Ashes on the forehead, great weight loss intentions on the mind, chocolate in the trashcan. That pretty much sums up my history with Ash Wednesday. My understanding was if Jesus died for your sins then you should be willing to give up something you love too. And with summer right around the corner beckoning bathing suits and shorts season then thank you Jesus for the good timing! Sweets, Starbucks, Cadbury hard shell mini eggs, any and all of that was my go to when asked:
“What are you giving up for Lent?”
Two years ago on Ash Wednesday I saw a news outlet report how 21 men in the Middle East had been beheaded. And for what? All for sharing the same faith I have. The same faith that allows me to flippantly give up dark chocolate as my first world problem example of utter sacrifice. True agony y’all, worn on my sleeve (i.e. publicly complaining crazed by the sugar detox) like it’s my cross to bear.
And if I’m brutally honest, I’ve never made it all 40 days in denying myself. Or my sweet tooth.
Seeing the newswire photos of these martyrs on their knees in orange jumpsuits? Well it rattled me that day. And I’ve since learned Christians are the most persecuted religion in the world right now. Heart rattled more. Horrifying.
It has also rattled my heart for the fact that my faith is too convenient. It reminds me how I take God, His grace, salvation, all of it for granted. I throw my diamond cross necklace on and don’t even think of the message but instead focus on the bling. My Bible is on my side table. Is it opened and poured over daily? Nope, not at all. But if someone’s working inside my house I make sure that leather bound book is at the top of the pile. That counts towards eternal points. Right?!
God’s message to me that Ash Wednesday did not go unheard. It became evident how ridiculous I had been thinking Jesus had died for me just to start another diet. That by his wounds, I am shredding. Forty pounds in forty days was never the celestial goal.
And so I started seeing opportunities for genuine ministry in my day to day life. Genuine faith here. Not proselytizing on the street corners, but seeing where I could become more Christ-like instead of more world-like. More God centered, less me-centric.
And that’s the thing, if we are willing for God to solve our heart issues, and not just solve our problems, He shows up. He will never disappoint. But it takes us silencing the constant noise, retiring our busy bee behavior, looking with anticipation to learn and being comfortable with the uncomfortable task of listening.
Right away I realized on Sundays I grudge my way through the morning because I have to get kids dressed and I have to get kids fed before we leave for church. Always rushing, always yelling. Crazed Christians on a tear. But instead why do I not think of it as I get to feed kids with an abundant food choice (most days if I’ve recently shopped!) and I get to dress kids with more outfits than necessary. Then we get to drive in our car and get to freely worship with other believers. There’s even snacks sometimes afterwards as fellowship! No fear of beheadings. No orange jumpsuits. Lots of hot chocolate.
That year the Lenten Season came alive for me in a way I’ve never experienced before. Stepping out in faith I figured there were a lot of other moms who lost their minds (and other “sh” words that rhyme with kit) around their children despite loving these little exasperating people with an unexplained one of a kind love. Could I put my frustration and experiences into written word to encourage them along the way? As my heart opened to that idea my blog Motherload Madness literally came to be in an expedited and God blessed way.
Yet writing to total strangers is so much easier than professing my faith – or missteps in faith – with those who I do life with. Walking away from gossip, speaking up for another not present, sharing a Biblical insight? All during a neighborhood gathering or party? Awkward. All of that is so tough with those in community who may have little or no faith. But what is the point of accepting God’s grace if I can’t speak into another’s heart who is searching or hurting? Or both?
Right away before I could change my mind I posted to our neighborhood page my desire to start a group that could share struggles in confidence and encourage one another’s spiritual walk while starting a prayer life for our little ones. Front doors in my neighborhood are covered with a Pinterest worthy wreaths, but inside we are all fighting battles so I drafted my offer, held my breath, hit “post” and waited to see how long before I was the “crazy Christian” of the block.
And guess what? There were no crickets. Responses came right back. “Me!” “I’d love that.” “I’ve been needing this.” And so it went now two years later our group of 25 amazing girls meets monthly to study and pray. Well we laugh and hug a lot too. We gather with our families at Christmas, summer and throughout the year also raising money, helping folks in need, caring for our community all the while standing alongside one another as we try to carve out an authentic life in these weary days.
So I’m not so sure I would have looked calm like those 21 martyrs did being walked down the beach to be shoved on my face so they could chop off my head. The lead executioner tells the camera that their blood will flow into the ocean where bin Laden’s body is. Wow. Their mortalness may have gone into the ocean but before one drop of blood even hit the shore they were being received by their Savior. The ocean may have washed up their blood but that is the ocean our God made. And nothing surprises Him.
He is always bigger than our biggest fears.
Today I’ll play the song “Oceans” a lot seeking how I can give up my own selfishness for Lent and see what God has in store by using me. As Eartha Kitt said “I am learning all the time. My tombstone will be my diploma.” So if my faith does not have borders and I keep my eyes above the waves there’s no telling where God will lead – and teach – if I will only silence the noise and my ego. No fear. Just faith.