Monday, November 26, 2012

More Than Just the Turkey (A Thanksgiving Reflection)

This Thanksgiving we continued our tradition of going to visit my family in North Carolina.  I love traveling to North Carolina this time of year as the weather is always so nice, whereas in Indiana things are starting to really cool down!  My mom, both my sisters, and their families live in North Carolina just north of Charlotte (Taylorsville, NC area) so it is a great to be able to see everyone.  The one "big" change this year is that we had Colten, and it was also his first birthday so everyone got to celebrate with us!!  Abby loves playing with her cousins and it has been great seeing them all grow up through the years.  My mom hosted a great dinner at her house on Wednesday and my sister did a great job of hosting Thanksgiving and cooking a truly outstanding turkey!  I, of course, did my pumpkin crunch which I think everyone enjoys (at least I hope so). 

When Saturday afternoon came and we had to say our goodbyes I was a bit sad, as always.  It is difficult to be so far away from family, but at the same time I am thankful for the time we had to spend together.  As I reflected on the weekend and the spirit of the holiday, I thought about many of those people who are less fortunate.  There are many who do not have a roof over their head, who didn't have enough to eat on Thanksgiving, and others who are very ill this year.  Most of us know of friends or family who might be unemployed, have fallen on tough times, and who themselves might have lost someone recently due to illness. 

While I continue my own spiritual journey, I can't help but think, "how am I so fortunate?"  "What did I do to deserve such blessings?"  When having these thoughts, I remind myself that God has a plan for all of us.  We are all called to serve in our own way.  I have been blessed, but it is my responsibility to find a way to use those blessings in a way that glorifies God and shows how thankful I am.  Every day, it is important to think about how we are utilizing our own time, talent, and treasure to praise God and help others -- the poor, the hungry, the sick, the home bound, the lonely, and the less fortunate.  This quote from Luke 12:48 perhaps says it best:

"From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more."

I am very thankful this year -- for more than just the turkey.  I am thankful for my family, my wife, my gorgeous kids whom I love unconditionally and am loved by in return, my friends, my job, having enough to eat, the roof over my head, good health, the Church, having the opportunity to serve others through some great organizations, and a renewed Faith.  I thank God for all of these blessings and many more, and for sending his Son to die on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins for without that eternal life would not be possible.  I pray every day that I might live my life in an unselfish way, giving of myself in a way that lives the Gospel and encourages others to do the same. 

What are you thankful for this year?  How are you showing your "appreciation" for the many blessings you've been given?  Feel free to post and share your thoughts with others. . . 'tis the season for generosity and love. . . it's contagious! 


Monday, November 5, 2012

Peanut butter and . . .not enough jelly??

Okay, so I thought I would try a "catchy" title to see if it grabbed your attention. . . did it work?  As a kid, or if you have kids now, could you imagine having a peanut butter sandwich without jelly?  What if that grape jelly or strawberry jam didn't exist or was simply empty when you opened the fridge?  What a let down, right?  Well, more on that to come in a bit. 

This weekend I had the privilege of going with the High School Youth Group at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton to the Holy Family Shelter downtown in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.  This is the only shelter in the area of it's kind that is a temporary shelter for families.  There are other shelters for women, men, women and children, men and children, or other combinations, but this is the only one that extends to the entire family.  The shelter can house up to 22 "families" in it's dorm style rooms and even have one room that is setup to hold a family of 9 I believe.  The shelter is "temporary" though and is always at capacity.  It is more of a transition home for those that have fallen down and need help getting back up.  Perhaps parents lost their job(s), a mother was escaping domestic violence with her kids, or a family simply couldn't make ends meet and they need help.  Here, they get that help. 

At Holy Family Shelter, residents stay for up to 30 days (with extensions on a case by case basis) while they get the help they need to find a job, find a more permanent living arrangement, and even get help finding other types of counseling for things like substance abuse or mental health issues.  There are case workers to counsel, medical professionals visit, three meals a day are provided, computers are accessible for searching for jobs and writing resumes, life-skills classes held, and even clothes are given as needed to the families.  There is a lot more, but what a wonderful place to address the needs of our community. 

