-7 have been among the most hopeful and encouraging Scripture through my grief.  I couldn't remember what the rest of the Psalm said, and I stopped when I got to the end of verse 2.  How appropriate the verses felt for this day.

"How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh cry out
for the living God."

I couldn't help but think of Samuel.  He is in the dwelling place of the Lord Almighty -- how lovely that is!  And on this day in particular, on August 31st, my souls yearns, even faints, for the courts of Lord as I long to be with my sweet son in the very presence of my good God.  But it was the last two lines that got to me especially this morning.  When Samuel was dying, his heart and flesh were crying out for the living God -- in a far more literal way that I can probably even understand.  Samuel's heart was failing, and as the month of August progressed, his other organs began to fail as well.  His heart and flesh were crying out for rescue from his trials and pain and suffering.  And on the 31st of August, my living God answered those cries and brought Samuel into His very presence: whole, redeemed, new, and perfect.  He brought Samuel into his courts, into His lovely dwelling place.

And just a few verses later are the words I clung to in my new grief and throughout our struggle to conceive another child: "Happy are those who are strong in the Lord...When they walk through the Valley of Weeping it will become of place of refreshing springs, where pools of blessing collect after the rain."  Two years after Samuel's homegoing, I can clearly see those refreshing springs and pools of blessing.  I can see how God has been present, faithful, kind, true, and our Healer.  I can see what a sanctifying, refining road our grief has been and continues to be.  I can see good that has come from our loss and the chances to love and serve others that have sprung from the tears we've shed.  I can see how Samuel's life has impacted others for Christ.  I have tiny glimpses of some of God's purposes, and I can rejoice in those. 

This day is far gentler because of those refreshing springs and pools of blessing.  I can honestly say I am grateful for our grief.  I feel like grief has been a beautiful refining journey -- that's still continuing -- and I hold it as a treasure in my heart.   I am deeply thankful for what God has done in us because of Samuel and our sorrow.   It reminds me of one of my favorite Cry, the Beloved Country quotes: "My friend, your anxiety turned to fear, and your fear turned to sorrow. But sorrow is better than fear. For fear impoverishes always, while sorrow may enrich."   Our sorrow has been incomparably enriching.

So on this second anniversary of the worst day of my life but the best day of Samuel's, I have a deep peace in my soul.  There is certainly sorrow and longing and tears and heartache, but underneath it all is the deep assurance of my good God and His work of redemption in this life and the promise of ultimate redemption in the next life, where I will be with my dear, beloved Samuel in God's lovely dwelling place.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Different Kind of August

This August has been distinctly different from the past two Augusts.  In 2009 we spent a nerve-wracking month at Samuel's side in the CICU, and last year it was a grief laden month ripe with heavy and painful memories.  This August has been full of Anna, the start of pre-K for Joel (who has never gone to preschool before), and getting into the swing of 1st grade with Caleb at his university model school (he attends school two days a week, and we homeschool him the other three days).  We have been so busy that most days I don't feel the weight of grief that I associate with August.

In fact, some of the traditions we have established in memory of Samuel have been surprisingly easy for me.  His birthday this year was a legitimately happy day (though for Bryan it was quite hard).  I loved celebrating his life, having a birthday dinner with the Thiels, eating his birthday cake, and releasing balloons with messages to our sweet boy.

A few days later we headed down to Egleston Children's Hospital for our annual trip with goodies for the CICU doctors, nurses, and staff.  My stomach was not in knots as we drove up, and I even felt lighthearted walking down those yellow halls.  The only thing that really churned up my nerves was buzzing into the CICU.  During Samuel's life I always felt dread when I pushed the call button to be let in to the CICU, not knowing if we'd be turned away because of some procedure or crisis, not knowing what we'd fine if we were allowed in.  Would Samuel's stats have dropped since we'd last seen him?  What shape would he be in?  I think those seconds from just before pushing the buzzer until actually being at Samuel's side were the worst seconds in each day.  This time I made Bryan push the button, but once we were in, my heart was calm, and I didn't feel an onslaught of grief.  After delivering the goodies, we took the boys to the library and then played hide-and-seek in the garden, things we did with them during Samuel's life.  They loved it, and I was happy to see their joy and their memories of being there and having fun.  I loved having Anna with us and thinking of how she continues to heal our hearts.  I kept thinking about how it was the beginning of her connection to Samuel -- that she would grow up being able to see the place where he lived and being part of our tradition of remembering him and using his life to bless others.  Mostly the trip was a joyful and gentle one.

