“Every day, I wake up and say I am here. Put me in the place where there is need and let me help.”
When someone asks Carmen Lisowski how she is, she doesn’t give the stock answer, “I’m fine.” Instead, she replies, “I’m beautiful, I’m happy and I’m blessed.” She’s not being boastful, she’s being authentic. “It is true, I feel like that,” Carmen says with a laugh. “Everybody should. Everybody is blessed.”
Carmen is a faithful member of Holy Family Parish in Arcadia, where she has lived for nearly 16 years. But her journey to get there was long and often times arduous.
“I was born in a small town in Mexico,” Carmen says. “I have three brothers and three sisters; I’m in the middle.” Raising their children with a solid Catholic foundation was very important to her mother and father. “My parents taught us our Faith,” she says. “Every night, we prayed the rosary. They got us up at 6 a.m. for Mass. My father loved the Sacred Heart of Jesus.”
Life in Mexico had its challenges. “Where I lived was a hard town,” Carmen says. “My father worked with sugar cane all of his life. It was tough.” Carmen married young and had two daughters, Samara and Rossellin. Carmen’s father passed away when she was 27 and she moved to California with her husband and daughters. “My two sisters were already in California, so we came to this country for something better,” Carmen says.
“Sometimes we don’t want to listen, but He says, ‘Come on, I need you there because no one else wants to do it.’ So, I go wherever He tells me to go.”
Sadly, Carmen’s husband took a path she did not want to be on. “My ex-husband didn’t want to stay away from drugs,” she says quietly. “I decided, this is no life. I didn’t want that kind of life for my kids. I said, it’s enough. My younger brother and sister were living in Arcadia. I called my brother and he said, ‘Don’t worry, I will come and pick you and your girls up.’ So, he drove all the way to California to get us.”
Carmen and her daughters were grateful to move to Arcadia and forge a new life. “I put Jesus in my heart and He saved my life,” Carmen says of that time. “I asked and He chose a new life for me.” Carmen went through a divorce and annulment and believes God brought her present husband, Donald, into her life. The two met at Ashley Furniture, where they were both working at the time. After dating three years, they decided to marry. “Jesus brought me to Arcadia and He gave me a good husband,” Carmen declares. She and Donald have been happily married for 12 years. “My husband is there for me all the time,” she says with a smile.
Carmen has immersed herself in the Arcadia community, which has a large Hispanic population. “The community is my family. We share everything,” Carmen says proudly. “It’s a really nice community but, there is a lot of suffering, too. Because I have suffered, I can understand the community.” Carmen believes God puts us where we’re supposed to be. “Sometimes we don’t want to listen, but He says, ‘Come on, I need you there because no one else wants to do it.’ So, I go wherever He tells me to go.”
This giving attitude serves Carmen well in all aspects of her life. “I see Jesus in other people. I see His face in people who are suffering. I ask Him to help me help others,” Carmen says. “Every day, I wake up and say I am here. Put me in the place where there is need and let me help.”
There was only one time that Carmen resisted a call for help. Nine years ago, Father Michael Klos, then pastor at Holy Family, approached Carmen after Mass and asked her to teach the parish’s CCD program. “I said no, but God say yes,” Carmen laughs. “The next week, I went to Mass at a different church so I wouldn’t see Father Klos. But the next week I go back there and Father says, ‘I was waiting for you, Carmen. I need help.’ And so, I help,” Carmen says matter-of-factly. She’s been teaching CCD ever since. “I love being with the little ones,” Carmen says. “They are amazing.”
Carmen’s life is a busy one. In addition to running her own cleaning business, she also volunteers at parish festivals and assists at fundraisers to help those in need. This year, she coordinated an initiative at Holy Family to have the rosary prayed in the church every day. While both of her daughters are now out on their own, she and Donald have taken in two of her nieces, Itzel and Abigail. “We don’t have an empty nest,” she says happily. “I’m always moving and doing a lot of stuff. When I sit down in front of the TV, I take a nap!”
Carmen’s motto in life is a simple one. “When someone asks for help, don’t think twice, just help,” she says. “And, always think positive in everything. Everyone has bad days, but tomorrow a new sun will come out and it will be better than today.”
Her optimistic attitude draws people to her. “People tell me their problems and I am glad to listen,” Carmen says. “I know how it feels when someone drinks. I know how it feels when someone is abused. I know how it feels to be hungry. I say, ‘God use me.’ And He helps me bring them comfort.”
“The world can be much better, but you don’t have to save the whole world,” Carmen says with quiet emphasis. “Help at least one person, make their life better. If you do this, it is wonderful and amazing how God will reward you.” Carmen says when she offers help to another, she asks for nothing in return. “I don’t expect people to pay me back,” she explains. “You know who pays me back? Jesus pays me back. I am really blessed.”
Having experienced both great joy and great sadness, Carmen is certain of one thing. “Always follow Jesus,” she says confidently. “When you feel you are missing something, ask Jesus and He will give it to you. Always.”
Story by Mary Ellen Bliss
Published May/June 2020 Issue of Catholic Life