Wednesday, May 6, 2015

What I learned from my mom...

We all have "mom sayings" that pop into our head at certain times like, "Eat your vegetables" and "Did you remember to wash behind your ears?" and "If everyone jumped off a cliff, would you too?" Sometimes we would heed her advice, and other times we would pretend we didn't hear her. But there are few lessons that actually stuck with us through the years and were even taught to our own children.

We asked our staff at Hope Clinic to think of the most important thing they learned from their mom and here's what they said:

"Show respect to your elders regardless if they are right or wrong, and anything can be paid off with food!"
Renée Rizzo

"Let go and trust God!" I called her wondering how I was to protect my son from his own crazy antics.  My mother laughed saying I taught her very early on that God was going to have to watch over and protect us.  It was humanly impossible for her to even try to keep my siblings and I safe (we were an adventures group of kids).   I learned to let go and give my son the opportunity to stretch his wing (after explaining he can’t really fly).
Desirée O'Neill

"Always be kind to others, especially those that feel left out."
Cindi Barrett

"How to garden (Connect with nature), How to clean a house spotlessly (Have high standards), and The homemade version of most things is always better (You have the talent and power to do many things yourself)."
Emmely Duncan

"How to serve sacrificially and always be there for people in need."
Stasi Egli

"Mind over matter." She always told me that I could do anything I put my mind to and not to let circumstances or the task/matter at hand overwhelm me.
Mallori Cain

"Selflessness, long suffering, unrelenting faith, confidence in the Lord and self confidence."
Karen Hyden

"Showing kindness and compassion to others."  She has always lived this out in her daily life—acting and speaking in kindness to friends, family, strangers no matter the situation. 
Brandiann Rellinger

"Be patient with women. Some women more than others need time to process. Guys need to be patient, let it breathe, and never leave a fight even it’s really uncomfortable."
Josh Blackburn

"Unconditional love, how to receive it and how to give it."
Marie Gilland

"People Matter Most." I’m not sure if this is something my mother ever said aloud, but it’s something she’s taught me every day simply by the way she lives her life. I’ve spent most of my life watching her serve other people – our family, her friends, the church, and random people she meets on the street (or in elevators or the grocery store or anywhere else!). She is committed to being fully present in the little things – interrupting what she’s doing for a phone call from a friend, making a homemade dinner every night, or sending cards to celebrate everyone’s everything.  She’s equally committed to big things. One of my favorite mom-isms is “You have to show up for the big things” meaning weddings, funerals, celebrations or really anything that matters to the person in question. I’ve seen her cook thousands of meals for people who are hurting and rearrange her schedule a million times just so she can be there in the audience cheering someone on. She brightens everyone’s day and so intentionally makes the people she meets feel valued. To her, everyone matters, and everyone is important. By watching her I’ve learned the most important question you can ask yourself at the end of your day is, “did I love people well today?” because really, in the end, that’s the only thing that matters. 
Angie Stapleton

"If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all."
Terry Cheatham

"Be responsible with your money and take care of your belongings."
Jared Larry

"Always be grateful and thankful. Show gratitude. Say please and thank you. Always write thank-you cards!"
Sara Chang

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Safer Campuses. Brighter Futures. Prevent Sexual Violence.

Anyone who has spent time on a college campus recently knows they are much different now than even 10 years ago. Social media has changed everything. Students put their entire lives online. At Belmont, I have the privilege of working with our college athletes. Like all students, they face enormous social pressure to showcase “risky behaviors” through social media. However, if they choose to participate and post such things – especially given their athlete status – they are making decisions with ramifications that could impact the rest of their lives.

Two things recently led us to take up the issue of sexual violence with our student athletes. The first was the highly-publicized recent events at another local university. The second was recent changes in Title IX. We are now required to report any suspicion of harassment or abuse. While this is wonderful in theory, administrators have had many discussions on whether this allows students to feel safe or shuts people down, knowing anything they insinuate must be reported and they may face social backlash.

Around the same time this was implemented, Hope Clinic’s therapist, Terry Cheatham, spoke at my church, and I was introduced to the clinic and their prevention program. Soon after, we welcomed Terry and the clinic’s CEO Renée Rizzo to speak to our athletes. We could not have asked for two more perfect people to lead these trainings. Terry is extremely passionate and educated, and Renée instantly connected with the females given her history as a student athlete.

They divided the students into two groups. With the females, it was important for us to help give them a voice, teach them to protect themselves, and emphasize that if they are a victim, it is not their fault and they should not be ashamed. The females said they were shocked by the statistics Renée shared. It was especially powerful when she split them into groups. One in four women will be assaulted on a college campus, and it hit home that it could be any one of the people in their group – a friend or even themselves.
For the males, they took a different approach by dealing with the over-sexualization of young men and women, learning to be positive bystanders, making healthy choices with alcohol and pornography, and addressing rape culture. We’ve hosted similar seminars with other organizations, but the males said Terry was able to keep their attention and they felt comfortable talking about these sensitive subjects. 

