Single Motherhood ensnared me when my daughter was just nine months old – nearly fifteen years ago. At the time I was overwhelmed, exhausted, broke, lonely and scared but kept going – trying to conceal this reality from most everyone.
One evening my large non caller-ID phone rang and when I answered it, the voice of my Pastor said “Marisa, this is Monsignor O’Connor” in a very Bostonian accent. He let me know he had “heard” that my husband had left and asked “How are you and the baby doing?” When I mumbled that we were holding on. He said: “You know you are part of our parish – you do a lot for us and I want you to know we’re here for you. Is there anything you need? If you need to talk, you need money to pay any bills like the heat or the mortgage or you need some help with the baby, just let us know if you need anything at all because that’s what we’re here for – we’re here for you.”
We chatted a bit with me asking for some advice and when I hung up after a few minutes, I just stood by the phone and sobbed for a while – so touched by his compassion. No one had ever offered me unconditional help with any and everything before – especially without any questions or judgments.
Fast forward to the beginning of last year when the phone rang again and this time WITH caller-ID, I noticed it said “Focus on the Family” (FOF); an organization that I have been a fan of for many years. A lady named Sandy spoke in a kind and gentle manner and said they hadn’t heard from me in a while and she was calling to find out if there was anything “Focus on the Family” could do for me. She said with the economy in a slump, many of their contributors were in need of help themselves. She mentioned prayer, talking with someone or asked if I needed any financial assistance or other resources. I told her we were ok – just on a tight budget – she prayed for me and with me over the phone. Once more, I found myself in a puddle of tears when I hung up – incredulous at the thoughtfulness – especially by people who do not even know me personally.
What I have learnt from these incidents – other than unexpected consideration usually reduces me to a sobbing fool – was that I am not necessarily unique in my response. These memories were brought to the forefront of my mind when I attended a talk last week by Andreas Widmer; author of the book “The Pope and the CEO”. He recounted how while he was a Swiss Guard to Pope John Paul II, the Pope had reached out to him with totally unexpected and unassuming kindness – touching and changing Widmer’s life.
These incidents exemplified a few noteworthy leadership qualities as follows:
- The Pope and Msgr. O’Connor didn’t pull “rank”. In the eyes of the world they were important and busy men but they made the time to connect in the old fashioned personal way (no email blasts) without assigning someone else to the task of reaching out – THEY did it themselves.
- Being “important” didn’t stop them from interacting with “no names” and actually reaching out to help them – no hobnobbing here! Very often we tend to rub elbows with those who are “on the same level” as us or with someone more “influential” who can DO something for us – not the other way around.
- In the grand scheme of things, I was an insignificant giver to my parish and to “Focus on the Family”. I am sure my contribution was less than a drop in the proverbial ocean – and yet as total examples of Christ’s unconditional and unbiased love, they reached out to me as if I was Princess rather than Pauper.
- None of them acted with any fanfare. This was all just between two people. No accolades to be given or received – no names in print or stone. Pure, unadulterated kindness when the world wasn’t watching.
- When I had money to give, can you guess which organization was at the top of my list? Thankfully I didn’t take either my pastor or FOF up on the monetary assistance. I mention this not to prove any personal strength or resilience but only so you will know that my allegiance or admiration was not born out of gratitude for the material. While I do not bless the theory “Do/Give to Receive”; for those of us in fundraising, when was the last time we considered “giving” something rather than asking? Could it possibly be the means to a better end?
People gravitated to Pope John Paul II like a magnet – he personified the words humility, kindness and gentleness.
“Focus on the Family” has helped millions of families and individuals the world over.
Msgr. Dan O’Connor passed away a couple of years ago. He was known predominantly as a teacher and as an effective and competent administrator. I knew him as a compassionate and generous soul. I regret that I didn’t make the time to tell him that he had impacted my life in a very special way.
PS. I will be on “The Son Rise Morning Show” (Radio) on Friday 2/22/13 – 7:35 am (US, Eastern Time) speaking on the topic of Stylish but Modest Dressing. Click here to listen