“And even though I don’t know what your plan is, I know you make beauty from these ashes.” – The Afters

Last week, Joey and I heard the words we had been longing to hear from our high risk doctor: “Your baby’s kidneys are so pretty that they are boring.  I don’t think you need to see us again.”

Of course, Joey and I walked out of that office with gratitude.  We were so overjoyed by this wonderful news.  We had prayed for two years that God would give us another child if it was His will.  We had prayed for a healthy pregnancy.  We had pleaded and then tried to accept what we thought was a “no.” Then we found out we were expecting!  We did several little happy dances, prayed and cried some more, prayed again, and then waited.  Now, we were walking out of a dark office where dreams are often devastated and into sunshine and laughter, onesies and baby coos.

So why, just a couple of nights later, did I feel myself having a panic attack, trying to catch my breath and sobbing so hard that my sides hurt?  Why am I crying this morning, wishing I had an almost three-year-old running around?  He has given me the desires of my heart, hasn’t He?  Hasn’t He answered my prayer?

I am so thankful that Jackson Glen is on his way.  People have been so kind and gracious to us.  You can see the genuine joy and excitement on our friends’ faces.  We have been blessed with another child, and this time everything looks great.  I think the assumption would be, understandably, that I am healed.  We are whole. Jack(son), as Abby writes it, will come along and replace what we lost.  We will have our three children.  We will be complete.

It’s just not so.

There are still broken pieces for us.  Abby will never get to have the sister she prayed to have.  Josiah will never get to be the protective big brother to his Anna.  I will never get to see those relationships and nurture them. I will never rock my daughter or dance with her in the kitchen. Joey will never teach her how to shoot a BB gun or walk her down the aisle.  And perhaps the most painful: Jackson will never meet Anna.  He won’t understand our loss.  And he won’t have the playmate and best friend that Josiah has in Abby. The age gap between Josiah and Jack will be a constant reminder for me that we are missing our third child.  Abby and Josiah.  Anna and Jack.  That’s the way it should be.

I sound so ungrateful.  God knows I am so thankful that we have a healthy baby boy on the way.  I know there are many women who long to have just one baby.  My pain and loss must seem so selfish.  But all I know are my life experiences.  And I just know that for some reason, I felt the necessity to share my heart in all honesty this morning.  I’m not healed.  I’m not over it.  To pretend otherwise would be disingenuous.

I find myself considering the image of “beauty from ashes,” which we read about in Isaiah 61:1-3.

61 “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,
Because the Lord has anointed Me
To bring good news to the afflicted;
He has sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And freedom to prisoners;
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord,
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,
To grant those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called oaks of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.”

I am not a Bible scholar, so I wish to tread lightly here.  My most basic understanding of this prophecy written by Isaiah is that it points to Christ.  This passage is from the Old Testament, but in the New Testament, we read that Christ recited a portion of this passage in the synagogue.  He had been accepted throughout Galilee, but when he returned to Nazareth, his hometown persay, He was rejected. Luke 4:16-20 reads:

“And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.’ And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him.

You think? Verse 21:

“And He began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

I am thinking you could have heard a pin drop.  And then the reaction: you’re telling us that you–the son of Joseph, the carpenter–are the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy?  You’re telling us you are the Messiah?  You are telling us that You are the one who will make things right between us and God?  Is that what you are saying?

Yep.  That’s what He was saying.  And He said a few more things that are worth reading, if you have a minute.  Some of the people got pretty annoyed and tried to throw Him over a cliff.  But, His being God and all, He “passed through their midst and went His way” (v. 30).

One commentary suggests that Jesus did not finish reading all of this passage from Isaiah because the second part of the prophecy will not be complete until Christ’s return. I’m not sure about that, but it does seem to me if Jesus stopped reading in the middle of a passage, there was probably a good reason.  For me, it makes me wonder about the beauty for ashes, joy for mourning part.  I have heard this so many times and believe it with all my heart.  But what exactly are the ashes?  What should that word picture look like in my mind?

Certainly, salvation through Jesus Christ brings beauty from ashes and joy from mourning.  He brings those things as well as all the others Isaiah mentions–good news, freedom, comfort. But what I can’t envision is the ashes and the mourning disappearing completely, at least not on this earth. My transformation will not be complete until I am actually standing in the very presence of God.  Salvation is not a once and done concept, in my mind.  It is continual.  I am saved once.  He didn’t need to die multiple times and I don’t need to “get saved” more than once.  But after I admit my need for Him, ask for forgiveness, and accept Jesus as the only One who can save me from being eternally separated from God, my transformation should continue. Otherwise, I would be a child in the faith my entire life.  I’m not done yet.  Any beauty He plans to bring from the ashes of my life will not be complete here.  For that matter, the ashes keep smoldering.

The brokenness, the pain, the injuries of this life–many of these will remain as embers. Smoke continues to rise from these and from all that is being burned away.  And while beauty and joy and all the good and righteous and perfect gifts that come from God do indeed come, the ashes seem to remain, just as my imperfection and my need for a Savior remain.

So even as I pray this morning for comfort and for peace, and even as I thank Him for Jackson, I still mourn Anna.  As I try to open my hands and give Him my son, I find my fists tightening, trying to protect my little boy, even from the God who created him.  That might not make sense, but it’s my battle.  It’s the demon I war against.

Because I still have smutty hands.  I still feel the heat from the cinders.  I’m still learning how to find the beautiful while living in a world filled with smoke.  One day, I’m going to stand in his presence and wipe my smudged hands on His garment.  Then I’m going to thank Him and put on my garment of praise. I’ll take my Anna by the arm. Our whole family will walk through the streets of heaven and visit with those who have already been made beautiful, clean, without soot.

Praise Jesus, our nostrils will be filled with the sweet perfume of the glory of God.  And we will never smell those pungent ashes again.