Thursday, November 15, 2018

What a Gift~

I know God loves us all,
with a love
we can't even begin to fathom
or begin to understand.

And yet,
wouldn't you agree -
the way He loves us
so kindly, mercifully, and beautifully
in spite of who we are,
makes us feel
as though He loves us
best,
most?

I am always undone
by His goodness,
by His attention to my life,
by the faithful ones who answer His call
in regards to
simple, little ole me.

In April of 2017,
I was invited to speak at a women's event,
at a church several hours away.

To be asked to attend, a blessing.
To be asked to share my heart,
an honor and a privilege.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time
in the company
of these amazing ladies of faith.
I shared of the loss of my husband,
the loss of my ministry job
because of the loss of my husband,
and God's faithfulness through it all.

Arriving home,
I received an email from the lady
who had coordinated the event.

"Would you mind if we add you to our church prayer list?"

Of course, my answer was
"Yes, please do!"

A week or so later,
much to my surprise and delight,
(and heartfelt appreciation
that poured out of my heart
in the form of tears of thanksgiving)
a Prayer Gram arrived in my mailbox.

"Dear Stacy,
We want you to know that we prayed for you today out of love and concern.
We consider it a blessing and a privilege to do so.
May you experience God's presence, comfort, strength, and guidance in days to come."

The Prayer Gram was a bright and cheery
colored piece of paper.
Most precious of all -
it showcased the signatures
of each person who had prayed for me,
including the precious handwriting
of little ones new to holding a pen in hand,
but already familiar with the sacred honor and duty
of lifting up another in prayer.

What an amazing gift
this church had given me -
the gift of prayer.

Imagine my surprise,
when the following week,
another Prayer Gram arrived.

And the week after that.

And the week after that.

And the week after that.

On and on,
every single week,
week after week.

Including this week.

These precious prayer warriors         
are still praying for me,
eighty two weeks later!

Eighty two weeks later!

Every. single. week.

That they would take precious time
to pray for me, amazing.

That they would take precious time
(and spend precious postage!)
to mail me a Prayer Gram
so I know they did, amazing.

The fact that I am not forgotten,
that I haven't slipped from their minds,
that I am being lifted up
and held in their prayers -
still,
faithfully every week -
priceless indeed.

I know God loves us all,
but sometimes,
in times like this,
when week after week,
these precious Prayer Grams
arrive in my mailbox,
I can't help but think
of the way He loves me.

Thank you Trinity United Methodist Church,
from a heart blessed
beyond words.



~Stacy

Monday, November 12, 2018

Maybe If We Tried God's Design . . .

Grief is messy.

There is no other way around it.

And because it is,
society
(and the deepest part of us, too)
tries to skirt around it,
keep it neat and tidy,
sweep it up and away,
all out of sight -
as fast as new fallen leaves
are raked,
stuffed into trash bags,
and set out on the curb
to be picked up
and taken away.

Only,
God didn't design leaves
to be raked up
the moment they light upon
a perfectly manicured yard.
God didn't design leaves
to be raked up
at all.

Raking is man's idea.

When sin
(and then later, death)
came to the garden
that fateful day when Eve,
deceived by Satan,
took and ate the forbidden fruit,
God had a plan.

God had a purpose in it
and through it.

His ultimate plan:
Loving the world so much
He sent His only Son
to die on the cross,
and then be resurrected to life
so that you and I
can escape the chains of death
and experience life eternal
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

And yet,
in the Autumn season,
when leaves take on glorious color,
then fall to the ground
and begin to "break down" into the soil,
God has a plan and a purpose
in place here, too.

Nutrients such as phosphorus and potassium
are released back into the soil.
Earth worms,
which are so beneficial
to the health of our yard,
have a smorgasbord of leaf litter
to munch on and thrive on.
The soil structure,
made stronger by the addition of the leaves,
can absorb more water.
And, critters such as
box turtles, toads, and chipmunks,
have a blanket to shelter under.

Simply put,
fallen leaves are good for our ecosystems.

And yet,
because they are
messy,
unsightly,
and make us
(or our yard)
look less than "put together",
they are scooped up
and disposed of as soon as possible -
before they have a chance
to do the work
God intended for them to do.

Sadly,
I think far too often,
grief is handled
in much the same way.

And yet,
just like a leaf
is broken down
and morphed into something new -
something that -
if left to do its work -
can benefit the world around it,
loss and brokenness change us,
in a way
that through the power of God,
if given enough time
to do its work -
can benefit those in our world, too.

