Sleep

thumbnail

I can’t actually remember a time when sleep was easy for me. I’ve always been envious of the people that can lay their heads down, and then just fall asleep. Sleepovers were always an epic fail. I would get there, have lots of fun, and then when it was time to go to sleep, I just couldn’t. Anxiety would churn, like the thoughts that raced in my mind, and then my stomach would start to hurt, and probably 8 times out of 10, I would end up riding my bike back home (sometimes super late, but considering the only sleepovers I ever had were at my best friend’s house who lived 2 blocks over, it didn’t really matter).

Easily falling asleep, it’s one of those everyday superpowers that I envy. Everyday superpowers…you know what I mean, right? The superpower of being able to cook just about anything and making it taste good. Waking up super early to read your devotionals and get a grasp on the day, and not hating everyone the rest of the day because of it. Or growing indoor plants (I throw that in because it is indeed, a superpower. Mine all die, like immediately, it’s like they know they are living in my house, so they just bail quick to avoid a slow death).

All that being said, sleep has been my one great escape. When things are extremely stressful and tense, sleep offers me the chance to just forget. But I can gauge how stressed I am by one thing. When I wake in the middle of the night (because yeah, not only can I not fall asleep, I rarely stay asleep all night), my level of stress can be marked by how quickly it takes my sleepy mind to remember what I have subconsciously stressed about all day long.

Here’s the thing, and why I say subconsciously, because I don’t believe myself to be a huge worrier. I worry, for sure, like everyone else, right? But I am not biting my fingernails all day long, thinking about the worst possible scenario. During the day, I have an extreme ability to control (psychologists would possibly use the word suppress) my runaway thoughts and emotions. And then it’s time to go to bed, and what I was avoiding all day, comes flooding in.

When I was early in grief, either time really, after my dad and after Grace, I would fall asleep and wake up shaking uncontrollably. Not from a bad dream, but I think now, it was from the sheer volume of physical strength it took me to get through the days.

The other day, I woke up, as I usually do, somewhere around 2AM and it took me nearly a few minutes to remember quarantine, Covid and the lack of physical closeness that I thrive on, with my mom, sisters, nieces, nephew and friends. I realized that I was turning a corner. I was getting a little better at handing my fears and anxieties over to the Lord.

I write to you because it has taken me almost 5 weeks to be able to say that I’m doing better at laying down my burdens.

If you are still a ball of stress, unsure of where the germs are hiding, in the stores, outside, in your house, on your groceries, don’t beat yourself up. If you can’t seem to see beyond the numbers, the news and the never-ending negativity, remind yourself that you are normal.

There is a widely accepted idea that the Bible talks about fear 365 times, once for each day of the year, but as nice as that sounds, it’s not accurate. The Bible does talk about fear often, but depending on the version, it can be as little as 100 times or as much as 400, but the numbers don’t matter, what the Word of God has said to us does. Remember even if Jesus said it once, it’s still just as important as if He says it 400 times. “Fear not, you are more important than the sparrows,” (Matt 10:31), “cast all your cares on Him, because He cares for you,” (1 Peter 5:7), and my personal favorite, “in this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world,” (John 16:33).

If sleep is far from you, if fear and anxiety are laying down with you at night, sometimes the best advice is that you are not alone. There are many of us, believers that love and trust our Savior, that struggle with the same issues. Keep casting your cares, whether it’s when the sun is up or the moon is shining, and God will be faithful, and before you know it, it will get better. My dad used to always say to us, this too shall pass, and it will.

Praying for you friends, please let me know if you need to talk about anything, and just know, I will check my phone sometime around 2AM, almost every night 🙂

Sleep

Stuck

mapes_witnesstree_2

Climbing trees was proof you weren’t scared of anything, at least that’s what the neighborhood boys used to say. And the higher you climbed, the less scared you were. So, of course, needing to prove to myself that I was unafraid, I climbed higher.

Our neighborhood was busy with kids. My sister Amy is six years older than I am and Lisa is five years older, so I would often play the games they played, with the older kids they played with. One of those games was hide and seek, and to make it more interesting, we played it in the trees. The designated “seeker” would stay on the ground and count, while the “hiders” would climb up as high as they could go and try to disappear behind limbs or leaves.

I’m not much for competition, unless it’s with myself. I have never felt a need to beat or prove anything to anyone. If you asked my immediate family, the first words that I most likely strung together in a sentence were “I don’t give a care.” And I never really have. It never worked for me when a teacher would say “don’t you want to do as well as your sister Amy did in school?” Nope, don’t care. Or “don’t you want to be as kind and loving as Lisa is?” Nope, not really. Comparison doesn’t motivate me, but working to be a better me, push my limits and prove to myself that I can do anything, that I will compete with.

