They Have No Wine

When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:3-5)

For the past month, I’ve been a little busy at church. It’s Respect Life Month and I’m quite involved in the Gospel of Life ministry at my parish. These are angsty, tumultuous times in which we live, and our wise pastor, Fr. Richard Doerr, decided that it might be prudent to give those of us in his very blessed flock an antidote of sorts for what ails us all this month. That is to say, in what might appear to be a diversion from the typical life-affirming activities at a Catholic parish in the month of October, our shepherd decided that what we all needed was some oxygen. We needed to be reminded of the life-giving truth that being authentically Catholic is much more than a salve. We needed and received some beautiful fuel for our own tanks these last four Sundays. For me, it turned out to be one of the most life-affirming months in memory.

We heard from four stunningly different and yet remarkable religious speakers (from four different orders) each Sunday evening. Our final speaker was Sr. Mary Madeline Todd, O.P. She is a Dominican Sister of the Congregation of St. Cecilia. She’s taught elementary through college aged students, and she earned her doctorate in Sacred Theology at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. She has multiple master’s degrees, she’s written and contributed to many notable books and articles on topics related to spiritual and moral theology. She’s offered retreats across the world. What I’m trying to say is, Sr. Mary Madeline is REALLY FREAKING SMART.

Also, there’s this. She loves Jesus and it shows. Her joyfulness and optimism were an infectious force in my week. Maybe it was because she’s a big smarty pants that her words struck a chord…but I don’t think so. What feels more certain to me is that the Lord sent this instrument into the parish hall over there on 146th St. because He loves me and He knew how to reach me. You see, I’m stubborn. However, Sr. Mary Madeline is loud. She talks fast and her overwhelmingly authentic giggle is completely contagious. She began to talk, and I did something which is rare for me. I locked in. I knew Jesus was saying, “Hey, Shell…focus up. This is for you, sis.”

The demons of discord have been intensely present for me, like many folks, of late. People around me are hurting. I’ve been a little underwater. That’s what the culture of death does to us, if we let it. What Sr. Mary Madeline did was remind me that because I love the Lord, I cannot stand for evil and I am compelled to speak truth to others, and to pray for them, even when it’s inconvenient or I’m just flat SICK AND TIRED. The white flag of despair is not who we are. Hope is our jam as authentic Catholics. It wasn’t lost on her that there is tumult, scandal, fear, lies, abuse, immaturity and so much more going on in our world. She shared, with an infectious smile and in a spirit of life and truth, that we need more time speaking to God and less time on screens. She challenged us to put down our phones and pray the rosary, to talk to Jesus, and to NOTICE others just like Mary noticed the wine was just about gone there at the wedding at Cana.

Sr. Mary Madeline is a little gray at the temples, so she must be a little older than she seems? She’s so inspiringly full of life. I don’t know how old she actually is, but her spirit is exuberantly youthful. She told us that when we encounter folks who are lonely, whose eyes are dead, that we are doing a beautiful thing, like Mary. We are noticing the people of God around us. She also said she prays for them by saying quickly and simply, “They are out of wine, Lord.” In that simple act of faith, she has given that soul over to Jesus, because we know He is love. Then, our work is to LISTEN to Jesus and do whatever He tells us.

A few years ago, when I was feeling the tax season and wintertime blues, I sent a few mass intentions to a priest I didn’t know. I had been told by someone close to him that he’d moved to a new parish and that there weren’t any. My mother in law had recently passed away, and I wanted to offer a little sacrifice for her soul and a few others, so I figured I’d send a few mass intentions his way. The few extra dollars in his pocket were something I knew he needed, so it was a win-win. I sent a list of souls and for whom I wanted masses offered and asked that one final mass be said for my personal intentions. Nothing helps a case of the blues like a good deed, I find.

Months passed by and I forgot all about these requests. One day, in the mail, I received a note from the parish secretary. It was a quick list of all the dates on which the masses were said. The last mass was to be said that very day that I had received the note. It was March 24th– my birthday– and the mass was to be for my intentions that very day. Do you get it? I had received the best birthday gift in the world– from the GOD OF THE UNIVERSE. I wept at my desk. I sent my water, you see, and Jesus sent me the most delicious wine in return.

A love note from God is impossible to forget. Trust me. Even when things aren’t going my way, how can I NOT muster up the energy to remind others that they are loved? How can I allow the smoke of the devil to cloud my mind or slow these efforts? Sr. Mary Madeline jolted my heart loose by the sheer volume of her laughter and joyfulness. Hers is a beautiful soul. I’m so blessed I had the chance to meet her and hear her inspired words.

