He Never Misses

America’s Great. It is.

Those who know me well are quite aware that I adore a good book and admire terrific writing.  When I have the time, I can devour several books in a single week.  This week, because I have a kiddo who asked, I found myself curiously reviewing the humor and memorable characters of American writer, Mark Twain.  How bizarre is it that a man who’s been dead over a hundred years really got me noodling over the current state of affairs?

Mark Twain once said, “It’s better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”

Yet, here I go, again.

I’m a big fan of welcome mats.  Ditto, those big signs over the highway that declare things like “WELCOME TO MICHIGAN!”

What could be more simple or straight forward, right?  When I see that cheerful sign on the highway, I know I’ve arrived in the land full of blueberries and big blue water.  I believe they are happy I’m there.  I appreciate the sunny greeting and take the people of the great state of Michigan at their word.  When we’re on a road trip, we usually cheer as we pass this sign and others like it.

I believe most of us who live in these United States of America are in fact pretty darn terrific.  Although I present to you not one shred of objective proof, I believe we hold the most important things in common.  For instance, I stand by my belief that nearly ALL OF US want a bright future for our children.  We want to live in peace.  We want our families to live in a place where they love and are loved now and down the line.  Truly and utterly, I unequivocally believe this.  Things happen in every generation that shake us, it’s true.  Nevertheless, America is full of beautiful faces who are generous and amazing and loved by their Creator.

Here’s more wisdom from Twain.  “The pause—that impressive silence, that eloquent silence, that geometrically progressive silence which often achieves a desired effect where no combination of words, howsoever felicitous, could accomplish it.”

When we pour forth negativity on whatever is happening this news cycle, or insist on pursuing our own viewpoint on social media, ad nauseum, even though our intent may indeed be righteous, I find it often is misconstrued and turns out to be divisive.  The path forward for me involves more prayer and more listening.  I’m not putting an asterisk next to my welcome mat to clarify who I mean.  I’m just not that complicated.  You’re ALL welcome.  I’m happy to have you at my tailgate party– even if your son is lined up against mine on the line of scrimmage tonight.

Usually, I’m a woman of more words than less.  Even my blog posts are usually a reliable 1000 words or more.  I’m arguing this day for the opposite.  Well, unless you are a millennial who wants to take me on over my use of the totally appropriate and not outdated double space.  I’m not old.  I’m just right.  Ha?

“I had been accustomed to vote for Republicans more frequently than Democrats, but I was never a Republican and never a Democrat.  In the community, I was regarded as a Republican, but I had never so regarded myself.  As early as 1865 or ’66 I had had this curious experience:  that whereas up to that time I had considered myself a Republican, I was converted to a no-party independence by the wisdom of a rabid Republican.  This was a man who was afterward a United States Senator, and upon whose character rests no blemish that I know of, except that he was the father of the William R. Hearst of today, and therefore the grandfather of Yellow Journalism- that calamity of calamities.”  (Autobiographical dictation by Mark Twain, 1906).

Amen, Mr. Clemens….and God Bless America.

12 Players Away From Greatness?

RaidersWin

As the parents of three boys, ranging in age from brand new teenager to very nearly 20, it’s not our first rodeo with team sports.  We’ve darn near visited every Catholic parish with a participating boys CYO team in the Indianapolis area, and I’d challenge you to come up with a baseball field in the state of Indiana we’ve not discovered.  Sweaty, smelly gyms full of basketball players?  Football gear that isn’t allowed past the garage?  Check and check.  We’ve got particular expertise in baseball purgatory over the years, as we have traveled with some marginally talented baseball teams to places far and wide with teams who could surely find plenty of other boys to beat them within 30 minutes of home.  Just sayin.

This year’s 12U baseball team is a new one for our youngest.  Changing teams periodically is kind of a baseball given.  They come together, they fall apart.  We decided to say yes to joining this one because a big chunk of the boys on the team will likely be future HS classmates of our Z-man, the practice field at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel is like 8 minutes from our driveway….and well…our good buddy Steve Ferrucci was darn near going to have to drive by our house on his way there to help coach the little goofballs.  As the head of transportation at the Thieme house, I was not a bit sad about that development.

How’s the team been looking this summer?  Glad you asked! Well, I’m a big fan of the Raider uniforms, despite their place in the pole position as the most complicated hot mess in the history of sports.  Why would I be willing to overlook the 27 possible uniform combos I am surely going to screw up eventually?  Because they have a cross on the back, and every single tournament someone has asked me about that.  I love the conversations that have ensued.

I’m still working on behaving like a Christian mother should when our boys have one of those “moments” and seem to have zero clue where to throw the ball or how to catch a pop fly—and sometimes when umpires don’t know the rules.  That really bugs.  “But I’m a passionate person” is my typical response to my hubby, in the face of my extraordinary gift of volume.  What of the quality of the team, though, you wonder??  My hubby, a man of carefully chosen words, has responded to those asking that question with this apt reply.  “Well, we’re 12 players away from greatness!!”  That makes me giggle.

I really do believe and trust in God’s plan for each of us—down to the little guy baseball and all!  Yesterday was that gospel reading which includes this powerful passage about His intimate love for each of us which says “are not two sparrows sold for a small coin?  Yet not one of them falls to the ground without the Father’s knowledge.  Even all the hairs of your head are counted.  So, do not be afraid; you are worth more than sparrows.” (Mt 10) 

At the mass I attended with two of my children, the celebrant gave a powerful homily which spoke loudly to that same message about how deeply and intimately we are all loved.  It made me feel slightly guilty for joining my youngest son in a minor eye roll when they declared that this particular man of God was our celebrant for the mass.  After his well-prepared homily with the perfect message, interiorly, I heard, “How about you drop the crappy attitude and work on graciousness, huh?”

