Ginny’s first heavenly birthday fell on Ash Wednesday in 2020. Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent, was not something I had grown up observing. I usually remembered it was Ash Wednesday when I noticed a few people at work with ashes on their forehead.
Daniel and I took the day off for Ginny’s 1st birthday. We knew we wanted to honor and celebrate her, but the only thing we had planned was to sing “happy birthday” and eat cake. What were we going to do for the rest of the day? How were we going to get through the day? We heard that a church in the Lakewood neighborhood of Durham, NC was having open sanctuary that morning for anyone to drop-in to receive ashes and pray. Why not?
We pulled up to the unfamiliar building. It was an old and slightly run down classic church with pillars and stained glass. It was clear the building had seen better days and this congregation was just the most recent of a long history of worshipers here. The tension between the beauty of the stained glass and the worn carpet felt just right for this moment. We walked in to some solemn music playing on speakers and powerful art and words projected on a screen. The only other person there was a woman sitting in a back pew by herself.
Daniel and I made our way toward the front. We sat in a pew in silence. My heart prayed, but I’m not sure I had any words. That entire past year had been marked with death. The brokenness of the world we live in had never been clearer. And God never felt nearer. It felt like He handed us life and death and then sat us in a pew to look straight at it. We were entering the season of Lent – when we take our grief, our brokenness, our sin, our pain, and we hold it, reflect, repent, and hand it all over to Christ on Good Friday. We could then look toward Easter. This season would not be forever.
After a while, Daniel and I went to the front alter. The woman from the back walked up to meet us. She dipped her finger in ashes and marked each of our heads. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” We will remember.