Because Dan works long hours on Wednesdays, yesterday I faced a choice: Either skip Ash Wednesday Mass or take all seven kids by myself. Well, I told myself as I packed up the diaper bag, this day is supposed to be about penance, right? And penance it was.
Let’s start with Juliette. The girl owns at least 4 pairs of buckle shoes in varying shades of navy and black. With just five minutes to go before we had to leave for the church, however, all any of us could find of these were two left shoes. At least they were approximately the same color. They would have to do. After the standard lecture about always putting footwear away properly so that you can actually find your shoes when you need them, I forced her wear the mismatched shoes and she limped dramatically out the door.
The rest of us schlepped our way through the snow covered walkway and joined her at the van. Where I discovered that the baby’s car seat was in my husband’s car. Quite possibly a major problem.
We had no time to lose. I had to think fast. Raphael will be one year old in about 18 days and goodness knows this chunk of a child weighs at least 20 pounds. So, we had an impromptu car seat graduation. I buckled Raphael into Gabrielle’s car seat and instructed every car-seated kid to sit in the next oldest kid’s car seat. The oldest car-seated kid got to sit on a cushion with a shoulder belt. Oh, the joy and confusion that filled the van!
But the fun was just beginning. At Mass, I (and anyone within earshot or eyeshot of our pew) was treated to the following:
* One way-too-old-for-this child who managed to have a major potty accident somewhere between our pew and the bathroom at the back of the church.
* One child who wore his favorite baseball cap into the church and then scowled ferociously when I noticed and snatched it off his head.
* One child who chugged a bottle of milk (think Mean Joe Green in the famous Coke commercial) and then kept it down just long enough for it to curdle and develop a rather unpleasant odor before regurgitating the entire thing on his shirt, my lap, his sister, and the floor.
* One child who was delighted to discover that she had the power to make her mother’s eyes bug out and smoke come from her ears simply by repeatedly sticking her hand down her pants and into her diaper.
* One child who loudly and insistently demanded to know why the potty accident child was not sitting down.
* Wiggles, squirms, screeches, and disobedience that ultimately landed me at the back of the church with the two youngest children.
Then came the imposition of ashes. Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.
As I sat in the pew bathed in spit up, feeling fed up, put out, and exhausted, those words rang particularly true for me. I am dust. We all are. This world is. My life circumstances keep me so hopelessly earth-bound and materially-focused, there’s no way to avoid the harsh reality that this life here on earth is messiness and dust. And thank goodness it’s temporary.
It makes me eternally grateful for a God who loves us, who redeems us, who saves us from ourselves, and calls us to a better life with Him. It gives me renewed resolve to embrace my dust and the messiness of my daily duties in this world. Because I see them for what they are. And I know where God can bring me through them.