So often,
when we have experienced
significant loss or brokenness in our life,
society acts as though
we should be quick
to return to our "normal self".

But, how can we
when we are no longer
who we once were?

And yet, for the sake of society
and for the sake of looking "put together",
we put all our effort into trying
to "go back".

Only,
God didn't design our broken hearts
to be swept under the carpet of "normal"
or pushed back in to "life as usual"
the moment grief lights upon
a perfectly manicured life.

"Back to normal" is man's idea.

For in the grief process, itself, -
when the sting of death is felt,
and tears fall uncontrollably
(and often times, inconsolably)
God has a plan and a purpose
in place here, too.

A leaning into,
a drawing deeply from,
and a clearer revelation of God's presence
in our grief,
nourishes and strengthens our own relationship with God
in a way that changes us,
and possibly even changes those
watching us
walk through this season.

Our loss and brokenness
and the raw open wound it leaves,
stirs up in us
more compassion,
more sympathy and empathy,
more caring and responding
to those
walking through grief
with us or
after us.

A greater realization
of the brevity of life,
combined with our
"I wish I would have"
and "I wish I wouldn't have"
regrets and shortcomings,
cause us to live
more circumspectly,
more intentionally,
more passionately,
more selflessly,
more completely
which in turn
causes us to
love deeper,
serve greater,
and appreciate fonder,
our fellowman.

And,
possibly most precious of all,
the comfort we receive from His Spirit,
the peace that comes from His presence,
the joy He gives in the midst of,
and the hope we have in Jesus our Lord,
propels us to tell others about our God
like never before.
We know the difference Jesus makes
and we can't help but share Him with others.

Yes,
grief is messy.

There is no other way around it -
only through it.

And yet,
it is the going through it,
it is the allowing God to use it
to work in us and through us
that changes us more and more
into the likeness of God.

Maybe the better solution
is not to return to "normal",
to who we no longer are,
but to instead
walk with courage, grace, and honesty
into the person
God is helping us become
through this loss and brokenness -
unapologetic for our scars,
unashamed of our tears,
and untouched
by the unmet expectations of others.



~Stacy 

Sunday, October 28, 2018

When the Label Doesn't Fit~

Have you ever felt
misunderstood,
misjudged,
mistaken for who you are?

A couple of weeks ago,
I ventured into our local library.
Knowing a dear friend
had donated a copy
of my new book, IF ONLY I COULD,
to our local library,
I was excited to type my name
into the electronic catalog database
and see my book
pop up on the screen.

And, sure enough -
the title of my book came up.
Jotting down the number
assigned to my book,
I headed out to find it.

Only -
the section of books
I soon found myself
in the middle of
had nothing to do with
"Christian living",
"grief counseling"
"life beyond the death of a spouse",
or even
"the Christian walk and God's faithfulness."

To my surprise
(and really, surprise is not a
strong enough word here!)
I found myself surrounded
by literature -
poetry to be exact.

And upon closer inspection,
as I narrowed in on the search even more,
I discovered my book
sharing shelf space with
none of than
William Shakespeare!

I almost laughed out loud.

"Oh, sure. Of course,"
I thought to myself.
"This makes perfect sense -
Sanchez, Shakespeare.
Nope. I don't think so."

I spent the next twenty minutes
trying to explain to the reference librarian
why my book
absolutely. did. not.
belong in the literature section
sharing a shelf with "Romeo and Juliet".

"This is poetry.
Plain and simple.
Just look at any page of this book."

"Well, yes, I suppose
at a quick glance
it looks like poetry,
but really,
it's all about the journey of grief.
I don't see how anyone
looking for a book on grief
is going to find my book
if it's not listed in the appropriate section."

But, alas
(not to sound like Shakespeare)
no matter how hard
I tried to explain to her
my book would be better suited
somewhere else,
I was met with the same answer.

"This is poetry."

As I walked out of the library
and made my way to my car,
I shared my frustration with God.

And, as He is always faithful to do,
He spoke a powerful truth to my heart:
It's not the number on the spine of the book,
or the classification of the book,
or even the book itself that matters.
It's the message inside the book that counts.

Labels.
Categories.
Judgment calls.

Like my book
getting a quick one time glance
and labeled "poetry",
you and I are often
"labeled" in much the same way.

And I was reminded again,
how man is so quick to look on the outside
without so much as taking the time
to open the cover of
a human heart,
a human hurt,
a human being,
to discover what is truly inside.

(Forgive me, Lord.)