As soon as I heard “on your mark, get set, go” I ran to the skinny trees at the edge of our yard and started to climb. I never remember looking around to see where everyone else was at, I just knew I had to climb until the final number was heard. The “seeker” shouted “50” and I managed to quickly hide myself in the Y of the tree, where one branch shoots off and starts in a different direction. He searched for us and I hid well. When the game was over, I felt so proud, they never saw me. I could head down, knowing that I had no fear. I went to pull away from my secret spot only to find that my knee, so well positioned, was now securely and firmly stuck. I wiggled and I pulled and I tried to breathe deeply to keep myself calm, but no matter what I did, I couldn’t get loose. I became frantic. I started to yell for help. I was stuck.

Stuck – to be fixed in a particular position or unable to move or be moved.

Have you ever felt that way? Like you just can’t move from where you are?

Grief will stick you stuck like nothing else will.

You can’t see your life without the person you have lost. You can’t imagine what waking up tomorrow will be like. What next month’s holiday will bring. How you can ever be happy again. You can’t give away their clothes or throw away the old papers. You don’t know what joy feels like because it’s been so long since you have felt it. Memories of the phone call, conversation or hospital visit replay over and over in your head and it takes work, actual hard work, to push through those thoughts to move towards something better, because hope tells you there has to be something better.

Philippians 3:14 says “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” If you back up a couple scriptures you will read that Paul says he strives to forget what is behind him, but I don’t think his forget is what our forget is. Paul knew who he was, he mentions that he thought he was the worst of sinners. He knew what was in his past. The difference between his forget and our forget is the intent. We think forgetting means not remembering the person anymore, the memories, the details of who they were and how much they made us who we are, but that isn’t what Paul meant by forgetting. He knew that in order to move ahead, he couldn’t dwell on what was, he needed to strive for what could be, he had to get unstuck. 

It was my dad, he rescued me. He heard my screams for help from his shop and came to my rescue. He climbed all the way up there (which now looking back was probably not nearly as high as I thought it was), talked me down from my anxious state, and worked my knee out of its stuckness. I climbed back down, with him right behind me, keeping me safe until we reached the ground.

Sometimes you will receive that same sort of rescue. Someone will come along and help you get through your inability to move forward. Sometimes it will be your heavenly Father, coming to your rescue, talking you down from your emotional tree climb, and working you out of your stuck spot, but to be honest, more often than that, it will be you. You will have to muster up the courage to just forge ahead. There is so much waiting for you, be brave and press on, the prize of the future is much more rewarding then the memories of the past.

Stuck

Engage


thumbnail

There were some things that were very important to my dad. My sister and I knowing how to drive a manual or stick shift, was among one of them. I’m not sure why, but knowing my dad, it was probably so that, in case we ever found ourselves in need of “borrowing” someone else’s vehicle, for an emergency of course, we could drive whatever we hopped into. And so my first truck, a Jeep Comanche, was a stick.

My dad bought me that truck a few weeks before I turned 16. He and I practiced the basics of how to handle a stick shift in the driveway and we took it out a couple times on our road, but I like to learn things quietly and alone, so when I got my license, on my birthday, I decided that I would not only know how to drive it, but I would excel at the skill. Every day, I would get done with my school work, jump in my truck and drive the dirt roads until I was low on gas. There were a few weeks of bumpy rides, stalls, rough gear grinds, and tire squeals, but after some work, I had it mastered. I can remember my dad saying each time I would stall, “Sara, take a deep breath, be patient and wait for the transmission to engage.” I had the distinct pleasure of then teaching my group of friends how to also drive a stick. The final test was always at the railroad tracks, stopping on a hill, and then taking off over the tracks without stalling. Proud to say, they all passed. 

It had been so long since I drove a manual, but then one of my best friends bought one recently. I again got the chance to help someone learn how to drive a stick and I have to say, my dad’s words flooded over me again and again as I told her, “be patient, wait for the transmission to engage.”

Yesterday, during one of the songs we were singing at church, I heard similar words, only this time it was coming from my heavenly Father, “Engage.”

Bob Goff says in his book, Love Does that “being engaged is a way of doing life, a way of living and loving.” Jim read this book recently and he liked it enough to share it with me. It is filled with so many good stories about being a part of people’s lives, showing the love of Jesus, without necessarily using words. Engaging.

It is extremely easy to disengage in life. We often do this when we get tired or overwhelmed, but it is dangerously tempting to disengage fully when life stalls, like it did for us a few years ago.

Losing Grace, almost 3 years ago now, was and still is the most heart-breaking experience of my life. All this time later, I weep over the loss of, not only my beautiful teenager, but the life she would’ve lived. The son-in-law I could’ve had, the grandbabies I was sure to have cuddled with. So many things were stolen on that night in January, but do you know what wasn’t stolen? My ability to engage.

