I did not grow up observing Ash Wednesday. Even as a child in a mainline Protestant denomination, I had only a fleeting awareness of the significance of the days leading up to Resurrection Sunday. When my new middle school friend, a Catholic, wore the cross of ashes on her forehead to remind her of her mortality and her need for repentance, it marked me as well:
I will be ashes someday. That is a given. There is no drawing of the first breath without knowing there will be a last breath. That awareness changes everything in between.
Salvation from the ash heap is only through the sacrifice and gracious gift of the Risen Savior. I cannot save myself.
The party may be over, but there is plenty left to celebrate. This is only the beginning.