Mad for…Pat

The holy man was the whole man, the man of integrity, who not only tried to change the world, but live in it as it was. –Dorothy Day

A couple months back, I was on a long walk with my friend, Catherine. We’ve not been friends all that long, honestly, but I treasure her for her authenticity and her stunningly beautiful heart. As fate would have it, we encountered a bike accident on the Monon trail that day, and in this case, an older gentleman was clearly injured. His pants were ripped and he was bleeding. We stopped to talk to him and we noticed the bleeding was rather significant. When he shared that he was on blood thinners and had some other medical issues, we strongly urged him to allow us to call for help. We were on foot and not that close to our cars. He was adamant that he didn’t want us to call for an ambulance, so Catherine decided to call her husband Pat.

Pat Murphy, on the far right, with his beautiful family.

Pat Murphy, I’ve learned from observation, is a very hard-working and compassionate man. Within minutes, he arrived in his rather badass pickup truck and saved the day. He had brought along some basic first aid essentials and then tossed the man’s bike into the back of his truck and drove him home, making sure he’d done all he could to assist. Let me add for a moment that Pat is a busy attorney. I’m fairly certain he didn’t have “Good Samaritan” on his schedule for the day, but that day he dropped everything to be the love to a stranger. Kindness and love always make a difference. Pat probably thought he was just doing a good deed and that it was not a big deal. Oh, how far from the truth he would be!

An integrity-filled father of 4, Pat and his wife are high school sweethearts from Champaign, Illinois. He’s the youngest of four siblings, and a man of faith who is ALWAYS willing to pitch in. For instance, just this past Sunday as we were setting up for our first of four Sunday speakers at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel (part of our Respect Life Month activities), we noticed that some of the folks who ordered meals didn’t order a drink. Pat immediately offered to go out in the rain and run to the grocery for a couple cases of water, just so that we’d be able to make sure everyone was comfortable and satisfied. It’s a little thing, but it’s the exact kind of selflessness I see Pat display over and over. I could fill this page with several similar stories. Rarely, (I pray) do I overlook someone who inspires a ripple of kindness in their wake, because Pat and folks like him always remind me that the things that matter the most cost virtually nothing but mean everything. He’s a quick-witted smart aleck who I’ve noticed leaves the world a little better than he found it. THAT combo is my favorite kind of human, and honestly…and it makes me want to be like Pat!

What struck me about Pat’s little grocery run was his positivity. He didn’t come back even a skosh snarky about the last minute fire drill. Instead, he gushed about the rainbow in the sky he’d seen on this journey and how it felt like a “God hug”. To me, Pat’s sense of humor, his willingness to join in and help, his work ethic, and his obvious love of his family make him the perfect guy on whom to bestow the illustrious Mad for “Person of the Week” award.

Don’t let it go to your head, Murphy.

Mad for…Erin

The saints are not supermen, nor were they born perfect, but rather are ordinary people who recognized God’s love, they followed it, and served others. –Pope Francis

A couple weeks ago, I got a text from a young lady I have been watching from afar all fall. Her request was a simple one. She wanted a ride to Ft. Wayne, and she knew we were going, so she was hoping we’d let her tag along!

I’ll be honest, I tried to dissuade her– mostly for her own sake. I knew it was going to be a very early morning and an extremely long, hot day in Ft. Wayne at Homestead High School for the Guerin Catholic boys tennis team. We were headed there for a day long tournament, and I’d been to it twice before.

Pictured on the far left with the GC Varsity squad at Homestead HS is Guerin Catholic junior, Erin Horrigan.

Erin Horrigan was not having it. She pressed me, because she knew that if she wasn’t there, the team would likely go without a manager all day. She’s a genuinely charitable and sunny soul who looks out not for her own interests, but has carried the burdensome GC tennis clipboard around with her all fall. The GC boys tennis team has 52 boys on it’s roster! Honestly, it’s an insanely large number of matches to keep track of each week, but Erin has been the backbone of the squad, keeping track of all the data, and helping to “herd the cats”. That’s the nicest analogy I can come up with for the hapless task with which she has been assigned.

Rather than counting herself as unfortunate or unlucky, Erin has smiled through the season– knowing she was needed. As I write these words today, I’m aiming for something more for her. I want her to also know I see her, and she’s so valued and appreciated! Erin is both sunny and encouraging. Some time back, I wrote down this quote that I really find compelling. It’s a tad tragic that I cannot locate the author to whom it should rightly be attributed, but I’ll share it all the same, because I feel strongly that Erin is off to a hot start in her young life where these sentiments are concerned.

What are the things that you can’t see that are important? I would say justice, truth, humility, service, compassion, love. You can’t see any of those, but they’re the guiding lights of a life.

After that hot, sweaty day in Ft. Wayne, I was sitting “shotgun” and she was seated directly behind me in the Thieme family Durango on the way home from the long day of tennis. She didn’t even complain when she had to endure the smelly tennis shoes and flat out “stank” of my youngest son who was seated next to her– after playing three tennis matches in the blazing sun. That was when I announced that she’s my official winner of the Shelly Thieme MVP Manager of the Year award. It’s a very prestigious honor, ha? Evidently, the “award” also comes with the glorious excitement of being named my “Mad for” Person of the Week post this week.

