“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim 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, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor” (Isaiah 61:1-3, NIV).
What is beauty? Is beauty something individualized and classified as to certain people? Is it something for the lucky in the genetic pool of features and characteristic who have exquisite features and captivating looks? Is this natural beauty just something that the luck of the draw doles out? Or is beauty something you can buy in product form of which by the application of make-up, creams and color accents and agents will render the ordinary face extraordinary? What is it about beauty that fashion groups and companies try to determine and dictate to others by their subjective definitions of certain features what beauty is? Is beauty, a body shape or size or a certain striking facial feature? Is beauty attained by the endless offerings of new styles in clothes and dress and thus available for purchase?
Is not beauty more than the physical features or factors of a person? Surely beauty is more than something purchased and applied to the surface of the skin? Surely beauty is not the clothes draped or stretched across and around the body, regardless of the shape or size of the person?
Even in a broader sense of beauty … there are natural flowers, plants and trees that are attractive to the eyes with their color and unique features that we would speak of as beautiful. There are panoramic vistas that are considered beautiful. There is architecture whether in design and structure that appeals to the senses and is defined as beautiful. In addition, most artwork and photography exists as attempts to capture and gift us with the artist’s interpretations of beauty.
Yet, however beauty is defined or presented, there are moments in our lives when we encounter rare and extraordinary beauty where we least expect it. It happened to me in one of the rankest and discouraging places I have ever visited in my lifetime. At the Guatemala City Dump Community, where the paths are filthy, gutted and broken down of life and promise, I met two women who were radiant, hopeful and full of life and promise. They are women whose beauty was shining like a light in the darkest of places. In a place where the stench of discarded, used up waste and accumulating refuse … staggers and penetrates every sense of your being. Yet, here in this repulsive and ugly place, these beautiful women live expectant in the hope of their faith. Here in this offending place of nauseating smells; the pleasantness of everything about them brings forth the sweetness of the very presence of Christ in whom they trust absolutely. Here, in this place of despair, they live out their days in the hope of their faith.
These beautiful women bonded together as sisters, live with their families in a 12 x 18 foot space they are proud to call their home. This tiny home built from discarded boards and covered with salvaged tin was splashed with color and decorated with things they have collected along the way. They work in the dump collecting things to be sold or recycled. To add their lot in life, these sisters have lost their husbands to the violence that comes with life on the edge of life. Death comes on the edge of life where violence often rails against the poor and disadvantaged because force and evil are tempting as pathways for change. Their husbands drifted away from God even as the wives clung and still cling to the mercies and provisions of God. I have seldom seen any greater faith and trust in anyone in my life and seldom sensed any greater joy than the fruit of the Spirit of God in their lives life lived out here in this dreadful place as women of beauty in the middle of great hopelessness.
Their beauty is not something … they apply after buying some beauty product for they have no money to buy anything extra. Their beauty is not just something that was naturally gifted to them in their features that they vainly exhibit. No, their beauty flows out as something more. Even as they smile and reach out to others … there is something so rare and powerful in the trueness of their essence. Their beauty is far deeper and far more substantial. It has been fashioned and molded by the greatest sculptor of all time, their Lord and Savior. All the pain, misery, poverty and difficulty that life has doled out to them and everything that has come against them has not made them bitter, hostile or mean spirited. Instead all the awfulness thrown against them has been reclaimed and remade as they have trusted in their Savior and given their days over to the hand of God. He has remade these women beautiful in every way.
If beauty somehow is to come from ashes, then something has to be burned upped. Something has to have been offered up to the qualities of the heat and flame as to change the composition of the substance. So then what has been burned away in the heat of pain and suffering, affliction and circumstance while leaving the pureness of gold to remain in the place where the fire burned off the dross?
These precious women of faith have given themselves up to the One who refines in the fire. They have released all the pain and suffering, affliction and circumstance to be refined as precious as the finest gold. They surrender their days to their Lord and all they contain. They give up all that would pull them away from the workmanship of their loving Father. They trust Him completely, totally and in every way. Their contentment while living in this awful place is found in Him alone. Their joy is in Him regardless of their lot in life and their beauty is something that God has fashioned by His love.
It is rare to see such trusting faith. I have seldom seen any greater faith and trust then in these special women of true beauty. I have rarely sensed any greater joy as the true and beautiful fruit of the Spirit of God in a life lived out than is evident in these women. They possess great beauty in the middle of great hopelessness. Their beauty comes from the living grace of a loving Father and God, who in the ashes in our lives creates true beauty. Only He can take what would be awful, terrible, rank and filthy can bring beauty. Beauty comes from the Savior who came to redeem the world and only He can make beauty from the ashes of our lives. He alone can make a person truly beautiful as He creates and fashions us from the inside out as to shine with His workmanship. I will be forever etched by in my faith; by these beautiful women whose trusting faith in a Living God made then alive in Him while living in one of the worst places, I have seen with my eyes on this earth.
Praise, be to God, who loves us all with a great and extravagant love. Amen.