General Update

A cross marker was made and his collar hangs on it

First off, thank you to all of those who offered their condolences over the loss of my sweet doggie friend, Pablo.  He was buried on his beach, off the side of the property next door where he used to live, and one of my neighbors made a marker for his grave.  All of us have said our goodbyes in our own way.  Just this morning, I finally made it over there to leave his remaining “cookies” that were in my beach walking bag I carry.  It is still a frequent topic of conversations amongst us how much he meant to each of us – his presence will be missed. 😢

Overlooking the beautiful beach he lived on

Other than that, I did promise a general update on my life.  After returning from my stateside visit in February, the bee business in Dallas picked up, and I picked up an extra work day, so I am now working four days a week.  Up until recently, we were in our peak season and it has been a busy one, so work days were pretty much non-stop all day.  Things began to slow a few weeks ago and I am grateful.  It’s nice to have the breaks in between calls and time to get some things done around the house like laundry, gardening and cooking.

Speaking of cooking, I’ve continued to do a lot of it!  One of the main reasons is that shortly after I returned, Elaine and I watched a health docuseries online and at the conclusion, decided we were both going to go on the Ketogenic diet together.  My goal was to not only lose the 15 or so pounds that I first lost when I moved here, but had gained back, plus the 8-10 pounds I gained while in the states. 😳 We both also just in general wanted to be healthier (although I have eaten better than most for years) and wanted to achieve some of the other benefits purported.  Let’s just say my expectations were more than met, they were way exceeded!  Never in my lifetime of yo-yoing with every possible diet out there, could I have expected the weight to literally melt off me!  I felt like I barely made any eating adjustments, but easily lost 20 pounds in about 2 months, and am now maintaining an approximate 25 pound loss.  The best part is, it does not feel like a diet at all – it is an easy lifestyle change.  Anything you might miss eating, you can easily find a recipe for a Keto friendly version of it online.  Elaine has lost about 40 pounds now, and several other friends have jumped on the band wagon, so we now all trade information, recipes and encouragement.  I have noticed many other benefits of this way of eating and can’t imagine ever going back.  As Elaine says, we are “Keto for life!”

Elaine, Bill, Rick and many other local Canadians are back summering in their country right now, so it’s kind of slow and quiet around here.  Tag has two sets of pet sitters to look after him this time. The lovely couple for the first two months are from England and New Zealand, and the lady who arrives next week to relieve them is from Idaho.  I have visited Tag several times since Bill & Elaine left, and he is really enjoying life with his new girlfriend, Patches, a stray who Rick adopted several months before he went back to Canada in May.  A local friend of ours is house/puppy sitting for her until Rick returns in August, but Tag’s pet sitters have been bringing Patches for beach walks, as she and Tag would be happy to be inseparable. 😍 (Photos courtesy James & Clare, Tag’s current pet sitters)

 

The last thing to update you on is that after years of inactivity, I’m finally studying and re-training myself again in TPM – now known as Transformational Prayer Ministry.  Many of you know that for nearly two years, I was very active in facilitating these sessions (that can best be described up as an inner-healing ministry) up until the day my mom fell and my life took a watershed turn.  After that immediate dust settled, the Lord made it clear it was not time to pick it back up yet, as the next phase of my life was to be about “getting my house in order” to move to Ecuador.  Once I arrived, in addition to all that I had to navigate to establish a life here, Robert was definitely the next “assignment” on my radar.  Since then, it’s just been a continued process of establishing my roots.

I absolutely loved the season when I was doing TPM ministry, because it was amazing to watch God transform people from places of deep emotional pain, to complete peace before my very eyes.  I always only felt like a tool in His hand and that I was so privileged to stand on “holy ground” and watch Him work.  Leaving behind that ministry was truly a “laying Isaac on the alter” moment for me, and I didn’t know if God would ever allow me to pick it back up again.  But there was a definite shift in some things when I returned from the US (as I sensed there would be, even before I left) and I have finally recently felt His grace to return to it.  It’s been so long, that I knew I’d have to pretty much completely re-train myself.  Fortunately for me, they’ve now made the process more streamlined and all the training available for free on the internet.  So my latest “hobby” has been going through all the materials and brushing up on the “process, principles and purpose” of the ministry.  I’m hoping to begin praying with friends both here and back home (via Skype or FaceTime) very soon.  This morning on my beach walk was the first realization I had that it was nearly 7 years (7/11/11 – the day my mother fell) that I had been out of this ministry.  I felt the Lord remind me that 7 is the number of completion.  So I’m happy to have completed that portion of my journey and thrilled at the prospect of Him once again using me to help “set captives free.”

