Mad for…Wendy

Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

She was quite simply a warm, energetic, fun-loving woman. This was the impression left on my heart as I walked away from my morning at Panera with Wendy Wiese. She’s the sort of gal who has clearly trained her brain to see the good in everything.

Wendy is the wife of Ted Wiese and the mom to two high-achieving, intelligent and athletic kids– Luke and Annie. She’s pictured above with Luke. I have known her son for some time now as our boys are long-time buddies. It was only recently that I decided to finally reach out and learn more about the mom he’s pretty crazy about. Getting to know her a bit more left me smiling.

Incredibly fit and filled with life, she is a woman of vigor who aspires to do positive things for others. As her children are both now in college, Wendy decided, for example, to go back to school to get her nursing degree. How cool is that? This Notre Dame grad, who hails originally from the Muncie area, is so filled with positive energy that I left her feeling like my battery had been recharged. I mean, Panera’s pretty tasty latte also helped, ha?

Here’s the thing. What spurred me to reach out to Wendy is the fact that this is the year I really discovered life is so incredibly short. I’m a slow learner. I had my own health scare early this year, and it has me feeling grateful and noticing so much more the little blessings and the phenomenal humans all around me. When I heard that Wendy (who I have always wanted to get to know more) was dealing with her own health challenges, well, I suppose I just didn’t want to waste any more time. Perhaps I also figured that I could encourage her and let her know in person that I care and that I am praying for her physical, mental and emotional healing!

Wendy is a force to be reckoned with, and a fierce woman of faith. She truly doesn’t need me or anyone to cheer her up. She’ll greet the day today, and then she’ll do the same tomorrow with her beautiful smile in tact. Thank you, Wendy, for taking the time to visit with me. You are a passionate, joyful and very impressive woman who is filled with Jesus! Those just happen to be my favorite kind of girls. Keep doing you, because you make the world a better place by being in it.

Mark Twain penned the famous quote, “The best way to cheer yourself up is to try and cheer somebody else up.” How filled with wisdom is that? In those words you will find the lesson and truth of my morning with Wendy Wiese. It’s a pleasure to call her friend. Her husband, children, family and friends are all incredibly blessed to have such a woman in their lives.

Mad for…Arnette

We are constantly invited to be who we are. (Henry David Thoreau)

In high school, I had a friend named Julie with whom I engaged in a variety of fairly typical teenage shenanigans. She always had this beautiful blond hair, a great big smile, and she was armed with a handful of sarcasm at all times. I’m pretty sure it’s that last part that made the friendship work, ha?! I really enjoyed my time with her and I got to know her older sister, Renee and her little brother, Michael, a little too. We had plenty of sleepovers at the Tiller house, where Julie lived on Old Farm Road in Lafayette with her siblings as well as her parents, Arnette and Joe.

Julie’s mom, Arnette, was incredibly likeable from the moment I met her. What I didn’t know then that I understand much better now is why I was attracted to this family. It’s their unassuming authenticity! Now that I am pushing 50, I realize how attractive genuine people truly are. Arnette Tiller has remained friends over the decades with my mom. I had lunch with them both a while back and as I left, I remembered everything I loved about Arnette. She’s creative, articulate, talented…and OH SO REAL. She’s always been kind and generous.

As a high school athlete back in the 1980s, I was positively adequate. I spent quite a lot of time, as I recall, with perpetually sprained ankles. Sometimes, my ankles would blow up the size of pumpkins and Mrs. Tiller would take me over to Purdue to torture me with their training room ice baths for said ankles, ha?! At that time, her husband, Joe, was not the head coach at Purdue just yet. That happened a few years later. Nevertheless, she used her access to help a young girl try and get the obnoxious ankle struggle under control and I hope I was appropriately grateful.

Several years later when the Tillers returned to Lafayette, the first home game that year was against Notre Dame. The Boilermakers, under new head coach, Joe Tiller, had lost the season opener to Toledo. So, as I recall, the expectations for the ND game were not particularly high. However, Arnette was utterly optimistic and as always wore a big smile on her face and with her great contagious laughter she invited us to her house after the big win! WIN THEY DID! I think Notre Dame was ranked that year? I’ll be honest, I had a 6 week old baby boy at the time and I was just happy to be at the game and then thrilled with the unexpected win! When we joined the victory party, Arnette greeted us at the door and then showed us her cool ceramics art in progress before shoving us into the center of the party. Nothing ever seems to rattle this positive gal with the great sense of humor. She’s welcoming and kind to absolutely everyone.

