I’ve been talking with some dear friends of mine about Lent these past few weeks. What we plan on doing for it, how we’re leading our churches, whether we used the proper bowls to burn the palms to make ash, etc. The important stuff.

Years ago, when I was an associate pastor, my lead pastor and I destroyed a nice metal bowl from the church’s kitchen when we used it to make the ash. We were going to make the ash in the courtyard between the church building and the parsonage. Brilliantly, we (eventually) realized that we shouldn’t just have an open fire in that space, so we grabbed a metal bowl to contain the blaze.

Little did we know that this would result in a bowl completely charred and unusable ashes. Apparently it was a “decorative” bowl.

Tails between our legs, we went and bought ashes from the local Catholic supply store.

Maybe some of you, like me, watched Ina Garten’s show “Barefoot Contessa,” where she would name some wild, niche ingredient then add, “If you don’t have this, store-bought is fine. I used to hear that as an uppity way of suggesting that we really shouldn’t use store-bought. But over time, I began to hear the genuineness of her suggestion. She recognized that not everyone had a garden, not everyone had time to make bread from scratch, not everyone can do everything. And guess what? Store-bought is really just fine. Thanks, Ina.

As we go on this Lenten journey this year, we are following the study “Bless the Lent We Actually Have” by Kate Bowler and Jessica Richie as our guide.

And on this journey, we can hear Ina’s words ringing in our ears throughout these 40 days: “Store-bought is just fine.”

If you life isn’t the shiny, perfect version that seems to flash through in every commercial or influencer page or movie, “Normal life is just fine.” If you thought you’d be different than you are now. If you never thought you’d be divorced or in recovery or on the backend of a scary diagnosis or wondering where God is in the midst of all this crap happening in the world, you are not less blessed than the folks you think are perfect.

Blessed are you, my friend.

Blessing doesn’t mean that everything is okay. It doesn’t mean that God desired you to suffer those heartaches. It doesn’t mean that bad things are really good.

You are blessed because even in the midst of all those things, God’s love for you has not diminished one bit. You are blessed because even in the face of the insurmountable, God is working to bring about good for you.

We are blessed because we trust in a God who turns graves into gardens. A God who is present in the light and the dark, and who brings droughts to rain. Who brings resurrection out of crucifixion.

In the midst of our messy lives, God blesses us. So may you know this truth—blessed are you, store-bought ashes and all.

–Pastor Megan