We have to love the dignity of all lives, folks. Our own and those around us. All of us belong to the kingdom of God. With her glorious prayer (that I’m TOTALLY STEALING ALREADY) “They are out of wine, Lord” what Sr. Mary Madeline helped Jesus remind me is that when we pray for vulnerable people (including ourselves), when we trust in Him, we are giving God an opportunity to provide. Jesus knows how to turn water into wine. He might need me to fill some jars with water, but the heavy lifting which is turning that water into the best wine at the party? The miracles of life? When we turn to him and trust Him, He will provide what we need and the graces too– peace, forgiveness– to do what’s hard.

Thank you, Sr. Mary Madeline for helping me focus on the good things of God. I’m thankful for your example of interior docility. It’s a spirituality of gratitude, the knowledge that God provides for us, that He loves us all. You are my “Person of the Week.” It’s a high honor which comes with zero prestige and no prize money, HA?! Congrats!!

For those of you who’d like to hear the audio of her talk, here it is.

Peace out, friends!

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..

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.

Queen for the Day…

Birthdays need to be celebrated. I think it is more important to celebrate a birthday than a successful exam, a promotion, or a victory. Because to celebrate a birthday means to say to someone: “Thank you for being you.” Celebrating a birthday is exalting life and being glad for it. On a birthday we do not say: “Thanks for what you did, or said, or accomplished.” No, we say: “Thank you for being born and being among us.” On birthdays we celebrate the present. We do not complain about what happened or speculate about what will happen, but we lift someone up and let everyone say: “We love you.” –Henri Nouwen

My husband is a hard-working CPA, and my birthday is on March 24th. Today is the 50th anniversary of my arrival, actually. The fact of the matter is, my love of birthdays is not a terrific fit with the timing of tax season. In fact, my special day falls at exactly the worst possible moment for Tom. He’s so lucky, though. You see, I’m not likely to let him overlook the event on the calendar. I’m the sort of birthday “princess” who’s more likely to take out a billboard on I-465 than sit idly by in hopes someone will recall the date and share in my enthusiasm. There’s no “passive” in my “aggressive” when it comes to birthdays. Folks will roll their eyes at me sometimes. I’m sure I’ve been called “a little over the top” or even a tad narcissistic where birthdays are concerned. The truth? I have surrendered entirely to humility here. God has called me to be an active participant in what He’s doing. It might feel a little uncomfortable to some folks, but that’s ok. God delights in us, and I think He doesn’t want us to miss the beautiful gift of life. So, pile on the love. What could honor the Lord of Life more than that?!

That sounds a little overdone and lacking decorum to some of you, I know. The thing is, I feel the same way, if not more so, about the birthdays of those around me! I try very hard to find a way to wish others well on their special day. I am constantly seeking out the birthday dates of others in a very intentional way. Ad nauseum. If you aren’t hearing from me on your special day, it more than likely means I simply haven’t discovered the date YET—so send it on over! It’s my way of honoring the Lord and thanking Him for the beautiful gift of life– yours and mine!! The greatest gift we can give another is our time. We can’t make more of it, you see. This is why I try to squeeze in the walk, the breakfast celebration or the birthday dinner. And if the intended victim of my love is someone who isn’t nearby or available? I send some affirming words, or a gift…or super silly text…all the same. This is a just a small thing to which God has called me. He’s definitely called you to be His face somehow too. If you don’t know how, then simply ask Him to be the ruler of your heart, and you’ll soon have an answer.

Actually, I kind of think God knew what He was doing when He gave me this predilection for birthdays. You see, I don’t always see myself as He sees me. I can be my own worst enemy, noticing every flaw and failure. However, the truth is that I am a daughter of the King. You, my friends, are royalty as well! Jesus wants us to know our value isn’t based on how often we get things right, and it’s not lessened when we screw up. He pours out grace, and He loves us anyway.

It doesn’t feel coincidental to me that my birthday falls when it does each year–in the heart of tax season, in the depth of lent. It’s the literal moment in the calendar year where love is about to be unleashed. The Lord is absolutely crazy about us, will stop at nothing to save us, and HE GAVE HIS LIFE FOR US. As one of my favorite authors, Bob Goff, says so well, “No tomb could contain what love was about to release…when Jesus rose from the dead, He showed that our lives are the best sermon we’ve got. Pile on love.” A to the MEN, Bob. Read some of his stuff if you haven’t discovered him. Bob Goff is the bomb-diggity.

