Ashes and Hearts

Such a topsy-turvy day it is. An emotional maelstrom. How can Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday share the same day? My heart doesn’t know how to feel.

I love Valentine’s Day. I always have. But maybe not for the reasons you might imagine. For Woody and me, Valentine’s Day was always a family kind of day. Some cards and candy. Maybe a special breakfast even as everybody rushed off to work and school. Perhaps a note in the lunch box or making cut-out heart cookies after school. But always a family dinner in the dining room with a family favorite dish and a little surprise at each place. A time to remind each family member how loved and cherished they were.

In this chapter of life, we have to do that through Face Time and texting and sending small Valentine surprises through the mail. This Nana loves to do that!

But today is also Ash Wednesday. A day to remember both our origin and our future. Ashes. From dust we came, to dust we will return. It’s a strange time to be thinking of hearts.

Or is it? This particular Ash Wednesday comes at a time when I am more mindful than ever of the intersection of ashes and hearts. Broken hearts. My own heart has been broken recently alongside friends who grieve the tragic loss of a young son. A brilliant young man, the “baby” of the family, gone much too soon. Like the young son of other friends who visited us recently. “Every day is hard, and we are exhausted,” they told us. Exhausting, excruciating, ongoing grief. Someone has observed that “Death is a date in the calendar, but grief is the calendar.” 

So what are we to do with all this love and pain? With these ashes that call us to remember our death and these hearts that remind us of both the joy and the price of love? 

I’m not sure I know what to do with all this. But I do know one thing. This is not the whole story. Definitely not the end of the story. Because what we are called to remember is not just our deaths, but HIS. Through His death, which broke the heart of God His Father, we have life. Life eternal, yes! But also life in Him between now and then.

So there is reason both to grieve and to rejoice. Because of His death, our death is not final. Because of His great love (what better to celebrate on Valentine’s Day—and every day?) we will one day be reunited with those we love. 

So back to my maelstrom of emotions. Can I really wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day on this Ash Wednesday? In the midst of our beginning journey through Lent, and against the backdrop of sorrow and loss this real life brings, is there a place for happiness?

YES! But maybe what I really mean is not so much happiness as joy. The joy to which we journey as we walk through Lent. The kind of joy Walter Wangerin defines in my favorite Lenten devotional, Reliving the Passion, (p. 31):

The difference between shallow happiness and a deep, sustaining joy is sorrow. Happiness lives where sorrow is not. When sorrow arrives, happiness dies. It can’t stand pain. Joy, on the other hand, rises from sorrow and therefore can withstand all grief. Joy, by the grace of God, is the transfiguration of suffering into endurance, and of endurance into character, and of character into hope—and the hope that has become our joy does not . . . disappoint us.
— Walter Wangerin

So, because of the ashes, in the midst of the ashes, because of Heaven, because of His death and resurrection, I can wish you a truly joy-filled, hope-filled Happy Valentine’s Day!