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Faith and Ashes

I put the cigarette lighter back in my pocket and watched the edges of the paper curl as the notecards burned. I rarely smoke, but I'd gotten the cyan ashtray specifically for this reason, as if burning my petitions upon completion was somehow comparable to a sacrifice being burned on an altar in thanks. It wasn't necessary, but the ritual of the paper funeral pyre was oddly comforting, and it gave each request an air of finality or closure. It would come eventually, but there were too many areas of my life where I was still waiting for that.

I sighed and inhaled the brisk air deeply, the smell of ash tickling my nose. I had several more prayers in mind already, but further physical petitions could wait until later tonight, after the world had gotten quiet and there was more room to think. Right now, I didn't feel like contemplating anything other than a good book and a perhaps warm bowl of soup.

I flipped the ashtray over onto the sidewalk and gave the glass a few good taps, then stood up and stretched, my back crackling pleasantly as I extended my arms over my head. It was nice to be outside. I was good at my job, but spent far too much time hunched over computers these days. A damp spring breeze breeze buffeted me and I pulled my jacket tighter around me as I made my way home. As I passed a dark iron gate, I spotted a flash of red as a cardinal flitted between the bushes, his scarlet plumage even more vibrant against the emerald buds and grey, overcast sky. I stopped and watched him for a bit, fingers itching for my camera.

I love cardinals. At first, the midwest held fairly little appeal to me (though it has grown on me in recent years) but I've always adored those enchanting little birds. I don't know why. The color red never held much allure for me, but there was something magical about them. When I was small, I even had a little round box with violet fabric and a sequined cardinal on the top that I kept thread and plastic rhinestones in. Perhaps it's still at my parents' house somewhere.

I think about home a lot now. It makes sense, but it's more than just the people I have there waiting for me (somehow I've ended up with friends and/or family in basically every town but Beaufort) or general homesickness. I don't want to be a child again, but I think some part of me misses the simplicity of being so very young and feeling like someone bigger than me whom I loved and trusted dearly would keep me safe and had everything handled. Children pick up on everything, and even when parents have problems or a home life is dysfunctional, they seem like superheroes. I'm not a child anymore, nor am I a hero, and I know perfectly well that parents struggle and need help too. They're just people, imperfect and broken like everyone else. They don't have everything handled and sometimes they desperately need a hug and someone to talk to. As a child, however, I never questioned how they knew things or how they would accomplish whatever they promised, I just believed them because they were my parents and I knew that no matter what was happening, they would protect me and everything would be alright.

I think that's what Jesus means when He talks about childlike faith. You don't question the logistics of it, you just believe what He promises and trust Him to see it through. Half of me is there, if not a little more, but the other half of me wants to reject it entirely. That's why I burn my notecards; as reminders. Hidden doorways open and strange opportunities land in my lap all the time with timing that cannot be coincidence, and yet, I know how the world works. I've witnessed grave injustice and (perhaps worse) outright negligence that actively put the public's safety at risk, despite prayers for the opposite, and it can be hard to believe He's listening when I see how broken the system is. I still get stuck in those awful trauma loops and it's hard to climb back out. And there are so many people like me; I personally know almost 40. Justice IS coming, but I don't know when, or how, and I honestly try not to think about it beyond my daily prayers. But I hate the waiting and some part of me wonders why, if He can walk on water, He's letting me drown. Or maybe He's just letting me tread water for a while so that I learn to swim better.

I frowned, then paused to stare at the ashtray in my hands before drawing a smiley face in the grey residue at the bottom of it. Promises weren't tangible, but at least the ashes were something real I could see and touch with my fingertips.

There are two things I never want to do blindly again: trusting or loving. After all, not that long ago, I had a near infinite amount of both for someone who only wanted to use me and ruin my life. It was something I'd never be able to wrap my head around, but with them permanently and legally out of me and my family's lives, at least they could not succeed in the latter anymore. I'd come to the conclusion that the only love that should be truly unconditional is God's, and there's a reason He warns us not to cast our pearls before Swine. My sessions at the trauma center and learning my reaction was typical helped a bit, but I still felt incredibly foolish for not seeing it sooner. I wouldn't let that keep me from loving again, but I've learned not to believe people or assume that they have good intentions just because I do.

Trust is a little trickier. After all, that's what faith is. I can't just take every person at his or her word, but I should do so with God. So why is it still so hard sometimes? Is it just because I can't see it happening? I know it will, but when?

Two phrases keep swirling around in my mind: 'trust, but verify', and 'Lord, I believe, help me with my unbelief '. I think about the faith of the centurion, Peter walking on water, Thomas demanding to put his hand in Jesus' side, and how I seem to alternate between all three on repeat.

Sighing, I made my way back to my apartment.

I paused long enough to grab the mail. Mostly it was coupons and advertising, but a deep purple envalope was tucked between the brochures. There were only about 8 people I regularly exchanged mail with, and I smiled when I read the envalope. Once I got to my apartment, I washed the ash off my fingers and opened it.

I wonder if it was more strange timing, or just the odd, almost psychic perception you seem to get when you're close friends with someone, like a little brain tickle that tells you someone needs a nudge or some cheering up. Maybe it was a bit of both. I ran my thumb over the impression of the silver saint, then slipped the chain over my neck, feeling instantly braver. I'd have to call and say thank you.

Another feeling tingled in my chest and I chuckled sheepishly. Trust verified. Visually, the room was empty, but I addressed it anyways.

"Thank YOU, too."


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