The Coronavirus Birthday

Memorare

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, I fly to you, O Virgin of virgins my Mother; to you do I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in your mercy hear and answer me. Amen.

The Annunciation, Henry Ossawa Tanner

I’ve been trying hard to focus on just being present where I am these last several days. The presence of three large humans with all their calorie consuming, excessive laundry, and eLearning insanity makes it a tad impossible to NOT be acutely aware of exactly what is happening today. Noticing the moment is easy when the TV is being utilized to create a virtual NCAA March Madness tournament, and when between belching contests the conversation really is a continual questioning of one another’s manhood. Typically, my random weekdays do not contain, well…any of those things. Much to my dismay, the Thieme men also seem to be growing “corona beards”. I complained about this to my pastor, and he laughed and declared it a perfectly fine response considering how their lives are largely outside their control currently. I mean, WHATEVER! He isn’t the one who has to look at that scary, partial puberty THING attached to Zach’s face all day long. Damn it, Fr. Richard, ha?!!

It’s not all fun and games here, though.  Just like at your house, the 5 of us (along with many folks in our circle) have challenges to face that none of us were expecting.  I’d name some, but I don’t need to.  If you’re alive in March 2020, you already know.  Nothing is normal, but that doesn’t mean we can’t press on, go on living even amid adversity.  I don’t know about you, but I find I’m learning what my deepest identity really is about. 

Today is the Solemnity of the Annunciation in the Catholic Church, and its timing seems fitting to me.  I read a little sentence today by Deacon Keith Fournier which seems like a golden nugget.  He said, “Mary’s prayer teaches us to stay afloat in the ocean of life, with all of its underflows.”

I remember the Franciscan sisters who taught me in grade school telling me as an 8th grader that she was likely about my age then (14 or so) when the angel Gabriel appeared to her.  What the what?  I was shocked by that.  Mary was a young woman, a phenomenal instrument of divine grace, in the middle of her extremely ordinary life.  For me, she’s the ultimate wake-up call to remind me what divinity exists in all of us. 

God called an unremarkable teenage girl and after she paused for a moment, perhaps a bit confused, she answered with “I am the handmaiden of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your Word.” 

A few years back, there was a blizzard here in Indiana on my birthday.  Schools were closed for the day, and my parents were stuck in Carmel with us overnight.  We laughed, built a snowman, and played cards all day.  It was a memorable event, because typically I plant pansies in the front flowerpots to celebrate the occasion of my birthday.  It’s my own personal “spring is coming” rite of passage each year.  Honestly, I thought mother nature’s blizzard birthday couldn’t be topped, but this year, the coronavirus kinda said “hold my beer” to that.

Here’s the thing. No one loves birthdays like me. I just adore them—yours and mine!! Some folks are low key about these events. I am NOT THAT GIRL. I typically search out the birthdays of friends fairly quickly into the connection. Loving people up, even against their will…it’s my favorite. We should all have a moment where we reflect to celebrate the gift of life. It’s important and holy. That’s my view. I have been praying A LOT EXTRA and so the Holy Spirit had already been tugging at me to just enjoy the day as I awoke on my 49th birthday (which happened yesterday). As surreal as the world seems, I was determined to do just that. Keep in mind, I am the consummate extrovert, so this cloister concept (while necessary) is positively maddening, and not my idea of the perfect birthday celebration—at all!!

As my day began, I re-read a passage from a book I loved which solidified for me my instruction from the Lord for the day. In it, the author recounts being greeted by a poor man who appeared at her office with the words, “Good morning! I came to greet you!” She went on to say that was ALL he wanted. To greet her, like an angel of annunciation was his sole reason for visiting. He might as well have said, “Take off your shoes- this is holy ground.”

Be present, God ordered.  I am right here waiting for you, He said.  This is the overwhelming goodness that exploded all over me.  Just let the day happen, Shelly, and see how God loves you.

A text came through from my dear friend Lisa.  She proposed “a social distancing walk” for my birthday.  It was chilly and we wore hats and winter coats, but it was DIVINE.  She wrote me a beautiful note, a great gift for a girl whose love language is certainly words of affirmation.

On my porch was a handmade card and flowers from my friend Ann.  It was covered with photos of so many of the people I love.  “Friends are those rare people who ask how we are and then wait to hear the answer,” she wrote while offering a virtual birthday hug.

A package came from my sis, and my niece Maddie sent me sampling of her piano playing talents playing “Happy Birthday” on the keyboards from Chicago via the Marco Polo app.  We giggled back and forth as a family all day on that silly bit of technology.

My parents, who have never missed a single birthday in my life, ordered a birthday cake at Meijer and had Nick pick it up along with flowers.  They sang to me too, once I let them know it had arrived.

A bag full of toilet paper, purell, hand soap and Kleenex (among other thoughtful items) was dropped on my doorstep by the Zimmerman family.  Oh my goodness I cackled at their thoughtfulness and creativity! 

The Thieme guys and I ate take out from Boom Bozz and we overtipped the staff.  I opened a thoughtful gift from Tom (thanks Renee for the assist!!) and the boys each presented me with a “Dear Mom” love letter.  They will find them again tucked deep in a drawer after I am buried, by the way.  Holy cow.  You guys.  I tried not to be so all up in my feelings, but I read them again this morning and the lump in my throat was for real.  I did exactly nothing to deserve such wonderful sons.  Heck, they even agreed to watch the Mr. Rogers movie with me—the one starring Tom Hanks.  I have to admit that for the Thieme men, this movie turned out to be a comedy.  It wasn’t intended to be, but the cardigan, creepy puppets, poor singing and the land of imagination….they didn’t translate well for my young men who wondered quite audibly “what the hell was your childhood about anyway?”  I shut down the judgement just a skosh when I began singing the old “Clean up” song they remembered a certain giant purple dinosaur used to sing when they were kids.  There was plenty of laughter, so I’m calling it a birthday win.

