Wednesday, May 6, 2015

ADDICTION IS A PREVENTABLE BRAIN DISEASE!

For nearly five years I’ve had the privilege of teaching thousands of public and private school children the science that could prevent them from developing the brain disease of addiction.

There is nothing I would like more than to see these beautiful kids escape the painful ravages of this terrible disease and the ugly consequences that follow.


Through the non-profit, Action Against Addiction, I’ve taught grades k-8th evidence based programs which provide youth with the science and the skills that will help them make healthy life choices that do not include using or abusing legal and/or illegal drugs.

The science tells us that addiction is a preventable brain disease, and it’s critical that children learn early how to protect their growing brain because it is not fully developed until they are at least 21 years old.

The lessons emphasize that children should wear a bicycle helmet to protect their brain in case they fall off their bike and hit their head. They learn why the law requires them to sit in the back seat of a car with their seatbelts fastened. Airbags in the steering wheel and dashboard of a car deploy at 60 miles an hour and that kind of force could kill a young child.

The age of first use of alcohol, which is a gateway drug, is 11 years old in New Orleans and across Louisiana so we teach kids that young people who start drinking alcohol at 15 or younger are four to five times more likely to become addicted than if they wait until the legal drinking age of 21. The alcohol literally hi-jacks their brain.

Empowering children with the knowledge and the confidence to make the tough choices despite peer pressure, problem parents and perilous poverty can be challenging. During a writing assignment one child shared a painful personal tragedy.

“I was sitting at my mother’s funeral and I kicked my brother because I was mad that my dad was in prison for killing our mom.” As this child began sobbing my heart ached because this kind of unresolved trauma can lead a person to drinking, drugging and other risky behaviors.

In the public school setting I can’t tell the children they’re not alone and to place their trust and their hope in the almighty God. However, I can certainly bring his light to school by modeling his joy, his compassion and his unrestricted love as I inspire excitement about their unique talents and gifts and their greatest asset, their brain!

When I’m asked, I share my knowledge, my experience and yes-my hope with parents, community leaders, the media and even seminarians at Notre Dame Seminary.

Here’s the thing, knowledge is power and wisdom is liberating. So if we can all learn the science behind the brain disease of addiction, if we can accept the fact that it is a preventable brain disease, then maybe, just maybe we will unite to save the children and future generations from the insidious and damaging effects caused by adolescent use and abuse of alcohol and other drugs!

The sobering truth is that it doesn't take a brain scientist to figure out that investing in the prevention of addiction is the smart choice and it is a whole lot easier than trying to help someone recover from it!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

FAMILY MASS: THE ROCK OF CHRIST!

As I listened to the priest read the gospel of John at Sunday morning Mass,
I felt it in my soul. I had made the right choice.

“I am the shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. “

This beautiful scripture and the priest’s heartfelt homily affirmed my conviction that shepherding my children to morning Mass, standing together upon the rock of Christ is infinitely more important than building my rock garden.

I hadn't planned on going to morning Mass because I had already attended Saturday evening Mass so that my youngest son Zachary and I could begin laying the foundation for our rock garden. I thought the kids and I could go to Mass in the evening.

We were about to bolt out of the door when Jacob came downstairs determined to attend 11 a.m. Mass. My conscience spoke to me. "Family Mass or the rock garden?!" It was a no brainer.

“Let’s all go to Mass together,” I urged as I ran upstairs to get dressed. “The rock garden can wait.”

We arrived just in time to hear the words that confirmed my choice and what I have always believed. We are all shepherds and we must attend to our flock.

As a mother and a daily communicant, I cannot be more firm in my conviction that attending Mass as a family can be a pivotal turning point for parents and their children. Standing together amid the community of believers provides comfort and strength, bonding and blessing.

During Mass the family enters into a sacred womb and participates in an ongoing grace filled process of evangelization that heralds the inherent dignity of the human person and of families every where.

As the shepherd of my children, family Mass has been the rock that has laid a firm foundation for the future of my five sons and the families that they may one day shepherd for themselves. And in this busy and often chaotic world it is the most important activity that I can model.

And even though today Zack and I had very little time to til the soil of our rock garden, I am so grateful that my sons and I tilled our inner soil together, because I know that someday we will bear great fruit!

Thank you Holy Spirit for reminding me of that this morning!





Friday, April 3, 2015

THE CRUCIFIXION: DYING TO SELF!


In 2007 the Easter season turned surprisingly personal as I experienced firsthand the process of dying to self through a very painful crucifixion.

The turning point came when members of my spiritual family betrayed me.

Their rejection and subsequent persecution seared my soul with excruciating intensity. Their bold lies and lack of compassion for my young children left me questioning everything I believed about my Catholic family.

I stopped going to church. For two weeks I couldn’t bear the thought of walking into a Catholic church, so on Easter Sunday my sons and I huddled together next to a lake reading scripture from the Bible and asking the Lord for his direction.

My heart was bleeding.

Still-I loved the Lord and he loved me...and somehow that love gave me the strength to throw myself at his mercy inside the Blessed Sacrament Chapel at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church.

“What do you want me to do now?” I cried out. My sons and I had been through the ringer, tested by fire…and now this. “What do you want me to do now?!”

“Do not let them take you from me!” I heard those words as clearly as I have ever heard anything! And in that one split second that followed, I opened my heart to Jesus and made the decision to plant both feet firmly in front of him-once and for all.

For most of my life I had split myself between God and family, work and the world and with devastating consequences. Not anymore!

I went to confession, returned to weekly Mass which turned into daily mass and daily adoration and regular healing services and prayer groups where women of great faith prayed the rosary and before I knew it, I was no longer the walking dead.

The disciplined rhythm of my prayer life began to resuscitate me as the Lord breathed a refreshing spirit of truth into my entire being. My reality had shifted.

