Mad for…Maddie

She’s the kind of girl who follows her heart, but takes her brains with her on the journey. She’s not afraid of being smart. Or faithful. Meet Maddie Beck. Today is her 15th birthday! In honor of this auspicious occasion, on this day, I’d like to tell you a little bit about my incredible niece.

Maddie is an utterly brilliant human. She’s just flat out brighter than most of the rest of us. We’ve known this since she was very small– all of us. Several years ago, one of my kiddos had some sort of project that required them to understand the difference between an alligator and a crocodile. He knew just what to do when he saw my “you mean they aren’t the same thing” face. He called his cousin Maddie who lives in Naperville, Illiois. She sent us a video explanation from her family room. I’m pretty sure she didn’t need Google. I once found a chemistry book on her bed as a much younger girl and quizzed her about it. Turns out, she was memorizing the periodic table for fun. She’s a prolific reader. She’s a badass keyboardist who loves the Rolling Stones. Maddie sings in the church choir, and she was BRILLIANT as Miss Hannigan in her school production of “Annie” last year.

Additionally, Maddie Beck makes me so incredibly proud to be her godmother. She’s caring and she’s kind. She’s got a beautiful laugh, and as a big sister to sweet Ellie, she is loyal, affectionate and warm-hearted. Her work ethic is outstanding, and in my opinion, she glorifies God by the way she lives her life.

Maddie’s been aided, for sure, by my incredible sister Robin (her mom) and her pretty swell Dad, Chris, along the way. She hit the genetic jackpot there. Ditto that “wow, she’s blessed” sentiment for all the folks at her grade school, All Saint’s, as well as her grandparents and extended family. STILL, there’s a light that shines in this young lady that comes from the Lord. Those folks at St. Francis High School truly have no idea what a gem they have in their midst yet…but they will.

So, birthday girl, today I wish you just the most fantastic day. I love you. Happy 15th! If I can leave you one sentiment this day and always let it be this quote from the great St. Augustine.

“God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.”

Please, never forget that. If you can manage it, all will be well. No matter what life deals you. I LOVE YOU, MADDIE!

Mad for…Sr. Sophia

Wherever God has put you, that is your vocation. It is not what we do but how much love we put into it. -Mother Theresa

Note to reader: This is day 30 of 365 in my year long project to introduce others to some fantastic person each day this year that I think really makes a positive difference in the world with their life.  The world needs more reasons to smile, so today I submit to you, Sr. Sophia, a Nashville Dominican.  If you want to know more  about her order, visit:  NashvilleDominican.org

It’s Catholic Schools Week across the nation right now, and I find myself terribly grateful for my own Catholic education as well as those of my own three sons. This feeling of gratefulness for the enormous blessings got me reminiscing interiorly about one of my favorite CSW experiences a few years back. I’d like to share a pinch of it with you.

Several weeks before CSW that year, I was over at the football fields at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel cheering on my favorite Cardinals who were facing off against the big, bad Raiders (ha!) when a conversation ensued. It was between a group of grade school chums whose siblings were out on the field playing. As they ran around in the grass tossing a small nerf football some well-prepared mom had packed, they were stopped dead in their tracks.

“Hey you guys! Look over there! Why are those crazy ladies wearing matching white dresses?”

“They look kind of funny! It’s too hot for long dresses today…plus that’s really fancy for a football game.”

Frankly, the fact that the sweet kiddos clearly HAD NO CLUE that these “crazy ladies” were religious women was a touch shocking to me. It made me sad too. As a youngster myself, many of my teachers were Franciscan sisters, and some of them really helped to form me in my faith. These two beautiful Dominicans had come to cheer on their students, and their presence there that sunny day changed the CSW plans I had in my mind on the spot.

Meet Sr. Sophia. She’s a spitfire from New Jersey, and also she is a Dominican Sister of Saint Cecelia. The Order is based in Nashville, Tennessee and they are strongly committed to Catholic education. I made a few calls that winter and with a little strong-arming from OLMC pastor, Fr. Richard Doerr, I was able to get Sr. Sophia over to talk to children at SLDM about her vocation during Catholic Schools Week. For most of the children she spoke to that day, she was the very first religious woman they had ever met. It was a very cool experience to witness.

