Happy 9th Birthday, buddy! Nine sounds so old, and therefore the night we met seems impossibly long ago. I'm not sure how it can have been 9 years since you made your entrance, three and half weeks early, in the fading hours of a Saturday night. We'd been at the lake with a group of dear friends that weekend but left early that morning because you were sending us warning signs that labor might be on the horizon. Of course once we were on the road home, everything calmed down and seemed right as rain. We all had time to take a nap that afternoon, and then just as dinner started to wind down, I knew you were coming. What joy it was to meet you 9 years ago, to see your adorable and perfect face, even if only for 10 seconds before they whisked you away to the NICU. I had that rush of adrenaline and pride that follows a birth and buoys you up to unassailable heights. I already knew how much I loved you, and that love grew with each passing minute of your life. We may not have had many days together, but oh how much we loved you! No baby could have been more loved. What joy you brought us! What joy you still bring. I'm so glad that you are our son, that you are Caleb, Joel, Anna, and Eliza's brother. Your place is our family is forever sealed. Our love for you is eternal.
We made our annual trek to Egleston on Friday, bearing cookies as usual. As the years have gone by, so many of the people who were there during your month of life have moved on to other jobs and other places, so we don't expect to see anyone we know when we visit. But this year was a sweet blessing because we saw 3 of your doctors and Mary Beth, who took amazing care of you during some of your final days of life and was there the morning you died, bathing you and dressing you and being so very kind to us. We talked to the doctor who tried our grace and calm when you took a turn for the worse by his abrupt and -- in all honesty, extremely insensitive -- delivery of the heartbreaking news that you wouldn't survive, and shockingly, it didn't stir up all those painful emotions. We also chatted with the doctor who was on the floor the morning you died and who gave us hugs as we walked out of the CICU that final morning, praising us for letting you go peacefully. And most happily, we talked to Dr. Kim who was a source of encouragement shortly after you died. He found our blog through another patient and spent time reading it and responding to it, which will always be beautiful to me. And last year, after we missed him for I-don't-know-how-many years in a row of Egleston visits, he sent us a kind card in the mail, which was once again sweet encouragement and blessing. It was good for our souls to see him face-to-face, and he shared kind, meaningful words with us yet again. Those moments are always so humbling because we were just stumbling through each day of your life, clinging to Jesus and to each other, but God saw fit to make something beautiful out of them. Your dad and I love hearing that your life has touched others in some way, and to know some of that was lasting is always a little piece of Heaven for us.
I'm always a little anxious on your birthday, but this morning was more intense than it has been in some years. A big part of that is school starting tomorrow (always one of my least favorite days of the year), and this year your littlest sibling starts kindergarten. I have been a mess the last week, crying unexpectedly throughout the day and thinking of all the joys over the last 13 years with babies at home with me. For my whole life I have wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, and God graciously granted my wish when Caleb was born. With each new baby, I rejoiced in extra years of littles at home with me. This chapter of life has been beautiful, abundantly rewarding, and more than I could ever have imagined. It is what I was made to do. And knowing it has come to a close -- at least the part with a child home with me during the day -- is breaking my heart. I know growing up is a good thing, and it's certainly what I want for all my children, but I lament what has already passed and can never come again. I have found such joy and fullness and fulfillment in living out what God designed for me, and if I could, I would rewind the clock and do the whole 13 years all over again -- your part, too! Each of you five children has changed and shaped and sanctified me, bringing immeasurable joy, laughter, tears, and frustration. You've all made me a better person, and I can't imagine life without you five.
As has been my habit for the last several years, I started your birthday with a run, which always helps me work out some of my angst on August 1. This morning the grass and trees were the amplified green of summer rain showers, and the richness of life around me reminded me how good God is a tending His creation -- you and me included. He loves us well, and He faithfully cares for us through all that life holds. And He will do the same for Eliza as she starts school tomorrow and for me, too, as a new chapter begins. Part way into my run, the heavens opened up, and I got completely soaked. Apart from the sloshy shoes and the way my drenched shirt clung to the belly chub that stubbornly insists on serving as indisputable evidence that I birthed you 5 babies (and love to eat cookies), it was delightful. The rain refreshed the ground and my spirit, reminding me again of God's tender care and love, of how He renews and restores and brings life from the void. He has brought such life from the void of your absence, and I am so grateful.
I've been thinking about who you would be if you were here -- how you would fit into the dynamics of your siblings. I keep thinking how much Joel would love having another playmate who can play sports with him, how Anna would love having an older brother still at school with her to walk her to class everyday and to maybe do her bidding when she gets an idea, how Eliza would nestle in to your lap, make you laugh, and find strength in your presence a few halls over as she starts kindergarten, how Caleb would would enjoy someone else to talk to and to look out for as the oldest brother. I don't know the things that would make you uniquely you, but I sure do look forward to learning all about you someday and to seeing you in full glory. I think I'll know you immediately when I finally do see you, though I imagine you won't still be a tiny baby. But somehow between a mother's intuition and the revelation of Heaven, I think we'll know each other right away. What joy that moment will be!
This has been a heavier letter than usual, so let me just say, sweet Samuel, that I am so glad you were born! Happy Birthday, baby. Your life matters. You matter. It is easy to celebrate you today because we're all better because of you. We love you still and always. I anticipate that reunion hug with joy and tears, and I find such peace in knowing you are perfectly loved, perfectly known, and perfectly whole where you are. Find someone up there to give you a hug from me today, please. And whatever it is that brings a huge smile to your face, do that today, my love. Maybe it's a great book like Caleb, or a rousing game of Spike Ball like Joel, or a choreographed dance like Anna, or a big cuddle followed by laughter and singing like Eliza, or a long walk exploring God's creation like me, or reading up on and watching sports like Dad. I don't know how all that works in Heaven, but whatever it is, I hope your day involves that thing.
I love you, Samuel Erik Apinis. Happy 9th Birthday, big boy. You are so very loved.