Letter’s Home

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Is it just me, or is there something special about receiving a hand written letter or card in the mail, sent right to your house? I understand that it takes time and an email or text is much easier, but getting the mail and seeing your name written on the front, I don’t know, it just brings a sense of excitement.

I’ve had three pen pals through the course of my life. The first one was when I was very young. She lived in Canada and we met at a benefit dinner for a local Christian radio station. It only lasted for one summer, but it was so much fun. The second one was a boy from Germany. In our 8th grade German class we each picked an address from a pile. I chose, I wrote, and when my letters began coming, the girls in my class became jealous. I happened to get the only boy and in his first letter, he included his picture…he was adorable. I think our friendship lasted that whole school year. My third pen pal came after I was married with kids. She was a young mom too and although we never got together, it was nice having someone to bounce ideas off of.

It has been a year. Wednesday marked the anniversary of the day our lives took a dark turn. You know the fork in the road, the one that everyone tells you that you will eventually stumble upon and at that point, you will have to make a choice? If life is a road, or a series of roads, last year, our road completely washed out. It felt, at the time, like we couldn’t move forward, there was no more solid ground in front of us. Throughout the course of the year, though, and with the help of some amazing family and friends, the road began to be rebuilt. It’s almost as if the people that we already had in our lives and the ones that God brought into our lives, became our road crew, laying the foundation again.

But as we moved forward, one step at a time, I gained a new pen pal. This time, I don’t receive any letters in response, I don’t even check the box for them, but I continue to write. I don’t need a picture because my new pen pals face is everywhere I look. I can see the color of her eyes in the blue sky and her joy bounces off the giggles of her little cousins. There’s no judgement when I tell her that I ache for her presence and I don’t offend anyone when I tell her that some days, her new home is the only place I want to be.

This one-sided correspondence has gone on for a little over a year now. I don’t write her every day or even once a week, but only when I really need to express my heart to the one who took a part of it with her. On Wednesday I wrote a letter to my beautiful pen pal, but it will never get an envelope or stamp. It will never be dropped in the mail. And yet, writing it brings me healing. She will never open a box and see her name written on the front, but because she can’t, I want you all to.

I want her family to read it. Her aunts and uncles, her cousins and grandparents. I want her best friends to read it, her teachers, her mentors. Read it and when you’re through, write one of your own. It can be addressed to my pen pal, or it can be addressed to someone else, someone you have lost, but still have words for. Tell them you’ve moved on and are doing well, or tell them you’re stuck in grief. Tell them you’re mad at them for the way they left, or tell them you’re mad at God for allowing it. Tell them whatever you want, but get it out. They may never receive or read it, but putting those words on paper move them from the box of emotions we try to keep a tight lid on, to a place of freedom. When you are done with your letter, share it with someone you trust. Let your joys or wounds be known by a friend, don’t let the enemy keep you in a place of isolation and loneliness.  

My precious Gracie Liz,

You’re in eternity, but these past 365 days have felt like an eternity to me. I have so much I wish I could tell you. Oh to be given just a few minutes with you. Instead, though, I figured I would write you, because, we both know, that’s what I do.

This past year has brought me through the lowest lows a person can journey. I’ve never known pain or anguish like I’ve experienced and yet, I’ve never in my life felt the presence of our God in a more real way.

You, my baby, get to look Him in the face, stare into the very eyes that calmed the storm with mere words. I wonder if you’ve ever asked Him to calm the storm that rages in my heart every waking moment, because so often, as the clouds darken and the waves are just about the crash over me, I hear His sweet voice saying “Be still.” And I try, once again, to feel the peace that He so graciously provides me.

I realize a little more every day, the many different things you were to me. My daughter, my best friend, my encourager, my secret keeper, the one often who kept my heart calm, the one who told me I was beautiful with no make-up on. My first born and all the responsibility that came with that title. Your dad’s princess, your sisters most trusted companion. For every day you have been gone, I could name a reason you shouldn’t have left.

And, my dear girl, I’m not alone. Like a puzzle, you have left a piece of your spirit with so many people. Countless lives were changed because of you. I have often wondered how you had so much to give, but you just kept pouring it out.

I am a firm believer in the fact that loss and grief is a very personal and individual struggle. No two people will experience any of this in the same way, but what we can all agree on, is that we miss you. Some of us have moved on to only thinking about you when your name is mentioned. Some of us try to forget, because it hurts too much to remember. Some of us wake up each morning to the keen reality of a life now lived without your smile or laugh to fill the air.

Your dad and sister amaze me daily with their strength. To have a void so unfillable, but yet spend every day pouring into other hurting hearts, it’s a beautiful thing to observe.

Gracie girl, if I could see through your eyes, for only a moment, I know that I would never want to return. Skip around, with your golden hair bouncing with each light step. Worship the One my heart longs for. Gaze into the beauty of our Savior’s face. And rest. Rest in the knowledge that you are home. Close to papa, close to your baby sister or brother and close to Jesus.

