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

Grief

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Grief…

It’s a lot like being robbed.

I only say that because I know grieving and I know being robbed.

It happened about 12 years ago. Evelyn and I came home after dropping Grace off at school. I unlocked my door, went inside and began my morning routine. After an hour or so of cooking and cleaning, I went to sit down at our computer only to find it missing. I didn’t even think about a break-in, after all, I came home to a locked house, nothing was out of place, no drawers were ransacked, no tables overturned, nothing like the movies. I called Jim to see if he or his brothers had the computer. I can vividly remember what he said,

“Sara, go check your jewelry box.”

As I lifted the lid, my heart sank. All of a sudden, my house, my home, my sanctuary, became foreign to me. The safety I had always felt was immediately stolen from me, along with so many earthly possessions we held dear. Not knowing if the thief was still in the house, I grabbed Ev, went outside, called the police and then called my dad.

About nine months ago, we were robbed again. Only this time, when I called Jim, his words to me were,

“Sara, she’s gone.”

As I dropped to my knees, again my heart sank, only this time much deeper. I felt my security stripped away once again. I began to feel like I was living a violated life. I never asked for this. I didn’t deserve this attack. But nonetheless, grief had robbed me.  

Twelve years ago, a thief took my jewelry, our computer, our video camera and bag, along with most of our home movies. Nine months ago the thief stole so much more.

What does grief steal?

It steals your identity. Who you were, your joys, your pleasures, your singularity. You lose yourself. Sometimes the person in the mirror becomes unrecognizable. You hate that face that stares back at you with hollow eyes.

You hate the random emotions that surge out of control, just under your skin. Ranging from a deep desire to protect everyone, to wanting to run away and be alone. Anger can burn steady and compassion rain down, all while jealousy laughs at you and love holds your hand.

You spend a good portion of your time looking back. Thoughts like “if only it was last year at this time,” “if only I had driven that day,” “if only life were different.” And with all the turning around, the future becomes very uncertain. Where you once planned vacations, you now hope for a day with no tears. Where you once hoped for sunshine, you only plan to get out of bed.

Grief can ransack your home, stealing all you hold dear, but still leaving everything looking exactly the same. I can walk into a room filled with familiar faces, wearing the smile that everyone is accustomed to seeing, chatting and engaging in conversation, and feel completely alone. I have lost so much. I feel so robbed. I know nothing will ever be the same.

When my house was robbed all those years ago, I needed to call the police, of course, but my second call…I needed my daddy. I needed him to wrap his big arms around my trembling fear and assure me that he would keep me safe. And he did.

When my life was robbed in January, I needed to make some calls, I needed to tell people what happened, but my first call…I needed my Abba, my Father. I needed Him to remind me that He was, in fact, holding my life, holding my ache, my pain, my hurt. And I needed Him to remind me that He was now holding my Grace. I needed to hear His voice, His Word, reminding me who I was in Christ and reminding me of my future hope.

We never did catch the first thief, nor did we ever see our items returned. But grief…I have caught this thief, and I plan, by God’s goodness and mercy, to see everything it has stolen from me, fully restored. If not here, if not now, then when I hear His voice saying,

“Sara, it’s time to come home.”

 

Grief

Worship With Me Mom

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I grew up in a denomination that loves its praise and worship. I have been to song services that have lasted for hours. I have heard teachings on worship, been to workshops on the power of praise and have even led the song service a time or two. When I hear a new worship song, I usually memorize it within minutes, share it with a few people and allow its words to seep into my soul.

Worship is powerful. Singing praise and thanksgiving to our Heavenly Father, even in the midst of trials, will often be what drags us back up, out of the depths of despair.

And the enemy knows this.

If he can’t convince you to stay home and not attend a service, he will give you reasons why you shouldn’t participate, once there. The music is too slow, the music is too fast. They aren’t singing new songs, they haven’t included any old ones. Don’t look too excited, people will stare, don’t look too bored, people will wonder what’s wrong.

Or, if you’re in my shoes, the enemy will replay the events of January 25th over and over in your head, until it’s all you can do to even stay standing.

