From Ashes to Joy

Earlier this summer, I was at dinner with a friend of mine. She has known me since 1980 and has seen me through good times and bad times… we have sat together in hospitals and attended graduations and weddings and we have raised children together and now swap grandparent stories.

She asked me a somewhat simple yet complex question… which basically was… “Janet, what was the turning point for you?”

Her question was based on her knowledge of me as the woman who sat and cried over my divorce; who was lacking in confidence; who felt like a total failure. She had seen since March of 2009 my slow but steady transition into a woman who has confidence…. who truly loves life… and is no longer defeated. She wanted to know when did this happen? And How?

I was amazed that I actually had an answer…. And I told her it was not a moment but a year…. and the year was 2012… and my transition began on January 8th 2012 with a belated New-Year’s-Eve-Releasing Ceremony.

You know how a lot of people have New Year’s Resolutions but they only last 1 day or 1 week? I decided to do something different—to have a New-Year’s Eve-Releasing-Ceremony (my made-up words–do not Google that!!!) Due to some calendar issues, I could not have the ceremony on New Year’s Eve but “scheduled” it for January 8th.

I had come to terms that I still harbored some anger about my divorce. This was brought home to me by an Andy Stanley (NorthPoint Ministries) message where he discusses how we should guard our hearts and not let anger remain.

It is not enough to monitor our behavior but we need to monitor our hearts—as per Solomon who wrote in Proverbs: “Above all else, guard your heart as it is the wellspring of all life”……..all of life, your words, your actions, springs from your heart.

Stanley told us to ask questions about harboring anger such as ………… What is the day on my calendar that I will agree to stop letting those that hurt me to stop controlling me?  How long do I plan on letting these feelings control me? For 1 more year- or when I am 70 will I move past them….. or when I am dying? When do I let go of the anger?

Whether it is justified or not…that does not matter…… the question is…..when do I let those destructive thoughts and conversations quit playing in my mind?

Write down the day, Andy Stanley says, and then decide to let go of the anger or else you will let it remain in your heart forever. Emphasize the day on your calendar by doing something special or create your own special ceremony.

Now the Bible says do not let the sun go down on your anger and there is great wisdom in that but the truth was that the sun had gone down countless times on my anger and pain and it was lodged inside of me.

I will confess that I did not think it would be much of an emotional whammy for me but as I settled into my chair with my pieces of paper and my glass of wine, I found myself dealing with more pain and anger and tears than I thought I would have.

I scribbled random notes and thoughts and filled up 4 pages of paper—front and back. It took about an hour.

What was interesting was that I found not only was I still angry at my ex but I was angry at me. Many of the things that I wrote down involved me not standing up for myself. I realize it is probably inconceivable to those women who have confidence in their self-worth but I did not and my anger at myself stemmed from my not standing up for me and for not realizing I was worthy of respect.

I had a small aluminum tin and I tore the pieces of paper up and put them in the container. I then sprayed the papers with Pam Cooking Spray as I had been told the paper would burn better that way. I put a TV tray outside the door and got my wine and a candle and a chair. I was ready to burn!

I had a lighter and began to light the paper. At first it did not burn very well but it finally caught hold. Then I had a small issue. (That should be of no surprise to most of you.)

There was a lot of smoke–a lot!  I moved my table out farther away from the recessed area at my front door but then (due to the wind) the smoke started drifting down towards the lamppost and the open area at the end of the driveway.

I started having concerns that if any of my neighbors ventured outside, they would panic that my unit was on fire. However, as it was 8:30 at night and dark and a bit cold, I decided that no one would be wandering in the driveway area.

It took several minutes (5-10?) but the flames finally burned out. And that is when I discovered something very interesting.

What hit me the most was ………..  as I looked at the ashes in the container ……… as I shook them and they settled into one corner ….  there was hardly anything left in the container. Those 4 pieces of paper had burned down to maybe 2 tablespoons of very fragile, light, flimsy ashes.

