Let Nothing Disturb You

I made dinner for Grandpa Tom and delivered it before I left. Dinner for Mom and Dad was also packed for the journey. I remembered Drew’s package he needed me to deliver to his fraternity, his apartment deposit check, and I brought along some cookies I baked for he and his friends. What I didn’t remember on this second trip north in a week was MY glasses, or clean underwear, or a spare bra, or my toothbrush. So, I just brushed my teeth with a washcloth and I went commando under my yoga pants wearing yesterday’s bra, and THANK YOU GOD a tunic length top. Sheesh. Is that a skosh too much information for you? Sorry about your luck. Today, I’m just flat out keeping it real.

Mom got a new hip a week ago, and so I’ve been staying close to help out a little extra. I broke away from Red Oaks Lane to have lunch with my college kiddo and a buddy of his who are nearby studying at Purdue one of these afternoons. It was a nice break, after which I decided to make a little detour to campus, and I popped into the bookstore to pick up a few items for my Boilermaker enthusiasts this Christmas. That was when things got dicey. There were two employees present, and they were arguing about politics, the Supreme Court nominee, and even just the TV channel being shown in the store. They apparently felt volume changes minds. The experience felt very emblematic of the soupy situation we all find ourselves in right now. Plus, it was not mood enhancing.

Mom, looking good post-surgery.

Maybe because 3 out of 3 grandparents in our lives are in the middle of some health drama, the husband of a dear friend is in the ICU on a vent, COVID has disrupted the education of our children, and the powers that be have stolen from me the sacred music at mass which calms my soul (among myriad other trials), I find myself somewhat rubbed by things which injure my mental health further and illuminate nada. I am much more interested in what we can do to love each other. Helping the next guy to “see the light” or change their stubborn mind when we honestly have no idea what they are facing is just flat out the wrong approach, according to me, myself and I. Clearly, all of the social media outlets disagree, but I digress.

I have a theory. It is based on not a darn thing except my gut instinct. Therefore, I offer it to you without a trace of scientific evidence to back up the assertion. Here it is. I think we can’t change other peoples minds. I think it needs to be their idea. In other words, discordant, raucous screeching actually doesn’t even work a little. Perhaps we can nudge others along with rapport, kindness, and understanding. I feel like I have a lot more success instilling open mindedness in others when I listen respectfully and find common ground.

I’ve never actually tried to convince anyone to change political parties. BUT, I have tried to persuade plenty of hurting, lonely folks that they are loved beyond all telling and that God is for real. That seems like an argument worth winning to me. I’ve got all those people on my mind today, which is apparently “World Mental Health Day.” I can’t keep up with all the made up holidays but based on my own mental chaos alone, this seems a cause worthy of attention.

You can’t live a positive life with a negative mind. Trust me, I’ve tried. EPIC FAIL. To call this year challenging is just the most ridiculous and underwhelming description. I’ll add some other adjectives just to make myself feel better about the adequacy of my work here. Hmm. 2020….troublesome, painful, demanding, wearisome…and downright onerous? Yes, that sounds better. Hopefully, there’s one in there that makes you feel like we are kindred spirits, because it is absolutely true that misery loves company, ha?

Here’s the thing. Servant of God, Walter Ciszek said, “Each day, every day of our lives, God presents to us the people and opportunities upon which He expects us to act.” This is a stunningly beautiful thought coming from a man who spent 15 years of hard labor in Russia, most notably in Moscow’s infamous Lubyanka prison where he was tortured and spent significant time in solitary confinement. If you haven’t read his biography, With God in Russia, I’d recommend it. It’s a difficult read, but incredibly inspiring.

So, what are you and I called to do today? What’s God asking of you? For me, I think it’s possible the Lord wants me to lighten up. The world needs sunshine. Laughter paired with being a little more gentle with Shelly would be a great aid in this matter, and perhaps put my own needs on the to-do list as well? It’s hard not to notice that deficiency when you’ve got Crest on a washrag in your mouth (and no undies) for gosh sakes! I’d guess there are a few of you who may be similarly called by our Lord. I’m making light here, but seriously, folks. Life is hard enough, consider being kinder to yourself. Others are watching your example and during this Respect Life Month, I’d say sometimes we forget our own dignity and worth. We can’t be who we are called to be, or be the face of Jesus to others like we should if we don’t mind the store a little.

A good friend texted me this morning, “Can you help me calm down?” I had no magic, but I promised prayers and told her I loved her. Then later, I sent her an inappropriate but very funny meme. Smiles can be the fairy dust in our day, am I right?

We need to trust the Lord and be at peace. It sounds hard, but it’s really very simple. For me, it helps to quiet down, pray, and go to mass as often as I can. Receiving Jesus is a great joy and comfort for which I’m grateful. This morning, the mass was said by one of my favorite human beings. He’s got the voice of an angel, and he hasn’t used it much lately. There are pandemic rules, I know, I know. Sometimes, I find the obedience of my pastor super annoying, ha? But TODAY, he did sing the Alleluia before the Gospel, and for just a moment, he broke into the harmony while the smattering of daily mass folks like myself sang the melody. It was just a little smile from the Lord, a reminder that He loves me, and that He knows everything— including how much I miss beautiful, sacred music. He’s right here beside us if we look.

On this feast of St. Teresa of Avila, I leave you with one of my most favorite saint quotes of all time. There’s a reason this gal is a Doctor of the Church. Read it slowly, and let it soak in.

Let nothing disturb you,

Let nothing frighten you,

All things are passing away;

God never changes.

Patience obtains all things.

Whoever has God lacks nothing;

God alone suffices.

— St. Teresa of Avila

Raising Canes

Use the gifts you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you. –St. Therese of Lisieux

Marvin Dykhuizen

Uncle Marv is 99 years old. He likes to walk to breakfast from his modest home on Tulip Ln, on the north side of my hometown. He’s WWII veteran and remarkably sharp, despite his age. The problem with Uncle Marv is that he’s mostly lost his eyesight and his hearing isn’t good. He’s remarkably spry, and has always been fit. Unfortunately, the daily walk to breakfast entails crossing the fairly busy Elmood Avenue on the northside of Lafayette. My great uncle is a true Dykhuizen, meaning he’s a talker. He still calls my 75 year old Dad, “Jimmy” and it makes me laugh.

Dad quizzed Uncle Marv about his daily walk, mostly with safety concerns for our family patriarch. The answer he got makes me giggle and shake my head.

“Well, Jimmy, I say a little prayer to the Lord for my safety before I leave the house,” he shared. “Then, when I get to Elmwood, I look both ways, and if I don’t see headlights, then I raise both my canes in the air and start waving them like crazy and I step out into the street and just hope for the best. When I get to the other side, I say a prayer of Thanksgiving that I made it safely.”

My first instinct upon hearing this story is to giggle. I mean, I can just picture the cars slamming on their brakes hoping to not be the person that runs over the crazy, old, blind guy with the canes. Perhaps family members should intercede? Then again, the man has survived the Great Depression, served his country in WWII, raised a family, had an enduring marriage, and is mentally astute and prayerful at the age of 99!! Who the heck are we to tell him what to do, ha?!!

