Monday, December 13, 2010
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
As you think about the gifts to get your loved ones and the ones you hope to receive this year, try making a third list this year: where you feel called to give. There are many areas of the world crying out for aid this year. Maybe instead of giving a traditional gift this year, you ask a family in financial need what you can do for them, if you can buy some of their gifts. Maybe you visit a nursing home or retirement community and spend time with those who might not have family. Consider making donations to organizations in honor of your loved ones instead of buying them shower gel or a sweater. Stop and say hi to the people ringing bells everywhere and give them a donation, even if it's only a few cents, instead of being annoyed. Take one of those little slips at the grocery store and add a dollar to your total to donate to the hungry. Really think about how your gift this season can make a difference in the world.
One of the best known parables in the Bible is the poor widow who gives all she has. Today, bankrupting ourselves isn't the smartest thing to do, but I think we can all find that we have something to give that will genuinely make a difference this holiday season. Instead of protesting and complaining and reacting negatively to the issues facing the world today, heed the call instead. We are called to respond to the world's challenges with love. We are all being called to give and to serve others this holiday season.
How will you answer the call?
Sunday, November 28, 2010
First, I want to offer some words of advice and love to those who are grieving a loss, particularly this holiday season. You are not alone. I'm facing my first holiday season without my father. I could name (but won't, out of respect for those who might not care to be blogged about) at least 10 other people I know who are also grieving at this very moment. Take comfort in the fact that there are people who understand how you feel and have experienced similar things. It's important to understand that most of the time when people say things that set you off, they aren't trying to upset you or be offensive. It's important to acknowledge that they most likely have no idea or concept of what you're going through, thinking, or feeling, and until they experience a similar loss, they won't. In the spirit of this blog, I suggest that you think a little bit about how you can be kind to yourself. Be open with your friends and family and tell them what you need, what would help you through this. Make a list of things you like to do and do them just for you. Understand that you are not who you used to be, and you will never be that person again. Don't expect to be able to deal with things in the same way and be gentle and kind with yourself.
Second, I'd like to offer some hopefully helpful ideas for those who know someone is grieving. It's so hard to know the right thing to say, the right thing to do. So the first thing I have to tell you is that there is no "right" way to do something. Everyone grieves differently, and you know your loved one better than I do. Think of something they particularly like to do and plan a time to do that with them. If you're shopping for a gift for them this holiday season, think of something that will help them relax and unwind. Plan to spend time with them because it's so easy to feel alone - especially at this time of year.
Your friend, your relative, whoever you know who is grieving, will never be the same person you knew again. Grief is consuming. It crashes over you like a wave, knocking you down and making it impossible to get up. Some days you just drift, unable to think or plan. Your loved one is not going to be able to be there for you. Yes, you have job stresses, family stresses, relationships. Your loved one's lack of interest in these things doesn't mean that one day they won't be able to give back the support that you're giving now, it just means that they can't even process it. So be kind. If you have a friend who recently lost a mother and you are having fights with your mother, it's probably best not to complain about your mom to them. Chances are they would do anything to have a mother to fight with again. Try to be sensitive. Think about the changes going on in your loved one's life, particularly if they lost a member of their nuclear family. If you know a friend is at home alone on a weekend or that they eat practically every meal alone, invite them out. Make time to share a meal.
Listen without judgment. A lot of the time, someone who is grieving will take any kind of criticism badly. A lot of things that our modern society sees as unacceptable manners or immature behavior are perfectly normal parts of grieving. For example, that relative that one normally grits their teeth around...this year, getting up the courage to walk into the same room with them might bring on a hysterical breakdown from someone who can't take a single shred of extra negativity in their life. It's common for grievers to have low self-esteem and to take everything very personally because their defenses are completely down. So as a friend, as a relative, I urge you to listen, really listen to what your loved one has to say. Most of the time (at least in my case) I just need someone to listen to me talk, to understand that I am feeling horrible and to acknowledge that my feelings are genuine and real. Let them talk about their loss if that's helpful to them. You don't even need to offer any advice unless they ask for it. Understand that when you suggest something that might seem perfectly reasonable to you ("Why don't you go back to work and it will take your mind off things?") might not be compatible with their grieving style. Maybe the stress of being at the office is too much for them, or they simply don't have the energy. Grieving is exhausting. It takes at least three times as much effort to do even everyday things in the beginning and it's important to understand that your grieving friend simply cannot handle things like they used to. Outbursts of anger at the loss, at the changes in life, even possibly at you might occur. I know I definitely haven't been the easiest person to deal with this year, and I am so thankful to the friends who saw beyond my anger and seeming immaturity to the true pain underneath and forgave me instantly and without question or condition. Forgiveness may be needed. Try not to blame your friend or hold a grudge because of an outburst. Chances are it's not really about you, it's about the loss. Don't make your friendship another casualty of grief.
