"I love you." she told him, looking squarely into his eyes. "And no matter what you do to me, I will keep on loving you." His hand hovered for a few seconds still drawn back to strike, and he stood there uncertain as to what he should do next. He had had too much to drink, and he knew it. The rage of insecurity had consumed him, fueled by the whiskey and the caustic teasing of his drinking partners. Her remarks, however, had quickly taken the steam out of him. He pushed her roughly away, and staggered off to bed, muttering to himself.
Still trembling, she wiped the tears from her eyes and massaged her face till the pain had subsided. "Father, forgive him please," she whispered, "touch his heart, and take from him all the pain and bitterness." She took a small bible from the end-table near the couch, opened it to Psalm 104 and began to read. Her body relaxed and her breath came easier as the word began to take it's effect on her mind and her spirit, calming and stilling the storm of emotion that swirled around her.
He was snoring in the other room now and she knew that it would be morning before he regained consciousness. He would be genuinely sorry in the morning, and would apologize over and over for hitting her. Then he would begin to berate himself for being such a failure and for not being able to give her all the dreams they had talked about so long ago. The cycle of self-punishment and failure would start over, and in a few days he would start drinking again.
"My God," she thought, "how many times have we been through this over the years?" "Do you really want to know?" came the reply rising up out of her spirit. She laughed, "No, to tell the truth I don't." she answered. "Lord, I love you, if it weren't for you, I'd never have made it..."
Her mind drifted back through the years to her teens. She could see him still, pulling into the high school of the small farming town in his battered old chevy pickup. He was reckless, good-looking, tough, and he had a swagger about him that made her crazy. She had chased him till he caught her, and they were married in the spring just before she graduated high school. By the time summer came, their first baby was on the way and he had a job in the granary just outside of town.
Those days had been fun. They would go out on weekends and party down by the river with all their friends, laughing and drinking and staying out till the sun came up. Morning sickness, dreams of babies, and a growing sense of responsibility soon took the fun out of it for her. She began more and more to stay at home while he went out on his own. The feeling that things somehow weren't quite right nagged her constantly, but every time she tried to talk about it he would sulk and storm out of the house to come back several hours later partly drunk.
We learn how to adapt to our circumstances, and she soon learned what they could talk about and what things were better left alone. By the time baby number three had arrived, there was such a gap between them that idle conversation and sex were all they ever seemed to share. There would be long periods of time without either of these, and the loneliness grew.
She befriended an elderly neighbor lady who lived in the mobile home at the end of the road, an old friend of her own grandmother who told stories by the hour of all the adventures that they had shared as young girls. There was something special about the old woman. She always had a song to sing, usually some old church hymn, and even though her body was twisted with arthritis and no one ever seemed to come around to check on her, there was an irresistible joy that just seemed to pour out of every part of her.
"Just Jesus a-shining over me." she answered when asked how she could always be so happy, and one day when he had been particularly obnoxious, the girl took her broken heart, ran to the old woman's house and sobbed till her stomach hurt. By the time the day ended, she had given her heart to Jesus, and every Sunday after that, the old woman and the girl visited the little Pentecostal church down on the river road.
He never objected, in fact the best she could remember, he didn't seem to care much what she did in those days. He was always gone fishing, or drinking, or coon-hunting, or some other "man thing" with one of his buddies, and as long as she was around when he wanted to eat or make love, everything went quietly.
She laid the bible down and stood up. The side of her face was swelling now, and she knew there would be a bruise by morning. Putting a praise tape into the stereo, she raised her arms and twirled around the living room for a minute or two. As she did, a familiar stirring on the inside floated up into her consciousness and she knew that the Holy Spirit was calling her to prayer.
Her memory floated back once again into the past.
It had been the summer after their youngest daughter started school when her world had fallen apart.
It started the day she saw the ambulance go down the road and stop at the old woman's house. She ran as fast as she could to get there, and arrived just in time to see the ambulance attendants come out with a stretcher and a dark plastic bag. She knew that her friend was gone.