Yes, I still wear it 😊

One final remembrance about Robert was that it was four years ago, around this time, that he visited me here (twice).  The last World Cup was during that time and he was a rabid World Cup fan.  We watched Belgium play a few early games the first time he was here, but they were long out of it by the time he returned and we watched the finals.  This year, Belgium has currently made it to the semi-final round!  They have only ever been in the World Cup 12 times since its 1930 inception, and have only made it to the semi-finals one other time, losing to both Argentina and France, to come in 4th Place.  This year, they face France again in the semi-finals, and they are going in undefeated in all their World Cup games thus far.  Robert would have been absolutely over the moon proud of his Red Devil team – GO BELGIUM! 🇧🇪

Farewell Pablo

Pablo shortly after he first came to us in 2016

Yes, I know that I am woefully behind in my blogging.  Thank you to those who have checked in to see if I’m still here.  I have been meaning to post a general update for several weeks now, but that will have to wait, because this blog takes precedence.

A few weeks ago on the beach

I, along with many of my friends and nearby neighbors, are grieving the loss of our sweet friend, Pablo.  As you can probably tell by the photo, Pablo was a dog.  But he wasn’t just any dog – everyone agrees that Pablo was very special.

Pablo lived at the former hotel/restaurant next door.  I still remember when he first showed up a little over two years ago.  He was abandoned by some people and the first chef from the U.S. wanted to keep him.  He was still a young dog, maybe 6-8 months old, and he quickly captured our hearts.  Back then we all gathered regularly to eat and drink at the restaurant/bar, and Pablo was a staple there.  He became everybody’s dog and we were his people.  When the chef left a short time later (following the earthquake), the hotel owner didn’t want to keep Pablo and asked my neighbor, Lisa, to take him.  She did initially, but Pablo just kept jumping over her wall and going back next door.  Shortly after, the next chef couple arrived and they too fell in love with Pablo.  They begged the owner to let them keep him and began feeding and training him, as well as getting his shots and sterilization taken care of.  When they left about six months later, there would be no moving Pablo by then – that was his domain.

During that time, Pablo and I began a fairly regular beach walking routine.  Eventually, I started to carry dog biscuits in my bag, and we had our familiar routine of him bounding towards me to get his treats before we started on our walk.  Some mornings he didn’t come out until I was returning, but he always got his “cookies” no matter what.  Sometimes we’d play fetch the stick, but what he really loved most was chasing birds (and sometimes crabs).

But what was unique about Pablo was his personality.  He was a super special dog indeed. The truth is, he’d walk with anyone he saw going that direction.  He was a friend to all.  All our volunteer workers instantly fell in love with him.  Everyone loved Pablo.  He was always happy, always friendly, always joyful and full of mischief and life.  He didn’t have a mean bone in his body.  Everyone adopted him into their life in some way.  Our newest residents that moved here full-time a few months ago have four dogs, but had still welcomed Pablo by feeding him and letting him inside to hang out and play with their dogs. They even paid for the final vet bill for him.

I used to always say he reminded me of me, because when we were on the beach, if we saw a person or another dog, he ran straight towards them, tail in the air, looking forward to making a new friend.  It was always interesting to watch the reactions both of people and other dogs.  Some were afraid of him, and he’d always look puzzled as to why they didn’t understand that he just wanted to make friends and play.  Some were even hostile towards him, and he couldn’t understand that either.  It was fun to watch those people and dogs who finally realized how sweet natured he was, and they began to warm up and play with him.

Our development was part of his home and he’d wander around and through here daily.  A funny story from several weeks ago: I left my gate open all day one day because workers were at my house finishing work up on my deck. My friend/contactor, Luis, came back after lunch and said there was a dog in my yard.  I knew it was Pablo, and sure enough he came to my back screen door and peered in for several minutes while I was on a work call. Then he walked away, and I thought nothing more of it.  I was still sitting at my table (back to my front door) talking away and looked down and suddenly Pablo was standing beside me in the middle of my living room!  A worker had walked outside briefly to get something and left the door open and Pablo just let himself in.  I grabbed him by the collar and led him right back out, talking on a call the whole time.  Good thing Charcoal was hiding in the laundry room because of all the activity!

