Photo-a-day: Forgive

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The fence line at the Antietam Battlefield

This last week has been a whirlwind. Patients, families, meetings, charting, phone calls, and driving over 750 miles. And that’s just for starters.

The reason I logged all those miles was to attend a committee review of my application to be recognized as a Board-Certified Chaplain through the Association of Professional Chaplains. I’ll spare you the details, (you can go to the link and read all about it), but it has taken me almost five years since I graduated from seminary to achieve this recognition.

Professional chaplains engage in an intensive learning process. It is the process of learning how to use your “self” as a resource; being aware of your strengths, weaknesses, blind spots and potential triggers takes time. Lots of time. It requires prayer, reflection, writing, talking, and applying what you discern. It’s long hours for crap pay (no lie… for one of my placements I earned minimum wage!) It’s trying to understand someone from a radically different background. And always, always ALWAYS listening to the Spirit of the Living God.

So when I came to today’s Photo-a-Day prompt, FORGIVE, I was immediately drawn to search for a photo of Antietam. The bloodiest battle on America’s soil where over 23,000 were killed in a day. In some parts of the United States, the shadows cast by The Civil War are decidedly UNcivil. I was reminded of that fact as I drove around North Carolina. And later today, as I drove up I-95 and saw the huge Confederate flag in full view of I-95. (Read more here.)

It’s true: in some places, the South has not forgiven the North. Funny how that applies to many other issues in the US today…

But it is also a part of my chaplain’s journey, as I have learned to view people who reject my ministry with compassion instead of getting angry. Yes. I’ve been rejected. And many times, I don’t know whether it’s because I am the wrong race, gender, denomination or something else I don’t know! (I’m wearing pants? My head isn’t covered?)

I’ve had to leave a lot of baggage behind. It’s too much emotional and psychological effort to carry all of that extra enmity. I am learning that life is too short, and the world has much to celebrate and cherish.

Family, friends, beauty, joy, hope… all are worth the extra time and energy that I can give them.

A quote I read recently brought it home:

Forgive others, not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace. – Jonathan Lockwood Huie

The Apostle Paul had some good advice about forgiveness too:

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13 NIV)

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31-32 NIV)

A reminder. A prayer. A life-long goal.

Blessed be.

Photo-a-Day: Still

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Walking through the garden that afternoon, the air was heavy and humid. Not a leaf was moving. I was struck by the vines above me, clinging to a cool stone wall.

Still.

It’s the moment where I realize that I can stop moving, doing, responding… and just BE.

It’s a chaplain skill. Waiting for the time and place and moment… for the wind of the Spirit to blow freely through me.

Still.

Photo-a-Day: Search

jasonTwo weeks ago, we added a feline to the household. We had become a one-cat house, and Henry, our big and beloved tiger, was lonely. VERY lonely.

We prepared a place and went on a search. Perhaps the local no-kill cat shelter would have a new friend… and they did.

Jason, with his pumpkin-colored eyes, kittenish ways and soft purr wound around our ankles and reeled us in. Our search for cat #2 was over.

Jason was a stray and ended up at the County shelter. The no-kill shelter scooped him up and fostered him, had him neutered and brought him to their cat-house. (Imagine a house full of cat-trees, cat beds, and cat cozy spots. It was magical.) He  was a little shy, but enjoyed our attention. He had dirty patches in his fur and some matted spots on his tail. 

Today Jason roams the house, tortures the rather portly Henry, and has found many ways to enchant us with his energy and love. The places where his fur was matted and dirty are clean and silky smooth, and he’s put on a little weight.

His search for a safe place is over. 

P.S. The shelter always has cats up for adoption. Check them out the Animal Welfare League of Montgomery County. Be sure to tell them if you visit that Jason says, puurrrrrrrr! 

 

Photo-A-Day: Knowledge

 

The scenery driving home from work this afternoon was ethereal. Mist developed  from the quickly melting snow, coupled with over an inch of rain. The woods outside our little corner of suburbia looked magical.

I pulled over and snapped a quick photo. It seemed to me that the woods hid a secret.

