Remember those fancy old phones? They were antique looking, if they weren’t actually antique, often with gold or bronze finishing, and they were extremely heavy. Keep that image tucked away, as I back-story a bit.
Before Grace was born, I took a job as a nanny. I went into that position knowing the family from the day care center they attended, and I worked at. When I first began this job, there were two little girls, but a little boy was on his way.
I remember being so excited about the opportunity, because I’ve always loved working with kids. They ask very few questions (well at least not the dig-deep kind), and they don’t judge, they just love, and that’s pretty much all I want to do too. Plus, the added bonus was, I was going to be married soon, and I knew I wanted to be pregnant right away, and being a nanny gave me the chance to bring my baby to work. It was a perfect fit.
I couldn’t have predicted, on my first day of working there, that those three kids would become such a part of my heart. I loved them (and still do) as if they were my very own, and when Grace was born, her early years were spent with two older sisters and an older brother. I still thank God often that He blessed me with this specific family. The parents allowed me to help raise their three beautiful children, all of which I still brag about and love and consider my “first babies.” I’m extremely proud of the adults they have become and I like to think I helped a little in the process.
So the phone, still hanging onto to that image, right?
It was a favorite toy of Grace’s when we were at work. She and Nick would play with it and answer calls to each other on it, until one day it fell from the desk onto Grace’s little 2-year-old toe. She had a high tolerance for pain, so when she didn’t stop screaming, I packed everyone up and headed to the doctor’s office. It was just a short 20 minute drive, but by the time I got there, her big toe nail was completely black. I held tight to Grace while they cut under the nail to release the blood that was building up. She cried, I cried, and for the first time, I truly wanted to take someone’s pain and bear it myself.
Watching her suffer, scream in fear and agony, gave me a more intimate understanding of what unselfish love looked like. And true to my nature, I looked into how I felt, and dissected it, because that’s what I do. I remember walking out of that clinic and feeling a new connection to my Heavenly Father. I realize how vastly different the pain of her toe was compared to the pain of the cross, but I was able to grasp a little better what it must have felt like to watch your only child suffer, and how badly God the Father must’ve wanted to just ease the pain.
And then 2016 came upon us, and within 25 days of that new year, I again, felt an immediate new connection to my Heavenly Father, but now, it was because I was face to face with the death of my child, a pain that only few have ever felt.
Last Easter was difficult for so many reasons. It was the first Easter we didn’t make up baskets. Evelyn wasn’t feeling it, and I wasn’t about to push through on something I really didn’t want to do either. It was a holiday, and if you’ve lost anyone close to you, you understand that holidays are no longer filled with the joy they once were. And it was the first time that I could relate to God the Father, on a very personal level.
He gave His Son for us…gave. Let that sink in. I lost my girl, but I would never have given her up for anyone. His love for us was so great, so vast, and so unconditional, that He endured the death of His only Son, so that we would be able to experience a right relationship with Him. Not one that was based on what we did or could do for Him, but based simply on the covering or atonement of the blood of Jesus.
I’ve been asked by many people how I make sense of this past year, and I can honestly tell you, I don’t. None of it makes sense. I feel like we did all the right things. We prayed for safety, all the time. We dedicated that little life over to the Lord when she was just a baby. We had plans for her future, we had hopes and dreams. We trained her to love her family, which she did. We trained her to love God with her whole heart, which she did. If there was a handbook on how to raise up a good kid, I think we followed it pretty well, but with all that, this is where our lives are at.
Does that scare anyone? It scares me still. It reminds me that so many things are outside of my control. That the protection that we pray over are children, should be focused more on the protection of their souls, rather than the protection of their physical bodies. It reminds me that nothing earthly is promised to me. Not prosperity, not happiness, not health and certainly not safety from any bad thing ever happening.
Although, it also reminds me that I worship and praise my God, not for what He can do for me, but because of who He is. If nothing else “good” ever happens in my life, God is still good, regardless of any situation I might find myself in. If everything I hold dear is stripped away from me tomorrow, God is still good. If I find myself broken and depressed, again, God is still good. He does not change and neither does the amount to which He loves us. When we are lost in battle, whether in our minds, our emotions, or our souls, He watches, He knows and He loves.
