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Beauty from Ashes

Mar 22, 2021

This post is by Joanne Wu.

What were you doing around this time last year?  

Around this time last year, I was googling creative ways to celebrate Easter with my church community while we attended “church at home.”  My social media feeds had photos of DIY stained glass windows at home, or of stained glass chalk art on sidewalks.  Flowers were beginning to bloom, softening the unknowns of what “stay at home” life would actually entail.  Last year this time, we were still able to lightheartedly laugh about making bread and emptying store shelves of hair dyes, toilet paper, and yeast.  There were many unknowns, things felt a little scary, but it was still possible to muster up a positive attitude to make sparkling lemonade from lemons.

This year, there are no painted windows on my social media feeds.  What I have seen, instead, is that people are done giving things up.  A year later, living under varying directives to social distance and stay at home is not funny anymore.  It has felt like a year of continuously giving things up every single week, if not every day.  Surviving through a still ongoing pandemic means living daily with unprocessed grief.  It’s been a year of successive losses, making it feel annoying to be creative about Easter celebrations, and feel impossible to intentionally give anything up for Lent.  

When I first read the social media posts declaring not giving things up for Lent, I chuckled and felt solidarity with the ones who posted it.  But when I finished laughing, I sighed.  I felt sad.  Underneath the witty posts are feelings of pain and grief.  It’s not that Lent is unimportant, it’s simply that there’s no more strength to give something up.  I feel that too.  There are no more lemons left to squeeze into lemonade.  There are only dried up lemon peels and seeds to put back into the earth.  

What are we supposed to do then, if we want to observe Lent but have nothing left to give up? My answer is, instead of giving something up, let God into the pain and grief from this past year.  For Lent this year, I’ve given myself permission to feel the pain I’ve buried deep to function, and to name the grief as it comes to me.  For example, whenever I go to public spaces with my toddler, she expects to get her hands sprayed with alcohol solution.  I used to only let myself think this was cute,  and would smile and exclaim how smart she is for remembering to get her hands cleaned.  But now, I pause and let myself feel sad that my two year old thinks it’s normal to have her hands disinfected with alcohol all the time.  When I let myself feel sad, I also ask God to help me with this grief.  

Perhaps this way of acknowledging God’s presence in the midst of my grief and sadness is the way I’m putting the dried lemon peels and seeds back into the earth.  Rather than trying to do things with my own strength, I’ve now come to a point when I can physically, mentally, and emotionally feel that my strength is limited.  In letting God into my pain, I’ve come to recognize how much I try to do without him.  These brief moments of pausing to let God into my pain have felt like moments of planting myself back into God’s redemptive story of grace.  I’m not the center trying to rescue anyone or anything, God is.  My role is to let all of me, especially the parts that have been squeezed dry, be re-planted and rooted in him.  

This past year has been hard, it’s okay to say this out loud and process this.  This Lenten season, I am telling God the many ways I’m done trying and that I need his help.  Maybe you have been like me, unsure of what to do for Lent this year.  If so, please join me in letting God into your pain.  I pray that as you invite him in, you will witness the Creator God make beauty from your ashes.

Here is a song by Shane and Shane that speaks to this.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to 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 61:1-3 

Joanne is a SoCal native who currently lives in Taiwan with her husband of twelve years. She is a wife to a pastor and a mama to five kids and a Golden Retriever. She appreciates free time to take walks, sleep, and slowly eat her food. You can find more of her reflections on Instagram @mom.of.wu .


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