My personal holiness is really shining in this entry, ha??  Here’s the rest of the story.

If we flashback to a little over a week ago, this same little Raiders 12U baseball team was playing a game at the Field of Dreams.  Yes.  That’s actually what the ballpark is called.  (Someone else dreams differently than I do).  But, I digress.  Zach was on the mound.  He seemed perfectly healthy.  When it came time for him to bat, though, in the bottom of the 2nd, he hit a ground ball to the short stop and was trying to beat it out.  On the way to 1st base, he came up lame and fell to the ground about halfway there.  It was pretty evident he had injured himself.  The dad of one Z’s teammates is an ER doc.  He glanced over to myself and Tom and inquired, “Is it ok if I go take a look?”  We kind of laughed a little as we were both thinking, “Well, hell yeah.  What are we gonna do?  Offer him a Gatorade?”  It was the uber gracious and sunny Dave Schlueter who absolutely kept Z from passing out when he got a bit lightheaded following the incident.  Certainly, the Doc was the face of Jesus to both Zach as well as his parents that morning.

I said a prayer of thanksgiving for the doc and asked Jesus to just be powerfully present to Z as he healed and recovered.  I had barely finished the prayer when the Ferrucci’s showed up with a bag full of sports distractions and love.

The Orthopedic doc we saw declared it a hamstring injury and put him on crutches and rest.  That’s not what you want to hear when you’re a (soon to be 7th grader and) baseball guy in the middle of the summer fun.  Still, he realized it could have been much worse, and Zach handled the situation in stride.   He cheered loudly (and late into the night) for his guys this weekend and THEY WON their tourney!  He was pumped about the victory and excited to join in the fun at BW3 afterward.

Guess what happened next?

All the coaches and players signed the game ball— and gave it to Z.  It was the first thing he showed us when he returned home from the celebration.

Classy?  You betcha.  Those brand new friends are some pretty solid peeps.

So this week, as we celebrated the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, there were just SO MANY kindnesses I noticed that helped me remember that Jesus loves each of us— all the way down to our smelly, broken-down, baseball loving core.  I felt compelled to share a couple of the baseball variety, because, well, team sports teach us many things.  Some of them are amazingly good and often that gets little airplay. This group of baseball players is not the most talented group I have ever seen, but they ARE 12 GREAT KIDS.

“Not all of us can do great things.  But we can do small things with great love.”  — Mother Teresa

Special thanks to the Fremion, Schlueter, Ferrucci, Kreiner, Modleski, McGowan, Ellery, Sevume, Quigley and Sanders families.  Kindness counts. That’s what boys learn when they are being raised by parents who model Christ’s love and value the same.

I’m Not a Project

“Of myself, O Lord, I am not able to entertain a good thought.”  — Mother Angelica

I’m a big fan of Mother Angelica.  If you’ve never heard of her, try Google.  She was a very accomplished woman, but what I liked about her most was her sense of humor and her very honest and conversational style in prayer.  For Mother, she felt prayer was primarily an unceasing daily conversation with the Divine.  She undoubtedly did it more eloquently than I do, but my prayer style is similar.  In that vain, here’s a very recent text exchange between myself and a pal.  In fact, I quickly considered her words divinely inspired in my day.

J:  Btw, you are NOT a project. You are someone’s he’s helping just like everyone else!  No more of that kind of talk outta you!

Me:  Ok, fair enough.  Clearly, I like to think of myself as extra special.

We were talking about a trainer I have been visiting, at her strong encouragement.  He’s helping me get moving again, and the bum knee I’ve been dragging behind me for a year is already seeing some improvement.  It’s a healthy and terrific choice, which Jen’s right, I should be celebrating.  When I said I was “extra special”, I was really kind of making fun of myself.  My terrific friend hadn’t really realized what she was doing, but she had engaged in a holy act of fraternal correction.

Huh?

She called me out on my BS.  She hit the hammer on the head so hard, without even knowing it, that it made me laugh aloud.  We’ve all got our flaws and this is certainly chief among mine.  I have this way of interiorly making any mistakes or sinful behavior on my own part THE GREATEST.  In my mind, I am the champion at being terrible.  Way to go, Shelly!  You win!!  You’re the worst ever in the history of horrible!?  Ha?

Choosing to invest in me is a really, really big deal in my head and heart.  It’s exceptionally difficult.  I am super proud of myself for seeking out help here and going for it.   Blink an eye writing a check for my high school kid to go workout with his basketball guy or to send my little man to some sports camp or whatever?  Nope.  I am also always genuinely thrilled for my hubby when he decides to go play a round of golf and blow off some steam.  It’s so good for them.  Doing the same for me?  The guilt makes my stomach hurt.  Even a single word from another human which might suggest selfish motivations makes me cringe and re-consider.

Seeing more clearly this week, it’s been revealed that many of my choices and thought processes have been not of God.  What I feel like God IS SAYING?  Get over yourself, Shelly.  Write the check, and do the work, and let’s keep talking.

Sharing this lays me a little bare.  Here’s the thing.  I think a lot of women have this interior chatter which is similarly unhelpful.   Their particular issue or need might be different from mine, but for whatever reason, we aren’t worth it, or we don’t deserve it, or we just plain stink.  To God though?  We are His.  Simple as that.  When I love His daughter as I should, I am loving Him.

The same goes for you.

Love your neighbor as yourself?  The Golden Rule has long made me squeamish.  I actually had a close friend tell me it should be amended to read Love yourself as your neighbor.  The thing is, we can’t really do what God wants us to do with that mindset.  She’s the one who made me realize I’m not the only goofball out there and it’s probably past the moment for the “challenge flag”.

