CQOD Special Archive
Beauty From Ashes
by Cammie Van Rooy
The trouble with steeling yourself against the harshness of reality is that
the same steel that secures your life against being destroyed secures your
life also against being opened up and transformed by the holy power that life
itself comes from (Buechner 46). It hurts to be a work of art
and is excruciating to be made a masterpiece. In my days, I’ve too often been that foolish lump
of clay, wondering why my Maker has allowed me to endure such harsh abrasions and conditions
marked by severity...and the questions arise with a longing to be answered, “Why must it hurt so
terribly to be formed into Your image? Is there any way for beauty to be born without these
I was born with cancer...or at least they assume I must have been. The tumor began its tender
protrusion before my second birthday, in that “time before time” where innocence kindly veils
one from all that is hard and painful in this world. But the harshness of life’s reality hit me
before I even knew what the difference was between life and death. Though, of course, that did
not stop the fact that a deadly disease was at my doorstep, strong in it’s ferocity. And yet I
was just awakening to gaze through child eyes upon the mysterious world all around me. How could
I have understood my mother’s tears that day once the doctor declared my diagnosis? How could I
have comforted her pain as she held me tight in her embrace, trembling with heartache’s grief,
over her baby who “would not live.” Other than the Christ child, has there ever been any little
one who possibly comprehends the reality of pain or grasps the extent of the sufferings his own
breath of a life will hold? And yet each and every one of us that is chosen by Christ and grafted
into His love, is born with a destiny to be made something so indescribably beautiful. But it is
a beauty that is rarely wrought into existence through anything less than the raw presence of pain.
Early in my days, pain became a part of daily life, like Sesame Street and my baby dolls, and
though I couldn’t have explained all that was hurting within, the pain was there, hiding below
the surface of my infantile vocabulary which was not yet as big as my battle. And though I didn’t
have anything but cries to express my pain, neither did I have the words to express the reality
of the presence of love that was there residing deeper than my wounds; for there has always been
One who has dwelt there with me, me and the sting of my nightmares. Yes, He was there catching
the tears as I cried, rebelling at the pain...but more importantly, He never failed to catch the
unborn tears that never quite made their escape from my soul. I learned to love the salty taste
of my tears set free, but it was the trapped tears that were the most desperate to be held and
understood. My parents and nurses could decipher my liquid anguish, as it would stream down my
face to pool on the floor. But there was only One who could read and decode with utmost sympathy
the hidden tears that were bound up inside my child heart.
Chemotherapy and its affects of nausea, the needles and sharp instruments I learned to dread, as
well as the scary big people all dressed in matching garb. Then there were the operations and the
booboos that were deeper than Elmo band-aids could make all better: that was my reality and all I
really knew. I couldn’t have complained to you or felt like God was being unfair, because I didn’t
know that my circumstances were anything but typical. How could I have known that all of it wasn’t
the norm of every child’s development. And yet they were the stages that made up the becoming of me,
and I know I wouldn’t be who I am if it weren’t for each and every prick of the needles I braved.
Truly it’s the darkest of traumatic memories that so beautifully offset the colors of life’s glorious
sweetness; the hope, the faith, the love.
Children are filled with genius and it didn’t take me long to see that after every finger stick or
IV needle, there was a sticker of my choosing. And after every chemo round came a trip to Toys R’ Us.
It didn’t diminish the pain, necessarily, but having something to look forward to was wonderful in its
capacity to distract and lift my spirit out of the moment’s agony, placing me instead into the joys of
expectation. There truly is delight to be found in any circumstance, but you must be willing to gaze
through the fresh beauty of childlike eyes. My father had a game we’d play during my days in the hospital,
a game that thrilled me to pieces. Up and down the halls of the pediatric ward, Daddy would have me stand
on the base of my IV pole, right above the little wheels and then we’d go racing down the corridors on
hair raising rides; not that I had any hair to raise, but I didn’t care. I was with my Daddy and he was
wonderfully hilarious, hilarious and kind. It was through his infusions of fun, that the beauty of hope
began to coat my child eyes; proving to me early on that after every good cry there comes a fresh opportunity
But even with all the happy dances those days contained, the daylight held more than enough afflictions.