My phone lit up all day with funny texts and sappy notes, while birthday greetings filled up my Facebook feed. 

My pastor and friend?  He offered his private mass for me.  That kindness TOOK MY BREATH AWAY. 

It turns out, the coronavirus birthday was a whole lot of beautiful. It was an explosion of kindness and love.  I snuck in some extra prayers for those who had asked, and a few who hadn’t and thanked God more authentically than I had in a long time.  There were tears of gratitude. 

I finished the day understanding once more that we can bring joy by being kind, change a life with kindness, we can literally infect others with our good deeds. It’s an outflowing of love which is born of God. He can use us all to scatter blessings if we just cooperate the tiniest little bit. This March, life is less busy. I know I don’t usually stop long enough to cherish them all or give thanks for the love He wants to give us which is more than we can fathom.

Yesterday, I had an experience of the holy.  It wasn’t a big event, it was more like people throwing a few pieces of popcorn at me all day long.  Yet, the presence of Christ was powerfully clear to me.  

It lead me to this thought today.  The central focus of the Annunciation is the Incarnation.  God has become one of us.  Mary has an important role in God’s divine plan.

The thing is, not unlike us right now, the circumstances Mary found herself in must have seemed more than a little surreal. Think about it. She was to become the mother of the Lord, and that sounds kinda cool to us 2000 years later…but in practical terms? Not to be crass, but she was a pregnant virgin? Umm. How’s that gonna sell? She had to wonder what was ahead. But the battle wasn’t hers. She simply issued her fiat and said YES to the Lord. She trusted Him with her life. It seems to me today to be the perfect example of faithfulness for a time such as this.

Today on my walk, I saw only a few cars.  The streets were empty, and behind us a truck came.  It honked and pulled around us a tad closely and a bit too aggressively. It flat out wasn’t that cool of a thing to do on a neighborhood street full of walkers and more kids out playing than normal.  On another day, I might have been irked or even given the guy a dirty look.  Instead, I prayed for him on my way home.  Perhaps he just lost his job?  Maybe he worked a long shift at a hospital?  How am I to know?

I’ve been trying hard to focus on just being present where I am these last several days. Nothing is normal, but lets just do one day at a time, huh? Let’s do our little part, be a little EXTRA. I want to be for others the exact thing all of you were for me yesterday- the face of Jesus. I can’t maybe do anything big, but I can throw my piece of popcorn.

God’s in charge here.  He’s not afraid of the coronavirus.  It’s time to tell our mountain how big our God is, folks. 

“My past, O Lord, to Your mercy, my present to Your love; my future to Your providence.  (St. Padre Pio) 

A Kindness Pandemic

For lack of attention, a thousand forms of loveliness elude us everyday.  –Evelyn Underhill

It’s not worth your time, Jesus. I’ll be fine and other people are in much worse shape.

But see the thing is, the Lord isn’t fooled by our pride.  He knows what troubles us, and He wants to help us bear our crosses, whatever it is that is burdening our hearts.  This is true even when we feel like we are being melodramatic and ungrateful as we compare our suffering to others. 

Small wounds can still mean deep suffering.  “Trust God at all times, my people!  Pour out your hearts to God our refuge.”  There is our instruction.  Right there in Psalm 62.  He knows what we need before we ask, but He wants us to ask. 

So, if you’re thinking, “It’s nothing major” but it’s bothering you nevertheless…get over yourself. Snap out of it! If we over-entertain our feelings, we can easily lose sight of the Lord. Lonely stinks. Talk to Jesus!

The advice, above, is excellent. In different forms, the same message has been shared with me over time by some folks I consider to be spiritual giants, and I’ve passed it along to others the best I can. Over many cups of latte, I’ve assured a few amazing humans that I don’t want them to censor themselves around me. I’ve stopped friends mid-sentence when they say things like “I hope this doesn’t sound bad, but…”

Be a freak.  Act like a lunatic.  I still love you.  That’s what I hear myself say.  Over and over.  I mean it, and I believe God does too.

A few days ago, in the “olden times” when Starbucks still had comfy chairs you could use inside their establishments, a new friend was sharing about her meltdown.  You see, her daughter has a severely compromised respiratory system and she’s frightened by this coronavirus.  She has already lost one child.  Her worry had her texting me a bit more frantically than usual last week, and she was right in the middle of judging herself over her degree of neediness.  I told her to CUT IT OUT.  Not the neediness, but the apologies.  She persisted, explaining that I seem to be so calm, so firmly fixed—sensible and sane.  She worried how she sounded. 

She sounded to me like a mother who loves her daughter fiercely.

Ah, I thought.  She hasn’t met my crazy, needy, loud parts yet.  Poor woman has no idea what’s coming the moment she least expects it, because I have impressive capacity for sudden psychotic episodes of melodrama.  I told her I am not keeping score, and I meant it.  I showed her a text I had sent to Tom at work the previous day.  I’m going to share (an edited version) of it here.  For context, as my college aged sons were in various degrees of duress over the cancellation of college classes, I explained to my patient husband that I was a shit show and that I had just said this prayer to the Lord.