Gals.  You’re amazing and beloved.  Mothers are always going to be a target of the king of lies.  Stop listening.  I can’t stop from thinking today and praying about all those young people in Manchester, England.  The face of evil wants to break the hearts of their mothers with their pre-mature deaths, and he wants to keep the beautiful young people from growing up to love the next generation in the same way they were loved.

Ladies, we are raising beautiful souls.  It’s the most important work in the world.   The devil is real and he wants us to fail.  From the middle of Indiana or the south side of Chicago or wherever we are,  in our little lives, we have to understand who we are in Christ.  We are His eyes, hands, heart.  We have to pray with love and know we are clothed with dignity and strength.

My wise and honest friend Jen and the depressing saga on the news today have reminded me that Jesus is the Lord of the universe and evil does NOT have the last word.

Prayer for Confidence in the Future

Lord, fear of the future fills my soul and I realize how little I trust You.  Your Power created the universe and Your providence takes care of the birds in the air and the fish in the sea, and the tiniest insect.  How much more will You take care of me?  Tell me, my dearest friend and guide, what prevents me from possessing that love which chases out what is unholy and that confidence which overcomes every obstacle?  Never let me forget that I am here to do Your will and that You stand by me no matter what happens because You love me.  Amen.

 

P.S.  Lord, if you could keep me from coming to blows with the nocturnal college kid?  Yeah, that would be great too.  Peace out.

If you think I’m bad with God…

If you think I’m bad with God, imagine me without him. – Evelyn Waugh

FOR THE BRAVE ONLY:  MY LENTEN MANIFESTO

The durges of the day hung in my head.

These 40 days of Lent, O Lord, with you we fast and pray, teach us to discipline our wills and follow Lord, your way.

Whatever.  How many more times will I have to listen to that dreadful thing?  Or there’s this cheerful Catholic ditty.  NOT.

We rise again from ashes, from the good we’ve failed to do.  We rise again from ashes, to create ourselves anew.

I mean, SERIOUSLY?  I didn’t know if I could do 40– scratch that– 46 days of Lent.  The 4o thing is actually a lie.  Do the math.

A harmless and uninformed CVS clerk quizzed me about the “dirt” on my forehead last year on Ash Wednesday.  She’d never heard of Lent and I’m not sure I did a great job encouraging her curiosity with my arm full of bandaids, hairspray, Excedrin and fairly inarticulate babbling about Catholicism while I dug for my Visa with the durges still playing in my head.

 

As Lent approaches this year, I find myself recalling this morning a year ago and that moment with the CVS clerk.  I am in bed with the flu.  There’s nothing like a great battle to keep a glass of sprite down to clear one’s mind of all that doesn’t really matter.

Time for some soul searching.  Stay with me.  I’ll eventually make a point?

So busy have I been, it occurs to me, so wrapped up in my carpool runs and basketball games that when my good friend called a couple weeks ago asking me to take her downtown to IU Methodist for a doctor’s appointment—I asked her to keep looking.

This is a dear friend who has suffered so much over the last two decades from illness that it has at times made me wonder why God is so cruel.  I simply cannot do her history justice here in a few words.  So that one can grasp the gravity– we’re talking multiple bone marrow transplants, brain surgery, skin cancer and that’s just for starters.  She’s gracefully endured emotional and physical suffering that is staggering by anyone’s estimate.  She’s grateful for every blessing—a holy woman of God.

Even after she said, “It’s okay, Shelly, you were just my first call, but I need to tell you something soon” it didn’t faze me.  I was wrapped up in myself.  Face of Christ?  Not so much.

Good and gracious God, have mercy on me, a sinner. 

Why on earth didn’t I just say yes?

As a Catholic Christian, I know I need my savior.  I go to mass because I realize that I am a sinner.  There’s no self-hatred in that.  It’s just truth.  If we understand what it means to believe in the incarnation, then we know we are in need of redemption.

Purification and enlightenment.  That’s what Lent is intended to be about.  Absolutely, I should make more loving, less selfish choices with those I adore (see above).  BUT ITS MORE THAN THAT.  What can I do to help me grow closer to Jesus, to be more like him in my life?  What is in my life that can’t remain if I truly desire an intimate relationship with Christ?

God is love.  That’s all he’s got in his bag, says one of my favorite theologians, Bishop Robert Barron.  He points out that God doesn’t only love those who love him back.  His sun rises and sets for the just and the unjust.  When we love, we participate in the holiness of God.  Simple as that.

Love is not a sentimental feeling.  It’s an act of the will.  True love is to will the good of the other, to break out of the deep pit of my own self-regard.  If you “love” hoping to get something in return, that is not love at all.  Love those who are not going to return the favor.  If you love those who are not likely to love you in return, then you have tested the integrity of your love.

Let me explain my Lenten thoughts another way.  Here is some pain shared by some of the people in my life in recent days.  For each person below who spoke to me of their frustration and hurt, the folks they were discussing set off their personal “JAS”.

I really hate myself sometimes.   

The school didn’t welcome my son.   

The coach lacks integrity.   

His employer dismissed him without cause after decades of loyal service.   

I’ve been bullied and disrespected but no one even cares.

My family rejected me.   

My friends left me out.   

Our grown children take advantage of us.   

My husband says cruel things.   

I am unappreciated.

So, it’s all about prayer, fasting and almsgiving at this time of the year, right?  Priests are really reliable when it comes to those three words during Lent. The goal there is purification and redemption, acts designed to make us holy as God is holy.

In other words…our little sun?  We need to make it shine on the people who slather us in awesome sauce AND those who make us want to activate our Jackass Alert System.  (The fact that I have invented this acronym should tell you a lot about the work I still have to do.)  Our call is so completely counter cultural.

