Mad for…Shelly?

Each of us is a result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary. (Pope Benedict XVI)

Dad sent me a text this morning which confused me at first. He was asking who was going to be “Mr. Irrelevant”. It was apparently a reference to the last guy chosen in the NFL Draft each year, but even though my house TV is rarely on any channel except ESPN, I was clueless. My sweet Dad was making a comparison he obviously felt was both clever and applicable. What he wanted to know was who would be this blog’s “last draft pick”, so to speak, in my “Mad for 2019” series. That was all the nudging I needed to let my freak flag show a little bit and choose…well…myself? Here’s the thing. I cannot handle the idea that some kind soul might just actually think as Dad suggested! Nope. No dice.

There are only 365 days in a year, and I still have a working list of spectacular folks I could write about but who for whatever reason did not appear yet. I may eventually do that, as the Holy Spirit moves in mysterious ways. For now, I am content to finish 2019 with a few words about the author, yours truly.

It sort of blows my mind that over 50,000 people have at one time or another stumbled across this tiny spot in the middle of the cyber mayhem this year. Here, I attempted to spend some time each day being grateful for the amazing folks in my path, and to be intentional about affirming them. It’s for the sake of these readers (I didn’t expect you all to show up) that I am going to answer a few common, personal questions I have received.

First of all, I am the wife of a handsome accountant named Tom and I spent about 10 years in corporate communications before I became a stay-at-home mom. We were high school sweethearts and this year we celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. Said anniversary happens to fall on the feast of one of my all-time favorite saints, St. Therese of Lisieux. I hadn’t met Trixie yet when we got married, so I consider this happy “coincidence” a grace of our unbelievably generous God. Together, we have three sons. Our oldest, Nick, will graduate from Xavier University this spring. Drew is our Boilermaker, and like his dad, he’s studying to be an accountant. The baby, Zach, is 15 and a freshman at Guerin Catholic High School. My parents are Jim and Kathy Dykhuizen, and I have one sibling…a smarty-pants, science whiz named Robin who lives in the Chicago area.

A couple folks have expressed distress over the frequent grammatical errors in this blog. I want you to know that I am, in fact, capable of writing proper sentences– I just don’t wanna. This writing space is a place I intended as a “stream of consciousness” blog. Whatever comes into my head is what appears at my fingertips. I like to think that if you know me personally, you will hear my voice in the words. I’m simply not focused on or interested in perfectly formed paragraphs here, mostly because the imperfections are what make this an accurate and authentic reflection of me. I hope that doesn’t land as self-absorbed or narcissistic. I don’t mean to disregard the norms of the English language some of you hold quite near and dear. Maybe I’m just not your cup of tea, and that’s okay. I still sincerely thank you for the time you spent following along!

One reader emailed to tell me she can tell “the Catholic thing is a big deal to me, but she wishes I’d let it go already.” How about this? The Starbucks is on me if you haven’t met Jesus yet but you’re curious?

Let’s see. Yes, I have lost some weight this year. It’s always a compliment to tell someone they look nice, and it never occurred to me to be insulted. Lots and lots of you were worried about offending me. I’m not offended. At all. Actually, I started 2019 with cancer diagnosis, which turned out to be inaccurate (thank you, God)…and I ended the year right at 100lbs lighter. None of this story is a secret and I’d be glad to chat about it with anyone who is interested. Feel free to ask.

What else? I’m proud of myself for following through and affirming someone every day this year. It’s been a worthwhile task, one which has proven quite rewarding in ways I didn’t expect. I’ll tell you more another day. For today, it feels important to me to acknowledge that in my quirky little way, I tried to shine Christ’s light this year so some of you fellow weirdos would be reminded that you are an AMAZING child of the most high God and that you matter.

It took me a long time to get to the point that I could believe those last 14 words, and I know lots of you are still struggling with it too. Let’s work on being gentle with ourselves, huh? As I head into 2020, I’m going to try and be nice to old Shelly. I mean, yes, there are many things I’d like to improve upon. Oh goodness I’ve got a long way to go to be the holy woman our good and gracious God wants me to be. However, old me has survived and persevered through some challenging stuff. However she’s failed, she’s kind of a badass in her own crazy way. I mean, I arrived at Dec. 31, 2019 in love with the Lord and enamored and overwhelmed with gratefulness for so many blessings– including you kind people who are reading now. That’s a great place to start.

HAPPY NEW YEAR, ONE AND ALL!!

