Literally two weeks before we left for Peru, I was handed a book by one of my favorite people on earth – Elisabeth Elliott. It was a book I wasn’t even aware she had written. It’s called These Strange Ashes and is about her time in Ecuador before she married Jim. I literally could not put it down. I poured through the book and ended up copying down a bunch of quotes that I knew someday I’d go back to. Unfortunately, this book is still in Pennsylvania; hopefully it can come down in a suitcase with a friend within the next couple of months.
I love the title of the book – These Strange Ashes. It’s taken from a poem by Amy Carmichael:
“But these strange ashes, Lord, this nothingness, This baffling sense of loss? Son, was the anguish of my stripping less Upon the torturing cross?”
The last couple of weeks (probably the last month or so) have been really difficult, in just so many different areas. I wrote about it this morning and was going to post it, but when I re-read it, I realized I really shouldn’t. I don’t want to become a bitter missionary; I don’t want to be one of the ones that lives for furlough. I want to thoroughly love what I’m doing and dive into life in a new country.
But, for now, that’s not the case. I love my job, but I haven’t been this stressed out about a job in a long time. I love the country I’m in, but I’m struggling with language. I love what we’re doing and why we’re here, but I’m missing family right now. I love our new friends, but I miss our old ones – especially the ones that seem to have forgotten about us.
But…these strange ashes…this nothingness…this baffling sense of loss…?
I know exactly what she meant in these words. I wish I didn’t understand, but I do.
I read this quote this morning:
“Each separate experience of individual stripping we may learn to accept as a fragment of the suffering Christ bore when He took it all. “Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” This grief, this sorrow, this total loss that empties my hands and breaks my heart, I may, if I will, accept, and by accepting it, I find in my hands something to offer. And so I give it back to Him, who in mysterious exchange gives Himself to me.” (Elisabeth Elliott, These Strange Ashes, p. 127)
As I was getting ready to leave my house this morning, I asked myself: Where do I go from here? The last thing we want is to get stuck in the pit of culture stress. We both recognize that we’re there; now it’s up to us how long we stay there and how we get out.
The answer to my question, I realized, is to give it all back to God. These strange ashes that I don’t understand; this feeling of nothingness – the ache of feeling useless; this baffling, confusing, downright frustrating sense of inexplicable loss… If I offer it all back to God, somehow, He will take it as an acceptable sacrifice and turn it into something beautiful. That’s what’s so strange about these ashes. There’s nothing great in them, nothing worthwhile of becoming a pleasing aroma, a pleasing sacrifice, to God. But, He takes it because it’s all I’ve got right now. In Romans where it talks about offering up our bodies as a living sacrifice, God doesn’t specify that our bodies (or our minds!) need to be perfect or worthwhile. He just wants us to give of ourselves, whatever that looks like.
So, here we go. I’m going to give it all up because to be honest, I have nowhere else to go with it and I don’t want it anymore.