Beauty for Ashes

Just over a week ago a new foster placement came to our home. He is five. It feels weird to call a child a “placement,” but that is the term. He is small and lovable. As I stated in last week’s post, each new face brings to mind the heaviness of a world broken since that fateful act of disobedience in the garden. However, from time to time, out of the ashes of abuse and neglect we are privileged … no, blessed and humbled … to see a flower of life and redemption sprout where once there was only desolation.

When we read the Bible, we get 2 chapters of greatness. God in His infinite wisdom and creativity created a magnificent habitation. At the end, He crowned His achievement with Man, then Woman. Unique beings created unlike any other creature, created in His image. He looked at His creation and saw that it was good. Then, Genesis chapter three …

One job. Adam and Eve had one job! Don’t eat of that ONE tree. So, what did they do? They ate it. One job and we, as a race, blew it.

The remainder of the Holy Scriptures tell a tale of redemption. Each page somehow weaves into the narrative of salvation and how God redeems that which is broken, bringing beauty from the ashes of sin and death. It really is a great story, you should read it sometime!

One of the most famous verses representing this is Romans 8:28. It reads,

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

While there is great comfort in this passage, there is another one that speaks to me even more regarding the redemptive and glorious nature of our Lord as He makes something from nothing, splendor from devastation, and trades beauty for ashes. That passage is Isaiah 61. While the entire passage is incredibly beautiful, the first four verses are an artistic portrayal of what God does, and plans to do. They read (emphasis mine),

1 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
    he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor,
    and the day of vengeance of our God;
    to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
    to give them
a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
    the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
    the planting of the Lord, 
that he may be glorified.
They shall build up the ancient ruins;
    they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall
repair the ruined cities,
    
the devastations of many generations.

As God trades that which is broken for that which is divinely repaired, the beauty of the latter overwhelms and encompasses the former. This means whatever He makes out of broken things is even more beautiful than the original. Sometimes it is only possible to see the beauty of a redeemed situation once you’ve carried the full weight of its brokenness. That’s how it is for us with foster and adoptive care.

Before K. came to live with us last week, we talked with our other children about fostering. We told them we were keeping the house open as we had one free bed in which we could place one foster child who needed a home. You might think they would squawk at the idea, but they usually ask things like, “will he be in my room” or “will there be more than one?” and in the end, they respond the same: “Sounds good!”

This time, though, it was they who started the conversation. “Can we get a little brother?!” they asked with excitement. “Yeah, that would be awesome!” replied the other.

When those who have lost so much know of others who have experienced a similar fate, their affections are most naturally turned. There is an empathy, a form of camaraderie that forms almost instantly. They know.

They know how it feels to be in your “new home” the first night, scared, alone, and afraid. They know what it means to feel abandoned by everyone you’ve ever known. They know the new kid probably needs a toy or special blanket. They know.

The scene that unfolded when K. came to live with us made my soul melt. As I said, K. is five years old. Usually a tiny fountain of overflowing love and joy, but that night this fountain was dry. He was too scared to sleep upstairs in his bed, so he curled up on the couch and we covered him with a blanket as he drifted off to sleep and dream about who knows what.

About that time our older son came down the stairs and stood next to the couch. He was adopted a couple of years ago. He was just a little bit older than K. when he entered foster care. He is 19 now. As he passed by the couch he stopped and looked. He just stood there and stared at this tiny little man curled up on someone else’s couch, under someone else’s blanket. He knew.

He knew exactly what K. was going through, and it touched him. It touched parts of his heart he can’t identify and in ways he can’t articulate, but he knew. Out of all of us, he knew best what the next 14 years could be like, but I know he hopes the best of what they will be like. An instant bond was formed. A bond I can’t understand or imitate.

The bond shared between foster siblings reminds me of the bond you see with combat veterans. I’ve written of it before in the context of how our children bond together around Brynna, our special needs child, but this is different. It is more sober. There’s more hurt than joy, more pain than comfort in the glances they exchange.

I once saw a documentary about the beaches of Normandy and how soldiers from both sides would return and simply walk the beaches, remembering their fallen comrades. Sometimes they would meet one another, no longer enemies, but kindred tortured souls walking through the darkest day of their past. They would often remain silent, shake hands, nod, and then pass by. They didn’t need to speak. They knew.

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Sift through the ashes of abuse and neglect and you will find the scared and fragile emotional remains of children who long to be loved, accepted, and to connect with someone. Dig around long enough and you will find a sprout .. a sprout of hope and courage. Dig around a little longer and you will see that sprout grow into something long since lost.

You will see lifelong bonds formed by young men, complete strangers one minute, brothers the next. You will see the budding beauty of these same boys taking in their younger companion on the road of uncertainty and playing kickball in the backyard as if it not only has always been this way, but as if it was always meant to be.

You will see the flood of memories for someone beleaguered with travel on the bumpy road of self-protection as he sees himself in the newest addition to his home. You will see him determine in his heart this should never happen to another child. You will see him finally begin to deal with his own hurt and pain in a way that brings healing instead of bitterness.

Then, when you, the preacher, or youth worker talk about our faith and the adoption of sons as children of God, you will look in their eyes and see their soul. Maybe more than anyone in the room, they’ll know. The will know, in a way foreign to most of us, just how special it is to be chosen, loved, and accepted. They will make a connection of soul few of us can fathom.

They will know Jesus and Him crucified. They have already been dipped in the pool of suffering, pain, and loss. Now, they get to feel the warm sun of acceptance, like a warm blanket in winter fresh from the dryer. They … they are the beauty God trades for the ashes of neglect and abuse. According to Isaiah 61:3, that very beauty, the beauty God creates as he exchanges the broken for the redeemed, that beauty serves one purpose: “That He may be glorified.