Happy 100th!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St. John Paul II, PRAY FOR US!

On Prayer, and Cheating at Euchre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goldfish Crackers and Cranky People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

E-Learning: Get Behind Me, Satan!

A few saintly souls aside (for whom I have long held great esteem), none of us really wants to “home school” our children. What we’re doing now, in fairness, isn’t really home schooling at all, but it sure feels like it to those of us who are not born with the gifts of wisdom or patience. Our educators at every level are doing their best to deliver meaningful content across subject areas via the internet right now—and with zero time to prepare. By all accounts, the vast majority are doing so creatively and with compassion. After all, the majority of these folks don’t live on an island. Most of them, like the Thieme family, are navigating in a storm of the unforeseen. I’ll be candid. If my sons learn how to make the perfect over easy egg or change a flat tire instead of mastering the bone structure of the human wrist or the finer points of Spanish II this spring while the world implodes, I’ll live with it. We’ll fight on in the fall and play catch up academically. This is the season of the pandemic, and I don’t know a single soul whose mental health and daily life is unaffected.

Because I know this last sentence is absolute truth, I am trying my best to not yield to my baser instincts in dealing with those few teachers who just don’t get it. What I yearned to do this morning with one misguided Catholic school instructor was aim in her direction that famous quote by our Lord when He sharply rebuked Peter with “Get behind me, Satan.”

I didn’t. We’ll call it a moment of grace. I’ll pray it holds.

Instead, I texted my girlfriends for moral support.  They were squarely, and not surprisingly, in my corner.  We have coronavirus rules, you see.  Rule #1 is support your girlfriends without judgement because none of us is truly okay.

I’ve been reading this book called Work and Prayer. I don’t particularly recommend it. However, if you’re the extra curious sort who is interested in all things Catholic, it’s not so scary. It’s an explanation for lay people about the rule of St. Benedict.

St. Benedict is famous for this “rule” and essentially for saying we need to find God where we are, that it’s wiser to get down to being grateful for what we have and are doing, to making the best of it. “Doing otherwise brings jealousy, resentment, and distaste for what is,” he states. He beseeches us to “act like leaven” which is to be, by example, a persuasive influence in transforming those around us for the better. At least, that’s what I’m taking from the book so far. Well, that, and I’ve learned some new vocabulary words like, “compline” for instance.

Benedict spends a lot of time talking about proper humility and the peace it should produce in our hearts. I’d say I’ve got some serious work to do before I have ANY SHOT at this wild idea he has about how all things are to be embraced with a quiet heart. If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that there’s not a single quiet thing about one Shelly Thieme. Did you hear me mention I wanted with all my heart to tell a poor high school teacher this morning to “get behind me, Satan?” I still kinda want that. Sheesh. Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy…

Walking.  That’s what is working for me.  It might have been only 30 degrees this morning, but I got up and did it for an hour or so all the same.  Most the time, I spend these walks in prayer. Prior to our time of isolation, I was often at morning mass at this hour.  I miss Jesus and the sacraments so very much.  We have had so much trouble with the whole “streaming” thing over here that we couldn’t even watch Easter mass. Our Wifi is sketchy and inconsistent at best.  We don’t need Wifi to pray, though.

This foul-mouthed, ill-tempered mother of three large male humans is a surprisingly able prayer warrior. I really am. If you ask me to pray for you, or your intentions, I do it. I truly consider it a great honor. I’m not the most articulate. In fact, my prayers often sound a lot like my words in this blog— or Jim Carrey’s character in Bruce Almighty. I know this because I watched that silly movie on Netflix yesterday. Don’t judge me. I know you’re over there watching Ozark or Tiger King or something. There’s ample whining, some volume, and plenty of run-on sentences in my prayer lexicon. That’s my point. He knows my voice though, because I am DEFINITELY the squeaky wheel. You know what they say about that squeaky wheel getting the oil? I’m counting on it! “Ask and you shall receive”. My hope is wrapped up in that thought. There’s a growing list of names on my phone, as my only prayer “quirk” is that I really prefer to pray with names. Yes, God knows who you are, but without a name, I tend to lose track of folks. There’s this idea in my head that is ever before me about how my heart and my efforts on His behalf are always seen by the Lord. I want to do my best work.

