by Sharisa McDaniel, Transitional Living Program Manager at Catholic Charities of Eastern Oklahoma
The setting of a Maternity Home and Transitional Living offers a unique opportunity to influence the parenting practices of residents and family dynamics for generations to come. At Madonna House and St. Elizabeth Lodge in Tulsa, Oklahoma, team members observe parenting practices that range from healthy and loving to harsh and disconnected. In an effort to positively shape the futures of the families in the programs, the Transitional Living team at Catholic Charities of Eastern Oklahoma regularly examines the environmental influences and program initiatives to promote bonding and connectedness. As the family programming at Madonna House and St. Elizabeth Lodge has developed and evolved, the following adjustments have been made to the environment:
Catholic Charities has also established a Family Enrichment position to pro-actively educate parents on child development and to offer experiences that help to build healthy bonds. With a background of teaching early childhood education for nearly 20 years, Angela Grissom brings her experience and her passion for educating parents to the Family Enrichment role. Residents of Madonna House and St. Elizabeth Lodge meet with Angela every week to participate in parent-child activities and learn positive parenting practices. The Family Enrichment program offers:
With these efforts, mothers report:
The Family Enrichment program at Madonna House and St. Elizabeth Lodge is a pro-active approach to influencing strong bonds within resident families for years to come.
by Betty McDowell, LSW, LASVice President of Ministry Services, Heartbeat International
Mary Anna Russo LaRosa (pictured on the right with her two oldest sons, Frank and Al) could not have imagined how the decision she made 100 years ago in 1921, at the age of 25, to sail from Italy to Ellis Island, NY would shape generations to come.
My grandmother Mary was born in 1896 in Caltanissta Province to Liberio and Concetta Russo and was married off at the age of 13 to my grandfather, Alfonso, who was 13 years her senior. My understanding is that life was very difficult for this young woman as poverty, war, and hopelessness surrounded and invaded her life. Alfonso, my grandfather, headed to the United States in 1914 leaving behind his young wife and two small boys. He left to start a new life in the land of opportunity. The seven years apart proved to be very difficult for Mary and her two young sons as they lived without support from family and suffered hardship upon hardship. As a single, vulnerable mother, Mary became a victim of rape which resulted in a pregnancy and the birth of a son. The shame of rape, the pressure to hide this shame, and the anger of my grandfather (who was informed of the rape and birth of a child through a letter sent to him in the US) resulted in Mary placing her son in the care of another. Mary and her two other sons had to say goodbye to this child, never to see him again.
I have tried to imagine what it must have been like to kiss a baby goodbye, board a ship headed to a land with a language unknown to me and sail the ocean with two young children in the hopes of making my way to a husband not seen in seven years. The anguish, the grief, the fear she must have experienced fills me with compassion for a grandmother I never had the privilege to meet. Mary passed away before I was born but I have cherished the grandmother memories of my older siblings and cousins.
After arriving in the United States and making her way to Cleveland, Ohio, Mary and Alfonso went on to have three more children, my father being one of them. I have been told stories of what a sweet, kind, faith-filled, loving woman my grandmother was. My father once shared with me that his mother lived with a great sadness, but it was not until my adult life that I became aware of just how deep the sadness and how great the pain was she bore throughout her life.
My brave grandmother left quite a legacy. Due to her faith, love of family, willingness to bear shame, poverty, loss, pain, inequality, and prejudice, she provided for and shaped the lives of her six children and 18 grandchildren. Mary’s life has continued to shape the lives of generations she never met, those of the 26 great grandchildren and those of her great great grandchildren as we share her stories with them.
My cousin shared a precious childhood memory of often seeing my grandmother kneeling and praying. I would love to know what Mary carried deep in her heart of faith and I wonder if she prayed for the future generations of her family. I’m guessing she never thought that 100 years after she boarded a ship to America her story would be told, and her bravery celebrated.
