Rescue

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I was asked to substitute teach the 4th/5th grade class at our school a couple weeks ago. They behaved, which I didn’t doubt, but one of the ways that I kept them focused is by promising to tell a story to them every time they got their work done and had some extra minutes. A story from when I was little. “Raise your hand if you want to hear about the time I was dared to run across a swamp or the time I was attacked by a dog or the time I was challenged to swim across the neighbor’s pond?” Hands went up for each tale, and by the end of the day, we got through all three and I think I managed to add in the one about the time I got stuck at the top of a tree playing hide and seek.

My childhood stories, as I’ve already shared, were one of Grace’s favorite things to listen to. And I have so many. So, because you are reading, and I am feeling the need to write, you are in for another story.

There are two very distinct memories I have of almost drowning. The first happened while my friend and I were playing in the creek behind her house. It was winter and we were stomping through the ice. Most of the creek was fairly shallow, and we knew where the deep spots were, or so we thought. I remember her walking in front of me and I watched as she jumped up and then came down hard, with both feet, crackling the ice into what seemed like a million pieces of shattered glass. Her feet would quickly fall through and there she stood, ankle (or sometimes knee) deep in freezing water. We were prepared for such an adventure with snow boots, strategically lined with bread bags, to keep the water from soaking our clothes. She would giggle, jump, turn around and smile at me every time. I would do the same. Trying to find spots that she hadn’t already broken through, I moved a little further to the middle. I shouted out her name, jumped high, pulled my knees up and came down hard on the ice. I heard the cracks and prepared for my 6 inch slip to the bottom, but I had moved too far out, and the fun that we had been having, came to a screeching halt. I remember feeling very cold, instantly. Freezing water was stinging my face as I reached around, trying to get a hold of something sturdy. Ice breaks so quickly when you are in a panic. I tried to calm myself down in order to think clearly about what to do next, when I looked up and saw my friend’s face. She was laying down on the ice, with a tree branch held out to me. I grabbed the branch and then her arm and she slowly backed up and brought me out of the water. She rescued me. We walked home that day, at a much quicker pace than usual, trying to get out of the cold and into warm clothes (undetected by our parents, so we didn’t get into trouble), and I don’t even remember saying thank you. It was just what she did, she was my best friend, and she rescued me from drowning that day.

The second memory I have of almost drowning was at a family friend’s pond. My whole family was on one of those big black inner tubes. We were laughing and bobbing up and down, in the middle of the pond, when I slipped off the back of the tube. Time really does slow down when something like this happens. I remember sinking, eyes wide open but unable to see anything due to the dark and murkiness of pond water. I felt something grab the back of my swimsuit and I was quickly jerked back to the water’s surface. My dad had went in after me, reached down, felt my body and just grabbed a hold. I sputtered water out as he hoisted me back to the top of the inner tube. Again, I don’t think I ever said thank you. It was just what he did, he was my dad, and he rescued me from sinking that day.

There is a song called “No Longer Slaves” that was released by Bethel’s worship team. In it, there is a line that says “You rescued me so I can stand and sing, I am a child of God.”

I’ve thought about that line so many times the past couple years. Rescued in order to testify. What have we been rescued from and are we doing a proper job at standing and proclaiming our thanks, our gratitude, to the one who rescued us?

2 Peter 2:9 says “…the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from their trials.”

If you know Jesus as your Savior, trust Him to rescue you. He has rescued me, over and over again. He has pulled me up from deep despair. He has held out His Hand when I couldn’t think clearly. He has put the right song in my heart, the right person in my path, the right verse on my mind. But when you do feel the rescue…thank Him, but not just in words, thank Him by letting people know that you have been rescued by the only One who can truly rescue you for all of eternity. Don’t be afraid to tell people. There are so many people drowning. In addiction, despair, depression and anxiety. In family circumstances that leave them feeling like they can’t see in front of them because it’s all too dark and murky. In lies that are spread that make them feel like freezing water is stinging their face. When He rescues you, and He will, let people know.

Tell the story about the rescue that saved your soul.