Lent is a good time to be intentional in our quest for holiness.  The path of love is not the path of indirect self-interest.  My job for 40 days (and beyond) is to make my sun shine on the good and bad alike.  If I am going to be like God, my bag needs to be full of love.

Praying for my enemies and all who set off my internal JAS, fasting from things that pull me away from God (social media?), giving my time and resources to bring light to others—all of these are better choices for me than giving up diet coke for lent this year.

If the spirit of God dwells in me, reminds Bishop Barron, then my mind, body, sexuality, friendship, private life, public life, entertainment should be turned toward love.  What’s love?  Willing the good of the other.

Imagine what our Facebook and Twitter feeds, our television news programs, our families would look like if all of us who profess to be Christians tried this for the next 40 days?

Instead of hiding it, I place my sinfulness this lent before God.  It’s all yours, Jesus.  Nothing will I leave out.  My dream is to be holy. Draw me closer, Lord.

Sometimes we have the dream but we are not ourselves ready for the dream.  We have to grow to meet it.  –Louis L’Amour

P.S.  Here’s a link to a nice lenten prep video from a priest who makes me smile.  I hope you enjoy it!

https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10155199367475832&id=315151565831

 

 

Pollyanna Week

A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds.  A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love. –St. Basil the Great 

When my son was 10, he and his friend Jake came running to me declaring with enthusiasm that they had decided what they were going to do with their lives.

One cannot overstate the absolute “squirreliness” of the bright light that was Jake at this particular age.  I braced myself for the split second between the door slamming behind them both and the beginning of his loud declaration.  ‘WE’RE GOING TO BE PRIESTS, MRS. THIEME!!”

“Well, that’s a noble thought, gentlemen. What makes….”

“It’s the PERFECT JOB!” They both chimed spontaneously. “Your house is totally free, and there are no girls living with you, and you work ONE DAY A WEEK!  We’re going to be priests together and play Xbox all day long.  It will be awesome!!”

“That does sound pretty sweet.  Why don’t you fellas go outside and play in traffic a while, huh?”

THWAAAP! With that slam of the screen door, the silly ying-yangs were back outside getting muddy.

It’s funny how memories come flooding back to your mind from time to time.  This gem was called forth this week, almost against my will, as I picked up a skinny vanilla latte yesterday.  I went inside the coffee shop on this particular afternoon because the line of cars was wrapped around the building.  There was my mistake, I scolded myself interiorly.  Interacting with the world face to face PRIOR to the caffeine is just not always an idea laced with wisdom.

“Those guys are a joke.” said a woman within earshot just behind me.

“What parish are you again?”

“I hate priests. I really do.  What cush life.  They work like 2 days a week……………..”

And so there I stood thinking, “Well, now, she shouldn’t do that.  I should tell her that…” Let it go.

That was the instant the old Jake and Drew life of priesthood and Xbox entered my mind, and I began to giggle. It just struck me funny that the shade these gals were throwing on the priesthood (which is chock full of hardworking guys I just love) was essentially the same ridiculous view shared by Jake and Drew’s childish babble years ago at age 10.  God just gets me, I smiled.  The giggle happened audibly.  Like, out loud just a little.  Here I was trying to LET IT GO and now I’ve gone and done it, I thought, as I saw the glare behind me.

“Umm, excuse me?  Did we say something funny?” Her tone was in the snarky genre.

“Well, yes.  You kind of did, but I don’t think it was on purpose.  Hi, I’m Shelly by the way. I’ve just paid for your coffee.”

“Oh. Oh.  Well…”

“You’re welcome.”

Is there a point to my rambling?  Well, yes, there is.

I had just come from confession.   At said confession, I had basically shared with my favorite confessor about how the world needs less of my opinion and more of my holiness.  So, to follow up that decade of the rosary I had just said as a penance with a smart mouthed defense of my view of what an amazing gift authentic priestly life is for all of Starbucks to hear—in my never quiet voice—well it just seemed ill-timed.

What the world needs from me is optimism and sunshine as well as reassurance and comfort.  Jesus girls should be about His good news.  You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.  Whatever I say should be constructive and life building.  That includes to myself, by the way.

No more pity parties when things don’t go my way or when things get tough. You know what happens in a pity party?  Satan brings the chips! I have to get up and do what I have to do and thank the good Lord for the day.  If I’m beginning to feel resentful or angry or whatever, I’ve got to heed the wise words of Carrie Fisher.

“Resentment is like drinking poison….and hoping the other person will die.”

Princess Leia was wiser than you thought, huh?  Same.  An “evil” priest gave me that jewel too—via text on a day when I was in fact drinking that poison.  It made me stop and smile just like my gracious God in the coffee shop.  He’s right here beside me, a fact He shows me constantly…so what more could I want?

It doesn’t pay to even dab in negativity.

Pope Francis quite agrees with me.  It’s true.  He said this week that “news may be good or bad, true or false.  The early Christians compared the human mind to a constantly grinding millstone; it’s up to the miller to determine what it will grind: good wheat or worthless weeds.  Our minds are always grinding, but it is up to use to choose what to feed them.”

He acknowledged that naïve optimism isn’t necessarily called for either—meaning we shouldn’t be blind to evil.  He simply proposed that “all of us work at overcoming that feeling of growing discontent” which happens interiorly to us all.

Exuding positivity requires humility.  I have to admit, I missed the feeling of superiority I occasionally get from using a cynical comment or some puncturing humor with the cranky anti-priest gals at the coffee shop.  A willingness to choose sunshine requires modesty—and I realize that maybe makes me sound slightly mawkish.  The thing is this.  I want to be a lot more like one of those joyous people who draws me in when I am around them. You know them and so do I.  Are they not THE BEST??

