by Kathryn Lieder
“When I came to BC and when I met with the Jesuits, they changed my paradigm. They said to me, the world is your home,” Church in the 21st Century Center Associate Director Karen Kiefer shared in her recent Agape Latte talk.
Kiefer undoubtedly lives every day in the spirit of those words. She grew up in a large Irish Catholic family and faith was an important part of her upbringing. Kiefer attended Boston College for her undergraduate studies and met her husband here. BC is still important to her life as she now has a career here and two of her four daughters currently attend BC.
In 1994, she had just given birth to her first daughter and shares that she began to pray every day to God, “Help me help you.”
A few years later, after having two more daughters, she began to frequently bake her Nana’s Irish bread with the help of her two oldest. Her husband came up with the idea of giving away the bread they baked to veterans, so they baked 300 loaves of bread, decorated them, and brought them to a veterans shelter in Boston just before Christmas.
The baking that began in the Kiefer kitchen sparked community bread drives and from there, the movement started to spread to schools, churches, and communities. Before she knew it, her non-profit “Spread the Bread” had moved into 50 states. “This bread became bigger than all of us,” she remarked.
During a local bread drive she was holding with her daughters, she met World War II veteran Harold Eckman, who shared that when one of her daughters thanked him, it was the first time anyone had ever thanked him for his service.
He then went on to tell a story from his experiences as a Jewish American soldier in post-World War II Czechoslovakia in 1945. While helping hungry and tired displaced people off of trains, he and his comrades chose to save some of their own food to give it out to those who were starving.
Harold offered bread to a very gracious woman who had lost nearly everything in the war, including her bookstore, her husband, and her only son. “You give me bread, you give me hope, you give me back my life,” the woman said to him.
In return for his kindness, the woman offered him her son’s knife, just about the only possession that she had left.
Harold then told Kiefer, “I want to give you the knife to continue the bread circle.”
She responded, saying, “Harold, you already have.”
In 1998, her next story began with a pile of misfit socks on the laundry room floor. One of her daughters pointed out that the socks were “sad” and “lonely” and said that they had to do something about them. Kiefer decided that they would decorate the misfit socks, put them in goodie bags with a short poem of kind holiday wishes, and on Christmas they would deliver them around the neighborhood.
In 2008, one of her daughters was sick for awhile and Kiefer wasn’t able to sleep at night because she was so worried about her. When Christmas came around that year, she heard God whispering to her, asking her to do something about the misfits. So late one night, Kiefer began writing the story of the misfit sock. “I didn’t write the story,” she shares, “God wrote the story.”
She then connected with a Belgian artist to create illustrations for her book and they soon had their own self-published book. The story of the misfit sock became a national movement, which focused on teaching people the importance of celebrating their differences. It seeks to empower kids to take a stand against bullying.
The next story she shares started with sitting down to drink a cup of coffee and read the newspaper, something that she rarely takes the time out of her busy schedule to do. She came across the obituary section and was struck the photo of two young girls and the accompanying write up brought her to tears. The photo was of Alexandria Lynch and her older sister Sheila. Alexandria was born disabled and without parents to take her home from the hospital until foster parents Harry and Patricia Lynch, who already had six kids, willingly welcomed her into their home and their hearts. Sheila and Alexandria developed a special bond. Sheila was the only one who was able to calm Alexandria in situations of emotional distress.
Sheila’s death came suddenly just days after she had returned from doing biological research in a cave in Texas and the loss left them all deeply saddened.
When the family brought Alexandria to Sheila’s grave, she would bring a watering can to water the flowers around the grave and shout the Hail Mary many times through because it was the only prayer she knew.
Just two years after Sheila’s passing, Alexandria died peacefully in her sleep. “Her mother felt like Sheila had just come to take her home, to take her out of her pain, out of her challenges, to bring her home to God,” Kiefer recounts.
She decided to make hundreds of copies of the obituary to distribute, and wrote a story on it and sent it into the newspaper. Her spark set off yet another chain reaction. People began writing to and praying for the Lynch family, who expressed immense appreciation for the heartfelt words from everyone who reached out to them.
“Piece of bread, misfit sock, obituary…Inspiration is all around us, we are all struggling, everyone needs help,” she said. She ended, sharing, “Think about listening to the whisper… He’s calling you to live your wonderful life.”