“God. I am over it. Just all of it. The coronavirus BS. The classes cancelled, economy tanking, people hoarding toilet paper, graduations canceled…and don’t get me started on all the priests moving. This, and more Lord…just all of it is so f***ing stupid. Maybe you can pour a little grace on us all for a hot second? Amen.”

Perhaps not my holiest moment? Yes, indeedy, I can be charming as hell.  But, I know I am not “too much” for God.  He and I are intimate friends, and me being me is the only way this works. 

So, Tom read my text “prayer” and suggested that I might need some fresh air. I thought “WELL DUH!! HOW COULD I NOT THINK OF THAT?! I TOTALLY NEED A WALK.” So, I put on my coat and gloves, and I walked. Tom’s insight (and experience) with my histrionics, along with his words of advice were actual balm for my heart that day, because for whatever reason, I had gotten amped up very quickly. I think it was the depth of sadness my college senior was feeling upon realizing that he had already attended his last college class the week before when he left for spring break. He’s been looking forward to these last weeks at Xavier University with such joy. The thought that college was essentially done, and the likelihood that there may not even be a graduation…it was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me that day. The mama bear tendencies do not end when a kid becomes a grown man, in case you were wondering.

An earlier version of me would have said nothing to Jesus.  Perhaps for days.   Or, I might have said, “It’s nothing, Lord.  Look at the suffering of others.”

God wants me to ask Him to heal it.  All of it.  Every day.  He’s right here, wondering where we are, just waiting.

I’ve revealed myself a little today, huh? Don’t mind me, I’m just a charming girl with temper and patience issues who very occasionally F-bombs the God of the universe. Since my outburst, the bishops have shut down all the masses, the adoration chapels, and the sacraments I hold dear. It’s really so incredibly devastating to me honestly. Strangely, I’ve made a fair amount of peace with it on this particular day. Venting, prayer, coffee and exercise is my personal secret sauce FOR TODAY.

I’m basically typing in the corner of my bedroom at a glorified card table writing at this moment. I’ve cleaned out the office for Tom so he can work from home. I had Z haul the table up, and Nick brought me an old chair from the basement storage room. It’s raining buckets and there’s a bird sitting in the tree outside my window. I created a prayerful little space for myself.

The new prayer corner by my desk-ish type table.

Allow me to digress a moment and tell you about Etty Hillesum.  She was a Jewish woman from Amsterdam and from her Nazi confinement in Auschwitz, she wrote this glorious advice.  “Get into touch with that little piece of eternity inside you,” she penned.  Imagine what a woman of grace she must have been to express her desire to become the balm for the wounds of others, while living in a concentration camp.  Just wow.  Her brief, beautiful life ended there at age 29, but for me the words she left behind are powerful.

The force of love is a powerful bond which binds us all together.

So, with that in mind, let me tell you about the last couple days at the Thieme house.  We have only one of three Thieme young men presently attempting online learning.  The college boys will start that next week.  I’ll write a compelling, perhaps comedic essay about the trials and tribulations of that hilarious adventure sometime soon.  I mean, we all need to laugh.  One person I feel for thus far is my friend, Pam, who teaches kindergarten.  Imagine designing online school for kindergarteners?  What fresh version of hell must that be?  HAHAHA!!!?  So far, Z is surviving Guerin Catholic online just fine.

Yesterday, I went to Carmel High School to help a little. Productivity and good deeds help keep me interiorly sunny, so I was thrilled to be asked. Apparently, there were about 600 students who would not be able to receive the lunches they count on at school, so the CCS and the Merciful Help Center (located on the campus of OLMC) worked together to get groceries to those families. For the record, Jayne Slaton of the MHC is the living embodiment of Matthew 25. A couple of hours into this adventure, we were wet and hungry. I called my two clowns at home with an SOS. They promptly brought 7 Jimmy Johns pizzas, and dry socks…THANK YOU GOD. They waived cars in and loaded groceries in trunks, then they did the heavy lifting on the packing up of the MHC truck when we finished. They were NOT happy that I took their photo wearing the bright orange vests which made them resemble slightly a road crew let out from the county jail for this express purpose. At their ages, 22 and 15, I wouldn’t have had a good attitude either…and I definitely would have pitched a fit about having my photo taken in a vest that made me look like an inmate. These two young men rolled with it, and I was proud of them. They snuck in a little golf together in the afternoon—something neither one of them dreamed they’d be doing together this spring.

Nick and Zach helping feed hungry kiddos during the school closures.

Work to focus on being present today. That’s what I hear the Holy Spirit whispering to me in this smelly house. The increased burping and other guttural noises aside, we really do need to take our shoes off a minute, wiggle our toes…and realize we are all on holy ground. My kids are here. God is here. Where am I?

This morning, I got a text from Fr. Richard asking for help, so I picked up leftover grocery bags and took them back to the Merciful Help Center to be distributed. It was the tiniest task, one I wouldn’t think twice about normally. It would have just been a “thing” in my day. Today, I was super grateful for the chance to just do a little something to help someone else. It felt nice.

Now that the Lord has my attention, I’m starting to spot a kindness pandemic.