A prayer attributed to St. Augustine includes the line “shield your joyous ones”.

Tend your sick ones, O Lord Jesus Christ

Rest your weary ones; bless your dying ones;

Soothe your suffering ones; pity your afflicted ones;

Shield your joyous ones.

And all for your love’s sake.

I read it years ago and wondered why the heck St. A worried about the joyous ones?  It’s easy to be heavy.  It’s hard to be light.  That’s why.

Are there joyous people in your life who buoy your spirits and can be counted on to cushion your anxiety?  Maybe now’s the time to make an effort to use your good cheer to support them.  Play the “glad game” and call it “Pollyanna week”.  Be their sunshine.

I’m brand new today.  CLEAN SLATE.  Yeah me!   I’m not going to dwell on little hurts and irritations.   I can’t be who God means me to be if am making snide comments and unleashing my opinion on all.

I’m calling a Pollyanna week.  There will be positivity, optimism, and listening.  I’m going to be grateful for all that’s going on in my life, and for the gift of faith and be at peace.  Less me, more God.

Who’s with me?

Spread love everywhere you go.  Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.

 -St. (Mother) Teresa of Calcutta

Peace out, folks!

–ST

 

P.S.  When her friend lingered in the coffee shop, sweet gal #2 stopped me in the parking lot.  She said, “We weren’t being very charitable earlier.  Thank you for the coffee.”

You get more flies with honey.  It’s true.

 

 

 

Your Sweater’s on Inside Out

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.  –CS Lewis.

Typically, my neighbor schleps Zach to school each morning.  I’m the afternoon shift.  The carpool pickup slot has some cons to consider… waiting endlessly in a parking lot, kids eating leftover Doritos in the backseat, and fairly large arguments about who spotted the yellow car and first yelled, “SKITTLE!!!!”  However, on the plus side, the carpool pickup slot which is assigned to yours truly occurs during this coveted time called afternoon.  The morning?  It happens pretty early.

“Wow the morning people have a quiet gig, ” I thought to myself as I shivered all the way to SLDM this morning.  Considering the early hour of exit, I was in pretty solid spirits.  “Look at me all showered and dressed in this (low-key) adorable outfit, and it’s only 7am!” Positively self-congratulatory, I was in the pre-dawn carpool line.

Passing off the dress clothes for the junior high dance, the CYO uniform for the big game at OLMC in the morning, and the overnight bag, (all belonging to my little man), I knew this day was destined for greatness.  I really have got my act together this fine Friday.  My dear friend Renee, victim of the handoff, is one of those people who can wear pjs during the daytime or throw on a ball cap and still look darling. When I try that, well, picture a rounder version of Gilda Radner as Roseanne Roseannadanna on SNL.  Too young to have the vision?  Google it.  She was hysterical and with hair that looked like it had been electrocuted.  Today, though, I had it going on.  Guerin Catholic purple and black, warm and cozy black boots and purple nail polish too!  BOOM!

I was ready to take on the world.  I had a long list of (mostly Christmas) errands, and I was already dressed for the big game against the cross-town rival.  I had a date planned pre-game with my sweetie, AND I had time to start my day at mass.  YEAH ME!!

Taking my favorite seat up front so I can be close to Jesus, I prayed for so many people and I was pretty proud of the fact that I had written down their names this time.  The world is full of hurting hearts and broken bodies.  I gave them all to God.  I was feeling groovy.  As I grabbed my coat and turned to go, there was a tap on my shoulder.  “Shelly, your sweater is on inside out. If I were you, I would want to know.”

HAHAHAHA!!!  The lightbulb came on instantly.  Message received, Lord.

It’s good you were here, Shelly, but hello?  Forget to thank anyone for your zillions of blessings?  Psalm 90, my dear girl.  Try reading it. That’s what I heard interiorly with the tap on my shoulder.

He’s gentle and He’s patient.  Pride is about my glory; humility is about God’s glory.  I feel like I read that in Ephesians somewhere.  Maybe I need to read the whole book and find that bit of scripture.  I’m pretty sure God isn’t so impressed with people who watch themselves worship and who don’t bother thanking Him.

Thank you, Lord for opening my eyes to Your blessings and the grace to acknowledge who You are and how You love me this day and always.  And, Lord, thanks for smiling at me even when I act like an idiot.  I’m going to try opening with gratefulness tomorrow. I love you too. 

Yours, Shelly

I might be slightly less amazing than I led myself to believe this morning.  BUT, I am still a truly beloved child of God AND SO ARE YOU.  Let’s help each other remember that one, huh?

An Open Letter to my Catholic Friends…

Dear Friends,

I’m going to be honest. Humor eludes me today. At the grocery store this morning, I overheard half of a conversation that bothered me.

“I know Ann, I gotta go because I am at the grocery now, but I don’t know what she’s thinking letting her daughter go to that school next year with all those backward, elitist Catholics. Plus, Catholic school is SO expensive!”

I said nothing, but it felt like a very personal blow. To be fair, I arrived at the grocery store in a posture that was poised for anger and I felt defensive. Therefore, the longer I thought about it, the more annoyed I became with this stranger who obviously doesn’t know anything about us or our church. To call me BUGGED would have been an inadequate characterization.

I appreciate your consideration about my perspective on this, but first, I’d like to remind you about who we are as Catholics, because this gal and her comments sent me exactly to the center of my political frustrations too. Good people, I PROMISE this is NOT a political post. I’m just acknowledging my head is right in the middle of the muck coming across my Twitter feed and TV and I am trying to be real. One of the news stations this morning re-ran part of an interview from a couple years back. It was a prominent figure making a staggering claim that the Catholic Church is responsible for 50% of social services in the United States. The media, predictably, pounced on that with mountains of statistical “fact checking” about how Catholic Charities, while one of the largest charities in the country, falls far short of that mark.

