Building A Strong Family In Tough Times

imagesWhen it comes to family, I am a pretty lucky person.  Granted, I am also a person who can become stressed and frazzled by said family very easily.  I guess that’s just to be expected when you have four children under the age of 8.  We are a family of six with strong opinions and personalities and one of our greatest challenges and blessings in life is simply learning how to live together.  I do not believe I am unique in that respect — no matter who is in your family, you have to learn to compromise and to live and grow.  So how does a family comprised of people with different opinions, goals, dreams, and even tastes do that?

A good question, and one that the Search Institute has spent decades learning how to answer.  In their recently completed “American Family Assets Study” they interviewed and surveyed more than 1,500 families to learn more about what assets they have and how those assets help them to be strong and healthy.  Using the data, they developed a framework which can be used to assess the strength of your own family but, perhaps more importantly, the framework can be used as a starting point to identify areas your family can focus on to become stronger.  The best part of all?  Assets are something EVERYONE can build in their family.  It’s not rocket science, it’s not expensive, and it doesn’t require special training.  All it requires is some time and a desire to make your family stronger.  Check out these “shovel ready” suggestions and try one with your family tonight:

  • Show family members that you care in little ways.  Find a new, small but visible thing you can do to show others in your family that you care.  Even a note on the bathroom mirror can brighten someone’s day.

 

  • Talk about the everyday stuff EVERY day.  Don’t wait for “important” conversations to have good conversations with others in your family.  Find times to talk together every day.  Ask questions like, “What was the best question you asked today?” or “What were the high and low points of your day?”

 

  • Make family meals a priority.  Work together to figure out how you eat together and what makes meals enjoyable for everyone and then make a plan for your family meals.  Be creative!  Take turns picking out the menu, try new recipes, or set a theme for the meal conversation like “favorite movies that include food.”  If you can’t eat dinner together, try breakfast or lunch!

 

  • Plan regular family fun nights.  Brainstorm the kinds of things you like to do together and that fit your budget.  Some families like to go out to dinner together.  Others play board games at home.  Some may take a walk or a hike (like mine!).  Find something that works and is fun for the whole family.

 

  • Be intentional about maintaining meaningful traditions in your family.  These may include how you celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and milestones in life.  For some families, these may include religious or spiritual traditions like worship, prayer, readings, or music.  Whatever the tradition, tell stories about its importance, history, and meaning — both across generations and for each member of your family.

 

  • Use the news to bring up tough topics.  It can be hard to bring up a difficult issue with your parent or with your child.  Sometimes a story in the local or national news can help you get those conversations started.  Ask others in your family what they thoughts about a story your read or how they would respond in those situations.

 

  • Be proactive in setting expectations together.  Sometimes we avoid setting expectations and addressing tough topics because they can be uncomfortable.  So we wait until there is a problem, which is often the MOST difficult time to bring up a topic or set new expectations.  It’s much more effective to be proactive, bringing up issues long before they become a problem or a big deal.

 

  • Recognize that everyone contributes to making your family strong.  It’s not just the parent who makes a family strong and builds its assets.  Each person plays a role in whether your family functions well, whether everyone feels comfortable at home, how tasks get shared, and whether it’s enjoyable to spend time together.  Talking through what each person wants to contribute (and is able to contribute) is a good starting point.  Then monitor to be sure that what needs to happen does happen — and adjust as needed.

 

  • Give back to people and places that matter to you.  Thank family friends for being there for you.  Send a note of appreciation (and maybe even a financial contribution) to organizations that have made you feel welcome.  As a family, volunteer to help in programs and organizations together.  Not only will you give back to a place that matters, but you’ll also benefit from spending time serving others.

These are just a few ideas.  To learn more, click here.  In reviewing the Search Institute’s suggestions I learned that my family is doing a lot of things well — and that we have a lot of room for improvement.  I’m excited to embrace some positive change, helping my very opinionated family to grow together through some small but significant changes.  Please join me in committing to taking just a little more time to focus on your family — the rewards are life changing!

If you’d like some personalized help strengthening your family or would simply like to talk to someone about these issues, call our Ark Services for Youth or Bridges programs.  We’re here to help!

 

Celebrating Life with CCDOK

caring network celebrate (2) ConvertedOn Thursday April 18th, CCDOK will be Celebrating Life with a special luncheon at the Kalamazoo County Club. The event will include a keynote address by Dr Robin Pierucci  called “Caring for God’s Children” and will honor our four 2013 Celebrate Life Award winners. It’s not too late to purchase tickets and honor these individuals and groups with us, enjoying a delicious lunch and great fellowship at the same time. Click here to learn more or call Laurie Schulte at 269-381-9800 for more information.