I have only briefly spoken to Sr. Sophia– maybe twice. I’m sure she will be surprised to learn I’ve written about her today, because my name will not be familiar to her. Here’s the thing. A vocation talk by a joyful person in a religious vocation is a game changer. By the example of her consecrated life, she taught a few little ones the way to holiness and joy that day. She spoke to them enthusiastically about the trinity, her background, her prayer life, and her love of the Church. They were enamored. She also answered some pretty hilarious questions without even a hint of condescension. She was the face of Jesus to many that day and I have never forgotten her, praying for her often.

I asked a friend whose son had Sr. Sophia as a junior high religion teacher at OLMC to share with me a little about her as a teacher. She said this, “He loved her, he enjoyed her teaching, always felt like she was for the kids, wanted everyone to do well, she was interested in them as a person and encouraged them to dig deeper into their faith. She connects very well with the students.”

Why am I not surprised?

I LOVE this very funny story shared with me about her and I hope that my sweet friend won’t mind it’s retelling. Apparently, after a talk about “relationships” by Sr. Sophia, she made such an impact that all of the young students that were part of “a couple” in her class decided to just be friends instead. While there weren’t reportedly a large number of “couples” anyway, it’s a tale about her influence that made me snicker.

Sr. Sophia is full of personality. She’s small but mighty! I chose this photo of her because she’s up on a folding chair standing next to her fairly tall student, Dylan, at graduation. Her infectious smile and authentic joyfulness is on display. Its that same spirit of joyfulness and camaraderie that I notice on display by all the members of her community who I have been lucky enough to meet.

This Catholic Schools Week, at a time when Christian education is much maligned, I wanted to take a moment to give thanks to God for Sr. Sophia and ALL the religious women who have made a difference for so many of us by their enthusiasm for the truth of the Gospel, as well as the selfless way they share their lives with all of us. THANK YOU, SR. SOPHIA! What you do everyday? Oh goodness, it matters! Today, my rosary will be for you.

Mad for…Larry

Be grateful for small things, big things, and everything in between. Be grateful for today and never take anything or anyone for granted. Life is a blessing.

He’s an unsung hero working to make sure the children and his co-workers are safe. I have been watching him for the better part of two decades as he stands guard, often wearing many layers of clothing, topped with his signature bright orange coat. He hustles dozens of cars filled with little children in an out of the parking lot each day, genuinely concerned for the safety of each child. He does it everyday, in pouring rain…and also in frigid cold like today.

Meet Larry Banther. It’s currently 9 degrees here in Central Indiana. That’s actually several degrees WARMER than it was when he was managing the morning carpool, as always, at St. Louis de Montfort Catholic School in Fishers. He’s the man in charge of building maintenance at my son’s school. However, Larry is much more than that. How many building maintenance guys at schools across the state who you suppose are also certified school safety specialists? I don’t know the answer, but I’d be surprised if there were many others. He’s literally taken the time to be fully trained to know how to make the parish he works for as safe as it can possibly be. THAT is cool and inspiring.

Larry’s not a fancy guy, but he’s a steady and vital contributor every single day. Also, I learned some time ago he’s a big fan of Mountain Dew– so consider the Taco Bell gift card and keep the McDonald’s one for someone else. I’ve watched him deal patiently with rude, obnoxious and difficult people. They serve as important reminders of how NOT to be. Mostly, I really do think he is appreciated and loved by the folks around him. However, sometimes I’ve wanted to raise my voice and yell “Don’t be condescending to Larry. Try his job for half a day first.” This guy scoops snow, spreads salt, and climbs up to check out a leaky roof. He mops up a lunch room floor covered in spilled milk and smashed grapes. He’s called in when someone had the stomach flu and the 3rd grade room is essentially uninhabitable. He’s a jack of all trades, he’s reliable, and he’s kind. He also has a great smile and a really terrific laugh.

In the midst of the everyday chaos, Larry is treasure to many for his steadfast care and helpfulness. THANK YOU, LARRY for keeping my 3 boys safe, warm, and dry these last 16 years. I truly appreciate you!!

Mad for…Hugh

Saint Joseph was a just man. A tireless worker. The upright guardian of those entrusted to his care. May he always guard, protect and enlighten families. -Pope St. John Paul II

Meet Hugh Ross. Hugh is first and foremost a husband and dad. From my perch nearby over the years, I’d say Hugh embodies what it means to be a holy and present father. In fact, the photo above is one from him attending a Lacrosse event cheering on one of his kiddos– on a freezing cold day as many dads often do to show love and support. Just out of the frame is his cheerful wife Amy, a holy woman I also greatly admire.

