I turn my head again.
Out on the sidewalk I had been engulfed in a brief windstorm of leaves. Now, sitting back in my office, I clearly am still carrying a remnant. I comb my fingers through my hair, searching for the elusive hitchhiker.
What I finally extract is not a leaf at all.
Sometimes what we think we’re going to find is not what we actually find. Sometimes what we think is clinging to us is very different than what is there.
I look at the shiny slip of white plastic bag clutched in my fingers. Great. So for the last 30 minutes I’ve been walking around with a piece of trash in my hair.
I slide it into the recycling bin with effort. It is thin and filmy and clings with static to my fingertips – first this one, then that one – until I finally brush it hard enough against the side of the bin to release. Sometimes it is so hard to release even the simplest trash.
I draw my hand back to my side. I catch another glimpse of the faint black smudge on the top of my fist. It had been placed there, days ago now, in the sign of a cross to commemorate Ash Wednesday. Now the ash has ground into the faint cracks of my sin. The cross was washed away, but the faint stain remains – reminding me.
God can bring beauty from ashes. God can bring joy from deep pain.
He combs through our soul with us, removing debris that clings to us. He opens our fingers, releases our grip, takes those sticky pieces of trash upon himself to pull them off of us. In the windstorms of life He sends His own rush of wind to refine, to purge, to empower. In the darkest, most fearsome stains of our sins He is there, pulling us through. Always through.
Jesus never told his disciples to turn back. He never said, “You’re right. This storm is fearsome, let’s return.” No. He chided them for being afraid, and pushed them forward.
In his own fear, in his own pain, he went ahead. Jesus went ahead of us. To prepare a place. To show us the way. To call us from the path ahead. Forward.
I am reminded of this in the dark stain on the back of my hand. It looks like naught but black shadow, and sin, and sorrow. But in the very heart of that stain is the cross. It is the cross that bleeds into everything I do. The cross is there, even when I do not see it.
And we know how that story ends. It doesn’t end with black shadow, and sin, and sorrow. “It is finished!” Jesus cried. But the story did not end there.
The cross was not the end, but the beginning.
The wind blows. The page turns. We realize there is more. More to the story. More to us. More to the path ahead. It is beautiful and awful and glorious and frightening. We take the next step.
Janet Beagle, Ph.D. serves as director of graduate programs for Purdue University’s College of Engineering and is a writer, a Bible study teacher, and a student of God’s word. In her spare time, she likes to eat other people’s cooking and hike with her dog, Marly. Read more of Janet’s Christian reflections at www.mustardpatch.org.