We ask:  “When will it ever be spring?”

The trees stand mute (or so we think) not telling what they know. They listen to their Creator.

“Soon. Not yet.”

I know that the longer days and higher sun angle will work their magic. The sap will rise. Leaves will bud. Every corner of the woods will show new life.

The woods seem weary of waiting. The cold is tiring. The mists cling. The ground is cold, muddy, and unyielding.

For me, this Lenten season is all about the waiting, the preparation, the listening, the acceptance of the Creator’s direction and guidance. The timing is God’s. The task of waiting is tedious.

For now, I wait. I watch. I pray.

The knowledge of the trees is not mine. Soon. Not yet.

But soon…

 

This season of promise, 
of empty boughs and grey branches
cries out for You,
Creator, 
Sustainer, 
Renewer of all.

We cry too 
for new growth
and new tasks, 
while our roots grow deep and strong
and we wait… 
And wait… 

New life beckons.
Soon. Not yet.
Soon. 

Blessed be!

A sermon on HOPE

HOPE: Seeing each other and our world as God sees us
Romans 5:1-11

It’s so good to see everyone! It’s great to be out of the snowdrifts and black ice, isn’t it? This time last week our driveway was an icy luge in-the-making and we opted to stay safely at home. But we missed you!

In this season of Lent, our sermon series is organized around the Voices of Our Faith. We are focusing on words that reflect the way we approach a life in God – words like justice, hope, mercy, reconciliation, and joy point us towards Easter and the Resurrection of Christ.

Todd spoke last week on Justice – where we work for the world to become as God created it to be. That is, to move past societal norms and politics and focus on the Creator’s design for our world, one that has beauty, equality and justice.

The Voice of Our Faith this week is the voice of HOPE.

HOPE. What is it? What do Hope-filled (or HopeFULL) people do? What difference does Hope make in a Christian’s life?

Hope is an elusive word and it’s one that we misuse all the time. It’s not wishful thinking (“I hope it doesn’t rain on Opening Day for the Nats!”) or a wish-on-a-star-God-make-it-happen kind of prayer. (Though don’t we all pray that way sometimes?)

Hope is vesting ourselves in what is possible. It moves from the present to the future. Hope is desire combined with confidence and discipline. It is based on reality, or, in the Christ-follower’s case, on the Promise that God is absolutely true, absolutely trustworthy, absolutely the same yesterday, today and forever.

Hope is the fire that fuels our passion for justice. It’s beyond feelings, in fact, Hope buoys us up when we feel discouraged and depressed.

Wishful thinking, on the other hand, is when we really REALLY want something to happen. It’s passive. It’s not necessarily based on reality. It’s expressing uncertainty and wishing for the opposite. Tossing a penny in a wishing well or wishing on a star have no guarantees but they can, for the moment, make us feel better.

I like how Eugene Peterson expresses the difference between Hope and Wishing:

“Wishing grows out of our egos; hope grows out of our faith. Hope is oriented toward what God is doing; wishing is oriented toward what we are doing…
Wishing is our will projected into the future, and hope is God’s will coming out of the future. Picture it in your mind: wishing is a line that comes out of me, with an arrow pointing into the future. Hoping is a line that comes out of God from the future, with an arrow pointing toward me.” (Eugene Peterson, in Living the Message, Daily Help for Living the God-Centered Life)

When we build on Hope, we are embracing the reality of God’s work in our world and in each other. When we are hopeFULL, it changes…

What we see
What we hear
What we say
What we want
How we respond

I. When we have hope, we see each other, and our world, as God sees us.

INTELLECTUALLY, we get this. Practically and emotionally, we have a problem, because we rarely experience it.

Why don’t we experience hope?

I think one reason is because we are caught up in the present and the demands in our lives:

Bills and student loans
Kids
Car repairs
Illness
Newspaper headlines
The boss

We are overwhelmed and frustrated. We have little to no endurance. And we lose perspective on what’s really going on.

We do not see God at work. We forget the spiritual realm is active, and God is present and working.

