Beauty From Ashes
This photo came up on Facebook memories the other day. It is taken 2 years ago on a beach in Dorset. Its not the most creative of photos, nor is it the nicest of days (as you can see from the coats!) but it was one of the most significant periods of time in our lives.
You see, at that moment, we were on a two month marriage sabbatical. I am not sure we had ever heard of one of these before, (or anyone talk about one since) but after a near separation in the previous October due to Abby's hitting her wall with years of managing my mental health, someone encouraged us (verbally and with overwhelming generosity) to have two months off from all that we could in life to work on our marriage, reconnect as a family, and seek God about the future.
We tentatively entered this period not knowing what the future held. A marriage that on the one hand had a strength of shared experiences; journeying with each other on the mission field in Ibiza, the privilege of having children together and a very similar outlook and focus on the future but on the other had been burned out by mental health, anxiety, depression and anger.
We had no idea what the future held at this point. Whether our marriage would work, whether my mental health would improve enough, whether we would be able to be together on the mission field as a team which is what we both were feeling called to. If you had asked us at this point, as we stood on a freezing beach in early February 2020, whether things were going to work out, we would not be able to give a convincing answer.
Underneath all of our experiences, we knew we wanted this to work. We wanted to be together, to have a healthy marriage, to grow together, to bring up our children together, for them to have a secure home and experience a loving relationship between husband and wife. We wanted it but weren't sure whether we could get there.
For the boys, it was a surprise holiday having a great time on the beach no matter the weather. For us, it was bleak; make or break decision time. There was no lower to go, we were at the end of ourselves.
And we knew, at this time, when we had nothing left to hold onto, when we could no longer work things out in our own strength, that the only thing we could do was to trust in God, that somehow and in someway He could do something.
And He is faithful.
It wasn't dramatic but as we spoke, dreamed, cried, and reconnected we could start to see a future. Ideas that had been deeply buried for so long began to come out, desires ignored for so long resurfaced, hurts that had damaged so much started to heal. There was a gentle whisper as we spent time together, gentle reminders, even comfort and understanding that both of us were hurt, damaged and needed His kindness. We came home from this mini break with genuine hope.
We were in Dorset because someone had kindly allowed us to use their holiday home, but coincidently, in the interim, we had also been put in touch with some families in Devon and Cornwall, who were missionaries in their local communities and doing things that resonated with what we had felt God speak to us about.
And so while we were down there, we visited both families and felt that God was speaking to us about moving down south (which was never in our thinking).
Fast forward a few months, conversations, healing, provision of finances through an old work contact, random connections with people all over the UK and a mad dash in-between lockdowns, we found ourselves committing to sell our house to move down to Mevagissey, with nowhere to live, with no role to go to, but with a clear sense to go and see what God was up to. Amazingly people thought this was a good idea too and supported us!
And its now been just over a year here. Our marriage is stronger day by day, it is no longer dominated by my struggles, we love the community we live in, we both feel alive and called to be here, we have been privileged to have a third child, there has been miracles of financial provision and we are seeing God at work each day in our lives and in the lives of those around us.
And we had no control over this. It was all Him. Yes we had to be willing to allow Him to work in our lives and marriage, but the connections, ideas, provision, people were all Him.
I have witnessed all throughout my life that God brings beauty out of the ashes in our lives. It is what He does, it is His nature.
Humanity has experience this throughout its existence. Thousands of years ago a man called Isaiah wrote,
[God will] “.... provide for those who grieve.... – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”
He was experiencing this thousands of years ago. We experienced this over the last few years. Whatever you are going through, you can experience it too.