Beauty for Ashes

Life can be complicated - like these branches. Love, hope and faith are there to be found, but you have to look up to find it.

I had to hit rock bottom to find out that love had been there all along.

My life verse:

Isaiah 61:3
…and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.

What else is there to really say?


My Not So Secret Garden

After taking such a long break, oddly, I am finding it hard to know even where to start writing again. I have faithfully blogged for one year. What started as an experiment ended up being a steady outlet and pouring out of my soul to the world. It needed to be done. I purged all the years of hidden pain, ugly truths, but also shared some really funny things and lessons of love and parenting along the way.

But I must say…I am thankful to announce I have entered a new chapter. There are seasons for everything. I have been in the season of mourning and searching – the planting season. Much like an open field…to plant it, you must first clear cut, burn or throw out the weeds, then tear the earth – turn it over and condition it. This is a painstaking process and seems to take forever. So much hard work and effort with no real return – just the hope that the hard work now will pay off later. It is a slow and faithful work.

In my case…the field was my soul. This past year I spent clear cutting, sifting through weeds, tearing into myself and turning things over and over to get to the real root of the issues…in hopes that the hard work now will pay off later. It was the work of faith.

This process of digging in, sifting through, separating good from bad, bringing things to the surface, examining every inch…it is very, very hard. And I found out just how important faith really is. Without faith…a field can be abandoned and never even get to the planting or harvest stage. If the farmer – at any point gives up and loses faith that his work will ever produce a yield – the field will never produce anything. Faith is so critical.

I know because I almost abandoned my field. In my toils, sweat, tears, frustration and complete exhaustion…I almost gave up. The details are not important, but the lesson learned is.

It is just a fact that some fields require more work than others. Some fields are just naturally flat, clear of trees and thistles and rocks. Other fields? Well…they are the opposite. I have spent a long time coveting other “fields”…wishing my field, or soul was naturally free of so many obstacles.

I had to finally come to a place of acceptance about all that and realize that even though I have had to work harder than maybe some others…that in the end – my field will be as fertile and level as anyone else’s. Literally – the playing field was leveled.

I am very, very fortunate. I went to a place that few ever really go and even fewer survive to talk about it. And I have to say this. I found out…that this was never MY field anyway. I found out that there is a Master Gardener at work. I met my field owner. He was able to do what I could not do…which was to completely remove the roots and bigger rocks below the surface that I just couldn’t reach.

I had been making a lot of progress on my field…plowing away. Thinking I was somehow in charge…putting way too much pressure on myself. I felt like I was all alone in preparing this field. I looked around and it seemed like an impossible endless task. And I knew there were those roots and rocks below the surface…but I honestly had no idea how to remove them. All my own efforts had failed. I started to try to justify that it would be ok to plant with that garbage still in there, since it was so far below the surface…

But it still felt wrong. And I didn’t know what to do about it. I didn’t realize that all I had to do was ask. Because I had asked, and pleaded, and hoped for someone to come along and help remove those things. But I was asking the wrong people. I wasn’t asking the Owner of the field Himself. Neighbors and friends can help – no doubt – they are so important, but don’t mistake the fact that they can only help so much. You have to eventually ask the Owner.

That requires you to recognize and accept that there IS an owner. Then you have to ask Him for help. But here is the kicker. Then you have to get out of the way and let him help. I have long accepted and recognized the Owner of the field…and asked for help over and over. But I kept getting in the way.

To remove those roots and huge boulders below the surface…it required heavy equipment and machinery. I kept running into the middle of the excavation thinking I could help out here and there, only to find out that I was delaying the whole renovation process. But the owner of this field is so very patient and kind…He never audibly said, “Scram! – get out of the way!”

He must have been shaking his head and wondering…”What part of this do you NOT understand, child?”.

So he waited…and waited…until I had completely exhausted myself – and for the first time ever…lost hope. He knew I would. He was waiting. He knew the perfect time to come in and bring in the earth movers.

So as I lay there lifeless on the sidelines at the point of complete surrender…He was able to do His work. He removed the huge boulders, the massive roots, the remaining weeds and impurities. Then – as if that weren’t enough…He sent helpers along to stay by my side through it all! He didn’t make me feel like a worthless failure, chastise me, and make me feel worse.

Now I have entered into a new season – a season of growth and blooming. I almost missed it! The field is like brand new. Everything looks and feels different. And the great thing is that it was a gift. I can’t claim I did it all on my own. Sure – I did a lot…I prepared for it, but in the end it was a team effort and I am so thankful for that. It is great to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am not alone.

Will weeds return? You bet they will. And I am quite aware of the consistent maintenance that is required. The Master Gardner gave me some pointers for that. There is daily work to be done AND I don’t always have to work alone. It is also important to use discernment and guard your field. It is one thing to be inviting and open, but you have to recognize those that might be destructive to the field and limit them from doing too much damage.

The other really cool thing is that it is better than I could have even hoped or imagined. You can work towards a goal, hope for the best, but until you get there…you just never know.

So here is the uncoded message. All the years of heart ache and sadness in my soul…all the years of living with so many dark and tragic events…it has been lifted. I had always hoped for peace and contentment, but never achieved it. I had been working towards it – doing what I knew I had to do…but not really knowing how to attain it. I thought…why not me? When is it my turn?

I would be remiss if I didn’t admit a few facts. In the past month I got a lot of new things. I purchased a house, bought a piano and a car. These are all major purchases. I had been saving up, planning, waiting, holding on and hoping…but almost gave it all up…because I was completely overwhelmed and exhausted trying to lay the foundation and do it all on my own.

All these things are wonderful new things. But they wouldn’t have meant as much if I had thought that I really did it all alone. It would also be a very wrong perception. There were key people that came along at just the right time to help in huge ways.

Just less than a year ago I could barely afford groceries…an amazing person just showed up one day with a bag full of food for me and my girls. To purchase and move into this house – there were tons of people involved from the realtor, lender, sellers, etc. and some really amazing friends all along the way that helped move, hook up stuff, trim bushes and make sure everything was right. To buy the right car, I had an amazing person spend the entire day with me just to make sure I didn’t buy a bucket of bolts.

People showed up. But I DID have to ask. I had to make my needs known. They didn’t just show up magically. And to ask for help requires humility. It is hard. Not only does it require for me to admit that I might not know everything about everything, but it makes me feel indebted.

I am not sure I can ever repay any of these people for the way that they helped me. But here is the thing…I don’t have to! It was a gift. If I stress out about how to repay the favor…I have robbed myself and THEM of the gift they were trying to give me.

Now – will I still try to do nice things for them in return? Absolutely. That is what it is all about. I can’t go hook up their washer and dryer for them, or pick out the best car…but I can make one heck of an Italian meal and have them over to celebrate. I can give back of myself in other ways. I have to recognize that we all have different talents and uses of our strengths.

I can invite them over and have a concert on my new piano. I can show them my new thankful, peaceful heart and smile. I can show them that they were part of the work that went into this garden that is now growing and producing some pretty awesome potential. I can be a good steward of their time and resources and let them know their efforts were not in vain.

No, I didn’t do this alone. And I am so thankful for that.

Whether or not you believe there is a Master Gardener is your own decision. I just know, now that I really, really do.

My garden is no longer a secret. It is wide open. I didn’t do it alone, and it would be wrong to keep all to myself. So many guests have come to visit already – they have been there all along – I just had to open the door and invite them in. What was once a barren, rocky, unleveled field is now an inviting, peaceful place.

Welcome to my not so secret garden. I couldn’t be more thankful.