Nick told me that Xavier called him to just check in. Apparently, Muskie administrators made personal calls to all the seniors, knowing they are feeling this coronavirus emergency in a big way. Today, I also saw families receiving needed food, and Jayne Slaton standing on the curb at OLMC with her foot in a boot, wearing gloves and a protective mask– showing us all what compassion looks like and that hunger doesn’t stop for pandemics. There were volunteers rushing around to unload groceries. I heard about 2 local doctors asking for prayers as they do their work in hospitals that anticipate being quite overwhelmed in coming days. Another friend shared how she paid her beautician via Venmo, even though the appointment was cancelled, because she can bear the burden, but her hairdresser can’t go without income. Someone else shared that they ordered take out and tipped the employee who brought the food to the curb 100%.

I read recently in a lovely book that “refugees tend relationships like precious wake flames because that is all they have.” You see, they know more than most that whatever we pay attention to grows. I think that God puts us in the way of each other for a reason. He’s giving us a chance to grow in love.

Then, it happened. I had a little experience of the holy today. It became 4pm here in Indiana and I gathered up the boys and we joined in on that “worldwide” rosary ordered by Pope Francis, together in the family room. You guys, I am pretty sure that’s the first time I have ever prayed the rosary in my family room with my children. Proud of my track record? No. But today God opened a door and we walked through it. It was lovely.

WHATEVER WE PAY ATTENTION TO GROWS.

In our busy lives, we seldom slow down enough to cherish or give thanks for the blessings God is continually scattering our lives with each and every day.  When we stop to notice we are blessed and beloved, we can then let it spill out to others—like a kindness pandemic.

God’s got us.  Let’s just finish today, then we’ll work out how to be love tomorrow. 

Peace out, friends!

A Lenten Note to my Fellow Catholics…

YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT.

After dropping off my son Zach at school on Tuesday, I headed over to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church to attend morning mass.  Things don’t always go according to plan.  Deacon Paul Lunsford greeted us after having received a text message which he described as an “SOS” from Fr. Richard at 3:30am.  It turns out the good padre was sick.  There was to be a communion service instead of mass.  Deacon Paul did a lovely job, and folks were gracious and appreciative, but he sensed the disappointment in the room and spoke of it saying, “You know, your somber faces are sort of inspiring actually.  You people wanted to see the miracle this morning.” 

Exactly right.

Daily mass people are unicorns.  Sure, they’re a room full of screwed up sinners just like all the rest of humanity.  Their defining difference is that they know about the miracle and understand what it means—at least enough to force themselves out of their pajamas and into a church building before 8am.  Let’s be honest, that’s no small thing for a group largely comprised of retirees.  It’s cold in Indiana right now.  It’s snowy.  It’s icy.  Those are the exact things folks like me who are old enough to need “progressive lenses” will do almost anything to avoid.  Yet there we are.

You guys, I have a confession to make.  I’m writing today in reparation.  I need a “do-over”.  Ash Wednesday wasn’t my holiest day.  It started out fine.  I went to grab a quick coffee with a friend to celebrate her birthday, then we headed to mass.  I was ready for Lent, and truly happy to be there…or so I thought.  The fantastic John and Donna McCurdy meandered in before me, and they invited me to sit next to them.  In came Jeff and Pat Kniola next, full of smiles and hugs.  A woman I apparently met once at a tennis match was seated behind me and introduced herself again.  Because I have total recall of about 30 seconds, I admit that now I cannot remember her name, but I do remember her sweet son…an 8th grader named Max with mad tennis skills who will be a Golden Eagle in the fall.  We chatted before mass began, and my disposition was positive.  There were still a few minutes yet before mass and (as if possessed by the devil?) I glanced down at my phone and began scrolling. 

I found a tweet sent by a prominent Catholic school administrator.  “The most powerful part of mass this morning was when the student musicians stopped singing to receive communion and the entire body of K-3 students lifted their voices to continue the song beautifully unaccompanied.  Wow.”

The sweet moment described, charming though it may be, was most definitively NOT the most powerful part of mass.  I was bugged.  An experienced Catholic school teacher replied to the tweet, “that’s always my favorite part of mass too!”  Now, I was both self-righteous and on the peck.

At this point, calling me “Judgy McJudgerson” would be completely appropriate.  It’s an endearing disposition with which I entered into Lent at Guerin Catholic’s all-school mass. NOT.  That probably explains why I was pre-disposed to crabbiness when dozens of folks were unable to receive Jesus at this mass because the supply of consecrated hosts fell short.  The same goes for my less than gracious receipt of the typical Ash Wednesday wondering by a fellow shopper at Meijer about the disgraceful state of my “dirty face”.  I tried to answer kindly, and I think I managed to be convincing?  My son later told me that Jesus was distributed at lunchtime to the students/staff who missed their opportunity at mass.  I must have been “hangry” because I was interiorly all horns and rattles, just like at Meijer.

My inner voice said snarkily, “Jesus with your grilled cheese, son?”  Yes, I realize this does not paint me in particularly flattering light.  Thank you, God for Your grace which preserves us, often in spite of ourselves. 

At some point, the profoundly false sense of moral superiority with which I was conducting myself washed over me.  I think exteriorly I mostly pulled it off yesterday, but ultimately all these things are between ourselves and the Lord, and I knew I had failed.  Picture how one might look in the “surrender cobra” position while watching your favorite team blow a big lead? Yep. That was me.

My heartfelt act of contrition as well as this little post is my attempt to enter into the Lenten season anew while being gentle and fair with myself, a thing I struggle with greatly.  I’m hoping you’ll stay with me a few moments more and allow me to explain myself.