Afterwards, Renée and Terry gave feedback and suggestions for practical improvements directly from the students – places on campus in need of additional lighting, information on the location of campus security cameras, protecting students in parking lots, and more. We’re grateful students had a venue to ask for things they need to feel safe on campus – which is, of course, a top priority for the university.

Since our session, we know students have sought counseling individually. While we offer counseling on campus, not everyone feels comfortable walking through those doors, so we’re glad this provided an alternative for someone to get the help they need in a place where they feel safe and anonymous.

In this day and age, our students constantly face ethical and moral decisions. Unfortunately, risky behaviors have simply become the social norm. We’re grateful to partner with an organization that gives our students the tools and confidence to make healthy, responsible choices in a culture that continually asks them to do the opposite.

- Heather Copeland, Assistant Athletic Director for Compliance, Belmont University 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Waiting Season of Easter

I have a lot of family memories and traditions edged in my brain surrounding Easter. It started with Lent and some ashes. It included making a lot of Easter bread, meat pies and ‘Pastiera di Grano’ (a breakfast version of Italian cheesecake with wheat grain). It also included wearing a spring dress and hat complete with white lace socks and black patent leather shoes as we visited our Godparents and other Italian relatives.

Over the years, I have a better understanding of this ‘pre-Easter’ season than I did as a youth. In my head Lent was about ‘giving up stuff’ – like chocolate or popcorn or whatever my vice at the time was. If I was honest, my motivation was purely to lose 10 pounds before the Easter feast. Today I see this time as much more about digging even deeper in my faith by reading one of the gospels and reconnecting with who Jesus was and is and what His sacrifice meant and means today. You don’t need to get ashes to do this, but some people like a visual marker to begin this season.

Of course the finale of the Easter Season isn’t just Easter Day. It begins with Palm Sunday (yes I still remember dad soaking those palm leaves to make special crosses) and includes Holy Thursday (complete with the Last Supper and the washing of the feet), finally reaching the solemnness of Good Friday before the celebration of the Resurrection Sunday (or Easter). I was always sad for people who only showed up on Easter. I wondered…did they really understand the cost of the Cross? And if not, how does Easter seem so exciting?

I think for many people the cost of the Cross became abundantly clear with the viewing of The Passion of Christ. After watching that there is no denying the emotional and physical cost that Jesus went through that day. The cleaned up version of Jesus at the Sermon on the Mount or the one in a white robe on Easter is much easier to think of. But sitting in the tension of Good Friday and Easter Sunday is the dreaded Saturday…the waiting season.

And 2,000 years later, Saturday is still the hardest day for me. I know more every day the cost of my sin and am grateful more and more for the price Jesus paid on my behalf for my salvation, so each new Good Friday draws me closer to Him. I like celebrating the victory on Easter Sunday and I look forward to celebrating that for eternity on the other side of Heaven. But Saturday is a rough day. It represents the seasons and times where God seems silent…where Hope seems gone, where the Enemy seems to be winning, and when doubt creeps in. Especially if it’s something I have been waiting for God’s redemption or answer on for weeks or months or even years. It is in those moments I hang on more quietly but more fiercely to God. So in this Easter season if Saturday is seeming like a long day (week, month or year), be encouraged that I am praying for you. And Sunday WILL come. He has not forgotten us. He is Risen! 

Renée Rizzo, CEO/President

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Women's History Month and the Warrior Women we Serve

As a woman in leadership, you would think I would have a lot to say about this topic...and I do. Yet, as I write this, I worry too about the direction in which these messages can go. I DO love that there are strong women in history who have paved the way so I can actually be a CEO and have this space to write. But as a woman in leadership, I can also say this topic makes me somewhat uncomfortable. I don’t want to be labeled as a strong female leader. I really just want to be seen as a strong leader. Or better yet, a strong person.  As much as I like to be in control, I also like to relinquish control. I like to look pretty some days and I also like my sweats. I like to be on the front page and other days I like to hide at home. I want my life to have purpose and meaning, but I accept the fact that I may never be as well-known as Taylor Swift. Does she deserve the crown? Sure. But guess who else does? No, not me J. I think of the women we serve at Hope Clinic; those coming in with an unplanned pregnancy and those trying to live with the consequences of a pregnancy loss. They are all amazing warriors to me, and some of them may never make the front page or any 'Women of History' list.

