Beauty for Ashes

by Araceli (Sally) Cardenas

by Araceli (Sally) Cardenas

To give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.

Isaiah 61:3 NKJV

The New Year was fast approaching. I was hours away from traveling from Texas to Italy to celebrate with the man I was certain was ready to propose. I stuffed my luggage with gifts and glitter and hurried off, trying to squeeze in last-minute errands before heading to the airport.

Right before leaving, I got a phone call. I was certain it was my office calling, but instead, the voice on the other end sounded official, “Are you related to Lazaro Cardenas?” Instead of racing to the San Antonio International Airport, I raced to the hospital. At 68, my father had suffered a heart attack. I walked into his room, expecting he’d be sleeping, but instead, I discovered his lifeless body draped in a single bed sheet, surrounded by medical equipment resting in an idle position. I held him, unable to reconcile his sudden death with our recent Christmas celebration. In less than 48 hours, I went from celebrating Baby Jesus to planning my father’s burial.

On New Year’s Eve, I stood over his coffin surrounded by friends and family, including the man I was on my way to visit who had traveled overnight to be present. We each lay a single rose on my father’s coffin and walked away empty-handed as if someone had abruptly turned off the lights to my life. Years later, December 27 was forever marked as a day of sorrow and despair—the day my beloved father, best friend, and loyal confident was taken from my sisters and me. Until recently, I had silently honored his memory and considered the day that forever changed my life as an open wound, unable to see this day any other way. But one day, I turned to Scripture for comfort and discovered a treasure trove of promises, including this truth spoken by Jesus when his dear friend Lazarus died: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26 ESV)

This truth gave me a new vision, a new hope to hold on to every year my father’s anniversary came and went. It’s a promise reminding us that Jesus is the source of both resurrection and life. Apart from Him, there is nothing but death (1 John 5:11–12). No matter how dark or sorrowful life once was or still is, no day is off limits to the Lord. On this day, our Heavenly Father invites us to embrace it with gratitude and to lay down the spirit of heaviness at the altar. When we do, we open our hearts to a glimmer of new hope and the possibility to embrace the gift of a precious new life on a day marked by pain and suffering.

Sixteen years later, our family received a precious gift by welcoming the birth of my father’s great-granddaughter, Allison Deliayaneth Garcia. God truly is the only one with the power to turn beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness with new life. As believers, may this truth sustain you when you face a day of sorrow of your own or silently mark a day known only to the Lord. May it carry you when life threatens to suffocate or destroy you or when your life is upended by circumstances beyond your control. May it also renew your faith, knowing that the same Lord has the power to transform a day of great sorrow into a celebration of life when we’re willing to surrender our greatest losses to Him.

Truth for Today

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4 ESV)

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24 ESV)

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