Why am I sharing this? Well, yesterday, five terrific people reached out to me. They were all struggling in some way with the current situation in which we find ourselves. I promised prayers, and they thanked me. In fact, three of them texted back later with rather effusive gratitude. It struck me as work Jesus gave me and it gave me great joy to feel I had helped in a small, but meaningful way as I sit in quarantine and I felt gratitude and joy. It happens to me a lot, these requests. Do you need prayers too? I’ll be glad to pray for you. Share your name or your specific intention by replying to the post, or email me at shellythieme@yahoo.com. I’ll pray. I promise. When God sent Jesus here, He was telling us He wanted to be with the ones He loves. I want that too.

I’ll leave you with one last thing.  For all of you who are more like “Get behind me, Satan” Shelly from this morning, be gentle with yourself.  I struggle interiorly with that concept, and I know a lot of you do too.  We are all doing our best, ugly though it may look at some moments.  St. Benedict implores us about this.  He says we should never despair of God’s mercy.  That seems an apt, helpful reminder to me this day.

Holy Thursday…Coronavirus Edition

So now I am giving you a New Commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you. You should love one another. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples. (Jn 13: 34-35)

I have a little group chat going pretty much all the time with a few gals I affectionately call my “mom squad”.  This is not new to my everyday rhythm, nor is it something we’ve added since all the COVID-19 insanity disrupted, well, life.  The conversations continue to be about what is happening in our day to day worlds.  We cheer each other on from afar, celebrate life’s tiniest victories, comfort one another when one (or more) of us has a case of the blues, and always we pray for each other.  These girls are some of my most treasured peeps.  I mean, who else can I text a photo of my newly painted toenails to and they will understand the sliver of heaven I am sharing?  If you have friends like these too, let me tell you folks, your days and mine have all been touched by the sparkly stuff which can only come from the Lord!!

Yesterday, one of these amazing women shared with our group a photo of the dry erase “family goals” board in her hallway.  She’s the most Type-A person I know, and one of the most affirming, articulate friends I’ve ever had.  I’m pretty sure she was trying to encourage some greatness in us.  Each of her family members had 3-4 daily goals on that board.  It was impressive, and full of things they wanted to accomplish during the quarantine.  It would be downright inspiring to a better, holier woman than myself.  Mostly, it made me laugh aloud at myself and think of my most recent conversation with Tom.  He was mocking my coronavirus routine.  You see, I was getting up, showering, then realizing each day there was literally nothing normal on my calendar so I’d take a long walk.  Right after my shower.  I told him in no uncertain terms that this was MY QUARANTINE and if I wanted to get sweaty in full makeup, then that’s my prerogative.  However, he did have a point?  So, in my own quirky, weird way, I felt like I had WON THE DAY because I entered it smelly on the day I got that “goals” board from Lisa.  Her people have lists of accomplishments, and I am celebrating the fact that I am embracing my own BO.  To each her own?  HAHAHA!!!

My point is, there is no right or wrong way to do this time of “isolation” and we all just need to be gentle with ourselves and each other.  Some people need goals, others need Facetime, and still others need to get in a long daily walk or extra prayer time.  I’m not going to lie when I say some of us just need the damn Wifi to work properly so the family doesn’t implode while they try to upload assignments or work projects.  As for me, what I probably need most is to practice CHILLING OUT.  So, perhaps my skipped morning shower is actually a holy practical exercise in patience? 

Here’s what I’ve noticed that I want to share.  Like a lot of you, I’m online more now than I ever have been before…and that place really is a rabbit hole sometimes.  For the first time ever though, I really am seeing the blessings of technology in the way that it can aid relationships when we are forced to be apart.  However, people are difficult and opinionated, and that includes me.  Humans who are a little rattled can be challenging to handle, so sometimes we are tempted to put up barriers, or even demonize the guy with a differing opinion, which is sort of natural.  Some folks do it loudly with a grumpy tweet aimed at someone they see as a villain, and others of us do it in the quiet of our hearts.  The thing is, either way…that is NOT how Jesus taught us to love.

