I arise today

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Skellig Michael, Ireland                           Photo by Michael on UnSplash

I arise today:

might of Heaven

brightness of Sun

whiteness of Snow

splendor of Fire

speed of Light

swiftness of Wind

depth of Sea

stability of Earth

firmness of Rock.

 

I arise today:

Might of God

Power of God

Wisdom of God

Eye of God

Ear of God

Word of God

Hand of God

Path of God

Shield of God

Host of God.

 

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, a breastplate prayer or lorica, from Essential Celtic Prayers, a book my husband Phil Fox Rose made.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.

 

The Season of Lent

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Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

This is adapted from a homily I gave at a family Ash Wednesday Eucharist in 2012.  Lent begins Wednesday, March 6, 2019.

Lent is the name we give to the forty days before the great mystery of Easter. Lent means lengthening, because the days are growing longer. It is a time for the color purple, the color of royalty. We are preparing for the coming of a king.

On the Tuesday before Lent begins,  Christians all over the world celebrate the end of season after Epiphany, which began January 6, when the magi, the wise ones from far away followed a star in search of a newborn king, Jesus. People celebrate with parades and parties and pancakes. Mardi Gras—Fat Tuesday— is called that because long ago on the night before Lent began, people used up all the fat in their kitchens—milk, butter, eggs, meat—so that during Lent they could come closer to God by not eating those foods. Some of us still prepare for the coming of our king by fasting—giving up—something. Some of us give up foods we really like—desserts or sodas or vanilla lattes. Then the money that we used to spend on desserts or sodas or lattes can be saved and given to help feed the hungry. Some of us give up television or video games or try to spend less time with our smart phones, and for the forty days of Lent we use that time instead to look for ways to come closer to God.

Some people read the Bible more often in Lent, listening for what God is telling us today. We may pray more often, or at a certain time each day, and when we pray we could light a candle to remind us that Christ is the light of the World, and we are Christ’s light in the world.

We might draw or write our prayers and keep them in a special place, in a journal or a box or even on a calendar to show we are giving all our worries and hopes to God.  There are so many ways to pray, and Lent is a good time to try new practices.

Some of us take on doing more of God’s work in the world during Lent: collecting groceries for the food pantry, visiting the lonely, helping people in our neighborhoods or across the ocean. We might use a giving calendar so that we can return God’s blessings to us out into the world, by giving one day a quarter for every bottle of medicine you have in your house, or a nickel every time you turn on the water faucet another day.

Lent is a serious time, a time set apart for thinking, praying, giving thanks and remembering God’s gifts to us so that we might give generously to others.

We call the day Lent begins Ash Wednesday. Long ago, when people wanted God to know they were sorry for what they had done wrong, they asked God’s forgiveness by making a sacrifice—an offering—to be burned on the altar. If people had a lot of money, they  offered a lamb to God. If they had just a little money, they offered a bird.

When their sacrifice was all burnt up, all that was left were ashes. Sometimes the people who asked God for forgiveness would wear these ashes on their bodies to show how sorry they felt.

We no longer bring animals to be burned on the altar when we ask God to forgive us. Everything changed when God sent Jesus to live and die as one of us. Whenever we ask God to forgive us, we are forgiven. Whenever we turn toward God, we are embraced.

Our ashes come from the palms we waved almost a year ago at the end of Lent, when we remembered the day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey instead of a stallion, still speaking of peace instead of leading a great army, and the people waved palms in celebration, as if they were welcoming a king. We welcome the King of Love. We call that day Palm Sunday—it is the Sunday before Easter. Some of those palms we fold into crosses, and keep in our homes all year until it’s time. It’s time.

At our baptism, we are claimed as God’s beloved children and a cross of oil is made on our foreheads to mark us as Christ’s own forever. The cross of ashes we receive in the very same spot is to remind us that God made us, we belong to God, and God loves us. May we remember who we are and whose we are, each day of this holy Lent, so that our Easter joy will be complete.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.

Looking for additional Lenten resources? Make Room: A Child’s Guide to Lent and Easter by Laura Alary is a wonderful book to add to your collection. Under the Fig Tree: Visual Prayers and Poems for Lent by Roger Hutchison is excellent for older children, youth and adults. This year, Illustrated Children’s Ministry has a creative downloadable family Lenten devotional focused on prayer.

