Karen Swim

Writer, Marketer, Woman of Purpose

Beauty for Ashes

ash pile from other wood what was burned
Image by bradleygee via Flickr

Beauty for Ashes has long been one of my favorite Crystal Lewis songs, the words haunting and speaking of a celebratory redemption following  a struggle. I adored Crystal who was 5 ft of boundless energy who seemed to reflect a never ending joy for Jesus.When the song first came out  I was in my 20s believing that I was adult and wise. I closed my eyes and sang the song but it would be two decades before I fully understood what it meant to have my Lord give beauty for ashes.

Kneeling in a pile of my own ashes feeling that life itself had burned down around me leaving me weak and battered the words came flooding back with a force that overwhelmed me. I raised my head to the sky and allowed the tears to come in gulping waves of hope. I read the words of Job aloud, sobbing with understanding and filling my heart with fragile hope that my part two was nigh. I would not be left alone to scratch the boils of my soul with shards of pottery. Though I wanted to simply lie down in my misery He said “live.”

“So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.”–Job 2:7-8 (NIV)

Beauty for ashes, strength for fear. No one but Christ could take that which had been burned to nothing but ash and resurrect it into even a semblance of beauty. The smoke of my disaster clouded my vision stinging my eyes and mouth but He gently picked up the ash in His hands and brought beauty from the ruins.

I had lost so much but standing there fear was replaced by strength. Not strength to fight but strength to simply stand and allow His hand to guide me away from the rubbish to the beauty that was just ahead.

I had to be torn down, broken and standing in the pile but now I know His power in ways I could not have imagined at age 20. I now know what I did not know in the ignorance of youth -He is capable of creating beauty from the ugliness we create but this beauty is for ashes. While He does not orchestrate or take joy in my suffering, when I hand Him my brokenness, my ashes, He trades it for beauty – a beauty that is unique because it requires me to give willingly the pile to Him. Just as He traded His blood for me, all He asks is that I surrender my ash to Him. And so at 46 I now finally understand words that now bring tears to my eyes for I have lived it:

He gives beauty for ashes

Strength for fear

Gladness for mourning

Peace for despair

Today will you hold on to your ashes or trade for His beauty?

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July 7, 2010 - Posted by | Personal Essay


  1. Karen,

    I was not familiar with this song, but I love the verse that inspired it: “To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:3)

    As usual, your post is beautiful, touching, and inspiring.

    Comment by Lillie Ammann | July 7, 2010 | Reply

  2. Lillie, thank you so much for your support. I love that verse it is such a beautiful picture of God’s love for His people. What a blessing to exhort and inspire one another with His word!

    Comment by Karen Swim | July 7, 2010 | Reply

  3. Hi Karen – I am in awe of some of the things you write and this is one of them. Thanks for sharing – it’s beautiful.

    I don’t understand a lot of things I read in the Bible but an online friend recommended the Life Application Study Bible last year and I’m learning.

    It helped so much when Josh was knocked down by the bus. I just put my trust in God to do whatever was right.

    Comment by Cath Lawson | July 12, 2010 | Reply

    • Hi Cath – Awww, you are so sweet, thank you for those encouraging words! Even after reading the bible many times, I am still learning too. Even familiar verses can speak to you in a new way. I am so glad that Josh is ok. It is a wonderful thing to put your trust in God knowing that He is far better able to handle it than we are. I find myself there daily for when I try to figure things out on my own or trust in my own intelligence I muck it up quite well.

      Comment by karenswim | July 12, 2010 | Reply

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