He Never Misses

If you think I’m bad with God…

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

FOR THE BRAVE ONLY:  MY LENTEN MANIFESTO

The durges of the day hung in my head.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why on earth didn’t I just say yes?

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

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

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

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

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

I really hate myself sometimes.   

The school didn’t welcome my son.   

The coach lacks integrity.   

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

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

My family rejected me.   

My friends left me out.   

Our grown children take advantage of us.   

My husband says cruel things.   

I am unappreciated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Pollyanna Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What parish are you again?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh. Oh.  Well…”

“You’re welcome.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

It doesn’t pay to even dab in negativity.

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

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

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

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

Tend your sick ones, O Lord Jesus Christ

Rest your weary ones; bless your dying ones;

Soothe your suffering ones; pity your afflicted ones;

Shield your joyous ones.

And all for your love’s sake.

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

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

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

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

Who’s with me?

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

 -St. (Mother) Teresa of Calcutta

Peace out, folks!

–ST

 

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

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

 

 

 

Your Sweater’s on Inside Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours, Shelly

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

An Open Letter to my Catholic Friends…

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where are you going with this, Shelly??

Here’s where I am going.

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

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

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

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

Stop in and see us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rio, Kerri’s Twin, and stuff….

ChristtheRedeemer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our smiles?  They are signs too!

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Just hand over the chocolate…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, today, it’s time to reframe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NickandMe
Nick Fred and me after the baccalaureate mass.

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

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

St. Francis Xavier…..pray for us!

Dear Mom

MomInParis1

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

Dear Mom,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Top 10 Attributes of Joyful People

Joyand the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. (ACTS 13:52)
“Joy is the unmistakable work of the Holy Spirit.” That’s the quote I heard this morning at church spoken by a perky, bright gal named Denise. It really struck me as profound. It’s the soul of happiness. Joyful people are the ones God uses so often to bring others to Himself. How am I doing? Do I have this gift? Am I sharing it as I should? These were my questions and they were a big part of my Lenten prayers this morning. So, I have been contemplating about the most joyful folks I have met in this life, and I am comparing them to the stories of some of my favorite joy-filled saints. Here is my unscientifically created list of Top 10 Qualities of Joyful People! Do you consider yourself a JOYFUL PERSON? How many of these qualities do you have? What have I left out?

1. They don’t take it personally. Joyful people are other focused. They consider circumstances and consider that they may not have all the information. They do not look within themselves insecurely. When things don’t go their way, joyful people do NOT dabble in the form of self-centeredness which takes it personal.
2. They see the bright side. Joyful people tend to do the following when things go wrong, “Well, in good news…” They reflect on lessons learned, solutions which might be employed next time, and they find a way to be content—even in a storm.
3. They don’t judge. They know the only perfect person was Jesus and know “I’m not Him!” They are able to find something positive to say about even the most challenging folks around them. They’ve made their own mistakes, picked themselves up, and are working on their own holiness by shining their light, not wagging their finger.
4. They know there is a time for everything. We can’t always work, nor can we always “have fun”. Joyful people scoop up opportunities to show up for others, they don’t dwell on past mistakes, and take time to enjoy the little things. Sometimes, that means belting out a favorite song or showing up for the little league game. Other times, it means taking time for sacred silence.
5. They are self-aware. Joyful people know what their gifts are, as well as their quirks and shortcomings. They know who they are and what they are capable of. They have the kind of positivity (despite their own flaws and misgivings) that cannot be taken away– because it wasn’t gifted to them by men.
6. They are creative. For many, when joy exists before the “I”, and they are able to live a life standing outside their own egos, a greater sense of creativity is present in them. Joy thinks outside the box. Many joyful people are just plain silly at times! They aren’t afraid to look like a fool. Many times, this will mean they are curious types who ask questions and are truly interested in knowing more about you!
7. They are consistent. Joyful people are not typically regarded as “sometimes joyful”. Others see them that way. Period. It’s sometimes quiet, but ever present. Even in sadness, joyful people still exude flickers of light. It may manifest itself very differently, but it’s always there. It’s a divinely given gift, after all, and is rarely a gift for just a season. Therefore, authentic joy doesn’t need a reason or a season. It’s simply unreasonable happiness which is rooted in deep gratefulness to God.
8. Joyful people are loving. When people describe others they know who are joyful, they always mention love. Don’t believe me? Ask around! The truly happy know joy isn’t a feeling. They are people who have turned themselves toward God. The only response to that is the living of the high adventure and love that is rooted in the divine.
9. They appreciate simple. Joyful people have learned to love the simple things. They find deep peace in knowing their blessedness. Things like campfires, sunny mornings, cool breezes, a long walk, a good giggle bring deep interior consolation. Sure, joyful people might enjoy “the good things in life” just as much as anyone, but they aren’t terribly attached to them.
10. Joyful people love themselves.  They know deep within that they are beloved sons and daughters of God.