“God comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from Him.” 1 Corinthians 1:3-4.

We love and comfort because we have been loved and comforted by a Father in heaven that was willing to be patient with us as we learned how to engage in life again, only a new life, one that we didn’t know how to drive, one without our Grace. The last 3 years have been filled with bumpy rides, stalls, and times when we disengaged completely, only to sit back, take a deep breath, and be reminded by our Father to be patient, and try again.

Engage. In your own life, but more importantly, in other people’s lives. This is how they will see Jesus. Love and comfort in your brokenness, because while you learn how to engage in the middle of your tragedy, you may just be teaching someone else how to engage in the middle of their own.

Thank you for your prayers this week and always. We truly do appreciate the love that we so often are surrounded with.

Engage

Rescue

sea water blue sun
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

abstract bright color dark

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

2010 039

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

Thrive

bw62

If you asked Grace about her greatest regrets in life, she would rattle off a few, but then she would pause and tell you about her biggest regret, the one that would almost bring her to tears every time she retold it, the one about the frog.

She must’ve been around 8 or so. I was working in the yard and she and Evelyn were playing in the sandbox. They both came running over to me, extremely excited about something. As they each pulled a hand of mine in the direction of the sandbox, I started to realize what was going on. Grace had caught a frog. The sand bucket was tipped over, trapping the terrified amphibian, and as we got closer, they began the routine, the one heard by all parents a time or two, of can we keep him.

Here’s the thing, I hate to see any creature suffer or die. I will capture spiders in my house and release them. My family has heard me say countless times, “just leave them be, they aren’t hurting us.” I once had a daddy long legs lay eggs and have its little spider babies in the corner of my bathroom. I made Jim and the girls promise not to pester that little spider mama. I watched them all grow up and then one day just disappear (I realize this is probably making some of you very uncomfortable  ) But considering my weird compassion for those little pests, my girls knew the answer I would give them.

“You can keep it in the bucket for one night. Give it some grass and bugs to eat. Tomorrow morning, it has to be set free though. It may survive locked up, but it can’t thrive.”

So back to her #1 regret in life. She did what I said, but the next day she told me that she had let him go, when in fact, she added more grass and hid the bucket in the garage. She had every intention of checking on him and feeding him daily, but she forgot. When she came to me a couple weeks later, bucket in hand, with tear filled eyes, she confessed to me her lie, and the fact that her lie resulted in the frog’s death. Taking every opportunity I can to interject a good God lesson, we had a chance to talk about honesty, confessing our sins, forgiveness and why that little frog couldn’t make it in a bucket when it was created to be free.

So here we are, 2018. I feel like maybe some of you have wondered how our holidays were, maybe some of you haven’t given it much thought, and maybe there are some of you that haven’t even thought about it at all (and if that’s you, it’s totally understandable, I really expect nothing else), but for those of you that did wonder, it was pretty awful, again.

A couple weeks before Thanksgiving you begin to hear it in the distance. It’s like a train. You know it’s coming, you can hear the whistle, but you have to wait for the train to pass by. You really have no choice. Thanksgiving hits, as the train engine blows by, and you can feel the power of it. Then the month of December, each day another boxcar of the train. Some people will look for the end, others will just close their eyes and hope it finishes quickly, and still others will give up, whatever that may look like. Christmas and New Year’s wrap up the holiday grief train, and you are left feeling beat-up, your face stings from the harsh winds and the dust that the train kicked up, and it takes work to move forward. Unfortunately for us, we have a January train that follows right behind.

So we made it through the past couple months, and we will make it through the next one, but is just making it through what God wants for us? Yes, we survived, but have we thrived?

I was thinking about that frog the other day. How he probably could’ve survived in that bucket had he had someone feeding him daily, but that would certainly not be where he would’ve lived out his best frog life. He wouldn’t have thrived.

Surviving is when you let life happen to you.
Thriving is when you make life happen for you.

We have survived these past two years, and there is nothing wrong with staying in survival mode for some time after loss, but as believers, Jesus has called us to so much more. There comes a point, and it will be different for everyone, when you have to decide if you are going to allow your circumstances to define you or drive you.

John 10:10 says that the thief (Satan) comes to steal, kill and destroy, but Jesus came to give us life in abundance.

As I talked with Evelyn the other night, she told me how sad it is that people miss the big picture. She talked about how short life really is and that we tend to focus too much on the little stuff. The big picture being eternity, she said, and helping and loving people. The little stuff being literally everything else. And I know, you have a story, a loss. It may be a person you loved, depended on, needed. It may be an innocence that was stolen from you. It may be that the life you expected to have, the one you want so desperately, isn’t falling into place like you planned. Whatever it is, God wants you to begin to thrive again. That’s what He has called me to do in 2018, and I’m planning on being obedient. Care to join me?

Thrive