“MMmmmmm”, said our waitress as she reached to retrieve an empty dish from in front of Dorothy, my new friend and dining companion at a recent writer’s conference. “What is that you’re wearing, it smells great?” Without so much as a beat Dorothy proclaimed, “Hard work!” The poor girl didn’t know what to say next. The awkward silence was soon filled with laughter. Throughout the evening Dorothy’s unique wit had us rolling. “I want to be like you when I grow up!” commented one dinner guest, obviously in awe of Dorothy’s easy laughter and sense of humor. Dorothy’s response was uncharacteristically somber. “Thank you,” she said, “that means a lot to me.” She went onto share she had only recently come to a place of healing following a severe mental disorder. Our laughter subsided as we leaned closer to hear her testimony.
After a lifetime of struggle and hardship, she had found mental health. She shared how God had protected her and provided a way for her in the midst of a tragic childhood. She praised God and desired to write her story so others could benefit from her journey. Although Dorothy’s story was unique, trials and triumphs seemed to be a consistant theme in the many lives of people I met during this week.
I looked out over the crowded dinning room and recalled all the stories and testimonies I had heard. I took in the bubbling scene of clanking silverware, loud laughter and thoughtful expressions. There were many faces whose names and stories I did not know. I wondered what wounds they hid beneath their radiant smiles and dining pleasantries.
Then it all became clear… Dorothy’s revelation at our banquet table was just one piece of a beautiful puzzle. The banquet room, packed with writers and speakers from all walks of life, was full of God’s beauty. Lives once filled with heartache or hurt, now sought to share hope and grace to others through the words God had given them. Truly God had turned their ashes to beauty.
Isaiah 61:1-3 reminds us of our savior’s ministry to us all, “….to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners; …to comfort all who mourn…giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified.”
We were all like Cinderella at times, sitting amid ashes in life. Unlike Cinderella, who needed a fairy godmother to whisk her away from her ashen abode, we have a God who turns our ashes into beautiful garland.
Lord help us to recall your faithfulness and praise you even when times are trying. Help us to become “oaks of rigteousness” that You might be glorified.