Friday, August 1, 2014

To Samuel on His 5th Birthday

Dear Samuel,

          Happy 5th Birthday, my precious son!  Can it really be true that 5 years have passed since you entered this world and took our hearts by storm?  From the moment I knew you were growing in my womb -- a much longed for and prayed for event -- I loved you.  That love grew exponentially when we learned you had a severe heart defect at your 19 week ultrasound, but none of that remotely compared to the love I felt for you once you arrived, and I could see your beautiful, perfect face and put one hand on the top of your head and one on the bottoms of your feet.  How desperate I was to scoop you up into my arms and shower you with kisses, but I had to content myself with touching your soft skin and staring at your tiny, adorable face.  You were so vulnerable, and that made my love fierce.  I was utterly smitten with you, and that love has done nothing but grow in the five years since.
          I miss you, sweet boy.  I wonder all the time what our family would be like if you were still here.  Who would be your main play buddy?  With whom would you bicker?  Where would you sleep???  Would we cram all three of you boys in one room?  Would you share with Anna who throws the occasional tyrannical fit at bedtime?  How would we fit you all in one vehicle?  What would you look like?  Would you resemble any of your siblings?  What would you be into?  And how, oh how, would I survive sending you to kindergarten in 6 short days?!?

         I've had a few heavy and sad days lately as August has approached.  Recently your daddy and I hung up a painting Caleb did, and the clear best place to hang it was in the upstairs hall -- where a collage of pictures of you has hung for the last 5 years.  We moved the collage to a less prominent place in the laundry room (where I still see it every day), and afterwards we both laid down on our bed with heavy, aching hearts.  I looked at your dad and said, "I can't believe how much grief it stirs up in me just to move a picture of Samuel.  My heart just hurts."  He looked over at me and said, "I know, right?  Grief is such a strange thing."  I was glad we were both in the crashing wave of grief together.  It hurt so much to think it was time to take those pictures out of the hallway, where you can see them from the front door of the house.  I know it's the healing God has done in us that enables us to think Caleb's artwork should have the place of prominence in the hall, but who knew healing could still be so painful five years later?

          I am still bewildered that next week would have been your first day of kindergarten.  I can't even imagine taking you to the boys' school and dropping you off with them.  In so many ways, you are forever my baby boy, so it's hard to wrap my mind around a you who would be headed to elementary school.  A kindergartener.  Oh, my.

          Today our family went to Egleston Children's Hospital for our annual trek to remember you and thank the CICU staff for all their hard work and the ways in which they blessed and served us in your lifetime.  It's always hard to visit as nothing takes me back to our month together like Egleston does.    Driving down into the underground parking lot and searching for a spot (I always get a sinking feeling in my stomach at that part), the smell of the soap on my hands (!!!), the long walk down the yellow hall, the loud click of the big double doors opening to the CICU, wandering in the beautiful gardens…it all takes me back to you.  And to the holiness that was August 2009.  I still marvel at God's tender presence, His embracing love, His faithful care while we were in the thin line between life and death.  I've never known God so intimately, relied on Him so fully, experienced His goodness so tangibly as I did that month with you.  As we surrendered you to Him, we knew His goodness in previously unfathomed ways.  And though He didn't answer our prayers the way we hoped, He carried us through every moment of gut-wrenching pain, of dashed hopes, of worst fears realized with previously unimagined love, tenderness, grace, and faithfulness.  I am so thankful.

          God has done a mighty healing in our hearts, Samuel.  We still miss you every day, but when I think of you, I almost always smile, and my heart floods with joy.  God has gone back and painted almost all my memories with a brush of joy.  Your name, your face, your place in our family fill my heart with gladness and gratitude.  I am so thankful God gave us you.  I love the way he made you -- imperfect heart and all.  I love how He's grown us because of you.  I love that He trusted us to be your family.  I love the story He has written and is writing in our lives.  YOU are at the heart of that story in so many ways.  I wouldn't trade you -- or even losing you -- for any other story out there.  This story He is penning is beautiful, redemptive, and life-giving, and I am so thankful.

          Samuel, I love you.  We all do.  Daddy, Caleb, Joel, Anna, Eliza, and I all treasure you.  You are forever part of our family.  Someday, I can't wait to get to know you.  Will you meet me at Heaven's gates when I come?  I hope so.

          Happy Birthday, little buddy.  I love you.  I always will.


Monday, February 10, 2014

God Beneath

Every once in awhile, something drives me back here -- to read and remember.  This morning Bryan's former boss and mentor's granddaughter died after only 14 days of life.  I've been following her story and praying fervently for baby Olivia and her parents.  They have clung to Jesus in a beautiful way.  I am truly grieved for them as they face life without sweet Olivia.  And I can't help but remember Samuel and the day he died and the months that followed.  Though every story is unique, I can imagine what today is like for David and Danae.  