 

Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Church for centuries has observed the feasts of saints on the day of their death. In this case, however, let’s remember and honor the life and ministry of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when our nation does, on the Monday closest to his birthday, January 15.  What our kids learn about him in public school isn’t enough: his Christian faith and his calling compelled Dr. King to make civil rights his life’s work.

There are some wonderful  picture books that help tell Dr. King’s story. If I had to choose just one, it might be Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport, with illustrations by Bryan Collier. My Brother Martin by Christine King Fariss tells compelling stories from their childhood. A more recent book, also for older elementary kids, is Love Will See You Through: Martin Luther King’s Six Guiding Beliefs (as told by his niece). Kadir Nelson has beautifully illustrated Dr. King’s most famous speech in I Have a Dream, which includes an audio CD of the speech.

The lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures appointed for his feast day is taken from the story of Joseph with the coat of many colors, whose brothers were jealous of him and decided to get rid of him. Eventually, they sold him into slavery, but Joseph became a powerful leader in Egypt. Pharaoh, Egypt’s king, believed Joseph’s dreams and because of that, Joseph was able to save the Egyptians and even his own brothers from a terrible famine. It is taken from Genesis 37:17–20:

They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.”

Read or listen to the “I Have a Dream” speech, beginning at the line, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’” Continue to the end of the speech. Talk as a family about Dr. King’s dream, and how it has continued after his death.

Families with young children could try beginning this conversation with a brown egg and a white egg. Crack the eggs into the bowl one at a time. No matter what we look like on the outside, inside we are the same. Dr. King’s most famous speech is about his dream that everyone will one day live the way God wants us to live, treating each other fairly and with love, no matter the color of our skin or how different we might be. Read this quote: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” What we have inside us is the most important part of us. Talk together about what we dream of doing to make the world a better (more peaceful, just) place. Read the excellent picture book God’s Dream by Desmond Tutu.

 Parents, we are our children’s primary pastors. Decades of research show that the faith and values our children carry with them into adulthood are largely taught at home. The Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. made a point of serious conversation around the dinner table every night, telling his young children about the injustices he encountered as a black man in the South in the 1920s and 30s, and how he confronted them. Years later, his daughter wrote, “These stories were as nourishing as the food that was set before us.” We can imagine how these stories inspired his son. The stories we tell from the day’s news, the office, the classroom or the playground give us the opportunity to reflect on where God is in them, and where God is calling us to be.

Last year at March for Our Lives, we heard Dr. King’s nine-year-old granddaughter Yolanda Renee King tell people across the nation about her dream. One of my favorite quotes of Dr. King’s is this: “Life’s most important and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'” We share our stories, our dreams, to help us live the answers to that question.

If you are new to the process of talking about race with your children, here are some helpful resources.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.

 

Christmas Proclamation

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Christmas Proclamation      

adapted from Roman Martyrology by The Reverend Bruce Jenneker

 

Today, the twenty-fifth day of December,

unknown ages from the time when God created the heavens and the earth

and in the fullness of time formed humankind in God’s image.

From the time when God created the universe, 13 billion years;

From the origin of life on earth, the first living cells, 4 billion years;

From the age of the dinosaurs, 230 million years;

From the time of homo erectus, using tools, 1 million years;

Several thousand years after the flood,

when God made the rainbow shine forth as a sign of the covenant.

Twenty-one centuries from the time of Abraham and Sarah;

thirteen centuries after Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt.

Eleven hundred years from the time of Ruth and the Judges;

one thousand years from the anointing of David as king;

in the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel.

In the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;

the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome.

The forty-second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus; the whole world being at peace~

A fanfare sounds.

Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father,

desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming,

being conceived by the Holy Spirit, and nine months having passed since his conception,

was born in Bethlehem of Judea of Mary, the chosen handmaid of the Lord.

The People shout:

Glory to God in the highest and peace to God’s people on earth!