I’m just going to be honest here, our worship services have been so powerful and Spirit-led lately, I look forward to being in the service each week, but each week I fight the enemy of my soul. Not that I don’t fight all week, but he seems to push certain buttons on Sunday morning from 10:30-11:30, that are specifically designed to keep my mouth from singing praise and my heart from entering into worship.

But, that’s when I press in and you know what I’ve found behind the enemy’s line of attack? The sweetest worship I have even known. And the beautiful knowledge that I am not alone. Not only am I joined in unity with my husband and my sweet Evelyn and my dear church family, whom I love, but when I can push beyond the noise, beyond the enemy’s whispers, and beyond my own distractions, I find myself worshipping my Jesus, next to my Grace. There is no time when I feel closer to her, no time when I feel more at peace.

See I know that when she took her last breath on earth, her next breath was filled with praise, to the one she was standing in front of, face to face. I know there are books upon books about Heaven and what happens there, and most of what I read, I’m unsure about, but the Bible is very specific about the amount of praise and worship that will take place.

I can no longer open my eyes during a Sunday morning service to see my Grace on stage, singing to Jesus and smiling back at me, but now, when I close my eyes on a Sunday morning, I can almost hear her say, “Worship Jesus with me mom.” And so I will, for the rest of my breaths here on earth, until we are joined again, side by side, worshiping hand in hand once again.

Worship With Me Mom

Love Is…

13567114_10209888148748510_52781305637643714_nThe above painting is one that Grace, Evie and Jim did a few years ago. They each put their thumbprint on the bottom corner. Below is a poem that Grace wrote. It was among the writings of hers that we found after the accident.

Love
By: Grace Achatz 
What is love?
Is it a racing pulse?
Or complete stillness?
Is it being held by the one you care about most?
Or watching from a distance?
Is it wanting to be with the one you love?
Or simply smiling?
Is it writing love notes to your closest friend?
Or being afraid to tell them how you feel?
Is it like watching a newborn pup and its mother?
Or watching an older married couple?
Love is all of those
It’s keeping by the one you love
A racing heartbeat
It’s sharing hopes and dreams for the future
Watching from a distance, or up close
It’s not being afraid to come to them with anything you need
Complete trust and faith in one another
It’s smiling just for the sake of smiling
A high-pitched voice
It’s simply saying
I love you

I just wanted to add a few more thoughts on love…

Love is…a husband who wakes up at night when I am crying and can’t sleep

Love is…having family who randomly send funny pins and pictures to me, just to make me smile

Love is…getting texts from friends with songs that they know I will love

Love is…having best friends who will hold my hand when I’m fighting a battle or will hug me until I’m ready to let go

Love is…a school family who supports and grieves along with us

Love is…having joy mixed with sorrow upon the daily reminders that my baby is with Jesus

Love is…while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us

Once when Grace was around 10, she came downstairs from her room and told us that God had just spoken to her. What He told her was that love was the key that unlocked heaven’s door.

She lived that word from the Lord. She loved, and she loved fiercely and without shame. I wonder how many unlocked doors stand wide open around heaven because of the love that Gracie freely extended.

Show someone love today, hug a little tighter, look in your friends faces, see what they are hiding. Be Jesus to those around you. Seriously, it is the greatest commandment.

Love Is…

Auto Focus

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It’s hard not to think about what is coming up at the end of this week. Friday night, the night New Life parents and friends will gather around to celebrate the graduation of Grace’s 2016 class. For us, it should have been a night filled with the perfect white dress (that we already had picked out in early January), the perfect blond hair (which she had already planned on having Faith do), the perfect nails (which she had begun to grow out, just for the French manicure), and the perfect evening, filled with family, friends and future plans.

I began to think about what we would be missing out on. What we no longer get to enjoy, what we don’t have. And all those feelings and emotions are normal and fine to feel, but this time, as I started to dwell on what I didn’t have, the Holy Spirit reminded me of a few things that I did have.

I did have the pleasure of raising one of the most amazing people I have ever known. I spent 17 years, side by side, with a girl who loved Jesus, her parents, her sister, her aunts, uncles, cousins, friends and almost everyone else she came into contact with.

I did have the joy of nurturing a child who was not without her faults, who struggled with some difficult things, but saw the beauty in the struggle, the beauty in the battle for holiness.

