My Struggle with Ashes

Anyone who has delved even just a bit into this blog is aware that I’ve moved from faith tradition to faith tradition in my church journey.

And I hope that I’ve made it evident that I have an appreciation for each one of them that’s rubbed itself against and inside of me.

Each have been a part of the whittling away of self that John spoke of –

He must increase, but I must decrease. John 3:30 ESV

And each have also been a part of the leaving that which is fully me, exposing the image of Him in my uniqueness.

I scoffed at the ashes.

For a long time, I judged the unknown and threw stones with my thoughts.

It started innocently.

What is that on your head?


Hold on, let me get that for you.  Not even realizing that I was about to momma spit clean that friend’s forehead of a holy seal.

But innocence moved. Pharisaical.

Why’s he showing us what he did before I even had breakfast today?

Couldn’t she wash her face?

Yeah, you needed that after your rousing Mardi Gras, didn’t you?

Why bother? You haven’t been to church since Christmas.

Real Christians don’t have to do that stuff.

Real Christians …

Yeah. I went there.

And then one year I got ashes on my own head.

The first full year that I entered into this liturgical, church calendar oriented tradition, I was pregnant. By the time Ash Wednesday rolled around, I’d had a baby and he’d even been infant baptized.

And I thought that baby was some kind of beautiful. Never mind that they told us in the hospital that he was jaundiced and it took several years later for us to look at his just a few hours or days old photographs to see it. Never mind that he (and I) had thrush for likely months. Never mind that he already had such a manly little look about him that he didn’t look right in that expensive smocked outfit that grandma had bought when we found out that he was a boy.

You get the idea don’t you. He was mine. And so he was in so many ways just perfect.

And we took him all kinds of everywhere. Restaurant. Concert. Movie.

And Ash Wednesday.

Yes, on my very first Ash Wednesday service of my entire life, I had an infant in my arms. And the scriptures spoke of death. And because he’d been a healthy one, I’d never considered it. Not really for him.

And I wept.

I had asked one time earlier in that season of my life if we would ever have altar calls in this new church home I’d found where we had communion every week. And a man answered me.

“We have one every week,” he said.

And I believe that he was referring to going down and taking the bread and the wine. Because you can remain seated and not partake. You can also go forward, refrain from taking, and get a spoken blessing.

But while there was no communion that morning, it was an altar call experience for me that first Ash Wednesday. My submission to the truth was not what made it true.

Remember that you are dust. And to dust you shall return.

But submitting to the truth did something to me. I walked down an aisle and allowed a man to mark me with ashes. And my heart was saying as he did that, I know and I believe. I am among the ones who choose evil even when I want good. I am among the ones that live in the knowledge of things that should not be known.

It was hard enough to claim.

But my husband carried him in his arms as he walked down the aisle behind me. They went together. My love and my baby.

And I had always stopped when singing A Mighty Fortress is our God. I’d never sang every word of verse four. I knew that I had trouble with letting “goods and kindred go.”

Yet here they were beside me, marked with ash, my kindred.

I gave my family to God that first Ash Wednesday.

I do it now every year. My baby is ten now.

Except one year. One year I did not make it to Ash Wednesday.

One year I woke to a telephone call so very early in the morning. The caller id was not my kindred. It was St. Francis Hospital. And I knew my daddy had died.

I called that man who had first marked my head with ashes as I drove down the interstate in the darkness. “I won’t make it this morning,” I said. “My daddy is gone.”

It was a bit of a laugh. My daddy being of my old faith tradition. The one that never marked their heads. I kind of thought the joke was on him and that in the end he’d appreciate it himself – him returning to dust on a day he’d never observed.

And I didn’t give up anything that year for Lent. I said I’d given up my daddy and that was enough.

But inside, the real truth was that I was not sorry. My daddy had lived among so much dust, so many ashes.

And that Ash Wednesday, I knew another meaning. The ashes make a cross. And this world is not my home.

Trudge on to resurrection friends. Trudge on.

He rises from the ashes.

Never to return.