 

Advent ideas

cinnamon-stars-2991174_1920 (1)Advent begins this Sunday, December 2. In the secular world, this period of preparing for the birth of Christ has been swept up into “the holiday season,” that frantic period of time from just after Halloween (if we’re lucky) until Christmas Eve. In the church, however, we are serious about getting ready over a four-week period. While Christmas may be red, green and gold, the color of Advent is blue (for Mary, the mother of Jesus) or purple (for the newborn king). The mood is quiet, more focused. We are waiting for Jesus, and this is holy time. This slower, more deliberate approach to the season may be worth bringing home. What can you simplify? Where can you be more intentional, less rushed?

You could decorate first with just evergreen boughs, perhaps some pine cones, walnuts or apples nestled among them. Once the tree comes, try enjoying it with white lights alone for a week or two. If you or your kids are feeling crafty, string popcorn and cranberries, or make chains with festive patterned origami paper. Save the special, sparkly ornaments for closer to December 24. Save the most familiar Christmas carols, too, and listen to the delightful and quirky Keepin’ the Baby Awake or Yo Yo Ma’s lovely Songs of Joy and Peace

Some years we have had an Advent wreath of boxwood and juniper and holly for the center of the table.  This year the most I will do is gather four votive candles and one pillar candle–you can, too. Use any colors you like, and set them on a platter. Advent devotions to use with the wreath can be quite simple; these are offered by Peter John Hobbs.

We are preparing not just for Christmas, but for the coming of Christ. How do we ready our hearts as well as our homes? What can we do to make giving the focus rather than getting? Who might be feeling lonely and left out at this time of year, or just overworked and under-appreciated? Take hot chocolate to the crossing guard, make cookies for the firefighters or the postal carrier, spend time with an elderly neighbor or visit the local nursing home. The internet abounds with simple ideas along these lines; Action for Happiness has created a kindness calendar for each day of December.

Advent calendars are a fun way of counting down the days until Christmas. Here’s a mason jar Advent calendar from the creative people at The Salt Project, if you haven’t already purchased one.  This year, I am participating in Advent Word, a global online Advent calendar, for which a daily prompt for a photograph and personal reflection are given. I also recommend following the adventurous Wandering Wisemen on Instagram or Facebook  from December 2 to January 6.

Sybil MacBeth wrote a book chock-full of engaging ideas for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany called The Season of the Nativity, and she’s also the creator of a favorite prayer practice of mine, Praying in Color. She has several templates for a prayerful, colorful Advent calendar that are great for kids, teens and adults.

When my son Peter was younger, we read a different Christmas book or chapters of a wintery book each night leading up to Christmas Eve, when he’d receive a new one. Some parents more organized than I ever was wrap these books from the family’s or the library’s collection in holiday gift wrap and number them, opening one each night at bedtime.

For younger children, Laura Alary’s book, Look! A Child’s Guide to Advent and Christmas helps them connect what is happening in church with what is happening at home as we get ready. Its tone is both joyful and calm, in a way that suggests the profound difference between waiting for Jesus and waiting for Santa.

All Creation Waits by Gayle Boss with stunning woodcuts by David G. Klein is an Advent book that’s perfect for older kids and adults. Each chapter opens a window into the mysterious life of a North American animal in winter, and through them we are reminded that “the roots of Advent lie deep beneath the Christian church—in the earth and its seasons.” Another adult great read for Advent is Quinn Caldwell’s smart and thoughtful All I Really Want: Readings For a Modern Christmas.

Advent is a season of wonder. We wait in darkness for the light to be kindled and grow and spread, for the long-expected child to be born, for our hope to be renewed. This year I need it more than ever.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents, which makes a swell Christmas gift.

Meeting God in Others

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Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”                                                                                                                                                                              Luke 10:25–29

This question is the one which echoes the loudest for me in these last few weeks, with so much suffering and so much dissension in the news—the famine in Syria, the horrific attack at Tree of Life Synagogue and the migrant caravan approaching our border. Today I read this article in Sojourners, which concludes with a recent troubling quote from Rod Dreher, a well-known Christian blogger:

“The Bible tells Christians to love their neighbors as they love themselves. But who is their neighbor? The man next door? Yes. The people who live across town? Surely. Those who live in another part of their country? Okay. People from another country who want to settle in their country? Erm… .

If everybody is your neighbor, then nobody is.”

