When Easter season arrives, I tend to look back and review how my Lent has been.
This year was one of the best ever because of a family activity that started with a simple thought.
Lent can be such a solitary journey, as we plan our sacrifices and strive for good changes during the bleakest time of year. I had been looking for something to connect the family despite the many miles of physical distance between some members.
Thus was born the “Lenten Family Unity Circle.” Once I got past the skepticism of the name amongst family members (“What does it mean?” and “Why do you have to name everything?”), I sent an e-mail that read as follows:
“I wanted to have some activity going that keeps us connected during Lent, and this seemed like a good activity. The only rule is that you should begin with the person whose name comes after yours, and work through the family members during Lent. In some way of your choosing, do something to affirm that person in a simple way. It should not involve a monetary expense, but if it does it should be very small – think spiritually.” Then I listed all their names.
It was a simple idea and one that I did not think would take off as it did. Mostly, I thought people would say some special prayers for that person and let them know in a note or e-mail.
I was pleasantly surprised at how this activity took on a life of its own, and how each family member expressed their affirmation to one another throughout Lent in individual ways I could have never imagined. Each one took the time to reflect on another member and lift them up in some way.
A week before one of my daughters went to Ecuador on a medical mission, I received a beautiful letter in the mail in which she shared her hopes and dreams for the trip ahead. When I read that she realized that all our life’s problems needed to be brought to “the foot of the cross,” I was deeply touched by the depth and growth of her faith.
Family members who were close by took one another out for coffee or lunch and spent some quality time sharing together. A lovely bouquet of hyacinths appeared on our dining room table with a thoughtful note. Spiritual books appeared for some family members and even a pair of salad tongs that one daughter could use in her someday apartment. Our son shared coffee gift cards and prayers.
During one very trying week in which I spent a lot of time at the “foot of the cross,” I was sent an e-mail describing a “pilgrimage” made by my oldest daughter with her two little sons in tow to a local shrine. Complete with pictures, she told me that they lit a candle for Grandma’s intentions and said a prayer for me. My eyes filled with healing tears as I saw the picture of my little grandson kneeling in prayer by the Holy Family Shrine, and the other one smiling brightly from his stroller. The grace I received from that was precious to me!
Each family member expressed themselves in a different way as Lent progressed. My husband found a copy of a favorite book of James Herriot stories that our children had loved and mailed it to our grandsons. It was an affirmation of his love for them, and a promised hope for the future of sharing time together with a good book.
One morning, I noticed that Den was ready for work earlier than usual. When I asked him why, he replied that our daughter Jessie had ordered him his favorite specialty sandwich from a local shop and he had to pick it up on his way to work.
Another daughter placed post-it notes around her sister’s room when visiting. Each had a quote or Scripture verse and an encouraging word particular to her.
One afternoon, I arrived home to see a small bag near the back door. Since we live in a little village, the owner of a local olive oil store had taken the time to deliver a bag of assorted oils ordered by my son-in-law. Steve knows how much I enjoy cooking and trying some of their delicious oils and vinegars in my dishes. It was followed by a kind note that I received a few days later. I felt like a very lucky mother-in-law!
I had not intended anyone to accompany the spiritual with something material, but it became a lovely way for us to remind one another this Lent that we are blessed to call each other “family.” I may have made up the name of this exercise, but each person made it part of their own Lenten journey by expressing their love and concern in such thoughtful and individual ways.
When Easter arrived this year, the distance between us was a little smaller, the spiritual bonds greater and the gift of family more deeply treasured.