Confessions of a Creeper…

I am what my Dad’s friend, Ed, calls a “creeper”.  Apparently, this is a quality dreaded by persons with whom the offender cohabitates.  You see, evidently there is an invisible line of demarcation on a bathroom counter.  One ought not to cross said line for any reason.  “Creeper” is the official term used for repeat offenders of this “law”.

Last week, Tom and I were in a small territorial war it seems.  I would place my oversized bottle of Scope over the “Mason-Dixon” line, and then when I was not around he would place it back on my side of the counter.  This went on for several days until he placed my Sam’s Club sized bottle of mouthwash as far as he could place it away from his side, all the way in the far left corner of my sink.

Arriving home Friday night, he noticed that the offending antiseptic was nowhere to be seen.  VICTORY was his!  I had seen the light and put the bottle away under my sink as he had been hoping I would!  Sheepishly, as he changed for our dinner out with friends, he mentioned to me about our little passive-aggressive counter top battle and how happy he was that I had seen the light.

This story came to my mind after my Election Day experience on Tuesday.  You see, I went to my polling place at the Carmel Fire Station on 131st St. and I encountered a fairly lengthy line of folks snaking around the fire truck waiting their turn to vote in the mid-terms.  That gave me time to make a friend. Just in front of me our good and gracious God placed a friendly woman with whom I quickly struck up a conversation.  She told me she was a Jewish woman from Iran and that she had moved to the US when she was 14. She marveled at all the things that make America “the greatest country on earth” (her words) not the least of which is the remarkably civil way we treat others who are on the other side of the aisle from us—who have a different perspective.  I’m pretty sure I crinkled my nose about that last part. Does this gal not own a TV? She further explained that she knew to me that must sound crazy as we have lost our way a bit with all the over the top yelling at each other and mean TV ads.  “But at the end of the day, if the current leader loses the election, he will call to congratulate the winner.  Then, he will give him the keys to his office peacefully and without incident.  In my old country, if you lose the election, they kill you.”  Yikes.  How do I take back my crinkled up nose?

She went on to explain that she misses the civil discourse she used to see here a bit more regularly.  We discussed the concept of “agreeing to disagree”.  She said the “your side vs. my side” stuff was tiring and that we definitely should put our phones down and quit making comments on Facebook and Twitter that we wouldn’t dream of saying in person.   She expressed her deep desire that we remember what it is to speak face- to- face about what is bothering us.  “It just works better,” she added “but democracy is amazing and I could never dream of skipping the opportunity to vote!”  AMEN.

This leads me back to our territorial battle over the bathroom counter at the Thieme house.  Here’s the rub.  I had NO IDEA what Tom was talking about when he thought I had seen the light and corrected the error of my “creeper” ways.  In fact, when I realized what had been going on under my nose, I just looked up at him with very genuine confusion, followed quickly by a great big belly laugh.  Then, he shook his head and started laughing too.  I mean,  good grief!  It’s been 24 years of marriage.  Despite the genius of his patient and repeated witness on this concept, one would think by now my remarkably intelligent husband would grasp the fact that I simply do not speak passive- aggressive?  Nevertheless, my face, as it often does, told him the full story.  I just had genuinely missed the entire week of counter wars.  I had no clue he was bugged by the Scope and zero idea there was a “thing” happening.  His frustration was completely lost on me.   I’m just authentically not that into worrying about where stuff is on the counter.  This explains why the “house” part of “housewife” gets me every time.   It was at that moment he saw it too and we both began to look at each other and really laugh.

At the end of the day, Tom and I did one thing right.  We realized we are living in the same house and we were able to laugh about how differently we think and navigate life.  Discussing our disagreements rationally and with an open mind is virtually always more effective than engaging in civil war?  I am never going to care about where the Scope is stored.  Tom is never going to be happy living with a creeper.  Chances are good we can negotiate a solution here that is good for us both.

Compromise, agreeing to disagree, laughing with each other despite differences— these are all simple concepts worth revisiting.

No tennis shoes on the bed in exchange for the Scope under the sink…..what do you say, hon?

No matter who you were for this election season, I hope you voted!

God Bless America.

Kooky Aunt Helen

In loving memory of my peculiar, imprudent, silly and utterly amazing great aunt Helen Lammers…
On left, my photo from inside San Luigi dei Francesi, “The Calling of St. Matthew”

Allow me to introduce you to my Aunt Helen. To merely describe her as a colorful figure in my childhood would do her a tragic disservice. Aunt Helen always wore a wig and whatever was trending in the juniors department at Kmart. I recall quite a few long, bold fish necklaces paired with stirrup pants, big sweaters and those plastic shoes we called “jellies” on her feet. Her gifts at the holidays were always my favorite, despite being the least expensive of all the offerings, because they were so obnoxiously wrapped, one inside the other. The unwrapping lasted a long time…which I found incredibly fun! Inside, there would inevitably be some vibrating or glow in the dark plastic trinket mostly likely purchased at Spencer gifts.

