Mad for…Mark

Love is the most beautiful sentiment the Lord has put into the soul of men and women. -St. Gianna Molla

This weekend, a faithful, passionate friend of mine, Mark Volpe, is celebrating his 60th birthday! As you can see from the photo above, Mark has been galavanting a little in the south, celebrating with “Bourbon and Basketball” as his wife Karen noted. Alongside him on this little adventure are some of the finest humans I know– his incredible wife, Karen, his daughter, Samantha, and sons WillIam and Mitchell!

Like Boilermakers everywhere, Mark undoubtedly is suffering from a little broken heart this morning. The Volpes had excellent seats at the YUM Center in Louisville last night for what truly was an epic Elite 8 game, but it didn’t end how we in the black and gold had hoped. Mark’s a Cleveland Browns fan, though, so he knows how to handle sports disappointment…ha?!

Mark is an Italian guy, and he wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s warm and compassionate. Over the course of his long marriage, I have often thought of this quote by St. John Paul II where the iconic saint spoke of the role of men in this world. He said this, “God has assigned as a duty to every man the dignity of every woman.” To be completely honest, I don’t think I know a single man who has lived up to that ideal better than Mark Volpe. Not only has he done that by loving his daughter, Sam, with fierceness, but he’s been extraordinary as a partner to Karen in her long and torturous battle with cancer. God loves the way he keeps going, stays positive, and so do I!

There’s a lot in his life that I know has not gone according to his plan, but Mark has held on through it all with belief and trust in the Lord. Somehow, some way…

Mark is a guy’s guy. He’s a sports lover. He’s also filled with integrity through and through. His witness about what a character-filled man looks like is truly beyond my ability to describe here, but it’s certainly not a thing that has been missed by his two absolutely incredible sons or his sunny, terrific daughter. That’s obvious. They are three very blessed young adults– bright and capable– because of the witness of their parents. Few children have been given a Dad of this caliber who loves with all he’s got.

As Mark starts his 6th decade on this earth, I wanted to just take a breath and say a prayer of thanksgiving for Mark Volpe. His witness in my life is a powerful one, because in times of joy and times of struggle, Mark looks to the Lord and trusts Him with the journey. Thanks for showing me the way, Mark. It’s beautiful– just like YOU, my dear friend! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!

Mad for…Jerome

If then you remain constant in your faith in the face of trial, the Lord will give you peace and rest for a time in this world, and forever in the next. -St. Jerome

Today is the birthday of my brother-in-law, Jerome LaReau. Jerome comes from a big, joyful Catholic family. They love card playing, a good party, and laughter. It’s no surprise then, that today’s birthday boy is the kind of guy who keeps his face to the sunshine! We jokingly call him “The Godfatha” because he is, in reality, the Godfather to my two oldest sons.

Jerome is a fantastic husband and father to my amazing niece, Katie. He’s always got a warm genuine smile to share, and one never doubts his intentions. He’s just flat out a good guy. He makes everyone feel like someone. He’s self-sacrificing and has the heart of a servant. Although he’s named after one of the great saints of our Church, when I think of him, I really do think of St. Joseph. Allow me to explain. As a guardian and protector of the Church, St. Joseph is a model of humility, dedicating himself to the service of his family, silently doing the ordinary in an extraordinary way and trusting always in the Lord. So much of that speaks loudly to me of the life being led by Jerome LaReau.

Jerome is a cheerful, kind and prudent human. He sings in the choir on Sunday and has served his parish (St. Louis de Montfort in Fishers) in many capacities over the years. The number of times I have watched him make a beautiful breakfast and deliver it to his wife in bed would astound you. I don’t know anyone on the planet who can make a better omelet! He’s always willing to compromise and he is a true man of character.

In his life, I have witnessed as he continues to follow the Lord in all he does. When it looks to me like he’s too exhausted to carry on, he seems to know when to lean in and let Jesus to the heavy lifting. Faithfulness, even when life isn’t delivering a perfect week– God sees that. Also, so do others around him.

