Ashes to Ashes

“I’m twelve years old and I can’t read. No really. I can’t!” she exclaimed to the group in her matter of fact way. My heart skipped a beat, compassion swept over me like a tidal wave. At that moment I wanted to somehow give her what I repeatedly take for granted. As if my skill of reading could be gathered up in a beautifully wrapped box and handed to her.

She’s brave you know. Most of us spend a lifetime hiding our “I can’t-s” from the world. We pretend. We cover them up. We hope no one will figure us out. Not our family or our friends. Not the neighbor next door or the stranger on the street. Somehow we believe it might even be possible to hide it from God.

So we go to church, read scripture words, and attempt to follow Jesus the “right” way hoping to keep up the facade. It’s no surprise really. The world teaches us if we set our minds to something then we can do it. Or my favorite “can’t never could do anything.”

Some of it I get. Attempting to do the thing we’ve never done before requires some encouragement, a push in the right direction. We love a good overcomer story that melts our hearts and inspires us to move forward.

Yet I think my little friend may hold the key to the words Paul wrote from his jail cell.

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

Philippians 1:18-20

I want to be more like my little friend. Brave enough to stand tall and say, “I can’t.” I want courage that eagerly expects and hopes I will in no way be ashamed.

It’s Ash Wednesday.

A call of repentance resounds throughout the church.

Ash crosses speak ancient words.

…from dust you came and from dust you will return.

Later, when I hand her money for my fast food supper she finds it hard to keep from looking at my dusty forehead. When curiosity reaches it’s limit she asks, “What is the deal with this sign? I’ve seen others with it today?” I smile and reply, “Today is Ash Wednesday. It’s the beginning of Lent. A time to remember the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross, and to prepare for Easter.”

She nods, “Oh yea! Now I remember.”

I think about our conversation. How I’ve been wearing a clean face for most of the new year and no one has asked me a single question about my faith. But this ash on my forehead draws others, opens doors for conversation, maybe even plants a faith seed. It’s a visible reminder of all the I can’t in me.

Honestly, I want to run quickly to the bathroom and scrub my face. Questioning stares are uncomfortable at best. Still I resist the urge to clean myself up. Because maybe standing like my little friend and bravely announcing to the world, “I’m forty-nine and I can’t!”  is what it takes to be unashamed. Maybe wearing the ash cross of I can’t is a dying in order to gain what hiding never will.

In this tough unfolding I hear a melody and begin to sing… for I am crucified with Christ, and yet I live. Not I but Christ who lives within me. His cross will never ask for more than I can give. For it’s not my strength but His. There’s no greater sacrifice, for I am crucified with Christ.

And yet I live.


Want to hear the song singing in me this Ash Wednesday? Click on the link below.


(*Photo by Ahna Ziegler on Unsplash)

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