If you could hum her a few bars, she could play absolutely any song you wished on her piano. She rarely, if ever, used sheet music. She liked us to sing along with her to songs like “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better”, and she always insisted I sing it in an octave a little higher than my alto voice wanted to go. “It sounds prettier,” she’d whisper. She wrote a little song about me as a small girl, the chorus of which included my entire proper name, which somehow rhymed the way she sang it. Phonetically, it sounded like “ME-SHEL-LIN DIE-Q-ZIN… is a very pretty girl.” There were verses too, but I don’t remember them now. I do, however, remember that chorus and how she made me feel when she sang that song.

Aunt Helen was the sister of my grandmother, Pauline. That made her my great aunt, in reality. She had one beloved son who had long since moved to Florida when I was coming of age, and he was unmarried. That made my sister, Robin and myself her adopted grandchildren. Since Mom was a young student at Purdue when she married my Dad, Aunt Helen was a frequent babysitter. I spent a lot of time at her little house on 27th Street, just a block from Columbian Park and with a backyard that virtually backed into the front door of the old Home Hospital. We made tents out of the sheets she hung from her clothesline in the backyard and spent whole afternoons pretending to hold an imaginary circus, making a palace for our dolls, or trying on her closet full of high heels. It didn’t matter that we were without a swimsuit. If it was hot and we wanted to run through her sprinkler, she just told us not to worry about a silly problem like swimsuits and she let us run through in our underwear. We’d break pieces of bread and toss them back into their bread bags and take them to the park to feed the ducks. The larger, more aggressive among the flock terrified me not just a little, and my running from them made Aunt Helen cackle with delight on many occasions.

As I grew older, we remained close. She was my confirmation sponsor. When Tom and I were in high school and then in college, we would stop in to visit my Aunt Helen (and Uncle Charlie) to play euchre. It was always girls vs. boys and I really have no recollection of who won or who lost. I just remember my quirky Uncle Charlie always slow playing his 1 beer and 3 oreos, which by the way, was the same pace at which he played euchre. We always left there smiling and feeling like it was time well spent. I loved Tom for all the hands of cards he played with me and my grandparents as well as Aunt Helen and Uncle Charlie.

When she passed away down in Florida, where she went to live with her son Johnny at the end of her life, I recall feeling robbed of the opportunity to properly mourn someone I loved so deeply. All those years later, I honestly still feel that way. Here’s the utterly inappropriate and yet awesome gift Aunt Helen gave me. I knew I was her favorite. She was embarrassingly open about the fact that she liked me just a little better than everyone else, and in fact it got her into some trouble with my grandmother as well as my parents. “Helen, you can’t ask the girls what they want for dinner and then ALWAYS make what Shelly asks for,” my grandmother would scold. As a parent myself, I know I would be vocal about this kind of favoritism when it comes to my boys. It was wrong….oh so wrong….B-U-T….I always felt beloved by her.

When I was in Rome very recently, I found myself in the very front left corner of a church called “San Luigi dei Francesi” which translates “The Church of St. Louis of the French” and it is not far from Piazza Navona. One of the side chapels in this beautiful church contains some spectacular paintings by the baroque master Caravaggio. This includes a world renowned canvas of “The Calling of St. Matthew”, the seeing of which rather took my breath away. It has long been a painting I consider a favorite for spiritual reasons I don’t think I can convey adequately here. To look up, though, and see it in person felt a whole lot like being that 8 year-old girl who knew she was Aunt Helen’s favorite. In that instant, a certain feeling of belovedness which often eludes me, just washed over me.

For just a moment, I nearly drowned in it.

Writing about a moment of divine intimacy, or of spiritual consolation is often said to be a poor idea, as it’s very giving away can serve to minimize or trollop on the moment which was perhaps meant to be a private gift between one soul and it’s Creator, among other reasons.

Here’s the reason I’m doing it anyway. The thing that had long prevented me from growing closer to God was a disordered view of myself. Like A LOT of people I know, I had been Matthew with my head on the table. I am quick to believe all criticism and remember all failure, and loathe to believe in my goodness. I long felt like Matthew with his head on the table saying “not me, Lord.” He was a hated tax collector, he was all things unworthy. Yet there was Jesus pointing at him saying, “Come follow me.”

We think we are so darn smart, but our self-knowledge and ingenuity are utterly insufficient, and they certainly won’t effectuate union with God. What we really need is a supernatural faith. We need a faith that understands God loves His children more than we love ours. We need to know that we are worthy, our lives priceless, simply because WE ARE HIS.

If you are reading my words today, I want you to know something. YOU ARE LOVED. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. YOU ARE WORTHY.

This summer, my cousin took his life and that of his family. This fall, a young college senior named Evan, who was the very picture of goodness, took his life. Last week, the nephew of a church friend, a young man named JJ, the only child of his parents, took his life. In the last year alone, my pastor has buried 5 of his parishioners after the same tragedy. Folks, this must stop.

I’m not quite sure how but we must help and it must begin with being unafraid to love others. That means EVERYONE. ALWAYS. You and I maybe aren’t mental health professionals. We are just regular people like my Aunt Helen. What can we do about it, right? I mean who are we to solve such a big problem? I’m not sure.

However, I do know this. Aunt Helen was divorced at a young age, a thing about which she never spoke. She liked her cocktails a little too much. She thought iodine and baby oil was the nectar of the Gods and should be slathered upon the human body whenever the sun peaked out. She seemed to believe pimento cheese and fried chicken were both food groups unto themselves. Also, in her quirky and ordinary life, she was the face of Christ to me. Despite her flaws, God used her to teach me that I am beloved. She was a person who seemed to see the butterfly wings I couldn’t spot because they were behind me. So, when God came close to remind me, I remembered the feeling as I gazed at the beauty of the Caravaggio painting and He drew me in.