And the thought crossed my mind—maybe that is what truly trusting in God can do….. that He can take those hurts …. those angers … and diminish them to nothingness …..as what lay in front of me in that container was truly ……. nothing.

So, two days later, I took my container of nothingness ….. my few remaining visible signs of my anger ……….. and I went to the  Chattahoochee River area off Powers Ferry drive….. I walked down the path and stood on a rock next to the banks of the river and I released ashes into the river (being oh so careful as to not attract the attention of any park rangers and also being careful not to fall into the river).

That was the beginning of my transition year…. During which I continued to grow in confidence, to experience more joy and to step out of the boat—I began my blog in 2012; I took my third trip by myself to Europe; I had Nana days with Lauren; a second grandchild came into my life and one thing led to another.

And a year later, on January 1, 2013 I shared my faith journey (“Faith and Joy—Happy New Year 2013). I also posted a picture which is one of my favorites….it is a picture that my son Chris took of me at Christmas and I wrote:

I look at that photo…….jingle bells around my neck and my hand in the air and my smile and I see joy.  Pure joy. Joy is different from happiness. I have learned that happiness can be affected by your circumstances….. who is or is not in your life….. what you have or what you do not have. But joy is different. Joy is internal and you can have it even when it does not make sense to have such.

Joy comes from the journey …. it comes from faith… and it comes from knowing that I am learning, as Pastor Charles Stanley has said, to “obey God and let Him Handle the consequences.”

That is the kind of faith I want to have. …the kind where I truly feel each day as I make my choices and live my life that I am obeying God and that I can and will leave all the messiness and pain of the consequences up to Him.”

I remain convinced that I could not have written those words in 2013 if I had not begun 2012 with my “Releasing-Ceremony”.  I had to “release” before I could move forward.

The bottom line is that we all deal with the opportunity every day to let angers/irritations enter our hearts–whether it is with a family member … a friend …a co-worker.  What counts is not the feeling but what we do with it. Do we harbor it in our hearts?  Do we feed it with grudges and not letting go? Do we keep track of the failures and develop negative thoughts?

Or, are we willing to address it with the other person (if appropriate) and then be willing to let it go? And if we cannot let it go, can we turn it over to God and allow Him to burn it away so that we are truly left with nothing.

I do not have answers but I know how destructive not guarding your heart can be–that if you do not guard your heart, then you can let things in that are harmful.  I know personally how dangerous holding on to anger can be and that taking the steps to remove it can be life changing.

Interestingly enough, I sent Chris and Allison a long email in January 2012 about my “New-Year’s Eve-Releasing-Ceremony”. This was pre-blog and I was sending emails to them and yes, scary as it is, I still have some of those emails! And frankly, when I look at my life now and all that has happened since I sent that email, the truth behind those words amazes me. I wrote:

“And additionally, I have also been thinking about trying to get a date with a nice man (now I have no idea as to how to do THAT) but I have said to some friends that in 2012 I want to go on a date. I do not want a serious relationship but it would be nice to actually go out on a date with a nice kind man with a sense of humor……… and smiling eyes. He must have smiling eyes.

But the reality is that if I dated someone who was divorced, I would not want him to be harboring anger and bitterness towards his ex-wife ……….. no matter who was at fault; no matter what was fair or not; if I could be getting ready to think about leaving behind this season of my life then I must make sure I do not bring any unresolved anger issues into the next season of my life.”

As most of you know, I did NOT go out on a date in 2012. I now know that before “a nice kind man with a sense of humor……… and smiling eyes” could enter my life I had to complete the transition year … during which I went from ashes to joy. And, as it worked out, a year after my “New-Year’s-Eve-Releasing Ceremony” and a month after my “Faith and Joy—Happy-New-Year-2013” story, the Gentleman Caller with Smiling Eyes entered my life………….

They say a picture is worth a thousand words….with that in mind…..from ashes to joy.

jfh

2012/Getting ready to burn—Burning—Burning—Ashes—2013/Joy

01 Ashes02 Ashes03 Ashes04 Ashes2012-12-23 10 Happy Nana (Large)