Over time I have come to understand that I had to lose everything in my broken life that was not the will of God, in order to gain the authentic life that he had designed for me from the very beginning. There would be no place in my new world for fake friends or foolish antics or missions that are masterminded by a darkness that is waiting to destroy even the best of intentions.

As I picked up the tools of my Catholic faith with childlike abandon, Jesus picked me up and carried me along the painful, yet illuminative path of crucifixion. And with my cooperation, he gained control of my broken heart as he purged me of the poisons that had penetrated my life.

God truly raised me from the dead; he restored my confidence and trust; he sanctified my desires and intentions and he guided me ever so gently into a sanctuary of indescribable joy and unending hope!

John 3:16

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

Sunday, March 22, 2015

LOVE, LIBERIA AND THE CROSS!

True love flows from the cross!

I was reminded of that universal truth this morning after a conversation with my oldest son Johnny who is in his second year as a missionary at an orphanage in Liberia. As I hung up the phone I marveled at how my child has turned the worst experience of his young life into a pivotal turning point for the poor in this faraway land.

Johnny and the other missionaries from Comunita Cenacolo care for approximately 20 orphans. Every day, he and his friend Nick walk the school age kids 45 minutes to school and in the afternoon they walk them home. The youngest child is 6 years old. “We could take them in the car but it wouldn’t be right for our children to be driven to school when all the other kids have to walk,” Johnny told me.

As the “community” acculturates into Liberian society, it is very important for them and for the orphans to live as closely as possible to the life of the locals.

During the Ebola crisis the government allowed the children to stay in the orphanage 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “For sure it was challenging,” Johnny admitted. However, he said they developed a routine and a deeper bond with the children while using the extra time for education and to teach them new skills-like rapping. That’s right. The beat of American rap music can now be heard in a remote section of Liberia! Americans always seem to leave an indelible imprint wherever they go!

Last month Johnny called me from a 130,000 acre Firestone Corporation complex where he and Nick were on retreat. Locals live and work there removing the rubber from trees so it can be shipped abroad to make tires. During this retreat he met four nuns from Our Lady of Consalata, (Our Lady of Consolation). One of them from Brazil has been dubbed, “Angel of the Orphans” because she has cared for approximately 400 orphans, many of whom are victims of Ebola.

I’m thrilled to report that Johnny will be using a portable camera to interview the nuns about their work with the children and the help they give a colony of lepers.

“Is Ebola over in Liberia?” I asked. “There’s a new case, it’s probably on your news, of a lady in Monrovia who has Ebola. Officials are investigating this but she may have come from Sierra Leone.” Other than that, Johnny said Ebola doesn’t appear to be a serious threat any longer.

I try to imagine how my son copes with all the daily challenges, but from our conversations it is apparent that he is living a life of surrender and acceptance. He has surrendered the conveniences of his American upbringing and accepted the hardships that are a natural part of missionary life.

Johnny said there is a sense of purpose and joy because he feels he is making a positive difference in the lives of some really poor people. “Mom they don’t have the basics that we take for granted. A little girl broke her arm and when she was taken to the hospital, someone had to go to an outside source to buy the materials for her cast because the hospital didn’t have the medical supplies.”

An ongoing issue is the shortage of doctors and other medical staff, but it appears divine providence has stepped in! A surgeon who is a member of Comunita Cenacolo and a former addict has now entered into the missionary life of this orphanage.

“There was a little girl in the village with a tumor in her arm and the hospital would not operate.” Johnny told me. “It was amazing mom! Our doctor numbed the girls arm, cut her open right in front of us, removed the tumor, and then sewed her back up! She’s just fine now!” Johnny said this same doctor operated on an infection behind his ear and all is well!

So today as I move into the final weeks of Lent, I renew my gratitude for the cross that transformed my son’s life and filled him with a reservoir of love so that he would be willing to suffer for others. Because let’s face it, true love-Godly love-always flows from the cross!

Friday, February 20, 2015

CONTAGIOUS CONFESSIONS!

What you say and do as a parent matters. The faith example you set, “practicing what you preach” leaves an imprint.

And when you least expect it, under the most unnerving circumstances, at the craziest time, your behavior will come right back at you with exhilarating delight!

The other night my strong spirited youngest son and I were standing at opposite ends of a power struggle that I was not about to lose. There are some decisions a parent simply has to stick by no matter how unreasonable “no” may sound to the adolescent brain!

No by the way is a sentence. It doesn’t mean maybe, or we’ll talk later, or let me think about it. No means no.

Words flew around the room, muddying the already uncomfortable discussion and wounding emotions. Joy had definitely taken a hike that night!

The next day I felt the gnawing desire to honor my decision to go to monthly confession. And what do you think happens?! I get a text message from my dear son who is a junior at Jesuit High School.

“Went to confession..thought about it and I’m sorry for saying those mean things to you.”

Wow! What more could a mother ask for?! “Thx, I forgive you. Proud of you. Love u.” I replied. “P.S. I went to confession too.”

My son has a conscience! The judgment part of his brain may not be fully developed, but his conscience is absolutely open for business!

Apologies are tough at any age. Admitting our weaknesses is scary. Going to confession can feel even scarier. However, my sons are learning that I don’t expect any more from them then I expect from myself.

I've told them "I’m sorry" more times than I can count and they know I seal the deal through monthly confession. There’s power in speaking the words to a priest and a feeling of freedom following absolution.

I try really hard to live what I preach, to practice what I believe and to allow the Lord to enter my heart every single day through the gift of the Eucharist, the joy of the gospel and the strength of the sacraments.

As a single mom who is raising boys, I need-I want-God’s help. And every once in a while one of my five sons lets me know that my example and HIS powerful grace is contagious!

Thank you God!
Mary Lou McCall
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