Hope has staying power. It fuels our passion for justice. It allows someone to look past the reality of one’s struggles and believe God can bring change. It energizes and moves us to change. Why else do you think people stood on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama 50 years ago and banded together to demand change? It was their Hope in justice, God’s justice, to prevail in a human justice system.

Let’s stop and think for a minute… Imagine…

Imagine standing on a bridge, one named after Edmund Pettus, a Confederate general and Grand Dragon in the Ku Klux Klan. Imagine preparing to walk, peacefully, towards Montgomery, Alabama to petition your state to give you voting rights – ones that you already had been given almost 100 years earlier in the 15th Admendment. Rights that were systematically denied you, and others like you, simply because of your race.

Based on history alone, with generations of discriminatory voting practices, why would you believe that things could change? HOPE.

Hope brought about people who persevered. A week later, in a third attempt, the march started towards Montgomery. The numbers swelled from a couple hundred to 25,000 by the time they reached the capital. And Congress, galvanized by the reaction to that Bloody Sunday on March 7, 1965, and the show of support from a united front of men and women from many races and religions, passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 a few weeks later.

Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” march. President Obama and family, and former President George W. Bush walked across that bridge in a symbolic act of remembering how far we have come, and how far we have to go as a nation. The original marchers, some of whom were present at yesterday’s commemorative events, explained why they decided to march in 1965. They had a confidence that was based on Hope. They were ready to see change.

“When I was a child, I didn’t know how it would affect my life now, but it also makes me sad that some of the same battles of the sixties, we seem to be fighting over again. And things don’t go away. We keep renaming the same stuff and I think every generation thinks they have to start a battle over. But if you don’t know the mistakes and the gains of the past, you’re destined to be bogged down in the same stuff.” - Selma marcher Joanne Bland, 11 years old in 1965

II. It is this kind of hope – one that is active, based on truth and action, that Paul is writing about in Romans.

Paul the lawyer, Paul the Jewish scholar and Paul the human being help us understand something of the nature of Hope. This chapter is a long “therefore” building on everything Paul has written in this letter. A legal argument, if you will, that started back in the previous chapters.

Paul the lawyer set out a logical argument and explanation of the basis of our hope and faith in God. I know it’s a challenge to wade through Paul’s writing sometimes – but don’t let all those dependent clauses and therefores and wherefores throw you off!

Paul explains that it is God doing the work of reconciliation. It is God showing mercy to us.

Paul explains that
We have peace (verse 1) because we are in relationship with God
We have access to God by faith (v 2) because of God’s love, compassion and forgiveness
We are loved in spite of who we are (v 8) – sinners – to use the old-fashioned word – people who fail to live up to God’s standards and who hurt one another – and yet we are accepted by God because of our relationship through Christ.

Paul the Jewish scholar also asks us to remember the faithfulness of God. He knew that God heard the cries of the Jews in exile. The slaves in Egypt. The testimony of the disciples on the Road to Emmaus. The oppression of the Jews by the Roman Empire.

Paul wrote out of an intimate awareness of how God can be trusted.

Perhaps he remembered the words of Jeremiah to the refugees in Babylon:

From Jeremiah chapter 29
11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

These are words that were written to captives in Babylon, words that they believed but did not see come to pass until their great-grandchildren went back to Jerusalem.

That’s HOPE.

Or perhaps Paul the scholar remembered the promises of God in Joel 2, words that reached across centuries to the coming of the Messiah:

28 “… I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.”

Words that came true on Pentecost when the Holy Spirit filled a crowd. These words from Joel are yet to be completely fulfilled – they are full of promise for God’s final redemption in the world to come. Words where WE can find HOPE.

Poignant words, to be sure, for a bridge in Alabama, for Christians who are beheaded in Libya or killed in Nigeria or Mali. They are words of Hope for our country as we try to understand the brutality in Ferguson, Missouri, or the shooting of a homeless man in LA.

Our world needs Hope, doesn’t it?

But I think the perspective I value the most as I try to wrap my head around the legal arguments of Paul the lawyer, and the centuries of Jewish history by Paul the scholar, are the honest hope-FULL statements of Paul the human being.