The scripture passage from Luke’s gospel is the conversation that prompts Jesus to tell the parable of the Good Samaritan: A man, a Jew, is walking from Jerusalem to Jericho when he is set upon by robbers and left for dead. The religious leaders of the man’s own tribe who see him by the side of the road on their way to work or worship avoid him and do not stop. The person who helps him, who carries him to safety, bandages his wounds, and pays for his care is the enemy of the Jews, the one who is not like him, the one Jesus’s listeners would have been most surprised to hear named as the rescuer. Jesus’s entire point was that our commonalities do not make us neighbors. Showing compassion makes us neighbors.

Our neighbors have been the women who are shelter guests at Crossroads Community Services. During the day, most of these women are busy learning skills that will prepare them to transition out of homelessness. At night, they come to Crossroads for a meal and a place to sleep where it is safe, warm, and sheltered. As with so many programs, this one relies on volunteers. When we volunteer, we don’t actually do much. We chat over dinner and spend the night in a room nearby. The women leave very early the next day because the church also hosts a breakfast program in the same space. Those few mornings I hope we are more aware of our own privilege, more aware of how little it takes to be a good neighbor.

Expanding our children’s circles of concern from family and close friends to others whose lives and experiences may be very different from their own is a key element of developing empathy, according to researchers. A recent study—part of the “Making Caring Common” project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education—involving 10,000 youth ages twelve to eighteen, found that 80% of respondents valued personal happiness and success over caring for others. Empathy is defined as the ability to “walk in someone else’s shoes,” but it is more than that: it is valuing and responding with compassion to other people and perspectives. Giving our children the opportunity to know, listen to, and actively help others is essential, not only to our Christian identity and formation but to changing the society in which we live, or as Ed Bacon, the former rector of All Saints Pasadena likes to say, “turning the human race into the human family.”

Wondering how to start? Writer and activist Glennon Doyle Melton wrote a letter to her son the day he began third grade. In it she tells him about a boy in her own third grade class, whom her classmates teased and she ignored, and the regret she feels about that every day. “I think that God puts people in our lives as gifts to us,” Glennon tells her son. “The children in your class this year, they are some of God’s gifts to you. So please treat each one like a gift from God. Every single one.” She gives her son some concrete examples of how to be compassionate to his friends, like making room at the lunch table for someone eating alone, or choosing someone first for the team who is usually chosen last. That sounds like Jesus to my ears. Glennon also tells her son about his teachers and classmates, “You Belong to Each Other.” I’m pretty sure God says that, too.

Other Religions

Our upstairs neighbor Hoora spent the morning of her birthday translating a baptism class I was teaching into Farsi for a family who recently emigrated from Iran. Her husband later told me she spent hours in preparation, reading about baptism and watching videos on the Internet. I wish I knew as much about Islam as she knows now about Christianity; the best way I can think of to honor her gift of time and effort is to learn more about her beliefs and culture.

My sister’s husband is Hindu, and we have been learning about his religion to better understand the traditions that my niece and nephew are growing up with. A dear friend who converted to Buddhism and is now a monk shares with us teachings and practices that she thinks will resonate in our lives. Throughout the years so many Jewish friends have welcomed us into their homes for Rosh Hashanah, Hanukkah, and Passover. I have had the privilege of both working in an interfaith center and teaching children’s interfaith classes. I cannot overstate how important I think it is for all of us to better understand each other’s religions, our common values as well as our differences. Yes, it is important that we articulate our own faith to our children, but in this global age, we are connected as never before, and cultivating respect for one another is essential to the health and well-being of everyone who calls this planet home.

Once, we met an Israeli engineer on a flight from New York City to North Carolina and much to his surprise, my son Peter, then 9, sang him the Shema in Hebrew: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.” We are, each of us, made in the image of God and when we look for God in everyone we meet, we are reminded of who and what makes us one.

At every baptism, Peter has heard this vow and at his confirmation, he made it for himself:

“Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?”

“I will, with God’s help.”

The particular gift of knowing people of all ages and colors and religions and walks of life was easy to give Peter, and one that becomes a gift he can give to others. This, I think, is one of the most important things we can do for our children: teach them to draw the circle wider, help them make the world a little bit smaller. This is what the kingdom of God looks like; we are building it together and it won’t be finished until everyone, everyone’s in.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents. This post is adapted from Chapter 8, Meeting God in Others.