Today is Holy Thursday, and we remember our Lord instituting the Eucharist on this day, by sharing a meal with a man that He knew would betray Him.

I’m reading a sunny book right now that was written by a positivity hero of mine, Bob Goff.  As I look around online to connect with folks in a way that is currently safe and available to me, I keep asking myself the question Bob asks in this book.  “Am I really so insecure that I surround myself only with people who agree with me?  When people are flat wrong, why do I appoint myself the sheriff to straighten them out?  Burning down others’ opinions doesn’t make us right.  It makes us arsonists.”

We are all made in the image of God. He loves you and me and the goofball at Meijer who has ALL the TP in his cart just the same. The same thing goes for the guy in the free food line who drove up in a Tesla. Let’s pick on the TP guy a second and call him “George”. We don’t know the circumstances which brought Tesla guy to the free food line, nor do we understand the motives of George hoarding the TP. What we do know for sure is that even if in the unlikely circumstance that both gentlemen are filled with ill will, the Lord loves Tesla guy and George more than I love my three sons. Let me tell you, that’s just a freaking lot of love, and also a tad disconcerting, am I right? I know this because, well, God is God and I am not. He loves His children more than I love mine because HE IS LOVE. That means He loves you, and me….and George and Tesla guy more than you and I love any soul on this earth. I don’t know about you, but my son called me “pouncy” this week (for good reason) so that unearned, unconditional love feels pretty nice about now, huh?

This day more than any other seems an appropriate time to just remind myself Jesus taught us to love our enemies. That means the backbiters, slanderers, opponents, rivals, antagonists, and just the people who confuse the heck out of us on Twitter.

Think about Jesus with Judas at that first eucharistic meal before He died.  It’s so fitting to me that our Lord instituted this most important sacrament the night before He was crucified.  We pay special attention to everything He said and all that He did (with even more sharp focus today) perhaps because that’s exactly what we humans do with any good friend who is near death.  Jesus wanted us to have a profound and intense relationship with the Eucharist, because He was giving us Himself as spiritual food, necessary for the life of our souls. 

Do me a favor for a hot second and focus on the joyless feeling you have interiorly when you’ve spent yourself (perhaps only in the quiet of your heart) criticizing yourself or others because you or they have failed or fallen short.  Can we just NOT?  I’m taking a pause on that behavior for Holy Thursday, reflecting on the beautifully imperfect life I’ve been gifted, and with deep gratitude asking the Lord for the grace to love others and myself the way He does. 

JOIN ME in a little prayer of gratitude for all our priests?  Today is also the day we celebrate the institution of the priesthood, and without these good men, the Eucharistic feast we all miss so terribly is simply not possible.  I think this familiar prayer feels perfect today, at this unique time in history for them all. 

HAIL HOLY QUEEN, Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness, and our hope.  To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve.  To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.  Turn then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy towards us, and after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.  O Clement, O Loving, O Sweet Virgin Mary. 

Pray for us O Holy Mother of God that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.  Amen.

The Coronavirus Birthday

Memorare

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

The Annunciation, Henry Ossawa Tanner

I’ve been trying hard to focus on just being present where I am these last several days. The presence of three large humans with all their calorie consuming, excessive laundry, and eLearning insanity makes it a tad impossible to NOT be acutely aware of exactly what is happening today. Noticing the moment is easy when the TV is being utilized to create a virtual NCAA March Madness tournament, and when between belching contests the conversation really is a continual questioning of one another’s manhood. Typically, my random weekdays do not contain, well…any of those things. Much to my dismay, the Thieme men also seem to be growing “corona beards”. I complained about this to my pastor, and he laughed and declared it a perfectly fine response considering how their lives are largely outside their control currently. I mean, WHATEVER! He isn’t the one who has to look at that scary, partial puberty THING attached to Zach’s face all day long. Damn it, Fr. Richard, ha?!!

It’s not all fun and games here, though.  Just like at your house, the 5 of us (along with many folks in our circle) have challenges to face that none of us were expecting.  I’d name some, but I don’t need to.  If you’re alive in March 2020, you already know.  Nothing is normal, but that doesn’t mean we can’t press on, go on living even amid adversity.  I don’t know about you, but I find I’m learning what my deepest identity really is about. 