Paul the human being reminds us that we will walk though more than our share of disappointments, frustrations, doubts, questions and fears. Our very human condition of failure found in the word “trouble”.

Going back to Romans 5:

2b …we boast in the hope of God’s glory. 3 But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, 4 endurance produces character, and character produces hope. 5 This hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Common English Bible)

Depending on the translation, “trouble” is translated “affliction” or “sufferings” or “problems.” The Greek word is “tribulations” – the soul-rending, heart-breaking events that make us want to give up… the long, dark nights when we are discouraged or depressed. We’re not talking hangnails or flat tires, here. It’s the stuff that causes us to give up completely.

Paul the human being was writing to the Church in Rome – where there was at least some opposition to the Church there, if the outright persecution by Nero and others had not yet begun. “Tribulations” (troubles) were a very real possibility.

Paul the human being reminds us that God invites us to persevere – to make it through the long haul… As someone who likes my coffee quick and hot and ready to go, who loves her microwave and cooks pre-fab dinners, I am honestly not a fan of endurance and perseverance. Our culture is INSTA-everything! It’s not “telegrams” any more — it’s “INSTAgrams!”

Anne Lamott says:
“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.”

When we persevere, when we hang in there, we are invited to lay claim to the promises God has made to each and every one of us!

God’s love is why we hope – hope in God does not disappoint us. Paul says it is an Artesian well poured out into us, full of God’s presence and promises.
From verse 5… “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

This is the “REAL PAUL” – the man who wrote later in 2 Corinthians about having a “thorn in his body” that he had to live with. Something that he suffered with, endured, and kept serving God.

I think he knew what he was talking about.

III. So how do we live out our Hope?

First, we remember that this process of living a Hope-FULL life has no short-cuts.

There will be problems and disappointments. Sometimes it will be simply because “life happens” — like cancer, or dealing with nature. Other times, it is when trouble comes because someone else has directly or indirectly brought it on us – the car accident, dishonest stock broker, or identity thief.

From our troubles, we gut it out with perseverance, demonstrate our character, and discover the faithfulness of God – HOPE in God.

We also need to remember that life is best done TOGETHER.

We are relational beings created in the image of a relational God. We watch, encourage, pray and love each other. Anyone who has ever been in a support group or 12-step group will tell you how much strength and courage is found in others’ presence and love. You can’t get it on-line. It doesn’t happen from a distance. It’s life together.

There’s something else we see in people who understand the power of Hope. A Hope-FULL life is one that is visible and demonstrable.

Hope brings a challenge to live out the ways God is at work in our lives, so that others can find hope in God as well. You can watch someone who is hurting, yet who has a deep-in-the-gut trust in God, and you know that they believe God keeps God’s promises.

I think about the people in my life who are up against incredible odds… physical, emotional, psychological, relational… day after day, they live in a way that honors God and reflects their HOPE. They inspire me to hang in there just a little longer.

Rep. John Lewis, one of the original Selma marchers, tweeted yesterday, “When people tell me nothing has changed, I say come walk in my shoes and I will show you change.”

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Do you think he believed on that day 50 years ago that he would celebrate this day with an African American president? That he would be an elected Representative to Congress from the state of Georgia? I think the work of the Lord exceeded his expectations! This is a man who has lived out the word HOPE.

Hope brings us back to the cross.

The cross of Christ is a place of acceptance. The reminder that our present, finite souls are part of a huge and infinite reality.

The cross is a place where forgiveness, reconciliation and hope-FULL people demonstrate to one another God’s love. It’s one of the reasons that I love how we serve one another communion. It’s God’s hope, in the bread and the cup, put in our hands, that transforms our lives.

Every week we celebrate Communion, we remember these words of Paul – God’s Hope demonstrated through God’s love for us. We boast in the HOPE of God’s glory to be made real in us and through us. The gifts of God for the people of God point us back to the cross where Love brought about reconciliation, peace with God, and Hope. They are a reminder of the ever-present, ever-nurturing Spirit of God within us. They speak to our souls – where we will touch the Infinite Hope, the life-changing power of the risen Christ.

