Beauty from ashes……

“1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion– to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” (Isaiah 61:1-3 New International Version)

Scripture is relevant on many different levels and if we are somewhat familiar with it, is brought to mind on occasion. Today was one such occasion.

I was listening to a story on Sunday Morning This Morning about “Violins of Hope”; a project put together by  Amnon Weinstein beginning in 1996 using violins that had survived the Holocaust.

Amnon Weinstein is a luthier of fine quality violins from a family of luthiers of violins dating back to the Holocaust. One day several decades ago he was told a story by a Jewish Holocaust survivor who had asked Weinstein to restore a violin that had spared him his life while in a German concentration camp. The gentleman’s job was to play the violin as Nazi soldiers marched Jews to their death. Weinstein opened the violin case and found the violin along with ashes. Let that sink in for a moment.

It took many years before Violins of Hope became a reality but that meeting sent Weinstein on a journey to locate violins from the Holocaust that would be lovingly restored and would eventually come alive again with the voice of those who had gone before. In the fall of 2015 the Cleveland Orchestra began a concert series playing the restored violins in honor of those who survived and those who had lost their lives to the Holocaust.

As I watched the story and later read about Weinstein and Violins of Hope I could not help but think about Isaiah 61:3. God had once again brought beauty from ashes, given the oil of gladness instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. I was humbled.

Oftentimes people are the beauty God creates from the ashes. Life can knock us down at times, deal us a cruel hand, bear down with a vengeance out of nowhere. In my life I have heard many a story of people who have been brought to the depths of despair and yet somehow came thru the despair to become the beauty God created from the ashes. My children and I have lived it too.

No one likes to go thru the hard times, no one wants to suffer and yet the Bible says that we will because we live in an imperfect world, because we are given a free will and sometimes when some exercise their free will to bring evil on others there is unwarranted suffering. It’s the reality of being human. Like the Holocaust, like a couple suddenly losing a child to death, like a family experiencing abuse at the hands of another, like being unjustly fired from a job, or losing everything to a natural disaster.

How we respond to those times defines and refines our character. Sometimes we look toward heaven and curse God Almighty, turn our backs and walk away from our relationship with God, curl into a fetal position and disengage from life, crawl  into a bottle or lose ourselves in a drug induced fog, consider or attempt suicide, lash out at others, become hard and jaded, and sometimes we draw closer to God and trust that He will bring good from hardship; beauty from ashes.

I will confess that I have generally done one or more of the above in response to hardship. I have a difficult time looking heavenward and thanking God for the opportunity to trust Him thru the storm. I’m just not wired like that, or at least I chose for a time to despair instead of trust.

Even if we choose to take the despairing route God can still bring beauty from ashes. God is bigger than our decisions.  Deciding to trust God may take months or years, but God is a patient Father. And the “beauty” may not be what we wanted or expected but there is beauty. When an unexpected death occurs, a family loses everything, abuse occurs over and over, the dead don’t usually rise, the “things” aren’t magically restored, nor does the effect of abuse disappear. What does happen is that thru the fire we are brought to the end of ourselves and our only choice is to turn to God and trust Him, or decide we won’t. Even if we decide not to trust God He never stops loving us nor looking for us to return.

When our decision is to choose God in the midst of the despair He is able to sweep up the ashes of devastation and breathe into those ashes new life, hope, strength and a deeper understanding of His love for us. It’s  a process and sometimes a lengthy process. But those who have come through the fire radiate the unique beauty only God can bring from the ashes.

If you’re going through the fire today I encourage you to reach out to God, to allow Him to breathe new life and hope into the ashes, and then little by little begin to experience the beauty only He can create.

Those of us who have decided to trust God to bring beauty from ashes are like the restored Holocaust violins. During WWII the violins sang a song of mourning as many were marched to their death. Today some of those same violins sing a song of restoration, strength, and resilience.

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