First Sunday of Lent: Family Fun Day!

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“To everything there is a season,” wrote the writer of Ecclesiastes. While the Church calendar is replete with both fast days and feast days, there are far more feasts than fasts . . . even during Lent, we are given the grace of Sundays, a small foretaste of Easter joy.

Because of this, the #40DayChallenge will include each week a “Family Fun” activity that you can enjoy with those you love. Remember: #NoSundaysInLent!

Lent is a time that some people choose to give up chocolate even on Sundays. I’m not so literal with my Lenten offerings in order to enter into the spirit of celebration. For me, chocolate and love are inextricably intertwined. (That explains a lot, I suppose.)

kissesSo… today’s challenge is: How much fun can you and your family have with a small bag of chocolate kisses? Let them be a gentle reminder of the joy that is essential to both marriage and family life, and an invitation for you to take some time today to experience that joy first hand. Bake some peanut butter cookies and crown them with kisses (yum). Have a candy hunt. Play a game and make these game pieces (color the little paper strips to distinguish them). Can you find ten creative ways to “kiss” those you love?

How will you spend your first Family Fun Day? Be sure to share on the Facebook page!

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Day 4: Beauty

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As always, begin with the Prayer of Abandonment.

Ladies, when was the last time you unleashed your inner diva on your husband, for no reason other than to remind him of the girl he married? When was the last time he noticed the sparkle in your eye, the music in your laugh, the many evidences of care and hominess you put into your home, to make it a place you all want to be?

What’s that? Your inner diva got lost in the wash? Your Marie Kondo is a Kon-Don’t? It’s okay … Lent is a time for new beginnings. You can always start over!

Today’s theme is beauty. It’s one of the transcendent virtues that (along with truth and goodness) have whispered of the very nature of God since the beginning of time . . . and how we, as creatures made in God’s image, reveal a glimpse of God’s original design as well as our eternal destiny.

A few months back I felt as though we needed to add a bit of fun to our lives, and bought a couple of seats to our local “Wine and Paint” club. Neither of us is particularly handy with a paint brush, but it’s amazing what a bottle of wine and a plate of tapas will do for creative juices! See?

Date night

It can be easy to lose sight of beauty when both you and your husband lounge around the house for days at a time in your PJs (telecommuting does have its perks, but it’s important not to save the best of ourselves for the outside world!). So go ahead, surprise your husband with a special lunch. Invest in a pretty pajama set. Rock out the house with the classical arias or alternative rock albums that make his pulse flutter. Revel in YOUR kind of beauty.

One of the gifts of the vocation of marriage is that we become icons of beauty for our husbands, often in the most unexpected ways, as they see the light of love shining in our eyes. Something to think about.

And so, tonight after the kids are in bed, pour yourselves a glass of wine, linger over a lovely table, and together, thank God for the beauty of your marriage.

How are you celebrating  beauty today? Why not share with us on Facebook at “The 40 Day Challenge”?

Day 3: Acceptance

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Welcome to the third day of the challenge!

Did you remember to start the day with the Prayer of Abandonment”? If not, go ahead . . . I’ll wait.

Starting today, we will take up the “heart” of the challenge by focusing each day on a quality or charism that is essential to a happy marriage. You’ll find that (more or less) I’ve arranged them in alphabetical order. (If you think I’ve missed any, go ahead and shout it out in the comments!)

Today’s theme is “acceptance.”  (We got a bit of a head start yesterday, but it’s such an important part of marriage I don’t think a little review will hurt!)

Watching my mother decline — particularly mentally, as her dementia intensifies — I’ve often made the mistake that many caregivers struggle with, arguing with her when her version of reality doesn’t align with mine. This is particularly hard when her version causes her great anguish or fear. But as I’ve turned to others who have been where we are now, they all say the same thing: When you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. This means being gentle and empathetic as you guide them to whatever it is you need them to do.

We all need to be understood, to feel as though someone really “gets” what we are going through. This, too, is a form of acceptance. Even when we hate the choices our loved one makes, and are forced to bear the consequences as well, being able to put ourselves in the shoes of that other person can make all the difference in our ability to love.

