What Ash Wednesday Is

Most Ash Wednesdays don’t begin with eating peach pie at 3 o’clock in the morning, but this year’s did.

Well, it actually began an hour and a half before that, uncomfortably lying in bed, back pain and pregnancy insomnia keeping me awake. I gave in to my misery and finally got out of bed at 3, ate some Fat Tuesday pie to begin the Great Fast of the Christian liturgical year, and eventually fell asleep on the couch at some point before 5, when the timer light in our living room kicks on automatically. It didn’t feel much like Ash Wednesday.

Later this morning, I ran a friend around town on some errands. She doesn’t have a car and the office where she pays her rent is a few miles from her apartment. It’s cold. The snow and ice haven’t melted. Our car door is really big and heavy, and it’s a chore for a shorter person to pull it closed once she’s inside. We grabbed her breakfast at the DQ drive-through.

Even later this morning, I found out my neighbor was cleaning her house to get it ready for a showing tonight, so I took the remaining pie over to her house, and we split it. Generous portions. The best kind. It still didn’t feel like Ash Wednesday. The Beanster toddled around after my neighbor’s infinitely patient dog.

We found out that my husband’s grandmother’s surgery this morning—which had seemed relatively routine, a gallbladder to be removed—took a turn unexpectedly when her heart stopped beating. The doctors revived her but the surgery couldn’t continue. She was sent to intensive care to recover. She’s still there, still with a bad gallbladder.

I lost my patience with the Bean over lunch, as she rubbed her eyes and told me she was sleepy. I still wanted her to eat, and she dripped tomato sauce down her bib and onto her pants. I called my husband and interrupted a meeting to complain, Adam-like, “This child whom you gave me…!”

During her nap, I frantically knitted a scarf I wanted to have done by tomorrow. It isn’t done yet. Then I reread Isaiah 58, and I sorted through some of my pre-pregnancy clothing to add to the growing donation pile related to a decluttering-downsizing-for-social-justice project I’m working through.May I just point out that it’s annoying to sort through clothing to begin with, but even more so to do it when you’re pretty sure you’d have to lose your entire left leg and maybe the entire left side of your body to ever squeeze into most of it again. That’s the pregnancy brain talking, but it is still annoying. It didn’t feel like Ash Wednesday.

The Bean “helped” me fold laundry after her nap. We read a silly book about a cat and a dog that practice ballroom dancing. My husband came home and we heated up leftovers for dinner, sped through it, changed, and headed to get some ashes smeared on our foreheads. From that service, he went to choir, I went to my book group. The Bean stayed in the nursery, eating snacks, I’m sure.

I forgot about the ashes about a half-dozen times, and they kind of made my forehead itch this year for some reason. I kept swiping at them subconsciously, so by the time we got home and the Bean looked at me directly for the first time, there wasn’t much left. But there was enough. Enough for her to point and say, “Dirty.”


I washed off the ashes. Picked up the assorted Tupperware strewn around the house. Ate a bowl of cereal. Or two. Typed up this blog post.

Truth be told, it still doesn’t feel much like Ash Wednesday.

But it is.



4 comments on “What Ash Wednesday Is

  1. Elaine says:

    What does Ash Wednesday feel like? I am so glad that our faith relies upon a God Who does not change, and not my feelings. It seems to me that your day is a perfect example of our dark season of lent, and the promise that “Sunday’s coming!”

    • Elizabeth says:

      Thanks for commenting, Elaine. The idea of Ash Wednesday not being about how we “feel” was certainly one of the reasons I wrote the post. By the end of the day, I realized that my day was indeed a perfect and appropriate Ash Wednesday–recognized my own brokenness and my need for grace, and attempted to offer that grace to others.

  2. Anne Rose says:

    LOVED IT!!! Been there, done that, but MANY years ago, but still can relate!

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