Ash Wednesday is a perfect Valentine.

I’ve grown thick-skinned after 26 hard years.  At seventeen this small-town girl met a big-city boy and fell into infatuation. After two years of dating, and three break-ups, I married that rebellious, out-of-town boy who walked into my life wearing torn and bleached blue jeans, long blonde hair and a pink corduroy hat.  After 24 years of tumultuous marriage, nearly divorcing as many times as we broke up while dating, I find this pretty potted orchid by my morning coffee today.


Over the years I’ve dreaded, ignored and been disillusioned by my silly hopes for Valentines day.  But in recent years I’ve despised the day.  Every pink, red or purple balloon/heart/flower was salt poured in my 26 year-hard-relationship wound. But this year Valentine’s Day is on Ash Wednesday, and I’m actually thrilled!  Not because I woke up to an orchid and my husband’s heartfelt note.  But because I’ve learned, still learning, that I’m dust and so is my husband. And I do good to remember that it is real love which compelled Christ to bear a cross for my dust so that I could bloom in his love forever.

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent.  It’s the beginning of a fast to remember who we are, turning from clinging to our dust, living for ourselves, and to long for and look to the One who died in our place so that we might be free from the curse of sin and live for Him.  If I forget that I’m dust I might start thinking I’m a god and should be worshipped with offerings of shiny pink boxes or long-stemmed roses. If I forget that my husband is dust I might start thinking he should act like a god and sweep me off my feet and rescue me.  But if I remember I’m dust, married to dust, both of us in desperate need of the One who died to give us life, I’ll be embarking on the cross-carrying road real love is all about.

According to legend St. Valentine died for marriage.  This priest was put to death in ancient times for secretly marrying Christians. I’ve learned, still learning, to die for my marriage.  Any married person has to die a little, no a lot, to give marriage a chance to live. Jesus did not say, “You only live once so get as much good for yourself as you can now!”  He said, “If you want to really live, you’re gonna have to die.” (My paraphrase Luke 17:33).  Marriage is worth dying for.  It’s beautiful, all-be-it hard, painful and messy.  It’s meant to be a picture of the faithful love of Christ for the people who love him (the church). Christ died for those who love him to be like a bride to him.  He died so that human beings, who are but dust, could be made like Christ, living forever with the wellspring of life that comes from him filling us.  He died so that we could know what real love, real life, real hope, real peace, real happiness is. Christ is not a god who receives offerings of roses and chocolates.  He is the God who lays down his life so that we, the people he loves, might live.  Valentine’s Day is about dying to yourself so that marriage can live.


Twenty four years ago I walked down the isle hand-in-hand with my husband, dust holding dust.  We were pronounced man and wife and I began my journey into dying to myself so that this big-city boy I fell for could see the faithfulness Christ has shown me.  It’s fitting, if not a bit prophetic looking back, that we walked down that isle into the world with the song Faithfully by Journey announcing the banner over our dusty union.  I hear the lyrics often in my head.

They say that the road
Ain’t no place to start a family
Right down the line
It’s been you and me
And lovin’ a music man
Ain’t always what it’s supposed to be
Oh, girl, you stand by me
I’m forever yours

My skin is thicker after 26 years.  I’m thankful for my husband’s thoughtful orchid and note this morning- a little good in the land of the living.  A little tenderness amidst a hard, dying-to-self, remembering-I’m-dust marriage. Today I’m turning again from trying to be a god who is satisfied by chocolates and roses and romantic gestures, and from trying to make my husband into a god who rescues me.  I’m turning to the God who laid down his life for my ashes.  There is real love.  Dust I am, but by the power of his love I am more, I am a little Christ.  His faithfulness reminds me he is giving me beauty for ashes.  His death reminds me that real love dies for the one he loves.

Roses may be red

Violets may be blue

But real love dies

For another’s life

And dust married to dust

Doesn’t expect much

But remembers

Her Redemers last words

“It is finished” he cried

For my dust he died

To give me life he bled

Now dying to self

I have beauty instead


  1. Pam MacDonald says:

    Well said, Sheila.

  2. Angela says:

    Found my way here after your article on Desiring God, and just wanted to leave a note to say how encouraged I am to see and read of the hope you have in Christ. I am reminded that He is worthy of every struggle for joy and holiness on this side of eternity. Thank you for sharing your sweet devotions to Him, dear sister.

  3. Iza says:

    Hi Sheila,
    I’m a long time reader of Desiring God resources from Poland.
    Today I’ve read your article “I Still Seek to Win Him” and that’s the answer to my prayers. The voice of Christians living in spiritually divided marriages is not heard very often in the church. We usually are marginalized and left on our own to desperately force our way through life… at least that’s my experience.
    I’ve been married to an unbeliever for over 30 years and it’ s been a real “hard-core”, the more that my husband has serious emotional problems and there were times when he was emotionally abusive.(probably borderline dysfunction).
    My situation is different than yours as I came to faith in Jesus already being married to him (with 2 children) and it took about 10 year from my original decision to be really born again (below I put the link to my testimony) and it causes my faith be even more put to the proof as I wasn’t really taking the risks of marrying the unbeliever (we were Catholics, he – nominal, I – more fervent).
    My story was also complicated by the fact that I met my husband after recovering from an ureciprocated infatuation which overshadowed my marriage so I can’t even say that I love my husband properly in the worldly manner though I really tried hard – though God is teaching me to love him supernaturally with agape love.
    I can’t contain here all the tribulations, immense pain, fear, anger and dissapointment, ups and downs, countless, often opposing emotions that I experienced during these years.
    But the worst thing that happened in my story is the detachment and helplessness of the church. The more tragic that my husband once wanted to be a part of it and was rejected and witnessed a lot of improper behaviours of Christians. Instead of help and support (apart from a few faithful friends) I’ve received a lot of criticism, judgement and unbiblical counseling encouraging me to divorce .So I’ve got another area to work on – the hurt inflicted by my church family…

    Thank you once again for writing what is in my heart!

    If you’d like to write to me I give my email:

    My testimony in English:

  4. Sheila Dougal says:

    Iza, thank you for sharing your story with me. I agree that in the church women (and I’m sure men also) feel alone because of our marriage situation. There are a lot of factors here I’m sure. I’m very thankful that the churches I’ve been involved with through the years of our marriage have been very supportive of me. Even still, I have experienced the pressure from Christians to end my marriage. I myself have felt like it might be better at times if I ended our marriage. And I have come very close to doing so. But in those times God has always met me with the grace and instruction I needed to continue working through the hard things with my husband. The thing I’m always brought back to in my marriage is Christ’s example of truth and grace. It’s a combination in marriage of a Christian to an unbeliever may very well cause the unbeliever to end the marriage. It is neither enabling sin in the unbeliever, nor cutting the unbeliever off. It’s a life that says, I’m a Christian, this is not God’s way. I will not do that, nor approve of you doing it, but I will not abandon you.

    God bless you Iza!

  5. Sheila Dougal says:

    Thank you Angela! And you’re so right. Christ is worthy of every struggle for joy and holiness this side of eternity! Thank you.

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