December 12, 2013

Turn Those Christmas Blues to Gold

Christmas is a joyous but also painful time for many. My nurse just told me that she wasn’t sure if she was going to put up her Christmas tree because it reminded her of her husband who recently died of cancer. Another young woman in our office is grieving her baby boy’s diagnosis of eye tumors. Over the holiday, she will bring him to the hospital for eye surgery and pray for him not to lose his sight. Christmas may feel like more of an annoyance than a celebration to her.

What is it about Christmas that makes us so sad? We see uplifting Christmas movies on television, advertisements of folks busily buying gifts for one another and we work hard at creating an atmosphere of celebration. Lights sparkle on doorways, candles light up windows and neighbors give one another cookies and chocolates. My neighbor pulls his sleigh out, hitches up two enormous draft horses and gives the neighbors rides through his fields. With so much delight abounding, why are we so blue?

After six decades, I think I’m beginning to understand. The sadness, I believe, comes from many places and from different levels. First, when we see delight around us, we are reminded what we don’t have. Grandma is no longer here to make her famous fudge, a father may have left and his kids are reminded that their friends have fathers who are still home. Loved ones get sick with terminal cancer and happy times tell us that others don’t have cancer, we do.

Then there’s the ache of longing for what we used to have. I ache for my mother and father at Christmas. Christmas day was my father’s favorite day of the year and he spent months thinking of unique gifts for each of us. My mother decorated every nook and cranny of our home. I see the look on their faces when we came down Christmas morning. I see my nephew sitting on my dad’s lap. We ache for what we have no more and we mourn what we never had- these are the roots of sadness at Christmas. But I think there is something deeper too.

There is a spiritual component that disturbs us. We are reminded that a beautiful man-God came and locked himself inside the body of a little girl only to be born so that he could die. That confounds us on a deep, spiritual level. We are not conscious of it, but the sadness of Christ’s birth hovers over us. I know that this is true for me. A perfectly innocent child brought into the world to be the ultimate scapegoat. The cruel nature of his story makes us think that God might be mean.

That is exactly why we must drive through the sadness and the blues-however deeply they have gripped us and move past them. And we can move past them. Christmas happened, Good Friday came but then- the fulfillment of the mission came Easter morning. The perfectly perfect baby grew up, died, collapsed under the weight of darkness and evil because of me and you. BUT then, he finished the story. He walked out of the tomb. With one blow, he crushed every sadness you and I have ever held onto. He turned our blues into pure gold.

I was speaking with a priest recently when I went to EWTN to film Life on the Rock. Father Mark looked at me after half an hour and said, “With so much pain and sadness out there, how do you stay so hopeful?” I simply looked at the cross on his wall and pointed to it.

“Easy,” I said. “We win.”

Christmas is about us winning. It is a joyous celebration in the midst of our sadness because it lets us know that sadness, the blues and death itself all go away. So this Christmas, when the blues move heavily into your heart, focus on this truth. They all go away. You and I know the end of the story and we’ve read the end of the book and it says to each one if us- don’t worry about anything- even death itself- because God has our back. He helps us win.

Merry Christmas friends

November 26, 2013

Bullies Run: Beth Maday Is On the Loose

Beth Maday is no ordinary high school counselor. She seems to have single-handedly tackled the problem of bullying in her high school and won. At least, that‘s what one young man, Jeremy Flannery, says. From grade school through high school, Jeremy was mercilessly bullied. By the spring of his junior year in high school, his mother, Robin, was seriously considering moving her family of across the country so that Jeremy might find a school where h wasn’t bullied.

