Sleep

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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

Scars and the Stories They Tell

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Grace loved to look at my scars and hear the stories of how I got them. “Tell me about this scar,” she would say as she traced her fingers over the two tiny circular indents on my forehead, wanting to hear about the epic case of chickenpox that left those battle wounds. “How about this one,” as she pressed on the hollowed out spot on my leg left from the basement game of hide and seek that ended me up in the ER. But generally, and arguably the most odd, was the amount of times she would say “and these,” as she traced the marks left behind after she caused her mama’s stomach to stretch so big, the skin just couldn’t hold up.

The most bizarre part of her fascination was how similar it was to my own. I would snuggle up next to my dad and run my fingers over the hand that was getting more and more disfigured due to a strange disease that caused his tendons to shrink. Every time he would walk around the house with no shirt on, I would look for the spot on his back where there was a scar left behind from a high school fight and I would listen to the story of how he was stabbed. And if you knew my dad for long enough, he would tell you the story of the playground incident that left the back of his head dented by the little girl who threw a brick at the German little boy who was teased for not speaking any English.

I remember loving to hear the stories, the stories that told about the scars.

The scars we hide tell stories too, don’t they? I have often wondered…what if our flesh showed emotional scars as a visible reminder of our pain and anguish, depression and fears, would we be more prone to tell their story, instead of hiding it? 

I know that scar stories, about loss and pain, or joy and peace, are worth talking about. It brings to light feelings and thoughts that allow other people to not feel so alone.

Shared scar stories can help me look into the eyes of a grieving mother and tell her that it is absolutely normal to wish that the pain would just end. To go to sleep, praying that somehow in the middle of the night, God would take you home. It will give me the strength to stand next to a recently widowed women, being forced to embrace a future that looks nothing like what was planned, and gently tell her that she is not wrong to feel sadness mixed somehow with relief. Or to sit quietly with a friend, who finds herself marked with the scar of divorce or infidelity, leaving behind questions, doubts and lies from the enemy, who seeks to destroy any chance of recovery she might have.

Scars tell us what it looks like to be hurt, but they also tell us what it looks like to survive.

In the Bible, there is a man by the name of Thomas, and I’m sure some of you are already saying his nickname in your head, but imagine you were there, and you saw Jesus die, you knew He was buried and you were grieving His death, wouldn’t you ask the same question? I won’t believe it until I see the scars. It was beyond comprehension that Jesus would be alive, and if He was alive, I would want to see the proof that He died; I would want to see the scars and hear the story.

This Saturday will mark four years since the accident that left us without our firstborn, Grace. I’ve often said, it’s not an anniversary, because anniversary’s should be celebrated. It’s just a day. On the calendar it could be marked “scar day” because it would leave behind the largest one to date. It doesn’t remind me of what happened, because if you carry around a scar, one too deep to ever cover up, you know that it takes nothing to remind you, not a day, or a smell or a word. It’s always there. You can feel it, see it and trace your fingers over it, every minute of every day. It becomes a part of you.

Sunday, January 26th will be my dad’s birthday. I remember sitting in the waiting room at the hospital on January 25th 2016, looking around the room at the faces that I loved, all overcome with disbelief and suffering, and a lucid thought made its way through my emotional wreckage. “Dad, what a birthday gift you’ve gotten this year, your precious baby Grace is home with you.”

But I can almost picture the moment she saw him and what she said…“Papa, lead me to the man with the scars on His hands, I want to hear His story.”

 

Scars and the Stories They Tell

Engage


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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

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

Marble Hope

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It took much longer than I had anticipated. We sat down with the funeral director over 10 months ago picking out the shape, the color, what the words would say, which picture would be etched in the marble. Then spring blossomed and bloomed, the summer breezed through, and the fall left its color. The few times I would visit, the only marker was a small plastic plaque with just a name and two dates. One date carrying with it one of my greatest memories, the other date, my worst fears realized.

They told us it would take a while. They said the type of stone we chose would have to be shipped in from overseas, but I needed it to happen, and I can’t even explain why.

So on Tuesday, this past week, we got the call. The area had been shoveled out from the recent snow storm, and the stone was set in place.