I am grateful to God especially for St. Teresa of Avila, St. John Vianney…and my sis Robin, Vivian, Lily S., Jake A., Janie M. and Renee (among many others) for their examples of joyfulness that inspire me!

Declaring my Candidacy

“Do not be afraid, for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”  (Luke 2:10)

I, Michelle Lynn Dykhuizen Thieme, have decided today to declare my candidacy for President of the United States of America.

You’re pumped, right?

I have a loud voice.  Like, really loud.  What’s even better is, I only know this fact because everyone around me keeps telling me.  So, that means I also have poor self-awareness.  I’m (waaaay) over 35 and I have paperwork to prove I was born in Lafayette, Indiana.  I have zero political background.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  I did serve as president of my HS class.  It seems to me right there is a great recipe for a presidential run. Who wants to be my campaign manager?  Anyone?

To be completely upfront, my candidacy might prove to be a tad tricky.

First of all, I try to always apologize when I’m wrong, and even though I’m loud, which I know the media loves, I really prefer to get along with people and maintain harmony whenever possible.  In fact, I like to write notes to people and remind them why they are awesome.  That feels like something I will need to fix to be a viable candidate.

Plus, let’s look at the issues.  Guns?  Nope.  Don’t like ’em.  I didn’t even like it when my sons tried to make their legos into gun shapes and play cowboys and “native americans” in pre-school.  I realize that might seem over the top.  So much for the NRA support.  Does this make me a democrat?  There are family members and friends in my life who make their living farming and some of them like to hunt.  They also really don’t like predators (you know, foxes, raccoons, opposums, coyotes) who come after their livestock.  OK, I REALLY don’t like guns but you guys can keep your hunting rifles.  Ditto for you and your FBI friends, Don, and you too, Gerry and all the other police officers out there who are trying hard to keep us safe.  I get it.  Some people rightly value their firearms.  We’ll just have to respect each others differences on that one and wade through together.

“Respect each other’s differences?”  What kind of poppycock is that?  Man the media are going to have a field day with me.  I’ll need a good PR staff.  Who’s in?

What else?  Well, I really feel in my heart that a big challenge in our country is a need to strengthen families.  I suppose that’s a republican thing to say.  The thing is, I respect and love people in my life who have families that look less traditional than mine.  Now, I’m sounding lost in a political Bermuda triangle.  I know.  Clearly, my positions make me insane.  Oh, and I think it’s utterly silly to bother those nuns on 86th St. who are super busy changing the sheets of Indy’s poorest seniors with some law about they need to provide contraceptives to the receptionist.  Actually, it downright bugs me.  I mean, she knew she was taking a job working for nuns, right?  I’d bet she’s probably cool with giving Sister a pass on those drugs– if she wasn’t– she probably would have just applied for another gig.  The nuns and I are on page and…so my hopes of democratic funding seem to be dwindling.

I love nuns, families, and I care about the poor.  I really hate guns, but I get that some people need them.  When a girl down the hall at Purdue called me a “fisheater”, I didn’t get bent out of shape.  Last week, someone called me fat.  Big damn deal.  I loathe sexism and racism and most the other “isms” as much as the next guy, but mostly people who don’t like other people because of who they are or what they look like are just idiots to me.  I wish I’d written “sad” and said I would pray for them.  I’m working on it.  Focusing on people who fail isn’t the centerpiece of my life.  The pervasive over-sensitivity and uber concern about political correctness revolution just isn’t working for me.  These moments always remind me how blessed I am to have a mom who constantly reminded me that I will never be sorry I was too kind.  I should also mention my eloquent Dad who didn’t have a problem reminding me from time to time when I lost my way that “your shit, Shelly does in fact stink.”  Thanks for keeping me straight, guys.

The scripture verse at the beginning of this declaration of candidacy came from the Christmas card I sent out this year.  That’s a pattern of behavior for me.  I’m kind of into Jesus.  In fact, I believe the fact checkers will uncover that I am a mass attending, sacrament loving Catholic.  If that’s not a candidacy killer, I don’t know what is.

So there you have it.  I might be the most un-electable possible candidate in this year’s election.  I’m a definitively pro-compromise, family (and nun) loving, anti-gun, police appreciating fish eater.  I love our underpaid teachers and think high-stakes standardized testing is killing education, and I’m willing to listen to why you might feel differently.  I believe in doing all we can to help the poor up.  I don’t think it’s a close call when it comes to crazy things like the taking of lives or the selling of baby parts, but hating others despite our differences isn’t a thing I believe in either.

I’m never going to be President.  Frankly, neither are any of you.  And that, my friends, is what’s wrong with America.  Let’s just set aside my obvious obstacles, such as I am not a millionaire and I have been a stay-at-home mom for 10 years.  My bet is, even if you can actually fit neatly into one of the 2 political parties calling the shots, when you unravel your belief system you will find you are really going to have some issues which inhibit your electability.  Mainly it’s about you just aren’t cranky enough.

