March 13, 2011

gratitude [three ash wednesdays later]

[I will boast only in the Lord]

I discovered two things as I wrote this: (1) that [scripture] spoke my heart better than I could.
Also (2) that if you feel a twinge of deja vu, it's not your imagination. I've said a lot of this before. 

[let all who are helpless take heart]
In March of [2009], I was a hot mess. And much as that phrase delights me, I do not mean it delightly; I was grieving a loss, fearing another, and feeling so broken I could barely stand. I walked into Ash Wednesday service at DCC, [very] alone, needing something and expecting nothing. I felt desperate. I wanted answers, strength, I wanted to understand. With my then limited understanding of Lent, I felt sort of silly looking for all of that at this service - how was giving up caffeine or whatever going to give me what I needed to survive?

[I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me - he freed me from all my fears]

But it was that night that I learned about Lent. I learned that Lent was a season to sort through mess and debris that life had left in the way. Through sacrifice and surrender we learn to depend on God again. I learned that we take on the ashes as a symbol of our repentance, as a statement and acknowledgment of our brokenness before God. Before each other. I read these words: Ashes are a prerequisite for Easter. Brokenness for healing. Death before resurrection. Our ancestors have given us Lent to help us find our way.

[in my desperation I prayed, and the Lord listened]

Brokenness for healing. There was an exchange possible here. Brokenness, even my own, wasn't nothing after all. There was a way to be found, and Lent could help. Maybe there wasn't hope just yet, but for the first time in a long time I had hope that there could be hope. And that, right then, was enough. 

[the Lord is close to the brokenhearted; 
he rescues those whose spirits are crushed]

A year later, [2010] I learned that in the ancient church, only the worst sinners were adorned with the ashes [sort of like a scarlet letter] so everyone could see that they had sinned. As the years passed the church began to see that they were not superior to these penitents, that their sins were no better, and they began to wear the ashes as well. And that, I think, is amazing. It's community: desperate and in need and humbled, each of us no worse or better than the next, standing together in our brokenness before God. What an incredible shift - something that once filled hearts with shame has become something that draws us close to God and to each other. Shame is transformed into joy, right before our eyes.

[those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy;
no shadow of shame will darken their faces]

I sat in church a few nights ago [2011] and I was flooded with familiar emotions and thoughts, comforts and pains. I was crying and I couldn't figure out if that was good or bad or if it just was. I listened. What resonated within my whole self was thank you.
Thank you for my community, that I am not alone. Thank you that broken isn't all there is, that death is nothing. Thank you for [ashes and] Easter [and brokenness] and healing [and death] and resurrection. Thank you for taking away the power of shame and putting something beautiful in it's place. Thank you that two years later, in the wake [and, at times, the midst] of hard and scary things, I am hopeful. For: helping, answering, freeing, listening, being close, rescuing, taking shame, giving joy, for never not being faithful: thank you. Thank you for proving me so very wrong. 

As much as it may hurt, I don't ever want to forget that place:
I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. 
I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.
Because it brought me to this place. 
Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: 
Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, 
for his compassions never fail. 
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
We are not consumed. 
[let all who are helpless take heart]

I don't understand everything. I still don't have answers. But I have hope. And that, for now, is enough.

[Scripture from Psalm 34 and Lamentations 3]

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