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Today is Ash Wednesday. For centuries, it has marked the beginning of the season of Lent, a period of fasting and prayer leading to Easter. Lest you say, "This sounds Catholic," it was practiced WAY back when there was only one Church, and is practiced today by the majority of Christians in the world.

The traditional practice on Ash Wednesday is "the imposition of ashes." The palms from the previous year's Palm Sunday are burned and a cross is placed on the forehead with the words, "From dust you came, and to dust you will return." It's a reminder of the temporary nature of this life and our need to focus on what is important. However, another thing struck me today as I walked around with ashes on my forehead. People kept saying, "You have something on your head" or "Why do I keep seeing all these people with stuff on their heads?" It made me think that my faith should be just that obvious. As I walk through my life, people should easily notice the difference in my life.

Traditionally, people give up something during Lent. I prefer to ask God to add something to my life I am lacking. In 2010, I sat on my bunk at Camp Atterbury, Indiana, and prayed about what I was lacking that God felt I needed in my life. I was hoping He would say, "Large mounds of cash", but what I felt the Spirit saying to me was, "You need more compassion." That might sound like an odd thing for a pastor/chaplain to need, but the truth was that I was good at faking compassion. I wanted to have true compassion.

This began over a decade of some of the most horrific, painful experiences I could imagine. My children call them "the years of sadness." What I didn't realize was that to develop compassion, I had to go through painful circumstances. In that way, I would understand what other people were going through.

I grew in ways I could not imagine when I prayed the prayer. I also suffered in ways that I hope never happen again. If I knew what I know now, I don't think I would willingly choose to do it again, so I'm glad that God doesn't show us the journey. However, I'm also thankful that God saw fit to bring me through suffering. Why? Because people have told me they see Jesus in me. People I help tell me that it helps them to know that I understand what they are going through. I am a more useful instrument for my master...

...and for that, I am thankful. I am made from dust, and to dust I will return. I plan on making the most of my time!


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