Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Beth spoke these words over me as she painted the dust on my forehead, in the shape of a cross. I cried quietly, overcome by both emotion and the anesthesia leaving my system. I was not fully aware of the depth of this moment, having just woken up from surgery. I just knew in that moment I was frail. Human. Mere ash. And I wept.

Ash was an appropriate word for 2015. As I processed the year as part of my end of the year reflection, my word was “fire”. And not in a happy, powerful way. It was fire, as in I was repeatedly burned and refined. Over and again. It was an ashy year.

That year began with a cancer scare. That moment, all alone, in the doctor’s office, hearing the word “cancer” – the last word I expected to hear – was horrifying. I did my best to keep it together, to not cry in the middle of that circus of a doctor’s office as I waited to get blood drawn. Brief side note. The doctor’s office practically was a circus, or at least that was the theme they chose when decorating the place. I had blood drawn in a room that paid homage to Candy Land. Because that’s what I find comforting when facing the possibility of cancer, a child’s board game. It was the worst. Well, the worst, besides cancer.

I finally got to leave, having managed to not cry one tear while in the doctor’s office. I stepped out the door and sobbed. I tried to drive home, but my sobs were turning into a mild panic attack before I could even turn on my car. I started to slow down and just breath and called for a ride. My family and I spent the day together. I made them all watch “Boyhood”, which I am sure they wouldn’t have done unless cancer (or something similarly awful) was on the table.

The waiting was excruciating. I was in this odd purgatory-like space between cancer and no cancer. A few of my closest friends knew, but I didn’t want to make it public until I knew for sure. I went in for a CT Scan, which was way less scary than I thought it would be. I battled with the doctor’s office to get results and found out that it most likely wasn’t cancer. Exhale.

I required surgery, which would also give a final determination on the cancer question. It all happened so quickly. I found an amazing doctor. The surgery was scheduled. I went on medical leave.

Surgery was scheduled for Ash Wednesday. I was sad to miss that particular service, but knew that surgery could not be postponed. As I woke up from the procedure, my family was there, and so was Beth, my dear pastor friend. She came to impart the ashes on me, knowing that I could not make it to church that day. I had few words I could say in that humbling moment.

The recovery from surgery went well, although six months later I had to go in for more extensive surgery (still no cancer though). In the midst of surgeries, I was job hunting. I had a job, but felt for some time that I needed a change. I just didn’t know what that change was supposed to be. I applied to job after job. I tweaked countless résumés and cover letters. I networked. I got specific. I asked for help. I did all of the right things, but still couldn’t find someone to hire me. Oh, and I was living back at home with my parents, which is every thirty something’s dream (no offense to my parents who were incredibly gracious to me in that season). I felt stuck and it seemed like I would remain stuck forever.

The following Ash Wednesday in 2016, I was able to make it to church for the service. So much had changed in that year. I had just taken a new job and was days away from moving to Pasadena (lovely, charming, Pasadena, my dream city). In all of 2015, I had been waiting for things to change, and within a month into 2016, everything shifted beautifully in a moment. I still do not fully understand why 2015 had to be the way it was. I have small inklings, but generally, it is a year with many questions. The confusion is mingled with gratitude and sorrow, all burned together resulting in the unifying ash pile.

I walked up the aisle at church, making sure that I was in Beth’s line. We exchanged knowing glances as she once again painted ashes on my forehead and declared:

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Once more, I wept.

2 thoughts on “Ash

  1. Really enjoyed this post. Having you look back in retrospect really showed God’s hand in your year.

  2. Jen it was a trying time wasn’t it! Well you made it through all the junk. Blessing upon you!

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