I chose the quote above about St. Joseph for today’s entry owing to the fact that Hugh Ross seems to me a wonderful modern day model of the virtues we see present in St. Joseph. He’s of uncommon faith, and he’s a tireless worker for Christ in all he does.

When my mother in law died rather suddenly a few years ago, it was Hugh who stepped up on very short notice to be the cantor at her funeral mass. This effort was no small sacrifice on his part, and his presence was an enormous gift to the entire extended Thieme family. The gentle loveliness of his voice lent reverence and beauty to a truly difficult day. It’s merely one anecdotal example of the sort of selflessness and kindness that he displays everyday.

Love the children first, then teach them. –St. Mother Theodore Guerin

Also, Hugh is a high school physics teacher at Guerin Catholic High School. It’s patroness, when she spoke of what an educator should be, might as well have been describing Hugh Ross. He teaches a challenging subject, yet his class is invariably a favorite among his students. My middle son in fact named it as his very favorite during his four years there…and Drew is FAR from alone in that selection. It’s because while Mr. Ross is brilliant, attentive, and affable, he more importantly exudes the kind of care and love that Mother Guerin described. There’s a reason he’s received prestigious awards for his work with his students. Christ uses him to show others what His love is all about.

Hugh is an exceptional human being. He’s a leader in faith and a model for what the Lord means fatherhood to look like. His witness of gentle strength and selflessness is a blessing to all with whom he interacts, including yours truly! THANK YOU, HUGH, FOR WHO YOU ARE AND ALL YOU DO EACH DAY!

Mad for…Barbara

A good deed is never lost. He who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love. -St. Basil

Day 27 of 365.

Meet Barbara Schrader. She’s Tom’s aunt, the older sister of my father-in-law. I met her when I was a teenager, which feels now like a very long time ago. Barbara has been retired for some time now, but she spent many years as the principal at St. Mary’s Catholic School, which is at the Cathedral parish of the Diocese of Lafayette. I have absolutely no doubt that she was both wise and compassionate in that role.

For a number of years, she spent long stretches of time at her cottage in South Haven, Michigan, and it’s there that I got to know her best. Tom and I would sneak over together to visit when we were teenagers vacationing up there with his family, then later we did the same as a married couple with our young boys. She always greeted us with a warm smile and we’d begin the catching up and story telling. There was often ice cream or some other fabulousness offered– even if the house was already filled to brim with humans. She’s got a great sense of humor and her laugh is quite infectious. She’s a straight shooter who is unafraid to offer her two cents, and one would be wise to take her prudent advice. What I love most about her is that her faith and her fierce love for her large family have always shined brightly. Wow, does she love those children and grandchildren! I remember many, many sets of doll clothes sewn with great care for her granddaughters. I recall stories she loved to share about the sports exploits of her sons and grandsons. More than once, she asked me to pray for a specific family member who was struggling. She always, always inquired about my sister and my parents when she saw me. Also, she can be sassy, but I have never seen her be unkind.

When her brother became quite ill a few years back, I ended up spending some extended time with him (my father in law, Tom) up at the hospital in Michigan. Barbara and her husband, Jim, were very present during those long hours and we talked and simply tried to be present for him, together. Their gift of presence was enormously comforting to me as I did my best to watch over his care at the South Haven Hospital. She insisted I stop over and spend some time while we held this vigil for Grandpa Tom, and her friendliness and beautiful heart helped me to understand why she is beloved by so many people in Lafayette and beyond. Barbara is grace-filled and her entertaining stories always shed others in the best possible light. It’s so refreshing.

Presently, Barbara is mourning the recent loss of her amazing husband. This time of grief must be trying to bear, to put it mildly. She’s been on my mind and in my prayer. Please join me in asking God to fill her with the grace she needs. I hope she knows what an inspirational witness she is of what God intended a Catholic wife, mother and grandmother to be. She shines! God Bless Barbara!

Mad for…Karen

We shall steer safely through every storm, so long as our heart is right, our intention fervent, our courage steadfast, and our trust fixed on God. -St. Francis de Sales

This is a recent photo of my treasured friend, Karen Volpe, with her youngest son, Mitchell, who is a recent engineering grad from (my alma mater) Purdue University. You can see she’s beaming with pride here, as well she should.

You see, Mitchell is incredibly bright, independent, respectful and kind. He shares those same qualities with his stunningly beautiful sister Sam as well as his oldest brother, William. All three of the Volpe children are truly some of the most well-adjusted, loving and terrific young people I have the pleasure of knowing. I credit their mother, but how she was able to accomplish the task of raising young people like these is just one of literally thousands of examples of her unrivaled courage and faithfulness in my life.

