My Testimony – Ashes for Beauty

I know I have a short, albeit somewhat silly, introduction on the sidebar and maybe you learned a thing or two about me over there; however, my real hope is that, as you read through the posts I share, you will not only get to know me even more but also that you will see Jesus.  That you will be encouraged, and even challenged at times, to know Him more.  To press on. To preserve.  To deepen your faith and to walk ever closer with the Savior who loves us so much.  I know, intimately and personally, that He can whatever may appear to be ashes – or ruin – in our lives and use the hurts, the grief, the disappointments, regrets and sorrow in order to create something that is actually beautiful.  I thought I would use this space to share just a bit of my testimony.  How I traded my ashes for beauty!

I accepted Christ when I was 13.  I made a profession of faith when I was five but it was not until years later that I was personally convicted of my sin and accepted God’s gift of forgiveness for my sin.  Oh my, what a difference.   It was so real and so wonderful!  I was excited and happy.  I wanted to please the Lord and I wanted to make Him happy.  So, I did what I knew to do.  I tried to be good. I became what I call a “check box” Christian.  Read your Bible – check.  Go to church – check.  Obey your parents – check.

I want to be perfectly clear.  I did not “check boxes” for my salvation.  I was not trying to earn salvation.  I checked boxes in order to make the Lord happy with me and, undoubtedly, without even realizing it, I eventually began checking boxes because I thought if God was happy with me then life would go well.  And, I suppose, for a while, it worked.  There were, of course, difficult days and seasons but even in the challenges,  life was good.  Did that mean God was happy with me?  I don’t know that I actually thought in those terms but I do know that I continued to “check boxes.”  The one big problem…..the older I got and the more I matured as a Christian, I learned there was more to the Christian life than reading my Bible and attending church.  There were many more boxes to be checked.  “Check box” Christianity is not only difficult; it will truly drain your joy.  And – shockingly – it gives no guarantee of a trouble-free life.

I was in my early 30s when I first experienced real, devastating depression.  I was living my dream with my husband and our three young children when I, completely unexpectedly, miscarried our fourth child.  My children were sad.  My husband was heartbroken.  And, I was devastated.  Devastated because I just knew there must have been something I did wrong – some box I left unchecked – that must have allowed this.  The burden of guilt was unbearable.  Sadly, I retreated to what I call “the pit.”  The pit, for me, was that deep, black hole of depression.  It was a place that had so many times trapped my mother when I was a child and a place that I tried desperately to avoid.  But this time, I literally wrapped myself in self-pity and mired down into the pit.  It was a terrible time in my life.  Truly.  Shockingly, once I actually got into the pit, I wanted to stay there.  But I had three little people depending on me.  I thank the Lord for my three children as they were my reasons to get up each morning and to find my way, by God’s grace and help, out of the pit.

Life went along fairly well.  Yes, there were so dark valleys, especially as I grieved the loss of my parents, but God was – in a very real way – teaching me what a “walk by faith” life was truly like.  It was not about me.  It was not about the boxes I had checked – or failed to check.  It was not about my controlling circumstances by having God pleased with me.  Life is filled with circumstances and events that are completely out of our control.  But God is always in control.  Life often has difficult days and difficult trials but God has promised to walk these days with us.  The more I learned these truths in a very real and practical way….it was amazing the burden that lifted from my back.   God was teaching. And, I was learning but – a lifetime of habits does not change overnight.

It was on December 21st – four days before Christmas in 2005- that our 13-year-old son was diagnosed with a brain tumor.  It was wrapped around his brain stem and completely inoperable.  Within hours, we began creating “a new normal” for our lives….one that involved daily commutes to NIH for radiation, weekly trips to Children’s Hospital, and educating ourselves to try and understand the “medical world” – all the while trying to maintain some type of normal for our two older children.  And, for me, starting to check those boxes again.  In fact, I added boxes.  My heart may have been learning to trust and depend on Him – and Him alone – but I just could not trust my heart.  I had to do SOMETHING for my son.

I prayed.  I fasted.  I read my Bible and then read it some more.  I claimed verses.  I created prayer chains.  I BEGGED God to heal my son. And I could go on.  Spiritually speaking, I did everything I knew to do and anything else I could think of to see him healed.  Then, on August 1, 2006, God did heal our sweet Tyler – when He called him home to Heaven.  Friends surrounded us.  Family flew in from around the country and we were supported and loved.  But, eventually, everyone has to go home.  And I was, once again, at the edge of the “pit.”  I found myself at the edge of that pit…..that huge dark hole of despair…desperately wanting to simply crawl in and cover myself in a huge heavy blanket of grief and stay there.  Some days I even thought I deserved it.

But I’d been in the pit before.  I know how close I had come to being trapped in the pit and I did not want that.  But I had done all I knew to do.  Was my faith a failure?  Truly the question was – what now? I honestly came to a choice:  I could trust God or I could give up on God.  And, if I chose to trust God, it would have to be faith in Him and Him alone – minus all my boxes.  Because I had finally learned, it was not about me.  I did choose Him and I can say that God walked with me every day – every hour – during those first weeks, months and years of deepest grief.  He walked me away from the pit.  He sent love notes from Heaven just when I needed them.  He placed people – family, friends, neighbors, and church family – along the way to help me.  To guide me and encourage me.  He was merciful, patient, kind, and compassionate.

Grief is a dark valley, to be sure.  I will forever be marked by grief but I am not trapped.  I am not mired in the horrible pit of depression, regret or sorrow.  God has taken those ashes and given me a life that is, once again, joy-filled and worthwhile.