Trusting in providence is Uncle Marv’s street crossing strategy. My guess is it’s the same simple, but strong faith in the Lord that helped him survive a century of mayhem that you and I can only begin to fathom– and with his good humor in tact.

I’m a BIG fan of the early Christmas card. You see, if I send one first, most folks will tend to include us in their own mailing when they get around to it. It’s a joyful thing when my mailbox starts to fill up with all those adorable family photos and clever letters. I mail one to Uncle Marv right after Thanksgiving every year. He always calls me shortly after it arrives to give me his “oral” Christmas greeting and asks about the boys and Tom. It’s a 30 minute piece of sunshine in my year for which I can rely. It’s a call that seeks nothing and it brings something reliably bright.

These tiny little sparks in our lives are really not small at all, I’ve decided. So today, inspired by Uncle Marv, I suppose I just want to acknowledge my gratefulness to the Lord for all the people who bring something bright. Your small acts make me believe in goodness. In 2020, I’m all about every single act which confounds the toxicity, brings love, and spreads a little holiness.

Just for fun, I’d like to name a few of the things that have made me smile lately.

  1. My normally tidy husband had a series of food mishaps this week, soiling four t-shirts in 2 days. The spills got to be so ridiculous that he presented himself shirtless on the back porch after the last episode and declared open season on the stain stick. Instead of choosing anger, Tom went with laughter, and the self-deprecating humor gave us all a big belly laugh. #TakeThat2020
  2. My parish, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, inspired by the citizens of our pastor’s hometown of Pendleton, has posted hopeful signs along 146th St and Oak Ridge Road. “You are not alone”, “You are Enough”, “Don’t Give Up”, “Your Mistakes Do Not Define You”, and “You are Worthy of Love”….among others. #TakeThat2020
  3. A particularly holy young man, John Tiplick, was playing a recent tennis match as my son’s doubles partner. After a couple of errant shots, a coach I adore raised his voice in John’s direction asking him “What in the world are you doing, John!!?” John turned to his coach with a very earnest smile and replied, “Playing tennis, Coach!” Anger instantly diffused. #TakeThat2020
  4. Covid snatched from us many events of the year, including Zach’s confirmation mass. The parish responded by holding a very small alternate mass for Z and another young person in similar circumstances. Two children were confirmed, two families were present. Do you know who else was there? Our pastor, a brand new deacon, the music director, two additional musicians…and a parish staff member who had actually retired the previous week. All those folks were there loving up these two teenagers. This particular momma was nearly moved to tears by the extraordinary kindness. #TakeThat2020
  5. A kind local tennis guru took a few minutes he didn’t have to teach me how to wrap a tennis racquet with overgrip today. Nice matters. #TakeThat2020
  6. Laine Schwegman climbed on my couch to re-take and “fix” a “chubby” photo of me with her mother, Renee. She’s a talented, very good human and being around her makes me have great hope for the future. #TakeThat2020
  7. Nick Fred texted me “I love you Mom.” #TakeThat2020
  8. Coach Chris Sciaudone of Guerin Catholic Boys Tennis has somehow kept the ball bouncing in nearly impossible circumstances this tennis season. The young men whose season (and mental health) he has saved will always remember his hard work, compassion, and incredible example of strength in adversity. So will their parents. #TakeThat2020
  9. Kristy Murphy shared her volleyball ticket with me at Covenant Christian High School last weekend. This made it possible for me to use an actual bathroom (and not the port-a-potty designated for tennis families) during the boys tennis tourney being held at the same location. I am a princess who likes indoor plumbing and sinks to wash my hands. It wasn’t a small matter to me. #TakeThat2020
  10. Todd Metzger went out of his way (and fronted the cash) to get Z’s only tennis racquet re-strung in record time so that he would have it for the GC tennis match this weekend. He didn’t have to, it was pure and altruistic act. #TakeThat2020
Hopeful messages on 146th St.

To those who make my life and those around me even an itsy-bitsy little amount better, THANK YOU. That thing which felt insignificant to you? It wasn’t miniscule at all. When it’s dark out like it has been during 2020, those who journey alongside? YOU MATTER.

My handsome, messy husband and I BEFORE the chocolate attacked his t-shirt!

A lot of people are struggling right now. I’ve had my days for sure. You guys…? Let’s take Uncle Marv’s lead. I say we raise our canes too, trust in Providence and let the Lord handle the hard stuff. After that, we’ll ask for the grace to do our little part. Even if all we can do is be present for someone, it’s a beautiful gift. Make the call. Donate your time. Write the note. Buy the cup of coffee. Send the text. GET BUSY DOING GOOD. It’s much more contagious than COVID-19!

P.S. I really WANTED to run this with the shirtless photo of my husband. But, I want to remain married a little more, ha?

If you’re experiencing stress or tension give it to Jesus. Tell Him, ‘I feel like crawling the wall, but I love You and I want to give this to You.’ Do you think our Lord wasn’t tense living with those twelve screwball apostles?” –Mother Angelica

Five Syllable Phrase

“Let us love, since that is all our hearts were made for.” –St. Therese of Lisieux

Mom and I on a recent trip to Michigan.

Disparaging people I adore is an action I try to avoid in general, but especially in writing. Therefore, it’s with some amount of trepidation that I submit to you a summary of some of the highlights of my last few days. However, I deeply value authenticity, and perhaps a little messiness keeps it real. Actually, I pretty much think that being invited into the weird, vulnerable and rusty parts by someone else is the greatest gift that friendship and family has to offer. I humbly submit to you, therefore, some of the unpolished moments of the last few days.

My mom is a tough bird. The word choice is intentional here. She literally spent part of her childhood living in a chicken coop. That is not a joke. She complains…NEVER. Right now, she’s a little hunched over. Her long overdue hip replacement isn’t happening until October, and there’s been some discussion about rods being placed in her spine after that. I plan to continue to appeal to Our Blessed Mother on behalf of Grandma Kate and see what we can get done about that lousy plan. My point is, when Mom complains of pain and vastly alters her normal active lifestyle, one knows she’s in significant agony. She was here this week, quietly but obviously enduring that torture and cheering on Z in his recent tennis matches. Dad came too but didn’t stay because he had to get back to Lafayette for a little minor surgery. Of course he did. It’s 2020. UGH! The massive dose of naproxen that Mom’s doc prescribed to get her through until her surgery was making her sick to her stomach, so she stopped taking it. Now, Mom has been known to enjoy a glass of chardonnay from time to time, but on her visit this week, it was her choice analgesic. Because he’s a giver and didn’t want her to drink alone, my thoughtful husband sat beside her in the kitchen sipping bourbon. Frick and frack were quite the entertaining combo that evening after the Guerin Catholic boys tennis team had a bad loss up at Westfield High School.