This is true. Catholic Charities serves ONLY about 10 million individuals annually, BUT these millions are served regardless of their own religious, social or economic backgrounds. Some of it’s more well-known partner organizations include Habitat for Humanity as well as Catholic Charities Disaster Relief. In short, they work hard to reduce poverty and provide emergency relief throughout the US and well beyond. It’s hardly an insignificant contribution (and definitely not rooted in elitism).

I wanted to yell at the screen, “Someone, anyone? Defend us!!”

To understand the social services impact of the Catholic Church, though, I thought, one needs to understand that our country is home to a vast network of Catholic hospitals and health systems, and that the University system in our country was largely a Catholic invention. Also, within the 195 dioceses, there are approximately 18,000 Catholic parishes in the USA. I “Googled” it.

Let me say it another way.  The parish nearest my home is Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Carmel, Indiana. This parish built and operates the 13,000 sq. ft. Matthew 25 Center, which includes a large food pantry, the Trinity Free Clinic, and serves THOUSANDS annually. They meet the needs of marginalized people from all walks of life EVERY SINGLE DAY. Their network of volunteers from doctors and dentists to retirees, as well as housewives and their children is astounding.

The parish school my son attends at St. Louis de Montfort in nearby Fishers also houses a food pantry. The parish gives 10% of collections, or about $250,000 (I’m guessing) annually to meet the needs of the community by supporting financially and with manpower many local charities doing good work that aren’t necessarily affiliated with the Catholic Church. One recent collection, for instance, went to a local shelter that provides emergency housing for women who have escaped domestic abuse. The parish regularly houses families on their campus who are struggling with homelessness as part of their partnership with the Interfaith Hospitality Network (among a zillion other worthy endeavors).

These two parishes whose compassionate contributions I have sorely underreported here are QUITE representative of the incredible work the other 17,998 or so parishes are making. My husband is the CPA, not me. I just know this amounts to a boat load of people helping a boat load of other people.

Guess what? I KNOW YOU good Catholic people with your sleeves rolled up all over your community, and I know you don’t really give a rip how much “credit” you get for who you help. The vast majority of you simply want to be the hands and face of Christ to those around you. You inspire me. You make me want to be more and do more! You all are trying to do small things with great love, as St. Mother Teresa advised. Some of you are old fussbudgets, others are sales people, teachers, pediatricians, high school kids….so many hands are in the mix.

Where are you going with this, Shelly??

Here’s where I am going.

“Hey, Carmel! Hey Fishers! Hey America! WE LOVE YOU!”

When you are down on your luck, come find us. We are literally EVERYWHERE. We’ve got nuns that will help care for your Uncle Henry who’s down on his luck and priests who will help his daughter find a counselor and a great gal named Jayne who will get her a bag of groceries and some new undies.

We’ve got Universities who help underprivileged young people get a college education who couldn’t otherwise afford one—and a student body filled with so much heart they are building houses for people on the weekends and tutoring students in your local public school for free.

We’ve got hospitals. We’ve got grade school kids making PB&J’s who will pass one to you to take along for the road after you leave the food pantry. We’ve got HS kids taking their day off after finals to come rake your leaves. We have thousands of those little old “church ladies” and countless Catholic prayer groups who will pray for you– and if you need help with food for your brother’s funeral–we’ve got your back.

Stop in and see us.

When you call us names or tell us we’re backwards, we’re human. It makes us sad. When you think it’s okay to disrespect our beliefs, and especially where it relates to ending the lives of the most vulnerable, it makes our hearts weep. Broken hearted people don’t always think straight or articulate well. For those times where we have failed, we ask your forgiveness. We will work on our behavior. It doesn’t change the fact that we are right here and we want to help—no matter who you are or where you live.

Catholic friends, when did disagreeing become something that must express itself venomously? WE, as a group, need to do a better job understanding that people weren’t exactly a big fan of Jesus either (and we are CLEARLY NOT HIM) and rest in the Lord. That’s all. The anger and defensive posture are unbecoming.

As my 12-year-old son says, “We’re a good family.” Like all good families, we are full of flaws. But don’t be led astray. Our church is born of Christ Himself, and it’s okay to be proud to be Catholic.

With God’s help, we’ll keep trying to respect one another and do better. We must.

If I have the chance to talk sometime directly to the heart of folks like the woman I overhead at the grocery today? I would say this. “I’m worried about some of you guys. Some of you don’t see how BELOVED YOU ARE. Hey you! Yes, you! God loves you. He’s better at loving than any human being could ever be, and He sees everything amazing about you.”

My faithful friends, my Jesus girls, my peeps…. If you know that, really KNOW THAT, in your heart, then you are blessed beyond words. I’m asking you to please join me in prayer for our country? It’s full of angry people who do and say evil things which means they don’t know God loves them, y’all. It breaks my heart. I’ve been there. It’s a really crappy place to live. Let’s ask God to use us to be His face and His hands to show them what love looks like.

“There is no place for selfishness—and no place for fear! Do not be afraid then when love makes demands. Do not be afraid when love requires sacrifice.” (St. Pope John Paul II)

Rio, Kerri’s Twin, and stuff….

ChristtheRedeemer

That Kerri Walsh Jennings sure looks good in her volleyball bikini after having three kids.  She said she was born to have kids and play volleyball.  I feel like we’re twins or something except she had three easy pregnancies and I don’t play volleyball and the whole body thing.  Just sayin.

The Olympics is underway.  Since I live in a sports crazed house filled to the brim with testosterone, it may not shock you to know that we have been watching everything from fencing and rowing to women’s gymnastics and yes, as I mentioned in my opening paragraph, beach volleyball.