A Pew Research Center study came out a few months back which knaws at me, and I think I’ve been in denial.  It might be partially responsible for the fire breathing I did yesterday.  It revealed that 70% of Catholics don’t believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.  Most apparently think Jesus is only symbolically present in this sacrament through the bread and the wine, including those Catholic educators whose tweets I read before mass.

Umm. Houston?  We have a problem. 

I’m with American novelist, Flannery O’Connor, (who often reflected her Catholic faith in her work) on this when she famously said, “If it’s only a symbol, I say to hell with it!”  It’s the source and summit of Christian life.  It’s not a bland symbol.   If it’s just a priest telling us a story about the life of Jesus, then really who cares about the mass? But if it’s a priest speaking IN PERSONA CHRISTI (in the person of Christ) then it’s of crucial significance—and I want it like a starving person.  I want it for you too.

Books and words are my jam. I read fast and devour all sorts of language—mysterious, symbolic, sexy, and descriptive. I adore many differing genres—some of it is actual literature and some is more of the trashy beach read variety. What can I say? We all have vices. I digress, but ask me anytime if you need a good book recommendation! I know that language can be active and transformative. I’d guess you do too at some level. Has anyone ever said something to you that made you fall in love? Have you been deeply wounded by the spoken word? Has a stranger made your soul smile? Human language can be not only descriptive but deeply transformative—it can change reality.

Imagine then what God can do with words? I mean, unlike us, He’s God, people! He spoke the world into being. “Let there be light.” There’s also this one, “Lazarus come out” and then a dead man came out!! What God says IS. Jesus is not just one human figure among many. He is the Word Made Flesh.

Have you ever been nearby when someone was dying?  Very few people reach my age without such an experience.  Those last words and final actions stay with us.  They’re inevitably memorable because they are special.  We attend to them, because humans don’t waste last words.  Our truth and essence are spoken in those moments.  That’s why it seems so fitting to me that Jesus established the Eucharist the night before He died.  Jesus Christ himself took bread and said, “This is my body”.  He literally speaks His presence into being under the appearance of bread and wine. 

There are lots of other reasons why I believe in the unsurpassable presence of Christ in the Eucharist.   If you ever want to talk about it, I’ll be glad to chat with you about John 6, Eucharistic miracles, or the doctrine of transubstantiation.  However, the senses must be informed by faith.

I screwed it all up yesterday being judgmental and ill-tempered.  I’ve been known to let my mama bear claws come out in defense of my three sons in unattractive ways, too, but ultimately my failures were usually about love.  The same is true here.  I am profoundly and intensely in love with Jesus.  It changes everything.  That’s why I want you to know Him in a vividly personal way too. I’ll be praying for that in a special way this Lent.

Thankfully, today is another chance– to be forgiven, to be the face of Christ for another.  I’ve got my food for the journey today and I wanted to tell you why in case one of you needs to know or can be helped by hearing it.

YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT.

Our Lady, Mother of Mercy, Pray for Us.

The 2nd Friend

In the end, there is only one thing necessary, the love of God. (Francis Cardinal George)

A year ago, I gave up Diet Coke.  Lest you think that signals some sort of virtue I don’t actually possess, I’ll add that around the same time, I developed an affinity for drinking coffee.   I mean, is it a problem when the Starbucks barista looks at you and says “grande skinny vanilla latte?”  I’m not proud.  However, I’ve developed a habit of meeting folks for coffee.  A whole lot of these folks have been poisoned by hatred, and my entire goal in these meetings is to be the 2nd friend.  Let me explain.

Recently, a long-time friend of mine shared with me that her husband, upon hearing she was meeting me for coffee commented, “Are you still friends with her?” Do me a favor and back up, read that sentence again and place strong emphasis and not a small amount of smugness on the word “her.” It wasn’t kind. Are you still friends with HER?!! Something shifted in me when she said it. You see, I’ve loved this friend in the really ugly, and I’ve taken her pain to the Lord in prayer more times than one can imagine. I’ve done the same for her husband. It stung. It poked at old wounds.

You all, satan loves to take our rejection and twist it into a raw, irrational fear that we are not enough. The more consumed we are with being slapped in the face, whether the situation be a minor one like that I’ve described here or something much more painful, the result is the same.  We are less in control of our emotions, and our thinking and actions are no longer conformed to truth of the fact that God has a good plan for each one of our lives and that we are deeply loved. 

I want to be the friend who swoops in after that. My desire is to be the one who reminds folks that God did not make a mistake when they were created. I’ve asked the Lord to convert the problem of my latte addiction to become one powerful conversation after another, if He wishes to use me. Maybe God can use a conversation to heal something or glorify Him. I can’t fix anything, rewind time, or keep anyone from drinking the poison, but maybe the Holy Spirit can give me some words that cause a second shift, one that says BE YOU. You are loved.

Are you too whiny?  Too loud?  Going through something tough?  Are you embarrassed to be seen because you’re too tired to shower?  Worried that you might break into an ugly cry?  BE YOU.   It’s okay to be sad around me.  The latte will still be delicious and I’m into the ball cap you’re wearing to hide your hair. I can see your beautiful eyes better anyway.  This is a no judgement zone. 

I don’t care if you’re a democrat or a republican or if you made a snarky comment online that caused the eruption of WWIII in your relationship with the lady who carpools your kids home from school.  BE YOU.  We can agree to disagree, but don’t edit who you are thinking it’s the only way you can get a big bear hug.  They’re free, all the time, unlike the latte…no matter who you are or what you think. 

