Rescue

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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

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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

My dearest grieving friends

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There is so much I could tell you, so many things that I’ve learned, but I know that, unfortunately, this is a solitary road and you will often feel like you are walking it alone.

But I am writing this to hopefully remind you that no matter what you feel, you are normal. It’s been felt before, it’s been said before and it’s been thought before.

In the beginning you will feel very confused. You will be sad, but the sadness doesn’t yet take hold of your daily life. You are in shock. Some days you will wake up and it will take you a moment to remember what happened. Your entire world just came crashing down, it takes awhile for the dust to settle.

You will count the days at first. It’s been 4 days since I’ve seen their face. It’s been 7 days since I’ve heard their voice. Soon it will be weeks that you count and then months, but at some point, you will lose track and when that happens, something else inside you breaks. This is your normal now. Evidence that time really does make you forget and that will hurt. Get used to random things hurting. This doesn’t fade.

You will run into well-meaning people that will, honestly, try to make you feel better with all sorts of well-meaning words. Some things will help, but most often it will just make you want to run away from the situation, hide your face and your feelings from the world. Don’t feel bad about that. You have an open wound, one that needs time to heal. What most people don’t understand is that the looks of pity and the questions about the pain just reopen a wound that you are desperately trying to keep protected. This will get easier.

There will also be people who will tell you that they understand your loss because they lost something too. I could give you an endless list of what people have related my loss to. A job, a dog, a great-aunt who was 101. Sometimes this will make you angry, but try to remember this one thing, they don’t understand, because no one can. The relationship you had with your loved one was unlike an other relationship you have ever had and will ever have. No one can completely understand your loss. I can meet someone tomorrow whose daughter was tragically killed in a car accident at 17, and guess what? They can sympathize with me on a level that most cannot, but they didn’t lose their Grace Elizabeth, their first born, best friend, with the sweaty nose and heavy feet. I can’t fault anyone for not getting that. Your relationship was special and unique. This will eventually give you comfort.

The five stages of grief are not complete and are not gospel. They are a guideline, one that was established for terminally ill patients nearing death, not necessarily a grieving heart. I can say, from experience, you can go through all 5 stages in a matter of minutes and you can probably add like 10 more. Don’t get stuck in what a book tells you to feel. Don’t let anyone tell you what your grief walk should look like. Respect the journey. The highs and lows alike will be unique to you, but let yourself feel them all. Don’t allow yourself to check out. When it overwhelms you, be overwhelmed, it’s healthy and natural.

There will be days when it takes everything in you to simply get out of bed. This won’t necessarily be in the first months. Studies show that it take about 6 months for the initial shock of grief to subside, and some say that the 9 month marker is the worst. People will tell you the 1 year anniversary is terrible and still others will say the second year is the hardest. When it hits (and it might be multiple times) it will hit hard. It can consume you. There were nights, if I can be honest, that I hoped with everything in me that I didn’t wake up in the morning. That may seem incredibly selfish, considering what I have to live for, but when all you want is to wrap your arms around the one you lost, your life loses its value and eternity becomes very appealing.

I could write pages, probably a book, of things you might feel, of things I have felt. The days that seeing her picture makes me smile, or the days that I avoid seeing anything that reminds me of her at all. How good it feels when someone mentions her name or tells me a memory, but the sting that accompanies it every single time. Learning that it’s ok to laugh again. Letting God place particular people in your life, maybe completely unexpected ones, that end up becoming your greatest support. Learning who you are all over again. Staying in comfort zones, where people know you, they know your story, so you can avoid the overwhelming anxiety of talking to someone new and the possibility of them asking any questions that might require you to talk about it. The fear that you will never be the same again. The pain, that slowly fades, but still remains, with every breath, with every sigh and with every memory.

Write down a list of what you know to be true. It can be anything. The first thing on our list, a week after the accident, was that it was cold out. We knew that for sure. Our list went on, though, with other things that we knew were true. God was still on the throne and we still loved Him. We knew that we were surrounded by people that loved us. This will help.

My dear friend, you are not alone. Many have been on this road, I have been on this road. I’ve walked it, I’ve crawled it, I’ve been carried a time or two, and sometimes, still, I just lay down, unable to move forward at all. You are normal, this is necessary, but God is near

All my love, as we journey together.

My dearest grieving friends

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