A friend emailed me this morning to tell me she is praying for us as she prays for the Woodalls, for she knows it must stir up a lot in us to see a similar story play out in someone else's life.  As I thought about her sweet email, I couldn't help but think of all the ways God cared for us after Samuel died.  I came back here to read some of my posts from those first weeks without Samuel, and I am so glad I recorded what I was thinking and feeling.  It is good to remember.  It is good to have a record of God's faithfulness.  Here are two paragraphs that echo my prayers for David and Danae as they walk in this valley:

"Once again I find myself at the feet of Jesus, depending on Him for the strength, joy, and courage to move forward and to face what this day holds.  He continues to be my portion, my rock, and my good, good God.  Is it weird that I am amazed -- truly -- at His goodness as I navigate the paths of grief? He is so very real, so very present, so very strong, and so very tender with me.  Can I say yet again, IT IS A GOOD GOD WE SERVE!"

"…despite being very, very sad and tearful and fairly unable to take care of ordinary tasks, I have a constant and steady peace underneath it all.  I know in no uncertain terms that God is good.  He is trustworthy.  He is worthy of my praise, and I find I can praise Him even in my darkest moments.  Though the world around me seems dark, and I feel burdened and literally weighed down -- sometimes to the point of suffocation -- the ground beneath me is firm and unchanging.  I know the bottom can't fall out from under me because my foundation is Christ, and He is always the same.  There is a safety underneath my grief, a sense of being held and kept on firm footing.  As long as I make my home on the rock of God, I am safe and peaceful.  I never would have thought there could be such peace in grieving, such confidence in my God, such assurance of His sovereignty.  But He has shown Himself good and loving even here, in the death of my baby boy."

As I think about David and Danae and all their family, as strange as it sounds, I have a quiet expectation that accompanies my sorrow for them.  An expectation of God's tender love for them, of His care, of His faithfulness to carry them through these days and to heal their broken hearts -- not from their grief but in their grief.  I experienced God's mighty love for me most clearly and powerfully after Samuel died, and I find myself expecting the same to be true for the Woodalls.  I quietly anticipate the tender mercies He will shower on them and the "refreshing springs" and "pools of blessing" He will bring from their loss.  I would never, ever wish this sorrow and loss on anyone, but when God takes someone down the road of losing a baby, I silently wait for the beautiful fruit He will produce from it.  And I remember.  I remember Samuel.  I remember fresh grief.  I remember the cruelty of life as usual for most everyone around me.  I remember the empty arms and overwhelming ache in my soul.  But most of all I remember God beneath me, God sustaining me, God loving me.  I pray it is the same for our friends.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Stockings and Tears

Last month as we were decorating for Christmas, our 8 1/2 year old gave me a precious glimpse into his heart.  Kathy, my mother-in-law and Bryan's step-mom, handmade Caleb, Joel, and Anna's stockings.  Eliza's will be next.  Caleb's stocking is of a large snowman hugging a smaller teddybear.  The stockings were newly up on the fireplace, and Caleb came up to me with something he clearly wanted to share.

Caleb: "Mom, something about my stocking is SO familiar to me."

Me: "You mean other than that you see it every year at Christmas time?"

Caleb:  "Yes.  Something about it really moves me."

Me: "Hmmm….is it something you experienced, something you saw, or something in your heart that's familiar?"

Caleb: "I think it's something in my heart."

At this point, I look over at Caleb and see his eyes welling up with tears.  I put down the things I was working on in the kitchen, and walk over to him.

Me: "I can see it's making you sad."

Caleb: "No, Mom.  They're happy tears."

I grab Caleb's hand, and we walk in to the living room and sit on the couch where we can see the stockings.  I pull him into my lap.

Me: "Do you think you're the snowman or the teddybear?"

Caleb: "I really think I'm the snowman."

Since the snowman is the bigger of the two, I start to wonder if perhaps Caleb is thinking of Samuel.  Samuel has been on his mind quite a bit lately, and he's shed a lot of tears for his baby brother in the last few months.  I don't want to plant that idea in Caleb's mind, so ask: "Is it you with one of your siblings?"

Caleb: "No, I don't think so."

Me: "Is it you and Puppy?"  (Puppy is Caleb special stuffed animal.)

Caleb: "That's what I thought at first, but I really don't think that's it."

Me: "Hmmmm….."

Now Caleb's tears spill over and stream down his face.  With more tears pouring and his voice cracking, he tells me: "Mom!  I know what it is!  It's me with my future children! That's me when I'm a dad!"

I am speechless.  Seriously?  What 8 year old cries (I mean really cries!) happy tears when he envisions being a dad someday?!  I wouldn't believe it if I wasn't there witnessing it.  The only thing I can do, because now I'm somewhere between a sob and a disbelieving guffaw, is pull Caleb in tight and wrap my arms around him.  This kid's tender heart is something else.  I cannot believe I've been entrusted with its care in his childhood.  My, what a gift this kid is!

Caleb's stocking is the 3rd from the left.