For the Lord does not see
 as man sees;
for man looks at the outward appearance,
but the Lord looks at the heart.
~1 Samuel 16:7

After conviction and confession,
what God spoke next to my heart,
and what I felt His Spirit
wanted to make sure
my spirit didn't miss
was this beautiful truth:

"It's why, sweet girl,
it's so important for you to know
who you truly are -
not who the world
tries to tell you you are.
It's why you need to know
who you are
in Me
and through Me
and because of Me."

More than poetry,
between the front and back cover of my book
is a powerful testimony
to the faithfulness of our God
in a season of grief.

More than who the world says you and I are,
beyond our physical characteristics,
beyond our social status,
beyond our bank statement,
beyond our worldly labels,
we are who God says we are.

And who we are,
is messengers of 
His grace,
His power,
His love,
His hope,
His comfort,
His salvation.

But we have this treasure
in earthen vessels,
that the excellence of the power
may be of God
and not of us.
~1 Corinthians 4:7

It's not the label that counts;
it's the message on the inside that matters most.

No matter
what label life tries to place on us,
no matter
where we might get "placed",
no matter if we feel we belong,
or even if we don't,
our label,
our placement,
our classification
doesn't change the message that is
Christ in you,
Christ in me,
the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)

Don't worry, sweet girl.
No matter what shelf
your book is on,
I will be faithful 
to place it in front
of the very hearts
you and I wrote 
this book for.

Don't worry, 
sweet heart reading this post,
no matter where
you might find yourself,
I will be faithful 
to use you
to carry my message
to a dying world.
Simply,
and faithfully,
shine where you are.

Hmmm?
Sanchez, Shakespeare?

Maybe so.




~Stacy

Thursday, October 4, 2018

That Which Remains~

"I'm sorry, but I don't think you understand."

And really,
how could she possibly understand?

A letter from my credit card company
alerting me to suspected fraudulent activity on my account
found me on the phone
engaging in a conversation
that soon
had me fighting back tears.

The conversation had started out fine.

"Ok, Mrs. Sanchez,
you will not be responsible
for these unauthorized charges.
We will be sending you out new cards
within the next few days,
but before we do, I'll need to speak
with the primary person on this account
to verify this information."

This is where the conversation
headed in a downhill direction.

"My husband passed away."

"Hold please."

The next thing I knew
I was speaking to an entirely different person
about an entirely different subject.

"Since your husband is now deceased,
and this account was listed
under his social security number,
we will be closing this account immediately."

"No, that's ok.
I'd like to keep this account open.
Since my name is already on our account,
please just update our information
using my name and my social security number
instead of his."

"I'm sorry, but that's not possible.
This account will be closed immediately."

"I'm sorry, but I don't think you understand.
We have had this account for years
and I would like to keep it open."

"I'm sorry, but that is not an option."

"Is there someone else I can talk to about this?
I really don't want to close it."

"No. I'm sorry. You can reapply for your own account.
Would you like to do that?"

And while my head
(understanding the whys behind
why this was happening)
was trying its best
to stay in this conversation,
my heart was completely lost
in a conversation all of its own:
"We can't close this account.
Not THIS account.
Not THIS card.
Why isn't she listening?
Why won't she cooperate?"

"Ma'am?  Would you like to do that?
Would you like to reapply for your own account?"

Fighting back tears,
all I could say was
"No, thank you.
Without him,  - - -
it  - - - it - - -
wouldn't be right."

Sensing I was coming unraveled,
the woman on the other end of the line
thanked me for my call
and ended our conversation.

As I hung up the phone,
another conversation
from so many years ago,
began to play in my heart
like it was yesterday.

"Hi, Beautiful! Glad you're home, Baby."

Arriving home from work,
the look on my husband-of-barely-three-week's face
gave away the surprise
that he had a special surprise
to share with me.

"Here you go, Beautiful."

Standing proud and tall,
and sporting a huge smile
and a sparkle in his eyes -
my husband handed me
a credit card.

"Look, Baby.
It's got your name on it.
Your married name.
Stacy Sanchez.
As soon as we were married,
I called my credit card company
and told them to add you to my account.
And,
(he was very proud of this next point)
I told them I wanted your card
to have your name on it.
That way you'll never have any trouble
if you need to use it.
Put it in your wallet, Beautiful,
and always keep it with you.
If you ever have an emergency,
you'll have this to use."

Oh, the look on his face.
Oh, the pride of officially being my husband
and longing to watch out for
and take care of his new bride.
Oh, the beauty of that moment.

No,
unless she would have been me
standing in our living room
that day so long ago,
there is no way she could possibly understand.