This Mother’s Day my family and I will take a moment to honor the memory of brave moms like my grandmother, Mary Russo LaRosa, and pray for the brave moms of today and their future generations.
Happy Mother’s Day 2021!
by Jennifer Minor, Editor/WriterHeartbeat International
I’m one of those blessed adults who had the joy of growing up with a nurse for a mother. There are several ways this affected me as a child. I used to go to work with her sometimes where she trained nursing assistants and my brother and I would practice skills on the mannequins. I don’t remember a time I didn’t know the basics of CPR. As a seven-year-old, I once told the school nurse I was feeling “rather lethargic.” She sent me back to class and called my mom to share the story.
All my best advice comes from my mom. “If you can fix it, fix it. If you can’t fix it, don’t worry about it.” There’s plenty more advice I’ve taken and given from her, but even though she said this when I was freaking out about a 5th grade reading assignment, I think about it every day.
Over the years, there have been a lot of hospital visits with my family, usually my grandparents. Unsurprisingly, we’ve depended on my mom a lot in those times. Her experience as a nurse and in training nursing assistants to provide care made it only natural that she would take point and help us understand what was happening.
The funny thing was, she didn’t want the medical staff at the hospital to know she was a nurse most times. I imagine most nurses understand why. If the surgeon working on your mom’s back finds out you’re a nurse, he’ll speak directly to you assuming you can explain anything your mom really wants to know later. Conversations about care quickly become insider conversations, leaving the rest of the family in the dark or getting the information later from the nurse in the family, who has to now take the time and effort to translate what she learned.
Partly though, I think she was less worried about being a go-between than about us learning to interact with medical professionals well. I know today if I see a doctor, I ask a lot of questions, and may drive them a little crazy, but I know what’s going on with me medically so I can make informed decisions about my care. I guess that’s one way she was being a great mom in the midst of things.
Somehow though, she always gets outed eventually. Sometimes, a former student of hers comes and says, “Mrs. Minor! Do you remember me?” Other times, she asks a question with just a little too much insider vocabulary. Then there’s my favorite time. She was leaning on my grandpa’s bed. I don’t even remember what procedure he’d had or anything, but an alarm was going off sometimes and we weren’t exactly sure why. Honestly, we weren’t that worried about it because a nurse or nursing assistant would come in and turn it off and leave. Finally, one of the nurses said to my mom, “You know, you’re making that alarm go off when you lean on the bed.”
She reacted like most people would, jumping back from the bed and apologizing, but she made one addition that gave her away. “Oh! It’s a falls risk bed.”
From then on, at least on that shift, everyone knew she was a nurse.
While the technical stuff can make it easy to identify a nurse, even if she was hardcore undercover and managed not to out herself, being around a hospital floor or medical team for long enough, they always figured it out eventually. Her patient (pun intended) care for any family member in the hospital shows it every time. My mom is identified as a nurse – and a mom – because of her compassion, her expertise, and the trust she inspires.
Yes, I know, I got those words from this year’s theme for National Nurses Week, but it’s true. And I find that compassion, expertise, and trust are words that apply to mothers as well. The best mothers pour out compassion constantly, are experts on their kids (and many other things), and inspire trust. My mother certainly has my trust (and, if I may speak for him for a moment, my brother’s as well).
So this year especially, when Mother’s Day lands right in the middle of National Nurses Week, I want to say a special thank you to my mom.
Mom, thank you for everything. You continue to be a role model for me every day. I hope your Mother’s Day, and your National Nurses Week are joyful and blessed.
And a special thank you to all mothers and nurses out there. Happy Mother's Day and Happy Nurses Week!
by Jenn Walden, Guest Writer
At the age of 33, I met Kirk. He was a single dad of three children; ages 11, 14, and 16. I wasted no time falling in love with the four of them. In a moment only God could orchestrate, we became a family. Never married and never a mother, the moment I said, “I do,” my life was forever changed. After years of wandering, I finally found my tribe.
