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Confessions: A Matter of Life and Dust

"From dust, you came, and to dust, you will return."

I have heard those words every year for at least 10 years on this day; Ash Wednesday. If you are a Christian and observe this day, you know it is a solemn service. It is a day that we are asked to repent from our usual ways of living and to reorient ourselves to following Jesus. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the season of Lent--forty days in which we intentionally remind ourselves that we are solely dependent on God, for God made us from dust, and to dust, we will return.

I am always moved by this service in one way or another. Sometimes I am stirred by the children who receive the ashes at the very beginning of their lives because they remind me of how precious life is. Other times I am moved to solemn tears by someone struggling with the weight of the world as they recognize they need God now more than ever. From dust, we came, and to dust, we will return.

But this year, Ash Wednesday hit me differently. I wasn't emotional about seeing other people acknowledge that their life is dependent on God's breath. I was emotional because I was very close to death not very long ago. At 29 years old, my experience was a sobering one. Almost dying before I had accomplished most of my dreams, before my 5th wedding anniversary, before "my time" (whatever that means) was not something I was expecting.

The worst part of the experience was not being heard or believed by the majority of medical professionals who thought a shot of pain medicine was all I wanted. "I'm passing out regularly." I would say. "I am not able to eat or even drink enough fluids to do this much longer." I protested. " My body is shutting down, please help me." I groveled. I prayed and wept. I pleaded to not die, not because I was scared about death itself but because I have so much more living to do, dreams to reach for, love to give, and joy to find.

As you have probably guessed, I am still alive--recovering but alive. I am alive for no other reason than my PCP and my Stomach Surgeon, who looked beyond lab work and saw me as a human being worth saving. A person who deserved to continue living.

I finally received the surgery I needed, 12 weeks after I began seeking answers and help.

So as I processed to the altar rail and knelt, waiting for my priest to impose ashes on my forehead as a reminder of mortality, I wept. Tears rolled down my cheeks, I was constantly trying to hold back a sob. This moment was not like TV. This was not a pretty cry. It was the heart-wrenching cry of someone who remembers what the slow process of dying feels like and wants nothing more than to be well, to live.

Ash Wednesday hit me differently this year. It is different to be reminded of your mortality when death seems so far away versus when it was so close just a few months ago. Today I am leaning into the conviction of the sacredness of life and in the goodness of a God who infinitely holds the universe together with love.

From dust, I came, and to dust, I will return.

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