I walked through the doors of Havenwyck hospital only to be immediately greeted by another set of heavy duty locked doors that would only open after being buzzed in by a secretary who sat in uniform behind bullet proof glass. I could feel the oppression the moment I pulled into the parking lot. The heaviness was all around me and I could not help but shudder when I saw the sign that indicated the direction in which to go to find the Children’s unit.
Havenwyck is a psychiatric hospital that treats children, youth and adults in psychiatric crisis. Behind the bolted doors were people, real human beings battling incomprehensible pain to which they could no longer cope. Hurt so deep that reality became just too difficult, the darkness suffocating them so that joy was replaced with deep sorrow, peace was exchanged for chaos and hope turned to despair.
I was able to peek into the room where I would be presenting before any of the patients could get a look at me. I was breathless as I stared at this group of people looking for hope, and I could only feel reverent honor to have the chance to direct them to the only authentic source of real joy and secure hope and genuine peace. This was a place overcome with darkness and I had not only a light, I had The Light and I was struck with the reality of how all of these people were being devoured by the enemy. Oh, how this place needs the church! Before I walked in, I quickly reminded myself to listen. I have learned enough by now to know that I would be better off to do more listening than talking, because I knew that I would surely end up walking out of there a changed person with a depth and maturity from hearing of the painful experiences of other people that, like you and I, are deeply loved by our Savior. I breathed in deep and asked for the Holy Spirit to guide me as I walked through the door with a broad smile and gentle eyes. Turns out I was right, the experience changed me radically and I was reminded of a profound truth that God can always make something beautiful out of the ashes. The most amazing part, though, is that He will use you and I as tools to transform the ashes into something beautiful. I want to tell you that I don’t speak of beauty and ashes flippantly without really knowing what it’s like to feel like a part of my life is turning into an ash heap. I have buried a child. I have sat in a room where professionals discussed one of my children as they were trying to decide if she was developmentally disabled, mentally ill, or both. I am haunted by goodbyes that I have said to foster children that I have loved as my own because I know that I did not send them home to anything close to their happily ever after. I struggle with holding on to the immense pressure of running a non profit when you are trying to turn fifteen cents into a dollar along with trying to balance life in ministry. I have felt the unforgettable sting of failure. Through every season and every trial, my life has become richer, fuller and more beautiful because of the unfailing faithfulness and grace of our loving Heavenly Father.
So I can confidently urge you to lift your eyes and look for the beauty in your own ashes. Lift your eyes to the one that can make ALL things new. Pour yourself out on behalf of others, because when you give to the point of sacrifice, miracles happen, lives are changed and our own hearts are healed. I know that some of us are already working right on the front lines of battle but you are growing weary and are not sure how long you can continue, remember that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Others are going through the deepest grief, remember to hang on to the Hope found in Jesus, because that kind of bravery will move the highest of mountains. Still others of you are stay at home moms and not feeling very important, remember that you are forming our future, and there is no higher calling. To the parents raising a special needs child, remember that you have been blessed with a special gift from God. Others are working a monotonous day job that doesn’t feel very spiritual, remember to continue to work diligently and choose to live simply so that you can give to others less fortunate than you. Some of us battle invisible foes like anxiety or depression, don’t ever be ashamed of your story, for it could be the very thing that brings others out of the dark.
We live in a world that is losing hope and giving into fear and we are the soldiers that are keeping the flame alive. We may feel like we are being overcome, but we know the power of our King and we know how our story ends. The journey may be full of difficulty, but the ending is better than the most beautiful fairytale. As we keep our eyes fixed on eternity, let us overcome evil with good by bearing each other’s burdens, weeping with those who are grieving loss, encouraging the heavy and downtrodden, carrying the weak, caring for the poor, remembering the forgotten, including the outcast, esteeming the lowly, protecting the vulnerable and being patient with the simple. Through one encounter at a time, we will help turn each others ash heaps into something breathtakingly beautiful for the glory of our Lord and Savior.