After six months as a family, we celebrated our first Christmas at Disney World. Moving states, building a house, enrolling in new schools, forming friendships, starting a business, step-parenting, and yes, a new marriage had sufficiently strained and tested all of us. We were ready for a break and some family bonding.
Despite the joy of our time at Disney World, by the end of the trip I was not feeling well. I couldn’t pinpoint what was wrong, but upon returning home things were no better. The voice of fear, dormant since my new marriage, surfaced again.
Five years earlier I had been diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer. This led to a partial hysterectomy, heavy doses of chemotherapy and long-term medication. Now, the fear of cancer was back, and I thought, Just as I am experiencing so much joy, cancer is returning to steal it all away.
When I shared my symptoms with a friend however, she made a strange suggestion. “You need to take a pregnancy test,” she told me. My medication however, limited any possibility of pregnancy. Still, I tentatively bought a couple of tests, believing a false positive would only signal the cancer was back.
When the test was positive, I cried, convinced my worst fears were realized. When Kirk said, “Take the second test,” it too was positive. We agreed I needed to see my oncologist immediately.
The nurse did not play into my game of fears. Without hesitation she laughed and said, “You don’t need to see us; you’re pregnant!” Shocker. Despite what I read on the internet or made up in my mind, a positive pregnancy test is not an indicator of cancer; who knew?
I never once remember praying for a baby. After the miracle of meeting Kirk and his children, I was not going to be greedy. They were so much more than I ever believed I deserved. I would have told you emphatically that God does not cruelly punish His children. Yet, buried in my heart the thought brewed; Jennifer, there are natural consequences for the poor choices of your youth.
If I’m digging deep, I didn’t allow my heart to long for a baby because I didn’t think I deserved one. To this day, I still feel guilt surface when I meet precious people battling infertility. Why, I ask, did I so easily receive the longing of their hearts?
Despite the tremendous odds stacked against me, my sense of unworthiness and an absence of prayers in this direction, I gave birth to a baby boy.
When I saw my oncologist for a routine appointment, she asked about my pregnancy. As we talked, with tears in her eyes she told me, “You realize this baby is a miracle.” My doctor’s words jolted me, bringing full realization to the provision and hand of God.
Until that moment, I didn’t fully understand that in medical terms there should not be a Joshua Walden. I’m so glad God never got this memo.
Two years later, at the age of 35 I received yet another miracle. Jacob joined his brother in 2009.
Sometimes, for reasons beyond our comprehension, God gives us lost and forgotten dreams. In the process, lies which chain us to past mistakes are uncovered; our hearts suddenly freed to understand the true grace of God.
The first time I held Josh was one of the purest moments of love I’ve ever experienced. Holding that tiny life was more than my first moment with my first-born; it was my opportunity to truly embrace a testament of God’s love and mercy.
My past, for too many years, held on to me. In its grip were my deepest desires, so instead of seeking these desires, I buried them.
As a result, I truly believed God felt obligated to withhold certain blessings. I lived a life thinking that while God was kind, He sought only to correct me and make sure I understood that while I was forgiven, I was never meant to be fully worthy of His overwhelming love.
Giving me the gift of motherhood, God gave me the buried desires of my heart. And, He opened a window to help me see His boundless grace in ways I could not fathom before.
In different ways, God wants to give these gifts to each of us. For me, it was through motherhood. In the middle of my trial with cancer years earlier, I saw no possible avenue to becoming a mom. But God was there; waiting, preparing and then whispering to those around His throne, “Watch what I’m about to do in this one’s life. It will change her forever.”
Today, I’m mom to five. It’s a story I could have never written, never dreamed.
My prayer is that even if we are in the deepest of trial, we will remember that despite our pasts, God is about our present.
As we celebrate Mother’s Day, I am forever grateful to the God who looked at me and said, “It’s time she saw the love I have for her–her buried desires are never too deep for Me to find.”