Within a week, her mother had received a diagnosis of cancer, her own youngest child was in the hospital with a serious case of respiratory infection, and to top it all off, he came home to tell her the `good news', as she called it. He had lost his job at the granary. That had been the longest few months of her life, and even now the memory of it was dark and cold and painful. He became so sullen and morose that communication was impossible. He was drunk most of the time, and when he was home, he did nothing but criticize and complain.
Driven by despair, she came to the edge of a complete breakdown. Nothing seemed to soothe the pain she experienced inside. She had lost the one person who she felt she could confide in, and the loneliness became unbearable.
It was late one night toward the end of the summer when she finally fell to her face on the floor of the living room and cried out, "God, I can't stand it anymore, help me!!" A strange sensation, much like warm oil began to spread over her, and a dam broke on the inside of her heart. She recalled crying for nearly three hours. Memories of the old woman began to slip quietly into her mind, and conversations they had shared together about prayer began to resurface in her consciousness. Now she understood her friend had been teaching her to pray.
As the weeks wore on she found that place of grace at the foot of the Father's throne and became familiar there. She became aware of a strength down deep on the inside of herself that had never existed before. "Peace that passes all understanding" became more than a saying. It became a reality in her own life and the Bible began to speak to her every time she opened it.
Around her, the circumstances turned from bad to worse. Her mother was now diagnosed as terminal. Her youngest child was continually sick and so far had been unresponsive to medicine or prayer. He had gotten another job, but for much less money than before, and he was coming in late every night drunk.
She knew she could leave him, and that most women probably would have, but there was something down deep on the inside of her that wouldn't turn loose. Natural love had faded badly. The turning point came one night when she made a decision to love him for no other reason than because God loved him. Since Jesus had loved him enough to die for him, she decided that was enough for her.
It didn't make sense to the natural mind. All her family begged her to leave. Sometimes she even wondered herself if she had taken leave of her senses, but her resolve tightened every time she came to that special place in prayer.
What she now realized was, that God had been using her circumstances to train her as an intercessor. It came very slowly, an almost imperceptible shift from praying for her own comfort to crying out to God for others that He placed in her consciousness. One day she simply realized that she had not prayed for herself in several days, but that the faces of people she had never met came up before her as she went before the Father. The tears of pain had shifted and now as she groaned, as the travail came, she would be aware of a reaching out to places she had never actually been. She would sense the fear and heartbreak of strangers and pray them through the darkness.
Probably, she thought, the one thing that kept her coming back was the tremendous joy and release she experienced when she was able to pray `through' as her friend had called it. She now knew that meant that the circumstances she had been lifting up in prayer had been changed in the spirit realm, and that those circumstances would soon see change here in this world. What a thrill it was to sing and laugh and dance in victory, knowing that somewhere, someone was free because she had stayed in prayer till the chains had been broken.
Once again she rubbed the bruised place on her face, and smiled. No one understood, but somehow that didn't matter anymore. There was an incredible amount of fulfillment in allowing the strength of the Holy Spirit to flow through her. She could look her husband squarely in the eye, without fear, knowing that love never fails. No matter how bad the circumstances seemed to be, the strength to overcome them was hers to use.
As the urge to pray became stronger within her, she slipped off the couch and stretched herself out on her face on the floor. She smiled as her bible fell open to her favorite passage of Isaiah. ...and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified. (Isa. 61:2-3) "Beauty for Ashes" she said, "Thank you Father, I love you...." and she slipped over into the language of prayer that only the angels and the Lord understand. *****************************************************************
This story is dedicated to the intercessors who have allowed the Spirit of Prayer to shape and mold them through the circumstances of life.
While "Beauty for Ashes" is presented as fiction, it is actually a composite of the lives of many of the pray-ers that I know personally.
While each has faced a different battle, all have been tested and tempered by the challenges of life. And all have found the strength of weakness, and the joy of mourning.
For all the countless hours you spend in your prayer closets, without recognition or the honor you so richly deserve, often under the most adverse personal circumstances, we in the Body of Christ wish to thank you.
Carl Killingsworth, 5/31/96
Carl Killingsworth, II writes and teaches at Cornerstone Church in Springfield, MO and resides in Willard, MO. Carl can be reached at "firstname.lastname@example.org" or you can write to him at P.O. Box 248, Willard, MO 65781.