I left there thinking about how very much I love Him, and that I can do more for the Lord.

The beautiful senses God has given us can help us grow in holiness. I feel His love at mass, in the Eucharist and when Tom kisses me gently on the forehead. I feel it when a friend sends me a sweet card or when the sun sets over Lake Michigan—and apparently in the corners of dusty old churches in Rome I discover with Mom.

This week, we celebrated the feast day of one of my favorites, St. Theresa of Avila. She said this. “The important thing is not to think much but to love much; and do that which best stirs you to love.”

I don’t know how to fix so many problems I see in this world, but I think it starts there.

 

Too Much to Lose

Author’s note: I was asked by a friend who is a recent convert to the faith to share my take on the Catholic Church in all her messiness. I’m just one Jesus girl who loves the Lord and who cannot imagine life without the Eucharist, and therefore her Church family, and this is my take. Whatever you read in this, know one thing for sure. You are loved beyond all measure by God. Always. -ST

“Who is going to save our Church? Do not look to the priests. Do not look to the bishops. It’s up to you, the laity, to remind our priests to be priests and our bishops to be bishops.” –Archbishop Fulton Sheen

When I was an 8 year-old at St. Lawrence Catholic School, I remember a morning filled with genuine heart ache—and a few tears too. You see, nearly every member of my fairly large class had some important role to play in the all-school mass being organized by Miss Mecklenburg’s 3rd grade class. I did not. Cue the pathetic meltdown. I have always worn my heart on my sleeve, been a little too emotional for my own good, and the truth is, the Lord used this amazing teacher to help draw me to Himself that year. It wasn’t about “I’m a better reader” or “that’s not fair” for me on that sad little morning. It’s a moment I’ve never forgotten (almost 40 years later) because that little girl was just authentically sad about not being able to do something special for Jesus that day. I wasn’t worried about what any of my classmates thought of me, I was just this innocent child who wanted to show the Lord she loved Him. The truth is, it never occurred to me that my ridiculous sniffling might cause my teacher or my classmates to disapprove or think less of me. Eight year olds don’t think like that. With children this age, the one thing you can you can almost always be assured of is authenticity. In good news, I’ve since come to realize that Jesus can see our hearts, even if we don’t get picked to bring up the gifts at mass.

To this housewife from Indiana, therein lies the critical disconnect in this current crisis in my beloved Church. When we forget that in the end, it’s all between us and our Lord, we are lost.

In all walks of life, at all ages and stages, our humanity inevitably oozes forth. When you’re eight, it’s transparent. Unfortunately, as we age, we often lose the ability to be truly genuine. That means that on the edges of the humanity continuum, there are some childlike (genuine) souls who pour out their lives working to be the face of Jesus, and others become more wicked or manipulative and end up reminding us more of Judas.

Miss Mecklenburg? She was the former. She noticed my pained face and pulled me aside. She promised another role, another day. I knew in that moment, because of her kindness, that God had something else in mind for me (and the fact that it involved me getting a brand new green velvet dress for Christmas mass was pretty cool too). She also taught us about satan that year. In fact, she is the only teacher I can remember in 12 years of Catholic school, bringing up the topic of evil in such a courageous way. She encouraged us, when we encountered the diabolical (my word, not hers) in our lives, to speak the name of Jesus, aloud, repeating it if we must. “He will flee if you do that.” I recall that conversation scaring me, as I had not considered the presence of darkness in that way. However, she loved us enough to speak truth, in love. I have always used her sage advice.

Unfortunately, on the other end of the spectrum, far from everyday heroes like my 3rd grade teacher—across all walks of life– are folks who violate all goodness and commit acts which I would characterize as gravely depraved. Turn on CNN. The profound lack of moral integrity exists in all types of folks including parents, teachers, coaches, police officers, doctors, priests, bishops…and the list goes on. This article is not really about the fact that there are deeply disturbed criminals among us. You already know that if you ever watch the news. A neglectful mother doesn’t make us all neglectful, a careless doctor doesn’t make them all careless, and an abusive priest doesn’t make them all abusers, obviously.

The challenge for me is, what about the rest of us, and what about people in positions of moral authority who fail to lead? What is our collective responsibility? There are (I would argue, otherwise decent) folks who overlooked the misdeeds of Dr. Larry Nasser. There are fellow officers of the law who performed their own roles lawfully but who noticed their co-worker’s propensity for violence or racism and said little. There are shepherds in our church who turned a blind eye to abusive clerics at all levels.

“Cry out! Cry out with a thousand tongues! This world is rotten because of silence.” –St. Catherine of Siena

When we avoid all controversy, choose the path of least resistance, and work to keep from offending everyone, it sets us up for a lukewarm life. We all want to be in the inner ring, so to speak. If we who are essentially good reveal the content of our hearts, we fear we will lose approval, acceptance, or prestige. When we have too much to lose, we tend to compromise, lest we lose our upward mobility, our power, or whatever it is we are valuing more than truth.