The first women that I think of as playing a strong role in history are those who walked beside and helped finance Jesus during his time in ministry. Those who bravely stood at the Cross while He was crucified. Those who first saw His resurrected body. I love that Jesus knew 2,000 years later the strong role women would play in history. And even further back I think of Esther, Ruth, and Rahab…pretty strong and remarkable women who played an important role in history. Sometimes they acted bravely. Sometimes their very presence was an act of bravery.

Fast forward to the last 100 years and the list includes many great women who changed history. I am sure our lists may be different depending on your religious or political views (which I won’t even touch here J). I do think, no matter who is on your list, that as women have made more and more of a mark on society, it has brought about both good things and new roadblocks to face. In our attempt to be stronger, we sometimes come off as not needing any help. I have seen men lose their chivalry and start to question their role as we grow. I think we are still just trying to figure it out.

This brings me to the women we served 30 years ago and those we serve today. What is the same? These women are facing life-altering decisions that impact their life first and foremost…more so than their partners.  The brunt of the decisions and the workload falls on her shoulders. What has changed? On one hand, the world wants to push the man further and further away from her body, her choice, and her decisions. Yet from where I sit, I am not sure that has always been to her benefit. We know full well the cost of young people growing up without a father figure in the home. We know over 90% of those incarcerated have no father. We also know of many women who are actually our clients BECAUSE of a poor father figure in her life. So while we continue to equip and empower these warrior women who walk in our doors, we are also trying to engage their partners in the process. We want them to stand beside her, support her, share in the responsibility and the decision making, and yes, be a part of the parenting process. This is good for her and it is good for the child.  We have male therapists talking to the partner so he better knows how to support her. We also have these male therapists talking to the woman so she knows how to better ask for what she needs and deserves. This is a radical change from the original pregnancy center model and one that many others still hold today. But it is one I think is vital for the real long-term success of the women we serve.

So I think being a strong woman doesn’t have to exclude having strong men in her life; just like there is nothing wrong with a strong woman choosing to stand beside her strong husband and taking the number two spot. I think great women in history have never followed  one prototype. She can be strong AND meek; empowering AND submissive; outspoken AND quiet; making a mark on the whole world AND just in her own home. I thank God for the many women before me who made it possible for me to have a voice, and I look forward to the women of tomorrow who may have opportunities because of some tiny contribution I have possibly made. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

How to experience the Beatitudes in our Daily Life

The Beatitudes that begin the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew are one of the most talked about sections of the New Testament. They are seen as blessings with two phrases in each: the condition of the heart and the result tying the Old and New Testament together. Hope Clinic is using the Beatitudes as our theme for this year's Hope for the Future Gala in a special art exhibit through the amazing work of world-renowned photographer Jeremy Cowart and the courage of our clients, volunteers and staff willing to share their story. To say I am excited by this year's approach is an understatement. I know God will use this night in a special way beyond what I have ever seen before.
Of course this meant I needed to refresh my memory of the Beatitudes since I did not have them all memorized J. And here is my truth: while there are some things on that list that seem like real blessings in the present (meek, merciful, pure in heart and peacemakers), the other half is a list where the blessings don’t seem to happen this side of heaven. But the older I get, the more I realize I have experienced all of these ‘blessings’ and in fact, even under persecution, God has this amazing ability to truly allow you to be blessed this side of Heaven if you let Him. To receive or see the blessing in any circumstance takes a real relinquishment of your trust over to the One who created Heaven and Earth.
I think what I like most about the theme of the Beatitudes is the reality that if you live long enough as a believer you WILL in fact experience them all in your life. It may be distressful to hear that (who wants to mourn, be poor, persecuted or thirsty?), but it is also what connects us to each other. It levels the playing field, so to speak. We all have the same chance to receive and live through experiences that bring about blessings that go far beyond joy or sadness. That means it is true for you, me, and every client who walks in our doors. And most times, these moments of ‘blessings’ have a mix of both joy and sadness, not either or. The real blessing is that God is present beyond emotion at a soul level. A place only He can reach you and connect with you. And because of this I know I can walk beside someone who has shared in that same type of blessing, making it possible for me to connect to other people on a soul level. I believe this is the kind of connection God desires for us to have with Him and our neighbor.

Do you want to know more about this and understand how this ties together with our work? Join us March 31st at Houston Station in Nashville. Click here for more information. 

Renée Rizzo


Thursday, February 5, 2015

10 Healthy Ways to Keep Your Marriage/Relationship Moving Forward

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching I am always asked by couples, “How do you keep your marriage/relationship moving in the right direction?”  These are some simple truths I have found that work very well.  I even have to look at these often just to keep my relationship positive.

