As I made preparations for Lent, I began to pray and ask God to reveal to me what gifts He would like to give me this Lenten season.  Not just one, but several ideas were presented to me.  But overwhelmingly, I was feeling a desire to bless our marriage.

My marriage is stronger than it has been at any time in our years together. Yet the recent separation of our brother-in-law and sister had reinforced with me how necessary it is to never take your marriage for granted.  And seriously, the vocation of marriage is such a huge responsibility.  Love like Christ loved. Sounds good.  But Christ didn’t leave a mess on the kitchen counter I just cleaned.

Eventually, I decided to “give up” sarcastic comments aimed at my spouse.  Drop the corrections, neglect the pouting, stop the silence when displeased.  To love my spouse the way Jesus loves me.  And then the next step, to cherish my spouse.  To move from simply stop snapping back, to performing one positive act of love each day for Lent.  Hang up his clothes, (without complaining) have coffee ready for him in the morning,  you know all those loving little things that have slipped over the years.

The Sunday before Lent, as Don and I were seated in Mass, I was presented with the idea of “giving up” my usual seat in mass.  We always sit third row, left, center.  I am one of those people who like to be up front. I don’t want to miss anything. Don jokingly remarked one time that he was surprised I didn’t try to sit at the altar.  Don however is more reserved and God bless my husband, he has always respected my need to sit front and center.

This Sunday it occurred to me that maybe the gift God wanted to give me for Lent would be found in sitting in “new” places in our church for Mass.  New neighbors, new perspective.  As we drove home from Mass, I mentioned that I was thinking of “giving up” our regular seats in Mass.  Don’s response surprised me when he replied,  “That’s so funny you say that.  While we were in Mass today,  I was thinking, “How come we always sit in the same place?”  So it was done, the Holy Spirit had spoken to both of us and as a family, we “gave up” our regular seats in Mass.

Each week we came and sat in a new spot.  And then came a week we walked into church and stood at the back. Where were we going to sit?  Finally Don said, how about right here?  What? In the back?  You’re kidding me, right? But I gave up complaining, so I (begrudgingly) took a seat.

As we sat down, the woman next to us smiled and said, “Oh, you aren’t speaking (lectoring) or taking the kids today (Children’s Liturgy)?”  A familiar kindly face, an unknown name, we greeted her and sat down.  As Mass continued, Don noticed the woman was having difficulty standing and sitting.  So he began to help her each time, to rise from the seat, to sit back down.  She leaned over and whispered to him, pointing to a red bracelet on her hand.   I could not hear their hushed conversation, but saw my husband’s face of compassion, witnessed him patting this woman’s hand and repeatedly assisting her with the simple standing and sitting that most take for granted.  As Mass ended, the two of them shared a hug.  Two strangers, united in love for Christ, sharing  human suffering and compassion.

As we drove home, Don told me the story.  Don noticed her having some difficulty and began to offer his assistance as she struggled to stand and sit.  Grateful for the assistance, she pointed to her red bracelet, an outward sign of the disease she is battling; ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. She has had it for over a year.  Soon she will be leaving Arizona and our community to go back east to her children where she will live out the remainder of her life.  Don has a friend who has passed to new life as a result of Lou Gehrig’s disease.  He was deeply touched by this woman.

As I listened to the story, I was overcome with love.  This is the man with whom I fell in love.  The quiet man, who always strives to do the right thing, who offers compassion to those in need and is always looking out for those who can’t protect themselves (that’s why he became a police officer.) My hero.   My heart swelled with love for this man.

After thirty years of marriage, it is rare that you get that “first love” feeling.  That has long since been replaced with a contented love, but not the adrenaline rush of “first love.”  Who would have thought that sitting in the back of the church would give me this wonderful gift?  Only God knew.  As I reflected back on my Lenten journey, it occurred to me, all the “myriad” of things that were presented to me all offered me the same gift, a blessing for my marriage.  It was as if God had tied them all up together with a big bow.  God, you gave me blessings even in this marriage that is as strong as it has ever been.  Wow God!  You are amazing.

Those of you who have always known Don and I as we are today may be surprised to know that at one time in our lives, our marriage was over.  Separated two years, physically living in separate homes, we had exhausted every means we knew to reconcile. We both knew there was nothing else we could do, our marriage was over.  We agreed to divorce.  Well guess what? There was nothing else we could do.  But nothing is impossible for God.  He changed our hearts (that’s another story.)  But truly our marriage has never been as strong and we have never looked back.  God gave us back hearts to love each other.

Lent is over…our marriages are not. Whether your marriage is strong or whether your marriage is struggling, two things to consider:  1) Always invite God into your marriage.  2) Make opportunities to bless your marriage.  There are many ways to do this; a formal retreat, a few minutes or a week-end alone, or a concerted effort to love your spouse.  He won’t play?  Find ways to love him anyway.  God changes hearts.  When you bless your marriage, (whether it is struggling or strong) the blessings far exceed the two of you. You bless yourselves, your children, your extended family, your community, your world.  Let Christ’s love shine by making the time and effort to bless your marriage.

The Catechism tells us this about Christian Marriage:  Christ dwells with them, gives them the strength to take up their crosses and so follow Him, to rise again after they have fallen, to forgive one another, to bear one another’s burdens, to “be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” And to love one another with a supernatural, tender, and fruitful love.  In the joys of their love and family life He gives them here on earth a taste of the wedding feast of the Lamb.

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