Our religious leaders are a lot like many of us in that way. We all want an invitation to the party. We feel we have too much to lose to make a stink. Have you ever had a close friend or family member you knew needed honesty, but whom you feared losing even if you lovingly tried to point out a serious concern? Did you go ahead and speak the truth or did you decide it wasn’t your place?

When our Bishops have this mindset, though, it’s a huge problem. Their failure to act on their moral authority in a holy way undermines the life of the Church. Discretion seems to be the word they love more than they should. It’s probably partly what landed them in pink hats, actually.  We are to be impressed when they speak like elite academics. The problem is that when they are insulated from genuine communication with the laity, when they insist on formal letters from the priests in their diocese who have urgent issues to discuss, when they are long on administrative skills and short on pastoral experience, when they are positioning themselves instead of shepherding real people, it gets us precisely here.

I don’t want a confessor who assures me “it’s ok” when I commit a serious sin. I want mercy and forgiveness to be sure, but also I need fraternal correction. I’m looking for Christ in that interaction.  I have a holy, courageous priest and other friends willing to do that in my life.

Guess what? Our leaders need the same. Some of them have forgotten who they are and to whom they ultimately belong. I’m not suggesting our priests and bishops start sending out their cell phone numbers to everyone. You know what though? That would be standing alongside your flock, huh? Right now, a little more authenticity and courageous leadership would sure be a breath of fresh air.

I’ll leave it to the most holy, clever and creative of the bunch to find a way to be the salt and the light and show us the path forward. However, we must demand honest and courageous shepherds! Indignation and righteous anger have a place at the table right now for us who sit in the pews. In the midst of this diabolical masterpiece unleashed on us by the devil himself, though, I vote we cry out every day like I was taught in 3rd grade and call upon our Savior by name. Let’s just keep crying out to the Lord. Why over complicate things? Pray! I read once that even Pope John XXIII, now a canonized saint, would pray before bedtime in a childlike manner and say, “Oh Lord, I’m going to bed. It’s your church. Take care of it!”

“The Catholic Church is an institution I am bound to hold divine—but for unbelievers a proof of it’s dignity might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight.” –Hilare Belloc 

Rother 

ABOVE:  Bl. Stanley Rother

Because a funny Irish priest once told my mom, “Ye gots to leave ‘em with a wee bit of hope”, let me give you a shining example of a saintly shepherd by whom I find myself inspired. Oklahoma native, Stanley Rother, became a priest who eventually served the poor in Guatemala. A dangerous civil war broke out and all religious were targets. He was urged to leave. He defiantly refused. On July 28, 1981, he was attacked and killed in his rectory. Shortly before he died, he explained why he was staying with his people, despite the incredible courage and fidelity it must have taken to stay with his flock and lead at an impossible time. He said, “A shepherd doesn’t run at the first sign of danger.”

Amen to that. To all you holy priests and bishops out there, I stand with you. You are heroes who bring us the sacraments, without which, we cannot live. I urge you to remember this is no time for weakness and I want you to know of my daily prayers for you. Thank you for all you do each day. Truly, I love you amazing men!

To those who have been abused and victimized by evil people, my prayers are for your healing and for justice.

Bl. Staney Rother, first martyr born in the United States, PRAY FOR US!

Footnote:  For those in the area, Fr. Don Wolf, the cousin of Bl. Stanley Rother, will be coming to give a first person account of his holy and inspiring life on Oct. 23 at 7pm at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Carmel, Indiana.  It’s a free event, and all are welcome.   

WHAT IF….

When we let the little cracks in our heart show, that’s where the light seeps out.  That’s what I’m telling myself as I write.

Four years ago, I lost a friend.  Gosh, the whole of my community lost her.  She was shiny and beloved.  She died in a senseless shooting.  It was a murder-suicide.  I try and honor her memory in my life in various ways, but mostly, though, by very intentional affirmation of others and a decision to say  (with a wink to heaven) “Bless his/her heart…” before choosing words that might turn out to be less than kind.  I still have a boat load of work to do if I want to ever shine a light as bright as Shannon’s.  Still, “that date” on my calendar in late July makes my stomach churn.

Several days ago, I got another call.  It was mom.  Horrific violence, she reported, resulted in the death of three members of my family.  Two were murdered and a third was responsible.  He took his own life as well.  I heard it, but I didn’t.  I’m still reeling, to be candid.  That call from mom came four years later, on the same day I was remembering how Shannon was taken.  It was “that date” on my calendar.  All the questions you have?  They don’t have answers.  Not really.

In a moment like this, nothing feels the same, and everything seems unimportant in comparison.  Also, things are all numb and fuzzy.

I don’t really want to share more details, because those who are the very closest to this situation are people I love and they are beyond consolation at present.  However, God has placed a few things on my heart and I think it might help to share them.

Keep this in mind.  I am unapologetically a Christian woman.  Actually, to be specific, I am a Roman Catholic.  This fact frames how I think and feel about most things, and it informs how I respond to life in all its complexities.