Jenn Walden is a mom and blogger who can be found at www.1stfaith.com/jenn, where this article first appeared. She is married to Kirk, an Advancement Specialist for Heartbeat International.
Josh Boston, son of Heartbeat VP Cindi Boston writes about his compassionate and inspiring mother.
When I think about my mother, there are an endless amount of words, emotions and thoughts that come to mind.
I could easily talk about her courage or her kindness, how she has selflessly served our family throughout the years or sacrificially cared for her parents as they entered the realm of dementia and Alzheimer’s. I could recollect on how she graciously lead me through years of bad grades and adolescent rebellion or how she supported my brother in his soccer career - never missing a game despite being a CEO, caretaker and wife.
And whilst all of these things are accurate and worth the time it would take to reminisce them, nothing connects to the heart and ethos of my mom more than the picture that accompanies this tribute.
My mother has spent her entire life sacrificing for those less fortunate, those without a voice of their own - those incapable of fighting for their own rights.
She has given up dreams and accolades, a life of ease and one of plenty so that she could assuredly provide those in the target of humanity’s worst harm a chance of safety and a hope of life beyond the womb. She has spent countless days and long nights ministering to lonely, frightened teen mothers who have watched their worlds begin to crumble - seeking to provide each of them with hope, healing and arms to collapse within when all seemed lost.
And in the midst of this fight for the lives of those most vulnerable, she’s been placed on the front lines of a spiritual battle in which she’s incurred and faced insurmountable odds and a fierce opposition that would take the sanity of most, quite consistently.
Nevertheless, people most often describe my mother as having a glow about her, and a kindness within the depths of her. At times when circumstances have been most dark, I can recount walking into her bedroom seeing her on her mother’s couch reading her bible, listening to worship music and reminding me that no matter the circumstance, no matter the obstacle, we find all that we need at the feet of Jesus - her portion and supply, and her best friend.
No amount of words or writing will ever be able to fully explain or express her beauty, grace or kindness. No tribute will ever be able to fully contain the legacy she has left, and continues to leave. She is an enigma and a one-of-a-kind, a diamond among coal and a breath of fresh air, she is a best friend to many and a constant source of encouragement and love to all those with whom she comes in contact.
She is my mom, and I will never be able to fully express the love and admiration I have for her.
Love you mom,Josh
Here at Heartbeat International, we get many surprises in the mail. Sometimes, these are great blessings, and this one is too good not to share. So if you read the note below and think it could be a blessing to others, please pass it on.
The note was written by a woman named Marion in Sandusky, Ohio to her granddaughter's friend. The young woman was about to head off to college to pursue a law degree and help those less fortunate. She found herself pregnant, but with courage, she continued, attending school, getting a job, and keeping her baby.
Marion was inspired by the young mother's story and decided to send her a note anonymously thanking her, from the point of view of her precious, little daughter. In the years since, she has done the same for new mothers in her life, and shared with her local pregnancy center, and now all of you!
Thank you, Mom, for keeping me safe, inside you
for taking care of yourself, while I was growing, inside
for my first breath of air, when I decided I wanted to be outside, with you
for your tender touch and soothing voice
for feeding me and keeping my bottom dry
for each time you held me when I cried, and talking to me, and making me smile
for keeping me warm and close to you....
Thank you, Mom, for loving me!
Your little one
by kirk Walden, Advancement Specialist
“For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois, and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well.” 2 Timothy 1:5
Moms. We love our mothers for so many things, whether it be the way they looked out for us when we were small, their encouraging words or even those times when they needed to set us straight.
Perhaps most memorable however, is the potential power of a mother’s faith. Paul recognized this in his protégé, Timothy. In his second letter to Timothy he talks of the young man’s strong faith—and the truth that this faith was passed on from his grandmother Lois to his mother Eunice; then on to him.
