By: Lisa Cotter - FOCUS
Two days before I left for college, I was told that my dad had cancer. It came as quite a shock, as he was currently being treated for a skin condition, which a doctor had just discovered to be a misdiagnosis. My dad was adamant that I still leave to begin my freshmen year, especially since I would only be an hour away. So in a daze I headed off to Benedictine College.
In the following months, I frequently went home to visit my dad in various hospitals while doctors from all over the country exhausted every kind of treatment they could think of. I watched my tall, strong dad wither away to around 120 pounds, lose his hair and turn into what looked like a very elderly man at the age of 45. I don’t believe we ever once received good news in terms of the results of his treatments, so after two years of fighting, my dad laid in his room for the last time and surrounded by his family, breathed his last.
I had many reasons to be angry. The doctors had misdiagnosed him, and if they hadn’t he might still be here. I had many reasons to be sad. He wouldn’t be there to see me graduate college, walk me down the aisle or be the grandfather to my children. I had many reasons to give up on faith. Why would God let this happen, if He really loved me wouldn’t He have spared my family all of this suffering? But through the suffering God showered me with the grace to look past anger, sadness, and doubt and see how He desired to take things as painful as cancer and death and turn them into gifts.
The first gift of my dad’s cancer was how it sanctified him. Throughout his illness, I watched my dad grow deeper and deeper in love with his Catholic faith. He was always reading books and watching videos on the faith, praying his rosary, and yelling at any man passing his hospital room in a collar to come in for a blessing or confession. He devoted his better days to volunteering to help launch Project Moses, which has placed around 7,000 monuments of the 10 Commandments in front of churches and synagogues in reaction to courthouses taking them down. And at his funeral there were 9 priests, an abbot and an archbishop, as well as dozens of men who were his best friends that processed in as honorary pallbearers at his funeral. My dad was a good man, but I believe that through his illness, he became an even better one.
The second gift of my dad’s cancer is how it continues to sanctified me. While my heart did, and still does, grieve from the knowledge that I will spend the rest of my life on earth without my dad’s physical presence, peace and hope have always triumphed in my heart. A peace and hope that can only be attributed to the merciful and unfailing grace of God. A peace and hope that makes me long for heaven in a way that I would never have longed for it without the knowledge that one day I will spend eternity there with people I love, like my dad. His absence reminds me that I was not made for this world, that there is more to life than what I can see before me right now. Death is not the end; it is the beginning. Death is not the culmination of life, it brings us to the point of life, heaven. If God wanted to take my dad early, take him to paradise, when I really think about it, why should that make me sad, angry, or hopeless? It should make me rejoice to know that someone I love is enjoying their heavenly reward and I know that they have not forgotten me.
It was nine years ago on a Sunday, October 5, that my dad was born into eternal life. It was one of his dying wishes that he pass on a Sunday morning because he said that was when he thought the world was most at peace, as so many people are in their churches, praying. It was also four years ago on a Sunday, October 5, that my son Paul Brian, with no prompting by modern medicine, was born into this earthly life. When that memorial of death was joined with a memorial of life, I knew that Grandpa Brian was interceding for me from heaven. I knew that heaven must be so amazing that he wants more grandkids to share it with one day. He has not forgotten me. God has not forgotten me. His gifts are all around us, if we only open our eyes and hearts to see things for what they truly can be.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. -Job 1:21.
Jimmy & Nelba Greene
We can let love win
By: Jimmy Greene & Nelba Marquez-Greene - USA TODAY
Our daughter, Ana Grace Marquez-Greene, would have been 7 years old this past Thursday if she hadn't been murdered less than four months ago at Sandy Hook Elementary School. We named her Ana after the praying widow in the Gospel of Luke and Grace for the characteristic we most hoped her life would embody.
Ana was an infectiously happy child loved by everyone - equal parts her passionate Puerto Rican therapist mother and her African-American jazz musician father. She danced rather than walked. She danced from room to room and place to place. She danced to all the music she heard, whether in the air or in her head.
And she sang, in that un-self-conscious way kids often have, in a loud purposeful voice, always in tune and with perfect rhythm. She sang to the radio; she sang to the music at the mall. She would sing Tomorrow from Annie to cheer us up on rainy days, and she loved to sing in church, the Beatles and Stevie Wonder.
Ana loved to read the Bible, and she sang and danced as acts of worship. With her love of life and everyone around her, with her talents and compassion, she was already making her mark. Until December 14, Ana's future had no boundaries. We somehow missed the connection before, only realizing last week that Ana was born on the anniversary of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s death. When we think of all that Dr. King accomplished before he was taken away, we are all the more bereft that Ana's limitless potential will never be realized. Like the thousands of children we lose every year to gun violence. How many might have grown up to cure a disease, write a symphony, or be the next Dr. King?
Our message on Ana's birthday is simple: Let's stop squandering this potential. Let love win by valuing human life. Our family has strong faith, and our faith is based on love. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. How many lives would be saved if we could all commit to just these two commands.