In my opinion, what has made America great over the years is her capacity for compassion, for building one another up.  We’ve lost our way.  The venomous tone at present is surely NOT OF GOD.

Today, I felt called to speak up for the end to the rancor.

Do you want to know why I love the nuns?  They keep me honest.  The $40 they had to come to my parish begging to get from me seems like a lot as I toss it in the basketm but when I head out to shop, it seems like nothing.  I am definitely part of the problem.  However, I continue to pray and to try and do better.  I hope the same for my nation.

God gave us free will, it’s true.  When we are free to act without being under the influence of another, that is real freedom.  Consider the words of a great saint in whom even the vast number of non-Christians in India saw great virtue.  Reading her words always makes me feel as if I have inhaled a tiny breath of heaven.  As I finish my silly little entry today, I invite you to join me in a prayer for our great country and I offer you this bit of fresh air.  I hope you enjoy it.  Know that above all you belong to God, He delights in you, and you are loved.

“Spread love everywhere you go.  Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.”  –Mother Teresacropped-shellybday2014.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Smiling and Loving…and coffee cups

Tongue firmly planted in cheek, my handsome husband texted me from his conference in Las Vegas this week.
Tom: Our keynote is trying to tell me that it’s not all about me. She’s full of it.
Me: Someone should have informed her.
Tom: She also wants me to be positive and find the good in people. She doesn’t get me.
Me: Lmao! She is unqualified to give a keynote to accountants. Someone should have vetted her. Heads will roll.
Tom: Now she wants me to lighten up. Come on woman.
Now, part of what makes our marriage work is that I have a self-imposed rule that I don’t write about Tom. However, I am making an exception today to illustrate two things. First, I’m not really all that good at following rules. Second, he is a truly funny guy who makes me laugh aloud now and then. Laughing leads to smiling and I happen to believe whole-hardheartedly in smiling.

The most authentic voice that has ever spoken about the importance of smiling, in my mind, is Mother Teresa. She said this, (and so much more) about the matter.

“Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.”
Well, what if we’re not actually happy? What if we have an “Eeyore” temperament or our personal circumstances are a mess? Isn’t it a little deceptive to fake it?
I have one friend who is from a large, wealthy family who was taught at a young age that she must appear cheerful. She and her siblings felt they were shaming their parents if they didn’t appear to be happy. This kind of “pressure” to smile does feel inauthentic, don’t you think?
On the other hand, several years ago I received a letter from an awkward, even geeky, former classmate. The note came decades after we had been in school together. “You were the reason I made it through school. I knew every afternoon when I got to English class you would be there smiling at me and saying hello. Except for you, the experience was pure misery.” I didn’t see this coming at all.  The thing is, though, I remember making a choice to be kind to this kid. It was my mom. She endlessly told us that we would never be sorry we were too nice. Spot on, Mom. Thanks.
I share these two stories to make a point. These are two very different types of smiles. In the first example, my friend spent her growing up years “faking” joy. It was feigned and deceptive. The purpose? It was done to make people think favorably about oneself, and it’s difficult to pull this off successfully. Why? Because human beings can feel it when you are “all about me.”

Perhaps unbeknownst to Mom, she was channeling Mother Teresa’s approach to joy with her ever present instruction. YOU WILL NEVER BE SORRY YOU WERE TOO NICE. Mom taught us the outward looking smile. The smile which is aimed at another for his or her benefit is silent and powerful acknowledgment that you see the presence of Christ in that person.
“Spread love everywhere you go….”
Love is a decision. When we love, we are making a decision to look outward. It’s not about impressing someone or looking the part. Have you ever considered how you might answer if God someday asks, “How did you love me?”
Here’s three minutes worth seeing that speaks about this truth of our job to love and be a witness to love in a very accessible and relatable way. The priest who is featured is known only to me as “Fr. Rob.” He publishes at Petersboat.net. This particular video speaks about the red cups at Starbucks that have been on every media outlet ad nauseum the last few days. I think you’ll enjoy it, so I’ve put a link at the end of this post.

What’s my point in all of this?
Even if I’m not feeling it, even if I’m not in the mood, even if you’re like the sarcastic comedian I’m married to and you claim it’s not part of your natural temperament– I do think we should go out of our way (even if we have to force it) to see the good in others, to perform little kindnesses, and to smile at others in our daily path.
Did you know Mother Teresa felt a profound darkness of soul for the last many years of her life? She was experiencing tremendous interior misery for many years. It was a shocking revelation only revealed after her death. It was mind blowing to many, because the world saw intense joy in her eyes, and deep peace in all that she revealed to others.
She smiled for love of God, so that’s the message we received from her. LOVE.
It’s not about you.

https://vimeo.com/145450214

P.S. Do you think Mother Teresa would care about the color of a coffee cup? Me neither.