And in just a few hours, my love and baby and me are going to get marked. I’ve got some dust I’d love to get rid of in this old heart and body of mine. And I’m glad He’s still whittling away.





Whatcha Teaching for Lent …

I had a bit of Fat Weekend these past few days. Didn’t even wait for Fat Tuesday. I was with my people on retreat at Dancing Falls Lodge, in Dirty Dancing famed Lake Lure, NC. You’ll hear about it in Adventure 6…

But, Lent’s coming.

And some of you are looking for ministry to children and youth tips.

I’ve not even polished up SEASONS AND SACRAMENTS/YEAR C.

But listen, Lent, Year B was pretty good. You could just go on ahead and repeat it if you like. No one will be the wiser. I’m not even going to promise that I’ll get those lessons from Luke’s parables ready for ya in time.

Looking for some outside Sunday morning extras?

One year our CLUB45, fourth and fifth graders, met on Wednesday nights for a study on poverty using several of the ideas found in BeadForLife’s Curriculum.

I bought a bunch of $1 bowls from a Family Dollar Store and we ate beans and rice type meals to begin our time together.


I still use mine. In fact, two weeks ago I served a friend from it and she exclaimed, “I remember those.”

Make memories. Use stuff and then send it home with those kids.

Also do activities like the one listed in that BeadForLife curriculum where you cram yourselves into a typical sized house of a poverty stricken area.

Laughs. Laughs. And then realization. And then a memory made to stick.

You’d need to add your own biblical element to this particular curriculum. The year we did this for Lenten Wednesdays, I asked a soon to be seminary student to visit and lead us in scriptures that pertained specifically to the poor and to God’s care for them, sometimes through people like us.

My friend Omar Reyes taught me things I still remember. We learn so much by teaching. We also learn so much by allowing others into our classrooms. Don’t hog the show.

Think children can’t learn and practice spiritual disciplines during Lent? Think again. I know a two year old who could say Psalm 23 because his parents said it together every night before prayers during Lent one year.

Want to emphasize prayer with your children? I’m going to be doing an entire post on prayer beads.


Jewelry making. It’s not just for girls.




By your holy cross, you have redeemed the world

I went through the Stations of the Cross with a group of early elementary children last Friday morning. I was substitute teaching at a Catholic School. At each station, we responded and “adored” Christ on bowed knee.

By your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.

I had planned a Palm Sunday lesson for later in the day for my second graders, but it seemed more purposeful to unpackage this statement. It was so full of meaning and I was anxious to know if they knew any of it or if they knew only what to do and say.

I’ve been part of a subculture that doubts repetitive rote dialogue, common prayers, and smells and bells. But I had not been a robotic participant as we’d walked to each visual and listened to a portion of the passion narrative. No, I had remembered and felt things. I had stated truths that were sometimes hard to believe and warranted claiming again and again. And I wondered how a child experienced such.

So I wrote the phrase on the chalkboard and we talked.

I like talking with children. Some people like talking to children. I think that those people miss too much stuff. Good stuff.

We began with a simplified Socratic method. “Let’s read this,” I said, and we did.

By your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.

Then I asked, “Is this true?”

Wikipedia currently defines the Socratic method as a form of inquiry and discussion between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to illuminate ideas.

Can second graders think critically? Evidently so.

“Who is this you in the statement?” I began. A chorus replied, “JESUS.” Check.

“What does redeem mean?” I continued. A few hands were raised. I acknowledged the students one by one and wrote their answers on the board, not leaving out any words or phrases that they suggested, because this was brainstorming.

Saved. Fixed. Clearing.

“Tell me more about that word clearing,” I coached a bit.

“Well, you know like …” The student’s hand was moving across the air in front of him as he searched for what he meant. I watched what that hand seemed to be doing.

“Clearing, like maybe clearing something away?”

‘Yeah. That’s it,” my second grade boy said. “Like clearing away.”

I was ready to move on. “What needs clearing away?” I continue. I point to the words clearing away and to the rest of the brainstorming list, too.

What in this world needs cleared away? What needs fixing? What needs saving? What does it need saved from?