Seven years ago, Jeremy’s father died of cancer leaving his mother with three young children. In addition to grieving her husband’s death, she had to help Jeremy keeps his spirits up at a school where kids verbally chided him for being different. Robin tried homeschooling him. That helped but he missed other kids. He tried one public school and then another. He would place his lunch tray down at a table and kids would move it to a table where he was forced to sit alone. Once he was shoved into his locker but refused to tell his mother of his school troubles because he didn’t want to worry her. He tried telling teachers what was happening, but many told him that there really wasn’t much they could do because the bullies came from “troubled homes.” When his mother did find out what was happening, she advocated for him but ran into the same problems. Teachers knew what was happening but felt impotent to do anything about it. At one school the principal got up at all school assemblies and lectured students on how destructive and intolerable bullying was. “That actually made things worse” Robin said. Because there was so much focus on bullying but no consequences given for mean behavior, the bullies actually felt empowered.

Then a friend suggested that Robin take Jeremy to St. Francis high school. She figured that she had nothing to lose, so she visited the school. Fortunately for them both, one of the first people she met was the high school counselor, Beth Maday. Seizing an opportunity to help Jeremy, Beth went to every junior class that Jeremy would take. She stood before seven classes filled with his peers and told them that they were receiving a young man who had lost his father and who had been bullied. She talked about how Jesus never bullied (the school was a Catholic school) and how they were expected to act in kindness. Then, she asked students who among them would commit to have Jeremy’s back. She waited. Then one student raised her hand. Then another and another. Soon, the entire junior class at St Francis High school decided that they were going to take responsibility to help Jeremy. And it worked.

Jeremy told me that he has never been so happy. The entire football team (with a history of being state champions) asked Jeremy to be their media person and he travels with them to all of their games. Beth Maday told me that seeing Jeremy at school is a real delight. “You can’t believe how much kids like Jeremy” she said. “They encourage him and look out for him.”

Jeremy was having a bad day once and a girl in his class sat with him at lunch and noticed he was down. “What’s the matter?” she queried. “Is someone giving you a hard time? Just let me know.” No one was giving him trouble he told her but her concern lightened his load.

What made St Francis so successful in driving down bullying were two things, Beth said. First, students were challenged to be active participants in the process. They weren’t simply given a lecture; they were challenged with a cause and a person to care for. She even went so far as to tell the students that they had permission to be very assertive against bullies. No, she didn’t advocate violence, but she told the students that they should stand in the gap. Second, she asked the students to collectively participate. One student alone might not stand up against a bully, but when the entire class knew that they had one another’s support to act against it, they felt empowered, she told me. That’s why St. Francis has been so successful she believes.

Sure, St. Francis is a Catholic school which can teach what God would do but any public school could implement Beth Mayday’s plan. Challenge the kids who won’t bully to collectively stand for those who are being bullied and against those who bully. Positive peer pressure can be a force to be reckoned with; we just have to use it. So Beth Maday, on behalf of all of the Jeremy’s out there in our schools, thank you for a work well down.

November 22, 2013

Your Daughter Needs A Hero

"What are you going to be when you grow up?"

You probably started hearing that when you were eight years old. Chances are, your first thoughts were about Superman, or you wanted to be a cowboy, a fireman, a knight, or a football star. What you really wanted to be was a hero.

Well, I have news for you. Your daughter wants a hero—and she has chosen you.

Think about heroes: they protect people, they persevere, they exhibit altruistic love, they are faithful to their inner convictions, and they understand right from wrong and act on it. No fireman counts the odds when he runs through sheets of flame and showers of concrete to save just one terrified person.

Heroes are humble, but to those they rescue, they are bigger than life.

So how do you become a hero to your daughter? First, you should know that she can’t survive without one. She needs a hero to navigate her through a treacherous popular culture. And you should know that being a twenty-first-century hero is tough stuff. It requires emotional fortitude, mental self-control, and physical restraint. It means walking into embarrassing, uncomfortable, or even life-threatening situations in order to rescue your daughter.

You might need to show up at a party where your daughter’s friends—and maybe your daughter—have been drinking, and take her home. You might need to talk to her about the clothes she wears and the music she likes. And yes, you might even need to get in the car at one in the morning, go to her boyfriend’s house, and insist that she come home.