We don't need new laws to begin strengthening the bonds of family and community. We can be more giving, loving parents, friends, and neighbors. We can offer love to those who are outcasts or alone. We can look to God and form an eternal relationship built from nothing but love.
We want to see the sales of magazines no larger than 10 bullets. Is the ability to buy a 30-bullet magazine worth the life of even a single child? The shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary carried 30-round magazines and emptied more than 150 bullets into 20 children, including our Ana, and six educators in about four minutes. Eleven children escaped when the shooter stopped to reload. What if he had to reload 10 more times?
In order to survive this, our family has adopted the mantra, "love wins!" Nothing will bring our daughter back, but if love wins in Washington and we truly value human life, somewhere else in America, another Ana will live to realize her true potential.
By: Chrys Howard - Because Two are Better Than One
1) Her steadfast devotion to her family - even her brother
2) Her desire to be the best she can be
3) Her endless love for brushing my hair
4) Her patience when I give unsolicited advice
5) Her dimples
6) Her sweetness even when she doesn't like the dress I chose
7) Her enthusiasm for new projects and her dedication for completing them
8) Her optimism and faith that human beings, on the whole, sincerely want to do what's right
9) Her respect for me as a mother and her love for me as a friend
10) Her faithfulness to God and her desire to let her light shine
By: Naomi Schaefer Riley - USA TODAY
In August, a court-appointed psychologist recommended granting Bill Verst primary custody of his daughter, Maddy Verst, citing Maddy's participation in toddler beauty pageants as the reason her mother wasn't fit. The girl, now 6, was a regular on the pageant circuit, where she appeared dressed as Dolly Parton, complete with padded bra and enhancements for her rear end. Apparently, her father wasn't happy about this.
Bill Verst is no model father, sporting a rap sheet of drug and alcohol related arrests as well as child support delinquency, but it didn't take a father of the year to realize something was wrong.
Thousands of girls appear in these pageants, along with hundreds more on television shows glamorizing the whole culture of miniaturized sex objects. Last year, one of the 3-year-olds on the Toddlers & Tiaras reality show dressed up as Julia Roberts' character in Pretty Woman, before Richard Gere sent her on a shopping spree. Another little girl appeared singing Sexy and I Know It at a nightclub.
One has to wonder: Where are the fathers? According to the Pew Research Center, the number of children living apart from their fathers jumped from 11% in 1960 to 27% in 2010. What's more, there are plenty of fathers who are physically present but not involved.
Too often, it seems to be by design. Last month, the ACLU succeeded in getting a Rhode Island school district to end the practice of father-daughter dances, as if such traditions are the threat to American girlhood. The ACLU victory news release announced: "In the 21st century, public schools have no business fostering the notion that girls prefer to go to formal dances while boys prefer baseball games. This type of gender stereotyping only perpetuates outdated notions of 'girl' and 'boy' activities and is contrary to federal law."
The point of father-daughter dances was never to keep girls in dresses and off athletic fields. These events symbolize a more important old-fashioned goal: to protect girls. And in an era when many teens attend post prom "P&H" (pimp and ho) parties in which girls shed prom dresses to prance around in lingerie, girls can probably use all the protection they can get.
As Caitlin Flanagan wrote in 2011's Girl Land, it is important that a girl's father be involved in her dating life. "Punks," she writes, can't stand "coming under the authority and scrutiny of a powerful adult male."
The original complaint to the ACLU was launched by a single mother who said that her daughter would feel left out because her father was no longer in the picture. But there have been absent fathers for a long time, and other responsible men in the community — uncles, family friends, teachers — would step up to take the fatherless to the dances to deliver the same message a father would.
And it is not just a quaint tradition. There is plenty of research showing that a father's involvement in a daughter's life delays her first sexual experience. According to a 2003 paper in Child Development, for instance, "father absence was an overriding risk factor for early sexual activity and adolescent pregnancy." Maybe the fathers of all those toddlers in tiaras could step up to the plate.
-Naomi Schaefer Riley writes frequently on religion and culture.
By: Matt Krantz - USA TODAY
Jason Close knows a lot about sound money advice. And leading up to the birth of his first child this month, even he's amazed at how much parents can do to prepare.
Jason and Jackie Close of Beverly Hills, Mich., worked to make the appropriate financial plans in preparation for the birth of their first child. Jason is well-qualified; he's a certified financial planner.
As a 29-year-old financial planner in the Detroit area, Jason is used to dishing out advice for others. And since the birth of his daughter Violet on Sept. 13, he and his wife, Jackie, are finding themselves in the position of planning for one of the most major financial events in many people's lives. One that catches many off guard.
Planning for a child is a financial mind-bender because there are so many unknowns, ranging from the baby's health to future needs and interests that the child might develop later in life. A trip to the emergency room or proclivity of a kid toward an expensive hobby can sink a couple that had been financially independent before having kids.