If we remember this, we can make it through life’s disappointments and challenges. In the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King: We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.

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May you find, this week, INFINITE hope!

AMEN.

Thanks be to God!

A FROZEN Friday Five

I hosted the Friday Five over at RevGals yesterday. My schedule was sufficiently hectic that I didn’t get around to posting my own responses. Whoops. Well, better late than never.

When it gets to the end of February, even people who LOVE winter are ready for a new season. Like this mom, sick of snow days and hearing the soundtrack of a specific movie, you might be going a little stir-crazy. With the lyrics of that movie to inspire, tell us:

1. For The First Time in Forever: Tell us about a magical first snow day – for a child, a transplanted southerner, or maybe you have a great story from the first snowfall in your area this season.

There’s something about that first snowfall. The whole neighborhood quiets, and almost seems to take a breath. Before people are out shoveling, plows clearing the roads, tires spinning, etc., there’s a mystical time where you can hear snowflakes hit the ground.

2. In Summer: Tell us what you look forward to when it’s warmer again.

Truthfully, I’m not a hot weather fan. But I am looking forward to a few hours in my hammock chair, listening to the birds and reading/dozing.

3. Reindeers are Better than people: We are in the business of loving people. But sometimes… Well, it’s a bit of a stretch to love. Do you have a tip, a mantra, or a perspective that helps?

There was a song in the early Christian contemporary music biz (I’m dating myself!) called “Loving people” and I think it was sung by BJ Thomas. It reminds me that when I want to just avoid people (or work around them) that it’s not wise. Or loving. These are the lyrics I say to myself when I feel my annoyance factor rising:

Using things and loving people, that’s the way it’s got be.
Using things and loving people, look around and you will see
that loving things and using people only leads to misery…

4. Fixer Upper: Since we are in the season of Lent, what are you doing in the area of self-improvement?

I’m choosing healthy snacks (hard to do when you spend your day in a car, driving from place to place). I’m also engaging in two artistic practices – the Photo-a-Day from RethinkChurch and a Praying in Color doodle.

5. Let. It. Go. What would Elsa do? Are you de-cluttering? Moving on? Accepting a hard reality? Finding freedom?

I’m learning how to recognize how certain issues/people push my buttons and raise my anxiety level. It’s not fun. However, in this process, I am also learning to let go of ever pleasing said people, who seem to delight in nit-picking and making me feel inadequate. As a wise woman pointed out, said person is trying to transfer their anxieties to me, thereby reducing their anxiety load. And I don’t need to load that trailer!

Bonus: Frozen, thawing out or thawed, share a picture from your winter this year!

This is our front walk and driveway on a particularly snowy, blustery night.

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Remember

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In the chaplain’s office, we have a small prayer corner. It’s something very simple… a bowl with small pebbles, a hand labyrinth, and some meditation pieces. One of the rocks has the word “Remember” on it. I got it at the Holocaust Museum, as a symbol of the people forever lost. But the stone has a deeper meaning than that. This prayer corner is where we stop to remember the patients who have died.

Remembering is a discipline. I have new patients every week. None of them are on my caseload for a long time… so when they die, it begins to add up emotionally. One way to cope is to turn off my feelings and just move on. But I can’t do that. It’s not just a patient, it’s a family. It’s friends. It’s a lifetime of achievements. It’s memories.

Remembering also has another result… it makes me grateful. Grateful for the people in my life — their experiences impact my life. Their joys and their worries cause me to think about my own. And many times, I realize how much I have to be thankful for…

So I Remember…

Smoothed over

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There’s something amazing about snow. Not just that it’s heaps of water vapor frozen into patterned ice crystals. (Though that is cool!) It’s the effect that snow has as it falls. Life becomes quieter. Fresher. New again.

I spent time on Saturday watching the snow pile up and blanket the ground and yard. Everything was smooth. And cold. Very cold. But it was the smoothing effect that made me pause.