The world is simply a better place with Erin’s beautiful smile, stellar work ethic and positivity. Thank you, Erin, for being a bright light for those in your path!

Mad for…Mike

For who is greater: the one seated at table or the one who serves? Is it not the one seated at table? I am among you as the one who serves. (Luke 22:27)

Quietly improving the lives around them is the frequent choice of a soul with a servant’s heart. While I was wandering into the 11:00am mass yesterday, I noticed such a man quietly volunteering his time, yet again. He’s a great man of character and integrity, and there he was working diligently on the equipment at the rear of the sanctuary. His name is Mike Panasuk.

Mike is the husband of a beautiful wife named Alanna and he has two lovely young towheaded daughters. They are a trio of very blessed ladies to have a man like Mike in their daily lives.

The Panasuk family

Allow me to digress a moment and mention that I met Mike at Guerin Catholic High School several years ago. At the time, he was teaching Theater Arts. My oldest son was an awkward freshman at the time and struggling to find his way. Mr. Panasuk connected with Nick through their mutual love of sports. I found out pretty quickly that this guy was also a talented (former pro) football kicker. Imagine having that guy as your teacher as a sports-crazed 15 year old? That was nearly a decade ago. He still blesses the students in his care each day at GC, and I think he does it these days as a Business teacher. In any case, as the months and years ticked by, I learned that Mike is a talented videographer and photographer. If I’m completely honest, I consider him our family’s personal photographer, since every single photo of my sons that is worth having of their sports experiences at Guerin Catholic was taken by him. I’ve asked around, and guess what? There are many others who have similar tales to tell of general goodness he sprinkled upon their children or their family.

He’s thoughtful, courteous and understated when it comes to accepting the gratitude of others for the small kindnesses which often aren’t so small in the minds of those of us on the receiving end. Mike is an inspiring example of what it means to be the light of Christ by the way he lives his life. It’s something that seems to come naturally to him.

For the people of my parish, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Mike’s time and talent during the time of the pandemic made all the difference. I asked Rex Rund, who is the Director of Music and Liturgy at the parish to help me properly explain the good that Mike has accomplished for thousands of our parishioners and to thank him for his efforts. He said the following.

Yes! Mike’s been a hero! When we first started streaming masses, even from the Convent, MIke worked with Troy and Angela and the Sisters to set up all the right equipment (much of it his own personal equipment) with all the right settings so that the Sisters could operate it themselves so others wouldn’t have to come into the convent at the height of Covid.

When masses moved into the church after the renovation was done, Mike again used all his own equipment (cameras, laptop, interface, cables) AND manned at least one live-streamed mass every weekend (sometimes two) all the time the church was closed. Even after the church got it’s own equipment, Mike continues to man the live-stream almost every Sunday.

Without MIke’s expertise AND his generosity in time, talent and equipment, we would have been in a tough spot.

I couldn’t have summed up MIke’s sincere goodness or virtuous generosity of spirit any better. At this moment in the history of the world, there are so many people hanging on by a thread. Be like Mike. Be the thread.

Mad for…Todd

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others. (Phil 2: 3-4)

Our priorities are sometimes rearranged by love. One of my positivity heroes, Bob Goff, says it this way. “Every act of selfless love is a declaration of faith.” If that’s true, then my friend, Todd Metzger, is shouting rather loudly to the world about what it means to be a man of God.

The Metzger Family

A father of 4 nearly grown sons and the husband to a beautiful wife named Terri, I have gotten to know Todd mostly through the sport of tennis. The Metzger clan is pretty much tennis royalty at Guerin Catholic High School in Noblesville. We arrived late in their long run at GC. For the previous two years, the youngest of the Metzger boys, Cole, was a teammate of our son, Zach. In fact, Cole made quite a deep run in the state tennis tournament last year. It was such fun watching him play!

One day during our son’s freshman year, Todd noticed that Zach was struggling to hit an overhead in a match. He asked Z about it, and Z replied, “Well, Coach, I’ve never been taught how to hit one, so I don’t really know how to do it.” Our Z, you see, is a little bit of a tennis unicorn. He’s mostly self-taught. Sometimes, wonderful humans come along to save the day. He took an hour out of his life the next day to help a kid learn to hit an overhead. That’s Todd. He spent the whole off-season, in fact, teaching another young player this year on the team. That terrific kid, Sean Loub, considers him a mentor. Fine choice, Sean!

Coach Todd Metzger advising GC doubles team, Sean Loub and Rhys Garrison.

This fall, two of the Metzger boys are playing for the same college tennis team– the Depauw Tigers. It’s the one and only season that these two talented boys will be college teammates. It’s this fact that makes Todd’s ongoing commitment to helping with the Guerin Catholic Boys team an even more selfless act. Let me explain further.

