He came through our surgical screening line so helpless; or so I thought. He was among the last to be screened for surgery in Malawi, Africa. And, I hate to admit it; ashamed to admit that I could not look at him. This small boy had fallen into a cooking fire—a story we hear quite often, and his body and face had suffered encompassing burns. I could not look at his face—he had none. Poor healing had led to a disfigurement so bad a face was indistinguishable. And yet, his mother stood there so helpless and looking at us so hopeful.
Could we help him?
The story went something like this. This little boy had been helping with the family cooking when all the sudden he had a seizure and landed headfirst into the fire. His mother quickly grabbed him; however, it was too late. His little body had been engulfed by the unrelenting flames.
Having no immediate emergency medical care-what does one do? Can you imagine the fear that groped this poor mother? Can you imagine the terror? In a third world where sons are so important in sustaining a family-can you imagine the feelings of despair as a hopeful future disintegrated into a pile of ash? Her son lay helplessly burning in her arms!
As the uncertain future stretched before this mother, she did what every mother instinctively does. And, that is—she bravely cared for her son with what little resources she had. Each day of healing brought some tough decisions she had to make. His eyes were so badly burned that his left eye started to die. The protective eyelid had been burned off. So she was left without a choice—she had to remove the eye. She removed it.
His right eye was covered but the eyelid had become constricted and unable to move up and down. He would soon lose that eye if he had no surgical intervention to release the contracture.
This is what she asked.
Could we save her son’s right eye? As he was evaluated by the surgeons and finished the screening process I was so deeply ashamed that I was unable to look at this young boy. I prayed for this family and prayed that the surgeons could properly release the eyelid; thus, saving the right eye.
I prayed for grace for them and for me.
As the week went by; however, I realized something. The person that was handicapped in this situation was not him—but it was me. This little boy was not bothered by the ashes of his tragedy. His mother didn’t appears so either. I found this boy laughing with the other children in the shelter; helping with the other children’s needs after their surgeries and assisting his mother with the rest of the family. In fact, everyone loved this little ‘man’ who was so grown up for his years; who showed such a deep inner beauty of compassion for others. As he waited his turn for surgery he used those days to encourage others!
In fact, it was so touching that by week’s end I didn’t see a disfigured face, at all. I didn’t see the gross abnormalities that contorted his little frame. I saw a beauty so deep; so alive that it beckoned me to want to be close to it. It called at me to drink of its peace; love and assurance.
When asked how they lived through such a tragedy—this mother pointed to heaven and held her heart.
I was the one handicapped. I was the one blind. God was showing me something so deep; so profound that I will never forget it for as long as I live. As this little boy’s life lay burning to ashes in his mother’s arms-every single hope and every last dream, a deeper beauty began to emerge that could never be duplicated. The ashes worth nothing became beauty and strength worth everything. From the outside this boy had nothing to offer the world but looking from the inside he held everything.
To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair—Is 61:3
When circumstances come into our lives that burn up all our self-laid plans, our hopes, our dreams, or even destroy our health … what is our natural human reaction? We begin to ask questions. We may turn angry. If all the things we had ever hoped and longed for in this world suddenly burn up and lay in ashes at our feet—-our humanness fights deep anger, dark bitterness and gloomy despair. Our natural tendency is to place blame on others or even place it on God.
I had to think of our most beloved Apostle Peter. SO human, like us! He had followed Jesus for three years and had placed all his hope that they would soon be free from Roman bondage and persecution! Under Roman rule at the time the believers were persecuted, terrorized and all the believers hope was placed on this Messiah, Jesus to set their world free.
How many of us have deeply followed
our Lord Jesus and somehow thought in following He would deliver us from the curse of broken dreams, heartaches and fallen hopes?
It’s a thought most of us have. But what if the beauty of our dreams, hopes and human desires is different from His definition of beauty? What if His beauty perspective is different from ours?
Jesus was to be the Messiah of the ‘world’ and set the ‘world’ free! Then, ever so quickly Apostle Peter witnessed the anger, the accusations, the mock trial, the beatings, the crown of thorns, the cross, the journey up the hill, the nails, the sphere, and then….total blackness.
Everything he had believed and hoped for was taken down from the cross, wrapped in linen and laid in a cold rocky tomb—dead.
Have you been there? The beauty and hope for your life as you had planned now lay dead among the cold rocks? Scripture states that the Apostle Peter went away dumbfounded. He lay in ashes of despair. How could anything beautiful arise from this? What did he even follow the Messiah for? What was that all about? Where does one go from here?
Beauty is not always seen in the same way as WE believe it should be.
He will give us beauty for ashes. Some may say that everything we lose on this earth-God will redeem. This is true. But redemption for our little ‘boy’ didn’t come by miraculously being made physically beautiful to this world. Redemption comes when we willing lay down our pride, self fulfilled ideas, dreams, our motives, our plans of what ‘should’ be and fully accept God’s what ‘can’ be out of our pile of despair. He calls us to the beauty of surrender and sacrifice of everything that is self-made, prideful, and self-willed to the higher calling of beauty that is crafted through Him. And, many times this crafting evolves by burning ashes.
The purest and most impeccable beauty one could ever achieve is the beauty He offers to us when we surrender and offer up the ashes of our ‘self’.
For three days Apostle Peter experienced the deepest pit of despair. For three days it was the darkest of nights. Where could he even go for a pittance of hope?
Then, on the third day….. The ashes of death were aroused. An explosion of life rose up from the ash! A garment lay empty and our Lord Jesus walked out of that tomb by His own power arising into the beauty of a living Hope!! Strength and beauty arose from the ashes! Jesus.
Hope of this ‘world’ ends in the grave and in the ashes of every lost human dream and desire—but, for those who believe—ashes are the place where Hope and Beauty arise into a new beginning.
He gives us HIS beauty when we offer HIM our ashes. The offerings of ashes from our selfish desires and self-righteous ways EXPLODE in His Hand into His beauty, His strength and His power.
If we have hope in Christ in this life only, we are sadder than anyone else. But it is true! Christ has been raised from the dead! He was the first One to be raised from the dead and all those who are in graves will follow.1 Corinthians 15:19-20 NLV
……….to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes… Is 61:1-3