Today is the Solemnity of the Annunciation in the Catholic Church, and its timing seems fitting to me.  I read a little sentence today by Deacon Keith Fournier which seems like a golden nugget.  He said, “Mary’s prayer teaches us to stay afloat in the ocean of life, with all of its underflows.”

I remember the Franciscan sisters who taught me in grade school telling me as an 8th grader that she was likely about my age then (14 or so) when the angel Gabriel appeared to her.  What the what?  I was shocked by that.  Mary was a young woman, a phenomenal instrument of divine grace, in the middle of her extremely ordinary life.  For me, she’s the ultimate wake-up call to remind me what divinity exists in all of us. 

God called an unremarkable teenage girl and after she paused for a moment, perhaps a bit confused, she answered with “I am the handmaiden of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your Word.” 

A few years back, there was a blizzard here in Indiana on my birthday.  Schools were closed for the day, and my parents were stuck in Carmel with us overnight.  We laughed, built a snowman, and played cards all day.  It was a memorable event, because typically I plant pansies in the front flowerpots to celebrate the occasion of my birthday.  It’s my own personal “spring is coming” rite of passage each year.  Honestly, I thought mother nature’s blizzard birthday couldn’t be topped, but this year, the coronavirus kinda said “hold my beer” to that.

Here’s the thing. No one loves birthdays like me. I just adore them—yours and mine!! Some folks are low key about these events. I am NOT THAT GIRL. I typically search out the birthdays of friends fairly quickly into the connection. Loving people up, even against their will…it’s my favorite. We should all have a moment where we reflect to celebrate the gift of life. It’s important and holy. That’s my view. I have been praying A LOT EXTRA and so the Holy Spirit had already been tugging at me to just enjoy the day as I awoke on my 49th birthday (which happened yesterday). As surreal as the world seems, I was determined to do just that. Keep in mind, I am the consummate extrovert, so this cloister concept (while necessary) is positively maddening, and not my idea of the perfect birthday celebration—at all!!

As my day began, I re-read a passage from a book I loved which solidified for me my instruction from the Lord for the day. In it, the author recounts being greeted by a poor man who appeared at her office with the words, “Good morning! I came to greet you!” She went on to say that was ALL he wanted. To greet her, like an angel of annunciation was his sole reason for visiting. He might as well have said, “Take off your shoes- this is holy ground.”

Be present, God ordered.  I am right here waiting for you, He said.  This is the overwhelming goodness that exploded all over me.  Just let the day happen, Shelly, and see how God loves you.

A text came through from my dear friend Lisa.  She proposed “a social distancing walk” for my birthday.  It was chilly and we wore hats and winter coats, but it was DIVINE.  She wrote me a beautiful note, a great gift for a girl whose love language is certainly words of affirmation.

On my porch was a handmade card and flowers from my friend Ann.  It was covered with photos of so many of the people I love.  “Friends are those rare people who ask how we are and then wait to hear the answer,” she wrote while offering a virtual birthday hug.

A package came from my sis, and my niece Maddie sent me sampling of her piano playing talents playing “Happy Birthday” on the keyboards from Chicago via the Marco Polo app.  We giggled back and forth as a family all day on that silly bit of technology.

My parents, who have never missed a single birthday in my life, ordered a birthday cake at Meijer and had Nick pick it up along with flowers.  They sang to me too, once I let them know it had arrived.

A bag full of toilet paper, purell, hand soap and Kleenex (among other thoughtful items) was dropped on my doorstep by the Zimmerman family.  Oh my goodness I cackled at their thoughtfulness and creativity! 

The Thieme guys and I ate take out from Boom Bozz and we overtipped the staff.  I opened a thoughtful gift from Tom (thanks Renee for the assist!!) and the boys each presented me with a “Dear Mom” love letter.  They will find them again tucked deep in a drawer after I am buried, by the way.  Holy cow.  You guys.  I tried not to be so all up in my feelings, but I read them again this morning and the lump in my throat was for real.  I did exactly nothing to deserve such wonderful sons.  Heck, they even agreed to watch the Mr. Rogers movie with me—the one starring Tom Hanks.  I have to admit that for the Thieme men, this movie turned out to be a comedy.  It wasn’t intended to be, but the cardigan, creepy puppets, poor singing and the land of imagination….they didn’t translate well for my young men who wondered quite audibly “what the hell was your childhood about anyway?”  I shut down the judgement just a skosh when I began singing the old “Clean up” song they remembered a certain giant purple dinosaur used to sing when they were kids.  There was plenty of laughter, so I’m calling it a birthday win.