Rescue

Darkness

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This past Monday, the 25th, marked exactly 2 years and 5 months since my Gracie girl finished her earthly race, way ahead of the rest of us. Can I be honest? It’s been such a hard couple days, wait, weeks, forget it, if I’m being honest, nothing has been easy since that day. I have lived in a sort of darkness, with pockets of sunshine here and there, but the night settled over me almost 3 years ago, and I don’t know if it will ever really be true day again.

When I was little I couldn’t sleep without the hallway light on, unless I had a warm body next to mine. My mom would call it the “Nighttime shuffle.” After the last person went to sleep, they would turn the light off and in the darkness I would lie until I finally decided to move on. I would leave my room (the one I shared with Lisa, who didn’t really want me close), and I would make my way to Amy’s bed. Being 6 years older than me, she didn’t really want my cold little body in her bed either, so after just a little bit, she would push me out, and I would then knock quietly on my parent’s door until given the ok to enter. There I would stay until the first sign of morning, or until my mom or dad moved my sleepy body back to my own bed.

I hated being alone. I hated being in the dark. I’m not entirely sure what scared me about either. I wasn’t allowed to watch scary movies, so I didn’t really have images of any monsters or the like, but my mind was and still is an arcade of thoughts and feelings that can be totally fabricated, by me, and the fabrications and imaginations can multiply much more quickly when the darkness surrounds me.

Almost 2 ½ year ago, someone shut off the hallway light. I sat in the ER waiting and I could almost feel the darkness sweeping over me, like when the sun goes down and you can follow the shadow to where you stand. I recall looking around me at the sea of faces, tears stinging everyone’s cheeks, and I remember thinking very clearly, and actually saying to my sister “please don’t let me sink, I think this could be the end of me.” It very nearly has been too, not physically, but in nearly every other way. I battle fear, every day. I battle pain, that overwhelms my spirit, every day. I battle bitterness. I battle anger. I battle the unknown. I battle.

Things no one tells you about tragedy or loss.

  • It won’t go away. You sort of live with it, co-exist with the grief, become acquainted with sorrow and pain in ways you would never imagine, and in ways you would never wish upon anyone.
  • The faith that you have, that appears so strong to most everyone, ends up making you feel somewhat like a hypocrite. You will ask yourself if you are actually as strong as people tell you that you are. You will ask yourself countless times, if people only knew how often you questioned God or got mad at Him, would they really see strength? Or would they see weakness? This weakness that only you know about isn’t a physical or mental weakness, it’s in your soul.
  • Grief, any which way you look at it, is a lonely road. You can have the best therapist, you can have the best of friends, you can have the best outlook on life, but you still have to walk with your thoughts and your grief alone. No one is going to understand exactly what you are going through. Stop looking for those people. The ones you think are out there, that can completely identify with you. They don’t exist. I have great people in my life. People that will sit down and let me talk or cry or whatever I may need to do, but when the conversation is over, I am left with me and my personal loss, my personal struggles, and the only One that can help me fully heal from them is Jesus.

This is not meant to discourage you, especially if you are in the midst of grieving. I will be the first to say that it does get better, at times, and then it will get worse again, unexpectedly. Remind yourself often that you are no longer who you once were, and what you are experiencing is all a part of learning who this new you is. It’s not a sprint, it’s not a race, it’s a journey, one which will take the rest of your life. Surround yourself with people that are willing to embrace your mood shifts, your inability to verbalize what you feel or your need to just sit and cry.

And….if you don’t know or understand who Jesus is and what He has done for you, in the love that He showed on the cross, your journey through life will be much more difficult. Can I just tell you, make room for Him. Ask, seek, knock.

When the lights were out and I had gone from one room to the other in search of comfort, I would almost always end up with my daddy. His arms just made me feel safe. There will be no comfort in the darkness that you feel until you learn to rest in the arms of God the Father, by way of His Son Jesus. It won’t make the darkness disappear, but I promise you, only there will you find peace.

Darkness

Access

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I spent a little time this morning, on my drive into work, worshipping the Lord. I recently found a new song that I quickly identified with and so it was easy to sing the words to my Savior, easy to enter into worship, easy to come before Him with my praise. Easy to worship my Heavenly Father, with no hesitation and no invitation necessary.