The best thing a friend did for me this year was to say "I haven't experienced a similar loss to yours so I have no idea what you're going through, but I'm so sorry you have to deal with this" as he listened to me talk about my feelings and then sat up late with me because I was having a really bad night. Honestly, for me, I don't expect people to understand how I feel. Knowing that someone genuinely cares for me and cares that I feel bad is really what I need. Offering your quiet and supportive presence, your listening, and maybe your shoulder to cry on will be more helpful than any advice you think you have to offer.
Grieving is a lifelong process. Don't expect everything to go back to normal in a few months. You don't "get better." You learn to rebuild your life around the hole in your heart. For the widow who has never lived alone, life is new and scary and lonely. For the child (of any age) who has lost a parent, half of what created their very existence is gone forever. They've lost that source of unconditional love, that cheering section, that knowing that no matter what they did, that person would be there loving them regardless. You grieve not only the loss of the person but of all the moments in the future that you won't be able to share with that person. My college graduation was a happy day, but it was also sad because my father wasn't there in person to see me graduate. I know that it doesn't matter how many years pass before I get married or how adjusted to the loss I am, but I know I'll feel a pang on my wedding day when my dad isn't there to walk me down the aisle. I'm sorry that my kids will never know their grandfather, never play catch with him or laugh at one of his horrible jokes.
Since grieving is a lifelong process, your support is also a lifelong process. Both grieving and support will be more intense during the first year. Make a note of holidays, anniversaries, etc where you know your friend will especially be hurting. Know that even if your friend has been seemingly fine for weeks, a bad day could hit out of nowhere and they'll need you. Even if you're not able to be there in person, cards, notes, anything that you can do to let your grieving friend know that you're there for them, that you're thinking about them, that you love them despite everything will be helpful.
To sum up, the best thing you can do for someone who is grieving is to let them know that they're not alone. Let them know this fairly regularly. Make time for them. Listen to them. You don't have to have experienced loss personally to be able to support someone who has. Especially this holiday season, I urge you to reach out to someone in your life who needs your support and let them know that you care. Be one of the lights in their darkness.
For anyone looking for more resources on grief, here is a good place to start: http://helpguide.org/mental/helping_grieving.htm
May God bless you all.
Friday, November 19, 2010
In September, I attended a Child Trafficking seminar at school, which was extremely informative, especially in that it was a reminder that children are trafficking for work, not just sex (if you have questions, I am by no means an expert, but I can pass on to you some of the links shared by the presenters). At this workshop, Dr. James Garbarino mentioned his efforts to provide lunch to children at a school in El Salvador. I realized that while I could donate, I would like to also encourage others to consider donating, or at least to raise awareness. I have debated for some time about posting this story and request for donations on The Kindness Project, because I did not want to "taint" the website by asking for donations as there are many worthwhile causes and I do not want to instill guilt in anyone. However, I have decided to include a letter from Garbarino on here, because I think it is an example of how, with care, one person can give and can start a domino effect of giving. Information for donation giving is included if you are interested, but do not feel obligated or pressured. You may also want to ask yourself, have you met anyone in your life who has forgiven or given in such a way? (even if in smaller ways) or, what might you be able to do to provide for or empower yourself or others?
Help Children in El Salvador Eat Lunch!