My phone lit up all day with funny texts and sappy notes, while birthday greetings filled up my Facebook feed. 

My pastor and friend?  He offered his private mass for me.  That kindness TOOK MY BREATH AWAY. 

It turns out, the coronavirus birthday was a whole lot of beautiful. It was an explosion of kindness and love.  I snuck in some extra prayers for those who had asked, and a few who hadn’t and thanked God more authentically than I had in a long time.  There were tears of gratitude. 

I finished the day understanding once more that we can bring joy by being kind, change a life with kindness, we can literally infect others with our good deeds. It’s an outflowing of love which is born of God. He can use us all to scatter blessings if we just cooperate the tiniest little bit. This March, life is less busy. I know I don’t usually stop long enough to cherish them all or give thanks for the love He wants to give us which is more than we can fathom.

Yesterday, I had an experience of the holy.  It wasn’t a big event, it was more like people throwing a few pieces of popcorn at me all day long.  Yet, the presence of Christ was powerfully clear to me.  

It lead me to this thought today.  The central focus of the Annunciation is the Incarnation.  God has become one of us.  Mary has an important role in God’s divine plan.

The thing is, not unlike us right now, the circumstances Mary found herself in must have seemed more than a little surreal. Think about it. She was to become the mother of the Lord, and that sounds kinda cool to us 2000 years later…but in practical terms? Not to be crass, but she was a pregnant virgin? Umm. How’s that gonna sell? She had to wonder what was ahead. But the battle wasn’t hers. She simply issued her fiat and said YES to the Lord. She trusted Him with her life. It seems to me today to be the perfect example of faithfulness for a time such as this.

Today on my walk, I saw only a few cars.  The streets were empty, and behind us a truck came.  It honked and pulled around us a tad closely and a bit too aggressively. It flat out wasn’t that cool of a thing to do on a neighborhood street full of walkers and more kids out playing than normal.  On another day, I might have been irked or even given the guy a dirty look.  Instead, I prayed for him on my way home.  Perhaps he just lost his job?  Maybe he worked a long shift at a hospital?  How am I to know?

I’ve been trying hard to focus on just being present where I am these last several days. Nothing is normal, but lets just do one day at a time, huh? Let’s do our little part, be a little EXTRA. I want to be for others the exact thing all of you were for me yesterday- the face of Jesus. I can’t maybe do anything big, but I can throw my piece of popcorn.

God’s in charge here.  He’s not afraid of the coronavirus.  It’s time to tell our mountain how big our God is, folks. 

“My past, O Lord, to Your mercy, my present to Your love; my future to Your providence.  (St. Padre Pio) 

A Kindness Pandemic

For lack of attention, a thousand forms of loveliness elude us everyday.  –Evelyn Underhill

It’s not worth your time, Jesus. I’ll be fine and other people are in much worse shape.

But see the thing is, the Lord isn’t fooled by our pride.  He knows what troubles us, and He wants to help us bear our crosses, whatever it is that is burdening our hearts.  This is true even when we feel like we are being melodramatic and ungrateful as we compare our suffering to others. 

Small wounds can still mean deep suffering.  “Trust God at all times, my people!  Pour out your hearts to God our refuge.”  There is our instruction.  Right there in Psalm 62.  He knows what we need before we ask, but He wants us to ask. 

So, if you’re thinking, “It’s nothing major” but it’s bothering you nevertheless…get over yourself. Snap out of it! If we over-entertain our feelings, we can easily lose sight of the Lord. Lonely stinks. Talk to Jesus!