Guerin Catholic’s beloved head coach, Chris Sciaudone, is a brain cancer fighting badass. The man shows up every single day that it’s remotely physically possible to coach the 50+ boys on his roster. They are clearly his passion. We are all so blessed to have such a coach! There were bound to be days, though, where it was simply not going to work. Chris’s ongoing treatments are no joke. Enter Coach Todd Metzger. There he was leading the squad at the GC Invitational, and again at the John Shirley…in 90+ degree heat all day long…volunteering his time and expertise.

In his quiet and humble way, Todd has chosen the path of charity, love, selflessness and kindness– for the boys, and for his friend. To me, he’s chosen the path of everyday holiness that we are all called to select. It’s beautiful and very inspiring. He’s full of character and owns the sort of depth of humanity that makes the world a better place.

From nearby, I have watched as Todd supports and loves his family while running his own small business. He’s employed endless numbers of high school youngsters over the years as they took on their first job in his warehouse. Respectful, kind, thoughtful and funny, Todd is simply the real deal. I don’t know what he feels interiorly, of course, but what he gives off to me is a sense of faithfulness and peace. It begins with his genuine smile and shines in his charitable attitude and generosity of spirit.

Thanks, friend, for showing us all the way it’s done. You make me want to break off a little piece of what you’ve got and BE LIKE TODD. I’d bet I’m not the only one..

Mad for…Colleen

Intense love does not measure, it just gives. – St. (Mother) Teresa of Calcutta

Once in a blue moon, I encounter a soul that instantly captivates me. Perfect measures of both holiness and smartassery are rarely found in the same person, I’ve noticed. Today, on the very appropriate feast day of St. Teresa of Calcutta, I’d like to introduce you to such a person– my new friend, Colleen DuLac.

Here I am, on the left, with my friend, Colleen, on the right.

Truly genuine, beautiful souls like Colleen are a gift from the Lord. This Jesus girl lives her faith every single day. A gifted and compassionate caregiver, Colleen has walked with many folks as they journey to the end of their lives and into eternity with Christ. She’s a mother, sister, aunt, daughter and friend. She’s suffered much in her life— physically, spiritually and emotionally. However, none of that pain has gone to waste. She uses what she’s learned to make the lives around her better by her presence.

I met Colleen when she began to help the Thieme family care for my father-in-law, Tom. He’s a gentle, but stubborn soul and does not always take up well with strangers. Colleen, though, is a faith-filled woman and a patriot who has a special affinity for all our military men and women who serve the country now, or who are veterans. She also adores helicopters and airplanes. These are affinities she has in common with Grandpa Tom, and she played that common interest card perfectly with our family patriarch. He really didn’t want any strangers in his house even before his cancer battle got serious and he clearly needed us to pour forth some intrusion. He’s not the extrovert his wife was, for sure. So, Colleen simply became his friend, and developed fast rapport. She’s grace filled. The Lord blessed her with incredible patience and warmth, gifts she passes to others in heaping, ornery, “smart-alecky” spoonfuls. She is not afraid to look you in the eye and speak truth, but those glorious, sparkly things are so full of love that one can’t even hold it against her when the truth is tough. THIS is an awesome human being. She’s smart as a whip and can accompany a confused or hard of hearing patient to the doctor and take perfect notes, ask the important questions…and humble enough to see that the bathroom just really needs to be cleaned and simply step up to offer another human being dignity in their daily life. To be an integrity-filled truth teller who cares for others, meets them where they are…well…that’s what it means to be the face of Jesus to those in need. Just like Mother Teresa did, she looks gritty in the eye and sees only our Lord, and she wants to be His hands. It’s incredibly inspiring.

Also? She likes her morning coffee…and my friends St. Francis and St. JPII. When I heard she once got on a flight to Italy with like 30 minutes notice so she could be there when he finished his magnificent work here for the rest of us on planet earth, it made my soul smile. She’s a woman after my own Polish pope loving heart.

It seems to me that the world wants us to overlook heroes like Colleen. These are tumultuous times for sure. However, yesterday while I was at the Purdue football game, I noticed something important. The entire crowd of Ross-Ade stadium got up on their feet and applauded (at some length) while the photos of many military men and women were flashed on the jumbo-tron. They stood again to thank the military pilots who showed up on the field because the weather was too crummy for them to do their planned flyover. They yelled “I am an American” with one voice during the pre-game festivities. It was as if we are all a little more in love with one another, and mostly a notch or two better than we’ve been led to believe, by social media or our TV screens. This made me realize how important it is to be fully present and notice the heroes around us, the folks who make the world more light-filled. This is the best time to become saintly. When it’s difficult to live in a virtuous way, when the world tells us that being Christian isn’t a valid perspective, I think this is the time to look at each other with love in our hearts and minds. Be like Colleen.

So. My little “Mad for” series is back. I’ve decided I’ll reboot this series, making it a weekly for the next year. I’ll introduce you to a “person of the week” starting with TODAY– this Labor Day weekend– and my friend, Colleen (Conner) DuLac is my first victim. As I have said before, and will likely say again, she’s a big scoop of awesome sauce. Nominations are welcome, as always. I make up the rules as I go along, folks. Stay tuned for more inspiring humans. They’re everywhere.