We wanted to share a bit more about our award winners:

The John W. Kavanaugh Physician Award will be presented to Robin L. Pierucci, M.D.  Dr. Pierucci is the Medical Director and Neonatologist at the Children’s Hospital at Bronson.  She is also the Clinical Associate Professor for Michigan State University.  Working in the NICU is what brought her and her husband, Ed, to Kalamazoo in 2007.  She is passionately involved in advocating for the unborn and the newborn, and is currently developing health care for drug addicted infants in Kalamazoo.  Dr. Pierucci is the one of the founding members of a local Catholic Physician’s Group and Holy Family Healthcare Clinic and is a volunteer at Caring Network.  She is the mother of three beautiful children.

The Katherine Van Domelen Caring Network Award will be presented to Mary Waurio.  Mary has been involved with Caring Network for the last 5 years as a Support Volunteer.  Her main role is helping clients pick out needed items in the “Caring Closet” for their babies and other children.  She is an experienced mother of four, providing the perfect balance of nurturing, common sense and focused attention that the clients need.  The mothers feel comfortable sharing their concerns or asking questions because of her warmth and wisdom.  She is often “requested’ by our clients. Mary is an ambassador for CCDOK, helping at numerous events, most recently the Youth March for Life at Caring Network.

Gerald and Roselyn Casey will be awarded the Sr. Edna Ternes Lifetime Achievement AwardThe Caseys have been fiercely active in the pro-life arena for years, advocating in many ways for the unborn. Since 1985 they supported Caring Network’s program by helping to build our apartments for homeless pregnant mothers.  They have been and continue to be sidewalk counselors at a local abortion clinic, informing mothers and fathers of alternatives to abortion and contraception. The Caseys have assisted Vietnamese families new to America by offering support and tutoring in the Catholic faith.  The Vineyard Academy in Richland began with an idea and assistance from the Caseys and it is still operating after 18 years. In 1997 they opened and operated the Catholic bookstore which continues as the Newman Bookshoppe.

The Blessed Mother Teresa Outstanding Group Award will be awarded to the Western Michigan University Students for Life, under the leadership of Theresa Lytwyn. This group of young adults has shown extraordinary efforts to deliver the pro-life message on campus as well as to the greater Kalamazoo area.  Within the last two years they have recruited more than 100 new members and have organized numerous events on and off campus. They have utilized social media, the college environment, community resources, campus media, and personal relationships to share the pro-life message. The WMU Students for Life have taken a stand to be counter-cultural and have touched the lives of faculty, students, parents and the community at large.

Catholic Charities congratulates these men and women and are grateful for all their hard work and dedication to protecting the most vulnerable population.  Caring Network is a program of Catholic Charities. To learn more about what we do, please visit our website at www.ccdok.org. Or text CCDOK to 22828 for sign up for our e-newsletter.

Prayers and Humility

130313174525-33-st-peters-reaction-horizontal-galleryThe white smoke rose out of the chimney yesterday.  The bells of St Peter’s rang joyfully.  The 1.2 billion members of the Roman Catholic church learned, along with the rest of the world, that a new Pope had been elected.  About 45 minutes later, Pope Francis emerged from behind the curtain and a new era of church history began. 

Pope Francis is the second pope welcomed to the role during my lifetime.  Before yesterday I had no idea who he was or what he stood for.  Since that first appearance, however, I have been blessed to learn more about his life and values.  Pope Francis brings a unique perspective as a Jesuit which I found fascinating.  I found an excellent article (written by a Jesuit) which shared the following observations and explained how the unique history of Pope Francis might direct his daily work as Pope.