Do you just need a smile and a little encouragement? Are you really in the forest?  Do you need real, professional help?  Are you so stuck you’re not sure there’s any way out?  I am not afraid of your hot mess.  BE YOU.  Super excited and not just a little obnoxious because you just got a big promotion or your kid won the championship?  Please let me be loud and too much and crazy excited with you.  I love clapping…and little known fact…I am quite a gifted hand-dancer.  We can work on a synchronized hand dancing routine to your kid’s favorite song and post it on Insta to humiliate the little champ?  Or, maybe scratch that last idea, ha?

Do you need someone to hold your hand?  Say a prayer?  Sit with you in the quiet? Are you wearing dirty clothes you slept in?  I don’t give a rip.  I want you to know that in this (caffeinated) place, you are enough if you just BE YOU.

In the light of eternity, few things are worth losing one’s peace over.  Let’s stop drinking the poison of hatred that is swirling all around us.  I want to be the reason someone believes in good people, and I’d bet I’m far from the only one. 

Let’s choose to be the 2nd friend.

Gone too soon

“In their distress they cried to the Lord, who saved them in their distress. He brought them forth from darkness and the shadow of death and burst their chains apart.” (Ps. 107: 13-14)

You all? I try to keep it sunny in this little spot of the internet. Today, that feels incredibly inauthentic, yet I know I am called to chat you up all the same. So, I’d like to tell you about my week and ask for your prayers. Please let me know how I can speak to Jesus for you too, because I love you people…every last one of you. Sorry about your luck, ha?

There were six priests and a deacon present for the funeral mass I attended this morning. Cheryl Ayers was the matriarch of a beautiful, large Catholic family which included 8 children and I think 18 grandchildren. She was a vibrant 72-year old who had been arm-wrestling some of those grandkids at Thanksgiving this year, so the subsequent lung cancer diagnosis and her very quick decline were tough to take. The mass was beautiful, despite the ample scaffolding present in the building and it was clear Cheryl leaves a strong legacy of faith and love in her wake. That said, The thoughts in my mind aren’t super coherent this day, but the theme of my week is definitely “gone too soon.” I am praying for her soul today and the peace of mind and heart of all who loved her.

There’s another OLMC parish family in deep grief this week as they lost their 22 year old under tragic circumstances. He was a young man named Will who loved rugby, golf and time at the lake with his family among other things. He’s the same age as my oldest son, Nick, and they graduated high school the same year, though at different schools. I didn’t know him, but the community around me is in deep grief over his loss, including (among many others) the pastor we both shared, as well as his parents and 5 siblings. It’s tough to watch, and it makes my stomach hurt.

Also today, a faith filled woman in my circle asked me to pray for her friend and this friend’s parish, St. James Catholic Church, in St. Joseph, Missouri, as they are dealing with the death by suicide of their pastor, Fr. Evan Harkins. He was a young priest, ordained at age 24, just 10 years ago. My friend described him as humble, quiet, and joyful. It’s heartbreaking. Sometimes, it’s like we expect these guys in collars to wear capes, but they are mere mortals. May his soul find rest in the arms of the Lord.

Then, just a few minutes ago, a woman of faith I deeply respect asked for prayers for yet another local family who just a few days ago also lost their 22 year old son. He was in his senior year of college, just like my Nick Fred, and he graduated from nearby Westfield High School. His parents are understandably distraught. I promised I would pray, and I will.

Kobe Bryant, his daughter, Gianna, and 7 other souls perished this week too, in a tragic helicopter crash out in California. These shocking deaths served to underscore for me the somber backdrop of the week. Kobe, who was bigger than life, of course, has been eulogized in the media all week. I admit that even for me who is a very casual observer of the NBA, his death at the age of 41 feels somewhat jarring.

Another friend reached out this week to chat saying in one breath “all is well” but admitting in another that there have been moments where the thought of driving a car off the road seemed like not a terrible idea. Insisting it was just a passing thought, this beautiful human felt seeking out serious help was too drastic a step to consider. I disagreed vehemently.

Here’s what I feel compelled to say today.

Human beings need emotional support. It’s just how we’re wired.

Some, especially men, seem to believe they shouldn’t need it. That’s a false and dangerous narrative.

If you are someone who is hiding your deep sadness, forsaking all help because you tell yourself “it will be fine” or “I should just count my blessings”, by all means count them. But hey, YOU, count them aloud with another human, or better yet find a professional who can help you turn the ship around. PLEASE. If you don’t know how to get help, let me know and we’ll figure it out together. There is always hope, even in the midst of the greatest darkness. You are the beloved child of the Most High God and your life matters. TRUTH.

The death of Fr. Evan Harkins who was, by all reports, a holy and prayerful man reminds me how very hard it can be for those who are called upon to support others to seek help and support themselves. Pray for our priests. Love our priests…I beg you.

Finally, for the young friend troubled by the scourge of suicides around him who asked me about the souls of those who have died by suicide, I have your answer. First, allow me to say again, sweet boy, that I am not a theologian. However, I do believe in a merciful God who is love itself. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “voluntary cooperation in suicide is contrary to the moral law” but also it says “We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for people who have taken their own lives.”

Please join me today in praying for eternal rest for Cheryl, Will, Fr. Evan, Jordan, Kobe, Gianna, John, Keri, Alyssa, Christina, Ara, Sarah, and Payton.

ETERNAL REST GRANT UNTO THEM, O LORD, AND LET PERPETUAL LIGHT SHINE UPON THEM. MAY THEY REST IN PEACE.