Peace out.

Stomp on his Ugly Head

The folly of humanity, and me chief among those humans, is forgetting that the devil does not desire peace.  He sows discord and chaos.  It occurred to me this morning that I’ve been falling right into his trap.  I mean, it wasn’t intentional.  Life is just a clown fiesta sometimes.  I’ll be honest, the words I wanted to use there were closer synonyms to “feces festival” than the ones I chose, ha? 

A friend I hadn’t spoken to in several weeks checked in yesterday.  She shared about her life and family and I began drifting off as she wound down.  You see, I knew this good woman well.  I was cool as a cucumber, energetic and sunny while she was updating me on her life—the positives and the negatives.  But, I knew what was next.  She was about to turn my way and drill down to find out how I was doing.  I panicked. My life suddenly became an interior slide show. 

Should I tell her that I haven’t had a working oven since Thanksgiving?  Maybe I could share that I’m down two toilets and can’t get a plumber to call me back?  Leading with the end stage cancer of my father-in-law seems like a downer. No, not that.  Ditto goes for the tears I have been shedding for my friend, Chris, the rock star tennis coach who happens to be in the hospital (again) as he fights brain cancer.  There’s the dreadful sadness that washes over me because I haven’t seen my sister or nieces in over a year, mom’s knee refuses to heal, dad’s heart is sketchy and Uncle Don just had his kidney removed.  Sigh.  Hmm…well, maybe… I can tell her about how my house is covered with a nice layer of spackle from Drew removing most of the drywall in large chunks as he brought his “free” couch from the basement to take to Purdue.  Yes, that could be funny if delivered well!  I’ll go with that!  Or, I could tell her about my corneas being infected.  I mean she wanted to know why I had glasses on anyway….

I guess you get the idea.  We’re all carrying crosses and have laundry lists of worries, big and small.  However, I am a woman of faith and I have more than momentarily fallen for the devil and his tricks of late.  He’s after all of us that work against him.  It’s true.  There is no doubt I am working against him with all my might, so why was I caught so off guard?  I’m human.  That’s why.  Suddenly in my head were the words of Padre Pio.  “Joy, with peace, is the sister of charity.  Serve the Lord with laughter.”

So, I straightened up my crown and went to tell on him to my (heavenly) mom, like any right-thinking child would do in the middle of a minor tantrum. After all, she’s the freaking Queen of Heaven and earth! I silently asked Mary to stomp on the devil’s ugly head, right after I said a quick Memorare. She did it too. My friend and I had a nice talk and I left her remembering how much I value authentic friends. We giggled about the antics of our children and how I become even louder and sillier after only one glass of sangria. We discussed how we both like our coffee to taste more like a milkshake. Treasured friends, and their badassery in my life are a gift from the Lord.

There will always be brokenness, chaos, and rejection.  For some of the folks around me, the higher than usual amount of division caused by politics, media, coronaviruses, culture, religion…it has made them turn their backs on the Lord just like I did by focusing on all that was not going my way.  It’s hard to see Him from that angle, friends.  TURN AROUND.  He’s right here with us!!

So, after I turned to St. Padre Pio and the Blessed Mother to find my joy…guess what?  It was like I had been driving through a terrible rainstorm and suddenly the windshield wipers started to work.  It was still raining, but abruptly, I could see.

I’d like to run it back on my week.  What does it look like if I shine the light of Christ on the mayhem?  Let me tell you!  In my week, there was a beautiful rosary service, led by the GC tennis team for their coach.  Dozens of folks showed up with little advance notice at the GC grotto.  It was a heartwarming experience I had forgotten when I was running my black cloud slide show.

What else? My oldest son, Nick, drove home from Cincinnati to help pack up his brother, Drew, and move him into his apartment for his last year at Purdue. Six hours of driving plus all the sweating and heavy lifting was how he chose to love his family. Something went very right with those boys. That event happened the very same day as Zach’s first tennis match of the season. GC might have lost to Fishers that day, but Z and his partner, Ty Harrington, won their match. Both Thieme brothers, along with Z’s grandparents were there for the tennis. In the stands next to them were a whole pile of supportive Harringtons, including one brand new brother-in-law. In front of them all, there was that ornery coach I love so much. He sat with his knees nearly touching the fence courtside while he watched their every shot, despite the fact that he felt pretty miserable. All of the love in one place was so powerful that one could not miss the presence of the Lord. My niece, Katie, finished basic training at West Point. Her strength, patriotism, and strong faith give me hope for the future. Also, I attended the first all school mass at Guerin Catholic in over a year today. The joyfulness was palpable, and the loud, glorious praise music lifted the souls of all present!

20 seconds of joy from Guerin Catholic’s Golden Voice!

Additionally, my dear friend Renee?  She lugged a huge, heavy toaster oven to that mass in her car.  She found out about my months long oven crisis and wanted me to have something besides a poorly working crockpot with which to feed my family and my father-in-law. How thoughtful and kind!! That’s called being the face of Jesus!