  • First, the new vicar of Christ is thoroughly steeped in the spirituality of St. Ignatius Loyola, who founded the Jesuits in 1540.  Pope Francis has twice in his life, as all “fully formed” Jesuits do, participated in the Spiritual Exercises, the monthlong silent retreat that focuses on the life of Jesus Christ.  The Exercises call on you to use your imagination to enter into the life of Jesus in prayer.  So Pope Francis, we can assume, is an intensely spiritual man who has plumbed the depths of the life of Christ in a particularly Jesuit way. 
  • Second, Jesuit training is extremely long.  Pope Francis entered the Jesuit novitiate in 1958, at the age of 22, and was not ordained until in 1969.   So the new pope is an educated man who also has experience in a variety of ministries, which he would have been assigned to during his long training.  Typically, a Jesuit in training is asked to do work with the poor, tend to patients in hospitals, teach in schools, and all the while perform what St. Ignatius called “low and humble tasks,” for example, like scrubbing out toilets and mopping floors.
  • Third, the new supreme pontiff knows poverty.  Jesuits are supposed to take our vows of poverty seriously.  This means in the novitiate living on a pittance, working with the poor and having nothing to call your own.  The already-famous stories of Cardinal Bergoglio using public transportation and cooking for himself may find their foundations in St. Ignatius Loyola, who said we should love poverty “as a mother.”  We Jesuits are asked to follow “Christ poor” – that is, to emulate Christ in his poverty on earth – and live as simply as possible. 
  • Fourth, Jesuits are asked to be, in St. Ignatius’ Spanish tongue, disponible: available, open, free, ready to go anywhere.  The Jesuit ideal is to be free enough to go where God wants you to, from the favela in Latin America to the Papal Palace in Vatican City. We are also, likewise, to be “indifferent”; that is, free enough to flourish in either place;  to do anything at all that is ad majorem Dei gloriam, for the greater glory of God.
  • Fifth, we are not supposed to be “climbers.”  Now here’s a terrific irony.  When Jesuit priests and brothers complete their training, they make vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and a special vow to the pope “with regard to missions”; that is, with regard to places the pope wishes to send us.  But we also make an unusual promise, alone among religious orders as far as I know, not to “strive or ambition” for high office.

Much can be inferred from these insights.  By understanding Pope Francis’ past we can better understand his future.  There is great beauty and truth in the teaching of the Jesuits.  I believe that this great beauty and truth will be a light for Catholics and Christians around the world as they witness Pope Francis in his new role.  As one reporter remarked:

The new pope follows two great teaching pontificates. He himself is clearly a learned man. But, I had the impression that he intends to lead more by his example than by his teachings in the years ahead. This is a good thing. Popes John Paul II and Benedict left us a lot to chew on theologically. We need fewer documents and more visits to a soup kitchen. We need a pope who asks us, who challenges us, what did you do for the poor today? Did you go amongst them to find Christ? 

As he requested, we will pray for Pope Francis.  We will ask God to guide him and for the church to do God’s will on earth.  We know that the church faces many challenges and there is no shortage of need.  We hope that you will join us in this prayer.

We also ask that you will pray for Catholic Charities.  If you feel compelled to reach out to those in need, please contact us.  We are your local Catholic Charities and we would love to find a way to help you “go amongst the poor to find Christ.”  We are a place where you can put your faith into action. 

With Gratefulness

popeToday is a historic day for the Catholic Church.  It is the first time that a Pope has resigned since Pope Gregory XII in 1415.  Many will report on this event and many will share opinions about the causes, impacts, and conclusions that can be drawn from Pope Benedict XVI and his decision to step down.  The entire world is watching the event with fervor — much like last November’s election here in the United States.   Yes, this is an event of global significance, but few people have taken the time to even consider the spiritual nature, the Godly reasons, behind this humble action.

Pope Benedict’s decision to leave the Papacy was not a political one and most of the media cannot fathom why anyone would give up the power he held.  His decision was one made in peace, in solitude, and only after hours and days of prayer.  Yes, it did shock the world.  It’s not, however, for the reasons the media would have you believe.

The most shocking aspect of the Pope’s decision is that it was a decision made in love, with all humility.  It was the sacrificing of human will –power and fame — for Divine will.  Pope Benedict will leave St Peter’s and potentially never been seen again.  As one reporter put it, he has “acknowledged the frailty of the human condition.”  This gentle, loving man who has given his life to Christ is still choosing to humbly follow God’s will.  He is following the words he generously shared with us:

“Faith, hope and charity go together. Hope is practised through the virtue of patience, which continues to do good even in the face of apparent failure, and through the virtue of humility, which accepts God’s mystery and trusts him even at times of darkness.  Faith tells us that God has given his Son for our sakes and gives us the victorious certainty that it is really true: God is love!  It thus transforms our impatience and our doubts into the sure hope that God holds the world in his hands and that, as the dramatic imagery of the end of the Book of Revelation points out, in spite of all darkness he ultimately triumphs in glory.  Faith, which sees the love of God revealed in the pierced heart of Jesus on the Cross, gives rise to love.  Love is the light—and in the end, the only light—that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working.  Love is possible, and we are able to practise it because we are created in the image of God.  To experience love and in this way to cause the light of God to enter into the world.”