My dad was a machinist, a tool and die guy. He owned his own company from the time I was little. Before that, he worked at a couple different shops, but quickly realized that, as a chronic workaholic, he was never home, and having the 3 of us girls, he wanted to be around to watch us grow up. So he started P & M Machine (Pete and Marge, in case you were wondering). He built a garage on our property at the very back of the yard, moved all his machines in, and from then on worked in that little shop on Pound Road.

My dad wasn’t like everyone’s dad. He was strong and focused. He loved us and was a great provider, but he had a past, one that very few knew about. One that still leaves us with questions. His past was riddled with pain and suffering, not only as he grew up in an alcoholic, dysfunctional home, first in Germany and then here in the states, but then as a teenager, in a POW camp somewhere in the Vietnam jungle. His return from the war was not a kind one. There were no parades to honor those men, instead there were shouts of hatred and anger. So much of who we are stems from our life experiences, doesn’t it? Life taught my dad at a young age, that people couldn’t be trusted. Not only people that were presented as his enemy, but unfortunately, people that were presented as his friend.

So, back to the shop. I can remember people coming to see him for jobs or to get hired or to visit. Most often, unless they really knew him, they stopped at the house first, making sure he knew they were coming, because you see, not everyone was welcome. My dad did not like to be surprised. He needed to know who was coming and when they would be there. He didn’t want anyone catching him off guard (there were reasons for that, but we just don’t have the time to go into them). Not everyone gained access, not everyone was invited.

But….I never had to ask. I never had to be invited. I could surprise my dad and I had no fear or doubt that he would be thrilled to see me. I was his child. I had privilege. I had gained access because I was his.

So this morning, while I worshipped, I thought of my privilege, my rights as a child of the Most High God. I am always welcome in His presence. I was invited and I gained unlimited access before His throne when I accepted His Son and the work He did on the cross.

How wonderful is that? I mean, really?

Let’s not take it for granted today. I am going to make an effort to give more back to Him. More worship, more words, more adoration, more time spent in His Word, getting to know Him. He is so worthy and so good at loving us and giving us free access to His presence. He has made the way, He invited us, let’s spend more time daily, reveling in our privilege as children of our Perfect Father.

Access

Stalemate

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My dad was a tool and die guy. He owned his own company and for most of my childhood, his shop was located in a garage in our backyard. We spent countless hours in that shop. Working on the drill press, or shining some steel that needed to be packed up and sent away. We could make a few dollars cleaning up the endless amount of steel chips that covered the concrete floor or sit by the Bridgeport and tell him about our school day while he worked. My dad liked to create things. It came with the work, I suppose. I remember one time he proudly came into the house to show Amy and I the new earrings he had made us. It was one of those moments where you smile and say thank you, knowing full well you would never wear a pair of earrings made of scrap steel to junior high. The teasing was bad enough as it was, without homemade jewelry.

My favorite homemade creation of his though, was a chess piece he made to replace the rook we lost. The rook is the corner piece, the tower. Although, if I remember correctly, our rook had a face and arms. He looked more like a statue from Easter Island, but we needed him. Often, after a long day at work, my dad would come home, eat dinner and then challenge either Amy or I to a game of chess. This didn’t happen every night, but when it did, I would quickly find something, anything else to do. I loved setting up the board, but I hated playing the game. A few reasons, I think. First, my dad never just let us beat him. He was not the type to worry about us needing a win here or there. He wanted us to know the game and fight for our victory. Second, I’m not a fan of competition. I don’t like the way it makes me feel. I understand that some people thrive in that environment, but I don’t. I know that about myself, and I’m ok with it. And finally, chess frustrated me. It wasn’t the losing, the check or checkmate that irritated me, as much as the stalemate games. The ones where you are left with no more options. It’s not good, it’s not bad, you didn’t win, you didn’t lose, it’s nothing. A stalemate. Restart the game.

Grief takes you on so many different roads. For months I was a wreck. I cried all the time. I woke up with puffy, swollen eyes each morning, and learned how to apply eyeliner on uneven lids like a prize fighter. There were months that I spent angry. Little things would make me upset. I’m pretty good at keeping my words in check, but I would hit our punching bag until my knuckles bled. Then there were days, sometimes weeks of feeling sorry for myself, hating the life I was living and wishing it had been me and not her. Often these roads, or stages like some call them, would repeat…still repeat. Sadness, anger, self-pity, and so many more, in that order or out of that order, lasting for days or months or maybe just hours. Looping around, for who knows how long.