Here’s my point. The Lord loves each of us more than we love our own children, or our most beloved friends and family. That’s because He’s God, and we are not. I plead with you to not turn your back on your faith or the Lord. We need to remember the rock of the Church, Peter. He so loved the Lord that he literally knew he could walk on water at the word of Christ. He was doing it, too…until he took his eyes off Jesus. KEEP YOUR EYES ON JESUS!! Don’t look somewhere else or walk away. Walk away to what? You want to live your clown festival without Jesus? Umm, hard pass for me. There will always be brokenness in our lives and the lives around us. I’m firmly on team Jesus for the duration.

My prayers will continue. They’ll be for all of us—you and me. As we withstand the wiles of evil, let’s remember why we are here and where we are going. Maybe that’s why God has me here in this spot at this moment in time with the struggles and blessings I have been given. Maybe you and I can step in and be His face to someone who needs us to say, “I see you.” That’s not so hard. I can make eye contact, see people. Acknowledge them. I hope I always show up with the damn toaster oven like Renee did, instead of ignoring or stonewalling others. I want to meet your gaze, greet you, see you. The very least we can do to love is make eye contact—see others with the eyes of Christ. Heaven is our home. He sees you. You are loved.

“Deep within us—no matter who we are—there lives a feeling of wanting to be lovable, of wanting to be the kind of person that others like to be with.  And the greatest thing we can do is let people know that they are loved and capable of loving.”  –Fred Rogers

Hail, Holy Queen

I’ve always been drawn to the Blessed Mother. Even as a little girl, I remember stopping outside the church doors on my way to my grandparents house when the organist was practicing. She often played “Hail, Holy Queen Enthroned Above” which I found magical. I didn’t quite understand how the fullness of the Lord’s love for us was revealed in this one incredible woman at that time. However, I intuited beauty and peace.

A couple years ago, my pastor implored me to familiarize myself with the Memorare. It’s a prayer which calls on the Blessed Mother for her powerful intercession. It quickly made its way into my prayer lexicon, and now I consider it a favorite for its efficaciousness. If you’re still reading this, I’ve likely prayed it for you and your intentions or needs. So, this is me admitting I’m kind of a Mary freak alongside my Jesus girl tendencies. It sort of makes sense. After all, we can learn a lot about anyone by looking at their mother, am I right?

Last week, a lovely Christian friend confided that she just was made aware of a Catholic Holy Day she had never heard of previously. Now, I should share that this woman is incredibly kind and also not a Catholic. She spoke candidly to me, “Shelly, I don’t get it. How is all this Mary stuff supposed to help us humans? I mean I like you and my Catholic friends are good people, but I just don’t get the point of the Assumption, or just your whole obsession with Mary.”

I’m thankful she felt comfortable to ask, and also that I have smart people to lean on who explain things better than me! I gave her a great video by Bishop Robert Barron on Mary. And also, I shared the following personal thoughts.

I told her that Mary, in her heavenly glory, reminds us that this life isn’t our end game. We are aiming higher, for a glorious forever home in eternity. We have to live with our eyes fixed beyond the here and now, and on the beauty of heaven.

This reality is so darn helpful at this moment in time. That’s because the stresses and anxieties of today, then, can’t be permitted to overwhelm us. We’re human and we foul this up sometimes, but we need to look to the example of Our Blessed Mother. That means, we can’t allow the craziness of this world to steal our peace.

The Assumption of Mary (Guido Reni, 1642)

Pope Benedict said, “The luminous sign of Our Lady taken up into Heaven shines out even more brightly when sad shadows of suffering and violence seem to loom on the horizon. We may be sure of it: from on high, Mary follows our footsteps with gentle concern, dispels the gloom in moments of darkness and distress, reassures us with her motherly hand.”

What a beautiful explanation of the Assumption, and the wonderful intercessor we have in Mary!

I hope I helped my friend understand just a little bit more about the reason I love so fiercely the Mother of Our Lord. If not her, maybe one of you…but I’ll leave those outcomes to grace.

Have a great week everyone, and if you find yourself at low ebb, call on Mary. What do you have to lose by giving her a shout out? Just saying. Worth a shot?

Queen of Heaven…Pray for Us!!

And it burns, burns, burns…

Yesterday, I had a case of the blues. Honestly, there’s no good reason for this. Maybe I was fixating a little on the craziness of the world, my “should have done” list, or all my recent screw ups. Maybe I just had too much time on my hands on a Sunday afternoon. Losses loomed large and sometimes I stare too long at negative stuff. I’m a menopausal woman who had an extra itchy case of hives all over my neck this week, you all. I’ve been a pitiful woman on a Benadryl drip. “Pitiful” is just flat out how I roll some days, ha? I believe I may have texted a friend this week, “Life sucks and then you die.” I was laughing when I did that, but I think I’ve painted an accurate picture of my recent shortage of awesome sauce? Luckily for me, when I invited myself on a Sunday drive with my cute boyfriend, he complied. We ended up at the Boat House up in Cicero, which happened to be featuring the live music of a guy named Alex who nicknamed me “magenta pants” and then he played “Ring of Fire” for me while I drank a delicious sangria next to Tom. I sang along with Alex and the crowd gathered around us for over an hour. The poor guy played well past his contracted time, because the evening was glorious and the folks gathered kept throwing money in his tip jar and asking for more. Tom’s solicitude was thoughtful. I don’t think he really knew the extent to which I was struggling this week, but he was helpful and kind all the same to humor me with that spontaneous Sunday adventure.

