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A Crown of Beauty for Ashes

In loving memory of Tony Allen Horton: brother, friend, confidant, coffee and photography fanatic, poet, nature walker, Jesus lover, all around great guy

In the midst of tragedy, it can be hard to see how anything about your dark situation could be good.

A little over a year ago, I lost my only sibling, Tony, suddenly, unexpectedly, and tragically. My whole world seemed to fall apart in an instant. I wondered how I was supposed to carry on. How would I make it through this week? This month? Til the end of the year? It all seemed so daunting and impossible.

I walked around numb and in a daze for several months. I couldn’t concentrate. My husband would be talking to me, and I had to ask him to repeat himself because I couldn’t focus on what he was saying. I nearly missed my baby’s first steps because I had zoned out. For that first year, I felt like a shadow of myself. Going through the motions but struggling to be present in the moments with those I loved.

At the same time, my emotions and grief were intense. They seemingly hit me out of no where like a semi. Yet the waves were nearly predictable. “It’s been a week,” I would think to myself, “I must be about due for a good cry.” I would let myself feel and work through my grief with Jesus (I’m so glad now that I did! Release of emotion is crucial to healing!), but it was exhausting.

Anxiety flooded over me. I was terrified to ride in a car whether I drove or someone else did. God didn’t protect Tony in his vehicle when he hit the tree, so why would He protect me? I didn’t let this stop me from riding in cars, but I had near anxiety attacks just riding in them.

I had night terrors and would wake up screaming out and hyper ventilating. I would wake up to myself screaming and my husband trying to comfort me, but at first, I didn’t know who he was. It usually took several minutes for my fight or flight response to subside. Again, I would basically be having an anxiety attack. My daughter is a very sound sleeper, so she usually would sleep through the commotion, but when I would wake her up, I felt terrible because I knew she didn’t understand why Mommy was screaming.

In the middle of all this madness, I knew I needed help. About three or four months after Tony’s death, I sought out a Christian counselor. I’m so glad I did! She helped walk me through my grief, my anxiety, and my night mares. Jesus helped me in the day to day.

Despite all this healing, I was angry with God. I cried out to Him, brutally honest. Where had He been when Tony hit the tree and passed from this life? Why in the world was he allowing my family and me to suffer so?

Here’s the crazy amazing part. My anger didn’t scare God away. He was steadfast. He never left my side.

It gets better. I still miss Tony and have moments of grief. I don’t think that goes away on this side of eternity. However, by the time the first anniversary of his death passed, the consistent waves of grief had subsided, and I started to feel human again.

The blinding pain gave way, and when the fog lifted, I was left with a stronger faith in God than I had ever had. What the devil wanted to use to throw me off course, God had used for good. I was more in love with Jesus than ever before. I was more confident in my eternal security than ever before. I had more trust in Jesus than ever before. I had no desire to do this life without Him because I had no clue how I would have made it if He hadn’t stuck beside me.

He showed me that He took Tony home because He loved both Tony and me. This didn’t make sense, but I trusted.

He showed me that He is ALWAYS protecting me, but He is also SOVEREIGN. If He allows something to physically harm me, He will help me through it and use it for my good. This doesn’t mean He caused the harm, but He will walk with me through it. And when He allows my body to shut down for good, it will be so He can usher me into eternal glory with Him. My fear of cars gave way.

Counseling revealed that my nightmares were not incurable. Praise, Jesus, after treatment, I am no longer having them!

Someone once said, “God can take your biggest set-back and make it into your biggest come-back.” They were right. God promises us this: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Romans 8:28

Another promise we can cling to: “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”
Isaiah 61:1-3

This is exactly what God did for me! He took seemingly insurmountable pain and used it to draw me closer to Him, to strengthen my faith, and to help make me into the woman I am today. I will always bear a scar, but God and I walked toward healing together, and I came out stronger on the other side! I realized the year that could have destroyed me, instead, grew me by leaps and bounds. I grew quicker and deeper than I would have if it had been an easy year. And although, I still miss my brother, I am standing taller and stronger than I ever have.

Maybe you are in the midst of your own battle with darkness. Whether it is a light rain in the day or a down pour in the middle of the night, know this, if you know Jesus, He promises to use even this for your good. He can take your darkest moment and give you a new dawn. He wants to give you “a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” He wants to trade your pain for healing and growth. This doesn’t make it easy. You will still have to walk through your trials, but He promises to go with you. And He promises to use ALL THINGS for your good.

I will leave you with the words of David: “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise you forever.”
Psalms 30:11‭-‬12

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