Words for Women

Altars and Ashes

She was wrapped in herself. It was comfortable and easy. It made sense and felt complacent, but then God called her to the desert. “Of course, I’ll go!”, her enthusiasm burst out still bound tight with expectation.

So she went walking forward with no idea at all. Deserts are big and wide and dry, and she found herself being chipped away. Blistered. Cracked. Split open. Empty spaces demand your attention and she got lost in all of them.

It took awhile, but white knuckle grasping on her life slowly became her hands stretched out receiving any and all God might give her. At first it felt like air, like nothing. Her hands were open and waiting for rain, but blistering sun was His response. That’s what she thought, anyway.

She made fists at the sky and circles in the sand. She ran to the grave and dug up dreams she had once surrendered. She clothed herself with their death, because she could see it and feel it and was God doing anything at all? Yes. But she couldn’t understand it.

And things she buried twice over came crawling from the ground again. She spun them all around herself. She was so deadly certain that she could create something beautiful, something good. Because God was doing nothing at all, she was sure of it.

But instead of rain, there was mercy. And instead of nothing there was grace. And with grace came love and from Love came abundance. And with abundance came courage to bury her version of life.

The longer she wandered in the desert, there was nothing else to see but God. And the closer she drew herself near God, she erased her circles in the sand. And she realized she’d have to dig up all her dreams again…but not to wrap herself in.


To give them all up to be burned instead of buried.

With a song in her heart and dry, cracked skin as the covering of her soul, she tore up the ground again. She held loosely to dreams she used to get lost in. The courage that grew in her desert place had her running to the very place she would give it all away.

Then she saw the altar.

Her breath was stolen, her courage wavered. She was about to make an offering. She asked God to keep her moving closer, because how could she do it? Was God doing anything at all? But then she remembered her abundance…mercy instead of rain, grace instead of nothing, and a Love that defined them both.

She approached the altar with dirty feet, open hands, and arms filled with her offering. Her offering of everything. It took all her weakness and all God’s strength, but she lifted the armload atop the alter. She whispered, “God, help me burn it.”

And they did.

Love and truth burns emptiness, so it wasn’t ash that layered her altar but hope and peace and rest. Her knees buckled from the exhaustion. Relief and sorrow. Surrendering all brings both. And then she heard Him say, That’s not all I want.”

And she couldn’t believe it.

I already gave you everything!

How much more?

Oh God, oh God…how much more?

She wept bitterly, and still she remembered her abundance….mercy instead of rain, grace instead of nothing, and a Love which defined them both.

No more circles in the sand.

And she whispered, “God, hold me there”. She lifted up her arms and opened up her eyes, and lying there ready for Him, she realized it wasn’t about the desert.

It was never about the desert, after all.

All those days and all those nights were glorious displays of God. His love for her and her deepening love for Him. His wholeness as she discovered her own consuming need. His encompassing healing despite her present pain. His strength and her infant worship bursting forth newborn.

It took a desert for her to understand.

And an altar to believe.

God held her up and she climbed atop that broken altar. The desert looked like something beautiful now. If all God ever did was work in the desert of her heart than that was enough for her.

It was more than enough.

She laid on the altar, her body layered in the ashes of hope and peace and rest,  and her soul clothed in white garments of celebration. She sung again with confidence and still with surrendered pleading…help me surrender, help me die, help me live again. 

Her eyes never left her God.

Then God took her hands, and delightfully whispered,you finally see only Me!” His joy and love for her defined His entire being. This wasn’t a sacrifice for fire or brittle dying pain, and the altar wasn’t a place for destruction or despair.

It was a place for seeing, a place for knowing, a place for delighting.

Her eyes spilled out their joy, and then He gently turned her head to look beyond the altar, and on the other side was the kind of beauty she could never describe in words. It was breathtaking in her heart and in her soul. Her body shook for the joy of it! This was the love of a God who didn’t stop until she could finally see.

The tears in the desert were nothing compared to the tears streaming now. Joy incomparable! And still for all the beauty she glimpsed, the best of all was her nearness to God, her eyes never leaving her Hope.

It took a desert and an altar and a God who loved her more than all, but she was finally living. She could finally see El Roi, the God who would always see her.

So she cried.

And she laughed.

And she worshiped.

And she sunk into God as she sung beneath His wings.

So this is life, she sang.

So this is life with God!


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