Generally speaking, I don’t tend to love what the media has become in the last several years.  There are practical limitations at times to media neutrality, but pervasive bias which contravenes the standards of journalism as well as coverage filled with divisive vitriol has become widespread to the point where it makes television virtually unwatchable for me—well except for Chip and Jo Jo.  Those two I love.

For a few precious days, though, my TV woes are pushed aside as we all get to be on one team!  U-S-A! U-S-A!!

Last night, I saw two super cool things in between the commercials I am trying desperately to ignore so they don’t ruin the Olympic experience for me.

First, I saw a young swimmer from Indiana screaming with delight at the end of his swim.  You could NOT hear the NBC commentators over the joyful outburst.  What made it awesome to me was that this kid, Cody, was the bronze medalist in his event.  In the lane next to Cody stood an excited Brit with his arms in the air—and HE had set a world record and won the gold.  That didn’t matter to Cody Miller.  He had done his personal best and he was PUMPED about coming in 3rd and seemed genuinely thrilled for the man who had bested him, giving him a huge hug of congratulations.  THAT is TV worth seeing and it was a powerful witness of what sport and life should be about—HAPPY for the other guy, GRATEFUL for your own blessings!

My other Olympic smile comes courtesy of the beautiful skyline of Rio de Janeiro.  There, on display for the world at a time when we all desperately NEED JESUS is Christ the Redeemer.  Standing with arms wide open on Corcovado Mountain, this masterpiece which cannot be missed by even the most secular of media outlets, is 125ft high, I heard on the Today Show.  I love that Hoda and Matt told me about it.  An article on the Olympics that I read said the statue was made with the purpose of showing that Christ loves all and to spread peace to all who see it.  The stone is from Sweden, the design is Polish, and it was engineered by both French and Brazilian men.  God Bless Brazil and all who made it possible!

The Olympics is a personal favorite, as I am sure you guessed by reading the opening paragraph of my post.  It is part of a text string shared between myself, my sister and my hilarious mom this week.  I read an Irish proverb once that said, “A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything” and it seems to me remarkable wisdom.  The world is just so darn serious lately and there’s so little smiling!  Are we forgetting to notice the good stuff?  Could we all just use a giggle and a breath of fresh air?  I think YES!  Let’s work on our smiles and spread them around?

Signs attract attention, and the more luminous, the more they stand out and the greater the impact.  The lighthouse at the end of the pier in South Haven, or even a traffic light is powerful because of its difference.  They couldn’t do their job if they didn’t stand out from the things around them.

Our smiles?  They are signs too!

Everytime you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing. –Mother Teresa.

If I am not different in some way, or if I am afraid to be what I am called to be, I will also go unnoticed.  Cody was a witness because he did the unexpected.  The people of Rio and their message of love and peace—powerful!!

I think Jesus wants us to be signs too, in our lives, as little as our lives or moments may be—a tension relieving giggle can definitely be darn good Jesus girl stuff.  A van full of teenagers singing “Yes, Lord” at migraine inducing volume in a minivan is for darn sure a valuable contribution to the world.  So is leading a simple prayer before a meal.  When I maintain courageous hope and strong faith, then I am an authentic Christian.  That brand of holiness, born of desire and effort to grow closer to Christ, is what makes my ordinary valuable.

As my fellow parents of 2016 grads and I send our oldest kids off to college, I felt a strong tug to issue a reminder of what we have been doing with these last 18 years of smelly blessings.  We’re sending new lights out into the world, friends.  Keep on keeping on because your job isn’t done yet.

How much fun is it going to be to see the glow spreading across the country, though?

Oh, and Mom? You’re SO right about Kerri.  Twins.  TOTALLY.  GO USA!!

 

 

 

 

 

Just hand over the chocolate…

“It must be nice to live in your optimistic, sunny damn world.”

That was the insult hurled at me by my truly handy husband at the moment of his exasperation.  He was in the middle of hanging a very large TV from an impossibly uncooperative mount above our fireplace.  At the moment of his greatest frustration, I said something about how amazing he is and how I knew he would have it solved and looking good in mere moments.

Truth be told, had it been me in his place, I’m quite sure I would have been uber annoyed by the chirping of happy thoughts too.

However, I do think attitude is everything, and I know happiness is something you have to help yourself to.  Sometimes, though, I forget.  Moments like this one with Tom happen and they are like little post-it notes from the Holy Spirit.  They help me to remember how my attitude influences the quality of my relationships and how joyful my life is each day.

Some things we can control (like choosing optimism), and others we cannot.

Controlling the fact that my oldest son is soon moving out of the house isn’t something I can or even want to control.  Still, it’s the most bittersweet thing imaginable and it’s never far from my mind.  I’ve read the articles on what I should expect with this “limbo summer” and how normal and natural it is for my kid to do all the things he’s doing.  It’s the slow untangling to his more independent life.  I get it.

I’d been told about the rising tension between us that would come from nowhere and I’d hoped those moms were just wrong about me and Nick Fred.  The warnings were clear about younger siblings lamenting the loss to come and trying to cling a bit to their brother, but that I should expect that will be to no avail.  The warning about him staying up too late, retreating to the basement and spending every available moment with everyone but us was issued.  Those “mentor moms” around me have warned me.  It’s normal.  It’s fine.  I thought I was prepared.  I’m not.

So, today, it’s time to reframe.

What I reeeeallly want is for my son to just stay right here by his mom and talk to me.  I want him to know in his core that he is loved beyond measure and that we believe in him.  I want him to know he must work hard and be honest, and have fun, and dream big and laugh often and be true to himself.  I want him to know I’m not really mad about the giant pile of clean laundry that sat for DAYS in his cubby in the mud room.  I want him to know it’s not really a federal offense that when he did eventually move it that he put it on the staircase and made an even more gigantic mess.  I need him to understand that he DOES need to finish the thank you notes for all the generous graduation gifts but that my nagging tone about all of this really just hides the incredibly proud and completely broken heart that is underneath the noise of my always loud voice.

