Ashes from a Burned Up Past

It was really strange yesterday, walking around the city on Ash Wednesday and not seeing anyone with ashes on their foreheads.

Not that Ash Wednesdays in NYC are usually a carnival of soot-forehead’ed Christians, but more people come out of the woodwork that you’d think, and it’s always a nice reminder that, as a Christian in this crazy world (and even crazier city)…you’re not alone.

But yesterday…there was no one. It was just your typical day in Covid-strained New York.

Ash Wednesday, aside from its religious significance: marking the beginning of Lent when we partake in penance leading up to Easter, also holds an additional significance for me: it marks the onset of my eating disorder.

Yes, I developed anorexia after “giving up” all sweets for Lent during my sophomore year of high school. Sure, there were a lot of other factors, including digestive pain from Ulcerative Colitis, debilitating perfectionism and a deep seeded wound that my worth was performance based and I had to be perfect to be loved. But I can really go back and pin point the allure of weight loss to Lent, when the voice of the eating disorder really took residence in my mind.

So, Ash Wednesday has always been a grave reminder of the biggest regret and largest source of shame in my life. Something that I have come to terms with, and yet still can haunt me from time to time with guilt, with sorrow, with shame.

Yesterday, I watched Father Mike’s Ash Wednesday Mass on YouTube, and he said something that resonated with me so much, I just needed to share it.

“(Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.) It’s beautiful: Here’s ashes. Here’s the remnants of a life that’s been burned up. Here’s the remnants of a life I no longer want to cling to. Here’s a sign of repentance. I want to embrace, even the difficulties of life, because I want to embrace God. The Lord is calling me not to run away or escape, but to return. Embrace them, and in doing so, also embrace Him.”

He spoke those words, and I just could feel my heart swell inside. I felt as though he was speaking to me.

After Mass, knowing that I wanted to write about this tonight, I did a little more research on the ashes themselves. And the ashes are made from the burned palms of Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday, was of course, the day when Jesus rides triumphantly into Jerusalem on a donkey, right before the Last Supper and His Passion. The people placed palms in front of Jesus, lining His pathway into the city.

And ultimately, they were paving the way for Him to the Cross.

How fitting then, that those same palms are used for the ashes of repentance on Ash Wednesday.

You see, one of the biggest “mountain top God moments” I’ve ever had was at inpatient when I realized that my eating disorder was on the Cross. I finally understood that my anorexia was one of the nails in Jesus’ hands, and He died on the Cross to forgive and redeem me from it.

He took my sin – my eating disorder – upon Himself. It’s why He went to the Cross. You could say that my eating disorder was one of the palms I placed before Him, paving His way to Calvary.

And today, that sin – that palm branch – is literally burned into ashes and placed on my forehead. Remnants of my past that have been burned up.

The beautiful thing about God is that, even though we all have our own source of pain/shame/guilt/regret, God does not see us that way. We may — we may view ourselves through a lens where that’s all we see when we look in the mirror. I know I did. But God only sees us with eyes of love.

He’s taken those things and burned them up. Burned them into ashes, used to remind us that He’s redeemed our repentant hearts.

It really is the greatest love story of all.

So this Lent, though I may not be able to physically wear the ashes on my forehead, I am strengthened by what they truly mean. I am humbled by the fact that that past life has been burned up.

So perhaps, Ash Wednesday is now no longer a reminder of the shame in my past, but rather a celebration of Christ’s victory in my life: that my past has been burned up, and forgiven.

I have been redeemed and reclaimed….as seen on the smudge on my forehead.

“This is what the Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.” Ez 37:5

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84 thoughts on “Ashes from a Burned Up Past

  1. Yours is a story of victory because God has brought so much beauty from the ashes of the past. Keep sharing your beautiful story with the world. They need to know the difference Christ makes now more than ever.

    1. Thank you Matthew, what a kind thing to say. God is truly amazing and I’m so grateful for His redemption!! Yes! Hugs and love xox

  2. The biggest source of pain? Yes, but also the biggest source of joy! This was my reaction as I read your words. Of course, you got there at the end! Let me try an analogy for you; last year I had to take weeks of physical therapy to regain range of motion in my right shoulder. Just an old man thing.

