Fresh out of graduate school a decade ago, I was hired as a speech pathologist for a not-for-profit agency serving the inner city poor. My therapy room contained an observation mirror so that the parents could watch and learn from my example.
Jared the poster child
One of my first clients was a five-year-old boy who had very delayed development. Jared came from a struggling urban family. He would have made the perfect poster child for poverty in America. He was charming and adorable, even in his ragged clothes. His mother was a shy woman who rarely made eye contact with me.
Jared’s little light
One day in late winter, which just happened to be Ash Wednesday , I ended our speech therapy session by asking Jared to sing a song with me to practice the speech sound we were working on.
After we finished singing the song, Jared said, “Now it’s my turn to pick a song. Let’s sing This Little Light of Mine.”
I hesitated for a moment, because this was a secular agency where religion and faith were never discussed or displayed. Although I was uncomfortable, I decided to follow the child’s lead and joined him in singing. He was so excited that I sang it with him, that he asked me to sing another and another.
By the time I got him out the door, I think we had sung every preschool worship song I knew.
Jared’s mother had been watching through the observation window and she stared at me saying, “I didn’t know you were a Christian!” I told her that I was, but that I usually didn’t publicize it at the office. This otherwise meek young woman stared me straight in the eye and quietly but very firmly said, “Never be afraid to share your faith!”
She was right. I had been afraid to show my love of God in the workplace. Yet there was nothing to be afraid of.
That lesson became the focus of my Lenten reflections and prayer that year. That conversation had a profound effect on me, but it was only the beginning of what Jared’s family would teach me.
Several weeks later, Jared’s family touched my heart again. It was my last therapy session with him before Easter, and when the session was over, Jared and his mother handed me a beautifully wrapped box.
I had often received small gifts from my clients at Christmas, or at their final therapy session, but never at Easter. As I was opening it, Jared’s mother told me that her family shared a special tradition.
Touched by sacrifice
During Lent, each family member, including the youngest child, gave up something in the spirit of sacrifice. They would each take the money that they would have spent on that one thing and they put it in a special envelope.
Throughout Lent they would pray, both individually and as a family, for all the people who touched their lives. They would ask God to show them who needed Him for guidance, strength, or growth. Then the family would discuss whom God was calling them to share their sacrifice with. Finally, they decided on one person to whom they would give a special Easter present.
The box revealed a beautiful leather Bible with my name engraved on it. I was incredibly moved. This was an enormous sacrifice for Jared’s family, who could barely afford to put food on their own table. I was humbled and realized that indeed I needed all three things from God—guidance, strength, and growth.
Handing down the tradition
Jared’s family truly demonstrated what I believe Lent should be all about—self-sacrifice, prayer, observing the needs of others, family sharing, and giving.
Since receiving that precious gift, my husband and I have vowed to continue the tradition within our own family and to share it with others. Each year this tradition takes us on a journey that deepens our faith and rewards us with great joy.