This faith must have been more than special, for Paul to point this out. We can’t find this type of reference anywhere else in the New Testament; a direct compliment to the faith of someone’s parent and grandparent.
Lois cared enough to share her faith with Eunice. She likely spent many an hour with Eunice, talking with her about God’s many deeds he performed for the Israelite people. Not only that, we can be sure Lois also lived her faith in such a way that Eunice said to herself, “She is who I want to be.”
Eunice carried on the legacy of Lois, then had a son named Timothy. We have no record that God told Eunice she was raising one of the great leaders of this new faith in God’s messiah. What she did know however, she learned from her mother.
So Eunice lived out her faith with Timothy. Like her mom, she probably had long talks with the young boy as he grew up, perhaps singing him to sleep with songs of the God she loved and served.
Interesting, isn’t it, that Paul doesn’t mention a father in all of this. Were Timothy’s dad and grandfather men of faith? We don’t know.
There are many great dads in the Bible, without question. But here, mothers take center stage.
I’m not sure of Paul’s reasoning here, but perhaps there is a message for us as we approach Mother’s Day. When we read the New Testament, we read mostly of men like Peter, James, John, Paul, Matthew, Mark and Luke. Men. Great men of God.
But when Paul writes what may have been his final letter; his last opportunity to pour his heart into another, he speaks first of the faith of Timothy’s mother and grandmother.
Maybe Paul knew something we can overlook. Perhaps the writer of so many New Testament books understood that while any of us—man or woman—can impact this generation, it is mothers who can create generational change.
Moms. The faith of a mom, when passed down, makes the difference. Ask Paul. Or ask Timothy. Paul couldn’t wait even a few sentences in his letter to Timothy before pointing this out. My guess is, Timothy took this to heart.
We should, too.
by Hannah Sapp, Heartbeat International
Women seem to be willing to choose to mother, but not to get married. What would cause a woman to be more comfortable being a single mother than finding the support of a husband first and then becoming a mother? How can her desire to mother overcome her desire for a stable father for her children?
At the 2014 Heartbeat International conference Lindy Dimeo, a center director in Virginia, presented a workshop called "Why Women Choose Babies over Marriage." Dimeo used information found in Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood before Marriage written by Maria Kefalas and Kathryn Edin to inform the way low-income women think about the issues of motherhood and marriage. Based on a survey of women with low socioeconomic status taken in Philadelphia, Edin and Kefalas propose that poor women will usually put mothering before marriage.
While the reasons that impoverished women choose to mother and not to marry may vary in different regions of the country and world, there are shared characteristics that can be helpful to understanding the motivations and thoughts of clients who desire to mother alone.
Crucial for understanding this trend of motherhood disconnected from marriage is acknowledging an inherited cultural notion that marriage is unsuccessful. More and more women are choosing single parenting because they see so few strong, lasting marriages today. They see the low or non-existent success of marriage, and they are not finding partners (or even potential partners) who would make good candidates for long term relationships or fatherhood.
For some women, fatherhood is a test of trust to decide if he has the potential to be a good husband. Some think "if he is a good father, then I can marry him." Dimeo discusses her experiences with a client in this very situation who expressed that if she chose to mother, she would experience unconditional love, because a man may not always be by her side, but her child would never leave her.
Wow. Can you imagine how much pressure that child will feel, to have their own mother rely on them for unconditional love? Yet, this is a common mentality. Women who view motherhood as a source of unconditional love and purpose are also searching for the same fulfillment as women who are bouncing from relationship to relationship looking for their heroic prince to love them.
These women are looking to satisfy the God-given desire for relationship and love.
Your conversation with a client is the perfect opportunity to pour into her the truth of her identity in Christ and share that He can fulfill better than anyone that desire for unconditional love. Dimeo mentions a demonstration using a set of three cups to tell a woman of her value as given in Christ.
