It was a warmer than typical day as we entered the gate. We meandered through the busy city, carefully trodding on uneven stones, snaking our way to the start of our journey. Our walk was slow and somber as we carried our heavy load while wiping our tears. We encountered dozens, perhaps hundreds of people along the way. Some mocked us, many took pictures or shot video as we passed. Some bowed their heads and prayed while others pushed their way past, looking upon us with disgust.
We were the outcasts, the interlopers, the reminders of things some wish to forget. But we were also symbols of what happened and what was to come. But we were also hope and faith to those who needed someone to show them The Way. We carried our cross with humility and love. Our cross was carried for Him, to show Him our love, to honor the One who carried His cross for us.
About seven or eight months ago, I made two major changes to my personal health and fitness. I started seeing a chiropractor to help alleviate my arthritis pain, and I began an anti-inflammatory diet. What a difference I am seeing in my life as a result of these two things! I go for days, weeks, even months with zero arthritis pain (barometric pressure changes still get me every time), and my gut health is better than ever. These two changes have led to other changes in my lifestyle, and Lent is a great time to usher in even more.
For many years, I have done daily exercise. I visited the YMCA every morning for close to ten years before the pandemic struck and I discovered a whole world of exercise classes right on YouTube! Now, exercise fits into my schedule, and the type of class I choose is reflective of my needs that day. After trying lots of different things, I’ve settled on a Pilates and yoga mix each morning and a cardio workout every evening. Between the anti-inflammatory foods and the two exercise routines, I am actually losing weight for the first time in years without feeling like I’m missing out or killing myself doing it. This Lent, I decided to take some of these practices as well as my prayer life to the next level.
Many (many) years ago, I graduated from college, Magna Cum Laude. It was something I really should have been very proud of. I should have been happy that I attended college, graduated with honors, graduated at all. As one of only a few people in my family who had gone to college at that time, I should have given myself some credit. Instead, I celebrated with a smile on my face and bitterness in my heart.
You see, I am ashamed to say that I felt robbed. My GPA was 3.49. A 3.5 would have earned me Summa Cum Laude, and I was really angry with the school for not bumping me up to, what I felt, was a much deserved ranking. I worked really hard to get those grades. I went to school full-time for four years holding a double major in very demanding studies (history and political science) with an even more demanding concentration (American military experience). I worked full-time for the last two years I was in school, taking every shift I could, waitressing at busy restaurants all day or late into the night, weekdays and weekends. I wrote four major thesis papers, for crying out loud!
I was really angry with the school, but I was more angry with myself. Why hadn’t I pushed just a little harder? Why had I taken the research paper-only option (no exams – just a 50 page paper) for the toughest professor? Why hadn’t I skipped a few social gatherings and stayed home to study instead?
Here we are in the last week of Lent. It’s time to reflect on the past nearly forty days and examine how we did, not as an exercise of beating up oneself for our failures but in recognizing how far we have come. Have we grown spiritually? Have we gotten better at prayer? Have we grown closer to God? What sacrifices did we make, and how did they improve us?
Sacrifices come in many different forms. I’ve often wondered about those who forego chicken on Fridays but dine on lobster instead. I’m not judging. Perhaps they would rather be having chicken! Besides, in our house, Friday dinners during Lent consist of homemade crab cakes, but it’s not the crab cakes that I see as the sacrifice.
It’s everything that goes with them. Here’s what I mean…
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.
When our children were young, we always talked to them about Lent and how it leads up to Easter. We made sure they all gave up something and understood the sacrifice involved. One year, when they were all very young, we even did the jelly bean Lenten activity. One thing I’m not sure we did adequately was to teach our children why we give things up. I don’t know that we really emphasized the point of the sacrifice, the point of going without, or the point of forty days of changed behavior.
As one who has never felt spiritually challenged or renewed by giving things up, I do know that I always tried to impress upon our girls that it’s not always about what you give up. The real point is what goes on within. That’s really what Lent is all about – a change from within.
To make up for lost time with my own girls and in an attempt to help others, here are things I feel are more important than giving up. These are the other UPs of Lent:
We have 325 days, from the time Lent ends one year until it begins the next year, to think about what we will do; yet here I am once again, as always, still trying to figure it out on Ash Wednesday. After all of these years on this earth, you would think I’d be better at this. You would think that I would have a list of a dozen things to choose from. Give up this, add that, emphasize this, read that. But no, it never comes easily for me. I struggle with the Lenten decision well into the forty days, always wondering if I’ve made the right choice, if it’s having any effect on me, if it’s at all pleasing to God.