In recent weeks, Arnette donated a lot of terrific old Purdue memorabilia and an RV to the Joe Tiller Chapter of the National Football Foundation. The funds for this endowment do a lot of good for others, including providing student scholarships. She’s an impressive woman who does a lot of good in her local community out in Buffalo, Wyoming as well. I remember her telling us at that lunch we met for in Lafayette that she was working on a project at the Buffalo Carousel Center. Of course she is! She never stops. I’ve got no idea what she’s currently up to, but I’m sure there’s something spectacular up her sleeves…for her family, friends, or community.

I know Arnette, Julie, Renee, Michael and the grandkids are certainly missing Joe. However, this is a fierce woman who is full of life, and she inspires me by how she continues to do good for others and make a positive difference in the world in so many ways. I’m sorry I didn’t get the chance to give you a hug on your last trip to Indiana, Arnette, so today I wanted to just give you a shout out and tell you that I have always thought your authenticity and genuinely caring nature SHINES. You are a spectacular woman! I chose that quote above as I attempt to honor you today, because honestly I don’t know another person on the planet who lives her life being exactly who she is…and it is BEAUTIFUL!!

Mad for…John

Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.” -St. (Mother) Teresa of Calcutta

Being a ninth grader is fraught with awkwardness. Honestly, I don’t know that anyone avoids the discomfort altogether? When my oldest son was in his first year of high school, he spent a great deal of the first six months feeling fairly miserable about the ordeal. At the time a friend attempted to comfort me with the words, “well, there’s really nothing lower, socially speaking, than being a high school freshman boy.” It made me laugh, because…well…truer words were never spoken? I guess the silver lining is that this phase tends to pass rather quickly, especially if one is surrounded by positive people like the young man pictured above. His name is John Tiplick, and he is a freshman at Guerin Catholic High School.

I have only recently discovered this bright, talented and very smiley kid. I’d like to share my observations with you, because I think it’s important for our young people to understand that how they interact in the world really does matter– to their peers and to us “grown-ups” too.

John is the oldest of the three Tiplick children and the son of Rosemary and Gary. Because he is on the tennis team with Zach, I have had the chance to get to know him just a little. Like a lot of freshmen boys, John is physically small, but discounting him would be a big mistake because that will inevitably change over his four years of high school…and he’s a beautiful tennis player with good looking strokes. He played in his first two varsity matches this week and did a great job representing the Golden Eagles. Tennis is NOT the reason I have chosen to feature John today, however.

Every single time I have seen John, he is smiling. His light shines on the area he inhabits and on the people who find themselves nearby. This kid is a bright light! On Sunday at mass, I noticed he was sitting at the piano at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, accompanying the choir for the 5:30pm mass. He’s a talented musician, I quickly learned, who volunteers his time for the benefit of his parish. What a beautiful example to the rest of us!

Last night, I had the opportunity to spend some time with John Tiplick for the first time while I drove a few of the GC boys to and from their match at Hamilton Southeastern. I was impressed. I would describe him as an upbeat, polite and very kind kid both before and after his match. Also? I’d like John to work with all three of my Thieme boys on their directional skills. His giftedness in this area is almost savant-like. He’s a human GPS. As he was directing me to his home, he carefully pointed out the best way to exit his subdivision to get me quickly back to 146th St. (and home) a tad quicker than the circuitous route we took coming in. You see, we had dropped off his neighbor and teammate Jak Kolb on the way in. It was impressive and thoughtful. I could hear the smile in his voice the entire time.

So, this evening I wanted to give a shout out to a pretty fabulous 15 year old! John, you are clearly a faith-filled young man who is the face of Jesus to those around you with your sunny temperament and ever present smile! Thanks for reminding me that every single one of us can make a difference for others by the small, holy acts of kindness we bestow on the world. Keep doing you, kiddo! You are a grace-filled scoop of awesome sauce!

P.S. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, John, about the possibility of being a “victim” of my little series! Ha!!

Mad for…Renee

And one day she discovered that she was fierce, and strong, and full of fire, and that not even she could hold herself back, because her passion burned brighter than her fears. (M. Anthony)

John and Renee McGowan

Confident women like my friend Renee McGowan always inspire me! This fierce, articulate and uber supportive mom of three is also the wife of a fabulous husband named John. They are completely adorable together, and are pictured above.

A little over a year ago, I shared with Renee at a baseball game that I was interested in working on a healthier diet. Positive thinking and compassionate gals like Renee who are willing to go the extra mile are rare. It was maybe a day or two later that this health conscious gal, and workout loving woman showed up with a pile of keto friendly guidance and recipes, giving me a practical assist which I never properly thanked her for! That was super cool of you, Renee!!

Renee runs a niche construction business. The woman can apparently wield a hammer, while yours truly can barely hang a picture! If you want to know more about her work or support a strong woman who is out there getting it done, visit www.theaccentwallco.com!