Image: Gertrud Mueller Nelson

 

Radical Mister Rogers

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Focus Features

I have been so, so angry the last week. You probably can guess some of the reasons if you have turned on the television or picked up a newspaper or scrolled through social media, and of course, I have more personal anger, too, combined with a fair amount of stress. My husband suggested the perfect antidote last night: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

This documentary about Fred Rogers, the most unlikely television evangelist of his or any day, was balm for my soul. And then our bathroom ceiling collapsed. No, really. While my husband was in the shower. Perhaps it would have been different if it happened while I was washing my hair, but it’s 18 hours later and I am still smiling. Mr. Rogers was just what I needed. I believe Mr. Rogers is just what we all need.

Watching (visiting?) Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood helped children communicate, to express even difficult emotions, and to resolve conflict peaceably. However, Mr. Rogers was not only kind and gentle, he was also radical and subversive. In 1968-69, the very first season of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the show helped children cope with the Vietnam War and the assassination of Robert Kennedy, and promoted racial integration.

In every episode, Mr. Rogers spoke directly to children to tell them they were special, they were loved, just they way they were. Inherent in his message, of course, is that everyone we meet is equally special and beloved. That is as radical today as it was fifty years ago and two thousand years ago. “Who is my neighbor?”

I read that during the filming of the documentary, director Morgan Neville’s mother died suddenly, and throughout the process, discovering “the better angels of people’s natures, the best that we could be” was for Neville “the best form of grief therapy I could possibly have had.” Keep looking for those angels, friends. As Mr. Rogers reminds us,

From the time you were very little, you’ve had people who have smiled you into smiling, people who have talked you into talking, sung you into singing, loved you into loving. So, on this extra special day, let’s take some time to think of those extra special people. Some of them may be right here, some may be far away. Some may even be in heaven. No matter where they are, deep down you know they’ve always wanted what was best for you. They’ve always cared about you beyond measure and have encouraged you to be true to the best within you. Let’s just take a minute of silence to think about those people now.

We can not only think about those people, we can be people who love others into loving.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.

God calls us to adventure

trees-2897757_1280Harry Potter’s Call to Adventure came in the mail—a letter of acceptance to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry— which he was certain was a mistake. It wasn’t so much the magic business that surprised him; in all his 10 years of life, no one had ever written him a letter. Moses’ Call to Adventure came while he was tending sheep, and God spoke to him from a blazing bush. Moses wondered whether it really was God speaking to him, and if so, had God perhaps made a mistake? God convinced Moses otherwise. Joan of Arc was in her father’s garden when she heard the Call. Harriet Tubman was working in her master’s fields. There they were, leading their ordinary lives, when suddenly they were called to change and challenge everything they had known before. “Put down your nets and follow me and I will make you fish for people!”

Again and again in the Bible, God calls the least likely for the more important work: Moses the stutterer, Samuel the boy, Mary the teenager, fishermen, tax collectors and the women at the tomb. It must be because we need to hear this over and over: No matter who we are or where we come from, no matter how unimportant and limited in circumstances or abilities we see ourselves, God sees beyond all that and calls us to lives of action, exploration and transformation.

The Separation from the Known is the first stage in the mythic archetype identified by Joseph Campbell as the Hero’s Journey, and the Call to Adventure is the first step in that journey.  Over three days at Trinity Retreat Center this July, families will look at this pattern that is our story, too, as individuals and as Christians, through the lens of the extraordinarily popular Harry Potter stories. Together, we’ll imaginatively explore how to face challenges and make difficult choices, what to do when we feel lost and alone, what our gifts are and how we can share them with others. In the context of our faith, we’ll begin to discover who we are, where we come from, and who we are meant to be.

Think of our baptismal covenant as the ultimate Call to Adventure: in water and in flame we are given new life, anointed and sealed by the Holy Spirit, marked as Christ’s own forever. Then we are sent out to fulfill our promises, which include to proclaim “by word and example the good news of God in Christ,” to “seek and serve Christ in all persons,”  to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to “strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.” What does that look like? Where do we find courage and strength to take on these challenges?  How do we include others in the holy work of being God’s people?