What I have found is that joy and enthusiasm is contagious. Even the hard-hearted, deeply entrenched haters of aging may roll their eyes at me, but when I come for them all ready to love them up, they usually laugh at me and say something like, “Well, I know it’s pointless to try and fight you on this, so sure! Let’s get together!” I delight in these shared moments and it sets my mind on things above. It’s a cry of the heart, a prayer of gratitude.

Even though he’s a bit of a birthday curmudgeon, Tom knew there was no use fighting my family fun night plans on his 50th back in September. He also gave me a proper acknowledgment this morning of my “BIG” number by giving me a kiss and telling me he’s now officially sleeping with an old woman. Ha! There’s no use fighting the birthday lover he’s married to, so he’s embraced the mandatory celebration pretty darn well for an old school German stoic.

Queen for the day!

“Everything comes from love, all is ordained for the salvation of man. God does nothing without this goal in mind.” –St. Catherine of Siena (total badass, and my confirmation name sake)

Mad for…Bob

Above all, let your love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace. (1 Peter 4:8-10)

During 2019, some of you may remember that I wrote about someone different each day. Those “Mad for” entries became fairly popular, and thousands of you surprised me by reading them and encouraging me to complete my goal of affirming someone new daily in this space over the course of a calendar year. It was a powerful experience for me, and then, I needed a break from the never ending deadlines!

Recently, my friend Claudine encouraged me to pick up my pen, so to speak, and begin writing more frequently. She says the world needs the positivity. I’m going to let the Lord be in charge while I continue to ponder the request. I turn 50 next month, so maybe in my 50th year, I’ll try to share 50 lessons I learn through the people around me? Or perhaps I’ll come up with another idea before my birthday. Stay tuned. Here’s what I do know for sure. Today, Jesus wants me to tell you about my brand new friend, from whom I was the witness of beautiful humility, which led me to a reminder about how important it is to be simply kind.

I have new pen pal named Bob. I’ve written to him a couple of times, and to be honest, I was neither needing nor expecting to hear back from him. His name was sent to me from a nice young man at church who simply told me that this is a guy who might enjoy getting a cheerful note in the mail from time to time. I’m a big fan of cards and letters, so I figured I was perfect for this simple good deed.

Today, Bob called. I don’t usually answer the phone for numbers I don’t recognize, but this one had a local number and I suppose I was curious enough to welcome the interruption. I suppose it might not be prudent since he was a stranger, but I had written my email address and phone number on my last card and I urged him to reach out if there was anything with which I could help. I’m pleased to say he took that offer seriously.

Bob sheepishly said hello when I answered, but I’m nothing if not gifted in the gab department, so he gained courage as the call went on. Old guys usually love me. I credit this to my natural volume level, which is not usually considered an asset by my family, but is a huge aid with folks whose hearing isn’t what it once was. It turns out Bob is just shy of 80 years old, and he’s fighting Parkinson’s Disease. When I asked him if he had any family, he proudly shared about his son who is a graduate of West Point. Hooah!

See that scripture quote at the top of this entry? I find it reassuring. You see, I’ve got a multitude of sins to cover up. However, I have noticed in all humility that there’s this one tiny thing I have in common with Jesus. I’m a big fan of the interloper in my day who gives me a chance to be love to the next guy. Actually, few things feel more satisfying or beautiful. The Lord was THE GOAT at loving people up who interfered with the plans of his day. I remember lots of miracles in scripture that started with moments where someone reached out in faith asking Jesus for a favor.

Bob called because he wanted me to pray for him. You see, he sounded a little frightened of his Monday doctor’s appointment with the neurologist. I asked him what time the appointment is scheduled for (it’s at 3pm), and then I smiled. I knew then what the Lord wanted me to offer for my pen pal. Bob’s appointment is at the hour of mercy. I will say the Divine Mercy Chaplet for Bob on Monday at 3pm.

With his voice cracking, Bob thanked me profusely. It was a great reminder that our tiny kindnesses can go a long way, and that each of us (no matter how small our lives may seem to us) has been given gifts that can be used to spread the love of Christ.

So, whoever came up with this little pen pal idea over there at OLMC? GREAT WORK.

Shine on, friends…