Praise Him this weekend, tell Him how much you love Him in the way you love others. Give Him the glory that He deserves, not because your circumstances are perfect, but because He is God, and He is worthy of whatever we can offer back to Him.
Easter morning service will come around in just a few days. I will, hopefully, have the opportunity to worship with two of my three “first babies” and countless others that I know and love, but no matter who is standing on your right or left, keep your eyes focused on the One who never changes. Keep your eyes focused on the One who gave up His life so that you could have a life that never ends, keep your eyes focused on the Lord, His eyes are always focused on you.
It has a name, of course. Everything has a name these days. Most of us have experienced it, some more than others. You leave work, get in your car and head home. However many minutes later, you pull up to your house and realize you don’t remember any part of the journey. You remember putting your keys in the ignition and putting it in drive, but everything after that is a blur.
Are you now wondering what the name is for this phenomenon? It’s called Highway Hypnosis. Evidently, your brain has the ability to focus on the subconscious and the conscious at the exact same time, causing you to be able to arrive somewhere, without giving much thought to the process to which you got there.
Saturday morning I woke up, checked my phone and looked at the date. I stared at it for a couple minutes trying to remember why it looked familiar. With the life we lead, I went through my mental checklist. Was there something planned for Ev, soccer, the play, an appointment? Was it Jim? Something at church or work? Did I have a party to go to, did I have something to plan? I couldn’t put my finger on what I was supposed to remember about that day, until later on that evening when a friend asked me how I was doing, considering it was the 25th.
It was the 25th. For 13 months, the 25th rolled in like a wave. The first nine months or so, more like a tsunami. As the months have progressed though, the waves have become less violent and now, I stand ankle deep in a tide that is somewhat steady.
As I thought about my inability to remember the significance of that day, I wondered how I had arrived here. Much like a ride home that remains a mystery, my journey along this road of healing still catches me by surprise at times.
The birds are chirping this morning, something I couldn’t hear last March.
Laughter fills my home again. Genuine laughter, not the nervous, awkward kind that becomes normal when what you’re saying and what you’re thinking are so vastly different, you can do nothing more than giggle uncomfortably.
I’m falling for my husband all over again. Not that there was ever a time in the last year that I didn’t love him, but survival mode often leaves you clinging to what is safe and secure. Clinging is bad. It creates a dependency on a person, a human being, with flaws. God created us to love and share life with others, but He also created us to be dependent on Him, and Him alone. As I loosened my grip on Jim, I was able to watch our relationship grow again. Releasing my hold allowed essential nutrients to flow from our source, the Lord.
Again though, these changes happened over the course of this last year without me really recognizing the process. And there are countless others.
I heard a song the other day that I didn’t agree with (big surprise). The lyrics had something to do with God giving us a new heart when ours gets broken. God gives us a new heart one time, when we confess our sins and acknowledge our need for a Savior. Ezekiel says God puts a new heart and a new Spirit in us (His Spirit). But a broken heart, that does not get replaced, it gets repaired. God will bind your broken pieces, if you allow Him, and almost always it will take longer than you want it to. I am beginning to see some of the restoration, some of the mended pieces of this broken heart, being sealed back together. God is faithful and He is trustworthy.
This is in no way saying that our hearts are fully restored. Jim and I will often look at each other and ask the obvious questions, why us, why are we living this life? We may still have more bad days than good ones and reality sinks a little deeper each time we hear her beautiful name, but God has never left our sides.
One of my all-time favorite verses comes out of Deuteronomy 31. Moses is speaking to the people about Joshua taking his place. Moses says “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you or forsake you.”
Even though there are parts of this road to restoration that I don’t remember, aspects that remain a mystery, I know who is leading me, and in His mighty hands, I will rest.
It’s like sitting in a college class you never signed up for. As you look around, every other student looks just as bewildered and unsure as you. Some look more beat-up and battle wearied, while others look put together, almost normal, but somehow you can see it in their eyes. The eyes don’t lie. They didn’t sign up for this class either, they never asked to sit in these seats, they never wanted this professor.
As he approaches the front of the room, you hear deep sighs released from a student in the back, you see tears streaming down the face of a grown man in the front row, and all the while you’re wondering what twist of fate, what plan of God landed you here, a pupil in this class.
