One night as I was putting my ten year old daughter to bed, she asked me, “Mommy, can you tell me a story about something fun that happened to you in school when you were my age.” I sat there in silence trying to rack my brain for something that brought laughter to my heart and hers. I could not think of one happy moment from my elementary school experience. I could write volumes of fun times with friends in my neighborhood and with my family, but not school. It sits as one big black hole in my history. I can only guess that it is because school was a continuous painful place for me. This was where I became a target for the cruel teasing of boys who seemed to have a need to build up their self-esteem by tearing down mine. Their barrage of demeaning names left me defenseless to fight off the wounds that tore at my soul. Names like “circus freak, ugly, and pug face” began to define me. Sadly, these lies became what I thought was true about me.
I had everything but a typical childhood. While in my mother’s womb, the doctors were fearful that I would be born with no arms or legs. My mother was a pediatric nurse and worked at a hospital where they specialized in caring for cleft palate babies. Therefore, two years later, when I was born with a severe cleft palate, she did not panic, but rather knew without any doubt that God had prepared her for this special child. I was God’s chosen baby for her, and she was sure in her heart that God had a special purpose for me on this earth. God had prepared my mother through her nursing training and experience with cleft palate babies to be the perfect caretaker for me.
I was born with no nose, no palate, and no upper lip. This was 1959 and the medical profession was only just starting to develop procedures to help these children. Before that, children with severe cleft palates would either die or be hidden away from society since they would never be able to speak or eat properly. The doctors had no idea how to close such a huge gap so that I could begin to suck and get nutrition. Despairingly they told my mother there was nothing they could do. I started to lose weight fast and my mother realized that very quickly I would die in that state. At midnight, she checked me out of the hospital so I could go home.
At home, she managed to make a contraption to put on my face and cover the gap and allow me to begin successfully sucking up milk from a bottle. Within three months, my body became stronger, so my mother called the doctor and demanded that he operate and find a way to close the hole. By God’s grace, he was successful, and he became the leading doctor of new methodologies to help cleft palate babies, with me as his research project. I was his masterpiece, his show case.
Years later I learned that in reality I am God’s masterpiece ─ not because I have a repaired cleft palate, lip, and nose, but because I was wonderfully designed in my mother’s womb and am being daily molded into the likeness of Christ. Though I had to endure twenty-seven surgeries over the first fifteen years of my life, I see now how this journey has been one of turning years of “ashes” into a story of redemption and beauty.
He has truly done a miraculous work in my heart. My whole way of looking at myself has changed. No longer do I see myself as an ugly, rejectable, or unlovable person. Now I can confidently say that I have been fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139:13-14 and Isaiah 61:3 have become my life verses.
For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
Psalm 139:13-14 ESV
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.
Isaiah 61:3 KJV
I have been endowed with a high calling to glorify our Lord. I have the amazing right to call myself a daughter of the King of kings. The Word of God has been powerful to renew my mind and bring transformation to my soul. As the lies of the enemy are replaced with the amazing truths of who I am in Christ, the painful memories of my past have been healed and my soul has been restored to become a worshipper, and lover of Jesus, the Satisfier of my soul.
Though not quickly or easily, this transformation has been a journey of healing over the years. My Savior went to the depths of my pain and revealed the lies, sin, and shame that permeated my soul. My Redeemer took the darkness and brought His light of forgiveness, acceptance, deliverance, and love.
Out of the ashes has risen beauty.
Sue’s story of wrestling through her identity in Christ is one many of us battle with. We are critical of ourselves and also bear the burden of others’ commentary on our worth. Scripture says that Jesus is the Word and His words are alive and active in us — but, only if we take it in and let the Spirit transform our thinking. We need a plan to be in the word as spiritual warfare against the lies that hold us captive and broken. If you would like some free resources to help you dig into the Bible, scroll down the bottom of the page and enter your name and email or click the ‘join the community’ page. Once you confirm, you will receive access to the library of printables. Check out the Psalm 119 study to learn to move from duty to desire for Scripture and to hear my story of ashes to beauty.
You can find Sue and her ministry at the following links:
Podcast: His Heartbeat (launch date: September 24, 2021)
Sue Corl is an International Women’s Conference speaker, author, mentor, podcaster, and Bible teacher. She is the founder and director of Crown of Beauty International and Beauty for Ashes Conferences. Sue is the author of Crown of Beauty Bible Study, More Beautiful by the Day, For Such a Time as This, and other books. She is a lover of Jesus, her husband and two adult children, her ministry, her dog, her friends, and coffee – in that order! She has a passion for seeing women transformed by God’s deep love. She served as a missionary for 25 years in Asia. Currently, she travels to minister to women throughout Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and the U.S. She has a Master’s of Education from the University of Hawaii and a Master’s of Christian Counseling from Philadelphia Biblical University.