Renee is from Brownsburg and she’s a Ball State gal. One also can clearly tell that she inherited her accessibility and caring nature from her uber supportive parents who are absolutely lovely and can frequently be spotted at her children’s many events!

Friendly, energetic and passionate, Renee is a formidable woman of faith! Those are all qualities I respect greatly, but it’s her fierceness that inspires me the most! Today is Renee’s birthday and I wanted to take a moment to tell her that I find her inspiring…and wish her a very Happy Birthday!! I hope your day has been as special as you are, Renee because your life is DEFINITELY worth celebrating!!

Mad for…Fr. Dominic

The priest is not a priest for himself- he is for you. After God, the priest is everything. -St. John Vianney

Grace Kelly Leon is a beautiful young lady who is a senior in college this fall. I have quietly been stalking her and praying for her now for several years. She was a grade school friend and classmate of my oldest son, Nick, and that is how I came to know her. I haven’t seen her in person in some time, but when I do, I know she’ll give me one of her big bear hugs! When she was in the 7th grade, she was diagnosed with a blood cancer which is more often called lymphoma. Grace Kelly was a very sick girl at the time, and there were a large number of us doing a lot of praying for her healing.

It turned out that a seminarian I had never met, named Dominic Petan, had just been through treatment for the exact same condition. The details of how I came into contact with him escape me now. Perhaps I had written a blog post about Grace Kelly asking for prayers and he happened upon it? I just don’t recall, however what I do remember very clearly is that he asked me to put him into contact with her. His kindness in reaching out to her and his promise of prayers for GK were very meaningful and comforting to her at a difficult time, and I began to include him by name on my regular prayer list for priests. He hadn’t been ordained yet, but I could see that was merely an accident of timing. Hans Urs Von Balthasar famously said “A good priest is always a miracle of grace” and any fool could see this young man was compassionate, prayerful and full up to his eyeballs with grace.

It’s many years later now, and Dominic Petan is now Fr. Dominic Petan. Since the holiest priest I know is always lending out books that are apparently rarely returned, I decided maybe a new young priest could use a start on his own library and I sent him a box with a few of my favorites when he was ordained. He’s now the pastor of the Cathedral parish of our diocese, St. Mary’s Cathedral in Lafayette. Since he posts his homilies online, I often read them. I had gone to mass this evening at my own parish in Carmel and though I clearly recalled the gospel, I admit I was distracted during the homily, so I went to get an alternate “gospel message” to start my week from Fr. Dominic’s site: dominicpetan.blogspot.com. It was a beautiful message about differentiation– being who we are before God and others.

If you’ve been following my little 2019 mission, you’ll know I’m on day 257 of 365 in my attempt to point out great folks around me who make a positive difference for others. Although I still haven’t met this holy, young priest, I find his words to be full of intelligence and grace. His message is consistently both accessible and full of the love of Christ. I recommend his blog if you are inclined to check out such things! I’m WAY past overdue to tell Fr. Dominic Petan that he’s a light in the darkness, a bearer of the cross, and a solid human being for whom I am grateful! Thanks for all you do for others each day, Padre!! My rosary tonight will be for you.

Mad for…Vern

Smile. It is the key that fits the lock of everybody’s heart. (A. D’Angelo)

I had a teacher in grade school that used to tell us, “Smile while you still have teeth.” I choose to believe it wasn’t a threat? I mean she was a Franciscan sister so I don’t think we were in jeopardy of being on the receiving end of a knuckle sandwich? I was little though, so I am not going to lie. The idea did pass through my mind every time she said it. I think she meant it in a “life is short, smile often” kind of way, ha? Anyway, I might be slightly scarred from my Catholic school experiences, but I’ve never forgotten the comment.

Last night, Tom and I took our son, Zach, and his friend, Ty to the Guerin Catholic vs. Brebeuf football game. It’s a rivalry game, and there were quite a few kids from both schools there to cheer on their Braves and Golden Eagles. It was a perfect night for Friday night football! We took along my parents, Jim and Kathy Dykhuizen. Mom and Dad usually wear purple to these events, but last night was an exception to the rule. They were sure to let their grandson know that they weren’t rooting against GC, they were just rooting FOR Joe Strickland. Joe is a sophomore at Brebeuf and he’s the son of my cousin, Amy, and her husband, Vern Strickland. Vern is pictured above left with his son, Joe. Mom and Dad took their seats under the Brebeuf press box and watched #54 unleash a significant amount of chaos upon our GC team with my Dad’s brother, Don, and my Aunt Carolyn, who are Joe’s grandparents.

