Friday, August 9, 2013

To Samuel on His 4th Birthday

Dear Samuel,                                                                            August 1, 2013

Happy 4th Birthday, sweet boy!  I really can't believe it's been four years since you came into this world.  What an incredible blessing your life was and continues to be.  I am so thankful God gave you to us -- that He chose us to love you, treasure you, rejoice in you, and be forever changed by you.  Your mark on my life is permanent and beautiful, and I am overwhelmed with gratitude for you and your precious life.

Our family is at Pine Cove Woods Family Camp right now, and it is a sweet place to be as we remember you.  This place has had a tremendous impact on my faith and relationship with Jesus, and it comforts my heart to be here -- where so much growth toward God has happened in my life -- as we celebrate your birthday.

This afternoon we'll all write messages on balloons and eat a special snack in celebration of you, and we'll release the balloons on the bridge on the lake.  I'm glad that in some small way you get to be part of Pine Cove, too.

This morning David Daniels gave a talk on suffering.  He referenced Ecclesiastes 6:13-14, and it hit so close to home on this day:

                       "Consider what God has done:
                                  Who can straighten what he has made crooked?
                        When times are good, be happy;
                                   but when times are bad, consider:
                        God has made the one
                                   as well as the other.
                        Therefore, a man cannot discover
                                   anything about his future."

God made your heart crooked, sweet boy.  He wrote your story of only 31 days.  This is the story He penned, and it is lovely.  David talked about how our theology is laid bare in the struggles of life, and when I remember our time with you, I see how our feet were firmly planted in the truth of Jesus.  Your life refined ours, deepened our faith in God, and purified our love for Him.  He brought such beautiful things from you, Samuel Erik Apinis.

There is a new member of our family!  Eliza was born on April 29.  You now have two older brothers and two younger sisters.  They are all precious.  We talk about you regularly in our family.  Anna is learning more and more about you, and Caleb brings you up from time to time.  We miss you, and your hole in our family is felt.

When I was pregnant with Eliza, people often told me how perfect two boys and two girls are.  But I know it's not perfect as you are missing.  I think 3 boys and 2 girls would be just right.  :)

Samuel, I love you, and I always will.  You will always be my third son, and you will always be part of our family.

Happy 4th Birthday, little one!

                                                      Love, Momma

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Samuel's 4th Birthday

We spent Samuel's 4th birthday at the Pine Cove Woods Family Camp in Tyler, TX.  I grew up calling the place my second home, attended camp at the youth camps from 2nd grade to 9th grade, and worked there for six summers from high school until after graduating from Wheaton College.  I brought Bryan with me the summer we were engaged, and then we spent the first year of our marriage working there full-time.  It was our first time back in 12 years.  We knew our kids would have an absolute ball, but we didn't know how it would be for us as adults.   Turns out we loved it even more than we could have anticipated.  I could go on and on about how fantastic our week at camp was, but that's not really the point of this post, so I'm going to restrain myself.

By total coincidence, we knew the director of The Woods from college.  Bryan was in a small group with him our junior year at Wheaton, and though Chris had never heard of Pine Cove back then, by a series of events, he ended up working there in 2008.  When we got our first communication from Pine Cove, it was signed with Chris's name, and Bryan and I both thought it was impossible that it would be the same guy we knew in college.  But it was.  Since Bryan knew him, he felt comfortable emailing and asking if they had a helium tank for our birthday tradition of writing letters to Samuel on balloons and releasing them.  They didn't have one, but Chris said they would consider it a joy to pick up balloons for us. 

So when Thursday at camp rolled around, and I woke up to the bittersweet knowledge that it was Samuel's birthday, I rejoiced in knowing we could continue our balloon tradition.  After breakfast and family devotions, I contemplated skipping the morning speaker session and spending some time alone with my journal and Bible and Jesus, but we opted to go to the session instead, and I'm so glad we did.  David Daniels, pastor of Pantego Bible Church in Fort Worth, spoke on suffering that morning.  He walked through Ecclesiastes 7:13-14. He didn't know our story, but he spoke directly to it.  He referenced a family who lost a baby after a few weeks of life, a college kid who lost both her parents before she graduated (like Bryan did), and Job 1:21: "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.  May the name of the Lord be praised" -- the very verse on Samuel's gravestone.  He talked about God's sovereignty in suffering and His faithfulness to use it for good.  It wasn't new information to me; it was a beautiful reminder of all God did and taught us and grew us through Samuel's life and death.  It was a sweet time of remembering God's faithfulness.

Later that day, we came back to our room and had balloons and a package of sharpies waiting for us.  We took the family out on a bridge and released our balloons there.  There was something very sweet about Samuel being a part of our time at Pine Cove in a way he wouldn't have been any other week of the year.  Pine Cove is a genuinely significant part of my story and made a bigger impact on my faith and relationship with God as a kid and teenager than anything else apart from my parents.  At Pine Cove I was challenged and encouraged and pushed and humbled.  It was the place I thought of when I craved peace and quiet moments with my Savior.  In fact, once in high school when I was extremely nervous about a solo music competition, my dad taught me to picture a place of rest and peace to calm me.  I chose a remote dock on Pine Cove's lake.  I loved inviting my family into this place that is so special to me, and being able to include Samuel was really beautiful to my heart.

That evening, Chris told Bryan that they had a cake for us.  We had never mentioned a cake, which is part of our family tradition on Samuel's birthday.  We were so moved that they thought of that.  Late that night, Bryan, Caleb, Joel, and I ate cake in the little hallway outside our room while Anna and Eliza slept inside.  We laughed together and smiled -- things we would have done if Samuel had been with us.  Again, it was so sweet.  And earlier in the week, Bryan and I had peered into a window of the staff's back dining room, and on the chalk board he saw prayer requests, one of which said "continued healing for the Apinis family."  I'm teary even as I write that.  There are moments in life when you feel very personally loved and cared for by Jesus, and Samuel's birthday was one of those for me.  Little touches throughout the day reminded me that God was with me, that He loves me, that I can rest in Him.  Sweet is really the word I would use to describe Samuel's 4th birthday.  It was a sweet, sweet day.

Once again, I am so grateful for the Lord choosing US to have Samuel.  I am so thankful Samuel was born.  I am so glad we get to celebrate him every year on his birthday.  What a privilege to be Samuel's mommy.  What a joy to have loved him for his 31 days of life.  And what an honor to be forever changed by him.  Thank you, Lord, for Samuel and for the gentle and beautiful reminders of Your love.