Laura of Shorthanding Sanity
I sneaked into the bedroom where the toe-headed boy was hiding his toys under pillows and sheets.
Smoothing the covers and removing the toys, I was laying his head back onto the pillow when he saw the ashes.
“Mommy, what’s the matter with you? Is that a cross on your head?”
I smiled, offered a brief explanation of Ash Wednesday, and told him that nap was the time for sleeping and not playing.
But even as I tiptoed away, his question followed me. “What is the matter with you?”
It’s the ashes. They are what is wrong with me.
This year, I’ve been excited for Ash Wednesday, for Lent, for the whole Easter season. Winter has left my heart coated with a film of snow and heaviness and apathy. And as the season begins to change and the calendar marches steadily toward Spring, I ache for renewal.
Part of this season is Passover. A few years ago, about this time, our family hosted a Passover Seder dinner. Completely clueless and armed solely with Google and Girl Meets God, I studied what a Seder dinner entailed. I learned that when a Jewish woman would begin preparing for Passover, she was charged with the task of removing all yeast (a symbol of sin) from her home. She would spend weeks and weeks deeply scouring every nook and cranny, making sure everything was cleansed for Seder.
Yeah. I decided not to do that.
I mean, who has time for that? And what in my pantry doesn’t contain yeast? The army of goldfish that have fallen into the vents are literally making us breathe leaven. I decided not to try because of the inconvenience of it, the time it would take, the sheer impossibility of it all.
Today, a few years later, I sit in a freshly mopped kitchen. After an hour and a half devoted strictly to cleaning the kitchen floor, I just stepped on a crumb again. Because, as Chris always jokes, “You can clean all you want, but we still live here.”
And I can’t help but think about my stubborn heart, and that the excuses that keep my home unclean also keep my heart unclean. It’s too hard. It’ll take too long. And even if I manage to clean up this messy heart, I still live here.
So I grabbed my Moleskine and started to name them. Every single disgusting, shameful, heartbreaking sin. I handed Him the Brillo pad and asked Him to start cleaning. Every nook and cranny. Every overlooked, ignored, minimized, and forgotten stain. And I wrote them down.
There is something so vulnerable about seeing the darkest places of your heart written down in permanent ink. Something so devastating about sitting 4 inches away from the ways you break the heart of God.
The tears blurred the ink and He sang me the promises of Hebrews 12.
” ‘My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by Him. For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives.’ … He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness.”I tugged out the page, folded up the paper, and lit a match. The symbolism of the gesture, the prickly beauty of the flames, the acrid wafts of smoke in my face – they all captured me. I watched as the words disappeared. The heat through the bowl made my fingers cringe, and the smoke in my face was close and pungent and penetrating. I didn’t want it to stop.
And just like that, they were gone.
My sins had literally been consumed by the blaze.
And He sang again the verses of Hebrews, “Our God is a consuming fire.”
Before the ashes had stopped smoldering, I plunged my hands into the bowl. I wanted to feel the heat. I wanted my forehead to tingle as I traced the cross onto my face. I longed for the heat of consummation.
So today, when my boy glances quizzically at my forehead and asks what is wrong, I know just how to answer. What is wrong, my boy? These ashes. These sins. No longer swept under a rug or hidden in a corner but displayed on my forehead. These are what is the matter with me.
And yes, son.
Yes. That is a cross.
Because once, He stooped down, grabbed a handful of dirt, and breathed life.
Then I bit the apple, claimed me for myself, and made a giant mess of it all.
In His mercy, He came as a fire and consumed it. Consumed me.
He reduced me to ashes once again. And, as in the beginning, His breath alone brings me to life.
Ashes to ashes.
What a mercy.