This season of shutdowns and quarantine has had its share of challenges. But it has also been full of gifts. Some of those gifts may not have looked like gifts, at least to begin with. I can attest to this from personal experience.
Because of the shutdowns, just a few months into the pandemic the Antiochian department of Christian education had to severely trim their budget. This meant that almost all of the jobs in the department were cut, including mine. At the time, Elissa and I were already creating the virtual Sunday Church School experience that we began when the shutdown happened. In “real time”, we were producing weekly episodes with a video, activity guides, and activity pages. Creating those things took a lot of time, so having this time “off” from work felt like a gift to me, a breather. At that point, I assumed the layoff was quite temporary, and I fully expected re-employment, shortly.
But I was wrong. One gift of not being reemployed was having the time (once Sunday School was over for the year) to work together with Elissa to create “Rooted in Prayer”, our virtual Vacation Church Camp/School program. It was a fun challenge that was also time and energy consuming, so my unemployment felt like a gift which made it possible for me to help with that project.
Once that program was finished and available to the public, I began to finally face the reality that I was out of work. My husband and I work many different jobs, many of which were affected by the shutdowns. So I began to look for the opportunities, the gifts. What could I do that would be helpful? I knew pretty much without thinking too hard what the next project would be for me to work at in my “spare” time: this one. This little project has actually been in the works for several years.
Three years ago at this time of year, Elissa and I were wildly writing “Tending the Garden of our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” – without even knowing it! At the time, we were writing to create daily podcasts for families to meditate on, each day of Great Lent and Holy Week. We wrote these episodes together, then recorded them separately: she recorded them as they were, for older children, and I recorded a simpler version for younger ones (this version is still available as a podcast). I say we were “wildly” writing because we began the project just a little over one month before Great Lent began. Writing and recording 50 episodes at two levels in time for them to be available during Lent was a delightful challenge and a bit of a wild ride! When Lent was over, our podcast episodes for the older children became a book (also an ebook and an audiobook).
I am a teacher by trade, and I am always looking for ways to help children learn, especially through books. This book which I helped to write is no exception! So, during Great Lent in 2019, I challenged myself to read through the book. Every day after reading that day’s meditation, I brainstormed a series of ideas of ways to encourage children to interact with the meditation. By the end of Lent that year, I had at least 3 ideas for each day, as well as a personal interaction question for each day.
In 2020, during Great Lent, I went back through those ideas with a fine-toothed comb, selecting one from each day and fleshing it out to create a related activity page, and sketching that page into a binder. I also sought a quote and/or a scripture verse related to that day’s meditation. I set up my pencil version of the book as a spread for each day: an activity page on the left side of the spread, and the personal-interaction question and scripture/quote on the right.
So here is another gift that my loss of job(s) this year has given to me: I have both had and taken the time to finally type and draw* the pieces of this activity book, creating a final product that is no longer in pencil, so it is more useful to others! Elissa has supported me along the way, encouraging me to do this and even finding a talented artist (her daughter Vasi) to help make the book more beautiful. Vasi gave me a great boost when I was feeling stuck, like there was no way I could finish! In keeping with the garden theme, I wanted to feature a flower for each week. But all of the other drawings AND the flowers felt overwhelming to me at this point. Vasi stepped up and kindly drew the flowers for me, contributing her artistic touch to the project, and making the pages so much prettier.
Elissa and Vasi are not the only ones who have helped with this activity book. When the book was first published, my dear friend Sarah Gingrich wrote a beautiful post about it on her blog, where she shared printable ornaments she had created for each day, featuring an original drawing related to each daily meditation. In her kindness, Sarah has granted me permission to include these ornaments in this activity book. So, in the activity book, each day’s spread includes a space where children can glue that day’s ornament (after they cut it from its storage page at the end of the book). My beloved husband Timm has given his time and love to this project as well, piecing all of it together. He has combined my typing and drawings with Vasi’s flowers, including space for Sarah’s ornaments, and made it into a book! He, Elissa, Sarah, and my friend Alex Tallent combed through the manuscript and found my mistakes and helped me to improve the book. As you can see, this activity book is a labor of love which has been in process for years, offered by the hands and skills of many people. I am grateful to each of them for their help and support.
May this book help and encourage everyone who spends time in its pages. Whether or not you use it, may your Great Lent be fruitful and blessed.
*I readily admit that I am very much a work in progress when it comes to drawing. I am still learning to draw, and I draw at a very basic level. Both this project and the Sunday school activity pages that I create for each week’s lessons have given me the chance to learn how to use a brand new drawing device and program with my computer this year. I intentionally choose to use my own work, even though much of it is sub-par, as a statement. It is my sincere hope that children who use this book (and our Sunday school pages) will be encouraged that their drawing or writing does not have to be perfect for it to be useful. With any luck, they’ll take a look at some of my drawings and know that they can draw “better than that grownup!” I’ll be delighted when that happens, because it is TRUE.
You’ll find the activity book in my etsy store. Purchasers are encouraged to print all of it before Great Lent. For best results, print all 126 pages back to back, so that each day’s spread is as it should be. (There are a few blank pages, for example, on the reverse side of Sarah’s ornaments, which will be cut out of the book and should not have anything on their back side!)
(Purchasers receive permission to print as many copies as they need for their immediate family. If you would like to purchase it for distribution to a group or with your parish, please contact me at email@example.com so that we can make arrangements for group pricing. If you have had a rough year and cannot afford the purchase price but would use the book with your family, contact me for a donated copy.)