February 10, 2024
By Deacon Timothy Siburg
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Tomorrow, we turn our calendars and attention to the beginning of Lent. And for the second time in six years, we do so on a day with dual meaning. Not only is tomorrow Ash Wednesday, it is also Valentine’s Day. What an odd, yet perfect pairing.
On the one hand, we have a day that at its focus is all about God’s promises that are true even as we face the reality of our own mortality and the very reality of our need for God’s love and grace. Through this, begins our Lenten journey. Which this year in the Nebraska Synod will be one of intention, to Go and Have the Conversation and Go and Be Intentional.
On the other hand, we have a day set aside each year on February 14th that is all about love. This is not just a day for the greeting card industry, for chocolatiers, florists, or jewelers (though all are good vocations). But this is a day truly about love and a reminder that true love often involves sacrifice, compromise, and moving beyond oneself.
A Story from Last Month
I’m thinking about this duality this year especially because of an experience that my family had last month. Early in the morning, amid the cold snap we had in January, my wife and I were awakened by an alarm. Our carbon monoxide alarm in our kitchen was going off. I quickly ran downstairs and turned our fireplace off. The alarm stopped…for thirty seconds. Then it was going again and the number on the alarm was reading somewhat high. So, without a second thought we grabbed our two young daughters who were awakened by the beeping too and got them in our car and drove it out of our garage.
We live in a parsonage across from the church where my wife serves as pastor. So we parked by the church with the heat on, grateful to be okay but worried about what might have been. We called 9-1-1, the emergency line of our local gas company, and had a number of church people on the phone too.
After a little while, the Rural Fire Department and the Gas Company person on call arrived. They were very thorough. They checked every vent, nook, and cranny. After an hour of hunting and searching, they said, “we’re still getting pretty high and dangerous readings in your bedrooms.” My heart sank. “Wow, I thought.” “Thank you, God, for waking us up. Thank you, God, for a working alarm. Thank you, God, for what might have been, was not…” Maybe you can relate to that feeling?
The search continued and after a while they traced the problem to our furnace. I ultimately would have about five minutes to go in and grab some extra clothes, but then we would need to leave for the night until the furnace people could come and open it up. So I collected what I could in a laundry basket for the four of us. The bare essentials really. And off we were. Thanking God for each other, and the fact that my parents moved from Washington state to nearby us in Nebraska a few years ago. We had a warm place to go close by on such a cold early morning.
The next day the furnace company came. Sure enough. There was a lot of carbon monoxide in the broken furnace, the result of a cracked pipe and a broken system that would need to be replaced. They said, “thank you for having a working alarm and for making sure it was in good working order.”
It felt a little strange to hear a thank you for that. But I am thankful. The moment that alarm went off, it was immediate. There was no time to think “well, maybe it’s just the batteries?”
Or immediately, “well, maybe if we just open a window?” No. We trusted our gut, and immediately got out of the house. It was the right call. The firefighters, the gas company employee, and the furnace company all said the same thing. We did the right things, and because of it, we’re okay.
I have been thinking about this experience a lot lately. If I’m being honest, sleep has been a bit harder to come by. As a young dad, it’s been more common than not to seemingly sleep with one eye open. But I am okay with that. I’m just grateful that we’re still here. Knowing that mortality is real, and knowing how close it could have been last month. Knowing, that God’s love is real amid it all, and that same love is the love that makes sleeping with one eye opened occasionally okay, because that’s another sign of love- for family, loved ones, and neighbors. And it’s that same love too which gives me pause and reminds me to hold my loved ones just a little closer in a deep embrace. Grateful for the gift of the moment.
• How will you Go and Have a conversation this Lenten season?
• What conversation will you have?
• How will you Go and Be Intentional as you Journey through these great forty days?
• How will you walk through the day tomorrow, a day mixed with Valentines and Ashes, a day of “dusty hearts”?
As I look to tomorrow, grateful for love and honest about the questions of mortality we all must face, I am resolved to “Go and Have the Conversation.” The conversation about life and death, and mortality with friends and loved ones, one that all of humanity tries to avoid. And I encourage you to have that conversation too. Maybe an easier starting place might be to “Go and Have the Conversation” about the importance of working carbon monoxide and smoke detectors? Because that’s real too.
I am also resolved to “Go and Be Intentional” this Lenten Season. To be fully present, honest about where I am and to be open to whatever questions and emotions arise. As Valentine’s Day with all its candy and hearts, turns to the evening of Ash Wednesday, I will look out from the organ bench, to watch as my wife puts the ashen cross on our daughters’ heads again this year.
I know that a tear will likely come down my face because it does every year. But this year it won’t just be a tear of sadness and love reminding me that my own daughters won’t live forever, it will also be a tear of gratitude. It will come with the reminder that as “we are dust, and to dust we shall return,” we are God’s, and God holds us always in God’s own deep, abiding, and abundant love. A promise that seems even more real this year for me because of the experience of the past month.
About the Author:
Deacon Timothy Siburg serves as the Director for Evangelical Mission, Innovation, and Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod, ELCA. When not out and about the Nebraska Synod on a given Sunday, he can be found at home at Salem Lutheran Church in Fontanelle, Nebraska serving as organist, pianist, and choir director and serving alongside his wife, the Rev. Allison Siburg in leading worship. Together they have two young daughters who fill life with joy, humor, and constant surprises.