Among the Ashes

I have grown to love the significance of rituals that mark beginnings and endings with purpose and beauty. Sitting amongst a beautiful group of women recently, I eagerly anticipated our time together. I had high expectations of sharing stories and nurturing the new relationships that come with a well-orchestrated women’s retreat. I was especially looking forward to the sacredness of rituals we would engage in, as we marked events in unique ways.

As the fullness of each day unfolded, I discovered a sincere desire to embrace the richness of who I am as I never had before. I was invited into places of reflection, each time guided to a place of letting go in some meaningful way, while also receiving something far more valuable in return.

One afternoon we were asked to write what was keeping us from receiving the freedom we were created to enjoy. I sat pondering the question. What was holding me back? What tempered my free spirit and kept me from embracing the freedom I was designed to embody? Many barriers have kept me from pursuing that desire. Still, I could not name even one. I watched as the others proceeded without hesitation, writing with purpose and then stepping forward to rid themselves of what held them back. Again, nothing. My mind was blank and I felt numbness slide down my body. I felt nothing but the tears that spilled over and dripped off my chin as I sat staring at my shoes. Nothing.

What was happening? Everyone else seemed so sure and purposeful. What was my resistance? Why couldn’t I find words? I felt very needy at that moment—a familiar feeling. I raced to self-contempt, then just as quickly returned to seek compassion for the woman who is, in fact, quite needy. I’m needy for the comfort of those who see me and patiently listen to my story. I’m needy for more preparation so I can better serve others. I’m needy for the peace my heart cries out for. All reasonable needs, yet there it was. I felt needy.

I scribbled onto a page from my journal, filling both sides: “I am so needy! Why? When I receive care I feel euphoric, only to soon find myself back in the same needy place. I have so much need! It’s heavy to carry, and I want it gone!”

As women around me released their words to the earth, water, and wind, I knelt at the fire pit where candles sat among ashes. Hardly aware of others around me, I reached out, slowly touching my note to the flickering flame. I held the small, ink-covered scrap only for a moment. As heat met my fingertips, I dropped it into the ashes. The flame instantly ceased, but the paper continued turning black. I watched. One by one, I watched words disappear. Gone—I wanted my neediness gone. But just before the note was completely consumed, the burning stopped.

Looking closer into the ashes, I saw the tiniest bit remaining, so small I almost missed it. Still, I wanted it gone. ALL of it. Every word. I slowly reached in, lifting it from the ashes and closer to my eyes. One word remained: “need.” I was stunned! Was what I sought to rid myself of all that remained? I slowly turned it over to find another word written in my tiny cursive: “euphoric.” Despite my efforts, my need hadn’t left me, and the euphoric feeling of having my needs met didn’t disappear, either. I tried returning it to the flame, but its size prevented my attempts, so I pinched it into tiny bits and dropped them into the ash.

Tears still flowed, but I felt a shift. I had tried to eliminate my need and the temporary comfort when it was met, yet despite setting the paper afire the only remaining words were “need” and “euphoric.” What was God telling me? What is God telling me? Is my need His way of ensuring I don’t try to go it alone, leaving me to depend on Him and those who reflect His comfort?

In my efforts to destroy, I was given a chance to see with clarity.

This beautiful ritual to cleanse myself of whatever was stealing my freedom had filled my needy heart. That scorched bit of paper revealed that my need is good and having my needs met should feel good! I realized that needing others who hear my stories, needing to believe I am enough to serve others, and needing my heart to continually seek the peace only Jesus can bring is beautiful.

God showed me that what I intended to rid myself of once and for all—need—is exactly what should remain among the ashes.

Wendy Lipham lives on the Alabama Gulf Coast where she has taught interview and communication skills for over twenty years. Having heard God’s call to work with young women who have experienced sexual violence and abuse, she is further inspired by the growth of her “Beautifully Broken” story group. She enjoys writing, drawing, and needlepoint. Most of all, she loves living life beside her husband and hearing the laughter of their seven grandchildren.