Tom and I at the Boathouse in Cicero
The famous magenta pants…
I feel like his name was Alex Camp? I could be wrong. He kept referring to himself as “Swedish Porcelein” which made me laugh. The sun, you see, was doing a number on his fair complexion. In any case, he had pipes! The guy can sing.

Ah, kindness.  It’s sort of like giving someone an interest-free, yet powerfully priceless loan.  It’s a handful of encouragement, and love.  It’s the antidote to loneliness.  The kindest people I know seem to have the innate understanding that everyone is struggling.  There’s not a person on the planet who isn’t carrying a cross.  Yes, even that perfectly coiffed gal driving the decked out Lexus.  The same goes for the handsome Dad pulling out of the gated community down the road whose son is the all-state quarterback.  Yep.  Them too.

It took me decades to grasp this very basic concept.  A lovely (and totally badass) new friend and I were chatting this week over coffee about how this fact was revealed most powerfully for the two of us in the same way– on a retreat at church.  For both of us, it happened to be a CRHP retreat.  That’s very Catholic thing.  In fact, I think they’ve re-tooled it and invented it again under another name.  The basic construct though was that a group of women would gather together for the weekend to pray and (hopefully) grow in their faith, while another group of women gave the retreat.  Those amazing folks on the “giving” team would share through a series of talks, their personal life experiences and the challenges contained therein. I’m confident that religious denominations all around us have similar terrific offerings. I encourage you to try one if given the opportunity.  Inevitably, what was ultimately revealed is that the Lord is phenomenal and amazing and He can always find a way to turn our hot messes into a road that leads us back to Him.  

These women were often authentic and raw.  To glimpse what is genuine is such a freaking awesome gift.  They were highly educated professionals, homemakers, waitresses, and every other walk of life one can imagine.  Often, the folks who had inspired in me a little envy when I sat behind them at mass each Sunday would stand up and reveal the heaviest and most ridiculous crosses I could fathom.  Some had lost their parents as children, others had lost their children as parents, some had been the victims of abuse, there was infertility, debilitating depression, cancer, and even unspeakable violence.  Yet here they were, telling me about God’s love.  I was blown away.  They were struggling souls, just like me.  It was eye-opening.  That first retreat really did melt my armor, and I found myself casting aside judgments I had made that just evaporated once I realized my ignorance.

All this seems worth sharing today, because I’m a little gotten by my own weaknesses, and my prayer list at the moment. It contains the names of friends for whom the following are current realities: C has brain cancer, D had a kidney removed, C is fighting breast cancer, D lost his brother to suicide, T is fighting ovarian cancer, G is dying from colon cancer, M and K are fighting depression, M just lost her dad, R is helping his mom transition to a nursing home, P has a chronic, progressive, uncurable disease whose name escapes me, J is reeling from divorce, L has an eating disorder, B is losing her cancer battle, D lost her husband to Covid, D is fighting depression, C has a lifelong chronic disease, W has been deployed to a dangerous part of the world, M had a 2nd stroke, C got a scary diagnosis, and E has leukemia.

You guys, this is not the entire list.  These are simply the folks at the top, and I feel honored that I’ve been asked to pray for them.  I’d bet if you asked the people around you about who in their lives need prayer, you’d find yourself with a similar list.  Prayer is incredibly powerful, and I’d urge you to get in the game if you aren’t yet.

Here’s the thing…sometimes we can do a little more too.  I got a complaint this week about one of the men on this list.  It seems that he was being an impossible PIA.  My dear friend, (the plaintiff in this case, ha?) sounded a whole lot like I often do. Whiny. “He’s difficult, and he doesn’t return my messages!  It’s so rude!  I mean apparently he’s too busy playing golf to reply to me.  I’m so over it!”

Knowing more of the evidence than our “plaintiff” here, I replied, “Listen. I’m not saying you should let anyone take you for granted.  Before you say or do something you might regret, try approaching again, without the edge in your voice?  What if you give him the benefit of the doubt?”

Not wanting to say more than I should, I felt that was the best I could do.  After all, I was asked to pray.  This does not equal permission to share a private struggle with others.  

I’ve mulled this situation over and I consulted with some wise, practical friends on how to handle difficult people.  What it comes down to is this.  We’ve simply got to pause, and take a deep breath, and remember that life is fragile and so are the people living them. We are Christian, therefore we are called to BE THE LOVE to whomever shows up in our path.  We must suspend our own egos, show empathy, and be kind.  That, my friends, is how we help others find Jesus.  God is love.

