Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Update in Pictures

I absolutely love this picture of Caleb and Joel. 

We went to Hillcrest Orchards in the Georgia mountains with Caleb's class, and Joel held this kitten that was trying to escape.  His laugh cracks me up.

Football in the backyard

The final score

Hut Hut Hike

Updating the score
This past weekend Anna and I went to Marblehead, MA for my cousin's wedding.  The boys all stayed home and had "boys weekend."  Anna was an INCREDIBLE trooper, and she was the belle of the ball.

My mom, brother, and sister-in-law.  It was so fun to see them and for Anna to meet her aunt and uncle.

In my aunt and uncle's backyard

Monday, September 19, 2011

Peace in This Story

Recently I had a friend ask how it was for me to watch Caden Stanley fight for his life in the CICU, facing many of the same struggles Samuel faced but healing beautifully and even amazing his cardiologist with his recovery.  She wondered if it was hard for me to watch Caden heal while Samuel did not -- if I read about Caden's recovery and felt sad, wishing Samuel had been healed too.  When I read her message asking me how I was doing, it struck me that I had never once read about Caden and actively wished Samuel's story had paralleled his.  I had to think about it for awhile, but I realized it's because I am so confident this is God's story for us, God's story for Samuel.  And I don't want any story other than the one God wants.  Do I wish Samuel was alive?  Of course.  But do I actually spend time wishing it?  No.  Because I am convinced this is God's best for us.  It's clearly God's best for Samuel.  I mean, how could Heaven not be the best thing for him?  And when I see what beautiful things God has done in my family, in people around us, in my heart, I am thankful for the story God wrote (and is still writing) in Samuel's life and death.  Samuel's life certainly shaped us, but his death has shaped us even more.  There is mercy in the story God is telling -- even in Samuel's death.  A severe mercy, perhaps, but mercy nonetheless. 

Honestly, I can't even imagine a different story.  I am at peace with the one I am living.  I rejoice in the way God has written it.  Though I miss Samuel every day and wonder what life would be like if he was here, I embrace the narrative He has penned -- the narrative without Samuel.  I don't know how to explain it without sounding unfeeling or calloused, but I don't spend time wishing for what might have been when what is so clearly resounds of God's love, grace, mercy, and goodness.  My soul finds peace in the way life is, and I know Samuel is fully alive, joyful, healed, and whole in Heaven.  What more could I want?

Despite that peace and contentment, there have been a few poignantly painful moments during Anna's life when I have thought of Samuel's death.  I so deeply enjoy babies, find such fulfillment in being momma to one.  In fact, I feel like it's the thing more than any else that I was made to do.  I love it in ways I don't have words to explain.  Sometimes I feel like my heart will burst for the joy I have in holding Anna and caring for her, in making her smile, in snuggling her and soothing her, in nursing her, in being the one person in the world who can meet her every need.  Having a baby of my own makes my heart go pitterpatter.  I don't mind the exhaustion, the unending accumulation of newly dirty laundry, the crying, the way my whole life revolves around feedings, the complete lack of spare time.  I relish those things, even.  Having a baby in the house brings out the best in me.  Being back in this place after four years, I can see more clearly just how much I love it.  One day last week, in a moment of overwhelming joy at Little Miss Anna Pea, I thought about how God made me to love babies, how He knew I would feel this way with each of my sweet babies (though with Caleb it wasn't immediate), and how He took my Samuel away during his infancy, never giving me the chance to care for him like my other three, without having ever nursed him or rocked him.  In that moment, Samuel's death felt cruel to me -- God making me to love babyhood and yet robbing me of Samuel's.  Later in the day I told Bryan about it and couldn't even choke it out.  It hurt too much.  And every once in awhile when Anna sleeps in my arms and cracks her eye open, I see Samuel in her in a way that positively takes my breath away, and I can't breathe for a minute, thinking I'm holding Samuel in a peaceful sleep.  Those are moments of deep grief for me, seeing so clearly what I missed.

I know I missed a lot.  A lifetime of joy and relationship.  Of laughter and pain.  Of getting to know my son.  But I can't even begin to understand what I've gained.  I think over the course of my life I will slowly see more and more of what God has done in me and in the people around me because of Samuel.  He has refined my heart.  He has deepened my love for Him.  He has knit Bryan and I together in ways I couldn't have imagined or foreseen.  He has given me a profound respect for my husband.  He has grown my heart for my children and for others.  He has shown me Himself.  And I am eternally grateful.  There is no story I would rather live than this exact one my good and faithful God has written for me.  I wouldn't go back and rewrite my story if I could because this story I'm living is just as it should be -- at least in this fallen world where death and sin abound.   Someday Jesus will return, and death will be defeated once and for all; until then I will find peace in this story without Samuel, knowing that God's plan is far better than my own.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Recent Photos of the Apini

Caleb and Anna -- Caleb begged to have this picture taken

I don't think it gets cuter than this!  She's totally irresistible.

Anna Pea.  :)  That smile -- melts me.

Joel and Anna Pea

Bryan with his kiddos on his birthday.  Which one of these is not like the others?  :)

This is how Anna sleeps -- checking to see if we're going to put her down.  She's the most lovable little stinker.