Here’s what your daughter needs from you. Leadership

When your daughter is born, she recognizes your voice as deeper than her mother’s. As a toddler, she looks up at your enormous frame and realizes that you are big, smart, and tough. In her grade school years, she instinctively turns to you for direction.

Whatever outward impression she gives, her life is centered on discovering what you like in her, and what you want from her. She knows you are smarter than she is. She gives you authority because she needs you to love and adore her. She can’t feel good about herself until she knows that you feel good about her. So you need to use your authority carefully and wisely. Your daughter doesn’t want to see you as an equal. She wants you to be her hero, someone who is wiser and steadier and stronger than she is.

The only way you will alienate your daughter in the long term is by losing her respect, failing to lead, or failing to protect her. If you don't provide for her needs, she will find someone else who will—and that’s when trouble starts. Don’t let that happen.

Nowadays, the idea of assuming authority makes many men uneasy. It smacks of political incorrectness. Pop psychologists and educators have told us that authority is suffocating, obtrusive, and will crush a child’s spirit. Fathers worry that if they push their kids or establish too many rules, they’ll just rebel. But the greatest danger comes from fathers who surrender leadership, particularly during their children’s teen years. Authority is not a threat to your relationship with your daughter—it is what will bring you closer to your daughter, and what will make her respect you more.

In fact, girls who end up in counselors’ offices, detention centers, or halfway homes are not girls who had authoritative fathers. Quite the opposite. Troubled young women spend most of their time in counseling describing the hurt they felt from fathers who abandoned them, retreated from their lives, or ignored them. They describe fathers who failed—or were afraid—to establish rules. They describe fathers who focused on their own emotional struggles rather than those of their daughters. They describe fathers who wanted to avoid any conflict, and so shied away from engaging their daughters in conversation, or challenging them when they made bad decisions.

Your natural instinct is to protect your daughter. Forget what pop culture and pop psychologists tell you. Do it.

And be ready. Your daughter wants you to be an authority figure, but as she matures, she will likely test you to see if you’re serious. Dads, as a rule, know adolescent boys will eventually start to challenge them. The one-on-one basketball games will get more competitive, and the son will start to buck dad’s authority.

Let me tell you a secret: many daughters challenge their fathers too. They’ll dive into a power struggle with you, not to see how tough you are, but to see how much you really care about them. So remember that when she pushes hard against your rules, flailing, crying that you are mean or unfair, she is really asking you a question: Am I worth the fight, Dad? Are you strong enough to handle me? Make sure she knows the answer is yes.

October 29, 2013

Does France Protect Their Girls better than we do? It appears so

The French Upper House of Parliament just voted to ban beauty pageants for girls younger than 16. The reason? Many are concerned that young girls are being hypersexualized and objectified. They protest public scripting and reinforcement that a girls’ worth comes largely from her looks- which by the way, aren’t the looks of children, but the looks of adult women stuck in children’s bodies. This is extraordinary for France considering the fact that they are the epicenter of fashion and that they take pride in being sexually “progressive” with peep shows located next to grocery stores and Starbucks cafes.

My hat’s off to them. How is it that we, who champion equality between the sexes and pour millions every year to educate our children’s minds, keep these ridiculous pageants alive? I think that I might have a clue. We think they’re entertaining, harmless and (as mothers of the tikes might say) a good way for girls to boost their self confidence. If these are entertaining, then shame on us. Many who watch Honey Boo Boo, I believe, do so because they think the show is funny. And others who tune in to Toddlers and Tiaras would protest that they think the contests are cute and just fun to watch. Let’s tease these arguments apart a bit.

First of all, is it morally acceptable to watch a small child on television in order to laugh at her? It’s one thing to laugh at an entertainer’s jokes, but I don’t think that’s why Honey Boo Boo is on television. As a parent, I would abhor millions of people laughing at my child. Second, the idea that we watch because the pageants are cute, harmless and entertaining. Who are we trying to kid? Every American adult with an IQ over 80 knows what television eventually does to female entertainers- they make them sexy. We just witnessed Miley Cyrus make a fool of herself with an obnoxious attempt to shock us old people by acting like a prostitute. Remember, when she was young, she was the cute Hannah Montana. She started out as a nice girl who wore age appropriate clothes. Over time, she decided she needed more attention.

