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Love from ashes: an Ash Wednesday reflection

Light for the Way seriesWe invite you to take a peek inside our Light for the Way devotional series. Each week we provide staff with an examination of a biblical reading to deepen our focus on scripture. Thank you for engaging with this series as we seek wisdom through prayer and reflection as a Christian Ministry.

By Chaplain Steve Richards, Optage Hospice 
"Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them." — Mark 9:2, NIV
This Light for the Way falls in a week of love and ashes. We began with Valentine’s Day on February 14. This is a day when we think about, and express love for, the special people in our life. Cards and gifts are often exchanged, and it is a day usually associated with feelings of joy and gratitude. Then, today, we come to Ash Wednesday — a day typically associated with feelings of lament and mourning. Ash Wednesday also begins the season of Lent, when Christians will abstain from certain things, engage in acts of penitence and spend time in prayer. What a contrast to the events just a few days earlier.
When working with people with dementia, it might be tempting to think that we sit with people in the ashes of their lives. When I tell people what I do as a hospice chaplain, they often say, "Oh, I could NEVER do that!" I get it. It’s hard to imagine sitting with people who are dying, who are no longer able to speak coherently or remember their loved ones. It is also tempting to think that nothing we do has any purpose or point: why are we doing this? Why spend time with someone who will not remember us minutes after we leave? What good is any of this doing?
Isn’t it easier to sit in the ashes and give up?
Recently I sat with a family in the ashes of their relationship with a loved one. During yet another difficult visit, their loved one became agitated and began to yell. This often happened during visits, and they know this is a symptom of dementia, but knowing the medical diagnosis did not make things easier for them. As their loved one acted out, I could sense increasing feelings of despair and hopelessness in the family members present. Whatever they said or did brought no respite or peace. No profession of love connected. The visit was cut short. Afterward, we sat in silence.
Then as we sat there, I felt led to speak of the ways I saw them showing up for their loved one and showing love to them. I also spoke of how I saw God’s presence in their words and actions; that despite regularly being rejected they continue to be present. I spoke of their patience and compassion. I spoke about how they visit the sick as Jesus asked us to do, and that they show a willingness to forgive as God has done. In the end, they show love as God has loved us — unconditionally.
And then, as I spoke, I noticed something changing in them. I noticed smiles. I noticed shoulders lifting. I noticed backs straightening. I watched them physically change as they were lifted out of the ashes of the moment and into the presence of God’s love. They were literally transfigured before me.
Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent and the season of repentance and mourning. However, for Christians, the ashes of Lent are not the end but the beginning of a journey to resurrection and life. God is always about bringing something new from the ashes of the impossible. Yes, lament, grief and mourning for what has been lost is an important part of our journey with those we serve, but in the end, God promises to shine light out of the darkness. Death is not the end. God always invites us into the bigger picture of God’s love for us, and that love is always transformative. I have seen it. I have watched people become physically transformed as they dwell in the presence of God’s love for them.
While cards given on Valentine's Day will be thrown out, and flowers will eventually die, the one consistent thing in life is love. Love never fails. God’s love for us never fails. God always shows up for us in Love. I have seen it with my own eyes. Have you?

Find more in the Light for the Way series:
Going bigger with God: Recovering from small stories
Loving what you do and enduring with confidence
Be still. Know God.
Introducing Light for the Way, a new devotional series

In addition to Light for the Way, you can find reflections, devotions, music and other resources on the Pastoral Care website

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