How I'm keeping Lent

Lent is my favorite season of the Christian calendar. It's a season of penitence, prayer, fasting and almsgiving. This year, my goal is increased prayer. I don't know about you, but I can't just say: "Yeah, I wanna pray more" and expect it to magically happen. I sort have to schedule it. To this end, I set up a little corner of my house with a prayer bench.

I keep the pillows underneath to pull out and use as kneelers. For my distractible brain, having a focus point really helps me enter a prayerful state. So, as I kneel, I light a candle and focus my gaze on Jesus. (I used an old napkin ring to hold this little picture prayer card).

I've also filled a basket with some spiritual books, Bibles and a book of hymns. I keep a small journal in the basket for jotting down quotes or verses.

One of my most treasured books is an old, old copy of Thomas a Kempis' "Of the Imitation of Christ." It's a book I read in small doses, drinking it in very slowly. I keep this book in a special place, away from precious little hands.

The book has such lovely illustrations. Sometimes it's enough for me just to open it and look through all the pictures. This one is particularly beautiful to me:

I've often shared how spontaneous, extemporaneous prayer is very difficult for me. I am too scatterbrained to stay "tuned in" and come up with original prayers. I can't tell you how grateful I am for the beautiful, written prayers of the Church which so articulately express the beauty of our Lord.

One prayer that I'm trying to do every Friday is the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy. The message of this prayer is that God loves all of us and His mercy, poured out on the Cross, is greater than all our sins. I've printed out the instructions and use my rosary to keep track of where I am in the prayers. Honestly, I've never found a more genius method for keeping my mind and heart focused simultaneously during prayer than by reciting written prayers while keeping track on the beads. It's like God invented this kind of praying just for distractible brains!

In years past, I didn't really fast during Lent. I've been pregnant, nursing or tending babes for so many years that fasting would have been dangerous to my health. But this year I am able to fast. It's not easy. But I will say that there's nothing like the constant reminder of a growling belly to act like a little alarm clock: must be time for more prayer!

Fasting also helps me empathize with those who are poor or in difficult circumstances.

Lastly, I'm discovering a strange thing: increased prayer=decreased negative emotions.

Anyone know why that is? Please share! I'd also love to know: how are you keeping Lent? And do your children give up anything for Lent?