Perhaps I’ve lost a few of you now, but please try and stay with me?  I understand.  In fact, at a local coffee shop this week I was unpacking sorrow and concern in the lap of a faithful friend.  I am told even my whisper is top volume, so inevitably I am overheard.  An interested passerby was kind enough to pick up the “Catholic” in my words and interjected that he didn’t “mean any harm” but we Catholics are all a joke with corrupt leaders.  I’m going to assume this human hasn’t discovered the Lord at all yet.  If that’s where you are too, I want you to know I respect how you feel, and I will probably pray for you even against your will.  Before I continue, allow me to share my only viable response to this.  I’ve not quite mastered it’s memorization, but I have the sentiment down cold.  In my sorrow that morning at Panera, I regret I wasn’t able to think clearly enough to share it, so I’ve decided to victimize those reading with the wisdom I failed to impart that morning.

“The Catholic Church is an institution I am bound to hold divine—but for unbelievers a proof of it’s divinity might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight”  –Hilaire Belloc

Now, Belloc was born in 1870, but his words are the most relevant I’ve discovered recently, and they contain the truth as I know them.  So, please forgive me as I share some wise words that I think will ring as truth for all who believe in Jesus.  These matter more to me than any failed or sinful leadership ever could.

A holy 90+ year old Monsignor (that’s kind of an honorific in the Catholic Church…he’s a priest) who says daily mass occasionally at my parish told us last week to remember that we are not our own.  A great price was paid for us, and what that means is that we are called to be the salt and the light.  We are called to be the face of foolish courtesy and love for others—even if it defies logic.  His message was so beautifully and simply delivered.  It stuck in my brain—a gift from God.

Now, imagine losing your daughter and your young granddaughter violently.  Ponder also immediately deciding to forgive the responsible party AND to have a funeral for all three—TOGETHER.

It defies all logic.  It’s the ultimate example of foolish courtesy and love for others.  It was grace beyond all imagining.  My jaw is still slack considering the beauty of this choice.

There was absolutely no way to leave that funeral unaffected by scores of 8 year old girls mourning the loss of their teammate, or  without being wrecked by the faces of two sets of mourning parents and grandparents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles.

Also, there was no way for me to leave there without hearing the daily mass homily I had filed previously in my mind that called for ALL OF US to be foolishly courteous and loving.  Always.  I could not even conceive of a more dramatic example of love than what I had just witnessed.

My dear friend Julie sent me this beautiful thought yesterday.  She said, “imagine what would happen if we all think about what is right with people rather than fixating on what is wrong with them.”

WHAT IF? What if we all choose to see the right and love others ridiculously…like the Colliers?  If they can do that, what small injustices can I overcome with love in my own?  I think God expects me to try harder.

For the sake of three souls we’ve lost to this earth, and my own, I’ll be working on that one for some time to come in honor of the Langdon and Collier families.  Only with God’s help will I succeed.

Love everyone.  Always.

+Rest in Peace, Justin, Amanda and Kendall. 

It’s the HOUSE in Housewife That Always Gets Me…

Scheduling the plumber, schlepping my college kid’s 14 year-old clunker to the repair shop, endless laundry, friends in crisis, carpool runs to and from summer camps, Dr. Mom duties for the sick and injured, short order cook, bum knee throbbing, bill paying—that’s a glamourous synopsis of my week.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got an amazing life.  It’s just that some days I forget that.  Some days are like one I had last week where I just never sit down, never stop folding, cooking, consoling or cleaning until fairly late.  Usually those are the days when someone I am related to will inevitably ask, “So, did you do anything today?”  The particular night I recall now, I noticed at about 10pm when I finished the dishes that my entire family was downstairs watching some goofy movie.  I decided I would join them.  Kid you not, I was downstairs in my seat MAYBE 15 minutes when they started asking for “old fashioned” popcorn (a true delicacy with the Thieme men).  They begged and whined.  It was pathetic but my energy was too low to even fight them.  I just got up, went upstairs and made the popcorn.  I delivered it to their beautiful hungry hands (I mean they hadn’t eaten in at least an hour)….then I went upstairs to bed and just cried myself to sleep.

COME ON WOMAN.  Get over yourself!  RIGHT?

Because I tend to put a Jesus frame around all things, I immediately saw in myself some unflattering gaps in my holiness.  “Don’t be Judgy McJudgerson. Just cut that shit out.”  That’s what I literally had to say to myself about myself, lest the evil dude from Hades would have had me in his grips quickly.

I doubt I’m the only one who whines to herself occasionally about how no one appreciates, no one notices, no one asks me how I am….blah, blah, blah.  I am PRETTY sure, though, that Mary wouldn’t be too impressed with my whining about laundry, dishes and popcorn given that I’ve read the whole “Magnificat” deal a few hundred times. Spoiler alert:  She just found out she’s an unmarried pregnant teenager and she OOZES joyfulness so beautiful it will overtake you. Unfamiliar?  Read it in Luke 1: 46-55.

Here’s my point, folks.  I decided I needed a HOW TO GET OVER YOURSELF manual. I then planned to place it in a prominent location. I googled it and I didn’t find one.  So, I’ve been thinking about the things that help me quickly find the version of myself that I enjoy being around.  I’ve compiled my list, and I have decided to share. Maybe there are one or two of you who could find something here that’s useful.  I find I don’t have to get very far down the list to feel SO MUCH better, SO MUCH more grateful.

