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Beauty For Ashes

By pastorbillwalden

Isaiah 61:3 “To console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for their heaviness…”

I “officiated” a candle light vigil tonight. I actually was one of the minor players in the event, though I was officially leading it. The families and friends of four people who died in a house fire (including two kids) were the ones who spoke volumes to me tonight. They didn’t say anything I haven’t read or heard, they just “spoke”, and their words were full of substance and passion. Though in deep sorrow over losing their loved ones, they spoke with dignity and integrity.

Ten and eleven year old kids spoke of losing their cousin and best friend. They spoke, cried, held each other and sometimes wailed. It was terribly sad and admirable all at once.

The familia was courageous to share (in both English and Spanish) with 200+ people that had gathered together to comfort and be comforted. I stood near them. I overheard as they said to one another that they didn’t think they could speak, and then somehow they found the courage to share their hearts, and the comforting continued to all who had gathered. I admire their courage and love for one another.

It was an intense night.

Earlier in the day a pastor friend of mine, Daniel Fusco from Calvary Chapel, Mill Valley called me about something unrelated. In the course of our conversation, he asked what was happening, and I told him that I had been asked to lead this vigil. He prayed for me, and prayed that God would give me “beauty for ashes”.

I immediately knew that that was a word from the Lord. The victims had died in a fire. (Smoke inhalation) Their bodies came forth from the ashes. God wanted to use that picture to illustrate what He wanted and could do for those who were grieving.

When the ancient Jews grieved, they would put dust and ashes upon themselves. The thought took me back to my Catholic roots of Ash Wednesday, the day when the priest would make a cross on our foreheads with ash, reminding us that “from dust we were made, and to dust we would return”. Ash Wednesday is the first day of the Lenten season.

Some of the grieving family is Catholic, and they had attended an Ash Wednesday service earlier in the day. They arrived with ash crosses on their foreheads. They wore the reminder of our origin and the brevity of life.

Long story short: I was able to share with the crowd that God does bring forth beauty from the ashes, if we will receive it. Tragedy does make us appreciate life more. We can go on to love family and friends better. We realize that our days are numbered. For me, it makes me want to love and serve God more, and communicate Him in any way that people will receive. (Hence, this blog)

I am so proud of the folks from our church and other churches that serve as community chaplains, along with lead chaplain Lee Shaw. When the fire occurred, there were six chaplains needed to minister to the extended family, as well as classmates and faculty of where the older child attended school. Even more chaplains showed up tonight to help with the vigil. These folks are all volunteers, and are there to help during the worst of the worst.

You can read more about their ministry at

There was no altar call tonight. We didn’t hand out tracts. I didn’t get too preachy (I think), or give a three point sermon. We got to help some people in need, and share a few of God’s promises with them. We got to serve some folks tonight, and I am supremely blessed and proud to be in God’s family with some mighty fine people.

And I love how the Lord can speak to my heart through the prayer of a friend.