This past Wednesday I didn’t get the chance to attend an Ash Wednesday service as we were traveling home from Arizona and upon our return I immediately found myself in bed by 3pm. What can I say, physically things have been a major struggle and that whole one-hour time change really had my internal clock messed up (when in doubt blame it on the menopause).
What I find beautiful about Ash Wednesday is that as you are marked with the dark cross in the middle of your forehead, normally it is said, “You have come from dust and to dust you will return.” It is a reminder of our humanness and of God’s sovereign power. He created us out of dust, we do in fact have an expiration date, and when that day arrives to dust we shall return. For some, that might be the scariest thing they have ever heard, but for myself, as a Christian, my mortality does not raise my blood pressure because I know that God sacrificed His son to pay the ultimate price for my sins and therefore we are given the freedom to be honest about our future. We know that this physical life here on Earth is only the beginning of our Eternity.
It is a day for us to recognize and observe our desperate need for our Savior. A time to reflect that we are so far from perfect and without His redemption and forgiveness we are nothing but a finite body. Ash Wednesday begins the Lenten season as we expectantly await for the resurrection of our King, our Savior. It prepares our hearts for a season of not only repentance but also gratitude and awakens in our hearts the most important reminder of our reliance on Christ.
Lent is the 40 days (not including Sundays) prior to Easter where Christians prepare for the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ on Good Friday and Easter. Often they(we) take part in either an act of fasting from something, spiritual disciplines, repentance, moderation, or just a simpler way of life all in hopes that while doing these things it will give them more time to reflect on the life of Jesus.
For several years now I’ve struggled at what people decide to “give up” for Lent. For a large percentage of the female population it is some sort of food item that deep down they hope will have helped them lose weight 40 days later. I don’t agree with giving anything up that awards you personal gains. It is supposed to be a sacrificial time. In fact one year, on my old bog I decided instead of giving up anything, each day I would write about one of God’s promises in the bible. It was actually really great and I did it everyday up until I landed in the hospital and had to have emergency surgery- go figure.
As I’ve been thinking about Lent this year and what it might look like for me I actually had the horrible thought of, “what more can I sacrifice right now?” In fact, I thought about putting in place some dietary restriction because of the significant inexplicable weight gain I have suffered from surgery. However, then I become everything I hate and such a hypocrite.
But, as I sit here today and I write about ashes I can’t help but think how many people in the last couple of months have told me, “He is going to make Beauty from these ashes, your ashes” And while I may have given a half smile and slight head nod, my tear stained cheeks have yet to see beauty. In fact, I haven’t written a post in awhile because I don’t feel like things are getting better, I think things are maybe getting worse and I’m afraid to share that. To be real and tell you that my road is still windy, that I don’t see the straight away with that black and white checkered flag waiving me in. How long will people still care? How long will they still listen?
Back in college, my accountability partner and one time roommate and dearest friend, used to drive around in our Jeeps singing at the top of our lungs the Shane & Shane song “Beauty for Ashes.” And you know what we were singing for back then? Beauty for my ashes of sickness and despair. Fast forward 11 years later and if we lived in the same city, much less the same state, I think we would be doing the same thing.
As I mentioned earlier we just got back from Arizona and my heart is a mess. Being there with our community made my heart swell ten sizes. Seeing two of my closest friends from college and watching one of them get married was amazing. Seeing Nate’s family was worth every penny. I got to cry with our friends and just be. And I also had to see how every one of our friends had babies except the one couple who we stayed with. How they wanted to get our struggle but they couldn’t and when I asked a group of friends at a table what had been going on in their lives, my dear, sweet, and hilarious friend promptly answered, “well, I’ve pushed two kids out of my vagina…can anyone top that?” And granted it was funny, it was harsh and painful.
But, I also had to spend over half the time in bed because I was in a frantic amount of pain. I also began bleeding again and while this may sound completely absurd to you there were days when I was embarrassed to be seen based off of the way I looked. I didn’t go to the doctor this week because I was travelling but as of the day before I left I had gained 21 pounds since surgery, that is without starting the hormones, and eating about one meal a day because my pain levels make me very nauseous and not hungry. For a recovering anorexic that is devastating, it is also devastating that all of my pants no longer fit and of course there is no budget for a new wardrobe. I’m actually terrified to see my new weight and to see what happens once beginning hormones but it is possible that it won’t be until a year post-op that I will be healed enough to begin that treatment. A year. That is how slow my body is healing, how hard and extensive the surgery was, and how much pain I am still experiencing. On top of that I am experiencing major back pain because that is another one of my many health problems. Insomnia is still sticking around even though I told her we weren’t meant to be best friends.
I actually had two almost breakable come unglued moments. Twice in this past week I was asked when we’d get our surrogate and use my frozen eggs. While I definitely kept my cool on the scene I went home, screamed into a pillow, and then sobbed. I know we all aren’t expected to know are medical jargon, but a surrogate? My eggs? Why would I be so upset if that was our plan? If I were to bend over and grab two fistfuls of ashes like it was sand and then let it run through my fingers and out of my hands, dropping to the ground I would just want one tiny speck to catch the light. To sparkle or not be black. Maybe it’s golden. I wouldn’t mind silver. I’m not sure but I need this Lenten season to be about finding at least one tiny speck of beauty in all of these ashes because for years I’ve been lying face down on a beach full of them.
In Isaiah 61:3 it says, “…I will give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes. I will give them the oil of joy instead of sorrow, and a spirit of praise instead of a spirit of no hope…” I know that I can’t put a time line on God and His plan for this story, my story, Nate’s story, our chapters. But, I want to use this season to remind the Lord that I am still here, faithful to Him. And when He’s ready there are broken dreams, crushed hopes and deformed futures, heavy hearts, shattered spirits along with ailing bodies that are eager for beauty in the ashes.
For the next 40 days, I will remind myself of His love even though I am confused as to how it is displayed in my life. I will recognize my absolute need to have him in my life as my Savior, and I will fix my eyes on Him. The one who writes my story, chapter by chapter. And if by chance I’m paying close enough attention or it’s in His timing, perhaps I will see just a speck as a sift through the ashes.