And I realize that it’s not just during Lent that this happens. And it’s not just me. It’s not just Catholics or other Lent-observing Christians. I think we all spend 365 days a year questioning ourselves, our actions, and our intentions, wondering if we are doing the right thing, using the right words, making the right choices, and spending our time wisely.
I ask myself, why do I always doubt and worry whether what I do or say is good enough?
And then it dawns on me, and I wonder, is it really that simple? Is it true that all we have to do is… Read more →
This week is Holy Week throughout the Christian world. It’s the week where we are reminded just how much God loves us. It’s the week that the past several weeks of Lent have been leading up to–the crescendo in the opus of God’s masterpiece about love. How remarkable that it was late in Lent when I was given the beautiful gift of realizing why what I do is so special, why my writing is so meaningful to me and to many others, and why it’s all about love.Read more →
We are exactly two weeks into Lent, and I don’t know about you, but I find myself lost in a vast spiritual desert. I started this Lent without a clue as to what I was going to do. I have never been one who feels satisfied giving something up for Lent. It does nothing for my soul. I’d much rather add something of value–more prayer time, more scripture reading. etc. But when Lent began this year, I was having a very difficult time coming up with anything at all to focus on. And then I was hit hard by the Old Testament reading on the first Friday of Lent:
This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
Your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. – From Isaiah 58
Wow. Was I doing any of that? Was I releasing those I held bound? Was I sharing bread with the hungry? Was I clothing the naked? Was I turning my back on people? And taking it deeper, was I being impatient, unyielding, obstinate, selfish, unloving, or uncaring? Yes, yes, and yes to all of them!
But that message was not enough. I have been bombarded, throughout the past two weeks, with signs pointing out my spiritual inadequacies. In the Faith Study group that I participate in two Mondays a month, we are doing a new study by Dr. Edward Sri, titled, Who Am I To Judge? The study is not at all what I thought it would be. It’s so much more. I thought I would be learning how to deal with people in our society with whom I have differing views. But at its core, it’s a series of lessons on how I can become the person I was meant to be. It’s really an extension of the reading from Isaiah!
And that’s not all. Every day, I receive in my inbox a Lenten reflection video. On the first day, the reflection was titled, An Opportunity. The crux was that Lent is an opportunity to be a new “Springtime,” a new season in my life to find joy by becoming the person I was meant to be. Every single day, that reflection hits directly where I need it that day. How amazing is that? I’ve been reminded that I need to be myself, encourage others, track my progress so far and celebrate it, accept my imperfections, accept that I cannot please everyone, become a better person, and live a more virtuous life.
In thinking about all of this, I see how, during this Lenten season, I have been called to step outside of myself and see the world through the eyes of others. I have to listen to my husband when he explains why I can’t have everything I want at this moment. Money doesn’t grow on trees, and time is precious and limited. I have to stop reading emails or working on other tasks while having a phone conversation with my daughter. She deserves my undivided attention. I have to make time for others, to share their joys and pains, to be the friend they deserve.
It’s not easy seeing past my own little world, my to-do lists, my seemingly never-ending first floor remodel. It’s not easy being patient when I want everything to move at my demanded pace. It’s not easy being humble in a world that is constantly screaming, “Look at me.” It’s not easy being generous or compassionate or loving when I’m so focused on my own wants and desires. Just two weeks into Lent, I’ve realized that I am in the desert and that this might be the worst Lent I’ve ever experienced. Or it just might be the best.
Are you looking for a new way to meditate on the Stations of the Cross this Lent? If so, check out the newly revised edition of Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms. You can download the ebook version today!
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 Vineswas 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 latest children’s book, The Greatest Gift, is now available; and her novel, Summer’s Squall, can be found online and in stores.
This week, my new home office is being completed, or nearly completed as there will still be things to do such as pictures to hang on the wall, a rug and curtains to pick out, etc. But for the most part, it will be ready to be used, complete with new furniture and a custom built closet, all courtesy of my wonderful father. It’s very strange to be sitting in the room that Rebecca occupied for most of her life, but she was all in favor of me converting the room, and I was way past due for a space of my own (you can only get so much accomplished when your “office” consists of a few shelves in a hall closet and a cabinet under the kitchen counter).
Over the course of the past couple weeks, Rebecca and I cleaned out her room, and I cleaned out two under-eave storage spaces to make room for the things she’s saving for her future office and/or apartment. I also cleaned out the downstairs hall closet, Ken’s office closet (where my Girl Scout stuff was), and that kitchen cabinet I mentioned. I am amazed at the amount of stuff that we pulled out, threw away, took to St Vincent DePaul, packed for Rebecca, and moved into the office. Where did it all come from?