― Pope Benedict XVI, God Is Love, Deus Caritas Est: Encyclical Letter

Pope Benedict understood, both when writing this amazing text and when deciding that he would step down from the Papacy, that to “practice the virtue of humility” means to accept God’s mystery and trust God in all circumstances.  We have faith and faith “gives rise to love.”

Today is a historic day for many reasons.

Today a client walked through our doors considering an abortion.   She is alone and doesn’t know how she could ever be a good mother and provide for the new life within her.  Embracing Pope Benedict’s words, we pray for her, serve her, and love her — and trust God.

Today a homeless youth in crisis came to the Drop-In at our shelter with only the clothes on his back.  Through his tears he told us the horrible story of his childhood and how he came to be on the streets.  He has nowhere to go and no one to turn to but our staff.  What can we do but pray, love, and serve in faith?

Today a couple came to us seeking counseling because their marriage was crumbling.  They don’t know if they love each other anymore and he has been unfaithful.  We must have faith, hope, and love as we embrace the courage which can only come from God and serve that couple in humility.

Perhaps closer to your world, tomorrow the United States Government begins sequestration.  Yet in light of all of the uncertainty about this process and how it will touch our lives, Pope Benedict’s words still ring true.  We trust God in all circumstances.  We patiently love and serve.

We are so grateful to Pope Benedict for allowing God to use him to teach us so many things.  To inspire us.  To help us understand that “Love is the light—and in the end, the only light—that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working.”  We are blessed to be able to do this work and illuminate the darkness of the lives of those we serve.  We, like Pope Benedict, are not foolish enough to think we can do this work without God.  We know that God holds the world — and our lives, and our work — in His hands.  Pope Benedict helped us to have the courage to live and work with faith, hope, and charity.  He modeled love, courage, and humility both as Pope and in his decision to resign.

It’s Our Job To Be Disturbing!

imagesCAI7DW3NWe are deep in the throes of winter.  The snow keeps falling, the weather is cold, and most of us prefer to spend our evenings wrapped up in a blanket with something warm to drink and a good book (or a television remote) in our hands.  I was doing exactly that, snuggled with my children and watching the news last night, when I became completely overwhelmed with all of the negativity in our world.  Within a period of about 10 minutes we learned of several murders, a fire that took the lives of three young children, robberies, floods, and so on.

No matter where I go or what I do, I cannot escape the tragedies of this world.  Working at Catholic Charities I come face to face with need and pain and depression on a daily basis.  I come home and see my family and friends suffering with their own challenges.   Even when I go shopping at my local grocery store I overhear families in pain, in conflict, and dealing with poverty.

I know I am describing a familiar situation . . . we all live in the same world . . . and we all have a choice to make.

I read an amazing quote yesterday and it changed my whole mindset:

I think sometimes that instead of our turning the world upside down, the world is turning us upside down. Instead of us impacting our culture, our culture is impacting us. What we need more of today is a holy disturbance.  And if we are not making a disturbance, then something isn’t right.   — Greg Laurie

You and I . . . each of us . . . we are called to “make a disturbance.”  To look at the world we live in and the challenges we face and turn the world upside down with love.  A dear friend pointed out to me that  Miriam-Webster’s primary definition of “disturb” is “to interfere with.”   Every time we react to challenges and problems with love and compassion we are disturbing (interfering with) the world’s natural response.  Every time we reach out and feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, and care for others we are disturbing societal norms and this most holy disturbance is our job . . . our duty!

The more peaceful and joyful we are in the face of adversity, the more we reflect God’s love to those who don’t know it.   I am not naive enough to think this is easy to do, but I do feel empowered just knowing that I’m not doing it alone!  I hear amazing stories of staff and volunteers at Catholic Charities  who join together to “create holy disturbances” for those in need every day.  I see the compassion and love and hope we strive to impart to those who need it the most.  We are called to stand out!  We are called to be different!  We are called to be the salt and the light in this world!  In so doing, we are creating a holy disturbance and turning our world upside down.

Choose the narrow path and reach out and make a difference in love!  What a blessed choice that is!

Tonight, instead of wrapping up in a blanket with a cup of hot cocoa and watching television I think I’ll bake some chocolate muffins and take them to the older couple down the street.  Maybe my children and I will sit down with them and just listen to their stories.  They look so lonely when I walk by with the kids and our dog every evening.  Maybe I need to be the one — the person who reaches out in love and “disturbs them.”  This little disturbance of love, which takes so little effort in my part,  might be enough to change their world.