After their (several beverages into the) evening, Drew came bounding through the back door, home unexpectedly from Purdue. The Covid-19 mayhem and stress involved in attempting to understand the clear as mud rules were taking a toll. Drew wondered how they will be applied in his fraternity setting by the university and it simply was too much for my 4.0 college senior to navigate as he takes on his last semester as an undegrad. That’s fairly revealing. So, he came home for guidance and a break from the mask. Not much laughter and smiling is happening for these young folks on campus right now, I can tell you that. We don’t know what’s happening or how long he’ll be here. Drew’s been on a college campus with the throngs, so, to be safe, I sent Drew upstairs and put overserved Mom downstairs. I sent Zach to Nick’s old room. Now, we were up 2 bodies since morning at this point, and down several ounces of alcohol, but no one here was sharing a bathroom with anyone… except for me! That was as much Covid-19 saavy as I had in me. So, I decided to call it a day and went to brush my teeth.

Tom began hollering at me from the family room. He suggested that I might want to check on Mom because she had been yelling my name from the basement. I think I mumbled a two syllable phrase and it closely resembled “Well, crap” but it wasn’t quite that appropriate. Ha? You see, unexpected calls from parents of late have been things like chemotherapy side effects, heart attacks, and hospital visits. Given the way the night was going, it didn’t seem like this was headed anywhere positive.

But do you know what she wanted? She wanted to give me a pair of her underwear. Yep. Her underwear was gifted to me late Monday night because they are the most comfortable panties she’s ever owned. Also, they are one size fits all. How innovative. That seems normal? I can keep them she says. Lucky me, right? Because, you guys, EVERYONE wants to wear their moms underwear. If only sarcasm burned calories….

I showed them to Tom when I came upstairs. And then I started to cry and fan my face because I was laughing so hard. Tom said if I start wearing Mom’s underwear we will have to get a divorce. Sorry for outing you, Mom, but thank you, God, for the best laugh I’ve had in a month!

We’ve all got a story to tell about our journey through 2020. Mine’s quite a bit bigger than the messiness I’ve described above, but a glimpse at my more vulnerable (and grateful) than before heart reveals something. I’ve grown spiritually, and I’ve learned some things this year. I hope you have too. One of the great lessons for me is about vulnerability. It’s a holy and good thing when we gift it to one another and to the Lord. I mean, Jesus knows a thing or two about being vulnerable, am I right? If you’re not tracking with me, Google “Sorrowful Mysteries.” God has a pattern of redeeming us when we are broken open. We simply have to go to Him. Prayer can change that which seems impossible. I invite you to try it.

I can’t fix Dad’s heart, or Mom’s hip, or Grandpa Tom’s colon cancer. I can’t rescue the friends who are struggling with broken marriages, addiction, or mental health crises. However, I can walk beside them, making sure they know they are not alone on the journey. I can love (and find the humor) and so can you. We can’t listen or hear or enter into the heartaches and hurt of others to love them along unless we are willing to be available and vulnerable. We can’t be the face of Christ during the not-too-pretty parts of life when we are bitter or angry or selfish.

Sometimes, I don’t get invited to “the” party. Do you know what I do get though? The honor of holding onto the secret hurts, and the SOS text in the middle of the night. If you’ve experienced it too, you’ll understand why I’ll take it over almost anything. Nothing feels quite like trying to spend a moment loving like Jesus. Those are moments I guard, reverence, and hold dear. I don’t want anyone to feel alone, overcome by suffering. The way we bring light into darkness is through the fire of our faith and the light of our smile. When God is at the heart of our lives, we shine and our tiny corner of the world is transformed.

We need to hold one another in high esteem, and we need to laugh and love in each moment as it comes along. That’s how I think we survive 2020 as Christians.

I’ll leave you with this little grin. My 16-year-old, Zach, asked me in the midst of the eLearning this week to help him come up with a five syllable phrase for his now online GCHS ukelele class. I was annoyed by virtual school and too much screen time and was not in a particularly inspiring mood and my reply was “I hate Zoom meetings.”

Later, when I asked him what he went with, he began to giggle, looked up and me and said, “Five Syllable Phrase”. HAHAHA! Yep. He’s definitely my kid, and his snarky little sense of humor remains in tact. Well played, Z! We’ve got to keep smiling.

Here’s the little prayer I’m saying lately. It feels like our country and our world can use all the love and cheerfulness available right now. I hope you’ll join and pray along with me!

“O Holy Spirit, descend plentifully ito my heart. Enlighten the dark corners of this neglected dwelling and scatter there thy cheerful beams.” –St. Augustine

Here’s hoping you get a chance to spread a little love and laughter in your day. PEACE, OUT!

Jenny, Don’t Change Your Number

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you know how you should respond to each one.” (Col. 4:6)

The Doc. I love this picture and he will probably not be thrilled I posted it without permission. But, it kind of captures his handsome sassy vibe. Had to be done, birthday boy!

Lithogenic. That’s the fancy, smart guy word my favorite doc, Dave Hollensbe, uses to describe me. Try not to be too jealous. I’m pretty sure it just means I am good at manufacturing kidney stones. He’s a talented guy, and it’s not that he’s intending to be impertinent or ill-mannered by using words I’ve never heard, it’s more like he just really enjoys his own gift of intellectual superiority. He admits as much with a smile in his eyes, and it’s pretty darn entertaining. There’s nothing dull about this guy. He’s brainy, astute, and quick-witted. He’s also faith-filled and incredibly compassionate in the most smart-alecky way possible. I was on the phone with him recently for my “virtual” appointment. He wanted to make sure I had the phone number for his assistant if I needed to call his office so he said, “Just write it down again, Shelly. It’s 317-867-5309.” I said “Thanks.” Then, he started laughing and I realized he was mocking me. 867-5309. I mean I was a teenager in the 80s? I should have caught that. Funny guy. It did make me giggle, and I needed the smile that morning. He never fails to bring a grin to my day when I speak to him. The guy is a big-hearted scoop of awesome sauce in a world desperately in need of a heaping ladle full.

I want to speak plainly to you folks. I’m sharing this today because I was asked to do so by two amazing women who for the first time in their lives have had serious mental health struggles. They are far from alone. A mental health counselor friend tells me they’ve never been so busy. My point is, not just a few of you seem discouraged. I’m a dangerously untrained mental health “expert” (in my own mind) and you need to know that the longer you speak to me, the more I am diagnosing you. Ha? I’m kidding about the diagnosing, but I am a pretty good listener, and a heap of people have given me an opportunity in 2020. I’m grateful for this, as I love people and when the Lord gives me a chance to be His ears, it makes me feel the terrific privilege of getting to do something small but important for Him in my day. The world is upside down and it’s full of suffering and unbelief. In the midst of this, we have lives to live this day, you and I. What we do with this precious gift of time is our choice. I can’t counsel anyone, but I can care, listen, and remind folks they are loved. So can you.