    What I learned was to move toward the pain, not away! Go till your face is screwed up with it and then just a millimeter more. Move toward it and embrace it! Acknowledging it and possessing it is the best way to get rid of it. Spiritually, it’s the best way to fully grasp it so you can hand it all to God.

    As always, love and hugs and prayers for you. And yours!

    1. Hey Jeff! You’re right- it has brought a lot of joy as well! Move toward the pain… wrote that is inspiring! That’s true – it’s like in recovery… the very first step is looking it straight in the face and admitting you have a problem. You’ve got nice towards the pain- then you can surrender it by the root to God ! Hope you’re staying warm! The snow Was a bit of a nothing burger … just a few inches. Have a wonderful weekend, my friend! Hugs to you and your girls! Xoxo

  3. They had Mass yesterday, but I m having a difficult time being around a large amount of people so I didn’t go. Although, some of my Catholic friends did their own, which they said is allowed. Makes sense because I kind of remember when I was a child and elderly and sick would have a family member do their ashes

    1. Thank you Alice. i’m with you – i’m not ready for large crowds yet either. praying for you!Hugs and love xox

    1. thank you Ryan – you’re so right – He sets us free! what a beautiful truth that is! Hugs and love xox

  4. So very beautiful! Praise God! I have used your story with my son who has GAD (general anxiety disorder). You have helped him a lot and I wanted you to know. Love you and your precious heart for God as always, beautiful friend. Hugs! XO😃♥️

    1. Hi Tonya! thank you so much -it warms my heart to think that my blog may have offered him some encouragement! keeping him and you in my prayers! Love you dear friend! have a beautiful weekend! hugs xox

    1. Thank you so much Sandy! amen to that – Jesus is the ultimate restorer! 🙂 Praise God for that! So glad you stopped by! Hugs and love xox

  5. I really admire your openess about how you have overcome such a struggle. And wonderful how you encourage folk. Lent is such a great time for reflection, thank you for sharing the photo of the Ash Cross. It is rare to see them here now.

    I hope you won’t think me insensitive, but I feel sad when you mention sin alongside the eating disorder. I have a chronic illness & it has definitely transformed my relationship with God. I was a manic doer, but God wanted me to be. And confirmed his existence when I had nothing to offer. I have learned a lot. As I say, I don’t intend to be insensitive in any way.
    Have a blessed time of Lent. Penny

    1. Oh Penny, thank you so much for sharing your heart. You’re right. Lent is a terrific time for reflection. And thank you for that feedback. You bring up a great point…the eating disorder was not sin, but a mental illness. That is certainly important to remember! So glad you stopped by! Hugs and love xox

    1. aw thank you so much! God is good, and I am so grateful for His healing power in my life! hugs to you xox

  6. At my Ash Wednesday service last night, this comment was put on the screen: “We consider death, because doing so reminds us to live.” That really hit home with me.

    1. Hi Glenn, thank you so much for your kind words. Oh wow – that really hits home with me too! Hugs and love xox

    1. Hi Greg! Yes! They were from the previous year…isn’t that cool!!? Thanks for stopping by! Hugs and love xox

  7. “Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love … This is real love – not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.” 1John 4:8,10.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing that powerful verse. amen. God is love!!!! hope you have a beautiful weekend! Hugs and love xox

  8. when Jesus was asked by the pharisee’s, why his followers didn’t fast,in that they ignored the fasting others did, often for show, He told the Pharisee’s, clearly, in plain lingo, the fasting the Father in Heaven wants is no more bad talking of others, charity and kindness is what makes you of God,not man made laws, amen, i/e fasting from evil, thanks

      1. Try to understand these times,The Spirit of God has to find refuge inside you, so as the world goes through a clean up, re thinking their lives, then imagine the space you need, in a nutshell, the habits that lift you, that you don’t need to hide from, amen

  9. Frankly, for me, the best advice about dealing with the past came from an unexpected place.. the first Lion King movie.. Have look.
    https://youtu.be/lQd22F5onyM

    As the monkey said, “The past can hurt. But the way I see it is that you can either run from it OR learn from it.”

