Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Ash Wednesday

Amos 5:6-15; Psalms 32, 143; Hebrews 12:1-14; Luke 18:9-14

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1.)

I’m sure you’ve been blessed by “witnesses” who’ve demonstrated, by their example, the determination and discipline needed to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us,” especially when facing life’s challenges. One such witness in my life was my dad, my papa.

Papa was born to aging parents and into a life of poverty in the mountains of Mexico. His mother died while resting in a field when Papa was only 10. He would have been crushed but for the seeds of faith and love of God that she had planted within him. His father died when Papa was 12. From him, Papa learned the importance of honesty, a good day’s work, and discipline. So, at the age of 12, Papa was left to run the race of life equipped only with the seeds of faith and good character planted by his parents.

The path Papa ran was rough. Hunger, anxiety, and fear shadowed his movements. Peer pressure to gamble, drink, and steal were hurdles he had to jump. Often the path was littered with evil, as exposed by the shameful behavior of people. But the seeds within Papa had taken root and sprouted. He wanted to do the right thing, and though he sometimes stumbled, he never fell. In time, the seeds that had been nurtured by prayer, determination, discipline, and perseverance grew to form him into the God-fearing man who became my father.

When I was a child, I saw Papa as a giant. He was a big man, with a thick mustache, a weathered face, and large calloused hands, hardened from years of picking cotton and from construction work. Papa wanted his children to be strong when running our own race through life. So he proceeded to plant within us the seeds of faith in God, to whom he cried in prayer many a desperate night, and the seeds of good character that, with the gift of God’s grace, helped him defeat the enemy that would have destroyed him. He planted these seeds by his example, his rules, his love for us, and his words to us. “Marta,” he would often say, “you must learn to do the right thing everyday, and you must always pray to God.” Papa is 80 now, and still a giant of a man.

Heavenly Father, as we begin this Lenten season, may we “throw off everything that hinders” and add the discipline of prayer to our daily lives. May we, with faith, discipline, and perseverance, stand tall as Christian witnesses to others when they’re facing life’s challenges. May we keep our eyes always fixed on you, Father, as our source of grace, strength, and inspiration, so that we may successfully “run with perseverance the race marked out for us” and earn eternal glory in your kingdom.


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