Despite an easier August, there have been numerous unexpected things that have resurfaced my grief in mighty ways.  I have closely followed the Stanley's journey as their son Caden had open-heart surgery and spent two weeks in the CICU.  Since his August stay (as of yesterday he is at home with his parents and big sister, Jayci!) paralleled Samuel's, it unearthed a lot of memories and sorrow.  But it has also given me great joy to read of his continued improvement and to know his outcome will not parallel Samuel's.  Reading so many of our emotions and fears and hopes and disappointments in Becca and Adam's posts has been a little surreal, and it's certainly stirred up some grief as I remember our short time with Samuel. 

A couple of days after Caden's surgery, I got a call from Stephanie, the child life specialist from Egleston who served our family so well during Samuel's life.  She asked if Bryan and I would be willing to come talk to the CHOA child life specialists at their competency day.  She said there would be some other parents on a panel who had also lost a child, and they would love for us join them and share our experiences -- what we did to make a memory, how we keep Samuel's memory alive, how we're doing now, and what was helpful or not helpful during Samuel's life.  Bryan and I were so honored that she asked us and were both eager to go.  So this past Wednesday we headed back down to Decatur and shared some of our story with a room full of child life specialists.  I was nervous I would cry, and lo and behold, I did...alot.  Every time I spoke, I cried.  Despite being emotionally worn out by it, Bryan and I both left feeling sincerely glad that we went.  We were grateful for the chance to thank Stephanie, to give back a little bit, and to continue to use our story and Samuel's life for God's glory.  It was therapeutic in a way though I definitely left feeling emotionally vulnerable -- and tears came easily for the next several days.

In all these things -- the unexpectedly easy and the surprisingly sorrowful -- I have found myself clinging to our Anna.  I held her tight all through the CLS competency day, each time I read an update about Caden Stanley, and in each tear-spilling moment.  She comforts my heart and reminds me of God's goodness, kindness, and grace.  I am so, so thankful for Anna in this month of August.  She makes the painful moments far more manageable; she soothes my soul; she mends my broken heart -- not completely, of course, but in a way no one else can.  I never would have imagined that this August, two years after our Samuel was born and died, would be as peaceful and calm -- despite some very intense reminders of what we endured and have lost -- as it has been.  I praise God for granting us our little healer, our little Anna P.  We don't deserve His grace -- that's what grace is, I suppose, undeserved! -- but we are sure thankful for it.  Every time I snuggle Anna, which is all day long, I thank God for her life and for how she making my heart more whole.

Friday, August 19, 2011

How a Girl Gets Her Name (according to Bryan and Kathryn)

For me and Bryan, naming our children has always been a very significant undertaking -- as it is for any parent, I imagine. The meaning of a name is paramount for us, and we spent countless hours in each pregnancy discussing names, their meanings, and how we want a name to be a blessing over each child's life -- something we can pray over them, hope for them, and challenge them to strive for.  Bryan wrote briefly about each of our boys' names in August of 2009:
How a Boy Gets His Name (according to Bryan and Kathryn).

With Caleb, Joel, and Samuel we discussed girls' names before finding out gender -- at 20 weeks with Caleb and Samuel and at birth with Joel. And in each pregnancy, Anna has been our top girl's name. In fact, when I went into labor with Joel, we still hadn't settled on a boy name (and wouldn't until he was 8 hours old), but we had long been settled on Anna Patricia as our girl name. Actually, Anna is a name we loved back in college before we were even engaged. Presumably Anna has been our first daughter's name since as long as we've been a serious "us."

Over time I grew to love the name Anna more and more, as its meaning became increasingly fitting and appropriate for our child. I have an old dime store baby name book from the 1970's that my mom used when she was pregnant with my brother and with me, and it says Anna means "full of mercy, grace, and prayer." I have always loved the idea of praying that over our child -- 1) that her life would be full of God's mercy and grace and the prayers of others for her, 2) that she would demonstrate God's mercy and grace to others, and 3) that she would have a relationship with God that's marked by prayer and the intimacy with Him that emanates from a prayerful life. After our two miscarriages, the death of Samuel, and our struggle to conceive again, the meaning of Anna grew ever richer for me. Her life, that fact that she has life!, is indeed full of mercy, grace, and prayer. It is because of the prayers of many and God's mercy and grace that she lives, that God chose to create her, that she is thriving and healthy. Our Anna is already full of mercy, grace, and prayer, and it is a joy to pray that her life going forward would overflow with them.

As for Patricia, it was basically a given that our first born daughter would bear it as her middle name. My mom and Bryan's mom share the name Patricia, so Anna is doubly blessed to be named after two remarkable, godly women.