It was wonderful to see and talk to Amy as it has been too long. She’s a beautiful woman with a gorgeous smile who is married to a thoughtful man I have always found to be incredibly likeable…and I don’t think even once I have ever told him that. Literally EVERY TIME his name comes up at our house, one of us in the conversation says something like, “Oh my gosh, Vern is just the best! He’s the nicest guy!” Now, that’s a terrific sentiment to have spoken about you behind your back, but I’m a firm believer in speaking the love aloud. Life’s just too short to leave it unsaid. In Vern’s case, I’m woefully overdue. He’s the kind of guy who lights up a room with his smile. His smiles are the kind that make his eyes sparkle and he’s generous in sharing them with others. His big hug last night was welcoming and genuine, and he almost always has a thoughtful observation or comment to share when I have had the chance to chat with him over the years.

Vern is an Auburn guy and the dad to three handsome young men, Julian, Joe and Jake. The world needs more strong, hard-working, caring men to show us all the way, and this guy is certainly all of those things! Those three sons of his are incredibly blessed to have such a supportive dad! We know this through a few of our own observations but also from the frequent updates we get through family.

Today I just wanted to say, THANKS VERN! Every time I have ever interacted with you, I am left with the feeling that a simple smile is truly where it’s at. It opens hearts and minds, and it spreads happiness. Your big authentic grin always leaves me with a warm, welcoming feeling. Seeing you reminded me that I should SMILE WHILE I STILL HAVE TEETH, HA?!! Enjoy every minute with those handsome, talented guys of yours and congrats the Braves on the nice win last night!

Mad for…Michele

Great holiness consists in carrying out the little duties of each moment. -St. Josemaria Escriva

Last night, I attended a parent meeting at my parish, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Having just made a cross county trek from my son’s high school tennis match at Heritage Christian, I was a tad sweaty, disheveled and out of sorts. However, I was actually a few minutes EARLY for said meeting when I ran into the very sunny, articulate, and uber organized Michele Matson who was finishing set-up for the onslaught of confirmation parents. She’s pictured above with her husband, Kevin.

Michele is on staff at OLMC in their faith formation office. I don’t know her personally at all, but I’ve interacted with her a few times over the past five years or so. She has a natural humility about her that is just incredibly beautiful. I noticed it 5 years ago when my son Drew went through confirmation and she held my hand a bit, ever so patiently, as we were late to the process. Let me explain to you what I love about Michele by giving you one small example.

A few of us who were early and trying to be efficient with our time last night thought we would write our checks to pay for our child’s confirmation retreat fee while we waited. I handed the checks to Michele, and she seemed happy to take them but also she wanted to know what they were for. I explained, and she graciously took them and said thank you. Later in the evening, it became clear that we had definitely handed that money to her out of order and that it should have accompanied a form we had not yet been given. However, rather than correct us, she had simply set those checks of ours to the side, creating an extra step for herself…and then she matched them up with our forms when we came back through the line, (which was the appropriate process), a bit later.

It might seem like a small thing to go out of your way a bit, but here’s the deal. Michele has nearly 200 young people going through this process. When you add up the parents and 200 students she’s dealing with in order to get all the logistics solved, it would be VERY understandable if she had chosen to correct us in that moment. Had it been me in her shoes, I very likely would have said something eloquent like “Hold your horses! We aren’t there yet!” That’s not what Michele is about. This is what I have discovered about her each time I’ve come into contact. St. Benedict has a quote I like, it reflects an idea to which I aspire, with utter futility. “Be careful to be gentle, lest in removing the rust, you break the whole instrument.”

Michele deals everyday with people in a variety of places, spiritually speaking. Had she told me to “hold my horses” and wait for further instructions, I certainly would have laughed and said “no problem!” Michele doesn’t know me well enough to know that about me, though. Hers is a holier, more thoughtful approach. Who’s to say that the mom sitting at the next table over isn’t interacting for the first time with the parish and might leave feeling a little bruised from the same correction which made me laugh? We just have no idea what burdens people are carrying, so it’s lovely to tread lightly. My point is, going out of your way to answer questions, to be kind, to explain things thoroughly…well it’s the sort of treatment which changes hearts and minds. Michele and I are not similarly graced, so I find her humility impressive.

I’m so incredibly thankful for positive and selfless folks like Michele in this big, sometimes impersonal world. Faithful people who work hard, gracefully, to serve the needs of others always remind me of the important work left to do in my own soul, truth be told. Thank you, Michele, for all you do each day at OLMC! You are a hardworking and fantastic human, and I know Jesus is smiling at the world through your bright face! YOU ARE A BIG SCOOP OF AWESOME!