I told her about all of it, the pain, the confusion, the heartache. Because of the trust I felt, the words kept pouring out.
Following our Shepherd through a beginning in a foreign country was a sequence of fiery, painful events. It began with the disturbing pain of miscarriage. And then some crazy housing difficulties. And loneliness and all its ragged effects on personhood. Missing my best friend more deeply than I had thought possible. Culture shock and the daily shock of living with yourself going through culture shock. Relational difficulties of almost every kind. Fears. Exhaustion. Questions. And many other things we should not name here.
Every day a struggle, every day a wondering, every day carrying barb-like seeds of doubt that tear at the soul.
I told her I hoped this was only the beginning, because the best stories often have terrible beginnings, death coming first and hope coming later.
She looked at me with wise eyes, eyes that had seen these flames before yet had not forgotten their pain, and said, “Maybe you could capture this idea you’re saying of beauty from ashes through an art piece?”
Oh, the moment when He speaks through a human mouth, the mouth of a friend.
It just so happens that the art piece was in my head already. She simply named it, called it out, brought it into the light. “I think I know what this art idea in my head is, now,” I told her, realization dawning.
She got chills.
I made it and I named it “the Bride of the Phoenix”, in that name binding myself again to the One who died and rose again. The next day I came across a phoenix reference in my book of devotional poetry. In a footnote I read:
“…Christ is associated with the mythical phoenix,
which dies and is reborn from its own ashes (my emphasis added).”
-Before the Door of God, Hopler & Johnson, Pg. 129
By those last words I was caught.
The phoenix is reborn not just from any ashes,
but from its own ashes.
The very substance, the remnants, the particles of its own death, still full of memory.
Our deathly experiences are if anything, personal.
When the One who recreates blows over the ashes and the new, fragile creature is revealed beneath, there pulses a living heart marked with scars packed with healing herbs called wisdom, patience, and trust, ready to be multiplied in His hands. Love, compassion, understanding, sometimes even calling, will be spoken from the stories of these scars.
You can count the cost of following Him. But then there is actually paying the cost. And no matter how much you counted, you can’t understand until you begin to actually pay it, sharing in His sufferings.
One of the things I have learned since being here is that truly, the darkness in this world is very, very powerful & will do anything to stop the fragile, delicate, beautiful things in our lives–faith, hope, & love most of all.
So here in this world of burning and ashes,
I call upon the hope of our Phoenix.
Let us rise in Your newness as the embers smolder still,
after we gave up and kept going, somehow.
Ice and ash
to flame and the light of life,
the threatening flicker of flame turned again-pulsing heart–
this is the hope of the Phoenix:
God recreating in us all a different hue of newness after flame, all of us together,
the Bride of the Phoenix.
Bound to Him,
we are baptized into flame and made new as He was made new.
Bound to Him,
we are sure to rise with Him, holding on as tight as we can to His ascension strength.
Bound to Him,
we are more than our own ashes and there is a part of us that cannot burn up,
every one of our hearts a burning bush, resilient, tied to immovable heaven.
“When you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.”
I know a story of three men who were thrown into a fiery furnace,
& the only thing that burned up was the rope that bound their hands.
Can you hear hope beckoning in their unexpected freedom to move among the flames?
Creating this piece is me saying,
I know my ashes, I see them & I call them what they are
I claim them as only the beginning of our story in this place, looking ahead.
In these colors, the work of my hands,
I claim the hope of our glorious Phoenix.