My mom is the epitome of servant-hearted, deriving great joy and pleasure from loving and serving others. Whenever she comes to visit, she looks for ways to serve me creatively, and she never fails to succeed. For instance, when she came to help with Anna she sorted through all my tupperware and found which bottoms are missing lids and which lids have no bottom to fit them. She also scoured our master bathroom for us and made it sparkle more than I've ever been able to. My mom can see needs before I'm even aware that I have them. She is also incredibly generous. I can't tell you how many things we have because my mom simply wanted to bless us with them -- like my computer, the crib our children slept/sleep in as babies, the glider I rocked Joel and now Anna in, Anna's baby bedding, and Bryan's Kindle. She also taught extra classes in order to be able to provide Bryan and I with date night money since she's not here to offer free babysitting. Moreover my mom trusts the Lord with all her heart. In the darkest of circumstances, her feet have remained grounded in God, unwavering in her faith. And she exudes joy. There is a little girl still alive and well in my mother, and she often comes bubbling out. Mom is also a prayer warrior. I can attest to the veracity of James 5:16: "The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective." People from far and wide ask my mom to pray for them because we've all seen how powerful and effective her prayers are! We joke that she has a direct line to God's ear (which of course we all have, but hers seems particularly special). I would love for Anna to grow up and be a woman like her grandmother!

I asked Bryan to write a paragraph about his mom, and here's what he wrote:

It is interesting, and even a bit difficult, for me to write a paragraph about my mother. Since I have now lived more of my life without her than with her (this last week marked the 19 year anniversary of her death), I'm trusting in memories that are not nearly as fresh or clear as I wish they were. One thing that does strengthen over time is my appreciation of the foundation that was laid in the first 15 years of my life. My mom loved Jesus, her husband, and her family. I never doubted any of those things. In fact, growing up I heard multiple people say that they had never seen someone as intentional or committed as a mom. I have a letter from her that she wrote just weeks before she died. When I read it now, it is remarkable to see how well she knew me at 14 years old: my gifts, my struggles, my passions. I think that she's a big part of the reason that I love being a dad so much. It seemed that everyone loved her and loved to be around her. She was attentive, kind, generous, and servant-hearted. She was passionate, creative, and particular. She was a great cook and baker, and whenever we had people over, the house was just right. She had a heart for the marginalized - always paying attention to the poor, the outcast, the foreigner, the sick, etc. She was also a noble woman; that was never more evident than in her suffering and dying. She was courageous, honest, faithful, and unselfish throughout her sickness. In short, if our Anna Patricia is anything like either or both of the Patricias after whom she is named, then we will be richly blessed parents.

So, Anna Patricia Apinis it is. And that is how a girl gets her name -- at least in the Apinis family!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Photos of Anna-love and First Days

Smiley girl

Before going to first day of 1st Grade

Our 1st Grader!
Joely's first ever day of preschool.  He was SO excited!
My pre-K kid!
Ok, I LOVE this little girl more than I could ever say.  She's got me wrapped around her finger!
My Beauty.   I love this little face!
Too cute for words

There is too much to write about lately, so I am posting these pictures in the meantime.  Caleb has started 1st grade, and Joel is now a preschooler.  They are both loving it.  And Anna is still our healer and light-bringer.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Please Pray for a Heart Baby

Through facebook, I learned about a friend of several of my former students who has a 4 day old son, Caden, with major heart defects.  He is in the CICU at Egleston and will have major surgery tomorrow morning.  We actually met his mom on Friday when we went to the hospital for our annual trip in honor of Samuel's birthday.  We left cookies and a cake for the staff, and I gave a few cookies to Becca in the CICU lobby.  I am heavy-hearted for this family who had no knowledge of their baby's heart condition until his birth on Wednesday.  I know how overwhelming it is to start life in the CICU, and I am praying that the Lord sustains these parents, his big sister, and baby Caden and that Caden will live a long life, telling his story of God's goodness and healing hand.  Please join me.  You can read about Caden's heart on the Stanley family's blog: The Stanley Clan.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Anna's room
More of Anna's room
Can you tell how much he loves her?
Three little Apinis faces

Caleb's message to Samuel: "Dear Samuel, I hope your birthday is a really good one.  Thank you for being my littlest brother.  I hope your time in Heaven is good with God.  Love, Caleb."
With the message balloons for Samuel on his 2nd birthday
Watching the balloons go

Monday, August 1, 2011

Samuel's Second Birthday

Dear Samuel,

Happy 2nd Birthday, my little love!  How I love and miss you.  Today you would be turning two if you were here on earth.  I have no idea how time works in Heaven -- or if it even exists.  I don't know if you're growing up in Heaven, if you arrived there already grown, if you'll be a baby forever, or some other option I don't even know to consider.  But here on earth we are celebrating your second birthday and thinking of wonderful, sweet you.

