Ash Wednesday Do-Over

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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I didn’t grow up observing Lent, and even now our family doesn’t attend a church that emphasizes the liturgical calendar. I’ve come to understand Lent mostly through watching and learning from others.

In recent years, the experience has become increasingly meaningful to me. In 2011 when I gave up bread, I came to know Jesus as the Bread of Life. In the weeks between Ash Wednesday and Easter, I made bread every few days and memorized Scripture about bread. I studied the Show Bread and pondered manna. I even “wrote” a song proclaiming my hunger and thirst for Him.

But I have a confession to make. This year, I blew it.

I had been so excited about the prospect of observing Lent, especially after writing one of the devotionals for the 2013 Lenten Devotional: Knowing Jesus Better. I remembered how beautiful last year’s Ash Wednesday post was and looked forward to receiving ashes this year, for only the second time in my life.

After a brief time of introspection, I decided that instead of giving something up, this year I would write every day about abiding. For nearly a year, I’d been drawn to John 15. Every time I read Jesus’ words about abiding and bearing fruit, I learned something new. When I heard others talk about abiding, it took my breath away.

Such was the case back in November. I was at Laity Lodge for our staff retreat and listened to the guest speaker, Dr. Robert (Bob) Mullholland. All weekend he spoke about abiding. During his Saturday evening message, I could scarcely contain the emotion welling up within my heart and the wall of tears behind my eyes. After the last “Amen,” I rushed outside for fear that if I stopped to talk to anyone, the dam would break.

I made my way to the balcony outside the Great Hall and peered into the night, wrestling there with God. Countless stars dotted the black velvet canvas overhead. Beneath me, the Frio’s green waters carved its path through canyon rock.

Finally, I took the plunge: I agreed to write. About abiding.

In reality, weeks passed. Months, even. Lent, it seemed, would be the perfect time to renew my commitment.

But the date slipped up on me. My sister-in-law passed away unexpectedly the Sunday before Lent began. Her funeral was set for Ash Wednesday, so on Tuesday I drove from my home in Lynchburg, Virginia, to upstate South Carolina to be with family.

My sister and I stayed in a hotel in Greenville about 20 minutes away from my brother’s hometown and drove back and forth for the visitation Tuesday evening and the funeral on Wednesday afternoon.

At the last minute, I remembered it was Ash Wednesday. Unsuccessfully, I searched my phone and GPS for churches that I thought might offer Ash Wednesday services. Neither returned results along the route from the hotel to the Baptist church, the funeral home, or the graveside.

After the funeral, my sister returned home to Georgia, and I made the trip to Greenville again. I was in a hurry to begin my Lenten writing, so I found a restaurant next to the hotel and ordered takeout.

Once I finished dinner, I opened my laptop to write, but the Internet was so enticing. I checked email and browsed Facebook. I perused blogs and searched a website about human trafficking in hotels. Again and again.

“It’s been a long couple of days,” I reasoned. “The night is young.”

An hour before midnight, I closed the tabs, opened a document, and began writing. Sometime after midnight and only three paragraphs later, I turned off the light and went to sleep, drained.

The next day I returned home and life happened.

I failed after only three days, both in the writing and in the abiding. A few days later, I tried again with embarrassingly similar results. Finally, I gave up altogether.

Last week in our LifeGroup during a time of silent prayer, the Spirit nudged me. Go back to John 15. Memorize it. Live it. Abide.

As I ponder a do-over for Ash Wednesday, I whisper prayers of gratitude for the cross and Good Friday. And for Resurrection.