Adults and children alike may find it hard to see themselves as potential heroes, but we hold in our hearts the longing to be called out of our ordinary lives—out of our small and insignificant selves—to make a difference in the world. Know then that God calls us to a life beyond our wildest dreams. When we answer the Call, we begin the journey. With God, nothing is impossible. As Harry Potter’s wise mentor Albus Dumbledore tells him, “It is our choices, Harry, that show us who we truly are, far more than our abilities.” First, we must choose to answer the Call.

  • This post began as an article I wrote in August 2005 for Saints Alive, the newsletter of All Saints Church in Pasadena, California, before a week of Vacation Bible School based on the curriculum Wizards and Wonders. Trinity Church Wall Street’s Family Retreat this summer is inspired by Patricia Lyons’ terrific new book, Teaching Faith with Harry Potter.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.

A Celtic Prayer

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You are the peace of all things calm

You are the place to hide from harm

You are the light that shines in the dark

You are the heart’s eternal spark

You are the door that’s open wide

You are the guest who waits inside

You are the stranger at the door

You are the calling of the poor

You are my Lord and with me still

You are my love, keep me from ill

You are the light, the truth, the way,

You are my Savior this very day.

A prayer of the first millennium, from Essential Celtic Prayers, a book my husband Phil Fox Rose made.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.

Hearts and crosses: On Valentine’s Day and Lent

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There probably was no saint called Valentine and the story we have about him is rather gruesome, but that shouldn’t keep you from making February 14 all about love. Love of family, friends and neighbors deserves to be celebrated every bit as much as romantic love, and maybe even more.

My son’s due date was February 12. On February 14, I woke up feeling huge and miserable, like this baby was going to stay inside me forever. The sky was dark grey, and the temperature had been below freezing for several days. I looked out the window of my New York City apartment and discovered that someone had hung a large red tag-board heart decorated with glitter and shiny stickers that caught the light from every tree on our block. Even though they were not meant for me personally, those valentines made me feel loved. Read one of my all-time favorite books, Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch by Eileen Spinelli and dream up acts of kindness for your neighbors.

Include strangers: fill up snack-sized Ziploc bags with foil-wrapped chocolate hearts or kisses and hide them for others to find. Take extra signed valentines to the public library and tuck them into books. Put them under soup cans on the shelves of your local supermarket. Carry valentines in your pocket, backpack or purse and pass them out to those you meet and greet–the bus driver, the postal clerk, the crossing guard. If there is no snow on the ground, you could draw small hearts in sidewalk chalk that will remind people of the conversation hearts we gave each other in grade school. I want to do that along my route to the subway.

Love by Matt de la Peña with illustrations by Loren Long is a brand-new picture book for all ages about the nuances of this feeling, this bond, this force. You need to read with your children at home or at church now. It may become your favorite book to gift. Read the Brightly review here.

This year, Valentine’s Day is also Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. I never give up chocolate for Lent; it makes me not a kind person, so I see it as counter-productive. My friend Laura Alary writes beautifully about the confluence in this article; and if you are a Lent-observing family, you definitely need her book, Make Room: A Child’s Guide to Lent and Easter. For me, the cross of ashes I receive on my forehead on Ash Wednesday is intimately connected with the cross of oil we receive in the same spot at our baptism.  Here’s the heart of it: From Love we come, and to Love we return.

We just need more love, so please don’t let Ash Wednesday get in your way. Even if you are having a simple evening meal of soup and bread, you could set the table with candles, flowers and the fancy china. Print out the Christian valentines from blogger Angie Kauffman and put one at each place setting. She has several different sets, so it’s easy to choose the ones best suited to your family. Take time for each person to share what they love most about the others around the table. Let this be the night you decide how your family will show God’s love in action during Lent. Will you visit a seniors’ center, help out at an animal shelter or community food pantry, clean up a public park, make treats for the volunteer fire station? Traci Smith has a Lenten practices calendar for families with younger children and Jenifer Gamber made a Lenten giving calendar that works well for older kids and teens.  

Little children, let’s not love with words or speech but with action and truth.

1 John 3:18

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents. This post is inspired by chapter 5, Seasons and Celebrations.