I did have the chance to walk alongside an amazing beauty, who would bend down to lift a child up and cuddle with them, but also, had fight in her, that would only well up on the basketball court.

And above all else, I did have the chance to watch my 17-year-old walk the Christian walk, unwavering and unmoved by outside pressure. I saw a girl who finished the race set before her, all the while, glorifying the One who set up the course.

I could spend this whole week focusing on what I don’t have or what I’m missing, or I could auto-focus on what I did have, the knowledge and memories of one amazing Grace. 

Sometimes reality will wake you up in the morning, screaming. And when you lay your head down to sleep, reality will replay the bad over and over, like a movie reel. Sometimes reality is less reality and more the enemy of our souls, who wants to keep us trapped by only what we can see with our human eyes.

Romans 4:17 is talking about the reality of Abraham being too old to have children. The end of verse 17 says, though, that the God that we serve, calls things that are not as though they are.

Am I missing something terribly? yes…But is God still on the throne? yes

Am I sad and often overcome with grief? yes…But does God say He will turn ashes into beauty? yes

Is this going to be a hard week? yes…But is God bigger than any hardship? yes

What I choose to focus on will change my outlook. This week, as hard and sad as it may be, my auto-focus will be set to the things the Lord has told me, not the pain the enemy wants to keep me bound to. This might be a constant refocusing, it may take several times in the course of an hour, but how else do you get the perfect picture, the one that God will hang in the gallery of battle-worn soldiers, who fought the good fight, and finished the race, only to hear ‘well done.’

 

 

Auto Focus

Mayday

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Tomorrow begins the month of May. May used to be my favorite month. I love spring. I love the new leaves on the trees, plants emerging from their winter sleep and my flowering pear trees, that bloom white and make me smile whenever I see them. I also enjoyed the fact that May ends with Memorial Day (one of my favorite holidays) and my birthday.

After my dad died, something I wasn’t prepared for, was the drastic change I felt for holidays, special events and my birthday. I didn’t want to celebrate them anymore, especially my birthday. My dad would race the family to be the first Happy Birthday any of us would receive on our day. It kept getting earlier each year (mainly because my dad and sister were competitive) which kept us laughing. But on May 31, 2010, there was no early morning phone call, and I realized that there never would be again.

And now another loss, a greater loss….and so I am preparing myself for this month. A school play, she won’t be acting in, a spring concert, she won’t be singing in, a Mother’s Day that will be missing half of what makes me a mother, a graduation ceremony, she won’t walk in and a birthday that will be another “Happy” short.

Below is an entry from my journal a week after the accident:

“I have told a few people that I lived in a self-built city. It was a beautiful city. If you looked around you would see a house for each of my daughters, one for my husband and I, a work house, a church house and so on, in my lovely city. There were problems, where aren’t there problems, but at least I knew what they were, I could see them coming, I could deal with them. Then last Monday night, in a crippling blink, my city was attacked, my oldest daughters house fell, and as it toppled, it brought with it my entire city. I now stand in the ruins of what was a beautiful city. I stand, staring at my husband and remaining daughter, and I wonder, how am I going to ever rebuild.”

I realized this morning, while reading Psalm 31, (my 2016 chapter), that my city is still under siege. And May is going to be a month full of attacks. When I picture this in my mind, I see a “Lord of the Rings” type castle, with enemies all around the wall. In verse 22 though, David says “In my alarm or panic, I said ‘I am cut off from Your sight, Lord!’ Yet You heard my cry for mercy when I called to You for help.”

Every time something comes my way this month, every time another special event or holiday approaches, I have the choice to tell myself one of two things…I am cut off from God’s sight, He doesn’t see, He doesn’t care, I am alone, or I can tell myself…He hears my cry for mercy, He shows me His wonderful love daily, and in His dwelling I am safe (not free from sadness, but safe).

The very last verse of chapter 31 says, “Be of good courage, and He will strengthen your heart, all you who hope in the Lord.” My sweet friend reminded me this morning that our job is to have the courage and hope, but it’s God’s job to provide the strength, which He will faithfully do.

Then Jim reminded me that God is still God in May, and because He is, I will be safe in my city, even when it’s under attack, because in His shelter, I will take refuge.

Mayday