I’ll be brutally honest. One of my big character flaws is that while I am a pretty capable and attentive listener, sometimes I don’t do a lot of thinking before I speak. I’m just as shocked as the person next to me by what comes out of my mouth sometimes. I say stupid things sometimes and laugh when I shouldn’t. I’ve got to do all that a bit better, pausing to respond with grace when others choose differently. We really can help darkened hearts, including our own, come alive with our words and our concern. Sometimes we speak the wrong ones. I’m going to argue though, that even though we might screw it up, trying anyway is what God expects. I promise you this. Even when I foul things up, I will always be TRYING to love you with a full heart. That effort and God’s grace is enough.

Here’s the critical part, and we MUST be completely honest with ourselves, because we are going to encounter difficult people.  If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that!!  Difficult folks are often just lost, lonely souls that need a spark of joy.  We MUST care for them and pray for them.  In your interaction with another, did you act with love in your heart?  Was your intention pure and completely free of selfishness?  We can’t be afraid to speak truth, in love, in an effort to protect ourselves or what another might think of us. That one is extra hard for yours truly, but I’m learning and improving.

My friend, the doc, is not afraid to speak truth in love.  He’s also not afraid to be a total Jesus-loving smart ass.  This combination is rare and glorious.  His cross has been a particularly heavy one the last couple years, but he is a generous, compassion-filled light all the same.  Smiles are contagious, and kindness is free.  This is what I remember each time I have an interaction with him.  Today is his birthday, and this little post is my tiny little tribute to a hard-working, terrific human who inspires me with his unique brand of smart-assery.  Thanks for being a great blessing to many, birthday boy!!

I wish you ALL more peace, more love, and you, Doc? I wish you that plus several magnificent rounds of golf with friends you adore in the next year!! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

Make the Strawberry Shortcake

Remember this and never forget it.  Even if it should seem at times that everything is collapsing, nothing is collapsing at all, because God doesn’t lose battles.  –St. Josemaria Escriva

For those who don’t know me personally, I’ll let you in on a little secret.  When I begin a sentence with “Correct me if I’m wrong…” then one ought to understand with painstaking clarity that NO CONTINGENCY exists where choosing to do so would be remotely suitable.  I utterly lack patience and am inherently stubborn.  Only when prudence has been forsaken entirely will I open with “Correct me if I’m wrong.” For the love of all things holy, don’t step in that landmine, people.  I’m snarkier than your average bear when provoked.  It’s not something I’m particularly proud about, and I’ve been reflecting on this and some of my other lesser qualities of late.  I wonder how can God use someone so impertinent as me at this moment in the history of the world?  Why did He place me here right now?

Nick, Zach, and Drew Thieme (2006)

Near the beginning of the ensuing insanity of 2020, I cleaned out my office.  One of the treasures I uncovered was this picture of my three sweet boys, in much earlier (and simpler) times, sucking on popsicles on the front step of our house on Garden Gate Way.  The baseball player on the left was then a second grader, Z was 2, and that means Drew was 6.  I found a little magnetic sleeve in a drawer, and I placed the photo on my fridge.  The photo made me feel gratitude for the greatest blessings in my life, and interiorly, I somehow knew I would need that reminder in my line of sight for a while. 

Good grief!  How right was I about that?

Despite my many flaws, I consider myself to be an empathetic, compassionate and kind person.  I’m a good listener too, and these things I think are inherently pro-life attributes gifted to me for the glory of the Lord.  I often text or ask “hey, how are you holding up?” In a broken world, meeting people where they are, caring to wait for their reply, it can heal others.  Being other-focused can bind up our own wounds too.

Adversity isn’t going to depart from our lives.  It may recede for a time or advance in unrelenting fashion like it has in 2020, but I don’t know many folks who have escaped challenge over the long term as human beings living on planet earth.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give it to you.  Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”  (Jn 14:27)

Someone kind of holy sent me that lovely little bit of scripture and I am going to be honest.  My worries were a mile deep that day and it brought on some fairly serious eye-rolling and an interior rejection.  Oh how helpful. That’s super easy.  NOT.

I sank deeper.  And THEN, I got sort of irritated with Jesus and His admonition.  Talking to me about peace when dad had a heart attack he can’t seem to recover from? Mom’s in pain that can’t be relieved for at least 3 months? The father-in-law has stage 4 colon cancer? Multiple friends I adore are in serious marriage trouble? There are folks around me battling addiction, depression, cancer, stroke? The local church is in crisis, in case you haven’t noticed, Lord! What about that? And what about that mile-long list of people who have asked for my prayers? What exactly are you planning to do about those folks??

Sometimes, my best and most honest prayers are essentially silent, exasperated movements of the heart directed with not a small amount of “drama queen” angst to the God of the universe.

That meltdown, along with one similarly angsty sent to an actual (faith-filled) human, were just what the doctor ordered.  I felt better after venting, and grace reminded me that I must have extraordinary value in the eyes of God if Love itself gave Himself for me.  The price of my salvation was the cross of Christ.  I need to quit letting myself get distracted and let it sink deeply into my heart that following Jesus means life is likely to be tricky at best.

So, I’ve been praying about how can I add sunshine to the muck? How can I accept responsibility for my actions now and in the future instead of getting caught up trying to fix blame for wrongs? How can I focus on kindness instead of dipping my toe into the very toxic discourse all around me?

I think the answer is love.  We need to understand that people have bad days.  People are lonely and isolated.  People are limited and they are carrying something.  Daring people to “correct me if I’m wrong” with the fiery eyes of satan is probably not the best next move.  There’s not one eyeball I could meet with my glance who isn’t equally loved by God.  So, now I’ve got that popsicle picture on both my phone and my fridge.  It helps me stop and breathe and remember the almost deranged, irrational love God has shown me in these 49 years on planet earth.  You all?  God is a cuckoo psychopath to rain grace on me like He has.  I mean…I can stomp in puddles, take in sunsets, walk on the monon trail, and hold the hands of my guys during the Our Father at mass.  Those sticky, popsicle eating cuties are nearly grown now, and seeing their much older, hairy, unshaven faces still fills my heart with such joy.  The list of blessings bestowed on me is miles long.  Guess what?  Yours is too.

The point I am trying to make today is that I can’t fix FOX News or CNN, and I doubt my B in Biology at Purdue is enough to help anyone solve the coronavirus.  However, I can share a coffee with a friend who needs to exhale. Also, its simple to skip the complaint.  I can listen without interjecting, and I can affirm generously.  Supporting, forgiving and enjoying the people around me is not so hard. Love is about serving the next guy, and in that act, I think I say yes to God, to whom I owe endless gratitude.

So, I propose we remain steadfast in prayer, and we each take responsibility today to find a way to serve others with love.  Both of these things will help us, and the world, to become less hard hearted and more loving.  I’m not going to overthink it. In fact, right now, I think I’ll go make strawberry shortcake for my fellas.  A special treat might give them a smile.

“To be able to say yes to God at every moment of our lives is the essence of holiness.” –Mother Angelica

Speak Life!

Tom called me into his office and said, “Here. I want you to sit in my seat a minute. I will be right back.” I was thinking, “Ok…?” So, I began gazing around the room (formerly known as MY office) and glancing at his multiple computer screens, wondering why I was sitting there.

