Sometimes I categorize my memory by the days on the Christian calendar. Last year, though the numerical days are different (so it hasn’t been exactly a year ago), the day after Ash Wednesday, I was sitting at my desk at work. I was wearing a navy dress with white polka dots.
It was a normal Thursday until my cell phone rang. My mom was calling. My mom was calling to tell me my grandma had just passed away.
Instantly, tears filled my eyes. I tried to gain composure and finish out my work shift, but after about a half hour, I couldn’t. I walked over to my co-worker’s cubicle and burst into tears that if measured would have equaled the Niagara Falls. She let me leave early, but I arrived to an empty room—all my roommates were gone.
That morning my roommate, not knowing what would happen later that day had put three of my favorite candy bars on my bed with a note saying: “I know you have been stressed about a lot of stuff going on but I want you to know you’re so strong. I’m always here for you forever. I love you a lot.”
I broke down. I just lied down on my bedroom floor, still flooding with emotions and tears. The next day I began planning for a flight home for the funeral. Even now I can’t think about my grandma without crying. She’s with God and for that, I rejoice, but I still miss her so much.
Today is Ash Wednesday.
Today begins the Lenten season where we journey with Christ toward the cross. For forty days, we give up or take on, and we join Jesus into the desert.
Tonight my church will hold an Ash Wednesday service. My pastor will spread ashes in the shape of a cross on my forehead, and ashes will mash into my forehead wrinkles.
I will be reminded I am but dust.
As I read in a recent article on Relevant:
“All this captured in one smudge—one smear of the ashen cross on my forehead that serves as a symbol of a most poignant paradox of our faith: that God brings life out of the sin and suffering. It signifies that He did this with every heavy step Jesus took toward the cross and that He does this with us, with every burdened and broken step we take in this life.
“On Ash Wednesday and throughout Lent we’re invited to a time to look at our missteps and our regrets, our longings and our losses, and offer them all to God who not only accepts them, but transforms them.”
I am dust, and to dust I will return (Genesis 3:19).
Life is fragile and finite.
I am fragile and finite.
My heart hurts, but it’s open.
Ash Wednesday and Lent are nothing but empty rituals if my heart is not open.
So I put the full weight of who I am on God. I confess. I pray. I even sing. I surrender. And so we begin the journey toward the cross.
And that’s what makes this all worth it, because we know we are journeying toward death but also victory. This grief will end in celebration.