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!

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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.

40day-yellow

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!

 

The 40-Day Marriage Challenge: Lenten Reflections for Two

40 day logoHappy Ash Wednesday!

Today is the first day of Lent, the forty days leading up to the greatest Christian holiday of the entire year: Easter, when we celebrate the Risen Christ who breaks the power of sin and death. This penitential seasons is a time to take stock, to see the areas of our lives that need not just improvement, but the transforming power of Love.

Marriage is one of the most important assessments, of all human relationships. A happy husband, I’ve learned, has the power to lift my spirits . . . just as a cheerful wife has the power to lift his. The funny thing is, this kind of cheerfulness or happiness is not dependent on what is going on in the rest of our lives. When work is taxing, kids are demanding, money is tight, the crises diminish when that central relationship is right. Within marriage, each partner has access to an island of mercy, an oasis of peace in which they can be fortified and reassured before heading back out into the storm. Whatever that storm may be.

And so, I’d like to invite you to journey with me once more, as I reprise the 40-Day Marriage Challenge that first ran on my blog a few years ago, a daily reflection on the “Prayer of Abandonment” by Blessed Charles de Foucauld. Believe it or not, I’ve learned a few things about marriage since then, and as the days progress I invite you to add your own observations. Know that as we make this journey together, others are praying for you, even as you take a few moments each day to offer this “Prayer of Abandonment” for yourselves as well as the other couples who are journeying with us.

And so    let the journey begin! Please start here by reading the introduction. Then come back here each day, to continue your journey.

Happy Lent!

Confirmation Countdown: A 10-Week Reflection

catholic-crossIn many parishes, Confirmation preparation is a one or even two-year process: weekly classes, service hours and projects, retreats and other special events. So when the DRE at my parish asked me if I’d take the RCIA teen class, and prepare five students (four high-school girls and my son) in nine weeks, I thought it was the perfect Lenten challenge.

Oh, and did I mention that we’re moving during Holy Week? So classes have to be completed the week before Easter? (The DRE will take them on the retreat during the week.) Ash Wednesday doesn’t start until March 4 this year, but our Lenten journey can’t wait … Time to get started!

In this class, I will have a set of twins, their cousin, and a best friend of one of the girls. None of them had received any formal religious preparation up to now … but each of them expressed a beautiful wish to want to be a part of the faith, as their grandparents had been. So they all want to BE there, which is going to make all the difference.

Yesterday was our first class. They received a Bible, a YouCat, a composition book, and a copy of the learning plan. The plan explained what we would be covering in class each week, and gave them a series of daily Bible readings. Each day they will read the story in the outline and write a paragraph or so in their journals about it. I’ll be doing the same here, breaking briefly for “Book Whisperer,” favorite spiritual classics, and “Fun Fridays,” which will feature some of my favorite shrines and churches here in the U.S.

Please pray for my students: Christopher and Emily and Mason and Sarah and … (rats. I’ll have to get back to you on the last one. God bless them all). And please pray for me, too!

From St. Augustine’s “Confessions” (The Love Project, Day 43)

j0438992For the past 43 days, I’ve been reading and blogging on the subject of human love as an expression of the divine. Last week I focused on love as expressed through the priesthood, and this week, love as expressed by the saints.

Starting tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, I’d like to invite you to participate in a different kind of daily challenge. I created “The 40 Day Challenge” last year as a way to build up my own marriage, and posted it for others who would like a similar Lenten project. Won’t you join me in renewing your own “Love Project” as we prepare to celebrate the world’s greatest love story, the atoning death and resurrection of Christ?

For now, I’d like to conclude “The Love Project” with one of my favorite excerpts from St. Augustine’s Confessions (p.320).

“It is for Christ that the friend of the Bridegroom longs. Already he has laid his spiritual harvest in Christ’s keeping, but still, he groans in his heart, waiting for that adoption which is the ransoming of our bodies from their slavery. He longs for Christ, for he is a member of the Church, the Bride of Christ. His love for Christ is great, for he is the Bridegroom’s friend, and his great love is for Christ, not for himself; for it is not in his own voice but amid the roar of the floods you send that he calls upon those who are sunk deeper than himself in the abyss, and this is because, in his great love of Christ, he fears for them. He knows that the serpent beguiled Eve with his cunning and he fears that, in the same way, their minds may be corrupted and lose that innocence which is theirs in Christ, our Bridegroom, your only-begotten Son. How bright a light of beauty will shine before our eyes when we see Christ as he is and gone are those tears, which are still my diet, morning and evening, as I listen to the taunt: “Where is your God now?” …

“Early in the morning I shall present myself before him. I shall see my champion and my God, who will give life to our perishable bodies too, for the sake of his Spirit who dwells in us, because in his mercy he moved over the dark waters of our souls. This is the pledge which has been given to us in our pilgrimage on earth, so that we may now be light.”

Today’s Love in Action: You know what to do … Tomorrow morning, click on “The 40 Day Challenge Link,” and rejuvenate your own love story! God bless you!”

Wee Cook Wednesday: Happy Lent “Garlic Fish”

lenten_crossHappy Ash Wednesday, Everyone!

The other day I came across this yummy sounding recipe for “Garlic Fish” from an EMN blogger that I’d like to share with you today. I think I’m going to whip up a batch today, and get Lent started on the right foot! (Save the fish sticks for next week…)

Photo credit:  www.stmarymagdalene.org