I thought about the latest round of angry posts on social media, postulating whether or not this politician or that is a “Christian.”  There were snotty comments about events in the world’s history, events  where human beings were cruel and ruthless in their wars. It struck me that all of these battles started with a feud of sorts that grew into altercations, and then widespread hostilities. And then war. Or just an “armed conflict.”

As a woman of strongly held opinions, I understand why there are emotional and personal responses to a disagreement. There are many times that I can hardly keep silent — my desire to respond overwhelms my “mouth filter.”

But as I sat and reflected over the weekend, as the snow piled up and created a lovely and smooth blanket over the potholes in my street, I realized… choosing to not respond is an option. Not in a way that subjects me to abuse or mistreatment, but in a willingness to walk away from the habit of insisting I get things done “my way.”

Peter, the brash and opinionated disciple, certainly stumbled in the opinion department. I identify with his habit of “stepping in it” when he quickly reacted to a situation. And though he frequently failed to respond as Christ expected, he was restored over and over to a place of leadership and trust. Perhaps this is why he wrote about the role of extending love and grace to one another:

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. (1 Peter 4)

I don’t know as I’ll get a handle on this before the next snowfall… but I know that it is important to learn how to defer to someone by allowing the love and grace of Christ to flow in me, to others.

By the grace of God.

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Cold-hearted

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The Mid-Atlantic is not known for supremely cold winters. Oh, we get a “cold snap” here and there in the winter months, but anything that lasts more than a week or two, and the natives get a little restless.

After all, we’re not Buffalo. Or Minnesnowta. We have plows and salt trucks, and it’s not unusual to have to wait a day to get plowed out in our neighborhood.

The last few weeks the temperatures have stayed below 40 degrees. The federal government closed at least once, and schools have been closed or delayed. Even our daughter’s college closed because the roads were not safe.

I know. You’re laughing at us. We accept your disdain. At least we’re honest.

Now it’s been cold long enough that the cumulative effects of the cold are starting to show up. Little by little, I see changes that aren’t “normal” for around here. For instance, I don’t quite remember the color of my car without dried salt spray on it. The back gate is frozen shut. I feel the tension in my shoulders from hunching down into my coat as I go from my car to the facilities and homes where my patients live. And there are very few things which will drag me from home once I’m holding a cat and warming up.

When I drove by this pond near our house and saw the geese scattered across the ice, I wondered at the change. A month ago, even a few weeks ago, the water was open and clear. Normally they would be paddling about, feeding and waddling and honking. Today, they were more like peppercorns spilled over an icy table. Cold. Quiet. Still.

The change was gradual. The result is clear.

In the season of Lent, there is a call to renew the spiritual connection, to find that spark that has diminished and rekindle it. The human heart — my heart — can grow cold and unfeeling.

The words of Keith Green’s song came to mind…

My eyes are dry
My faith is old
My heart is hard
My prayers are cold
And I know how I ought to be
Alive to you and dead to me…

During Lent, I’m about this business of renewal. Remembering the mercy shown me. Living into God’s compassion. Reclaiming the love and fire I have for my work.

Spring will come. My heart will thaw.
I’ll join the song…
Blessed be the Name of the Lord.

Dirty Hands

Several years ago in my first year of chaplaincy I learned that there’s a little technique involved in imposing ashes. (Maybe you went to “ashes imposing class” in seminary — we didn’t have that class.)

I also learned that the ashes grind into my skin. Every wrinkle and crevice in my fingers are stained black.

IMG_7426I learned to keep cotton balls with oil in my pocket to moisten my thumb (or glove). And to have plenty of hand sanitizer after I imposed the ashes.

I learned that the simple words,
You are dust, and to the dust you shall return.
are powerful, poignant, and loaded with meaning when you are standing in the middle of an emergency room, or outside a doctor’s office, in a hospital room, or with hospice patients.

I learned that giving ashes is a tender, sacred, personal moment, one where, as pastors, priests, or chaplains, we are touching the human and finite with the promise of hope, Grace, and eternal life.

I learned that by giving ashes I gain so much more. My mortality is there, in front of me, for all the world to see.

My dirty hands.

Blessed be.