But my least favorite road, the one that I’ve found myself on sometimes, completely without warning, is numbness. This is not listed in the 5 basic grief stages, so if you find yourself here, please know, it’s normal too.

In my life it looks something like this….

A very sweet friend of mine passed away last week. She was older and she had spent the last 8 months of her life in and out of rehab and in a lot of pain, but as I sat at her funeral recently, I felt nothing. No tears, no sadness, nothing. I’ve been here before, so I know when this wave subsides I will again feel the normal emotions that come when a person you love passes away, but for now, no win, no lose, stalemate.

This is not to say that I’m feeling nothing about anything. I found Grace’s old iPod the other day and after charging it, I was overcome with joy, amidst the sobs, when I found video and audio of her that I had never before seen or heard. Minutes of her voice, her smile, her laughter. Things I miss more and more as each day passes. So I feel, I cry, I’m sad, but only about this loss. While I’m on this path of indifference, it’s like I can’t handle any more than just this one thing.

These are the days I depend on the Truth, what I know to be real. The love of my heavenly Father and the love of my family and friends.

So many times since my dad’s death, I have wished that I could make the short walk from our house to the shop, sit on the work bench next to the Bridgeport and just talk to him about life and the twists and turns it’s taken. He would listen, like he always did, until I was all done, and instead of trying to fix the problems, he would hug me and tell me that he loved me. He understood that while he could fix the chess board or fix us a pair of earrings, he could not fix our hearts. That was something only God could do.

Sometimes in life, like in chess, a stalemate is called. There are no more moves to make and no clear winner can be determined. It might be frustrating and I might hate it, but I’ve learned, especially in the last 18 months, to just clear the board and start again.

 

Stalemate

Highway Miles

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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.

Highway Miles

Hearts

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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.

Hearts

Who Is God?

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Yes, I believe God still heals. I believe He completely restores health, at times. I have seen it happen. I have known, first hand, people who have gone back to the doctor after already receiving the dreaded diagnosis, only to hear, “we don’t know how this happened, it’s just gone.”

I have also fervently prayed for a miracle, believing a healing would come, only to sit at the edge of a bed, holding the callous hands of the first man I ever loved, as he slipped into eternity.

I also believe God saves and delivers, at times. My dad was in a head-on collision when I was a little girl. Both vehicles were going highway speed, my dad was not wearing his seatbelt, and to everyone’s amazement, he walked away, with nothing more than a few scratches. When he got home, he relayed the story to us, and we sat in wonder as he said, “I saw nothing, but I felt someone strong, pushing on my chest and keeping me in my seat.”

And, as you all know, at times, that’s not always the story. As I sat next to my first born in that hospital, looking at her silent face, with the only visible injury being on her forehead, I asked God why? Where was her rescue?

The questions will always be asked, the answers may never come, but none of the doubt or blame pointed at God, changes who He is and what His intention is for His children.

Faith will always be based on who we understand God to be, not on the situation we are facing. If we seek to understand the why of everything that happens here, I really think, we could drive ourselves mad.  There will always be death, there were always be abuse, there will always be injustice, because there will always be a fallen nature, sin will always be present, during our time here. However, who is God? Is He a loving God who seeks a relationship with His children, or a God whose character changes depending on what situation you are in?

God doesn’t change, ever. He is the same loving God that rescued the Israelites from slavery. He is the same loving God that walked in the furnace with the three Hebrews. He is the same loving God that created a way for us to be saved, by grace, through faith in His only Son. And He is the same loving God that held my heart, as it broke so many months ago.

Ask your questions.

Stand and shake your fist at Him in anger, He can handle it.

When all is said and done, remember He hasn’t changed, your circumstances may have, but He remains the same.

Charles Spurgeon once said “It’s not the strength of your faith that saves you, but the strength of Him upon whom you rely.”

Allow Him to be your strength today, tomorrow, the rest of this year. He handles your pain with the same loving care that He handles your joy. Trust Him today with both.

Who Is God?