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The Forty-Day Challenge: From Ashes to Resurrected Love

Last Wednesday was “Ash Wednesday,” when Catholics and other Christians receive ashes on their foreheads as a sign of penitence (Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent). I’d had over 700 hits on the 40-Day Challenge. It seems there are many women who think their marriage needs a “faith lift”! Several women left comments on the site or in my e-mail, asking for prayer for themselves and for their husbands.

To be honest, my Lent had gotten off to a slow start. We walked into church together ten minutes late (I had the time wrong), and the only place to sit was in the “cry room” at the back of the church where three toddlers chattered and chased each other in high spirits, clearly having the time of their lives.

“That’s how you used to be,” I whispered to Christopher.  Eight years had passed since we first welcomed the children to our home. The first time we took them to Mass at St. Andrew’s, it was apparent that the children had never been in church before.  The high point (or low point, depending) was going forward to receive communion from the priest, and seeing three-year-old Christopher punch the strange man in the robe, resisting the proffered blessing at the top of his lungs:  “NOOOOOOO!”   

“Brat,” I heard someone murmur.

Crimson with embarrassment, we slunk back to our seats as Father Will tried to collect himself. After Mass, we introduced ourselves. “This is Christopher, Father. We’re all very sorry about what happened . . . This is our foster son’s first time in church. He hasn’t learned yet that some men can be trusted to reach out with kindness.”  Immediately Father ruffled Christopher’s hair (that was brave of him, I thought) and welcomed us to the parish.

Eight years later, as I watched Christopher bow and reverently place the host in his mouth, I couldn’t help but marvel over how much he had changed.  Behind us, the energetic little girls’ parents had the little cherubs in a fireman’s hold. “Don’t worry,” I wanted to tell them. “This, too, shall pass.”

Whether it’s parenthood or marriage, perspective is vital when you’re going through a rough patch. In July 2002, the Institute of American Values reported that two out of three couples in troubled marriages who decide against divorce are still happily married five years later.

All marriages go through times of stress and difficulty. The good news is that, things can get better if you are willing to work for it. If your marriage is in need of a “faith lift,” consider joining us for the “40-Day Challenge.” Things may look bleak at the moment – a lot of yelling and chasing each other, or (even worse) deafening silence.  But don’t worry; if you let him, God can draw you closer together. Why not join us for the 40-Day Challenge, and see what happens?


Heidi Hess Saxton, new Editorial Director at Ascension Press,  is the author of Raising Up Mommy and My Big Book of Catholic Bible Stories. Heidi blogs at A Rosary for my GPS, an online resource for mothers of adopted, fostered, and special needs children. She and her husband foster-adopted their two children in 2002.


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  • Ms. Saxton: Thank you so much for this article! I am doing your Forty Day Challenge and finding that I really need it ;-).

    Your account of your foster son really hit home with me. I am raising my grandson. He just turned 8, and he came to live with me when he was 5. We had some very interesting times at Mass that first year.

    I put him in CCD right away and every year since. He was baptized on February 9 and will receive First Communion on May 1. At the Committment Mass recently he looked so grown up in his blue blazer and khaki pants!

    Like your priest, our Father John has welcomed Haydon from the beginning. It has meant so much to all of us!

    By the way, my husband is a “lapsed” Catholic while I am a recent Catholic convert (2008). We have a good marriage but I keep praying for my husband to “come home” so that we can have a truly united Catholic family.

    Peace to you,

    Ruth