Duct-Tape Crosses and Lettuce Seeds

Charlotte and Isaac sit at their little table in the center of the kitchen.  Charlotte has made it clear at which seat everyone is to be seated. Old newspapers cover the table as Charlotte yells, “I do it,” and moves the newspapers slightly to cover the entirety of the table. I place black plastic seed containers in front of them both.

“Where’s the measuring cups?” Oma asks, so Charlotte runs to the drawer and grabs a cup.

“Me too! Me too,” chants Isaac as everyone attempts to reach their hands into the bag of dirt beside them on the floor. One scoop after another the kids fill the containers to the top. Dirt lands in the cups, on the table, and somehow scattered through Isaac’s blonde hair. I open a lettuce seed packet with such tiny seeds it seems almost impossible that anything could come from them. We can barely pick them up with our clumsy fingers. Rather than carefully placing one seed in each container we gather a bunch between our fingers and scatter them freely.

“Me too, me too,” both kids chant.

It’s the afternoon on Ash Wednesday and I remember the words the pastor will say to anyone who comes to worship, words that I have spoken myself over people of all ages and backgrounds: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

At bedtime I find myself in Charlotte’s room. The room is dark except for the glow-in-the-dark duct tape cross on the blue wall above the bed. Charlotte lays next to me, both of us under the light of the cross. She doesn’t want to be held but she wants someone next to her. Someone’s presence. While her daddy is leading worship I’m the fill-in for this bedtime routine. A car door slams while hushed voices pass outside the window.

“Cars church, mama,” she says sleepily. The bells ring as Charlotte’s eyes open wide in amazement. “Church, mama, church.”

It’s 7 o’clock on Ash Wednesday as the bells ring signalling the beginning of worship.

Return to the Lord, your God,
who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love.

I planned the making of the duct tape cross with a group of children months ago when Ash Wednesday and even the season of Lent were not on my mind. When Charlotte made hers I had no idea it would still be hanging in her room, and the point wasn’t about where it would be hanging but rather what they learned in the making of the cross. They were made to remind the children (and those adults present) that no darkness is beyond the light of Christ.

I feel as a mom (with an overactive imagination and often a worse-case scenario mentality) everyday feels like Ash Wednesday. Everyday raising children reminds me that I am not God and I am not in control of the lives of others, especially the people I care about. Most days I can’t even get Charlotte to wear clothes that match, aren’t her pajamas, and haven’t been worn for five days in a row.

In all seriousness, I am not in short supply for all the ways my children’s lives are finite.

But there was something about laying with my daughter underneath the glowing duct tape cross that spoke to the hope we find in Ash Wednesday.

Yes, I’m going to die.
Yes, my children are going to die.
Yes, all those I love are going to die.

I can easily stay in the darkness and live in fear so I need the light. And there is no light that cannot reach the darkness of death; there is nowhere the cross won’t go to bring about redemption and healing.    

Those seeds we planted on Ash Wednesday, too. Yes, they also keep pulling me towards the light. No seed is too tiny or buried too deep in dark soil to come forth and grow.

The day after Ash Wednesday I get up and spray water over the dirt and say a prayer for the seeds that lie buried underneath. The kids wake up with their usual chatter and need for breakfast. The light streams into Charlotte’s room as we get her ready for preschool. The cross no longer glows in the dark, but I can still see it hanging on the wall.

Ready to offer its light at the first sign of darkness.