What I was feeling
had absolutely nothing to do
with a piece of plastic or
an account with a credit company.

Here, once again,
was simply another
vivid,
not-to-be-missed,
undeniable,
can't-do-one-thing-about-it
reminder
of my husband's death,
of the hard to accept he's-no-longer-here truth,
of all the changes his passing
continues to bring to my life.

Having my husband in my life
was like opening my wallet
and seeing this credit card.

I knew they were there.
I knew I could count on them.
I knew that I knew
I had what I needed.

No longer having this account,
no longer having this card,
pierced my heart -
yet one more time -
with the truth that
I no longer had him, either.

And as it usually does,
this truth
completely broke me.

When I finally quit crying enough
to be able to speak,
I fell to my knees
and began to  . . .
thank my Heavenly Father.

And this is when the downhill spiral
took an upward turn.

Early on in my journey of grief,
this wouldn't have been my natural response.
I would have fallen to my knees
because (thank God) my grief always took me there,
but I would have questioned,
I would have wrestled,
I would have fought to understand.

And I think all of those reactions are
more than fine, more than welcome,
more than understood by our God.

And, eventually -
God's Spirit at work in me
and at work for me,
would always lead me to a place of
thanksgiving.

Now,
two years and eight months
into this journey,
thanksgiving comes easier.

I am learning to bypass the
how comes,
why nots,
if onlys,
and just settle in on the
thank yous.

Because what I've learned about grief
is this:
It's the not having
what you once had
that breaks your heart.
It's the once having,
but no longer having
that hurts so much.

But -
it's the fact that you once did,
it's the fact that you once had,
that is worthy -
so very worthy -
of our thanksgiving.

And it is in this place of thanksgiving
that I am always reminded again of
my Father's heart,
my Father's love,
my Father's goodness,
my Father's care,
my Father - period.

And more than a
piece of plastic
with some numbers
and my name on it,
tucked into my wallet
could "protect me"
or "take care of me",
my Father can
and my Father does.

And more than
the love of my life,
my husband -
a mere human being
could "protect me"
or "take care of me",
my Father can
and my Father does.

And more than
the reminder
that neither of these
are no longer in my life,
I was reminded once again -
in the most
beautiful,
powerful,
vivid,
not-to-be-missed,
undeniable way -
that my Father God
has been,
is still,
and will always be
with me.

I know He is here.
I know I can count on Him.
I know that I know
I have all and so much more
than I'll ever need.

The reminder of the loss hurts -
oh, how it hurts.

But,
the reminder of my God who still remains -
comforts,
strengthens,
and heals -
oh, how He heals.

And, I'm starting to understand -
it ways I couldn't possible before -
this,
this is a beautiful part of the journey.



~Stacy

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Where's Jesus?~

Have you ever moved
forward in life
only to discover later
you went on ahead
without Jesus?

It happened to Mary and Joseph,
and if we aren't careful
to stay in close proximity to Jesus,
it can happen to us, too.

"After the Feast was over,
while his parents were returning home,
the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem,
but they were unaware of it."
~Luke 2:43

I wonder how many times
you and I
have journeyed ahead
totally unaware
that Jesus has stayed behind.

I wonder how many times we have
jumped into conversations,
signed on dotted lines,
turned the next corner
without ever stopping to see
if Jesus was with us
in this decision,
in this timing,
in this direction,
in this move.

It's so easy
to make our plans,
to start out on our journey,
to move ahead
assuming
Jesus is with us -
especially when what we are doing
is for His kingdom,
for His purpose,
for His glory.

How we need to
commune with our Jesus
before
we ever take one step.

How we need to
seek His presence,
stay close by His side,
abide with Him
every moment
of every day.

If we don't,
we may very well find ourself
in the same situation
as Mary and Joseph.

"Has anyone seen Jesus?
Where's Jesus?
We thought he was with us."



~Stacy





Monday, September 17, 2018

Being Still in A Hurry Up and Go World~

Hurry up! Go! Hurry up! Go!

Looking back over the span of my life,
I can't think of a time when I didn't feel the pressure to hurry up and go,
(except for three weeks, in three separate years,
when my sisters and I were on our yearly sister vacation.)

From my earliest childhood memory
of my mom waking me up for school,
the story of my life (and most likely yours, too!)
has been hurry up and go.

As my mom placed breakfast before me, -
the minutes until the bus for school would arrive
ticking away faster than the speed of light -,
she would look at me with frustration on her face and say,
"Don't just sit there, do something. Hurry up! Go!"