The advice, above, is excellent. In different forms, the same message has been shared with me over time by some folks I consider to be spiritual giants, and I’ve passed it along to others the best I can. Over many cups of latte, I’ve assured a few amazing humans that I don’t want them to censor themselves around me. I’ve stopped friends mid-sentence when they say things like “I hope this doesn’t sound bad, but…”

Be a freak.  Act like a lunatic.  I still love you.  That’s what I hear myself say.  Over and over.  I mean it, and I believe God does too.

A few days ago, in the “olden times” when Starbucks still had comfy chairs you could use inside their establishments, a new friend was sharing about her meltdown.  You see, her daughter has a severely compromised respiratory system and she’s frightened by this coronavirus.  She has already lost one child.  Her worry had her texting me a bit more frantically than usual last week, and she was right in the middle of judging herself over her degree of neediness.  I told her to CUT IT OUT.  Not the neediness, but the apologies.  She persisted, explaining that I seem to be so calm, so firmly fixed—sensible and sane.  She worried how she sounded. 

She sounded to me like a mother who loves her daughter fiercely.

Ah, I thought.  She hasn’t met my crazy, needy, loud parts yet.  Poor woman has no idea what’s coming the moment she least expects it, because I have impressive capacity for sudden psychotic episodes of melodrama.  I told her I am not keeping score, and I meant it.  I showed her a text I had sent to Tom at work the previous day.  I’m going to share (an edited version) of it here.  For context, as my college aged sons were in various degrees of duress over the cancellation of college classes, I explained to my patient husband that I was a shit show and that I had just said this prayer to the Lord.

“God. I am over it. Just all of it. The coronavirus BS. The classes cancelled, economy tanking, people hoarding toilet paper, graduations canceled…and don’t get me started on all the priests moving. This, and more Lord…just all of it is so f***ing stupid. Maybe you can pour a little grace on us all for a hot second? Amen.”

Perhaps not my holiest moment? Yes, indeedy, I can be charming as hell.  But, I know I am not “too much” for God.  He and I are intimate friends, and me being me is the only way this works. 

So, Tom read my text “prayer” and suggested that I might need some fresh air. I thought “WELL DUH!! HOW COULD I NOT THINK OF THAT?! I TOTALLY NEED A WALK.” So, I put on my coat and gloves, and I walked. Tom’s insight (and experience) with my histrionics, along with his words of advice were actual balm for my heart that day, because for whatever reason, I had gotten amped up very quickly. I think it was the depth of sadness my college senior was feeling upon realizing that he had already attended his last college class the week before when he left for spring break. He’s been looking forward to these last weeks at Xavier University with such joy. The thought that college was essentially done, and the likelihood that there may not even be a graduation…it was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me that day. The mama bear tendencies do not end when a kid becomes a grown man, in case you were wondering.

An earlier version of me would have said nothing to Jesus.  Perhaps for days.   Or, I might have said, “It’s nothing, Lord.  Look at the suffering of others.”

God wants me to ask Him to heal it.  All of it.  Every day.  He’s right here, wondering where we are, just waiting.

I’ve revealed myself a little today, huh? Don’t mind me, I’m just a charming girl with temper and patience issues who very occasionally F-bombs the God of the universe. Since my outburst, the bishops have shut down all the masses, the adoration chapels, and the sacraments I hold dear. It’s really so incredibly devastating to me honestly. Strangely, I’ve made a fair amount of peace with it on this particular day. Venting, prayer, coffee and exercise is my personal secret sauce FOR TODAY.

I’m basically typing in the corner of my bedroom at a glorified card table writing at this moment. I’ve cleaned out the office for Tom so he can work from home. I had Z haul the table up, and Nick brought me an old chair from the basement storage room. It’s raining buckets and there’s a bird sitting in the tree outside my window. I created a prayerful little space for myself.

The new prayer corner by my desk-ish type table.

Allow me to digress a moment and tell you about Etty Hillesum.  She was a Jewish woman from Amsterdam and from her Nazi confinement in Auschwitz, she wrote this glorious advice.  “Get into touch with that little piece of eternity inside you,” she penned.  Imagine what a woman of grace she must have been to express her desire to become the balm for the wounds of others, while living in a concentration camp.  Just wow.  Her brief, beautiful life ended there at age 29, but for me the words she left behind are powerful.