Will you join me?  Will you take part in this holy revolution?  If you need some ideas of how to create a disturbance in your community call Catholic Charities and we’ll help you find a great way!

The Tree of Life

Heart 1Today is a special day — not only is it Valentine’s Day, it’s also the second day of Lent. With that in mind, we thought we’d share a wonderful devotional from The Magnificat.  The devotional describes love in a unique way and we encourage you to read it thoughtfully and consider how your relationship with those you love might be impacted.  Enjoy the reading and may it inspire you to love others as Christ calls you to do.

Christ offers grace that redeems the broken vessel of our nature. Access to that grace comes by way of the cross, properly understood. Years ago an elderly woman came to see me. She was married to a miser who, when they were first married, made it known that it was HIS money. And so, over the years, she was careful about spending HIS money.

Her girlfriends took pity on her and would buy her a new dress; after all, this was her cross, they thought. However, Christ’s cross gives life. What she was really doing was running away from the cross, and indulging her weak and fallen nature. Her true cross would be to sit down with the miser and make it known, in a reasonable, responsible, and loving way, that since it was HIS house, his food, and his money . . . he could clean it, cook it, and bank it because she had needs of her own and would be finding a way to support herself.

That’s a denial of self that leads to life. The cross — properly understood — brings life out of death. In her case, death to the fear of her husband, death to her weakness. As a result, she would love herself more and love her husband properly, for love does not enable bad behavior.

Love . . . and the cross . . . gives life!

— Father Emmerich  Vogt, O.P.

Preparing for Lent: Choices to Transform

imagesWe are less than one week away from the beginning of Lent. This important season of the Christian’s life begins on February 13th (Ash Wednesday), and many of us will use the time to purposefully strive to get closer to God. According to most of the literature I’ve been reading about the season, there are three core elements to Lent: fasting (or giving up something), almsgiving (charity), and prayer.

Through the practice of these three spiritual disciplines, Lent is a season of fasting, self-denial, spiritual growth, conversion, and simplicity.  Lent is often viewed as a “spiritual spring cleaning” or a time for taking spiritual inventory and then cleaning out those things which hinder our  relationship with Jesus Christ and our service to him.

There is still some time to consider what commitments you would like to make this Lenten season.  Let’s look at each of the three major areas and see how the fit together to help us grow between now and Easter:

Fasting:

It’s common for an individual to select a food he or she loves (typically consumes on a daily basis) and “give it up” for Lent.  Examples include meat, caffeine, dessert or chocolate.  Other people limit or eliminate their television or media time — in recent years, some have even chosen to give up Facebook or social media during the Lenten season.  Some make changes to impact their budget, cutting out restaurant dining or other “extra” expenses.  When it comes to fasting, the most important part is that each individual chooses to give up something that typically interferes with his or her relationship to God, taking time and attention away from the more important task of developing and strengthening our spiritual lives and relationships.

Almsgiving:

While Lent is about giving something up (fasting), it is also about putting something positive in its place. After all, the best way to remove vice is to cultivate virtue.  Lent has traditionally been a time of helping the poor and doing acts of charity and mercy.  This is a year round calling for those of faith, but Lent is a good time to examine new ways to get involved and to make resolutions to actually do them.  This can be done by partnering with an organization (like Catholic Charities) or by helping your family, friends, and neighbors who are living in difficult situations.  One of the best ways to give alms is by volunteering for a charity.  While Catholic Charities’ staff are more than happy to find a way to help you get connected (call us at 269-381-9800 or check out our website), there are many great local organizations and parishes who would love to have your service!

Prayer:

The spiritual discipline of prayer is much more than asking God to give you (or others) things.  It is about building a relationship.  After all, God knows your every thought and need even before you do!  It’s the time spent with Him, discerning His will, that makes prayer so powerful.  Lent is a time of confession, seeking God’s help to build better lives and there are many prayer resources to assist you (many of them available via a google search).  Prayer is a very personal action and we encourage you to spend some time in your room, on your knees this Lenten season.

As you prepare for this important season of Lent, we encourage you to take some time and be specific and intentional.  As Steven Clark likes to say: “Lent is more than a diet.” Lent is about spiritual results, not material ones. So, while losing a few pounds may be a nice side benefit, choose your Lenten disciplines with a focus on God’s glory and spiritual growth. It is important to remember that our Lenten disciplines are supposed to ultimately transform our entire person: body, soul, and spirit. Through living them during the season, we hope they will help us become more like Christ and more reliant on Him.