    1. Oh my gosh – RAFIKKI!! i absolutely loved that move and the monkey was my favorite character. how very very VERY true! Hugs and love xox

      1. It’s one of my fav series of movies too. Part 2 was equally brilliant. Don’t like what Disney did with the remake.

    1. thank you so much for your kind words, Hannah! Amen! We are not our past! 🙂 Hugs and love xox

    1. Thank you Jeff! Amen to that – it was so great, they put it in the ultimate best seller: the Bible! haha Hugs and love xox

  10. I appreciate you sharing these articles of your faith with me. I, too, am Christian, but not Catholic. The symbolism of the ashes as the death of the sin riddled spirit and the rebirth of a new and different spirit through the purification of the sacrifice of our Lord is profound. I’m glad that you continue to find peace in the layering of your Christianity.

    1. Thank you so much! I’m so glad this resonated withyou! You’re right – it is truly profound! Hugs and love xox

  11. I don’t go to a Catholic church, so we don’t do ashes, but I was happy to attend a Lent service at my church. I appreciate following some Catholic and Orthodox brothers and sisters in Christ, as we are all one in the body. The true church is always marked by Jesus! God bless and thanks for sharing your journey!

    1. Thank you so much Amber! I’m glad you were able to find that outlet! You’re right – marked by Jesus!!! And I so agree – we are all one body, brothers and sisters in Christ! have a beautiful weekend! Hugs and love xox

    1. Thank you so much!!! Oh gosh, I’m honored that you would say that! 🙂 Same to you, have a blessed Lent! hugs xoxo

  12. Traditions often create symbols of significance to Christians. The Catholicism holds on to the traditions established in the 4th century AD. Yet Jesus and the Apostles help us appreciate that for our worship to be acceptable to God, we need to leave our old ways behind, take on the mind of Christ.

    In doing this our fearless approach to demonstrating our faith is important, I admire the public display. Although, I do not follow the tradition of Ash Wednesday nor that of Lent we can not escape the fact without the death of Jesus we haven’t a hope.

    Those millions of NYC residents looking for answers to the issues of today still have the opportunity to hear the Good News – Gospel of Jesus.

    We know time is short, so if this period of reflection helps us with anything let it be that the life assurance we seek lies in our relationship with our Creator.

    Our beliefs differ in many ways but we are agreed that Psalm 118: 8,9 offers the real path to managing today.

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this! Yes! We are all one family in Christ, I agree. praying with you! 🙂 Hugs and love xox

  13. Wonderful symbolism of forgiveness and victory. As you have noticed, I have been writing about forgiveness recently. I have also been reading a book by Paula Huston, “Forgiveness: following Jesus into radical loving” (which I purchased through christianbooks.com, after I had written the posts about forgiveness). You might like her analysis and life examples.

    In response to my letters-to-the-editor back-and-forth, I am composing a series (I think that I am up to 5 posts and have another to write later this morning) on empathy. When I get around to posting this, over several weeks, I’d be interested in your views.

    Happy, or solemn, Lenting – Oscar

    1. Thank you so much Oscar for your kind words. Yes – forgiveness is a powerful thing! I love that. I will definitely check out her work! thank you for the recco! Hugs and love xox

    1. thank you so much Maureen! I appreciate your kind and supportive words! means a lot. Hugs and love xox

    1. Thank you friend! oh yes – he has a real gift. i am always so blessed by his words! Hugs and love xox

  14. When God reveals our sin we can embrace or reject His call. So glad you are will to share the joys of embracing even the trials. Yes, from dust we come and to dust the body goes but those saved by Grace will be in glory with our dear Maker and Savior!

    1. You’re so right about that – we can trust in His goodness and accept His call! thanks for your kind words! Hugs and love xox

    1. thank you so much! amen to that – God’s love is as vast as the ocean! 🙂 Hugs and love xox

  15. Always a blessing to be reminded of the grace Christ shows to us. Thank you for writing this. I will think about it throughout my day today for encouragement ❤️

    1. thank you so much Amy. You’re right – His grace is as vast as the ocean! Hugs and love xox

    1. aw thank you friend! yes! it really is the best love story, and we’re the ones being pursued! 🙂

  16. Thank you for being open and sharing your thoughts. Your vulnerability and honesty is very moving. You helped me see through a bigger window by telling your story.

    1. Thank you so much Renae for your kind words of encouragement. It truly means so much. Hugs and love xox

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