Feb. 14 was a day of contrasts and conflicting emotions from beginning to end. It was Ash Wednesday, Valentine’s Day and the date chosen for a basketball game between Michigan and Iowa that we were planning on attending in Ann Arbor. 

Al and I got up early that morning so that he could attend his men’s group at our church before leaving for Ann Arbor. However, he soon discovered that the regular meeting was canceled due to special services in preparation for the beginning of Lent, the six week period before Easter. We decided to attend the 7 a.m. service together. It turned out to be a meaningful time of worship, introspection and repentance. 

Before leaving, there was an invitation to come forward to receive the symbol of the cross traced by one of the pastors upon our foreheads. Ashes from palm fronds and oil were mixed together to form the paste used for the occasion. 

Seeing others in the congregation with marked foreheads was a reminder of the truth stated by the apostle Paul in Romans 3:23,  “...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God...” It was evident that we all share the same human condition — sin!

Not wanting others to see me with ashes on my face, I wiped the smudge away soon after and forgot all about it. However, later that morning when Al found a super-sized Valentine’s day card sitting on the computer and posed for a picture, his smiling face was adorned with the familiar black cross. Inherent in that cross was the message of forgiveness and the hope of eternal life that God has given us. How thankful I am for my humble husband! 

We left the house around noon, stopping along the way for a wonderful reunion with my Dad’s cousin, Pat, and her husband Joe. They treated us with Snickerdoodles, pictures from family gatherings taken years ago and some wonderful stories about our loved ones who almost seemed present as we sat around the kitchen table. 

Then it was dinner at a very nice restaurant before arriving at the University of Michigan’s Crisler Center around 5:30, where the fans were waiting in expectation for the game to start. Al said the outcome of the game would depend on which team showed up! Some days the Wolverines played like champions; but then there were the off times! 

Although it was extremely loud, I managed to get acquainted with the lady sitting next to me between plays. We were talking during one lull in the game when suddenly a soft yellow ball came flying through the air and landed right in my lap. It was a “T shirt” with the words “Re2pect above all” on the front and the basketball schedule on the back. 

She explained that it was the university’s theme for the year. I should have asked her why the number 2 was used instead of an “s” for respect; but didn’t notice it until later. A good message though, one that is definitely needed in our society. I put the shirt on over my white sweater, glad not to stand out in the sea of maize and blue any longer. 

The game was exciting to watch. Both teams played well, with Michigan coming through for a win much to our delight. On the way out of the arena, I noticed that a woman walking behind me had a cross of ashes on her forehead. I felt an immediate bond and made a comment about it. She said that she had left it on so that others could see it. Ouch! Humbled again!

Who would have thought that the day would end in mourning? Our hearts were hurting for all of the lives lost and for those forever changed by a terrible act of violence in a Florida high school. Ultimately the cause was sin, erupting and spreading out to affect the lives of others.

What can we do? Be honest about our faults, respect people, stop judging, start talking and listening, take action instead of trying to hide that which is broken….remember the cross of ashes and God’s heart of love for us all. Help us oh Lord!

“This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” — Romans 3:22-24 NIV

 

Judy Lowery lives in Michigan. The Good News column appears regularly in The Porterville Recorder. You can read more at Judy’s blog, goodnewswithjudy.blogspot.com.

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