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

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

Hold on…Let go

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A month or so after the accident, an opportunity to volunteer on the playground, at the school, presented itself. I quickly jumped at the chance for two reasons. First, I love spending time with kids. They rarely ask questions, they don’t notice if your eyes are red and puffy, and they just live to enjoy life. I needed to be surrounded by some old-fashion joy. Second, being home, especially alone, is a torture that few can understand. Alone, with my thoughts, fears and sadness, walking through rooms that, not that long ago, were filled with laughter, silliness and hope, is a place I try not to put myself in too often.

I still work on the playground, once a week, for only an hour, but in that hour, I have the chance to play. I watch routines on the bars, play catch with whatever they are throwing and, everyone’s favorite, push the six kids that made it to the swings the fastest, while everyone else waits in line for their turn.  

Some want an underdog, some want a slow push and some just want to swing themselves while talking to me about the woes of elementary school life. I love it.

I find myself saying two statements though, over and over again.

Hold on and Let Go

I tell them to hold on when I’m about to push. Hold on with both hands. Hold on tight.

And when they slow down enough to jump off…I tell them to let go. Let go with both hands. Let go or you’ll get hurt.

I’ve seen the ones that don’t hold on tight when I push. They end up swinging lopsided, on an angle, almost colliding with their neighbors.

And I’ve seen the ones that don’t fully let go when it’s time, trying to jump while still holding the chain with one hand. They usually end up flat on their backs, laying in the woodchips, wondering where they went wrong.

Today, I realized how often I make both of these mistakes in life.

Hebrews 10:23 “Let us hold on unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.”

Holding on to the promises of God allows me to swing straight when I get pushed or challenged. Loosening my grip, even just a little, leaves me feeling on edge, uneven, angry and bitter. It can cause me to collide with those on the same path as me, sometimes with my words, sometimes with my actions, but always affecting more than just myself.

At the same time, though, not letting go, when God says to let go…

Philippians 3:13 “But one thing you need to do is forget (let go) of what is behind you and reach forward to what is ahead. Press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Letting go of the past, the pain, the hurt, the confusion and letting go with both hands, allows me to land firmly on my feet, when God calls me deeper. If I try to hold on, even with just one hand, I will find myself on the ground, struggling to understand where I went wrong. Burdens still strapped to my back and sore from the fall.

So remember today, on this rainy October 1st….

Hold on to His promises and Let Go of the pain.

Hold on…Let go

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…