Earlier this week in the afternoon, the hotel owner came out of his room to find Pablo acting out of his head.  He’d been fine earlier that day and they suspected he’d been poisoned.  They brought him here to some of my neighbors, who tried to give him something to make him vomit.  Finally, they called the vet in Jipijapa (30 minutes away) and rushed him there, but it was too late to save him.  The next day, another ex-pat friend’s dog was also poisoned, but they were able to treat it and it is recovering.  However we learned yesterday that sadly, it’s some level of government putting out poison to kill stray dogs.  Whether that is local or national government I don’t know.  My friend/contractor Luis said there were 3 dead strays by his house.  But sadly, there are going to be a lot of “unintended” victims as well. 😔  I truly do understand the problem of the strays, and it’s heartbreaking to see them live a suffering life, but when my neighbors described to me how Pablo was suffering from that poison, it’s devastating. 😖

It has been super sad walking by the hotel the past few mornings and realizing I would never again see Pablo come out stretching from having just woken up, and then come bounding towards me looking for his cookies. Or missing him when I stopped to do my stretches and he’d come over from his wanderings and lay down beside me while I did my routine.  Just in the past few weeks we had some very memorable moments together.  One morning I was off work, so was taking my time and running a little later than usual leaving for my walk.  As I was fixing Charcoal’s breakfast, I heard a single bark and realized it was very close by.  I opened my front door to see Pablo laying outside my gate and looking at me like, “Come on, you’re late!”

In fact, I had already thought about writing a blog post about Pablo, because in some ways he was like my little angel companion and protector.  Although generally friendly towards all, there were a few times lately when he let a pack of dogs or a person jogging know that they’d better not have any ill intent towards me, or they’d have to contend with him.  I remember one sweet exchange just the other day, when I cupped his face in my hands, put my face close to his, looked straight into his eyes and told him what a special dog he was.  And his eyes answered back that he knew exactly what I was saying to him.

Ownership of Pablo was really a group effort and everyone around here had their own special bond with him.  As my good friend Fatima says, “There will never be another dog like Pablo” – he’ll be hugely missed. 😢

Thankful For Friends

This year marks my 5th Thanksgiving in Ecuador!  It’s interesting when you are in a foreign country and celebrating a big holiday for you, that the rest of the country doesn’t even acknowledge.  In Ecuador, the 4th Thursday in November is just like every other day.  But those of us who are from, or who lived in the U.S., know it as one of the biggest celebrated holidays there.  So our local expat community enjoys keeping the tradition here, and this year I gathered with 15 of my closest friends to celebrate.  Never mind that only four of us were originally from the U.S.!  Not to mention, our host, Wayne, is from Canada and our hostess, Fatima, is half Brazilian and half Japanese!  But they did live in Houston, TX for about 10 years, so they certainly qualified to host the gathering.

It was such a wonderful evening spent with people who have become family to me.  We had TONS of good food – and I made chocolate orange marmalade cake! 😮  And we all agreed that topping our gratitude list are the wonderful friends we’ve made here.  Below are pictures of the festivities (click on the first photo, to scroll through it as a larger slide show and read the captions):

 

Living On The Other Side

It was four years ago today that I left behind my familiar world of Dallas, TX (where I had lived all my life) and boarded a plane to move to a country I’d never even visited – Ecuador.  And now, four years later, although it is still in many ways a foreign country, I feel more at home here than any other place I’ve ever lived.

The life I have here, although far from trouble free, is so different in ways I can’t even begin to describe.  It’s slower and more serene.  It’s withdrawn from the hectic, helter-skelter pace of the U.S.  It’s away from all the craziness of media, politics, social agendas and the likes.  In a word, it’s much more peace-filled.  I have absolutely no desire, even would loathe the idea, of moving back into my former life.  It feels like it was a whole other lifetime ago.

As I was laying in my rooftop hammock pondering all this the other day, I thought about how this same experience will be multiplied many times over when I’m living on the other side of this life.  There, life will be perfect.  There will be no pain, no sorrow, no sickness, no problems, no tears – only peace, joy and love, the likes of which we cannot even begin to fathom on this side.  I believe we will remember our former life and it will feel a million miles away – and we wouldn’t want to go back to even the best parts of it, ever.