From hurrying to catch the bus,
to hurrying to finish homework assignments,
to hurrying to graduate high school,
to hurrying to get through college,
to hurrying to find a job,
to hurrying to find a husband,
to hurrying to make a living,
to hurrying to get through life,
my life has been set on "hurry up and go".

And here,
now,
in this season between seasons,
I feel the pressure
to hurry up and go
more than ever.

Having felt God leading me
to say "Adios" to my old job
and having yet to say "hello" to a new one,
I hear the words of my mom all over again,
"Don't just sit there, do something. Hurry up! Go!"

With days on the calendar ticking by
faster than the speed of light,
and knowing full well
everything that the world demands of me -
I feel the pressure to
be about the business
of being about my business.

Only, I have no idea exactly
what my business is . . .

Should I look for a new job here,
or somewhere else?

Is God calling me to stay here in my home,
or move?

If I move,
what am I going to do
with all of my husband's belongings?

Am I ready to part with his things,
with our home,
with our life here?

If I choose to stay here
do I really want to be here without him?

If I decide to sell our house,
how long will it take to sell?

What will I do if our home doesn't sell quickly
and I haven't found a new job here
because I'm waiting to get a new job there (wherever there is)?

On and on and on
the questions,
the searching for answers,
the trying to make plans
when I don't have a plan,
all have me feeling
the all too familiar pressure
to hurry up and go.

On the outside, that is.

Oddly enough,
(or maybe not odd at all)
deep within,
down in the center of who I am,
flowing from my inner, spiritual man,
I feel the overwhelming conviction
to "be still".

While the world is trying its best to
push me into action,
prod me into moving,
pressuring me into deciding,
I hear God's voice telling me
to think and pray,
to wait and see,
to hope and believe,
to trust and obey,
to hold off and hold on,
to "be still".

And, because these are two
directly opposite forces,
I feel as though I am in the midst
of an intense spiritual battle.

Add to this,
the fact that my husband isn't here to
counsel and pray with me,
and it only makes matters worse.

Hurry up! Go!

"Be still."

Hurry up! Go!

"Be still."

And, I remember the story my husband told me
over and over and over again.

How,
when young and "chasing the American dream",
while living in Phoenix, Arizona,
he was walking along one of the canals in the city,
wondering if there was more to life than
working and paying bills and going to bed
only to get up the next day and spend it
working and paying bills and going to bed.

As he walked along,
the Holy Spirit suddenly came upon Him.
He always smiled as he told this part of the story,
adding that when God's Spirit touched him,
he felt a warm sensation from the top of his head
all the way through him to the bottom of his feet.

As he took his next step,
it was as though the eyes of his heart
had been opened,
and for the first time,
he really saw life.

He saw birds flying above him.
He saw flowers lining the path before him.
He heard children playing nearby.
He felt the warmth of the sun
and the breeze on his face.
He saw the beauty of life,
and he heard God tell him,
"This is life.  Appreciate it -
appreciate everything about it."

Knowing God's presence was with him,
he continued walking until he came to a church
in the heart of the city.
He went in,
sat down,
and pulled out a Bible from the hymn rack
on the back of the pew in front of him.

As he opened the pages of God's Holy Word,
God led him to Matthew 6:25 - 34,
the first words he ever read from the Bible:

Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?

So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?


Therefore do no worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'  For all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

And, I ponder all of this in my heart.

Time waits for no man,
this is true.

Bills will keep rolling in,
and I will need to find my new place
in the world soon enough.
I can't sit idly by and do nothing,
and yet I know
Godly wisdom is counseling me
not to rush into anything, either.

There is a time and a season for everything.

And in the meantime,
there is a God
who is very aware of my needs,
very attuned to all that pertains to me
not only physically, but
mentally,
emotionally,
and spiritually, too.

While it seems time is ticking by
and nothing is happening,
I have to trust
God is at work, -
that He is already in tomorrow,
going before me,
preparing the way.

For now,
I will be still.

I will do what He has asked me to do:
to think and pray,
to wait and see,
to hope and believe,
to trust and obey,
to hold off and hold on,
to "be still",
to seek first the kingdom of God,
knowing full well my God shall
supply all my needs,
provide all the answers,
open and close all the right doors,
guide, lead, and direct my path -
in His time,
in His way.

And when the time is right,
when God gives me the green light -
when He is the one
pushing,
prodding,
pressuring me to move -
then,
my only appropriate response will be
to listen and obey,
and to hurry up and go!



~Stacy