There was a bit of excitement in the room by then. The light bulbs were coming on.

Storms. Disbelief. Wrong stuff. Sin. Evil.

Now some folks would have shied away from that first word that was hollered out, STORMS. But I just asked, “What kind of storms?” And this girl just replied, quick as a wink, “WEATHER STORMS.” And I wrote that answer down on that blackboard because I happen to think that the world needs saving from weather storms. Don’t you? I also think that our interpretation of the saving power of the cross is way too limited.

“Tell me when this first disbelief and wrong stuff started,” I said and stopped. Silence is ok. Don’t be afraid of it.

And this is where there was, I admit, a bit of guiding. We found our way to Genesis 3 and we rehearsed some events that showed disbelief on the man and woman’s part. We decided that the serpent was evil. We remembered that a consequence was death and I asked them then about the whole Palm Sunday celebration that would be coming on Sunday for most of them.

Jesus was going to Jerusalem and the people began treating him like a king. Why?

“Because he was teaching the people not to disbelieve in God,” someone said. And I quite liked that she had gone back to that word on the chalkboard, disbelief.

“Hmmmm…he was. He was teaching. He was also doing other things…”

A boy jumped almost out of his chair. “Healing. He was healing.”

“What’s the biggest miracle healing that you think Jesus did?” I asked. The class was silent again. Slowly they began to list the things that Christ had done. Blind could see. Deaf could hear. Lame could walk. Food could be multiplied.

“Anything greater?” I added.


It was a whisper. And all of a sudden, I think that sixteen second graders got the correlations of evil bringing disbelief and death and a cross bringing a saving, a fixing, and a clearing away of all that.

If it hadn’t been raining, then we’d have gone out for recess.

Because we were done. That was enough for the day.

We praise and adore you, O Christ. For by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.

And as they say in second grade, ALL OF IT. AMEN.


I admit it. I went to another Stations of the Cross that night at another location. This time I had a little less disbelief and a little more conviction when I answered each time. THANKS SECOND GRADE!


Jesus on the Cross

(written 2010)

It’s a normal late afternoon at the McGehee house. I’m lying on the couch, “watching” television with Ian. Truth be told, I have no idea what four year old “Caillou” is experiencing on the screen. Like our usual afternoon TV time, I’m daydreaming.

This table is directly at the end of my line of sight and after some random thought I see it.

Holy Family

Yep. It’s the often used Children’s Church mini “altar,” with the Holy Family, the cross and the candle. They are our picture of Jesus.

One day I walked through our house and saw this –

Jesus on the Cross

“What’s Joseph doing here?” I hollered out.

Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump.

Four year old footsteps came quickly.

“That’s not Joseph,” Ian says, “That’s Jesus. Jesus on the cross.”

I chuckled.

“No. That’s Joseph, “ I said and put him back with Mary and baby.

Funny. It happened over and over. Days would pass and then once again I’d see Joseph up on the cross. First I put him back in place as soon as I caught the change. But after awhile, sometimes I’d leave him there.

It was a beautiful picture.

Doesn’t Jesus look like he’s won the battle standing on that cross? Doesn’t it just look like a picture of Genesis 3 – “He will crush his head.”?

But this afternoon I looked at those altar symbols and got what Ian was saying all along. To him, this was Jesus “on the cross.”

I like powerful Jesus. There’s a truth to that picture.

But that is not “Jesus on the cross.”

It’s time for that phrase to be interpreted for Ian this Easter season.

It is a harsh picture – wood, nails, blood.

But it is truth. And, it is beautiful.

There are many children at Apostles. I don’t know what Easter truth each is ready to hear. But this Sunday, Palm Sunday, we will walk through several Stations of the Cross during Children’s Church.

We will certainly

  • touch wood
  • hear nails hammered
  • see a torn robe

We will take home a handkerchief reminder of sweat and tears.

Children 4 years through 5th grade are invited this week. Please decide before worship service whether your child will attend or stay with you. Rod will invite them to come forward during the gospel anthem. We will stay for the gospel reading and then leave. They will return to you after the sermon, before baptisms.