Beauty for Ashes

Gaining a heart of wisdom by numbering our days

It’s the 18th day of the fifth month. Wait a second. It’s also the first day of the rest of our lives. May 18, 2020 is definitely one for the books.

In the 90th Psalm, Moses asks the Lord for help with homework. Back when I was in school, I needed help with homework, too. Especially with math. And that’s the subject for which the Prince of Egypt needed assistance too. “Teach us to number our days,” he asks. “Teach us to number our days that we might gain a heart of wisdom.”

One way to number our days is to recall the days of our lives that have specifically proved meaningful and reflect on the lessons they call to mind. Consider the following:

April 15, 1912 was the day the Titanic sunk. A day that proved that it’s the little things in our lives that can take us under if left unheeded. The ship’s collision with that notorious iceberg resulted in hairline cracks that caused the fatal outcome of a ship “not even God could sink.” It was not an obvious wound to the body of vessel that claimed her life.

November 22, 1963 was the day Camelot ended for America’s royal family on a motorcade through Dallas. We all can recall where we were when we heard that President Kennedy had been gunned down. It was a trip the President had been warned not to take. It’s a day that reminds us of the importance of heeding the advice of those we trust.

July 20, 1969 was the day Neil Armstrong voiced those memorable words from the surface of the moon. “One small step for man, a giant leap for mankind.” It was a day we recognized that not impossible dreams really are.

September 11, 2001 was the day Mother Liberty looked on in horror as her twin towers collapsed at her feet. It was a day we discovered that even the greatest nation on God’s green earth is vulnerable to tyranny and terrorism on our home soil.

And let’s not forget May 18, 1980. Forty years ago today when a majestic mountain named for a peaceful saint exploded volcanically. The erupton of Mount St. Helens sent a plume of ash miles into the atmosphere while devastating 200 square miles of forested landscape with molten magma and claiming fifty-seven lives. It was a day that reminds us of the power of nature that points to the power of the Creator.

It was also a day that reminds us of an all-too-important lesson. That ultra-fine silt-like Mt. Saint Helens ash, that blanketed our state for weeks, in time would become fertilizer for new growth that beautifies the base of the remaining mountain. That same ash was used by skilled glassmakers to create treasured art that is breathtakingly beautiful. I have an ornate ornament that celebrates an easily forgotten maxim: out of crises and chaos come new opportunities and new beginnings where God calibrates His creation.

In the words of the prophet Isaiah, God gives us beauty for ashes, gladness for mourning and praise in the place of despair. All for the display of God’s splendor (Isaiah 61:3).

Lord, teach us to number our days. Help us to seize this day and make the most of it by learning from the past even as we trust You for what the future holds.