Bounding back in, he exclaimed indignantly, “Well, did you feel the whole house shake!?” I replied, “Umm, no? What are you talking about?”

“I just went outside like you do and slammed the door shut to demonstrate how freaking annoying it is! It’s been 3 months working from home and I thought I could deal with it, but I just can’t take it anymore!”

Cue the inappropriate laughter. I mean, you all, I was doubled over and cackling, because I was utterly oblivious as he tried so hard to demonstrate how thoughtless and irritating I am. I just didn’t notice. I was completely unaware.

Actually, I think my laughter diffused the whole thing. He smirked against his will and gave me a little love tap on the derriere before telling me to get the hell out… while shaking his head. It was actually incredibly funny. There wasn’t any escalation, and that’s the magic of love.

Afterward, I went outside to rebound while Z got up a few jump shots. I asked Zach if I have a door-slamming thing. He said, “YES! Mom, you are actually the worst!”

HAHAHA! Who knew? Apparently, everyone but me. Okay then, now that I know, I can work on that. Once again, I affirm that although I am certainly the daughter of the Most High God, I am also Shelly, which means I am unambiguously limited.

Without a doubt, the repeated door slamming was both anger-inducing and thoughtless. We’re in month four of COVID (working from home) world, and the unrelenting lack of professionalism by Tom’s current “co-workers” might be starting to get to him. Also, though, it was a series of acts committed utterly without malice. Is there a need to amend my behavior? Yes. Am I now a door slammer in recovery? Well, the jury is still out. I would contend that my poor behavior has improved as exit percentages go, but I’m pretty sure Tom only remembers the times I slide back into old habits. Do you think it makes it any better that I usually cringe on the other side of the door when I realize I’ve done it again? Eh…likely not.

This is far from the first time that our lack of temperamental compatibility has caused an impasse. Placing my mouthwash bottle on Tom’s side of the bathroom counter and the crunching sound I make when chewing my lifesaver mints instead of sucking on them are also frequent decorum violations to which I’m prone. You guys, I have these lesser parts which abound. The thing that makes this and all relationships work despite the character and behavior flaws as well as the disagreements over matters both miniscule and boulder-sized… is the presence of love. What also helps me when I screw up (or someone I live with is just flat bugging me) is that I know in the light of eternity, there is precious little for which it is worth losing my peace. I’m a work in process with so much to improve, but I’m trying. This applies to things much bigger than door slamming and counter hogging, by the way.

I’m not everyone’s preferred flavor, and that’s just fine. I admit that I am a person who entertains her feelings a little too much, so sometimes I’m wounded by this reality. That can end badly if I let it. Satan loves the kind of rejection that frightens us into the belief that God doesn’t love us, or He doesn’t have a good plan for us. This is a corrupting, hopeless lie. If you find you need to find the escape hatch from the darkness, pray this quick prayer to stop the king of lies. Jesus, tell me You love me until I believe you.

I have learned to choose differently, and so can you. I find that when our hearts are cracked open a touch, we leave that vulnerable, glorious space for Jesus to sneak in. If He, who is love itself, finds a welcome space, we soon find ourselves participating in the divine life, despite our shortcomings, fears, and limitations. He has loved us anyway, restless hearts and all.

Our souls are ordered to the love of the God who made us, so a sniff of His overwhelming grace and mercy begs for a response. For me, it makes me want to speak life. I want to inspire hope and be the reason someone believes in goodness. Some other great folks have done the same for me, and I’d like to pay it forward.

As dangerous as it might feel in the environment we are surrounded by today, I propose we try loving others with abandon, despite their flaws or our own. Right now, the world is telling us that hope is a waste of time and our enemies have us trapped on all sides. I read this old quote by CS Lewis which demonstrates the danger of this line of thinking quite succinctly.

“Suppose that one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then, suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second, then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then finally to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything– God and our friends and ourselves included– as bad, and not able to stop doing it; we shall be fixed forever in a universe of pure hatred.” (CS Lewis)

Deep goodness and beauty exists in each and every one of us. Heroic virtue is what we need right now. First, we’ve got to maintain mercy towards ourselves, then we need to let it spread to those around us– especially when we think they might not deserve it.

Admittedly, I am just a housewife here but the acrimony is easy to spot and fury seems to be dialed to high out there right now. There are a plethora of influential and powerful folks making a lot of bothersome and provoking noise right now. However, as far as I can tell, Jesus was not into big shots. He wasn’t into strict adherence to rules that lack compassion or common sense. He was more into speaking life, tending to the least, and most of all Jesus was into sacrificial love. From what I’ve read, He was really, really into that. I want to be like that guy a little more. So, I pray a lot.

“You go to pray; to become a bonfire, a living flame, giving light and heat.” (St. Josemaria Escriva)

That means I’ve got to die to myself and love EVERYONE foolishly. I’ll start with you. You are deeply and powerfully loved by the God of the universe, in whose image you are made, even if you slam doors and irritate your family. When you look in the mirror, see the good. You are enough. If you need me to pray for you in your current struggle, say so. I’ve got a list, and I’d be honored to put your name on it.

I’ll leave you with this golden nugget from a holy priest named Msgr. Laughlin. He said when we weren’t sure if we were getting it right, we should try to order our lives as much as possible to love like Christ, knowing of course that we will fall well short. However, also he suggested we pay no attention to the devil when we fail, but instead remember the last four things: death, judgement, heaven and hell. While we don’t want to be presumptuous, it’s equally important to understand that our judge loves us so much He died for us.

I’m Limited. Love Me Anyway

“Be kind to unkind people. They need it the most.” -Robin Williams

Lately (and maybe always) the internet is a scary place, full of social media apps and platforms along with users in full throat toxicity. It seems to me that even people of good will often lose their way in this jungle.

For instance, I have a bright and very funny friend, (a father of 2 amazing kids) who in real life would never choose to condescend, but whose online presence is filled to overflowing with vitriol, even hatred towards others who do not share his particular political views. He’s clever, so his comments are particularly pointed and hurtful. I’m sure he thinks he’s educating the rest of us with his caustic, cynical and snide commentary. I’d argue no one of the opposing view is ever going to wake up one day to his sarcasm-filled, angry tweets and think “Oh yeah, give me a piece of what that guy’s got!”

Another acquaintance, whose charitable work and Christian writing has long inspired me, has lately decided that the best use of her giftedness is to beguile us with partisan accusations and cacophony on Facebook. It feels a little tragic in all honesty.

Good and kind friends, there’s not a thing wrong with sharing your perspective. In fact, I’m doing the very same thing right here. I applaud the use of one’s voice to speak to important issues, in charity. Interiorly, though, I find myself often judging the methodology and even the character of these folks and wishing they would choose differently.

Right there is where I went off the rails, am I right? My job is not to judge. My job is to love.

As I look in the mirror, I want to be someone who lifts up the next person (in practice and in prayer), who helps others look forward to the gift of today. It’s hard to do that if I’m playing judge and jury.