Complete silence falls over the room as he begins the lesson.
“My name is Grief. Some of you have just joined my class for the very first time and some of your faces I have seen for years. As we begin today’s lesson, please know, weeping, wailing, fits of anger, rage or confusion, moments of laughter, sneak peeks of joy, and smiles, brought on by memories that flash before your eyes, are not only welcome, but encouraged. Everything you feel today, tomorrow and forever, has been felt and will be felt by countless others.
You Are Not Alone.
You are not alone when you feel guilty for having fun.
You are not alone when your heart hurts so badly, you can feel the physical pain in your bones.
You are not alone when you feel that your very identity was buried with your loved one.
You are not alone when you count the days your eyes have remained dry.
You are not alone when you get angry for allowing tears to fall in front of people.
You are not alone when you lay awake at night wondering how this happened.
You are not alone when you wish you wouldn’t wake up in the morning.
You Are Not Alone.
Before I begin today’s lesson, please stand up and walk over to someone you don’t know and tell them your story, and listen, with painful ease, to their story. Transparency will be your strength in the coming days, months and years. Hear their pain, share your own. Allow your broken heart to find unity with other broken hearts. Wrap your trembling arms around their trembling frames and remind them that they are not alone.
Class, you will forever be my students. You don’t graduate from my class. One day you will look back and see how far you’ve come. You will be able to speak of memories without your eyes welling with tears. You will wonder how you made it through what could only be described as the very fires of hell, but you will make it. Allow each lesson to teach you something about yourself. Allow me to change you. Become more compassionate. Become full of mercy and full of love. Don’t shut yourself off to those that haven’t filled seats in this class. They might not understand your pain, but God can use them to carry your burdens.
We will cover every topic you could ever imagine in this class, because I will affect every area of your life, but who you become as you learn, will be entirely up to you. You can allow this experience to make you bitter and resentful, or you can allow it to shape you into someone that’s cloaked in empathy and peace.
We will now tackle today’s lesson, one that I know you will need to hear more than once. One that will make you lay awake in your beds at night, when sleep seems as far away as the soul you long for.
Today, our lesson is titled…
My first real job was at a local grocery store. I babysat for a few years prior, but as soon as my 16th birthday rolled around, I was putting applications in anywhere and everywhere within a 10 mile radius. Working at the grocery store, my main jobs were counting cans (long before the machines were around), getting carts (without the aid of those handy little cart cars), and packing groceries (my favorite part).
I don’t want to brag, but I excelled at packing. I think it stemmed from my love of puzzles, or my addiction to Tetris, I’m not completely sure, but I looked forward to going to work. I’ve actually told Jim that if we are ever in need of some extra cash, I would love to do that job again.
My favorite part about packing is putting everything where it belongs. There is an order. There are unwritten rules to follow. Anyone who has ever gotten groceries knows what doesn’t belong at the bottom of the bag…eggs and bread, right? What should never be mixed with other items? Raw meat and cleaning products. These are the basic rules, and yet,often, I get home and find my grocery bags have been completely thrown together.
(Confession: I use self-checkout all the time…mainly because I don’t trust the amateur packers).
I was thinking about my life in the past year and taking inventory of what changes needed to be made. (I highly recommend spending more time trying to improve your own life, instead of trying to change other people, it really doesn’t work). As I thought about where my time was being spent, I thought about my days at the grocery store.
The Bible talks about building our homes on rock, a firm foundation…like putting canned goods on the bottom of the bag.
I have had to bag and rebag some things in my life, probably more times than I’d like to admit. I have not taken the proper care, always, in putting things where they belong.
My foundation needs to be the Lord. Time talking to Him, worshipping Him and reading His Word. When I put family and friends down as my foundation, something will get crushed or broken, often someone’s feelings or spirit, and mainly because I’ve put them in the wrong place. Also, if I try to mix a little of the world with a little of Jesus, almost always, the world contaminates everything.
I can almost picture myself unpacking things, laying them all on the table, and then repacking, creating a strong foundation first, and from there putting everything else in its place.
