The Ashes …

ashesI’ll never think of the ashes for Ash Wednesday in the same way again — ever since I asked our confirmation class members to assist me in burning some dried-out palm branches in preparation for the Imposition of Ashes.

Our small church doesn’t have a confirmation class every year — not enough kids. And we hadn’t needed any new ashes for a few years — a few ashes go a long way. So I explained to the class that this was perhaps a once-in-a-generation experience — to be the confirmation class that is chosen to burn the palm branches saved up from several years of Palm Sundays.

We started in the classroom discussing the seasons of the Church year. We talked about how the first Sunday of Advent is New Year’s Day for Christians; about how Advent and Lent are both seasons of preparation for the special celebrations of Christmas and Easter. We reviewed the importance of the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday, how the ashes remind us that we are mortal — that we are God’s creations.

Then we moved outside to the parking lot and stood in the cold around a little grill filled with dried palm fronds. We each took a long match and, in unison, lit the matches and held them to the palm leaves.

Whoosh! Dried palm leaves went up in flames. All solemnity vanished as clouds of thick smoke penetrated our clothes, hair, shoes, socks … We added more palms to the fire and talked about Maundy Thursday and Good Friday — and camping and marshmallows. (Where were those liturgical marshmallows when we needed them?)

I was struck by the absolute joy that infused this burning of the palms. There was laughter and dancing, joking and prancing. Whatever expectation I had of a somber, quiet ritual was transformed by the smiles and giggles of young people, fully present, enjoying the moment, burning palm leaves in the service of God.

When the palms were all burned, we pulled ourselves together for a closing prayer. Standing in a circle around the grill, we held hands and gave thanks for the presence of the Holy Spirit in that fire and in those holy moments. We asked God’s blessing for each person there, servants of God, and on the ashes that would be signs of God’s love for each person who received them.

The Ash Wednesday ashes are now infused with special meaning. Sure, they are an outward symbol of the Lenten journey of repentance. But they are also infused with holy laughter and blessed with the full-of-life spirits of now-confirmed, young Christians.

When I receive the ashes, I think of Jesus’ words, “Repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15, NRSV). And I believe in that good news with all my heart.

And … if I am ever invited to update the liturgical calendar for the Church, I’ll be adding one Sunday to the calendar — the day when the confirmation class burns the palms for Ash Wednesday. We could call it … Conflagration Sunday. (Sorry … I couldn’t resist a little liturgical geek humor.)


Check out some resources for your Lenten Journey by clicking here.

Jack’s Babysitting Job

job1Jack’s friend, Tracy, called early this week to say that she had a job for Jack. Tracy needed help with Sammy the maltipoo puppy who was coming over for a few days. She needed someone (like Jack) — to keep Sammy entertained. (Awwww, Jack … we remember when you were just a tiny puppy, and now you’ve got your first job.)

So Jack’s been at Tracy’s helping with Sammy. When we went to pick him up today, we observed his work for a while. (He’s very good at this babysitting stuff.)

Sammy is the cutest pup ever. Here he is chewing on a stick and looking adorable.

Sammy the maltipoo

Jack’s got good babysitting tricks. One is a game called, “Chase Me. I’ve Got the Ball.” Sometimes Sammy chases Jack.

playing ball

And sometimes, Jack chases Sammy.

playing ball

Either way, it works great.

Another game in Jack’s toolkit is “Chase Me. I’ve Got the Stick.” Here’s the early part of the game where both pups are getting ahold of the stick.

Stick

And here goes Sammy with the stick!

Sammy with the stick

Sammy’s still got the stick! Go, Jack, go!!

Chasing Sammy

This is Said. He lives with Tracy all the time. And he’s Very Ready for Jack and Sammy to go home. He needs just a little peace and quiet for a change.

Said

Jack said he’s got the greatest job ever!!

1. Chasing and being chased by Sammy.
2. Running. Eating. Taking naps.
3. And then Running. Eating. Taking Naps. Barking. Playing. …

Tonight, back at home, Jack’s asleep. He’s tired out. Babysitting is hard, hard work.