Spending a week in Florida with girlfriends is good for the soul. I just returned from such an adventure, with a group of four sparkly friends. Our parting “motto” for the trip was definitely “I’m limited. Love me anyway.” We laughed at length at ourselves and decided the next t-shirt Colleen Stine needs to make us simply MUST bear those words.

As ladies will do, we broke down a lot of topics, as well as each other. Exhaling is healthy, for sure, and God often gifts us with opportunities to be His face in these intimate settings. Such was the case one night on this trip when one of these gals confessed a failure for which she felt great shame. Heck, we’ve all failed. It’s my hope that what she left feeling was empathy and love. Her story reminded me how important it is to remember that there is brokenness in all of us, and that we must be gentle with ourselves and opt for God’s mercy.

People are limited. We are limited by our personal history, unmet needs, physical pain, emotional trauma, or even just our lack of giftedness or self-awareness. Some of us are flat out ill-equipped. We’ve been hurt, taken for granted, or deceived. We’re poorly catechized, or our education was insufficient. We were parented badly, or we’ve suffered abuse. Perhaps we’ve recently lost a child or a job. All these scenarios and many more leave us lacking.

For the sake of Christian charity, here are the questions I’m challenging myself with right now. Is what I am doing making me holier? How is my heart, and is my example leading my soul and yours closer to Jesus?

You guys, I love Jesus. I love Him more than I think I ever have. It’s a gift largely born from what my pastor called “divine absence”. The loss of the sacraments in recent months made me ache for the Lord in a way I never have before. I mean, I knew my faith was important to me, but God used this shut down of churches in a beguiling way in my life. The pain, especially the loss the of the mass, the Holy Eucharist, was unbearably hard at certain points. It felt like a major overreaction. I was thinking “This is nuts! Get over yourself!” But I could not. I would even go so far as to describe myself as interiorly grief-stricken during some of these weeks of quarantine. I believe it was supernaturally ordained suffering. But, suffering refines faith, and God is trustworthy.

I guess this torture is what I get for telling Jesus I love Him and asking Him to help me love Him more, ha? God likes to give us good gifts when we ask, though, and as I look back on this time, I see how He took inordinately excellent care of me.

Am I becoming love? I don’t know, but I desire it. I do know this. People are limited. We are called to love them anyway. It’s a great lesson in dignity and humility for me to ask God for the grace to think from this perspective in all that I say and do.

I looked over to an aggressive driver on 146th St. on the way home from the airport who had pulled out in front of me. I was tired, and my heart was full to the brim with disdain for a moment, until I saw the man’s face. You see, I know this man a little, well enough to be aware he recently lost his son. My minor case of road rage dissolved. Sheesh. I’m such a dork sometimes. He’s limited, love him anyway. That’s what the voice in my head cried out. Good grief, I am a comically slow learner.

This particular spiritual challenge issued by the Lord has me re-evaluating my interior and exterior responses to a myriad of others with whom I come into contact, and even some I may never meet.

For instance, as I probe my heart, I am not proud to admit that there is a powerful man for whom I have had precious little respect for some time now. He has done and said hurtful and unacceptable things to some folks I love deeply.

Harboring ill will? Yes, I have been.

Truly, it’s not ok. You see, he’s limited, and I am called to love him anyway. I have long considered myself not a judgemental person. That self-evaluation is deeply flawed. Luckily, my beautiful Catholic Church has a remedy for that. It’s called confession. It’s a place where we begin again.

That’s the beauty of God. You can’t lose with the Lord if you fall into sin, even mortal sin. Go to confession, repent of your sin, try again…and God, again, not only restores you to the point at which you fell, but advances you again because of your humble repentance and new effort to improve in your spiritual life. You can’t lose with Jesus. It doesn’t matter how sinful you are, how many weaknesses you have or the circumstances in which you find yourself. The grace and the love of Jesus Christ and the power of his sacraments are such that He wins every time as long as you turn back to him, as long as you put your trust in him.” – Fr. David Miller

As I talk to the Lord tonight, the Savior I deeply love, I plan to thank Him for many things, including helping me to see where I am blind.

I’m limited, Jesus. Love me anyway.

And He does.

Happy 100th!

If I were their officemate, my sons and husband mused at one of our recent lunches in the oft frequented “Café 5350”, I would be that annoying co-worker who hits “reply all” for the express purpose of issuing inane and needless (Hey, thanks!) email replies, thus clogging up the inboxes of others. 

“So, let me get this straight? I am getting raked over the coals at this lovely family lunch on my own patio because I am HYPOTHETICALLY guilty of being the annoying co-worker you finance and accounting guys detest?”

They laughed their big bellies off and agreed, uniformly, that hypothetically speaking, I am absolutely guilty. 

In my defense, I’ll simply offer the fact that my giftedness in the area of interconnectedness is superior to some of my accusers, and I think those handsome clowns are just jealous, ha?  

Authentic, value-based, and positive leadership, I’d argue, makes mutual care and interconnectedness a priority.  For the past few days, I’ve been reading about a man whose life defines that particular model of effective leadership.  It makes me yearn for more men and women like him in 2020. Were he still alive, St. Pope John Paul II would have been 100 years old TODAY!

Reading about his remarkable life and leadership qualities have left me aching for political and spiritual leaders of his ilk.  Instead, it feels like we are all living in a vacuum, a void, an utter emptiness of such pilotage.  I don’t mean to be mean, but the incapacity and ego-driven shenanigans of many of the folks in charge during this pandemic is a bit mind-numbing.  There’s so much preoccupation with one’s own feelings and egotistic self-absorption present in the never-ending press conferences that I long for a selfless captain without ulterior motive. 

The ultimate test of your greatness is the way you treat every human being. (St. John Paul II)

They stand in stark contrast with the person of Karol Wojtyla.  This was a remarkable man who lost his entire family before the age of 21, was trained in dangerous circumstances in an underground seminary as Nazis closed in, and whose entire upbringing was beset with socio-political tragedies.  He had every reason to be a bitter or jaded, but this man truly was a Witness to Hope. He was the pope we remember for his indispensable contributions in the peaceful conclusion to the Cold War.

An inspiring man who operated in love, it seems to me this priest of Jesus Christ saw his work as not burdensome, but rather a way to serve his fellow man.  He firmly believed in “The Law of the Gift”, which is about how the happiness of man rests in his ability to sincerely give himself to others. 

Everyone lives, above all, for love.  The ability to live authentically, not great intellectual capacity, constitutes the deepest part of a personality.  It is no accident that the greatest commandment is to love.  Authentic love leads us outside ourselves to affirming others:  devoting oneself to the cause of man, to people, and above all, to God.  (St. John Paul II)

 I love so much in this story unfolding before me in the pages of George Weigel’s biography, Witness to Hope, but I especially am drawn to the humility on display.  For instance, it’s reported that when he was a Cardinal, he once had to bring in a misguided priest for a reprimand of some note.  After the discussion, Cardinal Wojtyla prayed with the young priest at great length.  At just the point when the poor kid was nearly unnerved, the Cardinal turned to the younger man and asked him to hear his (Wojtyla’s) confession.   What a beautiful example of how to properly conduct fraternal correction!