As much as I thank God daily for the life He has given me here, I cannot wait and would still trade it all in an instant, to be on the other side.  There, I know I will finally be in the place that is truly my home.

Don’t Mess With (Little) Texas!

I’ve been a bit behind on chronicling my recent life events, so just like my last post, this one is over a week past the incident.  But I could not let it go by without sharing it with you.  Warning: it’s not for the squeamish!

Some time back, a friend of Bill & Elaine’s came to visit.  Her name was Samantha and she was from Texas.  We became friends too, and so some other friends here nicknamed her “Feisty Texas” and me “Little Texas.”

Not long after that, I met my friend Terry, and in our times of running around together, I kept telling him I wanted a machete.  I was a woman living alone (still am) and thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have such a thing handy.  He kept telling me he would get one for me, and eventually presented it to me for my birthday.

So now you have the background for this story…

I was coming down my stairs first thing in the morning, and paused at the first landing to open Charcoal’s bay window.  Just then I looked out in my yard to see this:

A snake slithering in and out of my bamboo fence.  I froze and my mind went through a list of several possible actions.  Finally, without taking my eyes off the snake, I called my neighbor, Ed, and asked, “Can you come kill this snake in my yard?”  “I’ll be right there,” was his response.  However, it became apparent as the minutes passed, that Ed’s “right there” was based on Ecuadorian time.  As I waited, I continued to watch this thing slowly slither its way around and across my fence, and make a turn towards my house.  It wasn’t going to be long before I lost it from my sight line out the window.  Knowing there were some potted plants, large rocks and various other spaces there that it could disappear into, and still seeing no sign of Ed’s vehicle headed my way, I did the only other thing I could think of.  Go back up to my bedroom and get this:

I paused at my front door to consider whether flip flops were appropriate foot wear for snake killing.  I took a look at the length of my machete and decided time was of the essence, rather than appropriate footwear.  I carefully rounded the corner and found the snake was halfway under some large rocks next to my house.  Only its back half was showing.  I knew everyone had always told me you were supposed to cut off the head.  But with a thought of what I would have to do to get at its head, and wondering how swiftly it would move once I disturbed it, I decided the best course of action was surprise attack wherever I could.  I raised my machete over my head and brought it down as hard as I could across the snake’s back (if there is such a thing).  Unfortunately, it didn’t have the result I wanted.  Apparently, when they sell you a machete, they leave it rather dull for the store and sale handling, and expect you to sharpen it later.  Rather than severing the snake, it merely injured it.  After one more whack, the snake brought its head out.  I then attempted to chop off its head, to no avail.  It took numerous hackings to get the thing dead.  When it was all over, with heart racing and hands shaking, I looked at the bloody machete – it felt like a scene from a horror movie.

I then called Ed to let him off the hook.  He scolded me for not waiting and said he’d be down anyway.  When he arrived, I explained that the snake was on the move and headed for my house.  We then found a new hole, just under my window next to my house.  Apparently the snake had recently made it his home and was headed that way.  Ed then said I did the right thing.

Ed and subsequently several others (my friend Terry, our gardener Jaime, and my Ecuadorian friend Luis) identified it as a boa constrictor.  They tried to convince me it was a “good” snake.  I felt a little guilty for just a moment, but then remembered that the Bible never calls any snake good.  I am a redeemed daughter of Eve and I HATE SNAKES!!!

There is a snake here in Ecuador, called the Echis, that is one of the most deadly in the world.  A bite from one will kill you in ten minutes.  I encountered one at my first rental, just a few months after I arrived, when I opened the door to find it on the door frame!  Its head was eye level with mine.  I slowly stepped back and called upstairs to Bill on their balcony.  When he came down and saw it, he took a step back in astonishment.  The goal was to get it gone without damaging the door.  After some thought and little weaponry, he hit it with a broom and it fell off and disappeared in an instant.  I suspected at the time and later identified what it was.  Since then, some of my volunteer workers recently made another suspected siting of one in our development.  So my reaction to snakes is to kill first and ask “what” later.  Fortunately, constrictors move slowly and are harmless.  Echis are very fast and highly aggressive.  So I take this all as a lesson to sharpen my machete!