All For One

You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses it’s taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lam and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father. (Mt. 5: 13-16)

Fr. Albert Bischoff, S. J.

“All for One.” It’s the motto of a lovely little Jesuit University of which I’ve grown fond. The Xavier University class of 2020 will include none other than my oldest son, Nicholas Thieme. Nick Fred started his journey at X thinking he wanted to be an athletic trainer. He loves helping people, and he’s passionate about sports, so this choice made sense to me. Then, he discovered there’s a dreadful need to master the biological sciences inherent in this course of study. Nick’s more of a math guy, which is why our finance major excelled once he realized the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, ha? I’m entirely biased, of course, but the folks at Fifth Third Bank are gaining a fine human being among their ranks this summer.

The relatively small campus of Xavier University, located in the middle of Cincy, reminds me a lot of Butler here in Indianapolis. Folks at X might be even crazier about hoops than Bulldog fans, actually! One big difference I’d note, however, is the very prominent placement of the Bellarmine Chapel right in the center of campus. It’s a Jesuit University, and one of the “institutions” on campus is also the presence of Fr. Albert Bischoff. Fr. B turned 90 a year or two ago, I believe? I’m not certain of his age, to be honest, but this week he celebrated another birthday so he’s been on my mind. I met him briefly only once, but it made an impact. He’s most notable to me and many for the way he greets students, by calling them “Saint”.

Yesterday, while I attended a weekly prayer meeting for women called “Awaken” at St. Elizabeth Seton parish here in Carmel, I closed the meeting for my group with a prayer that was largely inspired by the words of Fr. B. .

“I’ve come to believe in the essential goodness of people, and so one day it just came out ‘saint’ and I thought, ‘oh, that’s good’ because that is what we are. We are God’s holy people. And we tend to be negative about ourselves. We overlook our own holiness. I am very grateful to be here and share my life with these people, who I have found to be overwhelmingly good. I want to be with the saints.”

The ladies at my table were a little stopped in their tracks by the beauty of Fr. B’s sentiments, which I uttered rather inarticulately. The Lord found His way to shine in them all the same, as He tends to do– which brings me to my day this morning.

After mass, I met a dear friend for breakfast to celebrate her birthday. If her life story was made into a movie, it would blow your mind. Anyway, she’s well aware of my Jesus girl “isms” and sometimes she quizzes me a bit about Catholic things. Most recently, her interest has been about the concept of adoration, and also the Blessed Virgin. I’d like to say I’ve helped her understand my deep love for both, but that’s not really accurate. I’m leery of effusing much, though I’m bursting to do just that. Part of my problem is that I don’t really want to call attention to myself or my faith. It can be uncomfortable to stand out, or to feel like I am claiming to be something more than what I am. My personal faults and failures are always front and center.

In other words, I find myself identifying with Fr. B. His words resonate as truth. The number of phenomenal, character and faith-filled friends I have who similarly feel like they are not enough, or who speak negatively about themselves (whether interiorly or exteriorly) is astounding. We overlook our own holiness. The thing is, we’ve got to be brave!! This line of thinking is shortsighted and limiting. We’re called to more.

Here’s today’s big idea. I’ve seen how you folks notice the good things others do and that you are quick with compliments and thank yous. I spent a year picking out someone to do this with every day– and you people joined in whole-heartedly with your words of affirmation for the folks around you. It’s not braggadocios to love the Lord and let our light shine. It’s an act of humility to accept that you are good at some things too.

Let’s be open to the big plans God has for us, forsaking the inner critic. My plan is to work hard and not let myself be derailed– by my own criticism or that of others.

I wasn’t sure how my Methodist breakfast buddy would feel about receiving a rosary from me for her birthday, but I figured maybe the solution to her queries about Mary was just to give her a rosary and let Mary work it out with her directly? I told her to put it in her pocket and when she’s feeling anxious and blue, rub her fingers through the beads and that will help her remember she’s not alone and that our Heavenly Mother is there for her always.

Her eyes filled with tears and her face lit up.

“You’re going to turn me Catholic, aren’t you?”

I laughed and said, “Well, I love you, so yes, I hope so.”

She smiled and as we were preparing to part she quietly said, “Thank you. You turned the lights back on.”

AND…Mary swoops in with the victory! Nothing feels better than cooperating in that. Am I right?

Don’t hide your light. #All for One!!

Mad for 2019…

As many of you know, 2019 was a year I spent very intentionally affirming one person each day. Self-imposed deadlines, each set 24 hours apart from the next, were my rule and rhythm for the entire course of twelve months. Lessons learned in this year will stay with me for a long time, perhaps forever. A few folks who have asked me to share these insights in person with them recently over a cup of coffee suggested I post them, so here you go! In them, I hope you find something that makes it worth the read.

1. Be brave enough to stink at something for the sake of the Lord. I am not always articulate, and often the quality of my daily writing was marginal (at best). However, when it’s more important to us to listen to the instructions we believe to be uttered in our direction by the voice of the Holy Spirit than to the give in to our fears and self-doubt, we get it right. This week, two different men in my life reached out to me. One of these tough guys teased me about all my new found “free time” but then he asked me what am I going to do next. He told me I inspired positivity in his life and that he was grateful. The other gentleman, who I’d largely describe as a blue-collar style smartass, asked me to please keep writing. He shared with me two absolutely beautiful encounters with Christ he had in his life. It was incredibly moving to get this feedback, to hear how Jesus takes our little offerings and makes them bigger and better. To me, it affirmed that my imperfect way of trying to shine the light of Christ…well it did get scattered about enough to brighten the area. Jesus is in charge here- rough edges and all. Whatever the outcome…it was effort given for the sake of the Lord. Bottom line, I’m glad I was brave enough to stink for Jesus, ha? It was Mother Teresa who said, “Give the world your best and it may never be enough, give your best anyway, for you see, in the end it is between you and God.” Smart woman. It’s almost like she’s a saint or something, ha?