A Project to Adopt a School in El Salvador
Professor James Garbarino
Center for the Human Rights of Children,
Loyola University Chicago
El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America, and has a population of about six million. It has long been the site of severe human rights violations linked to oppression by economic elites against the poor and against indigenous people (30,000 of whom were exterminated in the 1930s, and whose cultural identity has been almost completely eliminated). From 1980 until 1990, following the government-sponsored assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, the country was ravaged by a civil war that resulted in the death of more than 70,000 people, and ended only with the signing of Peace Accords in 1992.
On May 17, 2010, I arrived in El Salvador as faculty advisor for a group of Loyola University undergraduate students, to begin a nine-day Immersion Program organized for the University by International Partners in Mission (IPM). The terrible violence and trauma of life in El Salvador during the political oppression and civil war of the 1970s and 1980s, and the subsequent gang violence that came to plague the country were very much on our minds those nine days we spent traveling around the country. Our trip came to focus on the town of Zaragoza. With a population of about 12,000, the town is located about 15 miles southeast of El Salvador’s capitol city, San Salvador.
In response to this visit, I have begun a project with its initial focus the Lidia Coggiola School—in the El Zaite area of Zaragoza, a community that is poor, plagued by gangs, and has no running water. The Lidia Coggiola School includes both a nursery and kindergarten, and a pre- and after-school “Reinforcement” program for older children and adolescents, and is a beacon of hope for the next generation in this community.
A group of Loyola University students and I am seeking help to “adopt” the Lidia Coggiola school as a way to promote the human rights of the children of Zaragoza. The initial goal of this effort will be to raise funds to allow the school to have a school lunch program at a cost of $14,000 for a year of feeding 50 children (including snacks and a series of nutrition workshops for mothers).
The school has a program to promote literacy among the children—and their parents (some 60% of whom are illiterate), however, they have no library resources for children or parents. Based upon my visit with the children I committed to make a personal donation of funds to create a small library for the children in the school, a library that can support their literacy program. This effort was completed in October 2010, when I returned to the school to present a workshop on child development and trauma, and present the children with puppets donated by the students in Chicago.
To donate to this effort to feed the children at the school, make your check payable to International Partners in Mission (our local colleagues in this effort). You will receive a receipt from IPM for tax purposes. You can send your donation to me at:Psychology, Coffey Hall #119, Loyola University Chicago,1032 N. Sheridan Rd.Chicago IL 60660. Donations can be made electronically by going to www.ipmconnect.org, clicking on the red “Donate” button and designating the contribution to “other” then specifying “Solidarity in Education.”
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Part 1: This week (so today until next Thursday), I challenge you to commute with kindness. If you see someone signaling to change lanes, don't speed up to keep them from getting over in front of you, let them in. Try sending some light instead of beeping at someone if they cut you off. If someone is driving slower than you in front of you, don't tailgate them - slow your speed down. If you're not a driver, try smiling at people you meet on the sidewalk or on the bus or train. Again, let others go before you. Let someone else have your seat and stand. Think thoughts of love and light and compassion toward everyone sharing your commute instead of hostility.
Part 2: Pass this link on by posting it on your Facebook wall. I wonder what might happen if a lot of people read this and accepted the challenge...would we see a change on the roads? Pass it on and let's find out!
And please comment to let us know how this goes! Were you horribly late for everything? Did you experience inner peace on the subway? Do you already do all of these things? We'd love to hear!
Thursday, November 4, 2010
It is easy to forget about people and situations like this after the initial shock of the event has passed (at least for those of us who seem so far removed from it) and the media coverage has subsided. Really though, it is at this time that the real struggle has just begun for these people; as the aid dies down and they need to figure out how to rebuild their lives.
Please keep the people of Haiti in your hearts and minds.
"Hi. I sit here at 5 PM in semi-darkness as the hurricane clouds start to cover the area and the wind picks up.. The rains should start tomorrow. The strongest part of the storm should pass over the island Friday afternoon. There are 5-10 inches of rain expected, even if the tropical storm does not become a hurricane. How much more can the folks here take? I know you continue to pray for the Haitian people. They are strong, but they are scared this time. They, and we, seem to be running out of steam as we seem to find more crises at every turn. We expect the numbers of people with cholera to increase after all the rain. Over a million people are living in tents or wooden structures that won't withstand strong winds. So, here we go again, held up and supported by your prayers, that have seen us through so much all ready.."
- Judy, HM