In 2 months, his giant pile of folded clothes which has fallen over sideways will be gone.  That silly green “Tebow” Jets t-shirt which matches NOTHING will not be waiting for me to fold it again and roll my eyes.  Part of my heart will be living in Cincinnati.   I have this lump in my throat that won’t go away.  Also, I am bursting with excitement and pride.  Reconciling all of that has been a struggle.

What this Jesus girl does when she’s struggling is look for guidance.

“Certainly sons are a gift from the Lord.”  Yep.  It’s right there in Psalm 127.  BOOM!

So, I’m not delusional.  I know I will continue to be a complete contradiction of feelings.

Mostly, though, I just feel love.  How unbelievably grateful I am!

God is love.  That’s another thing I know and good gosh it sure helps.  If God is….well….God, and I am just Shelly then I’m thinking He probably loves my kid even more than I do.  Come to think of it, He must love ME that much too.  It will all be well.

For 18 years, I have known the face of Jesus through this kiddo.  He is indeed a gift from the Lord.  Tom and I?  We have been blessed beyond measure by this big bear of a kid named Nick.  It’s time.  He’s ready.

NickandMe
Nick Fred and me after the baccalaureate mass.

Happiness is available, and I hereby choose it.  That feels like the grateful, optimistic and holy choice I can make that will honor the God of the universe.

THAT SAID:  If you have a kid in the class of 2020 moving into Buenger Hall on the campus of Xavier University this August 18, I recommend you carry chocolate with you.  My research tells me that 20 out of 20 people like chocolate and I am definitely one of them.  Just hand over the chocolate calmly and no one will get hurt.

St. Francis Xavier…..pray for us!

Dear Mom

MomInParis1

This is a sketchy photo of my mom.  She’s spending Mother’s Day in France this year and I could not be happier for her.  My adventurous, amazing Mom deserves this fun trip with her girlfriends and I know she is soaking it all in.  But, it’s Mother’s Day weekend, and since she’s far away, I knew the best way to reach her would be Facebook this year.  This letter is a Mother’s Day gift from me to you, Mom.  I love you.

Dear Mom,

The other “kids” are still jealous I have the youngest, coolest mom.  It’s true.  You always were.  I mean, aside from that time you FORGOT you were the mom and you screamed wanting ME to kill the mouse in our kitchen (“YOU DO IT! YOU’RE THE MOM!  I’M ONLY 12!”), it always worked out pretty well for me.  I could use all kinds of adjectives like “hilarious”, “kind”, “creative”, “selfless”….and those are all accurate and true but they just don’t do you justice.  The thing about you that is truly mind-blowing to me as I gaze back over the decades is this one simple thing.  You ALWAYS show up.  ALWAYS.  You might be exhausted, your schedule might be frenetic….it has never mattered.  There you were and are.  Birthdays.  Softball games.  Tennis matches.  Choir performances.  You were at every May Crowning—you weren’t even Catholic then and didn’t understand—but we were there so there you were.  This selflessness only increased once Robin and I headed off to college and then down the aisle.  You organized my closet when I was too pregnant to breathe and stayed overnight in the hospital with my 4 year old when I had food poisoning and couldn’t bear to have him alone for a moment.  You’ve watched my kids for days on end so I could try and remember what it was I liked about that guy I married after 4 months of tax season…………..too many times to count.  The thing is, I don’t believe they miss me at all because the entire time you just spoil my goofballs until they’re sufficiently ruined.  I have three boys and you’ve never missed a single birthday. How’s that even possible?

I’m gonna make a confession, Mom.  There have been moments in my life where I have thought to myself, “God doesn’t love me.  Why would He?”  We all get blue and feel crummy about ourselves.  I have special gifts in this area.  Here’s the thing.  I have never doubted for a moment in my life that I am loved by my mom.  Even when I was acting like a moody, pain in the ass, immature teenager (sorry about that)…I knew you loved me anyway.  ALWAYS.  So, follow this logic if you would.  When I was struggling and truly blue some thoughts rumbled.  If I know for SURE that my mom loves me even when I am being an idiot, then one starts to suspect that perhaps the God of the universe is maybe even a touch more adept at loving.

Years pass, and this magnificent example of love in my life? I am given the chance to share it with my own three smelly, sarcastic, terrific ying-yangs.  Motherhood has a funny way of helping even total knuckleheads like yours truly to understand a bit more about love.  Then, circumstances of life rattle me, and that same nagging, negative, interior voice crops up.  The thing is, now I can slay that dragon from the south in short order.

Why?  First, I know that I have parents who love me NO MATTER WHAT.  Plus, I am certain that there is NOTHING my sons could do that could cause me to quit loving them.  Yes, they might disappoint me.  They could break my heart.  Even if one of my sons did something unthinkable, though, I know that I would still love them like you love me.

So there’s this.  On my bad days, those days when I feel God must not love me because of whatever stupid reason I concoct interiorly with my (high quality) creative gifts….I stop myself.  My math won’t add.  God doesn’t love me.  BUT, I love my boys forever and always?  And I am SURE my mom loves her girls to the moon and back?  So.  You and I love better than God?  Hmmm. I mean we’re good.  B-U-T….

You didn’t know you taught me that I am a cherished daughter of God, did you?  Well, you did. That’s pretty much the best gift ever.

Even I am not so lacking in humility that I believe you and I love our children better than God loves His.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.  I miss you… and I love you more than you will ever know.