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Beauty for Ashes

It’s a funny thing – this journey of waiting.  It’s funny how God shows up more frequently (if you seek Him).  More deeply (if you ask Him).  More specifically (if you’re open).

When Josh and I were in college, I struggled with a bout of depression.  It hit about the time we started dating, and carried it’s heavy little self on through our engagement.  Thrust into the reality of hardship with the still-new puppy love fresh on his breath, he stood in the gap for me.  Breaking the overwhelming chunks of everyday life down to manageable pieces.  One night, as we sat on the couch together, I told him something he still (ten years later) refuses to let me forget.

I would rather experience the super high highs and extreme lows with God than have a melancholy plateau of faith.

Now, when I start to get out of breath… and I say that I’m just a little tired… and the road is just a little too hard.  He reminds me.  Remember when you said…  And he’s right.  And it’s still true.  I have pages upon glorious pages of handwritten promises He has whispered into my ear.  As my mouth pushes out fear in confession, He whispers truth in mercy.  It’s up to me which I lay out the welcome mat for.  It’s up to me which takes up residence in my heart.

After praying through continual sadness one day, God surprised me with the perfect anecdotes the next morning:

Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom.  You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness
-Psalm 45:6-7

You have made him exceedingly glad with Your presence.
– Psalm 21:6

The Spirit of the LORD God is upon Me … to console those who mourn, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness …
– Isaiah 61:1, 3

As I cry out under the heavy cloak of sorrow, He gives words on gladness and joy.  The trick is to trade one for the other.

Through the exploration of these verses, I discovered that beauty for ashes is literally a tiara worn in times of joy, or a beautiful headdress replacing the culturally routine ashes cast on the head in mourning.  If I had ashes dumped on my head in the midst of mourning, I think I might cry harder.  Ironically, I just came across a creative pinterest board of beautifully styled hair titled to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes.  Culturally, I know ashes on the head was common for mourning periods.  But there’s a reason that, even though I work from home, I still make the bed every morning.  Get dressed.  Put my makeup on.  Make sure my hair is done.  Because I feel happier.  More creative.  Less … ashy.

I also discovered that the oil of joy is a perfumed ointment poured on guests at joyous occasions (Amos 6:6).  On occasions of grief, the use of the oil was laid aside (2 Samuel 14:2).  Confession: I love to smell pretty.  And I love that my husband wears cologne every day.  Because sometimes, when I’m extra overwhelmed, I crawl into his lap, bury my face in his neck, and take a long deep breath.  The world is a whole lot lovelier when it’s kissed with a favorite fragrance.

And then there’s the garment of praise – brightly colored garments indicative of thankfulness instead of sackcloth that reflects despondency.  Take a moment to google “how color brightens a mood” and you’ll instantly have more results than you care to read.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over.
– Psalm 23:5

He anoints my head with oil – the symbol of gladness in scripture.  My cup runs over in abundance: ‘prepared for the child of God who may feast in spite of his enemies (circumstances, or suffering) confident that this favor will ever attend him (found here).

And then God poked His finger into the small larger-than-I-realized hole of unbelief in my heart:

The Spirit of the LORD God was on Jesus to do all those things in Isaiah 61:3.  And that very same Spirit is with me.  To do the very same things.  When I think about that simple fact I realize: as Jesus stands by, ready to take the ashes off my head and the sackcloth of private grieving from my back, that deep down… I don’t want to give them over.  I want to hold onto the sadness and grieving because part of me thinks that, if I’m sad, God will provide a child sooner.  And if I’m full of gladness and rejoicing, He won’t see my need for a child.  Even though in Genesis 2:18, Adam was perfectly content tending and keeping the garden.  He didn’t express his need to God… He was simply doing what God told him to do.  God recognized that it wasn’t good for him to be alone.  So He made Eve.

The LORD is standing by with beauty for ashes.  The oil of joy for mourning.  The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.  And I need to choose to trade my sorrow for all those things.

God please give me the strength.  Help me to trust You.  Help me to understand that choosing those things does not mean choosing to never have a family.  Because somehow… that’s how I equate it.

God, help me to choose You.  To trust that Your plan is perfect.  To trust that You know so much better than me.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are Your ways higher than my ways and Your thoughts than mine (Isaiah 55:8-9).

God, help me to look at all You’ve given rather than what You are withholding.

And then, as He always does, He handed me the ribbon to tie it all together.  The last piece of the puzzle that revealed the larger picture.  And just how serious this small larger-than-I-realized hole of unbelief is.  And how, once I’m faced with this choice of trade, I’m then held accountable for it.

Two chapters later, in Isaiah 63, the seriousness hit:

In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the Angel of His Presence saved them; in His love and in His pity, He redeemed them; and He bore them and carried them all the days of old.  But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit.
– Isaiah 63:9-10

The amplified version of those verses translates the latter piece as actively resisting the Spirit.  At the moment I finally realized that my ridiculous hesitation to accept the garments of praise was actively resisting His Spirit, the just-right worship song came on Pandora.  And I was broken.

Who am I to say What?  You want to take this deep sorrow away?  Hang on… I’m not sure I want that.

Who am I to choose grieving?  To choose to stand by in my own private prison when, all around me, people are worshiping Him?  I saw it in that moment: a large group of people worshiping in His very presence.  Full of radiant joy.  Not distracted by anything.  And I stood off to the side.  In the dirt.  Clinging to a piece of sackcloth.  Separated from the fullness of joy.  Separated from fellowship.  As I realized what I was missing out on, I dropped the sackcloth and reached for His garments of praise.  Facing my fears.  Laying them aside.  And choosing joy.

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