This year I made a commitment to attend the Lenten Breakfasts each Wednesday morning during Lent.  It was an amazing experience to share a meal with Christians from churches in the Marshalltown community. We all joined together as one through the message about salvation that has been given to all through the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

The theme this year was “Beauty from Ashes” and each Wednesday a lay person from the host church shared their personal story about finding beauty in the midst of ashes. Each week, those in attendance went away with another example of God’s presence in the midst of difficulties.

Our stories matter.  Stories are made to be shared. When we share our stories, we are witnessing to God’s presence in our lives and we might just make a difference in someone else’s life.  That’s the impact from each lay person who shared their story with those who attended the Lenten Breakfasts.

As I reflected on the series of lay speakers this year, I began to reflect on the “beauty from my own ashes”.  When Christopher began having seizures in his sleep in second grade and later when Nathen had a pneumothorax (a hole in his lung) at the start of his senior year, we were scared.  We didn’t know why this was happening or how to proceed with treatments.  Should we try medications? Should we give permission for a surgery that might cause problems later in life? What was the right thing to do?  In both cases, we prayed a lot and listened for God’s wisdom. The beauty that came from those scary times was that God stayed with us, bringing with him assurances that all would be fine, we just needed to trust him.

About a year ago, a good friend of mine called me.  I thought she was calling to wish me a happy birthday but was surprised when she shared that she just wanted to die.  She had been struggling with diabetes and had been on dialysis for many years. She was tired and just wanted it all to end. My friend was a woman of deep faith and had prayed to God many times to take her to heaven.  She just didn’t understand why he hadn’t taken her already. When she called, I had no idea what was the right thing to say so I prayed for God to give me the right words. Over the next few months, when we talked and texted, she would share her anger and struggle but always end by sharing her love for God. I would hear from her daily and then nothing for weeks.  At one point, she ended up in the hospital after she tried to stop dialysis.  Barb died last April.

I thank God for giving me those months with Barb. Out of the ashes, I witnessed a women of faith, not afraid to leave this earth, and struggling to wait for God’s timing.   Barb was trying to plan how and when she should die but God had bigger plans.  I believe that when Barb finally trusted God to know what was best for her, that God answered her prayers and brought her to her eternal home. I believe that God brought beauty to Barb and me out of the ashes of her struggle with kidney failure.  God was with her every minute of every day. Through it all, Barb was a witness to God’s love and mercy.

What beauty can you find in the ashes of your struggles and hardships? When we are in those moments, it is sometimes hard to see the beauty until later. God is always near, waiting for us to talk to him and ask for help.  I believe God is always waiting for us to lay aside our plans and place our trust in him.  Isaiah 55: 8-9 says it all, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts”.