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…

Feels Like 10 Degrees

An inordinate amount of time has been spent by myself and my youngest in our driveway this week. There’s a “good” shovel and there’s a “backup”. If you want to feel the satisfaction of moving large swaths of snow in short order, you want to lay hands on shovel #1. However, once you’ve done that several times, it occurs to a person that the “backup” shovel is aptly named, because if you want to keep your back in the upright position, that’s the one you gotta choose. 16 year-old boys should do the heavy lifting. What was I thinking on day 1 of this driveway adventure??

Errand running on this sunny day seemed like a productive idea, and out I went. When I stepped into the first store parking lot, the shiny stuff was hitting my face, and I thought, “What a nice day! It’s definitely SO MUCH WARMER!” So delightful did the weather improvement feel, that when I got back into my car after completing my first task of the day, I opened up my weather app. For the love of God and all things holy, folks, I swear to you what I saw was this. It’s 18 degrees with a windchill of 10. I promptly got out of the car, looked up at the blue sky, as if to the Lord Himself, put my hands in the air, and declared aloud, “FEELS LIKE 10 DEGREES!!” Then, I doubled over laughing at myself.

There was a man in scrubs on the sidewalk. He looked at me and said, “You ok?” I just started laughing and said, “Isn’t it such a beautiful day? Don’t you think it feels warmer?” He replied, “Actually, yes.” That’s when I told him, “My phone says the windchill is 10 degrees. It just struck me as so damn funny!” He smiled wide at me and replied, “Your laugh made my day.”

As I sit drinking my coffee and warming up again, this incident reminded me of a story I heard Bishop Robert Barron tell about one of my favorite saints, St. Therese of Lisieux. I’m paraphrasing, but he said that the sun shines on the great and the small alike, and that Therese knew she was the small. She wasn’t a great spiritual academic like St. John of the Cross. So, she needed to lift her arms in the air like a baby and let God lift her up, as she didn’t have the intellect or giftedness to climb up to Him like some of the great saints.

In my opinion, she lived so well the concept …”For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” (Romans 14:8).

In a simple way, without really thinking, I feel like I had a little Therese moment right there in the parking lot. In all humility, my silly, childish act smiling with God about the ridiculousness of my weather reality made me realize I’d gotten something right. You see, freezing cold weather is undoubtedly the cross. Shoveling snow until your eyelashes are icy is the cross. However, doing those things and finding joy in them, feeling a certain serenity in the midst of the tiny sufferings? That’s what embracing Christianity looks like in my life. It’s minor and it’s uncomplicated, but that’s the kind of stuff I have to give Him.

Last week, I had to go to see the breast surgeon. Ah, the joys of abnormal mammography. Of course, I was edgy. Honestly, though, I just told Jesus that I loved Him and I trusted His plan for my life, even if it took me someplace I’d rather not go. I suppose it’s easy for me to say today that I meant it, because things ended well. I pray that when the day comes where I don’t get the ending I’d hoped for, I’ll still submit in peace to the will of God, who loves you and I beyond all telling.

You all, there’s nothing fancy about me. I buy my makeup at Walgreens and I wash my face with a bar of Dove soap. I’m impatient, imperfect, and permanently flawed. I know I fail and need God’s mercy. Maybe I will die on my way to a basketball game this weekend, or perhaps I will live to a ripe old age like my Grandma Langdon. Either way, the fact is that just a handful of people will ever have even known that I was here on this planet. But the Lord knows, and His love is radical. So, I consider myself rather hidden and small, like Therese. In her, I see a bit of myself. She had a burning preoccupation with love. Wouldn’t it be a great way to live to emulate that?

In this past year, so many of us have experienced suffering and sadness. Grace invades when we remember that our lives are not about us at all. When we live for the Lord, shining His light on others the best we can, and carry our little crosses with joy? That is the way of love.

For those of you who tell me you feel sad, who share you can’t find God right now, please know I pray in a special way for you. And if you are someone who is reading this wishing someone would pray for you too? Email me at shellythieme@yahoo.com. It would be my deep honor to pray for you and your intentions. Here’s some great, practical advice from St. Francis de Sales on how to help oneself when feeling blue. I hope it helps you as it does me.

“When you find your heart growing sad, divert yourself without a moment’s delay; make a visit, enter into a conversation with those around you, read some amusing book, take a walk, sing, do something, it matters not what, provided you close the door of your heart against this terrible enemy. As the sound of a trumpet give the signal for combat, so sad thoughts apprise the devil that a favorable moment has come for him to attack us.”

St. Therese of Lisieux, Pray for Us!

St. Francis de Sales, Pray for Us!

St. Joseph, Pray for Us!

Mary, Cause of Our Joy, Pray for Us!