"There are huge unknowns," Close says. "There are new expenses you can't fully anticipate."
There's also the sheer magnitude of the cost of raising a child, which is one of the biggest expenses Americans face. It costs the average middle-income family $234,900 to raise a kid from birth to age 18 in current dollars, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture
. That's up 23% from what a family spent to raise a kid in 1960, adjusting for inflation.
"If everyone sat down and looked at the costs, the whole species would be extinct in 20 years," says Lynn Ballou, a financial planner in Layfayette, Calif., who raised two adopted children. "And sometimes we don't know what the costs are going to be."
Given the extreme trickiness of financial planning for a new member of a family, parents and financial planners urge couples approaching this stage of their lives to:RECONSIDER LIFESTYLE
One of the first decisions couples must make is how they're going to reconfigure their lives and schedules to accommodate the new arrival. The first big decision to force the issue is whether both parents will return to work or if one will stay home to provide care, says Rita Cheng, a financial adviser based in Bethesda, Md.Prospective parents should look at their expenses and how much they earn based on one and two incomes, and try to figure out which option makes the most sense, Cheng says. Be careful, though, because parents often overlook hidden costs. For instance, they might think they can keep working their long hours and just pay for day care. But some parents don't realize that most day care centers and schools close earlier than work hours and charge extra for extended-hours care, Cheng says.
And for couples that decide to keep one parent home, remember to factor in the lost contributions to retirement accounts and Social Security
as well as changes to insurance coverage, she says. Parents that decide to stay home should also consider costs to get re-trained so they can re-enter the workforce, if desired, after the child grows up.BUILD A CASH CUSHION
It's prudent for anyone to have enough cash in the bank to hold them over for three to six months. But given the tremendous unpredictability of children, the importance of a cash cushion is magnified, says Laura McMahon, a financial planner in Indianapolis and mother of a 14-year-old son. It's not unheard of for parents to have more than six months of cash, just in case something unexpected happens.
During the nine months leading up to their child's birth, parents-to-be should aggressively stockpile cash and cut debt while there's more certainty in their financial life.
Waiting too long to create a rainy day fund might leave families exposed. Most families spend $12,290 to $14,320 a year to raise a child, a big financial burden to deal with as well as save money for emergencies.REVIEW INSURANCE COVERAGE
If there's one thing expectant parents know they'll probably need, it's additional life insurance, Close says. Given the higher costs of raising a child, a surviving spouse would need access to cash in case something were to happen. Parents need to consider how much income would have to be replaced if something happened to one of the parents, he says.
But the review of insurance coverage shouldn't stop at just life coverage. Couples frequently underestimate how much their medical costs will rise and should re-evaluate what plan they're signed up for and whether it's still appropriate, McMahon says. One of the things that surprises young couples most, immediately after having a child, is the size of their portion of medical bills connected with the delivery, she says.GET ESTATE PLANNING
After you have a child, it's not all just about you and your spouse anymore. You need to quickly make contingency plans for the new member of your family, Close says. It's imperative to get the legal documents in place that will assign a guardian for your child if both parents were to die prematurely, he says.
Meanwhile, Close often encourages young parents to set up a trust that would be established to care for the child as well as designate a person to manage the financial affairs.LOOK LONG TERM
Given all the obligations that need to be handled even before Junior utters his first word, it's easy for parents to lose sight of other, even bigger, financial obligations down the road. College planning is perhaps the biggest looming financial hurdle. Some parents think it's too soon to think about saving for college when a child is just born.
But by starting to save when a child is born, or even before, parents can dramatically reduce the financial strain of the process.BE ADAPTABLE
Parents and financial planning experts insist that parents should have a financial plan, but build in flexibility. Much of what's enjoyable about having kids is the unpredictability they bring.
To cover unexpected costs, Ballou recommends parents save 5% to 10% of income each year to cover "unknown costs."
Despite the challenges of planning for children, though, it's well worth the time.
Having a plan for money in place allows parents to focus on being parents, which is already emotionally and physically demanding, Cheng says. "If your finances are strong, you can focus on being a better parent."
A guitar playing dad has built quite a following. Not one, but two eager fans at home are drawn to his music.
It was a double dose of cute when his identical twin daughters rocked out while he strummed an acoustic guitar.
The 11-month-old twins sat in their high chairs, eating stray peas, when their mom told them that there were going to hear a favorite treat from dad.
“Hey, guys! Daddy’s gonna play a little song,” the mother said.
“Are you guys ready?” the dad asked and then plucked the strings.
As soon as the sisters heard the tune, they stared at each other, ecstatic, and swung their heads from side to side. The two giggled as they continued to sway and shook their hands.
Many viewers were delighted with the twins' video. “I love how they look at each other right before they start to groove! Cutest video, made my day. They are too sweet!” one said.
Since the video was posted, it has gotten more than 733,000 views on YouTube.