Jerome, I hope Jennie and Katie spend some energy to show you all the love you deserve today, because your life is certainly one worth celebrating! I am so blessed to have you in my life, and Nick and Drew couldn’t ask for a better guy to be their Godfather. HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU, JEROME!!

Mad for…Ann

She is clothed with strength and dignity and she laughs without fear of the future. (Prov. 31:25)

The beautiful Boilermaker in the middle of this gaggle of black and gold wearing fabulousness is Ann Fritton. Ann’s mom, Lynn and my mother-in-law, Jane were identical twins. Ann and my hubby, Tom, are cousins. Just like me, Ann has three boys. Each of her sons is within months of age of my one of my three guys. Our husbands even work at the same CPA firm. What I’m trying to say is, Ann and I have a few things in common.

Although we’ve always run in different social circles, we grew up in the same hometown and we both attended Lafayette Central Catholic High School. Ann has been a Boilermaker fan as long as I have, therefore. Two of her sons are current Purdue students. We were both in Louisville last night cheering on our Boilers in the South Regional of the NCAA Tourney. It’s really for this reason that I chose to write about Ann today! I’m in the midst of a little black and gold GLOW. So, who better to honor than a fellow member of Boilermaker nation!!?

Ann is incredibly bright and quick-witted. She’s a sunny woman with a fantastic sense of humor. She has raised three pretty stunning and integrity-filled young men, which is truly a tribute to her unconditional love as well as her willingness to do the sticky, messy, day-to-day unglamorous work of motherhood. The work of her hands over the years may not have always seemed that important to her or to a world to busy to take notice. However, somewhere interiorly, I am certain that Ann, who is a faith-filled woman (and a long-time parishioner at St. Luke’s Catholic Church in Indy), knows the One who her hands were really serving these many years, and that there are few gifts she could give Him which were more precious.

Ann is a joyful person who greets others with warmth and a smile. She’s welcoming, owns an infectious laugh and she is unafraid of taking a stand for what is right and good. She feels deeply and loves fiercely. She is a unique combination of soft and powerful. She’s practical, pragmatic and spiritual. I have long admired so much about Ann, and I’m overdue to say so the clear way I am trying to do today.

Ann? You are a woman I have always admired and respected. I love the way you love the Lord with your cheerfulness and sunny disposition! Thanks for being the stunningly beautiful person that you are because the world is such a better place with you doing you! ALSO? WHAT DO YOU SAY WE BOILER THE HECK UP!!? Hugs and love to you, my friend.

Mad for…Bill

My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Cor 12:9)

Several years ago when our sons were junior high age, I met Bill and Diane Akers. Their son, Drew, was on the SLDM CYO football team with my oldest. They were familiar faces from church and I had watched the family from afar. It was a fun group of boys that year on the gridiron, but nothing of consequence happened to further any relationship there between the Akers and Thieme families. Still, Bill always had a warm, welcoming smile, and that’s what I remember of him from that time.

Bill is a guy who does for others. He works for the Carmel Police Department. Over the years, Bill has officiated at countless CYO basketball games held in the St. Louis de Montfort gym. I have often noticed him kindly guiding young athletes and explaining the rules to others who seem confused about his whistle. His authenticity and sunny disposition always shines in that setting! He is a faith-filled man, ever present as mass with his family and participating as a liturgical minister.

When I learned about a year ago that his son, Drew, had been very seriously injured in a tragic accident while on Spring Break in Florida with some of his Ball State friends…my heart felt pierced. Perhaps it’s because my own son is similar in age, or maybe it was the Holy Spirit calling me to prayer. I’m not sure, but I know that getting a call like the one I know they received is truly a parent’s worst nightmare. As they traveled to Florida, I prayed. As they posted updates, I prayed. During the long months of rehab for Drew Akers, he remained a fixture on my prayer list. I know that there were literally HUNDREDS of us prayer warriors who were trying in our own small ways to support this faith-filled man and his family.