 
 

Jack and the Windy Day

alertjack_smJack does not like windy days. There are strange noises. Leaves start chasing you down the street for no good reason. And Very Scary Things show up where they are not supposed to be. Like Big Scary Boxes. And Branches. And Trash Containers on Their Sides.

When Jack starts out on his walks, he surveys the street to be sure that everything is ok. If something is out of place, he goes into his “I’m Alert” pose — like in the photo above.

On this particular morning, there was a box in the middle of the street. Jack said he wasn’t going down the street because there was a Big Scary Something Where It Shouldn’t Be.  I moved the box to the curb, and Jack took some time to ponder whether it was safe to go by.

We eventually made it by the box and went on, doing our business. But then we had to come back the same way. It Was Still There!! What to do? It’s time to approach the Big Scary Box … in A Very Wary Manner.

 

Jack stared at the box for a while and it seemed to be tame enough.

 

He slowly approached it from the side.

Right after this picture was taken, the box must have jumped or something, because Jack shot back about three feet and refused to approach it again.

Brave pup. Our Jack. He’s king of the street. (Even if he gets a little jumpy on a windy day.)

 

Prayer for My Dad

hands
Holding hands with dad in June
Today is my dad’s 82nd birthday. He’s on a difficult journey with Alzheimer’s. The person we knew is slipping away, bit by bit. I am many miles away from him, so I offer this prayer, today, for Dad.

God of love,
be with my dad today.
Let there be kindness toward him
and compassion.
Let him feel that he is loved.

But even if he cannot feel …
or remember …
or know,
Loving God,
you are there with him.
You are hold his hand,
wrapping his spirit in your blanket of love.

For the life of my dad
I give you thanks.
Amen.

A Wren Story

Wren
One of the wrens last winter

Feeding birds is a love I inherited from my parents and grandparents. We love the the birds — and especially the little wrens. They have such spunk, such personality. We wanted to make a home for them, so we bought them a little wren house and put it on the lower deck. Isn’t this a great home for a wren family?

house
The wren box

 
This is their new bird bath — it’s heated. The birds sat around on the edge of the bird bath all winter. I imagined that they were wrapped in little towels pretending they were at the spa.

bird bath
Bird bath (heated)

 
The wrens love the suet. They are so cute when they hang on the feeder.

Suet
Suet feeder

 
We feed, exclusively, hot pepper suet (because the squirrels don’t like hot peppers). We get this at Home Depot.

Hot Pepper suet
Hot pepper suet

 
Check out another new addition — a covered bird feeder. We got this to feed the bluebirds, but the wrens eat there too. (Actually, the bluebirds never came, so the wrens had it all to themselves.

Covered bird feeder
Covered bird feeder

 
Here’s what goes into the covered feeder — mealworms!! (Woo Hoo!!)

Mealworms
Mealworms

 
Yes, these are actually mealworms — here’s the bag they came in. They are dried mealworms, but you can make them look alive by putting oil on them. (Eeew!)

Mealworm bag
Mealworm bag

 
So, it’s the perfect place for a wren family to settle in — Right?

Nesting season came, and there was no wren nest in the box. Not the first week. Not the second week. Not the third week. 😦

I went over to Neighbor Deen’s house — and what did I find? I found my wrens had built next door at Deen’s house.

Nest
The wren's choice for a nest

And not only had they built next door at Neighbor Deen’s house and not at our house. They built their nest on top of a string mop. (Ouch!! Rejection!!) Oh, well. That’s life.

We kept providing them food and water — because we love the birds — even if they rejected our beautiful, perfect little wren house on the lower deck.

After a few weeks, the eggs hatched. The nest fell apart as the little birds grew. Here they are all hunkered down just a couple of days before they fledged. You can see their dark feathers and little yellow beaks.

Baby birds
Baby birds

Thank God for the birds … especially the wrens. Do you have wrens nesting at your house? What’s the secret to becoming a wren landlord?