Did I happen to mention that I HATE SNAKES!!!

Mall Mania!

Bloggers note: this blog post is three weeks old!  I’ve had it mostly written, but life got so busy, I never got back to finishing and posting it.  Since then, Bill & Elaine have returned to Canada for the summer, and I’ve been to the mall four more times!  But I thought it best to leave it in its original format.

This week my good friend, Elaine, and I made a trip to Manta to check out the less than a week old new shopping mall!

Elaine and me in front of one of the entrances. The sun was too bright for our friend to see well, so she just got the “Pacifico” of the sign, but you get the idea.

I have actually known about this mall long before the general public.  It was just after I arrived in Ecuador and was stuggling to correct my property/visa fiasco.  One day I was in the office of my first (bad) attorney, and he couldn’t help himself from boasting and proudly telling me he’d just helped close a deal for a new shopping mall in Manta.  He asked if I’d like to see the architectural drawings and showed me the artist renderings of the new project.  I asked where it would be and he said, “Do you know where the abandoned olymipic sized swimming pool is?”  I did – it was right in the heart of town, just across from the original SuperMaxi grocery story.  I asked him how long before it would be open and he told me four years.  That seemed like an eternity to this few months old new immigrant.

But I watched the spot, and sure enough some months later dirt began to move.  Knowing that things usually take much longer in Ecuador than they say to accomplish (if ever), I wondered if I’d live to see it completed.  But the earthquake really motivated them to step up the pace, with the goal of finishing it in time for the anniversary.  They opened last Thursday, just a few days past, to a large and very excited crowd of 70,000 people (according to the local paper).  I would have been among them, but was in Manta that day with my friends Mesfin and Elaine, both who didn’t want to go anywhere near the mayhem.  However we did drive by a few times and witness the crowds and excitement.

On Tuesday, Elaine and I took the first bus in and last bus home, and still barely had time to scratch the surface!  Elaine had previously told me she wasn’t really a mall person.  I told her growing up in Dallas, a city full of shopping malls, I still usually only went once or twice a year, mainly at Christmas time to enjoy the decorations and festive environment.  But even if I don’t care to go often, I just like knowing I have options, and this mall has certainly brought us many more options than we’ve had in this part of the country up until now.

The new Mall Del Pacifico is now one of the five largest malls in Ecuador, and that says a lot because there are many in Quito and Guayaquil that rival anything I’ve ever seen in my hometown of Dallas.  The new mall is 120,000 square meters and has 200 business, as well as a section for medical offices.  It will also soon open an attached seven story, 126 room hotel.  The best part about all of this is the many local people that the mall will employee.

There are so many things that we couldn’t find in our grocery and other stores before, that we can now find here.  Malls in Ecuador almost always have a mega grocery store in them, and this mall has transformed our small neighborhood sized SuperMaxi grocery store into a MegaMaxi (it’s basically like a Super Walmart or Target).  Having spent a lot of time discovering some other new stores, we only had 1.5 hours in there on our first visit, and that wasn’t nearly enough – we needed at least four!  So many more choices of food items we’ve never had access to here.  Maybe still not everything we are missing from back in N. America, but I was so excited to find couscous, Dijon mustard and REAL maple syrup!

We discovered several other great stores as well.  One thing that always makes me laugh in Ecuador is how stores will carry such an odd mixture of items that we would never put together in a store back in the states.  Elaine and I went into one store and on one side it had all kinds of items for commerical kitchens and restaurants.  On the other side was equipment and supplies for beauty salons!  We finally realized the connection of supplying to these two professional industries, but it was so funny to have one aisle with cool kitchen gadgets and on the next, nail polish and hair dye!

Plasticware and medical supply equipment – what a store combination!

Another new store we loved was called Almacenes Estuardo Sánchez.  This was another everything store from housewares, to office supplies, kitchen items, toys, etc.  But what really cracked me up was rounding the corner of looking in several aisles of plastic kitchen goods, to find a huge section of medical equipment!  The thing we loved most about this store was their prices.  We are used to many household and decorative items being quite expensive, but we found the prices in this store to be very low.