What was incredibly inspiring to me and to many over the long road back for Drew (who is now getting ready to graduate from Ball State, by the way) was the way Bill openly shared his trust in the Lord. He was gracious when prayers were offered, authentic about his worries, and steadfast in the way he leaned on God through it all. It was a very public ordeal, and one that I am certain the Lord used to bring many to Him through the beautiful witness of Bill Akers and his entire family.

This week as Bill celebrates his birthday, I just wanted to take a moment to say THANK YOU for the beautiful faithfulness you shared with the entire community over the last year. You are clearly an incredibly loving husband and father, and I can’t help thinking how obviously Jesus is smiling as He looks at you! I hope your birthday “festival” continues all week! HAPPY (belated) BIRTHDAY, BILL AKERS!!

p.s, Please tell Lauren we said, great choice kid! BOILER UP!

Mad for…Cassidy

The great thing to remember is that while our feelings come and go, God’s love does not. –CS Lewis

Day 86 of 365.

I’m not sure whether I mentioned it or not, but this week, SO MANY people I know are celebrating their birthdays…and today I am looking to shine a little light on an amazing woman who happens to share my birthday! It’s a festival, Cassidy, so let the celebration continue!!

Above right, meet Cassidy Samuelson. She’s standing here with a former student named Kate. I am going to digress for a moment and mention that BOTH of these lovely ladies have some serious pipes. Goodness can they sing like angels!! Cassidy is a junior high literature teacher. As a word lover and someone who has been known to devour books myself, I feel a little bit of a kindred spirit in this gal with whom I share March 24th as a special day.

Cassidy connects well with junior high kiddos because she is both joyful and sarcastic. It’s a unique and stunningly awesome combination! She knows how to have fun but she also knows how to manage a classroom full of hormonal chaos with a sense of humor. She doesn’t take herself too seriously, but she is kind and full of compassion. With Cassidy’s aid, my talented niece Katie LaReau was able to get a speech team off the ground at St. Louis de Montfort Catholic School. Now, with Cassidy’s leadership, in just a couple of years, a group full of Speech team kiddos from SLDM have worked themselves into much success and a few trophies as well! I’m pretty sure they even WON at the Westfield Speech meet! I’ve spoken to many of kids on the team and they all talk about how they know Miss Samuelson is so proud of them. Their faces beam with pride. Nothing beats a teacher who cares!! Teachers are heroes in my book, and this woman is a gem!

I chose the quote above to celebrate Cassidy today because it’s one I wrote down after seeing it posted on her Facebook page a while back. In fact, she seems to enjoy inspiring spiritual quotes, as there are many in this vain that pop up now and then on her page. I watch for them. They seem to find me on days that I need to be reminded about just how much we are loved by the Lord. Her simple sharing has often affected me profoundly, a thing I have never shared with her– until now!

Cassidy, I admire how much you love your family, your students and the Lord. Each time you cantor even a single song at mass, I leave feeling blessed. My sons have been so fortunate to have such a truly caring teacher who is passionate about what she does each day. Thank you for all you do each day! HAPPY BIRTHDAY (FESTIVAL)!

Mad for…Kate

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. (Mt. 11:28)

I find so many times that I meet fabulous people through other amazing folks. That’s the case for me with Kate Bender. Kate and I have a friend in common, and that’s how I’ve come to know her and her truly fantastic family. Her birthday was yesterday, but I am once again choosing the “festival” approach celebrating the lives of those around me. She’s pictured above (yesterday, on her actual birthday) with her son Thomas who made her that gorgeous cheesecake for the occasion!!

Kate is a faith-filled mom, wife and daughter. Though I’ve not had the pleasure of hearing her perform in person, I understand she’s also a talented musician, a trait that seems to run in her family. It’s her son, “T” that I know the best, and by watching this little man, so talented and filled with character and integrity, it’s easy to see what a beautiful mother she is to her sons. He’s polite, articulate and kind. Just in case you weren’t aware, this does not happen on it’s own. Only a Christ centered woman raises a kid of this caliber!

