Today I’m completely immersed in thoughts and preparation for Ash Wednesday and the 40 days of Lent. Each year, I revisit what I believe are the reasons why we put ashes on our foreheads and are willing to be reminded that we are dust and that we will return to dust. That is, we are mortal; we won’t be here in this earthly life forever.
Looking back at the time when I was growing up, I can’t remember one time when the church I was a member of talked about Lent, or Ash Wednesday. That doesn’t mean we never did, of course. At least by the time I was a teenager, when I should remember those things, I’m pretty sure I had my mind on a certain handsome young man. I was not thinking about being dust! I was alive and glad of it!
But, over the years, I’ve come to love this season in the church year so very much. Life gets to be such a whirlwind, doesn’t it? Do you ever just feel like you can’t catch your breath? Time, and all that is in it, year after year, just swirls around and flies by and before you know it you are old. Or on the verge of old. Where did the time go?
In the last stages of life we are usually thinking about what we accomplished and whether or not we are pleased with where we’ve been, or, if we have regrets for what might have been.
That’s one of the reasons I like this season so much. It calls me to think about my life before I get to the end. It invites me to sit down in the ashes of my own making and just reflect. It is a time for being sober. (You can take that quite literally, or you can take it to mean being serious.) If I sit long enough and be quiet long enough, God just might reveal something to me. I have this frightening thought that when I die I will have to see a rerun of all the stupid things I did while here on earth. I really hope, if that is true, that God has a good sense of humor! I think my cheeks might burn from embarrassment. If that’s the way it is, then so be it. I have a belief that Jesus will be there with me, holding my hand and helping me to get over that regretful scene and move into that place of Shalom.
But, isn’t that kind of how Lent is? We start out with those ashes and that sober reminder that we truly are frail mortals and that we need help. And as we walk through that journey of Lent – through the wilderness – we can’t help but see those stupid things we did over the past year, and we have this great opportunity (even before we get to the real end of our life) to repent and to turn back around again. And on this journey, even now, we have Jesus, who walks with us. We are never alone.
So, whether you go to church tonight and actually have the sign of the cross made on your forehead, or not, I invite you to take a few minutes for silent reflection, just realizing how mortal and dependent you are on God – God, who created you, and loves you, and calls you into relationship; God, whom you can trust to get you through your darkest nights; to carry you through your self-made ashes; God, who will forgive; who gives new life. That’s the joy at the end of the journey. New life. Transformation. Easter awaits on the other side!
This morning I took my husband, Fred, to the Bone Clinic where he had his 10th compression fracture filled with bone cement. On the last day of 2014 he had his last two fractures filled which, at the time, added up to nine. Within the first week of the new year he had three more new fractures!
Today the doctor talked to us about a medicine that is taken with a daily injection. It is expensive and has some side effects and Fred was hesitant about it. But our doctor told us that Fred is two or three times more likely to have a broken hip, or wrist, or some other place besides the back, and he believes this is the best possible medicine for him to take. The mention of a nursing home for care, if a hip were broken, is reason enough to seriously consider this medicine.
Last weekend I led a retreat for our Christian Education Team from our church. It was a much needed time away for every woman there. Each one had experienced a great loss over the past six months and they were all just hanging on, trying to do their best with the task of teaching.
We talked about our congregation and how it is very much a caring, loving family to all. It’s a place, not only for worship and learning, for fellowship and fun, but it is a great place to go when you are emotionally and physically drained. One woman described it as “a safe place to fall.”
I thought of that description this morning as the doctor was talking about Fred possibly falling and breaking a hip. I pray, literally, for a safe place for him to fall.
The problem is we never really know when we are going to fall. If we did, we would always make sure it was in a “soft place.”
Our congregation has been a soft place for Fred and for me to fall as we face these broken back issues. The encouragement and the prayers, the love and care mean so much to us, and we’ve witnessed that same soft place being there for others so many times.
There are many different ways that we fall, don’t you think? We fall off of our diet; we “fall off the wagon” when trying to stop drinking; we fall away from our new year’s resolutions; we fall away from a commitment in a relationship. Sometimes, we fall far away from our Creator. We veer off the path where He leads us and often times end up falling into that dark, slippery pit where we end up sitting in the muck, crying out for help.
But, even there, when we are at our lowest possible place, God gives us something soft to land on. Slimy muck is fairly soft, even if it isn’t pleasant. And it is there in that pit, where there is no place to run, that we face the things that have caused us to fall. Perhaps it is a burden so heavy to carry that it breaks our back, causes us to stoop and then to fall. Perhaps it is our own careless choices we make that caused us to slip into this hole.
But, just as Fred and I have found great hope in our new doctor and the procedures he uses to “straighten Fred up,” so God, the great Healer, can use those dead-end pits we fall into to speak to us, to give us hope, to straighten us up.
In God’s own Son, Jesus, we have seen mercy, compassion, pure redemption and grace that straightens us up and sets us back on the right path – the path He has set for us. God has provided a soft place to fall.
I am a woman with many interests, yet most of them flow into what is my source of life, my very breath, the reason I do what I do. I am Called. That means, for me, I have experienced a call on my life to serve as a pastor to God’s people. In that calling I love to write, to speak, to lead, and to teach. My deepest desire is to pass on to others what I have experienced in my own journey of grace. I am human, and in that humanity I have known passion and joy, sin and disgrace. Yet, in God’s love I have known nothing but love and redirection and total grace.