Cinders, embers, powder or dust however it is said it is all ashes. Ashes do not come from nothing. Something was. That is what makes it so devastating. There was life and now there is not. Only ashes remain. There was a promise, a hope, an expectation and now…ashes. I know the sting of sitting in front of what was once fierce. Now only to be eliminated in a fiery of flames. I know what it is to behold the rubble of remains and ponder what will never be. I know the piercing pain of ashes but I would be remiss not to share that I also very well know the glorious grace of beauty.
The book of Isaiah in the Bible is written in such a way that the words form images in one's mind.
It is one thing to promise life from ashes. That is a bold claim in and of itself but beauty?
The 61st chapter and third verse contains a hope filled promise. It states” to grant those who mourn in Zion to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning”.
To promise something beautiful can come from a pile of cinders, embers and powdery dust, is a grand claim.
Can’t you just see it? That contrast of a burnt pile of powdery dusty remains against a glorious imagery of a beautiful glory filled headdress. It is impactful. I am in awe of these words on the page.
This promise has gone beyond the text and become my testimony. Again and again God has brought beautiful life out from the rubble of cinders of remains. Just as the saying goes, If he did it for me, He will do it for you. Beauty will rise from ashes.
Is there anyone gushing more with the allure and reckless ambition of the world at their fingertips than an eighteen year old?
All bright and full of expectation and ambition I was “prepared” to conquer the world. If this season of my life had a theme song it would be “I’m coming out”. Give me the Diana Ross or the hip hop version, I was entering the world unencumbered, emboldened, and without reservation.
High school was behind me. Out of my strict religious parents household, I planned on soaring out of the nest onto the world scene. University and career opportunities, here we go. This was my time.
I felt the hope and exhilaration in my bones. I was filled to the brim with anticipation to fulfil dreams, climb unchartered heights of goals and break previously perceived barriers.
Armed with ignorant bliss and drive I entered into adulthood at my new home away from home. A college campus. Only this was nothing like a different world. This was no Hillman College. Whitley and Dwayne did not frequent these halls. This was nothing of the rainbow and butterfly fantasies playing in my mind.
I was on campus barely a couple months and I joined a club for which I never signed up. I did not pledge my allegiance to a sorority. No, passion and purpose did not lead me to this club. Vicious control, and the vulnerability of lack of consent did. Maybe you’ve heard of the 1 in 5 girls who will, (according to the statistics) be raped on a college campus (according to rainn.org).
A couple months into my university life and I was a member of a dreaded club I did not seek nor desire to join. This was not on my vision board. I felt my soul, every dream and every ounce of goodness or beauty I saw in the world lay dead, cindered, a pile of ashes. What do you do when what should have never happened does? What do you do when you are living an actual nightmare?
What did I do? I leaned into my faith. I tested this Jesus my parents spoke of. The Jesus I had accepted and put on a shelf.
I recommitted my life without compromise. I grabbed hold of every promise. Does he really restore souls like Psalm 23:3 states? He does. He did, and after much therapy, prayer and living out my faith out loud I healed.
During my therapy I was awoken to how common rape is. I became aware of the pain of others. It was in that very moment pain pushed me into purpose.
I allowed God to use me as a conduit for healing, restoration and new life for the hurting. What he did in my life I became an agent to see done in the life of others. Every time I am able to help another go from the depths of despair to healing hope I see beauty. Not only did I find healing but I found beauty. I found forever love, friendship and purpose. My faith grew. I grew. I began serving others in pain. He gave beauty for my ashes.
There is a spark that ignites when one's passion and purpose are fulfilled in your everyday work. It is a joyous sweet spot. The contentment of being where you know you belong. Doing the work you are convinced in your bones you were born to do. When day to day monotony is replaced with eternal meaning, the work becomes bigger than you and will outlast you.
I have been blessed to occupy spaces that felt greater than work. When the work is not merely work it is purpose.
I have walked into offices that felt like holy ground. I could see the light in the young ladies eyes sitting across from me. I could sense a moment, a seismic shift. When a person gets it and you know they will be forever changed and somehow miraculously you could be a tiny part of their story.
There have been a couple of times in life I worked for organizations where I knew my gifts, talents and very nature where merged harmoniously with my work. It is the thing of dreams. It is not a career but a call. I knew I was where I was supposed to be, doing what I was called to do, so what do I do now that it has slipped from my grasp and I stare at a rubble of ashes.
If you live long enough this will happen. When I was finally able to collect myself, I simply kept walking. If there is life in your body there is purpose. Keep walking! The next ‘thing'' the next assignment will come. Nothing was lost. So much is gained from every stop on your journey of life.
As I kept walking I saw the experience and impact I was blessed to make. I enjoyed a moment's rest and entered my next season with much excitement and intention. It hurts in the moment. The truth is we are all part of a larger story, a bigger puzzle. We are not in any one position forever. Embrace the time you have.
The closed door forced me to be honest about the true yearnings inside of me. The pain pushed me to purpose.
I began to pursue the aches inside of me that were greater purpose longing to be fulfilled. It took a closed door for me to be honest about my deep desires and longings. God closed the doors to bring me further into the destiny he planned for me. The closed doors lead to larger avenues and beautiful opportunities. He gave me beauty for ashes.
I have heard it said that a sister is a built in best friend. I couldn't agree more. I know not every sister relationship embodies this but if you are blessed to have it, oh my! It is a kiss straight from heaven. A joy. A gift. A true treasure. The one you share your secrets, fears, dreams and every piece of your being with. The endless giggles, the frivolous and short lived fights, the devious plots, the ambitious plans and all encompassing relationship that is forged over a lifetime.
It is indescribable. My safe place. A connection free of judgment and overflowing with love. The support was sustainable and the bond unbreakable. The call came in and the words utterly broke me. I was shattered with those words, the reality of an end. She was gone. In an instant she slipped from time into eternity and I was starring in the face of ashes.
Surely if I could by God’s miraculous grace live without her physical presence I would not possibly behold beauty in this life again. Living, simply breathing, being was painful enough. The expectation of joy or beauty felt like such an impossibility. Two plus two equals four and life without her was dim and gray. It was just a fact. Surely color would not grace my horizon ever again.
Have you experienced a loss so great it’s left your world colorless? What do you do? I kept breathing. I survived it. I kept going to therapy, praying and simply being. I kept living.
It didn’t happen in days or months. Honestly after a couple of years I looked up and in there it was.
Life is a gift. My sister faithfully enjoyed that gift. She unwrapped and delighted in every aspect of her life. The question was now that I was healing and the grief was not suffocating what would I choose to do with my gift of life?
I chose to live. I choose to live fully and abundantly the way my creator intended for me to.
I know by living my life to the fullest honors my sister and my maker. As I kept living out loud one day, I looked up and the sky was not so dark. There was a rainbow in my sky. She lived. She existed. Beautifully and unapologetically.
For the duration of my life I will too. I will for her, for my family and the God that promises to reunite us one day. He gave me beauty for my ashes.
Life will undoubtedly leave us with ashes. Something that was once vibrant and thriving will crash and burn. It may be an unexpected traumatic life event. It may be a shattered dream. It may be the loss of a dear loved one. Whatever the ashes there is hope. I know it to be true. The promise in the book of Isaiah is true for me and available to you.
There is dazzling beauty for your devastating ashes.
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