Beauty for Ashes

“To provide for those who grieve…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes.” Isaiah 61:3

Last night during my small group for church, our pastor had us reflect on the biblical passage: “The people who survived the sword, found favor in the wilderness while Israel was seeking rest” (Jeremiah 31:2). That passage evokes a lot of imagery and feelings from me, and the group discussed what it is we sometimes learn when we move from isolation to solitude, the pain, grief, and oppression that black folk especially have felt over the years, and the way we continue to survive.

But it’s difficult to believe in or have faith in rest. To stretch eyes across the decades and find rest when each decade has brought new ways to destroy black dreams and black life. We survive the sword but are constantly seeking rest.

Oh how it would feel to lay down some burdens.

One promise that it helps me to return to is the promise of God’s providence in the midst of my grief. Throughout the Bible, ash is representative of grief, pain, and sorrow. Job sitting in the ashes. Tamar rubbing ash on herself as she cried out in grief. And for each of these believers, God showed up in the midst of their pain and created a new story for them. That as Isaiah 61:3 reminds us, God is capable of making beauty from ashes. Not in a blink of an eye, but in the steady work of God healing and restoring. In the wake of Easter, trusting in my own personal Resurrection.

So while I wait, I turn my questions from where is God in the midst of brokenness, death, and despair to how will I wait. There are a few key ways through activism and writing that I wait, but also, while it seems simple or disconnected, one way that I wait is by taking care of my body through my skincare and rest. Black women take pride in our appearance — the ways we can change our hair and use makeup to convey entire moods and stories. We know beauty. And over 50% of us report having a skincare regimen, myself included. Right now, with our shelter-in-place order, keeping a routine for things that are important to me has helped bring some peace and balance to my life. (It also won’t hurt if I look good when we all socialize again.)

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I have both a nighttime and a daytime routine for my face, with body skincare as well. For my body, I love using homemade soaps and exfoliating body scrubs. Right now I’m using a citrus soap made by a woman named Andie (who also used to make me the most amazing lavender body butter), and a rice milk scrub that I purchased earlier this year in Thailand. The rice milk scrub has an amazing thick quality with a texture that lets you know it’s doing its work, while the citrus soap’s fresh scent wakes me up while being soothing. This is followed by using lotion and oil on my body. Right now I’m trying otu a new body butter that has coconut and honey. Coconut does not agree with my hair and often not my body, but this body butter has been wonderful so far. The honey helps to trap any moisture in for long lasting coverage. Throughout the day I’ll also use some moisturizing lip balm and the Kiehl’s hand salve (both gifts from a dear friend). The hand salve has been life saving with the intense amounts of hand washing and the amount of dishwashing from cooking all meals in-house. Before i was using it, I could feel my hands drying out and being more ashy than I care to admit. Now, my hands stay soft to the touch.

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Though I don’t have the luxury now, I’ve especially enjoyed full body hot oil and salt scrubs over the years. I had a wonderful one where I fell in love with witch hazel during one of my last international trips in December to Jamaica.

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After a full body massage and facial at the Jewel Paradise Cove resort in Jamaica

For my daytime facial skincare routine, I use only two main products. I use a vitamin C serum called Super Glow from Glossier to help brighten my skin followed by the tried and true daily facial moisturizer from Cetaphil, which has spf. I know there’s so many opinions on whether or not black folk need sunscreen, and a lot of the falsehoods were birthed in the medical field itself. But spf is vital for everyone. No one should have that much direct, unprotected sunlight on their face. And I like Cetaphil because over the years my skin has become sensitive to fragrances and I have a contact allergen to beeswax, which shows up in many beauty products. But Cetaphil works well and melts perfectly into my skin in seconds.

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For my nighttime routine, if I’m on my third day of my 3-day cycle, I will use an exfoliating mask, and every week I’ll try to make time for a hydrating face mask and watch a show as I patiently wait for it to penetrate my skin. Another staple is my African black soap. I get the really big bar and then cut it up into smaller bars which I keep wrapped in their own individual foil  or plastic wrap. It takes a few times using it for your face’s ph to balance out with the African black soap, but once it does, I have sworn by this for many years. I have found that true black soap is actually a dark brownish color with actual pieces of plantain and bark. Beyond these scrubs, I also like to use face wipes for their cooling effect and to begin breaking down any makeup I may have worn (my makeup game is very minimal). I’m currently using rose milk and coconut face wipes. Then after any combination of those products, I have a three item staple for my evening regimen. I use a witch hazel base facial oil (which I sometimes use during the day too but it is best to let it sit overnight for moisture), followed by a jojoba and hyaluronic acid based night cream with a cooling aloe eye roller. Even though the night cream is pitched as anti-aging, this is less about anti-aging as a ‘not wanting to get old’ but for the ingredients in it that are superb for keeping skin looking fresh and revived. The aloe gel is great for the sensitive skin around my eye, but I do miss the snail solution I bought in South Korea last year. I also typically put the lip balm on at night too to lock in moisture throughout every part of my face.

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The results of my facial routines and some Vitamin D from the sun

Perhaps a well moisturized smile can ease the days. So much of our daily routines have been disrupted. For me, keeping some of these is a tool in my toolkit as I meditate on who God is asking me to be in this moment — what I will do now, and what I am waiting for God to bring forth in resurrection.

 

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