Around here, we have decorated the house with heart streamers, artwork brought home from preschool, and homemade cards from the past couple of weeks. This time last year, I was in a haze, bedridden, and barely functioning. This year, I am in a better place, but I am by no means “supermom.” There are no elaborate meal plans, homemade valentines for each classmate, rhyming hand-painted cards, etc. For Lent, I had the best of intentions. I wanted to make a Lenten calendar for the family, with cut out crosses or symbols for each day to mark our progress through this church season. I would have loved to have special Christian books for each child, to guide them in an age appropriate way. We have a tree, with ornaments that correspond to Bible verses, that lead up to Easter. It’s in the basement somewhere.
Comparison is the thief of joy, and unfortunately I let it steal my joy from time to time. It’s easy to look around at other families and think that they “do” more than I do. I can look back at my own life and compare where I am now, to where I was then. I had the energy to cook more, and buy the supplies for elaborate crafts for each season/holiday. This year, I managed to get each child’s class some valentine’s from Oriental Trading Company. I got the sale items, and not the $8/child soft friends holding various flavors of chocolate! For Lent, I do not have anything special around the house- no calendar, special new books, or great plans to obtain either item.
This year, we celebrated Valentine’s Day a day early, on Shrove Tuesday. I wanted to start Lent on Ash Wednesday, and it wasn’t a stretch to tell the kids we were going to do something special a day early. They ended up eating pancakes for two meals that day! They got little trickets from James and me. The biggest hits were bracelets from The Mermaid Pillow Company. It wouldn’t be a holiday here without something from Star Wars! The three middle boys got little lightsabers, and Eli the Wildman got a Darth Vader hat. As far as cards go, we save some money there and buy them in bulk. I got a 6-pack of identical generic cards, and James and I wrote each child a letter. Valentine’s Day for us, is a chance to celebrate as a family, have a little chocolate, talk about our love for each other and our heavenly father’s love for us.
I put more pressure on myself to make Lent an “event.” Gosh, I realize how stupid that sounds as I write it! What if I don’t teach the kids ENOUGH? What if they don’t grow up to appreciate the meaning of Lent, and it’s MY fault? Shouldn’t I have visual props around the house, intellectual reading material, and schedule of holy happenings for the next 6 weeks, that we can attend and check off of a list? Won’t that make me a better mother? I feel better than I did last year, so I should be DOING more to show everyone else what is inside my heart.
When I really dig deep, and look at these sentiments, I realize I haven’t learned as much as I should have this past year and a half! Did I not learn that a person’s worth isn’t defined by how much they accomplish in a day? As a wife and mother, my worth does not lie in what I make for dinner, what kind of Valentine’s I buy, or what I do/make/create for Lent for our home. It is so easy to get sucked back in to my old way of looking at the world and my life. It’s easy to compare myself with other people, who have never walked a mile, or even a few steps, in my shoes. Shoes that are more often than not, slippers, because I am home most of the time. I’m still not strong enough physically to run a lot of errands, go exploring the outdoors, or even drive a lot of carpools. Why am I so hard on myself? Why, before Lent even started, did I feel like I wasn’t doing it right?
What did we do for Valentine’s Day? There wasn’t a fancy date for my husband and I, there were homemade pancakes. He made them for the whole family, while I laid on the couch, ice packs on my feet. We hugged and loved on the kids, turned off the tv (Olympics and news!) and played charades. We sat around the dinner table in the evening and talked about almsgiving, praying, and fasting. It wasn’t a memorable oration by any stretch. It was interrupted about 72 times by someone asking for water, a napkin, or more syrup. I hope, James and I got the point across, that Lent should be a time to open your heart to God. Open your heart and soul and let God in even more. What does that look like? I think it’s different for everyone. For small children, visual and tactile examples of sacrifice are helpful. We have two jars. Both start out empty. One, we put any money that we find, or they earn, inside. That is our “almsgiving” for the kids. The other, has a small basket full of beans next to it. For every extra good deed or sacrifice we make, we get to put a bean in the jar. I got that idea from another mom, here!
At the end of Lent, the unremarkable brown beans are switched for bright, colorful jelly beans on Easter morning! Our kids get to eat them- which might be the only part they actually remember? The point is supposed to be- your sacrifices, and kind deeds matter. We want to emulate Jesus, and on the day that he rose, they get to see the fruits of their labor turn in to something beautiful and edible!
Valentine’s Day and Lent coincided this year. How fitting. Love. The most perfect example the world has ever known was Jesus, and that he gave his life for us. He gave His life, so that we would know just how loved we are by a heavenly father. This Lent, my goal is to redirect my heart away from what I think I should be focusing on. I want to open my soul, my ears, and listen. That requires me to get out of the way, and let God do His work. It isn’t a 6-week diet, it isn’t a 6-week house purge and cleaning, although there’s nothing wrong with eating healthier and cleaning out clutter. God wants my soul and my heart. Much easier said than done. Clearly, the lessons he taught me were forgotten pretty quickly, when I started comparing myself to others and what I thought I should be doing.
My life is supposed to look like Amy- and no one else. In order to open up my heart more, one of my goals is to put away distractions- to recognize them for what they are, and put them away. I want to live in the moment more, be present. We started the season with attending church, all eight of us, and my parents met us at church. I brought a zero gravity chair, and sat in the back, because that’s the only way I can “sit” through a service. Ashes and Holy Eucharist are an uplifting experience for the whole family. I vowed to listen more, notice. I am going to be reading more books, and I ordered a Lenten study guide from Blessed is She. I love Lent- I look forward to it every year. It’s the chance to start fresh, and punch the reset button! One other thing that helps me be present, is to give up shopping. We buy food, the essentials, but I do my best to stop shopping, completely, until Easter. It’s amazing how many little things I buy, that I think I “need”, but I could do without. What is essential to life? What am I filling my life with, that is because I saw someone else have it, I saw an ad for it, I thought it looked interesting? Yesterday, I thought, oh, I want to buy Aidan something that he doesn’t have, that other children have. It isn’t expensive. I paused and realized what I was doing. The need to consume, buy, fill our lives with clutter. Deep breath! I stopped myself. It’s harder than I think! Every year:)
I am so blessed. That doesn’t mean lucky, it doesn’t mean my life is easy. Even the difficult, painful days are a blessing. Why? I can think of a few reasons. Pain makes me hold still. Reflect. Stop trying to accomplish physical tasks, release my idea of a perfect house/homeschool/wardrobe/menu plan, etc. The difficult days make me clear my mind and just focus on being in the present moment. I pray more! I think of others, and their needs and I pray for them. See? See how a “bad” day can be used as a blessing? I repeat, that does not equal pleasant or necessarily enjoyable! A blessing is something that someone needs, that they might not even realize! But God does.
So, it’s time for me to get out of the way, clear my mind, and my heart, and let God do the work. He’s so much better at it than I am anyway.