You raced ahead of us and finished strong, but I will continue to run this life course, until I reach the finish line and, once again, wrap my arms around you, my beautiful Grace Elizabeth.

Forever your mommy…

 

Letter’s Home

Spiraling Fear

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Grace had a few irrational fears, one particular one stemmed from a kid’s movie she watched once. She was incredibly afraid of someone shaving her head while she slept. Even the mention of it could illicit a panic. She was also scared of bridges, open staircases and closed closet doors.

She had no reason to fear any of these things. She never had a bad experience with getting her head shaved (although once she asked me to cut her hair…it didn’t go well). She never met up with a faulty bridge or a staircase that was unstable, but they were fears she had, ones that certainly made her unique and distinctly Grace.

Fear was not something Grace struggled with though. Granted, she would freeze at the sight of an open spiral staircase, but she would battle the steps, ever so slowly, because she didn’t want it to get the better of her.

Fear is something I have struggled with. When my sisters and I were young, the Lord gave my mom a verse for each of us. Our “life verses” have become very personal to us, almost like the Lord knew what we would need as we grew up. My verse is Isaiah 41:10 “Do not fear for I am with you and do not be dismayed, for I am your God.”

I have felt the fear of an unknown future. The fear of failure. Fear of being let down. Fear of hurting. Fear of being hurt. And the fear of something terrible happening to someone in my family. But the day my irrational fears stepped into my living reality, I took an extensive and more calculated look at fear. It was no longer something I could sidetrack. (You know those times when you lie in bed imagining the worst case scenario, but purposefully grasp for distracting thoughts, ones that are happy or sad or sublime or anything really, as long as it will move your mind from a place of fear to a place of peace?)

I am the person that the worst case scenario has happened to. I am a reminder that irrational fears can sometimes become our very own realities, and I have learned a few things about fear.

God calls us not to fear. He actually mentions it more often than almost anything else. Why? What does fear do to us that is so harmful? It steals. It kills. It destroys. The enemy is its author and the book has been written well. His tactics are age old and have an extremely high success rate. Fear steals our joy, kills our witness, destroys our effectiveness. It renders us almost unusable. Mainly because it focuses our attention on ourselves, the complete opposite of where Christ focused His attention, others.

C.S. Lewis said “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear,” and his statement is so true. Tragedy can forge fears that would’ve never found a place to dwell before, but oddly once a worst case scenario happens to a person, some of the power of fear diminishes.

The Bible says that perfect love drives out fear, and it actually does. How do I know? Because I am able to let Jim out the door every day without a constant fear that he won’t make it home. I let Ev drive with other people, knowing that I have no control of the outcome. I choose daily to not be overcome with the fear of losing someone else. That’s the perfect love of Christ, working in my life every day.

Do I approach every situation like Grace would an open staircase? Maybe. But I choose to take each step anyway, because fear and faith will only battle so long before one comes out victorious.

Spiraling Fear

Press On

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It’s like that feeling you get when you leave your house and you just know you forgot something. Often on our car ride to school in the morning, I will mentally go through each room in the house and visualize what I may have forgotten. Did I lock the door? Did I forget to turn off the straightener? Did I put the dog in her crate? Once I realize what it is, I can either turn around and go back for it, or most common, call my father-in-law to see if he can shut something off. But my mind can’t move on with the day until I take care of what I left behind.

So that’s where I’m at with 2016. I have heard countless people say it was a terrible year. Even the media is dubbing this one of the worst years ever. Everyone has their reasons for hating the past 12 months, and most people are thrilled to say their goodbyes, and yet, strangely, I don’t want to leave it behind.

Common sense would say good riddance, but my heart feels like I’m leaving something behind. What lived in 2016 will never live in this new year, or any new year, from now on.

I remember the year after my dad died. It was time for me to purchase a new car and it ended up becoming an unexpectedly, emotional, experience. I had to sell my truck, a vehicle that my dad had driven in and I had to buy a new car, one that he would never be able to approve. I had to move forward, but sometimes it feels less like a move and more like a push, doesn’t it?

A push into a new year. One that will bring blessings and, most likely, some pain.  One that has countless opportunities for growth, change and promise. One that will hold a few firsts, but mostly seconds. And one that will never be known by my Grace.

Philippians 3:14 says “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me, heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

The word “press” in that scripture is an action word. The action is not an easy one. We don’t slip toward the goal, we don’t ease over the finish line, we press on. Some days we may feel pushed and some days will be easier than others, but we must press on.

The clock will read 12:00 AM, January 1, 2017 in less than 12 hours, whether I’m ready or not. My last 12 months have been filled with constant change, but I will press on toward the unchanging One. My peace rests in knowing that what I left behind in 2016 is safe and secure in the arms of our Father, the same arms that wait to catch me as I cross the finish line.

Happy New Year friends….thank you for your prayers, support and love these past months. God has sustained us, even during the many deep valleys, and we know that the people that God has strategically placed in our lives, to walk this path with us, have been vital to our journey.

Press On

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