Inspiring leaders believe in people.  They make others feel special.  St. Pope John Paul II could speak truth, create a climate of wonder, defend the faith, and witness to joy and love precisely because he was humble man who was deeply in love with Jesus.  He was intimately involved with much of the work done during Vatican II.  Here’s a tidbit from Witness to Hope that I found especially moving.

Wojtyla also developed a profound critique of the utilitarianism that permeates modern culture—the temptation to measure others by their financial, social, political or sexual utility to me—by demonstrating the moral fact that our relationship to truth, goodness, and beauty is the true stuff of our humanity.  Finally, Wojtyla showed how accepting the moral truth involved in the Law of Gift is not a limit on our freedom or our creativity.  Truth makes us free and enables us to live our freedom towards its goal, which is happiness.

It seems to me the virtuous way he cared for others and his desire to create a spirit of unity with all humanity is a beautiful example with implications for our contemporary leaders, but also deeply important for our own lives. 

St. Pope John Paul II reminds me that one human being can have an amazing impact on the world.  It’s the same message I was attracted to when I chose St. Catherine of Siena as my confirmation saint many years ago as a teenager.  She famously said, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” It rings true.

Christian love is “the more excellent way”.  I am finding myself moved today to reflect on my life as well as my own circumstances.  Do I have an encouraging attitude?  Am I fostering good relationships?  Am I filled up with solipsism or do I value self-awareness, humility and compassion for others?  As it relates to the dignity and sanctity of human life, do my actions match the truth of Christ I proclaim to believe?

Let me put it to you in more practical terms.  This morning, a lovely friend of mine asked me for some “concrete” spiritual advice.  She said she felt during this pandemic especially helpless, that she wasn’t doing anything useful with her time.  In the absence of access to the sacraments, and with job losses suffered in her family, she is feeling more powerless than at any previous time as it relates to leading her family in faith, she said.  I agreed with her that I have never understood more clearly in my life the importance and centrality of the Eucharist, and that like her I long for the return to access to the sacraments we both hold dear.  However, we can’t control that, so I suggested something simple.  I asked her if she prayed for her family and friends? Then, I told her this.  Prayer is powerful, I believe, because I know the Lord looks on us with such affection that He wants to use us in His work. While it’s His saving work, in my heart I am certain that this prayerful intercession of ours does matter, and the prayers do help.  Most of us, no matter how lowly our situation, can give this gift.  There’s always more we can do to love others, but it’s a start. 

While we’re praying, let us ask today for St. John Paul II’s intercession for our civic leaders, both here and abroad, at the national and local levels as they navigate during these unusual times.  Additionally, we’ll call on the “birthday boy” to intercede for us as it relates to our spiritual leaders.  May they fall more deeply in love with Jesus and have the necessary courage to be fully present, humble, and self-giving shepherds to all the souls in their care. 

St. John Paul II, PRAY FOR US!

On Prayer, and Cheating at Euchre

Remote though the likelihood may be of you having either the time or inclination to hear out the ramblings of one rather insignificant and sinful soul, I find myself humbly submitting to the world this little entry about my Dad and asking you to stick it out, all the same.  Frankly, I’d greatly prefer to never have written this post, most especially not on Mother’s Day weekend.  However, it’s my sincere belief that the Lord expects my obedience in this matter, so I’ll delay no further.

Before I get to the reason for the post, I want to share a couple of moments from my childhood.

I was an Indian Princess as a kid.  Dad named me “Blue Water” for the color of my eyes, and my sister and I named him “Hungry Bear”.  I don’t remember a lot about the Indian Princesses, to be candid.  However, I remember it was delightfully different from all the other activities we did.  What differentiated it from the ordinary?  Well, there were cool headbands, colorful feathers, and campouts filled with daughters and dads where I learned to use a bow and arrow, shoot a shotgun, and roast the perfect marshmallow. Dad was all in!

At about age five, Dad taught me how to play poker.  Next came euchre.  We played A LOT of euchre in grandma’s house on Vinton Street when I was growing up.  In fact, I remember distinctly Dad laughing until he cried one Sunday after mass when he saw to it that Robin and I were pitted against my Grandpa and Uncle Don, Dad’s older brother, in a big euchre game.  We were about 12 and 10 years old, respectively.  We trounced the very experienced Dykhuizen men that morning, and they were utterly rattled.  Dad could not contain himself.  The trash talk was legendary after our victory.  It wasn’t until much later that they were told about how he taught us some signs to use to signal each other—barely perceivable signals– that had been successfully used to win an international bridge tournament that Dad read about.  He taught his two young daughters these hand signals for the sole purpose of watching his Dad and brother come uncorked when they lost at cards to two little girls.  His laughter shook the entire house when it worked perfectly. 

I have so many silly little memories like this for which I’m deeply grateful.  Both of my parents loved us up in an extraordinary way.  They surrounded us always with a supportive atmosphere and the understanding that we were loved unconditionally.

My Dad is a joyful, articulate, sarcasm-filled lover of people and a man of faith.  He’s an uber-involved and phenomenal grandfather too.  I’m sorry to all who have suffered endlessly through the exaggerated stories of my three boys and their sports successes, but I assure you the tales of the musical and artistic giftedness of my nieces, his granddaughters, are for real!

If they gave a Nobel Prize for “Best, Most Unintimidated Conversationalist” I am convinced that Dad could not be beaten.  There are no limits to the “no strangers” rule of life according to Jim Dykhuizen.  He’s extraordinarily gifted at befriending total strangers.  In fact, I guarantee you that as I type this, he’s learning the names of the children and grandchildren of his nurses up there at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Lafayette.  I feel certain he’s trying to make the best of an incredibly trying stretch of days.

Dad had a massive heart attack this week.  Because of the COVID rules, Mom was forced to simply drop him at the door of the ER, clutching his chest in pain.  We didn’t hear again from him or about him for 7 hours.  When he called mom from the recovery room after his heart stents were placed, it was the first time we knew he’d had a heart attack and gone into surgery.  I’ll spare you more details but suffice it to say the week has been challenging and emotional for the entire family.

He remains in the hospital, fighting a fever of unknown origin. He’s there all alone.

Lively and persistence recourse to prayer is what I’ve got for this.  It’s all I’ve ever got, honestly.  Sometimes this week, I’ve moved all 50 of the Hail Mary beads and I don’t remember saying any of the prayers.  I’m sure I did, but I don’t recall them a bit.  I was entirely distracted, but the fact is that I tried to turn my glance heavenward, and I’m trusting that Our Blessed Mother sees my heart and has accepted my request for her intercession all the same.  I’ve walked and spoken aloud to the Lord in fits and cries—for Dad, for Mom—and for all of those on my prayer list.  My work this week was sort of like a school kid who did half the math problems and then forgot to sign the test.  I’ve not had a corner on the market in the piety department, but I think God isn’t like the teacher I had who gave 0% when we left our name off the assignment.   We’re in the middle of the coronavirus season, and He’s the amazing teacher who understands my wifi’s been acting up, so patience and compassion are His calling cards. He’s not failing me. He loves me even more than I love my parents.  He loves them more too.

