“And keep your hair away from the flame!” I heard her yell over shoulder as she made her way back to the organ, where she would stay for the rest of the Christmas Eve service.
I was 6.
“What did she mean, ‘keep my hair away from the flame’?” I thought. “What will happen if I don’t?”
I sat as still as I could through the service, thinking only about that one thing, and when the time came for the person next to me to light my candle, I held it proudly. Facing forward, I sang Silent Night as earnestly as I could, while moving my candle and hair ever closer to one another.
This awful stench hit my nose, bitter and pungent like trash, but with a hint of emergency behind it. Something was not right with that smell.
And before I knew it, my grandma was pulling the candle out of my hand and blowing it out.
My hair had caught fire!
When I looked down, fewer than 5 strands had made tighter curls than I had ever seen, and on my shirt, there were
A present reminder that I had not listened. A visible mark on my clothes, showing everyone that I, the pastor’s daughter, had done the wrong thing. My capital “A”
“I love you Lord, and I lift my voice,” we sang as we gathered round the fire pit at the end of the huge green rec field, surrounded only by trees, stars, and each other. Seventh grade girls spending a week away from our moms, learning about God, reveling in the beauty of nature, and forming friendships to last a lifetime.
Wednesday was campfire worship, and as we sang, we gazed into the sparking light of the fire, barely able to see shadows of each other’s faces, but feeling one another and God so intimately that the space between us was so thin it barely existed.
God filled the space.
And I felt God as I never had before, speaking to me. “You are special, Emily. I have set you apart. I want you to join me in ministry. I want you to be a minister.”
“Lord prepare me, to be a sanctuary,” I responded in song… “With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living, sanctuary for you.”
Worship continued, and I sang with a new sense of purpose.
And at the end of the night, what was left, but
On my shoulder like dandruff, a visible sign that the night wasn’t a dream. The beautiful residue that God left behind, fragrant as the midnight air, to say, “She belongs to me.”
The sacred juxtaposition between good and bad, clean and dirty, holy and unholy. Reminders of times past and those still to come.
Ashes make me who I am. They are a part of me. Ashes tell my story – the written and unwritten lines.
And when I am gone. That glorious day when God breaks into my space once again and says, “Well done, child!” I will become
And I will float in the sky, leaving my mark on the earth below, a holy messenger, reminding the world that “from dust you came and to dust you shall return…
But that’s not the end.
Ashes will not finish your story.”