In every smile there is beauty. In every heart there is love. In every mind there is wisdom. In every human being there is a soul, there is life, there is worth, and there is the ability to see all these things in everyone, including one’s self. (Marc Chernoff)

Mad for…Mrs. Mason

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn. (Benjamin Franklin)

As high school students go, I was solid academically speaking. That said, science was definitely not my forte. I managed, but it was purely my work ethic that helped me through the very tough chemistry class of one Mrs. Patricia Mason during my days at Lafayette Central Catholic. She was a graceful woman and a terrific teacher with striking eyes and a sharp wit.

I realize that I am now 48 years old, but I can’t bring myself to call her by her first name all these years later. She will always be Mrs. Mason, I suppose. Mrs. Mason was an inspiring teacher, mainly because she was so genuinely interested in her subject matter. She was more about assisting us in discovering the world of science than she was imposing her will, as lesser educators sometimes will do. I remember her as kind, inspiring, and intelligent– and in that order too! She’s one of the folks during my school years whose lessons stayed with me, because her influence simply cannot be erased. She was patient but firm, and that combination was especially effective for me. I’m not going to lie, though. Chemistry was hard. The thing is, the degree of difficulty was high, yet nevertheless, I truly feel Mrs. Mason left the community at large a whole lot better than she found it.

In recent years, I have been following her life from afar via social media. It appears to me that she is enjoying her retirement quite a bit, and I’d be willing to bet she’s a beloved mother and grandma. She’s also making me want to visit Anguilla, ha?! Mrs. Mason is a Boilermaker fan as well as a woman of faith. If you know me at all, you’ll recognize those as two qualities I hold near and dear.

A couple years back, I was lamenting (well, whining really) about my son’s science fair predicament. It was my old high school chemistry teacher who noticed my post and sent me several challenging but fun ideas for him. I’ll be honest…I was ALL OUT of creativity by the time the last of my sons hit science fair age!! She couldn’t help herself. Once a teacher, always a teacher, I suppose. How thoughtful, am I right?

As I finish off my year of daily affirmations and gratefulness, it seemed important to me to acknowledge some of the great educators who have made a difference for others. I am a fairly prolific reader, and it was this quote (written by Lowell Milken) from this afternoon which had me searching my mind for the great teachers I have encountered so that I could choose one to honor today. “Good teachers are to education what education is to all other professions– the indispensable element, the sunlight and oxygen, the foundation on which everything else is built.”

She was the sunlight and the oxygen, indeed! Thank you for spending your professional life making a difference for young people, Mrs. Mason. I know I speak for many when I say most sincerely that I’M GRATEFUL!! Happy New Year to you and your entire family!!

Mad for…Stacey

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. (Romans 12:10)

I’m pretty sure she told me once she was a Boilermaker like yours truly, but I’ll be honest and admit that I could be making that up. Sometimes I just WANT all the cool people to be Purdue grads, ha? In any case, Stacey Wilt is a beautiful soul and a mom to three! I’ll admit I am writing about her today because I saw this great quote and it made me think of her. “Special needs parents are the equivalent of Batman, Captain America and the Incredible Hulk combined with a side of Mary Poppins.” I have not a clue who said it, but it’s SPOT ON from my vantage point.

I’ll be totally candid now as I acknowledge that until recently, I knew Stacey only through Guerin Catholic High School sports, and therefore the only child I was aware of is her oldest, a handsome and athletic kid named Spencer. We’ve seen each other a few more times this fall, and it turns out she has two gorgeous girls as well– Mac and Ellie. Ellie is a freshman like my youngest son (Zach) so I suppose I have three and a half years to get to know Stacey a bit better. That’s fine with me.

Stacey has eyes that sparkle, she’s the sort of woman who I’d bet can smile right through trouble. I think of her as someone who warms and cheers the rest of us in her path. She’s got magnetic laughter going for her and a natural joyfulness that makes her sort of irresistible! Positivity, and a happy heart are her calling cards. She doesn’t overlook anyone. I can’t tell you how attractive that quality is in humans. I once read a sure sign of wisdom is a cheerful temperament, and if that’s true, then I need to stay a little closer to Stacey, because I can use to soak up all the wisdom she can impart! She’s authentic, amiable, and flat out charming. I really do credit her cheerful frame of mind. Gratefulness and warmth are the vibe she gives off when I run into her– whether it’s at GCHS or even when I run into her eating chicken wings at BW3 with her family!

It’s clear as a bell that Stacey is a supportive and loving mom to her three cuties, and that she knows how to enjoy her life and laugh through it! I’d bet that all the important people in her orbit are well aware that she is crazy about them too, because she strikes me as a woman who loves people just a little recklessly…and those are my favorite kind of people.

