Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Beauty and Ashes

I've been thinking about brokenness a lot lately.

In my kids’ lives it’s simple. If something is broken, they bring it to me and I fix it-or at least I try to. If I can’t fix it, I tell them I’m sorry, and we throw it away. Or, more often they decide that Iron Man will still be fun to play with even though his leg is broken off. Or they beg me to super glue his leg back on, or duct tape it back on, and I do, because they are sad.

“But,” I warn, “This isn’t a very strong bond. One wrong move and it will be broken again. You have to be gentle with this leg now.” They say “okay Mom” and head off to play again. In the innocent eyes of my sweet little ones, anything is solvable, repairable, savable. Nothing is broken beyond hope.

But that’s not the way it is.

Some things are. Just. Broken.

Glass shatters and can’t be put back together. A house burns to the ground, and no amount of glue will turn the ashes back into a house. Dreams are crushed. Hearts are suffocated. Hope dies.

Families pray for healing until they can’t breathe, and their loved ones still die. They pray and cry and beg until there are no more words, but their lives still fall off the edge of hope and into the seemingly eternal abyss of pain.

Brokenness isn't something that can always be fixed. Even when a broken bone is set, it always bears the scar of the break, and sometimes pain will flare up in the bone, reminding the person that it’s no longer as good as new.

 Even when a toy is glued back together, it’s not as strong as it was before. You have to be more careful with it, or risk re-breaking it.

Even if glass is only cracked instead of shattered, it will always bear the scar…the crack will always be visible.

Even if a house is saved before it burns to the ground, there will always be smoke damage. I imagine the smell will linger in parts of the house forever.

But you know what I've noticed with my kids? After the sadness of their broken toy, the devastation that Iron Man’s leg is no longer attached to his body, comes the acceptance of the new way of things. Now their game involves a missile shot from the bad guy’s ship which blew off Iron Man’s leg, but he managed to escape and now he’s in his workshop building himself a robot leg. Or, if there is super glue or duct tape involved, my “surgery” skills are followed closely by a multitude of “thank you, Mommy” and “I’m so glad you could fix him, Mom. You’re the best.”

My kids love that toy more after it’s broken and has been remade than they did before when it was perfect. And they love me more because I was able to give them back their hope in the everlasting survival of IRON MAN!

There is a lesson for me in this…but I have struggled long and I am only beginning to see the first glimpses of what I'm trying to learn.

Is it possible to see beauty in the ugliness? Is it possible that all…even the worst…is GRACE?

I finished reading a book recently that said this very thing. All is grace. Ugly is beautiful.

I cried while I read it. I denied it. I fought against it. Some things are just ugly. Some things are always broken. Ashes…they are always ashes.

And then God reminded me of His promise in Isaiah 61:3 “He will give beauty for ashes…”

I've been thinking about this a LOT, this verse, this seeming exchange of my brokenness for His loveliness. He wants to take away the ashes and give me beauty instead??

Confession: I don’t want that. I don’t want to give up my broken heart. I don’t want to let go of the ashes. The ashes are precious to me. They are a reminder. The pain, the shattered glass…I don’t want to exchange them. They are a part of me now.

So I have turned this verse over in my mind for days, weeks, wondering at it.
And then a new thought entered…the Holy Spirit whispered…and light began to dawn.


When the package arrived from Malaysia, and I signed my name to accept it, and I opened the brown wrapping to discover an urn…the weight of my sister’s body reduced to ashes…there was no beauty. Only the ashes were visible. No hope. No life. No gluing anything back together. It was only shattered glass that cut me to the quick with every move. It was all ashes.

But then I sat in our church and watched a video about missions-a slide show of photos taken when 37 members of our congregation went to the Dominican Republic to proclaim the love of Jesus. That trip was a direct result of the story of my sister’s life…and her death. And the Lord spoke to me.


Because if she hadn't died, no one would have heard the amazing story of her life- a life lived on ‘the cusp of eternity.’ Because, if you boil it all down, those people who accepted Christ in response to ministry done by our church missionaries, those people would still be living in darkness if SHE HADN'T DIED.

The ugly took on a rather beautiful glint as we sang “How Great is Our God.”

He whispers to me in the dark, and I am listening now, straining to understand fully, certain that I never will, but resting today in a new glimmer.

He isn't asking me to give up my hurt, or forget the ashes, or replace the brokenness with something brand new and untried. He isn't asking to make me unbroken like I was before.

He is asking me to let Him shine THROUGH the cracks. He is asking me to breathe in deeply the smell of smoke and ashes, and to remember every single day that HE CAN BUILD THE BUILDING WITH THE RUBBLE. And it will be more of a miracle because it used to be crushed, destroyed, shattered, ashes. Because in so many ways it still is all of those things…and yet He remains faithful, and there is still grace.

When my family gathers, we all have cracks now. We are all shattered. We all smell vaguely of smoke. We all have pain in our joints that’s a reminder of the brokenness.

But we all lift our faces to the light, and HE SHINES THROUGH THE CRACKS. The light shining through the cracks in beautiful. The building built from the ashes is breathtaking.

My words of comfort offered to someone who is still smelling the smoke, and feeling the burn, and struggling to breathe without dying…my words ring more true because I smell the same aroma, and breathing hurts me too, and aloe can’t soothe this burning I feel.

But He is building something out of the ashes. Hope fills the glass that is shattered, and it seeps out, and glues the shattered pieces back to each other. Not the same way they were before. That glass is gone forever. That building has burned to the ground. I will never be good as new again.

But somehow, the ugliness of the scars is beautiful.

The ashes have a remarkably lovely color.

The brokenness is better.

“Out of these ashes beauty will rise. And we will dance among the ruins. We will SEE it with our own eyes.” (song lyrics by Steven Curtis Chapman – Beauty Will Rise album)