Next Wednesday, on March 5, the Lenten Season begins. I grew up in an evangelical church, so wasn’t exposed to Lent until college, when I attended an Anglican church. At the time, many of my friends were exploring post-modernism within their faith, and Lent was an opportunity to show how far you’d evolved from the faith of your parents, giving up things like reading the Bible or prayer. Frank was raised Catholic, and his Lents were of the no-chocolate or sweets variety. My friend Annie grew up Catholic as well, and told me that her family used Lent as a time to serve together, usually preparing a meal for the homeless each week.
After Frank and I got married and started combining our experiences, Lent surfaced as an interesting way to prepare for Easter. Much like observing Advent as preparation for Christ’s birth, Lent adds depth and intention to the Easter season. I’m definitely on the Lent-lite end of the spectrum. I don’t go to Ash Wednesday services or celebrate fasts or feasts. I haven’t done any special reading and don’t really know much about the origins of the tradition. I do know, that by observing Lent in a simple way that works for me, Easter has been more at the forefront of my day-to-day thoughts and interactions.
One year, we gave up wine for the 40 days. Instead of simply giving something up, we wanted to incorporate the idea of adding something to the experience. We decided to use the money we would have spent on wine and began investing in micro-finance through Kiva. For $25, a loan is made to a borrower investing in agriculture, retail, education, even personal use and housing. By combining loans with other $25 gifts, many lenders can finance people and their projects who otherwise would not have qualified for a bank loan. After a loan is paid back, you have the option to withdraw the money or reinvest with other people. We’ve always reinvested and every loan has been fully repaid. Over the years, we’ve lent $625 to 25 borrowers in 19 countries. We have added some of our own money, but most of it has been through reinvesting. I can’t recommend Kiva more highly. It’s an incredible way to help others and to be an active participant in helping small business. I’m looking forward to the day when we can include Bea in the research and choosing of our next loans.
Last year, I made a list of 40 women who have impacted my life. Most were women I know personally: My grandmother, aunts, friends from college, friends I see on a weekly basis and others who I haven’t seen in years. Some women I had lost touch with and others I had never met – bloggers I admire, Sister Wendy, Michelle Obama. Every day, during Bea’s morning nap and before the mail was picked up, I would write a short note, saying how that woman had influenced my life. I made the list before Lent started and just worked my way down, from 1 to 40. What struck me most about that project is the feedback I received: Notes arrived on days when someone needed encouragement or when she was feeling lonely or unsure. I was amazed at how perfectly the timing of my random list played out.
I’m not yet fully positive what I’ll do this year. With a very busy toddler and more scheduling commitments than last year, I’d like to focus somehow on time. But, I also don’t want Lent to be just about me and God… Because there are so many more women who I didn’t send notes to, I am tempted to repeat a list for this year’s Lenten season. Even if someone makes the list again, I feel that a note of encouragement can never happen too often. I loved sitting down and focusing on one woman each day, remembering how she influenced my life choices and taking time to pray for her. And, the practice carried past the Lenten Season. It made me more aware throughout the year, and helped me pay attention to the tug if someone crossed my mind. I have a week to decide, and I know Lent doesn’t have to be only one focus, so I look forward to seeing where I end up settling.
Do you observe Lent? What will you give up or add to your day this year?