I’ve got not a clue when Stacey’s birthday is, but since the year is literally almost over, I’d wager I missed it. The thing is, even though birthdays are the only days we officially are called to celebrate folks just because they are…well I’m calling a special exception today. You see, Stacey is a woman who makes bad days more bearable for others. I know because I asked a couple of her people. They also said she is filled with faith. This is not a shocker. So. Today is a random Sunday and I am choosing to celebrate Stacey! Why the heck not?! I’ve even got a silly little something for her to show her a little of that same attention and affection that I hear she sprinkles all around her constantly. Why? Because I wanna!!

I have declared today STACEY WILT DAY! Three cheers for you, Stacey!! The very next time I see you, well…I’m coming with a tiny little surprise. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all the Wilt clan!

Mad for…Jill

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf; be reconciled to God. (2 Cor 5:20)

When I was a girl, I spent a considerable amount of time with the Vanderkleed family. Stan and Nancy were long time friends of my parents and they had two daughters– Jill and Erin. Since this week (yesterday, actually) Jill celebrated her birthday, I thought now would be an excellent time to celebrate what makes her a spectacular human! We all know that I am sometimes a day or two late with my greetings, but hopefully I’ve demonstrated by now that if there’s anything I believe in, it’s the festival approach to such celebrations!

Even as a little girl, Jill had an incredibly infectious laugh. Her giggling radiated the entire area, as did her smile. Her eyes sparkled too! This has not changed a bit! Now, she’s a mother of three and the wife of a tall, handsome guy named Tony Hardebeck. Many years (decades actually) have passed since those afternoons we shared sledding down that steep hill behind Stan and Nan’s house in the country, and I can still hear the sound of Jill shrieking in delight! It really is one of the defining sounds of my childhood. She is a joyful human! As one of my favorite authors, Bob Goff, says, “Where joy is a habit, love is a reflex.” I couldn’t agree more!!

Our lives are full of actions we repeat over and over. These rituals become habitual and that must be the reason why even though my sons are no longer attending St. Louis de Montfort Catholic School, I sometimes find myself accidentally heading that direction in the afternoons when I go out- it’s a habit I built over 16 years. That was Goff’s whole point. The thing is, he meant it as it relates to things like finding the joyfulness in life like Jill does! It’s a wonderful habit she’s spent a lifetime perfecting!!

It doesn’t matter how much time passes, when I run into Jill, I know I can count on a dose of her cheerfulness and warmth! Also, chances are excellent there will be top notch baked goods– the woman can bake circles around every other human being I have ever encountered.

Jill is a social creature who lights up the area she inhabits with her bright smile. What a blessing she is to her kiddos, parents, sister…and a whole lot of other folks who inhabit her life! She’s a woman who helps out where she sees a need because it’s the right thing to do– a woman of character. It seems to me like it’s her way of witnessing to all of us what it looks like to live a grateful life. It’s beautiful, actually.

Happy Birthday Week, Jill (Vanderkleed) Hardebeck! How cool it is that you share your birthday week with the Prince of Peace? Very! I hope your day was as awesome as you are, my beautiful friend!! Also, Happy New Year to you and the entire family.

Mad for…John

Christ has no body on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion for the world is to look out; yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good; and yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now. (St. Teresa of Avila)

My handsome husband, Tom, has this large extended family. In fact, he’s the youngest of 19 grandchildren born to Fred and Josephine Thieme. There are so many terrific human beings in that group of folks, and today is the birthday of another sharp looking, lake-loving Thieme guy– John Thieme. He’s the son of the late John and Carol Thieme of Lafayette and also like my husband, Tom’s cousin, John, is an accountant by trade.

Welcoming, amiable and kind, John is quick to offer a smile and a friendly word to all. After his beautiful wife Kathy passed away, leaving him a single dad to four young children, John met and married a lovely woman named Debbie. Together, the two of them raised 6 children in a big, faith-filled blended family where they made it their job to see to the needs of those young people. My respect for them both is immense. They are both supportive as parents and incredibly loving. Also, they are now grandparents! I’m not sure how quickly those numbers are expanding, but I suspect John will have MANY grandchildren in fairly short order. He’s pictured above with his granddaughter, Kathryn Ghazarian, who lives in California. Isn’t that just the sweetest shot of the two of them together?

There’s something about me that draws me to people who are genuine- they have a magnetic quality. To me, men like John are warriors in this world, because folks who do good because it’s the right thing to do, who are brave enough to take responsibility…those are the real badasses in my book. John is a salt of the earth sort of man. He works hard, and also knows how to laugh over a few beers. He’s authentic in every way possible and seems honestly interested when you speak to him. He’s a helper. John Thieme is a man who does and says the things he actually believes. There’s nothing showy or arrogant about John. He’s a likable man of integrity. Period. End of sentence.