  1. Successful relationships take work.  They don’t happen in a vacuum.  They occur when the couples in them take the risk of sharing what it is that’s going on in their hearts and heads.
  2. You can only change yourself, not your partner.  If you love someone and think that after a while he/she will alter his/her behaviors you find uncomfortable, think again.  If you want changes, put them out there for your partner to see so your partner knows what you need.
  3. All arguments stem from our own fear or pain.  When upset occurs, check out what’s going on inside of you rather than get angry with your partner.  The truth is that we usually aren’t upset for the reasons we think.
  4. Understand that men and women are very different.  We’re not from Mars or Venus; we’re not even in the same solar system.  Understanding and celebrating our differences will make living together more peaceful, interesting, and fun.
  5. Honor each other in some way every day.  Every morning you have the opportunity to make your relationship sweeter and deeper by recommitting to your mate.  Feeling respected and cherished by the one you love makes life much nicer.
  6. Anger is a waste of time.  It’s a relationship killer, because it makes you self-absorbed and won’t allow you to see the good. Give yourself some time to calm down and then gently discuss what’s going on with you.
  7. Get regular tune-ups.  Go to a couple’s workshop, talk with a therapist, or read a relationship book together at least once a year.  You will pick up ideas, and the process alone will strengthen your connection.
  8. Find a way to become and stay best friends.  For some this sounds unromantic, but for those who live it, most say it’s the best part of their time together.
  9. Be responsible for your own happiness.  No other person can make you happy; it’s something you have to do on your own.  Look within to find out what piece may be missing for you.
  10. Give what you want to get.  Our needs change with time.  If you’d like to feel understood, try being more understanding.  If you want to feel more love, try giving more.  It’s a simple program that really works.  

Most of all, enjoy being with one another.  Love is a gift from God!!

Terry Cheatham is the Male and Parent Counselor at Hope Clinic. He also facilitates Marriage workshops for Marriage Helper as well as counsels couples who attend.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Mentor Spotlight - Cindi Parten

Since January was National Mentoring Month, we sat down with Cindi, who has been volunteering at Hope Clinic for over 20 years. She and others like her are the reason most of our clients say they were treated with respect, would return for further services, commit to making healthier life choices, and would recommend Hope Clinic to a friend.
HC: How long have you been a mentor to our clients?
CindiThe exact date of my beginning as a volunteer at Hope Clinic is not a clear memory, but I do know that it was something I decided to do when my youngest child, my daughter Emily, was just over a year old. She is now 21, so it's been approximately 20 years. It was an ad in my church bulletin which prompted me to make the call to volunteer, after having been encouraged by someone already involved with Hope Clinic ( at the time it was Crisis Pregnancy Support Center ). I was trained in a two week evening class by Lucy Freed, the founding director, and Carolyn Hubbard, my first supervisor, who still remains in my heart as one of the most special people I've ever met.
HC: What keeps you coming back to Hope Clinic?
CindiSpeaking of the most special people I've ever met, the folks I interact with while volunteering with Hope Clinic, staff and volunteers are great people to be around. It's a given that they're loving, caring people because they are there!  It's always very comfortable to share my faith in their company and to ask for prayers in times of special need, and to feel the power of their prayers at those times as well.  In my experience, this type of atmosphere is not often found in other workplaces. The work I do at Hope Clinic is something I believe is a really good fit for me. I'm really good at listening, I feel compassion for the clients in their often difficult situations, drawing on the difficulties I've experienced in my own life, and I really tend to genuinely LIKE most of the clients I've seen over these last 20 years, which makes it so easy for me to love them in the way I think God would have me love them for Him. Volunteering with Hope Clinic also gives me an outlet in a much more social way than much of the work I do on a regular basis.
HC: What would you say to someone who is considering being a mentor to our clients?
CindiIf someone is considering becoming a mentor, I would say if you don't have difficulty with listening to other people's problems, and can listen without judging them, and don't mind too much sometimes not knowing whether your efforts have made a clear impact or have just planted a seed which may blossom later, and are comfortable with being there for them for up to two years, AND knowing that the gifts which the clients are given ultimately come from God, then you should jump on it!
HC: What have you learned about yourself through mentoring?
CindiIn volunteering with Hope Clinic I've learned that what I think and do as a mentor is not nearly so important as my relationship with God. The stronger that relationship is, the more the clients appear to be benefitted. I have learned that as much as some situations frightened me in the beginning, that ultimately trusting God to do His work is where peace is found. I have learned that we are all human beings and that all any of us really wants is to be loved, and that it is my place to try to show God's love to our clients. There is so much more I could say about Hope Clinic and its meaning in my life, but I will just say that I am privileged to be a small part of such a wonderful and effective organization.