Ann Farabee: Beauty for ashes
I did not even want to go. I was enduring one of the darkest periods in my life. Grief, pain, sadness, doubt… the list of negative emotions was overwhelming. Home was my fortress. I tried not to leave it. My heart was broken. My life felt empty. I doubted that the sun would ever shine again. If it had been shining in the last month, I had not noticed. My days were dark. My nights were darker.
But, this was our annual church camping trip. I knew I had to go and try to let others know that God was seeing me through – that I was trusting God in this trial.
But… I knew I was not. I was struggling.
So, there I was – at a campground – surrounded by around 100 friends from my church. I tried to join in, but my empty eyes showed that I could not.
As we gathered around the campfire at the end of the night for worship, I was just relieved I had made it through the day. People told stories, there was laughter, testimonies, singing. Normally, it would have been a beautiful sight, but we had intentionally placed our chairs toward the back of the group – and I just stared at the fire. Those flames – I wanted to feel their warmth. I wanted to enjoy the moment. But, I felt nothing.
Later, as the flames grew dim, my pastor’s wife softly said to the group, “Before we go to our tents for the night, could we all just gather around Ann and Charles and pray?”
I took a deep breath, and then watched as they slowly and lovingly drifted our direction with tears in their eyes. They gathered around us. Some reached out to touch us. Others placed their hands on the shoulders of those in front of them. Hands and voices were lifted in prayer. I knew God heard the prayers. I heard the prayers. But I felt nothing. I was as cold as cold could be.
We thanked them for praying. There were some hugs. Then, the crowd moved quietly away into the darkness of what was now a cold night.
I looked back to where the flames had earlier lifted up such warmth, joy, and beauty for those singing around the campfire. Now, all I saw were ashes on the ground.
I realized that was exactly where I was. My spiritual fire had gone out. It was a cold, dark place to be. The ashes were all that remained.
As I lay in the tent in a sleeping bag, my head on a pillow, and my husband snoring softly beside me, I stared at the darkness most of the night. I finally softly breathed these seven words, “God, how do I get through this?” No answer came. I guess I did not expect one. I eventually drifted off to sleep.
Daylight broke, and as my eyes opened, God placed these words in my spirit, “Just keep going.”
So, what did I do? I kept getting up. I kept getting ready. I kept going.
Time seemed to creep by, but I soon started to feel the results of the prayers my friends had prayed on my behalf, when I was hurting too much to pray for myself.
A few months later, I was sitting in church one Sunday morning waiting for the service to start. I noticed something. The sun was shining through a window – and somehow – the rays landed right on my face. It was a beautiful thing.
I understood at that very second how God can take the ashes of our lives, and give us beauty instead.
I smiled – and was ready to worship. Not only was the sun shining again – but the Son was shining again, too.