The only thing I was a bit disappointed in was the food court area.  Official articles before the mall opened stated we’d have such new offerings as McDonald’s, Taco Bell and even TGI Fridays.  But none of these were among the vendors, with no “coming soon” signs or even apparent space to be added later.  Most of the restaurants are Ecuadorian fare, with the exception of KFC and Pizza Hut.  But my favorite local cafe/bakery, Dulce y Cremosa, has TWO locations in the mall!

There is really a nice variety of stores and services (including four banks and a beauty salon).  And since the mega grocery store is there, the mall can easily be the one stop shop for everything.  All the places I taxied around to each week, now in one air conditioned location – sweet! 🙂

Below are a few more pictures (thanks to my friend, Ryan Kelly, for most of them off his Ecuador Shores Realty Facebook page):

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One Year Later…

Well, today marks one year since the devastating 7.8 earthquake that rocked Ecuador last April.  I find it very fitting that the anniversary falls on Easter/Resurrection Sunday, a day that celebrates the new life we have been offered in Jesus.  My friend, Aileen, wrote a short, but fitting Easter blog post, and I would encourage you to take a look.  But I would like to briefly update you on the earthquake recovery efforts in my area.

Demolition in the devastated Tarqui area following the earthquake

My shopping city of Manta has made an amazing comeback!  Many buildings have been repaired or torn down, although there are still others awaiting either.  Most impressive has been the efforts towards helping the many home and store owners/vendors of the destroyed Tarqui area.  For the most part, Tarqui still remains closed off and demolished.  I have been told eventually all of it will be torn down and turned into a large city park.  But the government has done a fabulous job of building a whole new area, even closer to the bus terminal, for the venders to relocate and sell their wares.  There are three large sections side by side, with two sections being rows and rows of garage style stalls.  The third section is larger stores made out of railroad car containers!  This area has some of the bigger chain stores here, including appliance stores, pharmacies and even a bank, as well as a food court area.  All of this opened within about six months after the earthquake.  There is also a new mall that was under construction prior to the earthquake, but afterwards they really stepped up the pace, with the goal of opening it in time for the anniversary.  They are falling a few days short, but I’ve heard it will be open this week – we are all very excited!

Edwin playing tour guide during Mike & Dana’s visit. We rode in the car he purchased with your GoFundMe contributions.

In addition, the people many of you personally helped are doing very well.  As I’ve mentioned several times before, my friend Edwin was able to get back on his feet quickly with the vehicle that was purchased with funds many of you donated.  As is true of many hard working Ecuadorians, he wears several entrepreneurial hats to make a good life for his family.  He now is in partnership with another friend of ours and has started a successful car rental business.  He also has been buying and selling silver jewelry, as well as doing private taxi and tour guiding when the opportunities come.

Edwin has also reported to me that his church has raised enough funds to begin work on a new building.  It is truly amazing that they could manage to do so in such a short time, considering all the personal devastation suffered by so many families in the earthquake.

The funds some of you donated helped erect this structure for Leonardo and Maria: foundation, columns and roof, all built to better earthquake standards. Part of it is now enclosed, with the hope that he can add more rooms later.

And finally, the couple from Edwin’s church, Leonardo and Maria, that some of you helped fund their rebuilding effort, are doing well.  It took quite a while from my initial appeal, to make it happen.  Funds came in slowly, and the work had to be done as we received the money and had volunteers to help.  A neighbor allowed them to build next to and use their existing wall, and we were able to make a good concrete foundation, support pillars and roof for them, as well as buy some bricks for the remaining three walls.  We fell short of the amount we needed to raise, but in the end God blessed Leonardo with a significant sized plumbing job, and he was able to contribute the remaining money to purchase what else was needed and finish putting up the walls.  That has only been completed in the past few months, and he will add water, electricity, more rooms, etc. as he is able.  But I’m happy to be able to show you these pictures that Edwin just recently took of an inaugural gathering Leonardo and Maria hosted in their new home:

The earthquake I went through was truly one of the most surreal events I’ve ever experienced and something I hope to never repeat in my lifetime.  However my damage was minimal and repaired within six months.  Many other people suffered loss of homes, livelihoods and even loved ones.  But I have been so impressed with the solidarity I’ve continued to see on every level, from individuals, to organizations and even the government, to help get Ecuador and its people back on their feet.  I am thankful, one year later on this Easter Sunday, to be able to look around so many places and see “beauty instead of ashes.” (Isaiah 61:3)