Perhaps there are more of you who would like to share your own tips with me.  Please.  I beg you.  SHARE WITH ME ALL YOUR POSITIVITY SECRETS.  More is definitely more.  I love you all and so does the Lord.  You are HIS BELOVED children.  Don’t ever forget it.

SHELLY’S “HOW TO GET OVER YOURSELF” LIST:

1. TELL SOMEONE YOU LOVE THEM

2. READ SOMETHING INSPIRING

3. GET SWEATY

4. ROCK OUT TO SOME LOUD MUSIC

5. PRACTICE GRATITUDE—THANK SOMEONE IN PERSON OR IN A NOTE

6. RANDOM ACT OF KINDNESS

7. LAUGH

8. PERSPECTIVE—YOU HAVE IT PRETTY GOOD COMPARED TO WHO?

9. PRAY FOR THE PEOPLE YOU THOUGHT OF IN #8

10. RECEIVE THE SACRAMENTS—GOD’S GRACE IS A CURE ALL

The Knee Brace

Meandering across the church parking lot waiting for kids to come out of school, I ran into another carpool mom, a woman with whom I am familiar, but we are not close friends.

Oh gosh! What happened to your knee? Are you okay?

The moment I asked, I kind of regretted being nosy. Classic Shelly, I thought.  However, then came her truly hysterical reply.

Honestly, I am totally fine. It’s just that I am SO incredibly out of shape that I can barely breathe even walking super slow on the treadmill.  With the brace on my knee, people will assume I am rehabbing and working out is less humiliating.

HAHAHAHAHA!! You are both funny and brilliant!

I laughed until I couldn’t breathe. I so completely identified with this authentic, sunny woman.

How many of us feel both ashamed and humiliated by the shape we are in, by the way we look? If it’s not that, then it’s something else, right?  Based purely on the utterly unscientific data I have collected from my “vast sphere of influence” (ie, other carpool moms, facebook, and in the stands at HS basketball games), literally EVERYONE has some issue about which they would prefer NOT to be judged.

Here’s the thing. This itty bitty slice of my life was just a fantastic reminder to me.  Never look down on anyone.  Only God sits that high.  Here’s a little quote I love, written by St. Josemaria Escriva.  He said, “If you have so many defects, why are you surprised to find defects in others?”

So this was just a tiny interaction in the carpool line. At first blush, it was just the most fantastic giggle.  Laughing is my favorite, so I shared the small story about the knee brace with a few friends.  I was hoping to share a smile.

As I looked back on that encounter, I realized it was something much more. It was God talking to me.  He does it all the time; it’s just that I’m not always listening.

Understand this well: there is something holy, something divine hidden in the most ordinary situations, and it is up to each one of you to discover it.” –St. Josemaria Escriva

Christian optimism should encourage us to demand a little of ourselves. Let’s open our eyes and hearts.  As Lent begins, this is an important struggle for us to undertake.  Responding to God’s call, being aware that we are free to do so or free to reject it, is the most wonderful experience of grace.

For instance, I found myself just this week having a conversation about the power of grace. I was trying to point out to a couple of struggling parents that the benefits of Catholic education outweigh the frustrations that they were feeling about the experience.  A woman sitting near me, who overheard part of the chat, interjected and told me she’s not religious and she isn’t sure if she believes there is a God.  She asked me why do I think there is?  It was clearly not the moment for a big theological response—which is good because that is NOT my area of giftedness.  She was judging, being cynical, and truth be told, it was clear she wasn’t really interested in my reply.  So, I just said, “Because He winks at me, ALL THE TIME.”

She put down her drink and looked at me, and said, “He does, does He? Tell me about one of those winks.”

So, I shared with her the first thing that came to my mind. I told her about hearing that a priest had been relocated from the east coast to here in Indiana, and that I had further learned he didn’t have any mass intentions.  So, I sent him an encouraging note, along with a few bucks and some mass intentions—mostly for family members who had died.  There was my grandmother who had just died, my mother in law, the parents of some close friends, etc.  The last mass intention was for myself.  I sent it off to Muncie, expecting to never hear another thing about it, but confident I’d done a good thing.

Some weeks later, I received a reply note from the secretary of this parish in Muncie. It listed all the dates of masses being said for the intentions I’d requested.  The last one listed was a mass being said for my intentions—ON MY BIRTHDAY.

I don’t know this priest, nor do I have any connections with the secretary. God just loves me so much and He wanted me to feel it.  Only He knows truly how much I love the mass.   For my birthday, He gave me the greatest gift I can imagine.  It was a God wink that took my breath away.

Mostly, I think God’s little moments for each of us are meant to be private consolations. They’re just between us and Him.  But this one came tumbling out when I heard “prove it”, so that’s my sign that it’s a Holy Spirit moment.

My little story was perhaps poorly conveyed. I kind of meandered through it, attempting to “put on a knee brace” throughout.  It’s a tad late in the game to try to hide the fact that I’m a Jesus girl, but in certain company that really does make a person feel like a unicorn.  I was exactly like that acquaintance from the carpool line.  I didn’t want to be judged, but I really wanted to do the right thing anyway.

That, folks, is the power of grace. In all our weakness, God still manages to work His magic through us in all His magnificence.  It’s pretty freaking hilarious and breathtaking at the same time when I think about it.  There I was trying to explain why I know God exists while trying to be “casual” about my Jesus girl-ness…what even is that?  Good grief.