Pageant girls start out at a more provocative level than Miley did. They wear frilly dresses (OK) and then cake their faces with their mothers’ makeup. They wear adult high heels and learn to walk like a sultry Vogue model. At least Miley got to wear jeans on television when she was 13. Not to look like a fuddy-dud, let’s track these pageant girls a year or two into their “careers.” The heels get higher, the walks more seductive, the clothes sexier and pretty soon, they learn that looking sexy gets more attention.

Child beauty pageants might look cute to the passing viewer, but make no mistake, once girls step onto the stage, they walk on a slippery slope with a gentle incline. Each girl will end up looking too old, too sexy and garner attention for both. She will quickly learn that attention makes her feel good and liked. So what will she do? Push the envelope just a bit more to attract more eyes so that she will feel even better about herself. And that is very, very sad.

When, America, are we going to get sick and tired of our obsession with sex- even to the point where it hurts our little girls? Are we so empty that we have resorted to finding the sexualization and objectification of little girls fun? Come on, let’s follow France just this once.

October 24, 2013

Halloween: Where Did Nice Sponge Bob Square Pants Go?

It’s here. That ghoulish-goblin, orange time of year. I have always loved fall because of the colors, the smells and because there is a reminder that God ordains change. Whether we like it or not, life appears, then it fades in beautiful glory before it reappears again after a long period of quiet.

Fortunately or unfortunately, Halloween is a part of the fall and here it is again. Costumes with warty cheeks, distorted mouths and goolish hair jump out at us in grocery store and drug store aisles. So, you who have young children, beware, even a trip to the store for paper towels can be frightening to little ones.

You and I have seen dramatic changes over the years in Halloween costume styles. Once upon a day we threw an old bed sheet over our children, cut out eyes, gave them a flash light and out into the neighborhood they went. No more. Costumes have become a source of anxiety for children if not parents. Young kids want to be the character that they want and if they can’t be him, well, they might just as well stay home. That’s easy enough to deal with, but when it comes to elementary school and middle school children, we need to be on our toes. Make a sweep down the costume aisle at any big chain store and you will find dresses adorned in black and red which even some pole dancers (maybe that’s an exaggeration) would be timid to wear. Yet, we actually consider buying these for Halloween for our young girls.

Feminist shake their fists because the costumes aren’t “gender neutral” and portray young girls as “too girlie” or as inferior to boys. Seriously? We’re going to argue about whether Spiderwoman should wear pink or black and red? Remember, people, Spiderwoman doesn’t really exist. But I am amazed that few men and women are insulted by highly sexually charge styles of our children’s costumes. Who cares if a girl looks too girlish, she shouldn’t look like a prostitute on Halloween (or any other time of the year.)

I strongly encourage you who are scouring the stores for Halloween costumes to make a few simple rules. First, you choose two or three costumes that you feel are acceptable for your kids and then let them pick one from those. That way, they get to have a choice, but you have control. Second, refuse to buy your girls sexy, skimpy, skanky clothes no matter how much they want them because their friends have them. Do you want other trick or treaters looking at your daughter as a sex object while she picks up her candy at the door? Don’t set her up for that. Third, remember that even though many boys act tough and want to wear ghastly, ghoulish masks and carry bloody heads with them, avoid these. Being goulish and being scary are two different things; so stick to scary. We forget that many boys are very sensitive and bloody stuff frightens them. I see many boys in middle school and junior high having sleep issues because of bad dreams from seeing too much violence.

Halloween can be a time when neighbors come out and chat with one another and kids run around in fun. But stay in charge. Keep a lid on sanity this Halloween particularly when it comes to costumes.