My Ash Wednesday Baby

My husband and I celebrated our 3rd wedding anniversary on a Tuesday night. I wore a purple sleeveless dress with a pashmina while my husband wore a checkered shirt; these details I only know because the waiter took our picture. I cannot tell you what we ordered except that there was dessert. There was always dessert at that stage in my pregnancy.

I can say definitively that it was the last meal we ate together before becoming parents.

Not long after arriving home from dinner that night, I had changed into my pajamas and was getting into bed when my water broke. As we drove to the hospital a few hours later, my husband was practically giddy at the sight of the empty freeway. Several of his friends had shared horror stories of driving their wives to the hospital during rush hour traffic. I was distracted by watching large droplets of rain on pummeling the windshield. My son will be born on a rainy day, I mused. We live in Southern California and our perpetually on-the-verge-of-drought conditions mean that rain is an auspicious sign. What are the chances that it would rain on our wedding day and during the birth of our son?

Many hours later, I was breathing through another wave of contractions when a new nurse popped into room. She had already received her ashes.

“I was supposed to get ashes today at my parish’s noon services,” I blurt out before we had introduced ourselves.

She instinctively raised her hand to her own forehead.

“I am pretty sure that God is pretty excited about what you’re doing today instead.”

Parishes will say that Ash Wednesday is often their most well-attended service – more popular even than Easter or Christmas. This is even though Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation. This begs the question of why Catholics are so drawn to receiving their ashes. Why do so many want to celebrate the beginning of Lent?

I think it is intuitive for so many of us. In preparing for the Resurrection, we simply want to do better and to be better. We want to be more intentional. We want to love deeply as Jesus did.

Prayer. Fasting. Giving. The Church offers us a beautiful model of how to grow towards God. In essence it is our spiritual version of a clean slate.

We recently took our boys on a nature walk around a local lagoon. Everything about the day was special, including the upbeat company and the crisp weather. God’s expansive creation was on full display.

Sunbeams danced across the water and the light continued to sparkle and glitter as we watched a family of ducks swim by us.

“It’s so gorgeous today,” I remarked to no one in particular.

From behind me, my Ash Wednesday baby, now a kindergarten student spoke.

“It’s pretty weird that everything used to be dark before God. Now, there is all this light!” My husband and I grinned at each other above the head of our budding theologian.

God gifted us the light.

God gifted us the opportunity to grow, to change and to strive towards the good. Like a field of sunflowers tilting towards the sun, we can lean into this Lent. We can recognize the light all around us. In those places and times we find ourselves navigating the shadows, we can turn to prayer. We can turn towards living our lives in service to others. We can be holy.

As for my son, I will offer a prayer for him on Ash Wednesday.

May he embody love and recognize Jesus is everywhere where kindness, truth and justice reside. May the Lenten hope of striving towards the good inspire him all year long.

I will pray the same for all of you this Lent.

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