I spent several hours just going through the seaman’s trunk that was found in the basement of my great-grandparent’s house. Inside were all the cards that Ken and I received from well-wishers when we got married (over twenty-three years ago) lots of old photographs of family and friends, the scrapbook my mother made when I was a baby, and a stack of old concert programs. I have no idea what to do with any of this stuff. Okay, I actually threw away the cards, but the wedding planner has to stay. Why? I have no idea, but I’m sure I’ll think of a reason.
I swore that I was not going to go along with the 40 Bags in 40 Days that so many have come to associate with Lent (I’m sorry, but that’s like associating snowmen with Christmas). I swore that I wasn’t going to get rid of things just because it’s Lent, and I’m still not, but there has been an awful lot of stuff leaving this house in the last two weeks. And an awful lot that has stayed. But I try to learn something from everything, so I’ve been thinking about some of the lessons I’ve learned over this week of cleaning. Here are the ones that have made an impact.
1. If your children don’t care about it, then you don’t need to either. Conversation:
Rebecca: “Mom, you still have all of my trophies from elementary school?”
Me: “Of course. Why would I throw them away?”
Rebecca: “Why would you keep them?”
I have no idea. I don’t know why I kept them except that I thought she would want them. Now the question is, what do I do with them?
2. Buying what’s on sale isn’t always the best idea. I used to always buy packs of children’s Valentines the day after Valentine’s Day. They cost no more than a quarter on that day. A few years ago, I was cleaning out that same, catch-all closet, and I came across half a dozen boxes of Valentines. I couldn’t remember the last time my girls traded Valentines, but I was well prepared should they want to start up again. And don’t even get me started on school supplies. Morgan asked me last week to stop by the store to buy her new pens and pencils. The only store I went to was “the closet.” Rebecca watched me pull them out and asked if I had enough school supplies for her children to use someday. Sadly, the answer is yes. And while it’s great to not have to run by the store every time someone runs out of their designated supply of pens, the amount of supplies we sometimes end up with is monumental. The girls are collecting school supplies to send to our sister parish in Guatemala. I hope they need pens and pencils, lots of pens and pencils. And notebooks and paper and index cards….
3. Calculate your needs first. I have piles of books that I will never sell. I wish I had been able to sign and sell every one of them, but I was arrogant and overzealous. I ordered my first three books in quantities that even Barnes and Noble couldn’t handle in their warehouse. Now I have lots of copies of books that came out two, three, and four years ago, and I’m busy trying to sell the most recent works. These days, I order books three dozen at a time, and only when I know that I am going to sell them. If I need more, I can always contact the publisher and have a box sent. And I don’t feel so defeated by piles of unsold books. Now, about that whole storage area of storage containers….
4. If you don’t have a use for it, plan to wear it, or aren’t sure you’re going to like it, don’t buy it. I have six white sweaters. Why? Because I’m a sucker for a good, white sweater. How often do I wear white sweaters? Good question, but I always know I have several if I need them. Unfortunately, I don’t. I wear the same white sweater every time I reach for a sweater. Somehow, I always think that this one will go better with that outfit, or that one will look better with a skirt, that one with pants. The truth is, they all look exactly the same – like a good, comfy, white sweater.
5. Make use with what you have. Over the course of planning my office, I’ve had a running list of things I intended to purchase. While the cost of the office was growing, the size of the room was not, and neither was my bank account. I had to do some re-evaluating of my needs and wants. The shelves that I took down from Rebecca’s wall will work perfectly in the closet dad is building me. The black curtain rod can be spray painted to match the new color scheme. The degrees and awards I found while cleaning make more sense to hang than expensive art (using the frames from the pictures Rebecca took down).
I still have a long way to go. Yes, I did buy a new wall clock today. There’s just something I love about a wall clock with real hands, and I refuse to move the one from the kitchen. But I did end up throwing away the wedding planner. I’ve got all the memories still tucked safely away in my mind and heart. And there’s always room for more there.
Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her book, Picture Me, is the recipient of an Illumination Award, placing it among the top three inspirational fiction eBooks of 2015. Her book, Whispering Vines,is a 2017 Illumination Award winner. Amy’s most recent novel, Island of Miracles, is now on sale as well as Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms, her collaboration with the authors of the blog, Y’all Need Jesus.