Ashes & Altars

The posts between my hammock creak softly as I sway back and forth. The deep bass music of a passing car mixes with the rustle of the trees and an airplane passing overhead. It’s a quiet Tuesday night, and a new familiar feeling keeps nagging me. I’m grateful for the space to heal my body and my mind, to put in a good days work, and have free evenings at home to do nothing in particular. Alongside the slower pace, I feel guilty for the space to heal. It seems like a luxury- something that not everyone gets.

This season is a sort of slow monotony. Sometimes I have to ignore what the Alicia of a few years ago would think about how I’m living my life right now. I once prided myself on leading a busy, full life: working hard and resting little. That’s what it meant to experience God, right? I met Him often at the edge of my comfort zone, taking financial and occupational risks. I dove in to trusting God, convinced He was sufficient to supply and provide.

I recently skimmed through some of those journal entries – the ones where the amount in my bank account was in the single digits, but my bills somehow got paid. Or the times where I prayed Scripture daily over one person, and saw Him show up so clearly in their life.

These days, the journal entries from years past of struggle, provision, and intercession are my altars of remembrance. I cling to those times, hard as they were, because healing in the here and now is still a brutal process. I cling to what I remember, and to what His word says.

But I see where I stood then, and wish I could go back and tell the younger Alicia what I see now – that I craved God only for the experience of Him and not for the truth of Him. I wanted what He gave- answered prayers, paid bills, direction for the future, and maybe some cool adventures, too? As the empire of Alicia’s Christian Life has been slowly chipping and crumbling away, I see with new clarity the moments where I was more interested in an impressive story about my dependence on God than I was about a story where He got all the attention.

I craved the idea of doing great and missional things so I could get some sort of accolade for my profound faith or whatever the equivalent of an Emmy award for ministry is. Don’t get me wrong, I am far from done with living a missional life or giving up the dream of partnering with fellow believers across the pond again. And I have yet to see anything wrong with a celebration of answered prayer or stories of His faithfulness.

But there is something about trauma, loss, illness, and a hard wrestle of faith combined that’s more humbling and refining than anything else I’ve known in my short life so far. I’ve grown up in a Western world where relevance is emphasized more than humility, so I feel like a fish out of water sometimes. I want to be that busy Christian so people will once again revere my efforts or applaud my sacrifices. I want to heal up fast and rush headlong into the next adventure that awaits.

But I lie here in a hammock on a warm Tuesday night, knowing that the same God who gives me experiences of His presence will also guide me in the seasons where His presence feels farther away than I’d like to admit.

“He is good, He is sovereign, He is trustworthy.” These words from a wise older woman float through my mind. “He will restore,” she says, and her confident expression of faith fuels my own feeble flame.

In the days of routine, the days of sickness that still pop up every now and then, and the days where sunshine all but bursts through – I’m not “back to normal” and maybe I never will be. I am not who I was, and maybe that’s okay. We are all moving, growing, and changing. If I’m honest, I’m not sure how I feel about the changes in me. But I’d like to think that whatever this is – the space between survival mode and thriving – is a space that isn’t wasted. It can feel slow and meaningless at times, but it’s not wasted.

Whatever comes now and whatever comes next, “Of this I am perfectly sure: God’s story never ends with ‘ashes.'”

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It’s been a few months now since I wrote the little excerpt above. I won’t go into all the litany of detail about what’s different now than what was written. I’m sharing it mostly because I want you to know that darkness – no matter how long or brutal or terrifying – doesn’t have to be the end of the story. I don’t know that we always get the perfectly redemptive ending here, but I’m grateful for the pieces of redemption I’m finding, both then and now. It might be a lifelong process of finding redemption, but that’s ok. It’s worth it.

Right now I feel caught between the life that’s been built, albeit very small and routine, and the anticipation for what could be next. My life is less “figured out” than it’s ever been, but for once I’m more okay with that than I’ve ever been. The story is still unfolding, maybe for all of us in a way. The hard stuff of life? I want to become more resilient because of it, more apt to lean heavy on the rock solid foundation of a God who is deeply acquainted with our griefs (Isaiah 53:3).

“…All other ground is sinking sand…”

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