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Posted on Sat, Mar 12, 2011 : 1:08 a.m.

40 days to a stronger, happier marriage: From ashes to Easter

By Heidi Hess Saxton

This is an update on Heidi Saxton's previous post: "Give your marriage a 'faith-lift' with the 40-Day Challenge."

Last Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent when Catholics and other Christians receive ashes on their foreheads as a sign of penitence. Earlier that day I was delighted to find more than 700 hits on my "40-Day Challenge" page.

Several women had posted comments or sent me private emails, asking for prayer for themselves and their husbands. Apparently the "Lenten challenge" had struck a chord.

Unfortunately, my Lent was getting off to a slow start. We walked into church together 10 minutes late (I had the time wrong), and the only place to sit was in the "cry room" at the back of the church. As we walked in, three toddlers were chattering and chasing 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 3-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 is a contributing writer for the “Faith” and “Parenting” channels. She blogs for parents of adoptive, foster, and special-needs children at Extraordinary Moms Network. You can reach her at