Love + Ashes

There’s something that continually sticks out to me when I read the Bible, particularly when I read the stories of mourning and of repentance and that is sackcloth and ashes. When we read through stories of tremendous grief and sorrow, those two things are almost always associated.

Bible Gateway says this about sackcloth and ashes, “Sackcloth is a coarse, black cloth made from goat’s hair that was worn together with the burnt ashes of wood as a sign of mourning for personal and national disaster, as a sign of repentance and at times of prayer for deliverance.”

For some reason, the imagery that this practice of wearing sackcloth and ashes in response to mourning and sorrow and in the midst of repentance gives invokes in me this deep-rooted feeling – this deep stirring in my belly that is difficult to put words to but the closest I have is love.

Love + Ashes

It is when we are in deep mourning or deep repentance that we can more fully appreciate the love that is lavished upon us wholly undeserving people. It is when we humble ourselves, die to self, and repent that we can see just how much grace God pours out as a gift we never did anything to earn.

Ash Wednesday falling on the same day as Valentine’s Day could not be more perfectly planned, I think.

At the start of this Lenten season, the ashes that are being spread on foreheads today symbolize to me repentance. They symbolize this incredible sense of humility and smallness and sorrow that comes when we actually force ourselves to confront our sins. When we look at ourselves in the mirror long enough to see all of the ways that culture and society and the enemy have wedged themselves between us and God. And friends, to confront that and stand face to face with this demands our repentance. It demands our grief and our sorrow for all of the ways that we turn from God day in and day out – whether we mean to or not.

But on a day when culture and society are spewing out all of these manufactured tokens of superficial love and spreading guilt and shame to those without “true love” in their lives, Ash Wednesday adds some much needed perspective to the mix that is setting my soul on fire today. When we look at this day and at this season with a Lenten focus and remember why we reflect and repent during these 40 days – this Valentine kind of love just seems so obviously lacking. Lacking in substance, lacking in meaning, and lacking in the perfect love that came at the expense of Jesus on the cross.

The customary practice during Lent is to give something up until Easter and growing up, this was a practice that I truly never gave significant thought to when I was growing up in the Catholic church. My go-to was usually giving up soda or something like that but in recent years as I have grown in my faith, God has really laid it on my heart to consider not just what I could give up to draw nearer to Him but what I could potentially add in order to achieve the same result. That could be adding in the habit/practice of reading the Bible daily or meditating, two things I do already, but I think it also comes down to our posture. Sure, I’m already doing some of the things that can draw us in closer to God but where is the posture of my heart when I do these things? Am I doing them to just check it off a list or am I actively listening and actively quieting my mind in order to be more in tune with God?

As I write this, I’m also reading some excerpts from Pope Francis’ homily earlier today during the Ash Wednesday service at the Vatican and his thoughts perfectly echoes the cry of my heart lately.

”Pause from this compulsion to a fast-paced life that scatters, divides and ultimately destroys time with family, with friends, with children, with grandparents, and time as a gift…time with God,” he said today, before continuing with, “Pause for a little while, refrain from the deafening noise that weakens and confuses our hearing, that makes us forget the fruitful and creative power of silence.”

Silence and stillness have the power to amplify God’s voice and truth and it is my prayer this season that I am able to instill this into my own life. The kind of love that this day marks is not one that can be found on a store shelf or in the boxes of chocolates being passed around. No, it’s not a coincidence that Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day. May we all draw nearer to the source of the purest and greatest love there is in this season.

True Thanksgiving

True Thanksgiving

Last week, I found myself attending a funeral for a member of the church family at my childhood church. We celebrated the life of a sweet lady who was so instrumental to the life of the church and whose son was a friend of my dad. It was a beautiful service and led me to reflect on the past year and the three funerals that I have attended for my own family members in that time.

During the service, some time was spent reflecting on the act of giving thanks to God and it was said, “when we experience true thanksgiving, we allow ourselves to be open to the reality of what God can do.”

Open to the reality of what God can do.

Isn’t that just a beautiful statement? And it paints an even more beautiful image of joy and hope. There are many things that I discovered about the experience of losing loved ones as I’ve journeyed down this path for the past two and a half years. One of them being that, no matter how much it may defy your logic, it is certainly possible to experience joy and gratitude in the face of immense sorrow.

The experience of grief is a choice. Whether or not we experience grief is not one of them, for we all must do that, but we certainly have a choice in how we experience it. And I firmly believe that there is no right or wrong way to experience grief as long as Jesus is our anchor….

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A Joyful Heart

A Joyful Heart

It’s no secret that we all experience hardships in our lives. To be human and to be alive on this Earth pretty much guarantees that very thing. Life isn’t going to treat us as we think it should. There will be obstacles, failures, and losses that will bring you to your knees. In fact, that very saying that we use so often in our culture gives insight into the deeper meaning behind the pain we may be feeling. If something is so powerful over us that it is bringing us to our knees, I can’t help but believe that we were brought to that point for a reason. It is on bended knee that many of us cry out to God for help and he does have the power to do that. I found myself reflecting on my own hardships after hearing a beautiful sermon at church on joy that remained with me well after returning home.

For me, I have found myself at this point many times over the past two years. Seeing my aunt and uncle, my dad’s brother and sister, grow so weak and ill from the cancer that had invaded both of their bodies, eventually being called home ten days apart. My father being in the hospital less than a year later with what was an unknown illness at the time, praying that it wasn’t cancer that had made it’s way to him also. Standing at the foot of a hospital bed in September, surrounded by my aunts and uncles, praying Psalm 22 as my maternal grandmother took her last breath and entered the kingdom of Heaven. Less than 48 hours later, standing in the front yard of my late grandmother’s home, seven hours before her funeral, reeling from the unexpected loss of my beloved Aunt Shelia. Four months later, telling my paternal grandmother over the phone how much I loved her and losing her just days later. And finally, a week after that, losing my maternal grandmother’s cousin; a beautiful, loving, and Godly woman who had taken it upon herself to be a mother and grandmother figure to my family after losing our grandmother four months prior.

You will find that story, that testimony, mentioned many times if you explore this blog. I share it, not to receive any sympathy or pity, but so that I may share the love of Christ and the joy of the Lord with you all. Before this journey, I would have never understood how joyful and grateful one could be after enduring heart ache such as this. But as I’ve said many times, this heart ache of mine is the driving force behind the blog and my writing. This joy that I feel in my heart and soul was put there to be shared with the world. Sure, my family’s circumstances were, and are, tragic and full of sorrow. But pure joy, the kind that can only be found when living a life that has been rooted in God and his great truth and hope, transcends any circumstance.

As Mother Teresa beautifully said, “A joyful heart is the normal result of a heart burning with love.”

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