A couple years ago, I reached out to Kate for some prayerful aid for the mother of our mutual friend, Lisa Houze. Kate’s overwhelming and immediate offer to join in our “Spiritual Bouquet” for Ann Kalmey truly left me with a lump in my throat. Her response was so instant and compassionate that it left an imprint on my heart that day. I’ll be candid and admit I had a similar response when she took the time the day before yesterday to reach out to me on my special day with the MOST KIND words. As a gal who values words, it meant everything. What goes around, comes around Mrs. Bender!

I chose the little bit of scripture that I did for Kate today because I know that the loss of her own mother was just incredibly difficult for her and the entire family. I’ve been watching from afar as the family supports one another through their grief and also celebrates their terrific memories together. I admit it’s my habit to people watch, as I often find that God teaches me quiet and important lessons about His goodness and love in this way. It’s no small witness that has been provided to me by Kate and her guys at the Bender house.

When I’m sure it felt to Kate like life was falling apart at the seams, I watched her run to the Lord. Her weary heart, I’m sure felt frayed. However, Kate never fails to greet others with a smile. Her warmth is genuine and her heart is beautiful. Kate Bender, YOU ARE THE REAL DEAL! I feel so blessed to know you. HAPPY BIRTHDAY (WEEK), KATE! I vote that the two of us call it our festival until the end of the month? What do you say?!

Mad for…Ted

A strong friendship doesn’t need daily conversation or being together. As long as the relationship lives in the heart, true friends never part. (Unknown)

Our roots will always be tangled, and the truth of that makes me smile. Meet Ted Stumpf. In the photo of two pretty handsome guys above, the completely lovely Xavier Plascencia is on the left and my lifelong friend, Teddy Bear, is that tall drink of water on the right.

When we were kids, our two families were inseparable. All of our summer vacations and every New Year’s Eve were spent together. Ted’s an only child, and I have one younger sister, Robin. The three of us were often left to our own devices for many hours on end, and one of our favorite pastimes when we were little was playing “office”. My poor sis was left in the outer office, permanent secretary of this fictitious corporation, and Ted and I were, naturally, Co-Presidents. Neither of us had any desire to be anyone’s underling, that’s for sure. We were nerdy type A kids, ya think? Honestly, I don’t know why my amazing sis, the great Robino, put up with us and our bossing for years on end. We might have been a tad insufferable. However, we three were always happy being together.

There were several years of “junior naturalist” certifications from the Kentucky State Park system that were earned in classes we attended, of our own volition, while our parents slept in during trips I will not soon forget. We organized talent shows, plays and other creative adventures each New Year’s eve. What I’m trying to say is that Ted was a groomsman in my wedding because, frankly, I think of him as my brother. I will love him always.

Ted’s got a BIG personality. On the trolley ride from St. Lawrence Church to the wedding reception destination, it was Theo that decided we should stop for more champagne– like a LOT OF IT. My memories are a tad hazy, therefore, about our arrival, but I do recall my mother and mother-in-law glaring just a tiny bit at our obvious shenanigans. Also, I recall lots of smiling and giggling and fun. That’s my Teddy Bear. He knows how to throw a party, and he knows how to enjoy one!

He’s a genius in the kitchen, and he can reorganize interior spaces with the furnishings already present, and they ALWAYS look incredible. He’s so intelligent– just incredibly bright! He gives the best hugs and has the most genuine smile. Ted has never shied away from hard work, and he’s a man filled with integrity and warmth. He’s compassionate and caring, the kind of guy we all wish we had as a friend.

Ted lives near Napa, CA, which is way too far away for me to give him the in person birthday hug he deserves today. So, this little shout out will have to do. Ted? You are precious, and when the Lord counts up his heavenly treasures, he counts you…just like I do! I love you! Happy Birthday, Ted!!

“…The Lord, your God, has chosen you from all the people on the face of the earth to be specially his own.” –Dt. 14:2