The force of love is a powerful bond which binds us all together.

So, with that in mind, let me tell you about the last couple days at the Thieme house.  We have only one of three Thieme young men presently attempting online learning.  The college boys will start that next week.  I’ll write a compelling, perhaps comedic essay about the trials and tribulations of that hilarious adventure sometime soon.  I mean, we all need to laugh.  One person I feel for thus far is my friend, Pam, who teaches kindergarten.  Imagine designing online school for kindergarteners?  What fresh version of hell must that be?  HAHAHA!!!?  So far, Z is surviving Guerin Catholic online just fine.

Yesterday, I went to Carmel High School to help a little. Productivity and good deeds help keep me interiorly sunny, so I was thrilled to be asked. Apparently, there were about 600 students who would not be able to receive the lunches they count on at school, so the CCS and the Merciful Help Center (located on the campus of OLMC) worked together to get groceries to those families. For the record, Jayne Slaton of the MHC is the living embodiment of Matthew 25. A couple of hours into this adventure, we were wet and hungry. I called my two clowns at home with an SOS. They promptly brought 7 Jimmy Johns pizzas, and dry socks…THANK YOU GOD. They waived cars in and loaded groceries in trunks, then they did the heavy lifting on the packing up of the MHC truck when we finished. They were NOT happy that I took their photo wearing the bright orange vests which made them resemble slightly a road crew let out from the county jail for this express purpose. At their ages, 22 and 15, I wouldn’t have had a good attitude either…and I definitely would have pitched a fit about having my photo taken in a vest that made me look like an inmate. These two young men rolled with it, and I was proud of them. They snuck in a little golf together in the afternoon—something neither one of them dreamed they’d be doing together this spring.

Nick and Zach helping feed hungry kiddos during the school closures.

Work to focus on being present today. That’s what I hear the Holy Spirit whispering to me in this smelly house. The increased burping and other guttural noises aside, we really do need to take our shoes off a minute, wiggle our toes…and realize we are all on holy ground. My kids are here. God is here. Where am I?

This morning, I got a text from Fr. Richard asking for help, so I picked up leftover grocery bags and took them back to the Merciful Help Center to be distributed. It was the tiniest task, one I wouldn’t think twice about normally. It would have just been a “thing” in my day. Today, I was super grateful for the chance to just do a little something to help someone else. It felt nice.

Now that the Lord has my attention, I’m starting to spot a kindness pandemic.

Nick told me that Xavier called him to just check in. Apparently, Muskie administrators made personal calls to all the seniors, knowing they are feeling this coronavirus emergency in a big way. Today, I also saw families receiving needed food, and Jayne Slaton standing on the curb at OLMC with her foot in a boot, wearing gloves and a protective mask– showing us all what compassion looks like and that hunger doesn’t stop for pandemics. There were volunteers rushing around to unload groceries. I heard about 2 local doctors asking for prayers as they do their work in hospitals that anticipate being quite overwhelmed in coming days. Another friend shared how she paid her beautician via Venmo, even though the appointment was cancelled, because she can bear the burden, but her hairdresser can’t go without income. Someone else shared that they ordered take out and tipped the employee who brought the food to the curb 100%.

I read recently in a lovely book that “refugees tend relationships like precious wake flames because that is all they have.” You see, they know more than most that whatever we pay attention to grows. I think that God puts us in the way of each other for a reason. He’s giving us a chance to grow in love.

Then, it happened. I had a little experience of the holy today. It became 4pm here in Indiana and I gathered up the boys and we joined in on that “worldwide” rosary ordered by Pope Francis, together in the family room. You guys, I am pretty sure that’s the first time I have ever prayed the rosary in my family room with my children. Proud of my track record? No. But today God opened a door and we walked through it. It was lovely.

WHATEVER WE PAY ATTENTION TO GROWS.

In our busy lives, we seldom slow down enough to cherish or give thanks for the blessings God is continually scattering our lives with each and every day.  When we stop to notice we are blessed and beloved, we can then let it spill out to others—like a kindness pandemic.

God’s got us.  Let’s just finish today, then we’ll work out how to be love tomorrow. 

Peace out, friends!