In the Ashes

By Jolene Bergstrom-Carlson

Editor’s note: Jolene Bergstrom-Carlson is a Covenant minister and executive director of Ministry Mentors. A slightly different version of this post was first published on the organization’s website.

On August 22, 2001, lightning struck our home in Oak Park, Illinois. There was destruction everywhere. Our 22-year-old son, Andrew, the only one home at the time, was spared his life by moving from one floor to another to check the Cubs score. We will never stop thanking God for his life, saved from what could have conceivably been a tragic event.

We were not allowed to go into our home until the fire department let us enter the next day.  We were devastated. Ashes filled the attic. Water damage and destroyed wood and furniture spilled over all of the second floor. Water still dripped thorough the ceiling. It was our own “war zone.”

In the midst of the destruction, my husband and I kept repeating, “We have Andrew. We have Andrew.” Yes, we had life even in the midst of all the loss. But the ashes were real. Darkness and despair entered our lives in a new and profound way.

Is this not what starts us into the Lenten season? Is it not from the ashes and ruins of our lives that we walk the valleys and hills of despair and destruction into the light and hope that comes with the morning?

But our family didn’t enter into the morning light easily. The ashes were real. Our losses were real. When the insurance adjuster walked through our home, he kept saying to us that it was “just things” that were lost. At one point of frustration I declared in a loud voice, “Sir, these are not just things, they are our family’s story. See that picture? It came from Great Grandma Moody who brought it from Sweden.” Stories and people are not things. Darkness and loss cannot be dismissed.

All of us have had “fires” of some kind in our lives that bring ashes of despair and hopelessness. As hard as it may be, Lent reminds us to remember the ashes and despair. It also invites us to walk together in the weeks ahead—through the ashes into the dawn.


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