It’s a process I do often, whenever I feel like something is out of order. It’s a process I’ve gotten good at, to my shame, because I do it so often. It’s a process, I guess, like working out our salvation. We are saved by the blood of Jesus, when we accept Him as our Savior, but we walk this road of faith, often letting go of things that don’t enhance our spiritual life, while adding things that do.
I will continue to pack and repack when I feel the need. God is so gracious to me. It’s like He just waits until I realize that I’ve put something in the wrong place, and then He helps me repack it properly again. Never pushing me, never angry with my inability to get it right every time, just loving me, in my humanity, like a good Father.
Bet you’ll look at your grocery bag a little differently today!
I was nauseous, every day, all day. The doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. I had all sorts of tests done, but nothing came back with anything conclusive. It wasn’t entirely new. I had been nauseous on and off since early childhood, but this was worse than usual. Sometime in 2002, they finally decided that it was time to take a look inside. I went with my mom to the hospital for a pretty standard scope. They checked me in, prepped me, and as I was being wheeled back into the OR, a nurse came running up to us.
“Stop! She can’t go into surgery. She is positive.”
I remember sitting up on the gurney saying, “Positive for what?” I knew I had something wrong with me and they finally found it, thankfully before I had to have surgery.
“Mrs. Achatz, you’re pregnant.”
As they sent me back to the room my mom was waiting in, my mind swarmed with thoughts and fears and questions. Grace was almost four. There had only been one pregnancy since Grace and that little one didn’t live. I had decided after that loss, that I wasn’t meant to have more than one, and I had come to terms with it.
But there I lay, processing the words they had told me. Another baby? Another chance? Another possible loss? Another goodbye?
I went home and got on my knees. I confessed my fears, my failures, my inability to trust in something good, and I handed the little life inside of me over to the Lord. Something I have done countless times in the last 14 years.
Evelyn Mae, my princess, was diagnosed with a heart condition last month. One that causes her heart to race, which causes her breathing to be labored, which can’t continue without causing damage. So tomorrow is surgery.
Ironically enough, when the doctor told us, I sat there with many of the same fears racing through my head. Not this one, Lord. Not this time. It’s only been a year. I can’t take another loss. And to be completely honest, those thoughts haven’t dissipated. I would love to tell you all, that after that appointment I came home, fell to my knees and confessed my fears and my failures to the Lord, surrendering my right to her life once again, but I didn’t. I, the great debater, told God that this wasn’t going to work. I have split my time between denial, anger and fear.
I have wrestled with the Lord this past year. I haven’t been very willing to surrender her. I have often felt like maybe I could protect her better. Maybe her safety should be left up to me. All incredibly unrealistic, I know, but my thoughts nonetheless.
So I’m sitting here writing this on her 14th birthday, preparing my heart for her heart procedure. We will head to the hospital at 7:00 AM. If you think of it, pray for her. Pray that the surgery accomplishes what it’s intended to accomplish. Pray for peace. Pray for wisdom. Pray for her heart. And if you can, pray for us. Pray for peace. Pray for wisdom. Pray for our hearts.
Right now though, I am going to put down this pen and paper and I am going to do something that I used to be so good at doing. Something I began doing when I found out about my little miracle and I continued to do until last January, when I realized that surrender wasn’t going to always go my way.
I am going to give her back again. Her life, her safety, her heart, is the safest in the hands of God. Whatever that looks like, whatever her future holds, her name is engraved on those mighty hands, and that is where she belongs.
Is it just me, or is there something special about receiving a hand written letter or card in the mail, sent right to your house? I understand that it takes time and an email or text is much easier, but getting the mail and seeing your name written on the front, I don’t know, it just brings a sense of excitement.
I’ve had three pen pals through the course of my life. The first one was when I was very young. She lived in Canada and we met at a benefit dinner for a local Christian radio station. It only lasted for one summer, but it was so much fun. The second one was a boy from Germany. In our 8th grade German class we each picked an address from a pile. I chose, I wrote, and when my letters began coming, the girls in my class became jealous. I happened to get the only boy and in his first letter, he included his picture…he was adorable. I think our friendship lasted that whole school year. My third pen pal came after I was married with kids. She was a young mom too and although we never got together, it was nice having someone to bounce ideas off of.