I was hoping that it would give me peace, a sense of completion, I guess, and it did, sorta.

I waited until Wednesday to see it. The black marble heart is visible from the road. It stands out like my beautiful Grace did. The words, etched in the stone, Love God, Love Others, were the very words she lived by. And the picture, taken in the summer of 2015, reflects the joy that poured out of her on a daily basis.

It’s perfect. It’s beautiful. It’s exactly what I had hoped it would be…

But, it’s cold. It’s marble. It’s a stone and the emotion that overwhelmed me was not peace.

A sense of finality rushed over me. The last piece to this tragic puzzle had been put in its place. I have nothing left to accomplish for my girl. It’s done. Now memories become my task. Making sure I don’t forget her voice, her walk, the way her nose would bead with sweat.

And oddly enough, while I knelt in the snow, with my fingertips numb from the frozen stone and my forehead pressed against her picture, my thoughts settled on Christmas, at least why we celebrate this season.   

Death entered this world through the fall of a man, but death is not the end because of the birth of a man. God desired eternity with us and so we celebrate Jesus. Isn’t that really what we rejoice in?

The fact that even in grief, there is hope. Even in tragedy, there can be peace. Even in the middle of a cemetery, surrounded by empty, soulless tombs, the promise of eternity can cause a flame that will burn at the hearts of man, melting away the ice of death.

I found myself hoping again. It’s always there. Sometimes the hope can be strong and thick, sometimes, it just barely flickers, but it’s always there.

Hope for a future home. Hope that my arms will hold my Grace again. Hope that death holds no victory.

Hope…wrapped up and laying in a manger.   

Marble Hope

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?

Hold on…Let go

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A month or so after the accident, an opportunity to volunteer on the playground, at the school, presented itself. I quickly jumped at the chance for two reasons. First, I love spending time with kids. They rarely ask questions, they don’t notice if your eyes are red and puffy, and they just live to enjoy life. I needed to be surrounded by some old-fashion joy. Second, being home, especially alone, is a torture that few can understand. Alone, with my thoughts, fears and sadness, walking through rooms that, not that long ago, were filled with laughter, silliness and hope, is a place I try not to put myself in too often.

I still work on the playground, once a week, for only an hour, but in that hour, I have the chance to play. I watch routines on the bars, play catch with whatever they are throwing and, everyone’s favorite, push the six kids that made it to the swings the fastest, while everyone else waits in line for their turn.  

Some want an underdog, some want a slow push and some just want to swing themselves while talking to me about the woes of elementary school life. I love it.

I find myself saying two statements though, over and over again.

Hold on and Let Go

I tell them to hold on when I’m about to push. Hold on with both hands. Hold on tight.

And when they slow down enough to jump off…I tell them to let go. Let go with both hands. Let go or you’ll get hurt.

I’ve seen the ones that don’t hold on tight when I push. They end up swinging lopsided, on an angle, almost colliding with their neighbors.

And I’ve seen the ones that don’t fully let go when it’s time, trying to jump while still holding the chain with one hand. They usually end up flat on their backs, laying in the woodchips, wondering where they went wrong.

Today, I realized how often I make both of these mistakes in life.

Hebrews 10:23 “Let us hold on unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.”

Holding on to the promises of God allows me to swing straight when I get pushed or challenged. Loosening my grip, even just a little, leaves me feeling on edge, uneven, angry and bitter. It can cause me to collide with those on the same path as me, sometimes with my words, sometimes with my actions, but always affecting more than just myself.

At the same time, though, not letting go, when God says to let go…

Philippians 3:13 “But one thing you need to do is forget (let go) of what is behind you and reach forward to what is ahead. Press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Letting go of the past, the pain, the hurt, the confusion and letting go with both hands, allows me to land firmly on my feet, when God calls me deeper. If I try to hold on, even with just one hand, I will find myself on the ground, struggling to understand where I went wrong. Burdens still strapped to my back and sore from the fall.

So remember today, on this rainy October 1st….

Hold on to His promises and Let Go of the pain.

Hold on…Let go