Hope from the Ashes


"The heartaches of this past year have taken a toll. Pain struck me to my core and I was left shaken, unsure of if I was strong enough to get through it."

  I read the above words from a journal entry I wrote a few years ago and I find myself in the same place today, just different circumstances.  

  How many times have I come back to this question:

  Am I strong enough?

   Am I strong enough to survive the stresses life blindsides me with when I least expect it? Strong enough to walk through the nightmares when they are close to becoming reality? Strong enough to be the Momma my children need, the wife my husband deserves, the friend my friends can count on?  

  The pediatric specialist walked into the exam room with neon yellow shoes and a rainbow colored bow tie. His outfit was so cheerful and filled with hope, but his words brought darkness and fear. He bluntly told me to prepare myself for a long road ahead. An x-ray had shown a mass in my seven year old daughter's lower spinal region. He was going to schedule an MRI to measure the mass and get more details. The doctor began his monologue, spelling out important words for me to remember. My pen furiously tried to keep up, leaving a stream of ink across the page as my brain attempted to make sense of everything he was saying. When he said “tumor” and "cancer" the blood rushed to my head, drowning out the noise in the room. I struggled to catch my breath and wipe the tears stinging my eyes when I looked beside me at my daughter. Her doe-like, brown eyes were large as saucers and she began to shake as she clutched her favorite stuffed animal a little closer.  

    Watching her lose her joy that day was one of the hardest things I have had to endure.

I felt like Alice falling through the rabbit hole, grasping at whatever I could hold onto to slow it all down. It was so surreal. 

Cancer is no stranger of mine. My Mom battled it twice and my dear mother in law went home to Glory because of stage 4 colon cancer. I've seen friends and family walk through it many times... but I was not prepared to see my daughter have to fight such a battle.

  Am I strong enough to be the Momma she needs me to be? 

 The stress of the numerous tests, the waiting, and the unknown were palpable in our home. The things we thought were solid were shaken and tested, our marriage began crumbling, and it all seemed too much to bear.

  We rallied a small group of trusted family and friends around us to pray and be our support system, because we were not strong enough to do this alone. 

Fast forward three years. My daughter is almost 10 years old now, her cancer scare was just that. An awful nightmare that was short lived. And yet, even though it was only a few months, it was long enough to rob my daughter of her confidence, long enough to shake my marriage to it's very core, long enough to let fear enter in and become a companion in our home. Fear if the mass came back, fear if my marriage would survive, fear if the sparkle would return to my daughter's eyes, fear if everything I knew would fall apart. It was such a wake up call to realize just how quickly life can unravel.

   I have learned that it is in the unraveling that something beautiful happens. 

  Strength and resilience grow if we press on through the hardship to see what the Lord has for us on the other side. Like a forest after it has gone through a fire, after a time of rest and healing, new life is brought forth that springs from soil that is all the more richer because of what was first seen as damaging. 

  The painful places of our lives

 are the ones that cause life giving change. 

  Through adversity we find what we are made of, we discover who our true friends are, and we become acutely aware of what we believe. We see new and beautiful seeds spring up from the desolate ground, ones that have adapted to hardship.   

  Trees that have been through the flame develop thicker bark so they don't burn as easily. Plants that have come forth from fire ravaged soil have deeper, more extensive root systems. Fascinatingly, there are even some types of pine trees that can only germinate if there is fire. The pines produce cones that are glued tightly with resin. Those cones can remain attached to the tree for YEARS and it is only when a fire comes, with heat that is strong enough to melt the resin, that those seeds will be released. The life inside is contingent upon intense trial.

  How true is that for us?

  We have gifts inside of us that are dependent upon the fire of adversity

 to activate that which lies hidden. 

Until the fire comes, those gifts will remain dormant. 

  My fire has been a hard season of personal surrender. Surrendering the known for the unknown. Surrendering the safe for the vulnerable.

I cry out through parched lips asking "why?", pounding the ground with clenched fists because letting go means I must yield that which is most precious to me. My very life and the lives of those I love.

I can no longer keep this bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh unscathed, but if I am honest with myself, I cannot keep anyone completely safe. How would they learn? How would they grow?

  I need to trust that the fires we have to walk through will bring truth and understanding. The adversity we face will, in time, make us stronger and our faith that is faltering will become steadfast. I have hope in that truth. But as a Momma it is a lot easier to experience these trials myself than to watch those I love walk through them.  

The same God who strengthened me during the uncertainty with my daughter is sustaining me now. The same faithful tribe of friends who prayed over her are girding us with their prayers, pouring out their love, and strengthening me so I can keep putting one foot in front of the other. 

The searing heat of the flame once again licks at my skin and threatens to overtake me. I know this pain will last for a while, but beauty will rise up from the ashes, and truth will endure.

 I stand and remind my children that our roots run deep, our bark is tougher than it was previously as we've learned from the numerous blazes before this one. Our scars prove that we are survivors. Beside us stands our tribe and before us goes our God. It feels good to know that we don't have to be strong enough. God is for us and He is our strength. He will give us what we need when we need it. We take each day as it comes and we no longer shrink back in fear from the fire. We allow it to serve its purpose...there are seeds waiting to be set free from their slumber.

"He will bestow on them a crown of beauty

    instead of ashes,

the oil of joy

    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."

Isaiah 61:3

Hopeful in the midst of the fire,