Here’s the thing.  God knows I want to pray.  He sees me trying to turn to Him, doing my best.  That is enough. 

My favorite saint is Therese of Lisieux.  She said, “Prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned towards heaven.  It is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.” 

I might be screwing it up, and I’m no theologian, but I think I’ve learned something worth sharing.  It’s about knowing how deeply we need Him, and about our own desire to find Him.  Praying is just us pathetic peasants, beggars that we are, looking for sustenance from the only one who can truly help.  Of course, we wouldn’t be looking for Him if He hadn’t already found us first. It’s painfully simple.

This one’s for Dad.  And, dear reader, if you are so inclined, join me in this prayer for peace of mind and complete healing for one of the best guys around.  I’m thankful to you in advance!

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known, that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession was left unaided.  Inspired with this confidence, I fly to you, O Virgin of virgins, my mother; to you do I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful.  O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in your mercy hear and answer me.  Amen.

Mom.  Robin.  I love you.  I’m so glad we have each other.  Happy Mother’s Day to two of the best moms on the planet earth.  The blog entry should have been for you guys this weekend.  Dad really knows how to steal the thunder, ha?  What do you say we get him home and well…and then make him pay for pedicures?

Goldfish Crackers and Cranky People

God never looked in your mirror or mine and wished He saw someone else. — Bob Goff

Walking in virtually all conditions is now a standard part of my daily routine during this time of collective isolation. Salvation of mental health aside, I find if I merely spend most days walking the approximate distance of a half marathon, I am able to very nearly balance out the calories from my goldfish cracker consumption. Are the Pepperidge Farms people conspiring with satan? Well, duh! Stoppage of the forced marches causes a precipitous and immediate spike on the bathroom scale. Curtailed use of goldfish as a sedative seems to result in temptation to alternative forms of debauchery, so here we are.

Moderation has never been my area of giftedness.  I’m more naturally blessed with volume and melodrama.  So, I believe I will stick with the crackers and traipsing combo for now.  I’ve decided to be a little gentle with Shelly and not try to win this coronavirus “thing” we are all experiencing.  I’m doing the best I can.  If you’re living your best life during the pandemic, I am thrilled for you, I really am.  We’re doing fine over here, but this is NOT me at my very best. 

For instance, I went to wake my youngest son so he could log in to some high school online classes shenanigans at 9am the other morning. I looked like Medusa, and I was in a tank top and yoga pants that I still had on from the day before. “It’s time to get up,” I groaned. “What’s the deal, Mom? You don’t look great.” I quite agreed with him, and I began laughing aloud at myself as I spoke the thought I’d be wrestling with since I woke to the gray day. “Well, it’s raining, so what’s the point of living, really?” Then, Zach and I began to cackle at how pathetic I looked and sounded. Tom came bounding upstairs to see what fun he was missing. I’m not sure our explanation did anything but confuse him. Up until now, I might have been tempted to label myself as a poor parent with a negative attitude, but today I see the value in modeling something else. Learning to laugh at oneself is a very vital life skill, after all. I’m choosing to believe Z saw that.

A couple weeks ago, some friends and I decided the connection with one another felt a bit strained because of our inability to lay eyes on each other.  So, we’ve followed the lead of the rest of the world and moved our friendship to Zoom.  Seeking some sort of organization to keep us on track, my dear friend Chris suggested a book club.  We are currently in the middle of a very slow reading of the book Everybody Always.  Despite of the fact that he’s an attorney, the author is a positivity hero of mine, Bob Goff.  I plan to tell him that in person someday.  I’m not sure how that’s going to happen, but this guy has so inspired me to try and become love in my own life by following the lead of Jesus that I plan to find a way…but I digress. 

The book suggestion was mine. Actually, I wanted the girls to read his first book, Love Does. I keep giving it to people who I think the Holy Spirit sends me that need to hear from Bob. You see, his message is challenging, but accessible. I think his crazy stories lead folks to the Lord. That isn’t the best part, though. Bob is the kind of guy who makes you want to add “up until now” at the front of your sentences. He doesn’t say it that way in his books exactly, but that’s what I hear. He thinks big and steps out there to meet Jesus. It’s scary on the ledge trusting Christ with our lives. You see, we all seem to listen to this interior voice from time to time that says we aren’t good enough, or we are failures, or we just can’t do this. I think we need to re-think things at this moment in time and add the phrase “up until now” to the start of our negative self-talk sentences. Are we or are we not made in the image of the Lord? That fact alone makes us the beloved children of the Most High God.

 The girls wanted me to read something with them that I had never read before.  So, I lied and told them I hadn’t read Bob’s second book, Everybody Always.  Well, I didn’t lie exactly, I just led them to assume I hadn’t read it.  At least, that’s what I’m telling myself since my heart was in the right place and the confessionals all have a “closed for business” sign on them right now. 

Here’s what happened at last week’s meeting.  We decided to choose an activity and put love in action this week.  The challenge was to identify a neighbor that perhaps we didn’t know, or (if feeling particularly brave) someone we find particularly off putting and reach out to them.  Nothing works to create peace of mind and heart quite as well as selflessness.  I chose a crabby older couple that lives across the street.  We’ve lived here 6 years and I couldn’t even come up with their names.  It’s really not okay.  Mostly, they seem to dislike us because Nick Fred parks his old clunker on the street near the end of their driveway. 

So, I wrote them a note and included a little care package.  I apologized for not getting to know them sooner, asked about how they were doing, and I offered to run errands for them during this crazy time.  My cell phone number along with some chocolate wrapped in yellow ribbon accompanied the kind letter, in which I shared some details about our children and our lives.  I even addressed the car situation, explaining how I regretted the angst the vehicle was causing them but explaining why it was the safest option available to us and how Nick will be permanently moving out of state in a month. 

Transformative moments like this little one from my week always remind me about the power of selfless love.  When I sprinkle love on someone else, expecting nothing in return, I nearly always find the same interior result.  That is, when I let go of my judgements and ego, then I start to like who I’m becoming.  Feedback or outcome didn’t matter, because this was about loving others more in practical ways.  It made me seek out other opportunities all week long. 

Are you wondering what happened with my neighbor? I’ll allow it. When we were out in the driveway shooting hoops, Dave from across the street came out to chat. He smiled at me, and we kind of agreed to disagree on the location of the car. Later, he sent a text telling me about himself and his wife, and he thanked me for offering to help them out.

That was nice, and it felt good.  The thing is, that part doesn’t matter.  Not really.  It was never really about Dave and Nancy.  It was about me and the Lord.  No matter who I think I am, or where I am on my road of faith, God can use me.  Up until now, you might not have thought He could make use of perfectly imperfect you, but He can.