Think about your husband, and all he is and does for you. What can you do to practice the gift of acceptance?

Teresa-21

Are you enjoying this Lenten series? Please support the effort if possible by picking up a copy of Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta. Thank you!

Day 2: The Silence of Scholastica

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Today we begin by offering the Prayer of Abandonment. 

I’ve always had a special fondness for St. Scholastica, the twin sister of St. Benedict. St. Gregory the Great records what little we know of her life, including the story of the last time she saw her brother in their annual meeting place between their two cloisters. As the day drew to a close, she begged her brother to remain there and talk with her through the night — but he was eager to get back to the monastery. Seeing further entreaty was pointless, she simply asked God to keep him from going. And God sent a storm. After talking through the night, brother and sister parted ways, and shortly after that Benedict saw a dove ascend to heaven, and understood his sister had died.

scholastica2The silence of Scholastica is the theme of today’s “reflection for two.” How often do we find ourselves in a situation when the best and most uplifting thing we can do for our marriage is . . . to remain silent, and pray for God’s gentle action in our hearts?

Early in my marriage, I found it almost impossible to let a day go by without offering some kind of (unsolicited) wifely advice. (Most of it was ignored, but to his credit he never lost his temper!) As time went on, however, I realized that the constant criticism was eating away at his confidence, particularly where the kids were concerned. On the other hand, the more I affirmed my confidence in his ability to handle things, the more our family benefitted!

And so today, as you offer your “Prayer of Abandonment,” ask God to remind you (gently) the next time he wants you to follow the example of Scholastica, to say nothing at all and to ask him to reach your husband’s heart in a way you feel you cannot. God bless you!

Teresa-21

If you are enjoying this Lenten series, please support the effort if possible by picking up a copy of Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta. Thank you!

Day 1: Let’s Get Started!

40 day challenge 20th

Happy Ash Wednesday! Welcome to this new edition of the 40 Day Challenge: 20th Anniversary Edition. You don’t have to be married 20 years to do the challenge — this is something you can do at any stage of your marriage! But I wanted to dedicate this year’s challenge to those whose marriage has been through all kinds of seasons, and invite you to share your wisdom here as you are able. (You can always PM me if you don’t want to go public!)

On this first day of Lent, perhaps you made a visit to the church to get your annual “love smudge,” to declare to all the world your “yes” to God. Yes, you want to follow Jesus even when it means taking up those little crosses (and sometimes some big ones).

What are the crosses you’ve faced this year? For me, it was starting a second year of taking care of my elderly mother in our home. I can’t think of a richer, more meaningful expression of love than when my husband agreed to take Mom in to live with us. It represented a huge change to our family, but he wanted to be sure that when I looked back after Mom is gone, I had no regrets. Even if it meant I can’t work full-time. Even if it means he has to pick up the slack around the house, and watch for the signs that I am burning out (again).

What are your signs? Do you get short with your husband and kids? (I do!) Do you seek comfort in junk food or mindless television? (Yep!) Do you find yourself complaining to whomever will listen about your lot in life? (Guilty.)

So what if, for this Lent, we tried to be more intentional about choosing the good, the beautiful, and the true? Affirming the generous impulses in those we love. Seeing the beauty all around us, and sharing it with others? Pushing aside the temptation to gripe, and finding the little truths that are hidden in the crevices of daily life?

What is the truth God is whispering to your heart today? What is he asking you to take up for these next forty days? Don’t be afraid! We can do this together!

As with the other years, this Challenge is centered around the “Prayer of Abandonment” by Charles de Foucauld. The first time I heard this prayer, it terrified me. Especially since the priest who gave it to us said that not only should we pray this prayer every day to God, but that we should consider reciting it to our spouses as well, if we wanted to really rejuvenate our relationship.

“Yeah, right,” was my immediate response.  It was one thing to offer this prayer of surrender to the Almighty, perfect in every way. Quite another thing to say it to … well, almost anyone else. Including the man I love. That’s a lot of power to give someone.

But as we start this 40 Day Challenge, let us begin this day and every day with this prayer in our hearts.  Let’s trust God to work a miracle in our hearts, to help us to surrender even the hard stuff with love and trust.