Defining Karen by the fact that she is quite literally a professional patient would be utterly unfair. That is a prominent fact in her life, though. You see, when Mitchell was in kindergarten, she was diagnosed for the first time with leukemia. In the past nearly 20 years, she has endured multiple bone marrow transplants, cancer surgeries on parts of the body I barely knew existed, lumbar punctures out the ying-yang, chemotherapy, radiation, scans and tests of every variety ad nauseum….I could write more on this and you would simply not believe me that one person could undergo such extensive physical and emotional trials and still be smiling over there on Garden Gate Way, but she is indeed. Her handsome husband, Mark, is damn fine human being as well and I don’t want to neglect saying so.

In her presence, I truly feel as though I am sitting with a living saint. Her wisdom, guidance and advice on everything from dealing with suffering to why one might consider ordering McDonalds french fries without the salt (they’ll be forced to make a new, piping hot batch, ha!) is without a match for me. Her parenting guidance makes me laugh and it makes me cry. She’s unafraid of offering fraternal correction to any doctor or nurse who isn’t treating her (or her fellow patients) with compassion. She’s even more generous in praise of those who are clearly working hard to glorify God in what they do. She’s the one who taught me to notice the drive through gal, the janitor, and the quiet child sitting by herself….by her own witness.

Once, I questioned her on why she felt it was a good idea to keep her daughter home to make candy during the holidays. She said “how can it NOT be a good idea to spend the day with your mom and grandma? This is more important than math today.” How true.

We were long time carpool partners. When she was the pick up person, the school office complained that she always came late. She wasn’t late by much, simply a few minutes. But by the time she arrived, the long line of cars had gone. The school asked me to speak to her. I told them, “Well, you’ll need to take that up with Karen.” I knew well that they would not. Her thoughts were this. You see, time is valuable. The children should wait for me, I should not wait for them”. No child in her carpool care ever complained, by the way. Kids knew chances were pretty solid they were getting an ice cream cone at Dairy Queen on the days Mrs. Volpe was feeling up to carpool duty.

I’m a rule follower and she has often challenged me to see the big picture and live life more fully.

She has taught me that everyday we should make an intentional effort to do something which glorifies God, because tomorrow isn’t promised. Also, her words are spoken so articulately and with such love that I often feel as if Christ himself is speaking them through her. That’s quite a feat considering she’s a Buckeye. Ha?

Karen Volpe is a petite woman in very fragile health if you simply glance. If you look a little closer? You’ll discover she’s a spiritual giant, with a quick Irish wit, and the most fierce warrior I have ever encountered.

I can’t begin to do her justice in a few paragraphs, but today I needed to try. I LOVE YOU, KAREN. Just thank you… for showing me what God means us to be. I am praying for you always.

Mad for…Kit

No better relation than a prudent and faithful friend. –Benjamin Franklin

Isn’t this the cutest picture of a joyful mom with her silly gorgeous daughter? Anna Kleck is on the left and my friend, Kit, is on the right. Kit is also the mother of Emily (a volleyball player at NYU) and Jack (a high school sophomore). All three Kleck children are truly unique, utterly bright and compassionate human beings. This is unsurprising considering the woman who raised them. To be fair, their dad, Chris, is a swell guy as well…but today I am going to tell you a little about Kit.

Today, Kit had time in her calendar and she sent me a spontaneous lunch invite. One of my very favorite things EVER is a spontaneous invite to do anything with a friend, or a whole room full of them. It doesn’t always work out but when it does, it typically feels to me like the unplanned event ends up being THE BEST. It’s been not my most spectacular week and therefore I jumped at the chance to gab with one of the most wise women around. She’s sensible in action and thought. She’s also categorically positive and definitively sunny. Kit is a person who seems to be fully present. She lets the joys of the everyday bring a kind of soft happiness that inspires gratitude in her interiorly. It seeps out. She’s steady. Her steadiness seems to be something she’s won over time and it makes her happiness with the gift of life extremely attractive. Others around her spy her joyful face and her authentic smile and they want in.

Thank you, Kit, for the gift of your time today. Your light was sunshine in my day, as it always is when I am around you. If the whole world could get a little scoop of your secret sauce, we’d ALL be better for it. I am grateful for the reminder that reaching out in love to others is always a well timed choice.

“A sweet friendship refreshes the soul.” Proverbs 27:9