It has been a year. Wednesday marked the anniversary of the day our lives took a dark turn. You know the fork in the road, the one that everyone tells you that you will eventually stumble upon and at that point, you will have to make a choice? If life is a road, or a series of roads, last year, our road completely washed out. It felt, at the time, like we couldn’t move forward, there was no more solid ground in front of us. Throughout the course of the year, though, and with the help of some amazing family and friends, the road began to be rebuilt. It’s almost as if the people that we already had in our lives and the ones that God brought into our lives, became our road crew, laying the foundation again.
But as we moved forward, one step at a time, I gained a new pen pal. This time, I don’t receive any letters in response, I don’t even check the box for them, but I continue to write. I don’t need a picture because my new pen pals face is everywhere I look. I can see the color of her eyes in the blue sky and her joy bounces off the giggles of her little cousins. There’s no judgement when I tell her that I ache for her presence and I don’t offend anyone when I tell her that some days, her new home is the only place I want to be.
This one-sided correspondence has gone on for a little over a year now. I don’t write her every day or even once a week, but only when I really need to express my heart to the one who took a part of it with her. On Wednesday I wrote a letter to my beautiful pen pal, but it will never get an envelope or stamp. It will never be dropped in the mail. And yet, writing it brings me healing. She will never open a box and see her name written on the front, but because she can’t, I want you all to.
I want her family to read it. Her aunts and uncles, her cousins and grandparents. I want her best friends to read it, her teachers, her mentors. Read it and when you’re through, write one of your own. It can be addressed to my pen pal, or it can be addressed to someone else, someone you have lost, but still have words for. Tell them you’ve moved on and are doing well, or tell them you’re stuck in grief. Tell them you’re mad at them for the way they left, or tell them you’re mad at God for allowing it. Tell them whatever you want, but get it out. They may never receive or read it, but putting those words on paper move them from the box of emotions we try to keep a tight lid on, to a place of freedom. When you are done with your letter, share it with someone you trust. Let your joys or wounds be known by a friend, don’t let the enemy keep you in a place of isolation and loneliness.
My precious Gracie Liz,
You’re in eternity, but these past 365 days have felt like an eternity to me. I have so much I wish I could tell you. Oh to be given just a few minutes with you. Instead, though, I figured I would write you, because, we both know, that’s what I do.
This past year has brought me through the lowest lows a person can journey. I’ve never known pain or anguish like I’ve experienced and yet, I’ve never in my life felt the presence of our God in a more real way.
You, my baby, get to look Him in the face, stare into the very eyes that calmed the storm with mere words. I wonder if you’ve ever asked Him to calm the storm that rages in my heart every waking moment, because so often, as the clouds darken and the waves are just about the crash over me, I hear His sweet voice saying “Be still.” And I try, once again, to feel the peace that He so graciously provides me.
I realize a little more every day, the many different things you were to me. My daughter, my best friend, my encourager, my secret keeper, the one often who kept my heart calm, the one who told me I was beautiful with no make-up on. My first born and all the responsibility that came with that title. Your dad’s princess, your sisters most trusted companion. For every day you have been gone, I could name a reason you shouldn’t have left.
And, my dear girl, I’m not alone. Like a puzzle, you have left a piece of your spirit with so many people. Countless lives were changed because of you. I have often wondered how you had so much to give, but you just kept pouring it out.
I am a firm believer in the fact that loss and grief is a very personal and individual struggle. No two people will experience any of this in the same way, but what we can all agree on, is that we miss you. Some of us have moved on to only thinking about you when your name is mentioned. Some of us try to forget, because it hurts too much to remember. Some of us wake up each morning to the keen reality of a life now lived without your smile or laugh to fill the air.
Your dad and sister amaze me daily with their strength. To have a void so unfillable, but yet spend every day pouring into other hurting hearts, it’s a beautiful thing to observe.
Gracie girl, if I could see through your eyes, for only a moment, I know that I would never want to return. Skip around, with your golden hair bouncing with each light step. Worship the One my heart longs for. Gaze into the beauty of our Savior’s face. And rest. Rest in the knowledge that you are home. Close to papa, close to your baby sister or brother and close to Jesus.
You raced ahead of us and finished strong, but I will continue to run this life course, until I reach the finish line and, once again, wrap my arms around you, my beautiful Grace Elizabeth.
Forever your mommy…