Every year during the 40 days of Lent I lead a small group of women on an adventure to celebrate 40 Days of Giving Back rather than giving something up for the Lenten Season. This will be my fourth year walking this amazing journey with my 7 year old son. This 40 days has become increasingly meaningful to me and my son, and I hope, that after reading this you might consider joining me for all, or part, of this amazing experience.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. I am not a “religious person” nor do I feel this journey we are about to embark on is purely a religious event. Yes, it does coincide with one of the most holy events in the Catholic calendar, but I am neither Catholic nor particularly devout, so please bear with me.
This process of 40 Days of Giving Back started October 8, 2011 with the violent murder of my precious brother Daniel. Although a deeply horrifying event, this day changed my life and attitude towards life in ways and on levels I could never have imagined. During the months that followed I found myself grasping for any sense of “purpose” or some form of meaning I could pull from this tragedy. As the Winter months of 2011 started turning into the Spring of 2012 and with it the Lenten Season I began to look for ways to “put feet” to what I felt the lessons of my brother’s life and my grief journey. I decided that for Lent, rather than give something up, I would give something back – however large or small, every day for Lent.
I didn’t really share my idea with many people – I am not sure that my husband fully understood what I set out to do, but I included my 3 year old in as many activities as I could. I will be honest, the Lent Season of 2012 was not a particularly cataclysmic event in the emotional journey of the past several years, but it was during this first foray into the Lenten Season that I started to see some small changes taking place in my life.
- I began to accept more serenely and with more abandon the events of my brother’s death. Call it God, fate, karma, or plain dumb luck, but I started to embrace more fully the idea that I was not in control of the universe and that maybe there had been some “purpose” or at least a method to the madness.
- I actively made a choice to pursue the best possible outcome for my grief – turning what had been intended for harm to good purpose. This was a choice I had made months prior, really upon first hearing of my brother’s death, but during Lent that first year I actively pursued for 40 days the outward manifestation of this choice.
- I started to see how as a Mother my choices not only impacted me, but changed the person my son was becoming. His attitude towards everything, even at 3 years of age, started to improve. (ironically enough, I do believe it was more my attitude towards him that improved, but that’s a concept for another post, I think!) Rhett started to seek out opportunities to be kind, to give to others and to say thank you. Even his teachers and caregivers noticed a difference in him.
- I started to see an incredible, what I call, Universal Principle take root in my life – what we focus on and give out to the universe is what increases and comes back to us multiple-times-over in our own lives. As I focused on blessing others, my blessings increased. As I focused on being gracious and loving to others, I found more gratitude, more grace extended to me and more love demonstrated towards me.
These, among so many other changes started taking place in my heart. I remember the Lent Season ending last year with a freshness in my life that I had not experienced for a long, long time. However, because life is a process and a journey, not a destination, I have to admit, the months that followed I slowly meandered off my new-found path and back into my old routines in many ways. Over the Summer and into Fall of that year, I struggled with a lot of “life issues” and as I would imagine anyone going through a grief process of any sort, had both good days and bad. I had days of incredible peace and serenity, when I loved the people around me with complete abandon – when I was the wife, mother, and friend I truly wanted to be. And then I had days when I was selfish, uncaring, cynical, bitter, grumpy and well, just plain shitty.
I have been caught many times over in this cycle of good and bad, up and down until a comment from a Facebook acquaintance changed that for me. Someone asked a simple question about Lent…and I was reminded again of what my life could be with some small, simple, but actively pursued changes. This is where the idea of This Little Light and 40 Days of Giving Back was born. In that sudden flash of realization that I was not being true to myself, not being authentic to my values and not living up to my greatest potential.
And today, with the start of the 2016 Lenten Season, I’ve made a renewed commitment to change that. I am making myself accountable to my closest friends, and to this process of growing, learning and sharing. I am renewing my commitment to turn my brother’s tragedy into triumph. I commit to showing my son the person I want to be, the person that I choose to be, not the person I allow my circumstances to bring out.
As I sat this morning, reading with my bifocal glasses on and meditating (as I try to do each day) I was drawn to a Psalm from the Bible. (again, I don’t want this to come off as preachy, but just a sharing of my heart with you) I often fall back upon my “faith” to make sense of the world around me, and I read and meditate on many sources for my journey, but this morning I was drawn to scripture and I read Psalm 18 verse 35. It says,
“You give me your shield of victory, and your right hand sustains me; you stoop down to make me great.” What struck me most about that verse was “you stoop down to make me great.”
This verse is talking about God coming down to our level. Whether you believe in a God or not is of little concern to me. As a Mother, my belief in God has helped me define more clearly the kind of parent I want to be. If I take that verse and meditate on it, I see that God (you can call this force the universe, karma, fate but the principle is the same) – God meets us where we are and stoops down to make us great.
Don’t we, as Mothers and Fathers need to do this for our children? Don’t we need to actively, and purposefully, stoop down (both physically and metaphorically) to help raise our children up? We need to stoop down to make them great. We need to be the stepping-stone upon which they stand to help them become all they can be. We need to be the shoulders of giants that they can stand upon to reach their potential. In light of this, how can you, in the next 40 days, stoop down to help your child(ren) be great?
This is the message of my heart for the next 40 days. This is the message of my heart and my intention for what I will demonstrate with and for my son. I want to stoop down, from all the crazy busyness of my life, to set aside some time, to help my son become more caring, more loving, more gracious and draw into his life the same benefits I received into mine during my first Lenten experience. Lent is about active choice. It is about choosing what our life will be. Some choose to walk away from alcohol or chocolate. Some choose to give up TV or Facebook. I simply choose a different tact. I choose to bring into my life all the beauty and blessings that the world has to offer by opening myself up to the reciprocal gifts of generosity, kindness, compassion, demonstrated love.
40 Days of Giving Back is as simple as filling an expired metre, or buying a stranger’s coffee. It’s as easy as shovelling the neighbour’s walk, or taking fresh baked cookies to the local Fire Hall. It’s as humble as taking the time to smile and compliment a stranger or leaving an encouraging note on a co-worker’s desk. And it’s about doing these things in view of and with the help of your children. Stoop down to help your children become what we want this world to be. Stoop down to raise them up to the graciousness and goodness we are dream of for this planet. Stoop down and take their hand and show them, in a real and meaningful way how beautiful the next 40 days can be. Because I promise this journey is worth walking with them!