10 Lessons in 10 Years of... (1)

10 Lessons from 10 Years in FOCUS: Part 2 of 3

by Lisa Cotter, posted in Excellence

This month marks our 10-year FOCUS anniversary. It’s hard to look back and remember life before FOCUS, and at the same time, it’s hard to imagine that it’s been 10 years. During our decade as a missionary family we have learned many life lessons and in a fit of nostalgia, I’m sharing 10 on the blog in a three part series. Here’s part two.


           4. Living Minimally is Possible

My house is full of stuff. Lately, I’ve been trying to pare down what we have, but it’s still full of stuff. While none of it’s intrinsically evil, or necessarily bad to have, during our time in FOCUS I’ve had to learn how to live without 95% of it.

For the majority of the past 10 summers our family of 3, 4, or 5 have packed up and moved to a college town for roughly 5-6 weeks. Why? For FOCUS’ New Staff Training (NST). This is the time of year when we gather back together and offer new and continual training to our missionaries. It’s a lot of classes, a lot of prayer, and a lot of fun. (Mostly.)

Upon arriving at this new location with nothing more than what we can fit in our suitcases (or van if it’s close enough to drive), we set up camp in a college dorm room. As a family. For 5-6 weeks. You read that right. In the early years, we had nothing but two bedrooms, one bathroom, and a small lounge… which was shared with another family.

Yes, I can live with a week’s worth of clothes and a few pairs of shoes. Yes, my kids can survive with only a few conventional toys to play with. Yes, my babies can live without a saucer, changing table, playmat, swing, etc. Yes, I can do without the convenience of an in-unit washer and dryer, closed garage, dining room, or kitchen. (Back to eating in the cafeteria!) Is it always easy? No, but it is possible.

While I understand that relatively speaking what I just described might be a lot for some people in our global community, for the Cotters, who are accustomed to many of life’s luxuries and conveniences, it’s a stretch. And it’s a stretch that is good for us.

Look around at your stuff. Do you have too much of it? Does it drive you crazy? Go ahead, scale back. I promise you will still survive.

Celebrating Father's Day in the dorms at NST.
Celebrating Father’s Day in the dorms at NST.


           5. To Learn How to Parent, Spend Time with Parents

Kevin and I are both the youngest in our families. This means growing up neither of us had a whole lot of observation time when it came to parenting kids. When the hospital sent us home with our newborn daughter we felt like we were doing something wrong.

“Shouldn’t we have some type of training and certification before we do this?”

Apparently not.

About a year later we joined FOCUS staff and, to our surprise, an informal training in parenting began.

In FOCUS you live life together, at times, quite literally. While at NST you share a dorm complex for sleeping, you pray in pews together for daily Mass and adoration, and you eat all your meals together in the caf. Throughout the year you continue to gather for regional events and conferences, or for no real reason at all.

Given our large community, there is always someone ahead of you in parenting whom you can learn from, and learn from we do. Yes, by asking questions, but more from simply spending time with them. Watching how someone handles a meltdown will teach you far more than reading about it. Listening in on a dinner-time conversation over finishing veggies will give you a better idea of how to handle your own veggie war more than asking a forum on Facebook.

I’ll admit it; we have an ideal situation with easy access to Catholic families. However, perhaps you do too. If and/or when you have kids, look around at your Catholic community and find those families who you look up to. Reach out and ask if you can spend time with them. Join a small group of mom’s, dad’s, or families. (And if you don’t have one at your parish, start one.)

Point being, we need each other. We need community. Make it a priority in your life to spend time with other parents and your confidence in parenting will increase.


            6. Even those who Pray are not Perfect

Before becoming a missionary family I had a vision in my mind that FOCUS was a flawless organization. Why wouldn’t it be? All of its employees were faithful, practicing Catholics who did a holy hour (every day), attended Mass (every day), prayed the rosary (every day), and went to confession (every month… sometimes even more). What could possibly go wrong in an organization with that much grace?

Well, as I’ve come to find out, almost anything. Why? Because despite all of the graces FOCUS staff members receive, they’re still humans.

This was an initial shock and disappointment to me because I liked to imagine that there was a formula for organizational utopia, but it just doesn’t work like that. No person, or group of people, is perfect and it’s unfair to expect them to be.

Years later, rather than being disappointed with the imperfections of FOCUS, I’m in awe of them. Truly, it’s amazing that a group of imperfect people has brought the gospel of Jesus Christ to over 130 campuses in less than 20 years. Their efforts have drawn tens of thousands of students into Bible studies, generated over 600 vocations to religious life, and each year create hundreds of new, full-time FOCUS missionaries.

God works with imperfect people. Imperfect people like you and me. Prayer won’t make us perfect, but it will make it possible for God to do some pretty amazing things through us.


You can read Part 1 of this series here and Part 3 is forthcoming! To learn more about FOCUS visit focus.org.

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