Sunday, March 13, 2011

2011: A Lenten Odyssey, Week One

I figure if I document and share some of the ways we're observing Lent, we might be inspired to make the most of it. So here's the first (and I hope not the last) installment of what I'll call, "2011: A Lenten Odyssey."

On the Monday before Ash Wednesday, I gave the third graders in my CCD class a calendar with a cross to color in for every day of Lent, and instructed them to color in the crosses certain colors based on what kind of Lenten observation they did that day. (Like if they said an extra prayer they would color it yellow; if they gave something up that they like they color it green or whatever). We have 34 days of Lent before Religious Education goes on hiatus for Easter; I told them if they brought back the calendar on that last day with 30 crosses filled in, they would get a prize. Although, now I'm wondering if 30 is too much to ask; what do you think?

On Monday and Tuesday at preschool, we had the kids decorate a strip of construction paper and then glue it onto an empty play-dough container. We cut holes in the top and explained that they were for collecting coins for the needy. If they do an extra chore at home or say extra prayers, Mommy or Daddy would put a coin in the bank. Before Easter they'll bring back their full coin banks and we'll combine the money collected for a worthy cause.

ASH WEDNESDAY: The boys' school planned their Ash Wednesday Mass for 10 am, and I decided instead to attend the one at church (scheduled for 9:30 am) so I could get a little housecleaning done before work. As it turned out, the time had been printed wrong in the church bulletin, and when I got there (after parking on a side street because the parking lot was jam-packed) I learned from others who had arrived around the same time I did that Mass had started at 9, and that Eucharistic Prayers had already started. I headed home, hoping to catch one of the evening Masses, and got a little more housework done than I had planned. My traditional Ash Wednesday "light brunch" consisted of a gluten-free cereal bar, some mixed nuts, and a glass and a half of milk.

At preschool, Father L. came by to distribute ashes to the children. We were afraid that some of the kids would be fearful and reluctant to receive the cross, but they all thought it was great. Father L. explained that these were special ashes made from burned palm fronds, and they were blessed and that the cross that he would make on their foreheads was a very special blessing. They all got a kick out of looking at their crosses in the mirror, and one little boy said that my cross looked like a tattoo! After receiving the ashes, we heard one little voice call out, "Thank You, God!"

Traditional Mid-afternoon Ash Wednesday Lunch: Frozen gluten-free cheese enchiladas and applesauce.

Dinner: A Tuna dish with rice, courtesy of Rachael Ray (only a small amount for me, even though I wanted more) I was so glad to find this quick and easy one-pot meal; I managed to whip it up real quick before I started schlepping everyone hither and yon. (Here's the recipe if you're interested. It was quite good, and since I'm gluten-free these days, I served it over rice instead of pasta.) I decided that as a small Lenten sacrifice I would not automatically turn on the kitchen TV like I usually do; it's amazing how much more quickly the food preparation and cleanup can go without the boob tube to distract me. I never did make it to Mass, though. If only it were a Holy Day of Obligation, maybe I would have.

I don't know about you, but when Ash Wednesday is over, I always look forward to eating regular-sized portions and snacks in between meals! And I promise that from now on I won't document everything I eat--at least, not until Good Friday when we have to fast again...

On Thursday I read Eric Carle's The Tiny Seed to the preschool children. It's the story of a little seed that's blown away by the wind with other seeds that are bigger than it is. The other seeds get blown out to sea, eaten, trampled on, and when the seeds that survive finally start to grow, all the other seeds grow quickly into beautiful flowers, while the tiny seed is still only a little plant. The other flowers get crushed by children's feet and picked, but the little flower grows into a giant flower even taller than a house. Pretty soon it produces its own seeds that are blown away by the wind. I explained to the children that we are like little seeds--God made us and we're growing and pretty soon we'll be grown up. We are learning and growing in God's love, and he is shaping us into beautiful flowers. We handed out the coin banks they had made, and I asked each child to tell what they would do to help Mommy or Daddy so they could put money in their banks. I then gave them each three pennies to get them started. Some of the kids still had the idea that the money was for them, and one even excitedly told me what cool toy he would buy for himself. I explained again that we would put all of the money together and buy clothes or food or toys for little children who had none.

Thursday afternoon was one of the highlights of my week, because I had the pleasure of hearing a talk by Immaculee Ilibagiza, the survivor of the Rwandan genocide and the author of several books, including Left to Tell and Our Lady of Kibeho. She recounted her memories of the plane crash that killed the president of Rwanda and triggered the horrific genocide; the last memories of her parents and her brothers, the fear and anger she felt hiding in a tiny bathroom with seven other women, listening to men searching the house for Tutsis who might be hiding there. She talked about how she prayed the Rosary to pass the time, and how peace began to take over in her heart. The more she prayed the more peace and the less anger she felt; and ultimately her prayers gave her the strength to forgive those who murdered the people she loved.

(During her talk she kept pulling out this Rosary. I asked her if it was the exact Rosary she prayed while she was in hiding, and she said no, it was not this one.)

I spent way too much money on books, but it was worth it. I bought a beautiful Our Lady of Sorrows Rosary (which I STILL haven't prayed), and when I handed her my books for her to sign, she smiled warmly at me. She is a bit like a rock star, and I was a little nervous about meeting her; I told her that I had read Left to Tell and Our Lady of Kibeho, and that I was looking forward to reading her second book, Led By Faith. She said, "You really should come to Rwanda with us! It's beautiful there, and we have pilgrimages to Kibeho!" I said I would LOVE to come. She grasped my hand in both of hers, and as I walked out into the rain, shoving the newly signed books under my coat so they wouldn't get wet, I was grinning like a crazy woman.

She looks like a supermodel, don't you think? Check out Immaculee's website and Facebook fan page!

Thursday evening my parents arrived at our house (spending time with Mom and Dad was the other highlight of my week!) because the kids were off from school on Friday and I had a workshop to attend for the diocesan preschool teachers. I gave my mother the signed copy of Left to Tell, and that evening we watched videos of Immaculee that I had found on the Internet. Perhaps Mom and I can go to Kibeho together one day.

Over the weekend we only observed a few little Lenten practices: when my parents took the boys out to a pizza buffet restaurant, they made sure they chose meat-free pizza; and instead of our usual Friday night pepperoni and sausage pizzas, we ordered meat-free food instead. On Saturday we talked over dinner about what we were each sacrificing for Lent, but unfortunately we still haven't come up with something specific for us to do together. The weekend was full of the usual homework, chores, flag football games, play practice, and the like. We watched the horrifying pictures coming out of Japan, and prayed for those affected by the earthquake and tsunami. This coming week promises to be a busy one, and I hope we can all take the time to remember what Lent is all about amidst all of our hustle and bustle and St. Patrick's Day and school activities and tae kwon do and homework and things...

Dear Jesus, give us the courage to give until it hurts this Lent. Help us to remember that You love us enough to suffer and die for us, and give us the grace to suffer for others.

(Click here for more incredible photos of the destruction in Japan.)


  1. I wish so badly that I could have attended her talk!!

  2. I wish you'd been there, Ginny! She was fantastic.

  3. I got to meet Immaculee' when she was in New Orleans. I've read all of her books. What a beautiful person - inside and out. She is incredibly inspiring! I purchased an "Our Lady of Sorrows" rosary as well, but have only prayed it a few times. Perhaps, I will get it out and say it this Tuesday.


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