This Lent, I plan to take a little time to fast from some things—like harsh judgements, complaining, and bitterness. It seems like a really appropriate time to focus on gratitude, kindness, and forgiveness.  Also?  Maybe less carbs.  Less carbs would be good too.

It seems kind of perfect to me this year that Lent starts on Valentine’s Day, because here’s what I want everyone to know. Know you’re loved – infinitely–by our good and gracious God.  Let all He has done out of love for YOU seep to the very center of you for the next 40 days.  Happy Lent.

 

Be Like Will.

Ummm…Drew?  Did I hear the doorbell ring at 11:30 last night?

Yeah, Mom.  You did.   All you need to know is that Oby is an amazing friend!  I gotta go!!

Ok, then.  Have a great day, D!

The above conversation was one of those “I’ve got no time and I am running late so make it quick, Mom” moments.  Every mother of an 18 year old knows what I’m saying.  In this case, my middle kid had gotten very little sleep.  He had played his basketball game and gotten home about 10pm the previous evening.  He arrived home starving, so I shoved a sandwich and some apple slices at him.  Then, he hustled upstairs to work on homework.  I knew he would be up until all hours.  His academic load is significant— by his own choice.  He’s a bright kid and a hard worker but I do worry about him.  It’s a mom thing.  Is he getting enough sleep?  Is the insane IB homework load just too much?  Would it be better for him to have more time for just being a goofy kid?  You get it.  All of us who have kids constantly have this little interior chatter.

This particular day stands out to me, because as the day wore on, I learned more details about the late night visit of one Will Oberndorfer.  It was a God wink.

Apparently, in the new world of electronic everything, there are online quizzes and apps you must have operational, plus midnight deadlines for assignments….all sorts of things I cannot imagine as I compare my son’s academic experience to my own.  I don’t even pretend to understand any of it, and I am truly thankful to God that I was born in 1971.  Pencils, paper and dogs that ate homework were all actual things back in the day.  I digress.  Anyway, on Tuesday night after Drew had his sandwich and a shower, he began his homework marathon later than normal.  It was pushing 11pm.  Shortly after plopping down at his desk, Drew realized that there was a glitch causing his computer to be unable to run some application he needed in order to successfully complete a required quiz by midnight.  He texted his friends—the other crazy young people who are also up half the night, every night, trying to finish their own work.  He was wondering if any of them knew a way to fix the computer issue.  None did.  His friend Oby offered to let Drew come over to his house and use his working computer.  Drew didn’t want to bother his buddy so late.  He then just thanked his friends anyway deciding he would have to just take the zero this time.  He would take his computer into the Guerin Catholic IT folks in the morning for a technical assist.

Then, the doorbell rang.  It was 11:30pm.

I don’t want you to take the zero.

There was Oby.  He had an operational computer for Drew to borrow to take the quiz.

Was it just a small act of kindness?  Yes.  Did it feel small to Drew?  No.

This week, God used a terrific teenager named Will Oberndorfer to remind me, again, how we can all effect positive change in this crazy, wonderful, and sometimes breathtakingly desperate world.  It’s done one kind act at a time, right in the place where you live.  Simply put:  BE THE FRIEND EVERYONE WISHES THEY HAD.

If we’re all working to be the face and hands of Christ, pretty soon it’s going to be incredibly difficult to go anywhere and NOT see how much we are ALL deeply loved by our truly awesome God.

Atta boy, Oby!  You are the REAL DEAL, kid.

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

A Nation Gone Under?

When my oldest son was about four years old, another little guy in his preschool class spilled his snack and juice all over Nick’s lap.  The sweet teacher in this lovely Episcopal school was not too impressed when he screamed a four letter expletive that starts with the letter “s” in response.  I received her admonishment with not a small amount of humiliation.  Now, don’t get all “Judgey McJudgerson” on me.  Clearly, this was behavior he learned from his father.  Duh.

We all have moments of being ashamed of ourselves or feeling lost.  I clearly have little desire to share with you some of my less humorous moments of humiliation and failure, but you can trust me to give you a wrong number if you want to verify some of the finer points of this story with one Tom Thieme.  Ha?

A much more disturbing parenting story came to me courtesy of a friend this week.  Actually, I heard it from two separate gals who shared it out of deep concern for our young people.  It involved a local young man, too young to even have a driver’s permit, who was maliciously bullying a fellow student through social media.  His words, intended for a relatively small audience, were nevertheless egregiously offensive and disgusting beyond anything I have ever seen written.  The family of the kiddo who made the offensive remarks is described to me as “very nice, good people.”  Not surprisingly, the intended victim here was largely regarded by other students as being in a state of great struggle.  My stomach was in knots.

After hearing this story, and one similar to it, during the same week that I turn on the television and see little aside from coverage of the most deadly mass shooting in America’s history, I have some thoughts to share with anyone who cares to hear them.  I hope you’ll keep reading.

“Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

— John Adams, American patriot, 2nd President of the United States

Friends, if you’ve read my words before, you’ll know that I’m much more interested in laughing at life and sharing my “God sightings” than burdening any of you with my political views or lecturing anyone.  I realize that I am a sinner before God and I am interested in judging exactly NO ONE.  Therefore, I hope you will consider my thoughts here with that in mind.