Tonight we are going to the Thiels' for dinner and a little celebration of your life.  We will have a birthday cake that I baked and Daddy and your brothers decorated.  Joel wanted Grim from Cars 2 on it, and Caleb wanted something "a little gentler and calmer," so he picked a sunshine and clouds.  We will also each write a message to you on a balloon and release them.  I think we'll play some fun games as well and just spend time be grateful for your life, that YOU came into this world on August 1, 2009 and forever blessed and changed our lives.  I wish you could be there with us, eating birthday cake and getting covered in frosting, giggling at the silly games we play, and opening presents just for you.  But I know this day in Heaven is better than a thousand of the best birthdays on earth, so I rejoice for you.

I am so glad that you have a birthday 30 days removed from your death day -- that it's a day I can spend in true celebration of your life and how God gave us you.  It's easy for me to smile today because I am so deeply thankful, so genuinely glad that you came into this world.  I smile when I remember that you were born because you are one of the greatest and most profound gifts of my life.  I am not sure that anything or anyone has impacted and changed me as much as you have.  You have shown me God in ways I couldn't have imagined.  You have sealed my heart to His in an irrevocable way.  You have enabled me to trust God with all my heart and to joyfully accept His path for my life.  You have taught me to find hope and joy in the hardest and darkest of days, to keep my feet firmly planted on the unwavering Truth of God and not stumbling through the unevenness of life and circumstances beyond my control.  And your life has opened my eyes to what the body of Christ should be.  I am still in awe of how our friends and family have grieved with us in our grief and rejoiced with us in our joy.  Your daddy and I have experienced Christ's body at its very best because of you.  And you, Samuel, taught me to love with abandon, not withholding love for fear of pain or loss ahead but simply bestowing it, showering it on you.  I will never, ever regret loving you with all my heart, and I will never, ever wish away a single moment of your life and the time I spent with you.  Those hard, painful days are among -- perhaps they are -- the most precious, holy, beautiful moments of my life.  I cannot possibly thank God enough for you and your life, Samuel Erik Apinis.

We do have good news in our house these days, Samuel.  You have a baby sister!  Anna Patricia Apinis joined our family 5 weeks ago, and she is a true Beauty as your brothers named her and call her still.  She is 23 months younger than you -- which is how far apart Caleb and Joel are.  I can't help but wonder what life would be like if you were here too.  I'm sure I'd be far busier with little two year old you to chase around.  Daddy and Caleb were imagining what it would be like if you were here, and they envisioned Caleb calling downstairs, "Daddy!  Samuel's on the steps again!  I'll help him." and Joel shouting, "Momma!  Samuel broke my toy!"  It's not hard to imagine.  I wonder if you would be enamored with your baby sister like Caleb and Joel or if you'd find me hard to share and be pretty ambivalent to the little baby crying in our house.  I sure wish Anna could grow up knowing all her big brothers, and it makes me teary every time I think about how she will never meet you in this life.

We are all crazy about Anna, and she has been a healing balm for our souls as we miss you, but she will never replace you, sweet son.  Your place in our family is forever.  Always you will belong with us.  Always you will be our third child, our one and only Samuel.  Not a day will go by when I won't think of you and miss you and look forward to seeing you again one day.  My heart will treasure you all the days of my life.

Yesterday at church I had Anna with me in the service.  She was sleeping contentedly in her carseat, and I had planned to leave her in there.  But when the band started playing "Blessed Be Your Name," I immediately bent over and pulled Anna out, tears streaking down my face.  I needed to hold your baby sister as I sang the words to that song, which we sang at your memorial service.  I needed to cuddle her close as I sang:

"Blessed be Your name
In the land that is plentiful
Where Your streams of abundance flow
Blessed be Your name

Blessed be Your name
When I'm found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed be Your name

Blessed be Your name
When the sun's shining down on me
When the world's all as it should be
Blessed be Your name

Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there's pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name

Every blessing You pour out,
I'll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord,
Still I will say,

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name.

You give and take away.
You give and take away
Still my heart will choose to say,
Lord, blessed be Your name."

Your death is "the road marked with suffering," my "pain in the offering," and Anna's life epitomizes "the sun shining down on me."  I can't sing this song without thinking of you and your baby sister.  Each of you is a blessing God has poured out on me, and each of you has taught me to turn blessing into praise.  God has given, and God has taken away, and your life, Samuel, has solidified my faith in a good God to whom I can say, "Blessed be Your name."

Samuel,  I love you.  Happy Birthday, my two year old boy.  I shudder to think  of my life without your fingerprint on it.  I miss you.  I am so  thankful for you.  Happy Birthday, dear little love of mine!

Love, Momma

Our few seconds holding Samuel after his birth before he went to the NICU

Caleb, Bryan, and Joel with Samuel's 2nd birthday cake