I’m not suggesting all the schmucks displaying contemptible or base behavior deserve our kindness.  I’m often “insufficiently refined for the situation” myself and my utter lack of patience leads me to be abrupt, or to feel that a little condescending sarcasm can be justified.  It’s not.  

Look, I’m not suggesting you and I should always tolerate rotten behavior. I highly doubt that with my temperament I’m even capable of it myself. Also, I’m not advocating for toxic positivity. You know what I mean, right? It’s not normal or good for us to expect ourselves or others to “be positive” all the time. That said, I’m working towards living a life where I can be at the very least civil to even the highly objectionable behavior on the grounds it might merely be triggered by pain, and not egocentricity. I’d like to be a kind person. Yes, even to jerks. Do you know why? Because mean is the easy way out and I’m not lazy. I am a kind person who is deeply in love with Jesus, and grateful to God for His goodness.

And so, now, I am circling back to that Johnny Cash song I requested last night. That guy was a broken man too, but sheesh, he could sing! June Cash might have written her famous song about falling into a forbidden love with the man she eventually married, but she was right about one thing. Love is a burning thing. There’s no doubt about it. It can drive us to greatness, if we let it.

“Act in a way that tall those who come in contact with you will go away joyful.  Sow happiness about you because you have received much from God.”  –St. Faustina

Now, I’m a Junior

“My last actual year of school was 8th grade. Now, I’m a junior.”

Last night, these words spoken by my youngest son gave me pause. Holy cow, he’s absolutely right, I thought. Z clearly feels ill at ease about his reality and somewhat unprepared to be a high school upperclassman. In all honesty, it seems equally obvious the very fact that he’s recently turned 17 seems somewhat shocking to him. It’s as if in a ludicrous, peculiar way, time has stood still in his mind. All the while, it’s been marching cruelly forward without his permission. Our lives have all been a little kooky, am I right? They never quite go as we planned.

My gut response upon realizing Z’s frame of mind over the last few weeks was interior unease, anxiety, and perhaps even a little mama bear despair over the losses and trials of his academic life… and the costs to he and his fellow young people from a developmental perspective and with relation to spiritual formation experiences lost during the COVID-19 insanity. I mean for gosh sakes, his confirmation prep was done over zoom with a group of young people he never met in person even once, and how do you learn chemistry by watching someone over a video do the labs you’d normally be doing in person yourself?

A gal can let herself into quite a lather over things about which she has no control. Also, the Lord is in charge here and Zach’s life ultimately belongs to the one who loves him most. Perhaps I need to once again look at things in the light of eternity and encourage him to do the same?

The Holy Spirit still showed up at Z’s confirmation, by the way, even though there were less than a dozen of us in the pews at that lovely mass. He also passed all his classes with flying colors even though every single one of them contained more virtual classroom experiences than one really needs in a lifetime. He was also a valuable member of his high school tennis and basketball teams. The Lord ordained all of this, just as He made each of us for the where and when of our Covid-timed lives. None of this is by chance or error, and our good God loves my son MORE than I do, because, well, HE’S GOD AND I’M NOT!!

Fr. Richard with Z on the date of his confirmation

Sinners that we are, by the way, we don’t deserve the best. Sometimes, it feels like we think we do. Actually, we don’t deserve anything. That said, God is still out there waving His freak flag full of love over each one of us weirdos, with good plans for each of us. In order for us to be truly happy, I hate to break it to you, but we have to surrender control. Just the thought of that concept makes me want to scream, “NOOOOOOOOO!!!” I’m not sure all of you have picked up on it yet, but you’ll not be shocked to find out my amazing mom STILL calls me “bossy moo cow.”

Here’s the thing. At every single mass, when the priest holds Jesus up for us all to see and be seen by Him, I always quietly tell Him that I love Him and I ask Him to help me love Him more. The Lord is crazy amazing at answering solid prayers like that one. He is always giving us opportunities to grow closer to Him and work on our failures and weaknesses.

For instance, I’ve been whining and complaining to just about everyone within earshot about my eyes. Both corneas are infected and have some damage and for reasons as yet unknown, the damage isn’t healing as expected. In the meantime, I’m fine, and wearing my old and rather ill-fitting glasses. I’m a super sweaty human, and now I’m also extra light sensitive. So, picture me with my glasses under giant old man wrap around sunglasses purchased from Walgreens. You know the ones. I was on my daily walk with 100% humidity today, basically wearing the equivalent of two layered ski goggles. I seriously could not have been sweatier. I had to take off both pairs of glasses about every 100 yards to wipe off my face while attempting to not walk my sorry blind rear end into a tree or off a curb. Did I mention I’m blind as a bat without the aid of my contacts or glasses? It’s the most irritating, patience testing experience. Also, I am grateful to God. He’s exposed me and my sorry, asininely impatient self. AGAIN. I’m pretty sure He’s up there laughing at me as I struggle. “She said she wanted to LOVE more.” Ah yes. We can’t be love to the next guy (which is one of the main ways we love Jesus, you all) if we are short-tempered control freaks.