Our group had the opportunity to take care of the children that day so that their parents could get a much needed break.  One rule of the facility is that the parents must always be with their children just for their safety and security.  Parents are not allowed to leave their children -- they must accompany them to the bathrooms, showers, play rooms, and everything.  So, our youth group setup in the children's room for three hours and took in probably about 8-10 kids at any given time and played board games, dress-up, did crafts, and even had snacks with them, something they never get.  Those kids were great.  They seemed so happy to have all of this attention and you could see it in the smiles on their faces.  They played hard and laughed like our kids.  They jumped around.  They ran.  But, you know that they have been through so much.  Some have went to bed hungry many times.  Others might have been victims of violence or abuse.  One little boy had jeans that were too short with holes in them.  For these three hours though it didn't matter.  When it was over, there was a piece of me that hated to see them leave and I prayed later that they never lose hope and always feel the love of God on them.  For many of them, their hard journey isn't over, but they got a good start thanks to Holy Family Shelter. 

Before I forget, let me get back to the title of this blog.  While we were touring the shelter, we walked through the kitchen and then the "pantry" where they keep the food.  One thing that was striking is they had A LOT of peanut butter.  The volunteer coordinator (who was great) told us they get a good amount of peanut butter donated, but not hardly any jam/jelly (there was only one jar).  She said that all residents, kids included, get the same dinner at every meal.  If the kids don't like the food, then they can go over to the side and get bread and butter or have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  But, most kids don't like peanut butter without the jelly. 

Why bring this up?  Because it struck me how fortunate many of us are in life that we don't have to worry about the little things day in and day out.  We don't have to worry about how our kids are going to get to school, where to take a shower, how we are going to buy new clothes for our growing kids, where we are going to sleep, where to get our next meal, or, yes, if we can afford jelly to make our favorite sandwich.  Every city, every town, and every community has many of its citizens that are hurting for which these are real worries.  And, they need people like us.  Don't wait another day to do something about it!  Find your local food pantry or shelter and donate your old clothes, volunteer with your family, write a check, or, just buy them jelly.  Every little bit helps.  

Dear Lord, give us a love for the poor and the giving spirit to do more.  Amen.

P.S.  Today, on my lunch hour, I took over a box of clothes and six jars of jam/jelly so the kids can have peanut butter AND jelly anytime they want -- at least for the near future.  I'm sure i'll be making more trips.  :-)

Thursday, November 1, 2012

All Saints Day. . .Lives to Emulate!

I listen to this Podcast called Catholic Answers and one of the hosts, Patrick Coffin, always says, "Be a saint, what else is there?"  While, yes, it is a bit of a tag-line, we should all strive to be saints!  Today in the Catholic Church is All Saints Day.  It is a feast day, always celebrated on November 1st, where we Catholics honor the lives of all saints -- known and unknown.  The feast of All Saints traces back to Pope Gregory III in the early part of the 8th century.

Saints have been an important part of the Catholic Church since the beginning.  Many people outside of the Catholic Church accuse us of "worshipping" the saints and essentially committing idolatry.  This couldn't be further from the truth.  We honor the saints and pray to them for their intercession.  In the Catholic Church, we believe that the saints are in heaven and closest to God, so why not ask someone close to God to pray for a specific cause?  Have you ever asked someone to pray for you?  I see people on Facebook every day saying, "please pray for 'such and such' who is sick."  Have you ever asked your family or friends to pray for you?  Here is some more good information if you want to explore why Catholics honor and pray to the saints:

Outside of the debate that often occurs between Protestants and Catholics around the saints, it is hard to disagree that these people were some of the holiest to ever walk the Earth.  Many did not lead easy lives.  Quite often they were persecuted for their beliefs, many were jailed and tortured, and others were martyred.  But, in the end, we have people that were examples of what it is like to devote your life to others -- a selfless living.  The saints didn't live their lives worried about the material things in this world, but instead they were more worried about helping the poor, feeding the hungry, taking care of the sick, and spreading the loving message of Jesus Christ throughout the world.  The saints didn't wait until tomorrow to do what they could do today.  They knew that tomorrow might never come.  They knew that at any time we could be pulled from this existence and judged based on how we lived our lives up to that very moment.  They lived every day to honor Jesus Christ by doing good and living a life of prayer.  Whether you are Catholic or not, these were good people and we should all try to "Be a Saint."

If you are interested in being inspired, go read about a couple of them.  Just Google Catholic Saints.  Or, some of my favorites are St. Patrick, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Padre Pio, St. Therese of Lisieux,  St. Vincent de Paul, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton