And so it is Lent again. A time of waiting, and preparation, and, if we allow time - for introspection.
This past Wednesday was the first day of Lent, and we took a family friend visiting from Toronto to the Lenten Evening service at our church. We meet in the chapel; it is a simple setting, with singing from the children's choir, and a homily reflection on the meaning of Lent.
At the end of the service all are invited forward to receive the imposition of ashes and communion. As preparation was made for this, two women of our congregation stood and moved forward. They had been given the task of placing the sign of the cross in ash on our foreheads, as we each came forward in the chapel, before we received communion.
And suddenly it hit me. This was the perfect choice. I have known both of these women for a while, and as their friend, I also know their stories. They are both remarkable. Their lives contrast mine. They have struggled, I have had it easy; they have found God in remarkable ways, my way to God has been much more simple, and well, boring.
Tough Choices, Courageous Woman
One of these women is a single mom. We will call her Mary. When she was younger, like lots of us, she made some bad decisions in life, and has spent a number of years recovering. Some days don't feel like recovery. She has raised a daughter on her own, a girl who is now 17 or so, and is doing alright. There are still tough times, and everything has not always worked out perfectly. It has been a challenge every step of the way.
Several years ago, in near mid-life, Mary sensed that God might be calling her to a completely unusual challenge - service as a military chaplain. She is now working part time in this role, attending seminary, and plans on entering this professional full time in the near future.
Mary's journey is the story of a life redeemed.
Pastor's Daughter, Becoming a Pastor
The other woman we will call Susan. She is the daughter of a pastor. When she was 16 years old, out of a sense of emptiness and with a troubled heart, she told her father that she no longer believed in Jesus. Religion was a farce.
Since she was a great student, she did fine in high school, and went to an Ivy League college. After graduation she became involved in community organizing and politics. Very important politics. At the same time, she also developed an addiction to drugs. She dabbled in Eastern religions, and attempted rehab. It was not working well, and one night, she decided to ditch the intake rehab program she was attending. So, she called a cab to take her away.
As it turns out, an angel was driving that cab. He was a Christ follower, listened to Susan's story, and told her God wanted her to return to that rehab program right away, and get her butt back in therapy.
To make a long story shorter, other people were praying for Susan during her struggles. She found her way home to God. Today, she also is in seminary, preparing for a life of ministry to others.
Hers is the story of a life rescued.
Bread, Wine, Ashes
Some think that God is dead, and lives of faith are merely manifestations of insecurity. But, last Wednesday, as we all stood in a line, waiting for a mark on our foreheads, and a little bit of bread dipped in wine, I thought differently.
I saw, standing before me, two lives, transformed.
...for dust you are
and to dust you will return.