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

Thrive

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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

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?

The Holidays

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I’m a visual learner. I need pictures to help me understand things better, so for those of you that need a mental image, I will do my best to describe one.

Imagine a dog, on a leash, knowing that it is headed to something it dreads i.e. the vet, a bath, the rain. You struggle to pull them along, but you are met with four paws, in a stubborn hold, claws out, gripping to the security it has to leave behind. You win, of course, you’re stronger, but that animal is going to be miserable until the dreaded activity has reached its completion.

Now imagine me, heading into what I already know is going to be the worst holiday season to date. Imagine me, digging my heels in, fighting the urge to turn back to the familiar, the desire to sleep long and hard through Thanksgiving and Christmas, and if I’m sleeping sound, maybe even January and February, while they each hold in them significant blows.

I know I am not alone either. The holiday season is wonderful for lots of people and I don’t fault them for that. Some of those wonderful people are the ones pulling the leash. But for millions of us, this time of year doesn’t represent all of what we have or are going to get, it represents what we have lost, what we struggle to live without.

My last Thanksgiving with my dad was traumatic at best. He was nearing the end of his life at a Nascar pace and we all just sat at the dinner table trying to pretend that this was not our reality. Thanksgiving has never been the same.

Christmas was Grace and Ev’s favorite holiday. I need you all to know that it has never been mine. I know, begin the Christmas shaming, but I just don’t like it. It’s stressful, it’s cold, it’s so far removed from what Christ represents, it’s just not my thing. But nonetheless, the girls loved it. They would watch as many Christmas movies as the day could fit. The Christmas radio station was tuned in starting sometime in October. They would decorate the tree, they would decorate their rooms, they would make cookies and gingerbread houses. Grace would remind me to smile and not Grinch the season away and I would tease her about the incessant need to be so cheery! Christmas would come and go like it had so many years before. But Christmas will never be the same.

Nothing can go on as it has in the past, can it? At least not for me, and I suspect a few others.

I was talking to one of Grace’s friends a couple days ago and she said the very words I have felt countless times, “I don’t want to be the only person that hasn’t gotten over this, because it feels like everyone else has moved on.”

That feeling is a lonely feeling and this season can be a lonely season. This is in no way a plea for attention, believe me, that’s not who I am, but rather a reminder. Not everyone goes into these special times with a whimsical glee. I may be dragging my heels, the holidays might be the leash, and you may be the well-meaning cheer master tugging me along (and I promise I don’t fault you for that) but the heaviness of approaching any special day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s or birthdays, without our loved ones, can be overwhelming at best. If you know someone who has lost anything (a person, a marriage, a sense of security) remember that under the smile that they manage to muster up, is often times pain. Maybe not pain they want to talk about, but pain that they need mercy for. Pray for them, hug them, remind them that they are not alone.

The Apostle Paul, in Romans 12, talks about some basic principles to live by. A laundry list of ways to look more like Christ, to put action to your “I love you.”

“Hate what is evil, cling to what is good…be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”

“Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.”

As difficult and as uncomfortable as it may be, remember the mourners this holiday season, you may be the only thing keeping them from slipping out from the leash and taking off in the other direction.

The Holidays

Gold

4-230Last summer we went on a family vacation to the Black Hills in South Dakota. We saw some breathtaking sights. We explored underground caves, with underground waterfalls, we spotted rattle snakes, we watched the sunrise over the mountains. We saw the Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse monuments, and in true Achatz fashion, ate at some amazing restaurants. The one thing we never got to was gold panning. We just were never able to fit it in.

Gold panning: the process of finding a treasure in the midst of gravel or dirt. Steps that are required include submerging the pan of gravel in water and shaking vigorously. When you lift the pan out of the water, all the impurities should seep out, leaving behind the gold.

The other day, I was talking to a friend about one of the things that I have learned through this difficult season and what came to mind was gold panning. Odd right? But hear me out.

Life is like that gold pan, filled with gravel or dirt. Life will sometimes fully submerge you in disaster, loss, grief and tragedy. And when you are grasping for air, often you will then be shaken up, agitated, pressed a little further.

This process can happen multiple times through the course of a person’s life. Some of us feel like we have been shaken a bit more than others, just being honest, but a little agitation will come to all of us at some point, it’s what you have left after the shaking that reveals character.

So when I look at my pan, what treasure, what gold has been revealed in this process?

People. People have become my gold. When that pan was pulled up from the water, things like money, pride, status and success, seeped out like a waterfall of impurities. As I run my fingers over what is left, I see my husband, who encourages me to take my days one at a time, not getting ahead of myself. As he grieves, he holds my heart and tenderly cares for my brokenness. I also see my Evelyn. She often is the only reason I don’t fall apart. Her strength of character, her inability to see gray areas, her convictions, all challenge me to live a life worthy of my calling.

And every other glistening piece of gold I see has a face. From family to friends, the treasure that remains reminds me of what is of value, relationships.

I told my friend the other day that I probably tell people I love them too much, I might hug people too tight or for too long, but so far no one has complained.

Whether I remain this way or whether it’s just a season, I don’t know, but right now, before anymore panning takes place, I will gather up the treasure that I have found and keep it close. Loving them all, as close to how Jesus loves, as I can. After all, nothing else will join us in eternity.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Cor. 13:13

Gold