For the next 40 days, we will begin with this prayer. You may want to write it down and tape it to your bathroom mirror or over the sink, as a reminder of your intention.

Father,

I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will.

Whatever you may do, I thank you:

I am ready for all, I accept all.

Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures.

I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands I commend my soul;

I offer it to you

with all the love of my heart,

for I love you, Lord,

and so need to give myself,

to surrender myself into your hands,

without reserve,

and with boundless confidence,

for you are my Father.

Teresa-21

Are you enjoying this Lenten series? Please support the effort if possible by picking up a copy of Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta. If you would like an autographed copy, send me a check for $15 and I’ll send one to you. My address: 10350 Royal Oak Ct., Osceola IN 46561. Thank you!

Give Your Love Life a “Faith Lift”

Teresa-21Try saying THAT ten times fast!

It might seem a bit counter-intuitive to be thinking of marriage enrichment during Lent — a season that, for most Catholics, is associated with scarcity and self-denial. You also might be wondering what this dear “saint of the slums” — a celibate religious — has to say about married life.

But if you are looking for a way to build up love in your life, or believe (like Mother Teresa often said) that “The best way to change the world is to go home and love your family,” I hope you’ll join me on this journey over the next forty days!

At this time of year, many people think about what to “give up” for Lent. For some it’s chocolate or alcohol – for others it means stepping up your spiritual reading. (If you’re looking for a gentle way to ease yourself into daily spiritual reading, pick up a copy of my new book Lent with Teresa of Calcutta).

A few years ago, I read a book by Archbishop Fulton Sheen that inspired a different approach. I decided to give my marriage a “love lift” with the 40 Day Challenge.

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In Love, Marriage and Children, Archbishop Sheen describes the three “moments” of marriage that each of us must encounter: ecstasy, crisis, and renewal.

The first moment is characterized by the sheer joy and ecstatic happiness of early marriage. This idyllic time of mutual joy, however, is often short-lived. Invariably reality sets in, which Sheen describes as the second moment,  “crisis.” Although it may indeed take the form of a sudden trauma or challenge – a lost job, an illness or moral failure – it may simply come in a series of gradual realizations that your partner is not the man (or woman) of your dreams, after all. “Suddenly there is an awakening that the marriage is something like luggage; one finds in it only what was packed. … During this hour of crisis many marriages collapse because the partners do not know the law of life and do not stay together long enough to know one another…. Sometimes the partners begin to live apart or else are alone together: ‘I take my solitude with me; you take your solitude with you.’”

Ironically, it is this “wake-up call” that, according to Sheen, is the gateway to lasting marital happiness. “If one but dies to egotism and selfishness. The aridity that one feels is not the defeat of love, but a challenge. … The hour is struck when the couple must realize that the taking of love’s stronghold is dependent on the siege of self; too often it is at this moment that the cowards leave and sink back into mediocrity.”

On the other hand, those who persevere in love find that their love enters a third “moment,” with renew life.  “A new kind of beauty comes in this third moment. One of the elements of beauty is surprise, and with the unfolding of the years there comes the new surprises through the deepening of the mind and heart, for it is love that makes anything beautiful.”

Would you like to experience renewed beauty and love in your home? Do you believe God wants that for you and your spouse?  Consider joining me on a “40 Day Challenge.” Let’s pray together, asking God to bless our marriages and our families as we seek to live out more faithfully our own vocations.

For forty days, how many ways can we say “no” to self, and “yes” to our life’s partner – without pious subtext or martyred airs? In how many ways can we, joyfully and prayerfully, offer our love back to God, that He might infuse it with the newfound hope of resurrected love?

For the forty days of Lent (which begin this Wednesday), I will be posting here and linking to this “40 Day Challenge” Facebook Page.  Feel free to chime in as you are inspired, with your intentions or thoughts of your own on that day’s topic. If you’d like to have me post your thoughts anonymously, drop me a line at Heidi.hess.saxton@gmail.com, with “40 Day Challenge” in the subject line.)

Let’s pray for one another!