Me, with my multiple pairs of glasses on.

Here’s what I know. Practice makes perfect. I thanked Jesus for the glorious sunshine and the stunning flowers as I walked and “glistened” today. How blessed am I that I have the gift of sight? I apologized to the Lord for taking this great gift for granted. Also, the effort to triumph over impatience, or an ill-temper, or the desire to control our lives and those of our loved ones, or lack of charity…whatever the weakness or sin might be…is a victory. When we give ourselves and our sins over to the Lord, we’ve won the spiritual combat for the day and our souls experience peace and joy. Self-control, the ability to correct our thoughts to be steeped in gratitude and trust in God, these are the things which lead us to kind hearts, words, and deeds. I’m working on it.

I read in a book recently called, The Hidden Power of Kindness that “Whenever your soul cherishes a gracious thought, it is as if God see His own Being reflected in a silent, sacred likeness. A kind thought is like the image of the Savior in your soul. God beholds it and rejoices at it and blesses your soul because your thoughts and sentiments are so much as His own heart.” Oh yes, I’d like a slice of that!

So, today I’m trying to remember that God is in control. I’m learning to trust Him, and to thank Him even when He’s a wee bit annoying. Finally, I’m remembering that I have a lot more time to be kind and spread the light of Christ when I’m slightly less focused on myself, and the pruning the Lord is doing in my life.

Jesus, it’s not a mistake that I am living in insecure times in a place that’s difficult and sometimes frightening. Please help me to draw my security from You and not from the world around me. Show me how I can be Your instrument of peace and healing here and now, how I can shine with your love and joy, and how I can share the good news of who You are with those around me. Amen.

Down the Rabbit Hole…

Under this innocent and pretty little boxwood lies the entrance to the rabbit hole.

Last night, my youngest son anxiously and loudly called me to the back window urgently.  He said, “Mom!  Look at all the rats!!”  I believe my reply was something super articulate and helpful like “Oh hell no!”

But then, I looked.  It wasn’t rats.  It was bunnies.  Lots of them.  It appeared to me that a wild bunny had given birth to like a dozen more and they evidently burrowing in an endlessly deep tunnel in a raised plant bed just a couple feet from my back door.  This is NOT what we want, but it does explain why all the sudden my boxwoods are dying. The roots are being eaten.  Also, the internet paints a scary scenario of where this bunny situation could be if I don’t intervene quickly.  I mean, I’m not looking to be a bunny murderer, but did you know they can give birth every thirty days to litters of a dozen or more that pretty much eat every living plant in the vicinity?  I mean what do I know?  Maybe it’s fake news, but that’s what Google says, so who am I to argue? HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM.

Most of us are familiar with the phrase “going down the rabbit hole” and we know that it is a metaphor meant to explain how we can cause ourselves no end of trouble by descending into a bad state by our own poor choices. 

I’m grasping the concept a little more now, both literally and figuratively.

During lent, I gave up some social media.  Twitter is especially bad for me, I’d learned.  So I decided to take a break.  However, in my quest to stay abreast of current news, I picked up a couple of news sources that are emailed to me each day.  You’ve seen the quote that applies here, right?  “Don’t let anyone else ruin your day.  It’s your day.  Ruin it yourself.”  HA?  This morning, the very first thing I did (before saying “good morning” to my husband or saying “good morning” to Jesus) was read a news item.  (Cue the dark scary voice of Vincent Price from MJ’s Thriller album).  The title of the story was, “Birthing People”. 

You see, apparently, a congresswoman from Missouri referred to women as “birthing people” during her testimony before some House subcommittee, because they banned the use of gender-specific terms like “mother” and “father.”  I was highly amused, but also a little more than riled.  I sent the story to a few of my friends.  And you see, that’s where the rabbit hole comes in.

My snarky commentary about being super pumped for my “Birthing Person’s Day Blessing” at mass on Sunday did NOT help anyone’s day begin in a joyful or godly manner.  EPIC FAIL.

“To live in love is to sail forever, spreading seeds of joy and peace in hearts.”  –St. Therese

So, now you see why I love Trixie so much.  This saint is a woman who reminds me by the example of her life what is important and what we are truly meant to do.  We are meant to LOVE. 

I vowed to work to shine a litter brighter with the rest of my weekend, and to be the type of person that draws people to goodness and makes them feel loved and fully alive. I hope you and I spend our days doing more listening, noticing, and caring…instead of heading down the rabbit hole of negativity.  This week, I saw that Franklin Graham said, “We are living in an increasingly secular and anti-God culture.  We need to let our light shine in the darkness.”  A to the MEN, Rev. Graham. 

So, this morning, I wasn’t so impressive. We’re all full of weaknesses and imperfections. We can beat ourselves up and continue down the rabbit hole if we choose. I chose to begin again. Every single time I get it wrong, that’s what I must do. You must do the same. The Lord needs all of us who love Him to do our part, folks. If not us, who?

“Speak words of hope.  Be human in this most inhuman of ages.  Guard the image of man for it is the image of God.”  –Thomas Merton