Stalemate

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My dad was a tool and die guy. He owned his own company and for most of my childhood, his shop was located in a garage in our backyard. We spent countless hours in that shop. Working on the drill press, or shining some steel that needed to be packed up and sent away. We could make a few dollars cleaning up the endless amount of steel chips that covered the concrete floor or sit by the Bridgeport and tell him about our school day while he worked. My dad liked to create things. It came with the work, I suppose. I remember one time he proudly came into the house to show Amy and I the new earrings he had made us. It was one of those moments where you smile and say thank you, knowing full well you would never wear a pair of earrings made of scrap steel to junior high. The teasing was bad enough as it was, without homemade jewelry.

My favorite homemade creation of his though, was a chess piece he made to replace the rook we lost. The rook is the corner piece, the tower. Although, if I remember correctly, our rook had a face and arms. He looked more like a statue from Easter Island, but we needed him. Often, after a long day at work, my dad would come home, eat dinner and then challenge either Amy or I to a game of chess. This didn’t happen every night, but when it did, I would quickly find something, anything else to do. I loved setting up the board, but I hated playing the game. A few reasons, I think. First, my dad never just let us beat him. He was not the type to worry about us needing a win here or there. He wanted us to know the game and fight for our victory. Second, I’m not a fan of competition. I don’t like the way it makes me feel. I understand that some people thrive in that environment, but I don’t. I know that about myself, and I’m ok with it. And finally, chess frustrated me. It wasn’t the losing, the check or checkmate that irritated me, as much as the stalemate games. The ones where you are left with no more options. It’s not good, it’s not bad, you didn’t win, you didn’t lose, it’s nothing. A stalemate. Restart the game.

Grief takes you on so many different roads. For months I was a wreck. I cried all the time. I woke up with puffy, swollen eyes each morning, and learned how to apply eyeliner on uneven lids like a prize fighter. There were months that I spent angry. Little things would make me upset. I’m pretty good at keeping my words in check, but I would hit our punching bag until my knuckles bled. Then there were days, sometimes weeks of feeling sorry for myself, hating the life I was living and wishing it had been me and not her. Often these roads, or stages like some call them, would repeat…still repeat. Sadness, anger, self-pity, and so many more, in that order or out of that order, lasting for days or months or maybe just hours. Looping around, for who knows how long.

But my least favorite road, the one that I’ve found myself on sometimes, completely without warning, is numbness. This is not listed in the 5 basic grief stages, so if you find yourself here, please know, it’s normal too.

In my life it looks something like this….

A very sweet friend of mine passed away last week. She was older and she had spent the last 8 months of her life in and out of rehab and in a lot of pain, but as I sat at her funeral recently, I felt nothing. No tears, no sadness, nothing. I’ve been here before, so I know when this wave subsides I will again feel the normal emotions that come when a person you love passes away, but for now, no win, no lose, stalemate.

This is not to say that I’m feeling nothing about anything. I found Grace’s old iPod the other day and after charging it, I was overcome with joy, amidst the sobs, when I found video and audio of her that I had never before seen or heard. Minutes of her voice, her smile, her laughter. Things I miss more and more as each day passes. So I feel, I cry, I’m sad, but only about this loss. While I’m on this path of indifference, it’s like I can’t handle any more than just this one thing.

These are the days I depend on the Truth, what I know to be real. The love of my heavenly Father and the love of my family and friends.

So many times since my dad’s death, I have wished that I could make the short walk from our house to the shop, sit on the work bench next to the Bridgeport and just talk to him about life and the twists and turns it’s taken. He would listen, like he always did, until I was all done, and instead of trying to fix the problems, he would hug me and tell me that he loved me. He understood that while he could fix the chess board or fix us a pair of earrings, he could not fix our hearts. That was something only God could do.

Sometimes in life, like in chess, a stalemate is called. There are no more moves to make and no clear winner can be determined. It might be frustrating and I might hate it, but I’ve learned, especially in the last 18 months, to just clear the board and start again.

 

Stalemate

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

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

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…

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The 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.’

 

 

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