Anna with her Momma

Our small group made this for us for the 2nd anniversary of Samuel's death.  They designed and made it: cut it out, painted it, picked out the poetry lines, etc.  Besides being impressive, it's really touching to me that they did this.  We love it.

Can't get enough of her.  Ever.

Though you can't tell, they're all wearing Star Wars shirts.  Our friend Jennifer found Anna's shirt and got it for her.  Adorable.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Our Family Tree of Life

Kathryn decided that she wanted owls to be a decorative theme in Anna’s room and had seen a few owl paintings that she really liked.   They were cute.  They were not cheap.  I stepped into the quandary and suggested that I would try my hand at an owl painting.  Doubting whether I meant it, she gladly accepted. I’m not sure that I thought it through, but I’m glad that I offered because, though the painting took me a lot longer than anticipated, I really enjoyed the experience.

It was an experiment for me.  I’d never painted an owl.  I’d never painted with acrylics.   I’d never painted on a canvas.  I’ve always enjoyed painting and drawing, but only dabbled in pancakes, cakes, and watercolors.  That said, I’d seen owls, could buy acrylics, and happened to have a blank canvas lying around.  I was in.

Several weeks passed between agreeing to do the painting and actually beginning it.  During that time I actually thought about the painting quite a bit.  I came up with the idea of our family tree, a tree of life.  I thought about having owls to represent each member of our family, and about how I would do that.

Here is some of what I was thinking and why I painted it the way that I did.
· Kathryn and I are snuggling on the bottom branch.  She’s the pretty one. 

· Caleb is reading on the lowest branch on the right side of the tree.  He is our quiet, gentle, tender-hearted introvert.  He loves to read a good book.

· Joel is bouncing on the middle branch on the left hand side, and that’s about right for him.  Joel’s favorite color is orange.  When he first saw his owl, he asked if it could have more orange… so I added orange toenails/talons.

· Samuel’s branch is the top one on the right hand side.  His branch is empty, but his branch and leaf remain (there is a leaf for every life in our family).  Though not with us, he is still part of our family his mark on us is unmistakable.  You can see the silhouette of Samuel flying toward the sun.  That felt about right.

· Anna is on the very top branch.  As of the making of the painting she had not been born.  We had not seen her and she had not seen us.  Her eyes are closed.

· The words mercy, grace, and prayer are painted on the tops of several of the hills.  This was just a fun tribute to Anna; her name means “full of mercy, grace, and prayer.”  Kathryn and I knew that we would name our daughter Anna, but hadn’t told anyone.  It was a fun way of acknowledging her name without revealing it.

One of the interesting and painful realizations that arrived with the blessing of Anna is the fact that we can’t have any family photographs with all 6 of us.  We do have a treasured piece of paper with all of our kids’ handprints on it.  Now we also have a family portrait with all of us.  Of course, I hope that Anna treasures the painting for her whole life as a gift from her father.  More than that though, I’m grateful to have done it.  I’m grateful for the story that it tells of my family – the people that I love most in the world. 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Second Anniversary of Samuel's Homegoing

On the 2nd anniversary of Samuel's homegoing to Heaven, we went to his grave as a family.  First we stopped and bought new flowers for the vase since the old ones had faded.  Like last year we each picked two flowers with no effort at coordinating.  Rather than aiming for beauty, we went for sentiment and meaning.  This year Anna got to contribute flowers as well.   Once we replaced the flowers, we sang a few songs, some of our favorites that we sang to Samuel, and we prayed and thanked God for our dear Samuel.

I had gone to the grave the day before with just Anna, and I'm glad I did.  It gave me a chance to sit quietly and remember, to shed tears without an audience, and to "introduce" Anna to Samuel.  I don't like to think of Samuel as in his grave.  In fact, I try really, really hard not to think about his body in that tiny white box under the ground, but there isn't somewhere else to go and bring Anna to Samuel.  I wanted some time with just me and my two babies, and it was a sweet, albeit tearful, time.

At least in part because I'd been to the grave the day before, our time as a family was mostly upbeat.  I'm glad we went and have a tradition around Samuel's homegoing day.  Afterwards we went to dinner at Red Robin, and I loved sitting on the bench squished between my two boys on earth, giggling with them, playing tic-tac-toe, sharing the strawberries from my lemonade, and watching Bryan across the table snuggling our daughter.  It was one of those moments of almost supernatural clarity -- seeing how richly and ridiculously blessed we are, living fully in the moment and treasuring every second of life we've been granted together.  I know these are days I will look back on longingly and lovingly when my children are grown, and I am so thankful for the now, for these three little heads to kiss every night when I tuck them in, for the unabashed hugs they bestow on me and beseech me to bestow on them, for the safe place I am for each of my children.  Someday I will wish for just one of these days back, and I don't want to take them for granted now.  Though I wish I had a fourth little head to kiss and neck to hug, I know he's getting all the love he could ever need in Heaven, and I am enjoying my little piece of Heaven on Earth while I wait for the real Heaven to come.

Happy Anniversary of your entrance into Heaven, sweet Samuel.  I love you!