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It was buy-one-get-one-free Monday at Kohl’s department store. That means that you pay the highest gouging price for an item and then you get a second for free. My mother was sitting in her wheelchair holding a “froggy” beanbag pillow. I explained to her that if we wait until half-price Wednesday, we could get the pillow for a reduced price, but we would have to wait two days. I asked her, “So, what do you think, Mom?”  She looked up at me and said, “I want two of them.” 

As my mother’s illness progressed, she needed more support to hold up her body when she was in the wheelchair, so the nurses used the beanbag pillows. Every time I went to see Mom at the nursing home, I would see her look up at me with a smile as she was surrounded by these two goofy pillows. At times one would be under her head and while the other supported her arm.  Sometimes one frog would be propping up her feet and another sustaining her lower back. The aids always used the frog pillows because they thought they were cute. 

When my mother died, my father took the pillows home. He had them in the living room, and when I came over, he told me to take one of them. I brought it home and put it on the edge of my bed. Every time I went to my room, I would see the frog-pillow on the bed, and a flood of wonderful memories would fill my mind. Here are just a few of those memories.

One time my mother had to take all of us kids grocery shopping with her. We ran around the supermarket gathering all our favorite snake foods and hiding them in the shopping cart. One shopper noted all the youthful energy and asked my mother, “How many do you have?” My mother said, “Five, all boys.” The woman gasped in horror and said, “You poor thing!” My mother enjoyed the sympathy.

Another time a dog bit me. After the stitches, my mother gave me an orange lollypop for being “brave.” Since that day, orange is my favorite flavor.

I got close to Mom over the years, and that goofy beanbag pillow was now a symbol of that friendship.

I mention this because for us the number forty has become the symbol of our friendship with God. It is something that we sons and daughters do with God, starting with Jesus.

It started with the Israelites. When the Israelites were in the desert for forty years, they did not have any water. They had no food, no protection, no shelter, no passports, nowhere to go. Even though they were in this desert that had absolutely nothing there for them, they had everything they needed. They realized in the desert that they had God. And that is everything. Hard times brought them close to God.

Then Jesus went into the desert for forty days. There he had his Father. You get close during hard times with God.

One day I had to give a talk in Connecticut. When I left the assembly that evening, there was a snowstorm which made the drive a lot more difficult. It was hard to see the lines in the road. Then, out of nowhere, a well-lit semi-tractor trailer pulled in front of me and I followed it back to Boston. It made the drive a lot easier. I thanked God for sending me the guiding angel to get me home safely. God is in our lives. You get close to God during hard times. So we are in Lent for forty days. Forty has become the traditional symbol of friendship with God. Some of the most wonderful memories we will have of God are during the hard times when God was there for us. Jesus went into the desert to get close to his Father. It is now our turn.  

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