It’s still cold outside, but it’s predicted to reach 60° two days this week. There are signs everywhere that spring is coming. Our irises are already six inches tall, and the daffodils are probably just below the swath of snow stretching across the garden. The days are growing longer, and Easter–late this year–is just one a month away. All around us are signs of new beginnings.
Many of you will remember that our oldest daughter got married in September, between waves of COVID that forced so many weddings to be cancelled or postponed. She experienced an entire year of new beginnings, and she’s already doing the same in 2021.
This past weekend, we helped move Rebecca and Anthony into the first house they’re occupying as homeowners (they’ve been renting since they got married). It was an exhausting weekend, and there will be plenty more like it as they work to make this house their home. It’s such an exciting time for them–for all couples–buying a house, planning a future there, choosing which bedroom will be the main bedroom and which will hold future children, and doing all of the projects–large and small–that will allow the house to be transformed from a structure built of wood and brick into a home built with love and faith.
I remember our first home and how hard we worked to make it what we wanted it to be. It was an empty shell just waiting to experience new life growing within. We spent seven years there, brought home to it two of our three daughters, and began a wonderful journey that continues today.
I think Lent is a lot like buying that first home.
Even though we do this every year, it seems that when Lent rolls around, we (and I mean I) have reverted back to being an empty shell, a house but not a home. Sure, I pray every day all year, and I go to Mass every weekend, and I go to Bible study several times a month, but somehow, I’m still not filled like I should be. Over the course of the year, I talk to God less and focus on living a worldly life more. And then this beautiful thing happens – Lent comes back around.
Like that new house, little by little, step by step, curtain by curtain, something begins to happen, a transformation takes place. The old is replaced with the new, the rotten pieces are pulled out and fresh ones take their place. It’s hard and often involves sweat, blood, and tears. There are times when frustration takes the lead, and it looks and feels easier to just give up, but to give up means to miss out on all of the rewards waiting at the end of this period of rebuilding. Maybe all the time that is needed is forty days, but maybe it’s forty weeks or, for some of us, forty years. But we persevere. We continue on the journey. We take each room in our house and sweep it out, assess its needs, make a plan, and begin creating it anew, filing it with the things that really matter.
We take an empty shell and make it something new from the bottom up. That’s how shells work. Scientific American says, “Think of laying down steel (protein) and pouring concrete (mineral) over it. Thus, seashells grow from the bottom up, or by adding material at the margins… This pattern of growth results in three distinct shell layers: an outer proteinaceous periosteum (uncalcified), a prismatic layer (calcified) and an inner pearly layer of nacre (calcified).” Seashells, homes to snails, clams, oysters, and other mollusks, are built much like a house but even more like a soul. Over many years, through many periods of growth, the soul is strengthened, hardened, and becomes beautiful inside, with a layer akin to pearl. But it takes work, and it takes time, and it takes many Lenten periods, times when we reassess, reexamine, and renew.
Maybe your first week of Lent wasn’t what you wanted it to be. Maybe you’re already stumbling (we all do), but it’s not too late. Shake out that old rug, clear the cobwebs that are in your way, and begin painting your soul with a fresh coat of paint–a new outlook, a new strategy, or a new set of curtains at the window that will allow you to have a whole new view of the world.
It’s a time for new beginnings. Let’s start building with the foundation we have and create something filled with love and hope and peace and goodness and faith. Let’s spend the next month (or year or lifetime) striving to become something new. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Let’s take that empty shell and recreate it into something special.
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Amy Schisler is an award-winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture Me, Whispering Vines, and Island of Miracles are all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016. Island of Miracles has outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high as 600 on Amazon. Her follow up, Island of Promise is a reader favorite. Amy’s children’s book is The Greatest Gift. The suspense novel, Summer’s Squall, and all of Amy’s books, can be found online and in stores. Her latest novel, Island of Promise, was recently awarded First Prize by the Oklahoma Romance Writer’s Association as the best Inspirational Romance of 2018 and was awarded a Gold Medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards 2019 for Inspirational Fiction. It is the 2019 winner for Best Inspirational Fiction in the RWA Golden Quill Contest, Best Romance in the American Book Awards, and a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award of Fiction. Amy’s 2019 work, The Devil’s Fortune, a finalist in the Writer’s Digest Self-Publishing Awards and winner of an Illumination Award, is based, in part, on Amy’s family history. The third book of Amy’s Chincoteague Island Trilogy, Island of Hope, was released in August of 2019.
Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017), Summer’s Squall (2017), Island of Promise (2018), The Devil’s Fortune (2019), Island of Hope (2019), A Devotional Alphabet (2019), Desert Fire, Mountain Rain(2020).