Something is wrong with our country.  What’s wrong has a name.

It’s called secularism.  People are learning to live comfortably without God.

If you think you can stop reading now because ‘I’m not part of the problem”, I’d invite you to continue listening anyway.  It’s one of the most sincere forms of respect, a small act of caring.  I’d be glad to return the favor.

I feel called to echo a simple message that has been spoken by many learned and impressive folks over the last 200+ years in this country.  It feels like an important and worthy message to review today, and however inarticulately I might manage to do so, it bears repeating.

Intending to serve as a guide for his successors, in 1796, George Washington shared a farewell address that was essentially a condemnation of political parties.  That seems remarkably prophetic 221 years later, huh?  It’s a great speech.  Google it if you’re so inclined.  It’s what ELSE he said that really got my attention.

Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.  Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

Translation?  The government is powerless to contend successfully with a people who lack religion, and therefore, morality.

Great statesman, Abraham Lincoln warned, “The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of the government in the next….Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.

George Washington and John Adams sound like bright gentlemen who were way ahead of their time in this regard to my ears.  Who else had some like-minded words?

In 1982, Ronald Reagan said, “We can’t have it both ways.  We can’t expect God to protect us in a crisis and just leave Him over there on the shelf in our day-to-day living.  I wonder if sometimes He isn’t waiting for us to wake up, He isn’t maybe running out of patience.”

Then, in 1984 at Reunion Arena in Dallas, Reagan continued further.  He declared, “America needs God more than God needs America.  If we ever forget that we are ONE NATION UNDER GOD, then we will be a Nation gone under.”

I watch the news and YET AGAIN find myself wincing and looking for the remote.  For the love of God, where are Chip and JoJo when I need them, I mutter silently. 

Here’s my concern. You can only come back to something you knew.  When we are on our second or third generation of being “unchurched”, there is nothing to come back to for many people when life, inevitably, throws them a curveball.  Personalized “google friendly” spirituality doesn’t help anyone build a relationship; it doesn’t speak to the emptiness even successful people feel.  Folks are doing their best.  Church or no church, Americans are largely intelligent, and grace is at work in them.  Common grace isn’t reserved for church going people.  Many of these families have been living for a generation or two with very little organized religion.  I’ve asked some questions.  I hear they’ve tried church, even a little, but left.  Maybe they go to church occasionally.  They might be Catholic in name, for example, but not in practice. They might be generous with their friends and in their community.  In the quiet of their hearts, though, there is a God-sized hole they truly may know little to nothing about.  Yet.

The kiddo I told you about earlier with the expanded vocabulary and not enough Jesus in his heart?  He was excused from his school for bullying.  My kneejerk reaction was “Good!  That’s ridiculous and cruel behavior and he deserves it!”  That interior failure of mine (demonizing a child, for goodness sakes) demonstrates how clearly I am part of the problem.  I’m working out how to pray for him and his hurting family without casting stones in my heart.  When I do that, I will love the way Jesus does.

There is no overnight solution or legislation that can be passed which will fix what is wrong with America.  Finger-wagging and judgmental blaming will not convert the hearts of people, but will only feed the demons of hatred.

My Christian friends, I propose the following as a solution.

  1. We must pray, acknowledging before God that we are a field hospital full of wounded people who don’t know what to do, but He does, and invoke His help for our nation and for the whole world.
  2. We must do a better job following Jesus, authentically, and BE THE LIGHT every single day.

Fellow parents?  We can’t act surprised when our children grow up to be confused and empty.  Do you hear me standing on some sort of moral high ground?  Then you hear me wrong.  I am not a superior Christian.  I need to work harder to put down my damn cell phone, look my own children in the eye and have all the difficult conversations.  I’m a Catholic Christian so I need to live that and love it and be transparent.  When I show up at mass, every single week, I show my children what it means to be part of a community who prays together.  I hope that shows my sons the way and they pass it along to the grandchildren I am hoping God blesses me with one day.  I’ve discussed with them that it matters that their possible future union, should God call them to married life, be entered into before God.  My measure of success as a mom to three testosterone filled goofballs is not keeping them safe.  I should try to do that too, of course.  My real task, though, is to direct them to Christ during this small window of precious time where their souls are entrusted to me.  Then, I need to pray like mad that God takes that mustard seed, makes a mountain out of it—and that you and your family do the same.

Each one of us is pitted and scarred by things that have been done to us, and things we have done to ourselves and others.  Leaders in our nation and at pulpits in our churches who are equally wounded humans say and do things which are certainly not of God— this should be of no surprise nor should it shake us from our mission.

We can be the sunshine, or we can be the darkness. Neither of those adjectives describes a political party.  I’m with Jesus.

In closing, allow me to pray for all who are reading.

Most loving Father, help all your children to know that we are your beloved sons and daughters.  Help us to know in our hearts You are love itself, that this necessarily means we are each loved infinitely more by You than even the most loving person here on Earth. Thank you, God for loving me.  Help me to know that Your grace is sufficient, no matter how dark the circumstances may appear.  Keep our hearts fixed on You that we may walk by the way of your righteousness through our time here and into eternity.  In Jesus name.  Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.