Today is John’s birthday, so I just wanted to give him a little shout out. His positivity and sunny smile make the world a brighter place. I hope your day has been a great one, John, because you deserve the special treatment! HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JOHN THIEME!

Mad for…Kathy

How beautiful a day can be when kindness touches it. (George Elliston)

This morning as we travel to my hometown to celebrate Christmas with my side of the family, it’s impossible to miss the glorious, unseasonably warm winter day. It’s not often that it’s 61 degrees on December 26th! Nostalgia sometimes overtakes me, and I suppose that’s why I have the winters of my youth on my mind as we make the drive an hour north to Lafayette. The winter I frequently remember for it’s remarkable blizzard when I was a little girl happened in the winter of 1978. It always makes me think of my old friend, Kathy (Hunckler) Cahoon.

Goodness, that winter looked a whole lot different than today does!! That fateful day when the incredible snow storm took us all by surprise, my kind and beautiful friend Kathy had come to stay for a sleepover. She ended up staying quite a bit longer than she expected— there was no one going anywhere that week! I can’t recall exactly how we filled our time, but I remember Kathy and her famous pigtails, joyfulness and that we had a ball! She always had a wide grin and a positive attitude. In grade school at St. Lawrence, my memories of Kathy include her goodness, and also I recall her being incredibly bright!

We ended up attending Lafayette Central Catholic together, and then we kind of headed separate ways and I lost track of her a bit. In more recent years, I caught back up with her through a few conversations with her brother Paul as well as happen chance sightings at Guerin Catholic vs. LCC sporting events. For instance, we ran into Kathy tailgating at GCHS when our son was playing football for GC and her daughter was on the LCC team, and I was instantly reminded of her natural warmth and welcoming spirit! She spotted me and I was wrapped up in her big hug and greeted by her authentic, joyful smile!

I have no doubt that Kathy’s children and her husband, Chad, have a supportive, loving and truly thoughtful woman in their midst every day. It’s simply who she has always been!

Today, I find myself wanting Kathy to know that she was a special friend to me because of the way she always made me feel like I mattered. Her authenticity and generosity of spirit made a difference. I would bet it still does for everyone with whom she interacts. Kathy is just a salt of the earth sort of human who laughs easily and smiles big. Our world needs as many folks like her as we can get. Merry Christmas to you, Kathy…and to your entire family!

Mad for…Roger

May we be in this world a ray of that light which shone forth from Bethlehem, bringing joy and peace to all men and women. (Pope Francis)

In my volunteer role on the Gospel of Life council at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church, I perform all sorts of non-glamorous tasks. Most of them seem to involve logistics work— like organizing data, writing copy, or making phone calls. It was in this capacity that I first heard the name Roger Helmkamp. You see, OLMC was teaming up with nearby St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish to bring in a speaker for a couple of days to talk to folks about mindfulness. It was a joint attempt to help folks work on their mental health and anxiety issues in a meaningful way, with their faith at the center of the effort. My initial interactions revealed quickly that Roger is a friendly, good-hearted man with an excellent sense of humor. Also, he’s totally on the ball.

A few weeks later, I met Roger in person for the first time. He was present, attending to the needs of family and friends for the showing and funeral mass of my very dear friend, Karen Volpe. During a difficult and emotional couple of days, there was Roger making sure everything went off thoughtfully and without a hitch.

When I ran into this amiable, handsome guy at my nearby Kroger a few weeks ago, he went out of his way to say hello and re-introduce himself. He was out of context and it took me a moment to register his face, but it came to me quickly as he began to speak.

As I began to think this morning about who I wanted to write about today, I decided it would be fitting to write about a man who spends his days working for the rest of us, helping us on our journey to know and love the Lord a little better. I am not sure how many folks realize the hours and effort it takes to pull off Advent and Christmas in a Catholic parish. When you take the normal workload, and add to it the preparations and expectation of the season— it can be a bit overwhelming. These parish employees are the ones largely responsible to keep the boat floating. They are not getting rich doing this work either. Often, their service is overlooked or simply taken for granted. Today, I wanted to give a little shout out to one of these folks- a competent, articulate, positive thinker named Roger.

Here’s what I wanted to say to him this Christmas Eve day. Roger, you are a good man who is spending your days being the face of Jesus to others, and I’m thankful to have met you this year! What you do matters. You are that ray of light Pope Francis is encouraging us all to be, by the way you live your life. I suspect your family already knows how blessed they are to have you in their days, because you are clearly a man of integrity! Merry Christmas!!