2. We learn discipline by being disciplined. My confessor has frequently over the years heard me express sorrow over my lack of discipline in many areas of my life. Just like any unholy habit, it can be fixed by simply practicing a new way of living. I am now willing to admit that it takes some degree of discipline to write a few paragraphs every single day for a year. I’d argue I can no longer say I am an utterly undisciplined person. I’m shocked to see those words on my screen. Accountability helped me for sure. I believe this skill has and will translate to other areas of my life and that “practicing” living better can start small and do the same for you too. “The one quality which sets one man apart from another- the key which lifts one to every aspiration while others are caught up in the mire of mediocrity- is not talent, formal education, nor intellectual brightness– it is self-discipline. With self-discipline, all things are possible. Without it, even the simplest goal can seem like the impossible dream.” (Theodore Roosevelt)

3. No Snub Lists Allowed. One day about mid-year, my youngest son asked me about how I choose who I write about each day. He wondered if there were some people I would choose not to write about for one reason or another? Then, my oldest son joked that he planned to publish a “Top 10 Biggest Snubs” list when I completed my year. I would describe my reaction to that idea as MORTIFIED. In every smile there is beauty. None of us are perfect, and every single one of us is made in the image and likeness of God. If there is anyone in your life in whom you cannot spot the face of the Lord, cozy up and look harder– just like you want the Lord (and the rest of us mere mortals) to do with you. God doesn’t have a snub list, and neither should we. No matter what. “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy.” (Thomas Merton)

4. Goodness Multiplies. Naively, I thought I’d just write 365 affirmations in 2019. That would be 365 consoling, kind, and sometimes silly positivity notes in the world. My heart was pure and I was not attached to any outcome. It seemed both simple and worthwhile. I really and truly wanted to be the face of Christ to those 365 people. Period. At the end of 2018, social media seemed so filled with vitriol. My tiny corner? I wanted it to be kinda shiny in 2019. What I didn’t consider was how often my simple note would then lead to other folks chiming in with their two cents about the awesomeness of my person of the day. Frequently, dozens of other people would add their own love to the kindness bouquet with comments on WordPress, Facebook, Twitter, text message….or even (God forbid) in PERSON. Our good and gracious God ALWAYS outdoes us in generosity and love. He’s radically generous. “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. Moreover, God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work.” (2 Cor 9: 6-8)

5. Stop All the Apologizing. If someone issues a compliment, don’t brush it aside or shake it off. Say THANK YOU. Perfectionism is a lie. We all make mistakes. You don’t need to listen to Satan whispering lies in your ear. It’s a time and space waster. Instead of “I can’t” stick the words “Up until now” at the front of your sentences. If you feel guilty, it’s one of two things. Either you have sinned and you need to tell the Lord you are sorry, then move on in freedom…OR the voice in your head is not of God. Which one is it? Turn it all over to the Lord. Trust God because He is trustworthy. Sometimes, He helps us fall apart right into place.

6. God can and does work miracles for you and through you. When I started my year, my health was at low ebb. There was a scary lung cancer diagnosis. Surgery and uncertainty loomed a bit large. I felt consoled by the presence of Jesus in those around me, many of whom I wrote about each day, and in Our Eucharistic Lord too. He was my peace. I really was doing my best to rest in Christ. Still, there were moments of worry and sometimes stomachaches too. I often thought, “I don’t know what people do who don’t have faith.” Skepticism may be cool, and lots of people embrace it when it comes to matters of faith but God can and does work miracles for you and through you. I kept my head up, and tried my best to trust that God loves me, setting aside those thoughts that are clearly not of God, the ones which say “you aren’t good enough” or “why would He love you?” Guys. I was looking for God in all of you every single day last year, and I found Him. Over and over again. The cancer diagnosis was declared a mistake. It turns out it was something less menacing in my lung. A to the MEN. My heart was burning by year’s end at the magnificent way He loves us. It’s uncanny the number of times I heard from someone words like “I cannot believe that TODAY is the day you wrote about me.” “I was at the end of my rope”, or “I really needed to hear this right now.” There are dozens of crazy stories that started with a text or a call like that from 2019. I was probably invited for coffee 50 times by different people who wanted to tell me how incredible it was that I wrote what I did, or that I said it when I did. I drank a lot of latte. You guys. It wasn’t me. God did that FOR YOU. If it was my keyboard, then thanks be to God. Make no mistake, however. It was JESUS loving you. He’s flat out crazy, mad, recklessly in love with little old you…and me! GOD IS LOVE. “Nothing is sweeter than love; nothing stronger, nothing higher, nothing more generous, nothing more pleasant, nothing fuller or better in Heaven or on earth; for love proceeds from God and cannot rest but in God above all things created.” (Thomas a’ Kempis)

Here’s the bottom line. If you have the chance to make someone happy, just do it. Maybe, your act of kindness will just make their day…and yours too.

THANK YOU for reading along in 2019.