The Traders – Ashes to Beauty

Well it’s official.  I’m on the downward slope of my 30’s.  Thirty-seven, 37, treinta y siete to be exact.  And, the 37th anniversary of my birth just so happens to be the 1st anniversary of this blog.  So, it seems only fitting that I should explain why I began to write.

I’ll start with a little story of how my family kicked off my birthday week.  Last week started with a funeral……..for a fish.

Now this isn’t the first time we’ve had a fish.  Our first fish, Gus, traveled with us from Georgia and lived for over 5 years in 3 different homes.  He most likely died due to microwave radiation and haunted us for years after his death.

Our second fish, Petey, lived for about a year and unfortunately died shortly after the birth of my daughter.  Now, I’m not blaming her, but she tipped us over the edge.  A traveling husband, a 5-year-old, a dog, a fish and a new baby proved to be too much.  A pecking order, if you will, kinda developed and the fish, well, it wasn’t in a good position.  All too soon, I came to realize that there was a limit to the number of things I could keep alive.   Please, don’t call PETA.

So, it’s still shocking to me, after our bad luck with fish, that I let my children talk me into more fish.  And, even more shocking, this time I went all out and bought a little aquarium with those fake coral pieces and everything.  We followed the instructions perfectly but, shortly after introducing our two brand new fish to the tank, I told my husband, “that silver one just doesn’t look good – he’s not swimming right”.  I’m a nurse not a Vet, but y’all, the silver one was sick.  And, one day he just didn’t make it out of the little plastic castle.  He crawled (swam) up in there and died.

So last Tuesday, we gathered around the toilet and said a few words.  My son promised to find the silver one in heaven while my daughter, who’s two-year-old mind couldn’t comprehend the circumstances, ran to save the other fish in fear that we were flushing all the pets.

It was quite a scene!  Bittersweet – sorrowful – and beautiful all at the same time.  One child heartbroken, one child terrified that her parents were killing off the animals, and lots of conversation about loss, grief and love.

This little scene, minus the terrified children, is a reminder to me of my life several years back.

Marriage in shambles, great confusion, and lots of conversation about loss, grief and love.  We were in a more than we could handle situation and painfully aware of it.

I could spend hours telling countless stories about how my marriage was restored, but for now I’ll just share what I call my “journey of brokenness”.  It starts with surrender and ends with beauty – every time.

Before the brokenness, I was a Christian.  I followed the rules.  I colored inside the religious lines but something was always missing.  And that something was a true relationship with Jesus.  So in January 2011, as I sat in my room with my worst nightmare coming true, I stopped playing games, I got off the religion treadmill and said, “I want to get this right”.  And the journey began.  Bittersweet – sorrowful – and beautiful all that the same time.

Slowly, I began to realize that this was not about religion.  This was not about rules.  This was not about behavior.  This was just about me and Jesus.  He just wanted me – nothing more, nothing less.  And not the me who performs perfectly, pretends to have it all together, or the me through the fake lens of social media.  The real me – flaws and all.

So, where?  Where did I start?

With surrender.  You see, before the brokenness there was pride, control, and a whole lot of fake going on.  I walked the walk.  I talked the talk. I built the walls.  I became exhausted creating a life of striving, trying and working harder to be this perfect Christian to earn God’s love.  When in reality it was right there the whole time trying desperately to get in while being pushed out by things that were never required.

So finally, at the end of me and my way, which was clearly not working, I gave up, gave in – I surrendered.

My life, my family, my health, my goals, my dreams, my career, my finances and the list could go on and on.  The process was slow and still continues.  I still feel a nudge every now and then that says, “hey, I’m gonna need that too”.  Why?  Because He wants to control me?  NO, because He wants to free me.  And, every time I let go and surrender, there is beauty on the other side.

Isaiah 61:1-3 says “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted…to comfort all who mourn…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes”

The word “instead” means an alternative.  It’s kinda like a trade.  God, here’s my broken – my nothing – my ashes – I can’t do it anymore – I’m at the end of me – I’m trading it in.  And He says…

  • Perfection for Grace?
  • Anger for Mercy?
  • A Hard Heart for Forgiveness?
  • Control for Contentment?
  • Bitter for Better?
  • Grief for Joy?
  • Worry for Peace?
  • Loss for Love?
  • Ashes for Beauty?

You see where I’m going here.  It’s a never ending process really.  How wonderful is that?

Isaiah 61 goes on to say, “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor”.

We become traders, so to speak, and he is the gardener.  He takes our trade – our nothing, our broken, our ashes – plants and grows something beautiful.

So, this is why I write, because I’m forever changed.  This journey started with surrender and will never truly end.  I’ll keep trading (sometimes more reluctantly than others) and he’ll keep planting.  Taking my nothing and making something.  Turning ashes to beauty.

How loving and patient He must be, He’s still working on me.  

~Mary Ann

P.S.  We replaced the silver fish for a neon one and he’s doing just fine.

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