When the sun would slowly set, my fears would awake and rise. I remember lying in the dark, the dreadful
dark which had slowly begun to permeate my imagination with dread. I could handle its consuming blackness
if I wasn’t forced to be found all alone in it. But when bedtime came, I would fall apart in all sorts of
fits, begging the whole time for escape: “I need glass of waddur,” “nudder bed-time story,” “gotta go
potty,” “pleeeeeeeeze!” Many times I would break out of my “dungeon” and crawl into the safety of my
parent’s bed. But there was one night I recall, where God broke through my darkness before I had a chance
to flee to my parent’s room. I remember lying in the dark, staring up toward the ceiling which I knew was
up there somewhere. My bald little head lay on its pillow and I gradually awoke to a powerful revelation.
I didn’t hear any words or feel warm fuzzies; I just silently came to understand that in the thick of my
room’s dark and scary night, I was not alone. I couldn’t see Him, but I knew with my heart that God was near,
so very near. He was right up above me, with my ceiling, and I could tell He was smiling...and then...He held
I don’t know if that was the night of being reborn, transferred from the kingdom of darkness into His light,
but I believe that it was the night God’s love became a reality to me. Not long after, I “officially” prayed,
accepting Jesus into my heart and just like the chemo being poured into my little body to heal me of that
which was killing me physically, the sweet blood of Jesus came and cleansed me of my spiritual cancer, my
cancer of sin. He came and made me whole and beautiful.
They say I really shouldn’t have survived. Some say that I am a miracle, a proof that heaven hears fervent
prayers. I do know that I am a tribute to love’s sweet mercies.
Just this past week I looked through the glass of the old, framed photos hanging in our hallway. And
there staring back at me was my yesterday’s smile, caught by Kodak and beaming triumphantly from a tiny,
bald head. I couldn’t help but stand there in wonderment at the sheer irony of surviving twenty years
past that first bout with cancer, just to be back on the battle field once again. But seeing myself in
the light of my childhood’s joy placed the same familiar smile upon my now grown-up face. “How very
mysterious is this life,” I whispered quietly and then slowly took a step backward from the frame. It
was in that movement of shifting out of the shadows - toward the light which was streaming in through
the window behind me - that I caught my face’s reflection on the glassy surface of the picture frame,
still staring in silence before me. And I could see it more clearly than ever, gazing simultaneously at
myself bald both now and when I was a child. Amazing how I haven’t changed that much at all! I still
have the same face, though now matured...I still have the same blue eyes, eyes that are lit up with the
same sparked soul I possessed yesterday. And yet at the same time, I’m as different as night from day.
Every part of me has now weathered a thousand storms and seasons since the little girl eyes of yesterday.
Fredrick Beuchner’s belief is that every little detail of our lives can be thought of as the vowels and
sibilants which God uses to speak to us. When our ears are carefully listening to the heartbeat of our
loving God, He begins to spell out the beauty of His grace and majesty. Nothing becomes insignificant and
mysteries too deep for words begin their melodies right where question marks have thrived. “Why,” we
ask, “why would a loving God allow a little child to suffer? Why would He crush a dream, bringing barrenness
to her, she who longed for her own children? How could He be truly good if pain is the cup we daily
drink of?” And I was tempted, as we each are at one point or another, to harden myself within my unanswered
I know there are many who have pitied my beginnings, thinking it tragic that I had to endure such traumas
both as a child and throughout my life, but I confess that I have rather pitied those who have never
tasted the bitterness of a trial “too severe.” For how is one to appreciate the contrast of light’s
dawning hope if his soul has never trembled through the dark hours of a nightmare’s watch? Or how can
one prove God’s faithfulness if he never is granted the privilege of wandering through a barren desert,
where only pools of Christ’s Presence can possibly provide survival? It is a great honor to be apportioned
pain. Christ Himself, though God incarnate, learned obedience through what He suffered. Dare we assume
that we as His children can be taught by any wiser or kinder instructor than the severity of unwanted pain?
We dare not steel ourselves against our trials, running away from the fires where our pruned branches
crumble to ashes. For if we escape those flames, we will risk barrenness of soul and will miss out on
the beauty that only is born through the ashes of yesterday’s grief.
Cammie Van Rooy (b. 1979)
August 6, 2002
Buechner, Fredrick. The Sacred Journey. San Fransisco: Harper & Row, 1982.