The first cup is Styrofoam. It is disposed after only one use. This cup represents a woman who has had a one night stand or a friend with benefits.
The second cup is an everyday mug which one might use for a time, but after repeated use, disregard for another newer mug. The mug represents serial monogamous relationships.
The third cup is a valuable china teacup–a family heirloom. This teacup is priceless. Someone would put this teacup on display for all to see and would only use it for the most special of occasions, washing it thoroughly with much care after each use. The beautiful teacup is irreplaceable.
It is difficult for women to see the benefits of marriage when there is such a disconnect between the love God intended for marriage and what is found in the greater culture. Since magazine quizzes engage teens and young women, a couple of helpful tools to get them thinking beyond present circumstances and personal gain in having a child can be utilized from the appendix of the Sexual Integrity Program:
Each of the materials may act as a guide for a woman who doesn't see the fruit of marriage to understand those fruits by acknowledging facts derived from research about marital relationships and parenting. Using these tools helps to free the peer counselor from the temptation to use opinions to convince a client of the value of marriage for herself and her baby.
Lindy also mentions one final point important for every counselor to take into every conversation: Your job is not to just talk to her about sex– it is to care for her future. You have the opportunity to find out what the heart issue is that motivates her bad decision making. Usually, those bad decisions are tied to a desire for love, they are just misdirected decisions. Above expressing concern for her future, you have the ability to help care for her heart. You can point her to her identity in Christ and her value as His child: loved and adored.
by Susan Dammann RN, Medical Specialist
At this Mother’s Day season, I would like to introduce to you one of Heartbeat’s favorite volunteers—my Mother!
Since the time of my father’s passing in 2011, she has been faithfully coming in to work with me at Heartbeat International every Thursday. She works hard for at least 5 hours each week, helping our Ministry Advancement team with important mailings and a myriad of other tasks they have for her to do.
She brightens everyone’s day when she comes in, and the staff loves on her and treats her like a queen. It is a win-win for everyone! Mom enjoys being productive and interacting with all the staff. Each week on our way home, she’s all smiles, telling me about what she did that day, and how wonderful everyone is.
Exodus 20:12 commands us to “Honor your father and your mother that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.”
Honor includes prizing highly, which I do. I highly prize my mother. She is one awesome woman, a woman of God who is a prayer warrior for our entire family, and you can be sure we keep her busy in her prayer closet!
She was selfless in raising me and caring for many of our family throughout her life. She is not only loved by everyone in our family, but also what I call the “Betty fan club”—the many people who invite her out to lunch or take her places and include her in their lives.
Though I was an only child, I now have many “sisters” because of all the gals who have “adopted” her as their mother too!
Honor means to care for. October 7, 2011, my father suddenly passed away. Mom, then 81 years old, and my father had been married 61 years. Dad had been incapacitated for several years due to a stroke requiring round-the-clock care. This left a huge empty spot in Mom’s life.
At that point in time, my husband and I invited Mom to move in with us, which she did. It was a difficult period of adjustment for her, processing both the loss of her lifelong partner as well as her own home, and adjusting to life in a new setting. But we love her being with us and we count it a privilege to care for her.
Honor means to show respect for. I have learned that this can take many forms. It is speaking in an honoring way, but it is also respecting her in her limitations, as her 83 years slow her down a bit, or it takes a while longer remembering a thought.
Honoring means preferring Mom over myself by watching Little House on the Prairie and Lawrence Welk with her. I respect her too, for the wisdom she’s gleaned through a lifetime of experiences that she now imparts to me and our family.
Honor means to obey. This is one we learn growing up but I have found we never outgrow it, no matter how old we get. Though adults with lives of our own, there are still times in life when our parents offer us instruction or wisdom, and I have found it’s still a blessing to obey her wise counsel and instruction.
There are so many wonderful things about my mother, I wish you could all meet her and get to know her.
I know you would all love her, just like everyone here at Heartbeat does! And me too!
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!
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