St. Blaise is Still Weird, Though…

I have become friendly with Chad at Grove’s Appliance Repair. He and some of his co-workers have made several visits to the house in the 7 years since we built the place. Probably, the KitchenAid people won’t want me for their ad campaign anytime soon. The good news is that few people have made such extensive use of a crockpot as yours truly. I own two, actually. I recommend use of the older models that use a knob to control the temperature over the new fangled digital versions where “warm” means “blazing hot” and “high” means the smoke alarms will be going off at any moment. When the Food Network comes up with a 6-hr slow cooker version of “Beat Bobby Flay”, I feel like I’m pretty much a shoe-in to take home the victory. No one can slake the massive, testosterone fueled appetites of young men with giant vats of mystery food quite like I can.

There hasn’t been a fully working kitchen here since Thanksgiving. That day, Tom made us just a glorious bird. That thing was magazine worthy, and it tasted even better. Let’s be honest though. I mean, anyone can cook delicious food with properly working equipment. What challenge is that? Ha?!

In the time that has passed thus far in our oven repair escapades, my oldest son has purchased his first vehicle, mom has torn her meniscus in two places, my parents both have gotten and recovered from covid-19, Christmas and New Year’s Day have come and gone, a new president has been sworn into office, a third vaccine has come onto the market, my middle son graduated from college, and my youngest son can now drive passengers– including a girl– with whom it seems he recently had his first official “date”. Honestly, these are just some highlights. The damn kitchen is hopeless.

When I got a series of frantic text messages this morning from a friend who was completely losing her mind this morning over her own household crisis, all I could do was look at my kitchen– Chad and his 1000 piece puzzle that used to be my oven– and laugh. Because do you know what entertains me? SO MUCH. The world is a silly, hysterical, amusing joy ride. It’s best not to take any of it too seriously.

Chad and the hopeless oven.

Here’s what we can do. We can lift up the next guy, or we can knock them down. I get to decide what I want to give the world today. What have I got that’s worth sharing? It’s my choice. CNN, Twitter, and the NY Times can do their thing, and I can do me.

Today is the feast of St. Blaise. When I was a kid, the priest at St. Lawrence would line us all up in church and then choke us with these long candles. They called it blessing of the throats. It creeped me out, if I’m honest. His feast, though, falls at a tough moment in the calendar year. There’s a lot of cold and gray. So, some time ago, I decided to turn the day from weird, gray and macabre to something better. I interiorly declared it “Random Act of Kindness Day”. It’s the third day of the month, so I’d do three small kindnesses for others. I rarely have to think too hard, the opportunities simply appear. It’s the Lord’s way, I believe, of reinforcing for me that our greatest calling is love and the chances to practice it are everywhere. Yes, it’s absolute truth that we are called to love, even in the middle of winter.

Chad has been here a long time. The oven still doesn’t work. But what I know now that I didn’t know before is that Chad’s in the middle of chemotherapy. He didn’t look amazing, and I asked if he was okay. He assured me that he was, but admitted he was fighting cancer. Yet there he is on my floor and on the phone trying to fix the great and mysteriously doomed Thieme oven. As he sheepishly got up again to use the restroom, all I could think was…how can I imitate Christ’s love and consideration to this sick man?

I don’t know that much about St. Blaise, except the throat thing and that he was a physician. However, since today is his feast and he was a healer of men by vocation, I have prayed for his intercession on behalf of Chad. Also, I invoked my friend St. Therese who taught me about the value of our little acts of love and sacrifice.

Some day, I’m going to be awesome. Maybe I won’t ever be like St. Blaise or St. Therese, but God’s got a great plan for me, and He’s got one for you too. I think I’ll just trust Him and roll with it, wherever the road leads. I’m trying hard to not get upset about eating potato soup out of a crockpot again because my friend Therese was not about convincing herself that life’s predicaments didn’t bother her or pretending to have feelings she didn’t have. Her temperament and nature was exactly what made her patience a sacrifice. She offered all these things to God. She did so for love of Jesus. Thanks for showing me the way, Trixie.

Let’s get real for a second. I am seriously annoyed by this oven thing as well as many things much larger going on around me at the moment. We can let life make us cranky and bitter if we choose. Or, we can ask Jesus to help us love deeply. Love is a choice and today I want you to think about something. What in the heck would this crazy place do without weirdos who choose kind– even when their souls feel full of brokenness, struggle, rejection, loneliness– and on top of that the damn oven doesn’t work!? I say we stand in it. Let our weary feet be the rich soil the Lord uses to bear fruit. What do you want to give the world today?

As for me? I’m going with a 4th act of kindness for the unsuccessful, very hard-working oven repair guy named Chad who is fighting a battle much bigger than the one with my KitchenAid oven.

Here’s a great prayer for you weary travelers, who like me, struggle sometimes wondering what the heck we are doing, but are trying to trust in the Lord, who is love itself, all the same. It’s a personal favorite.

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. (Thomas Merton)

PEACE OUT!

Such As We are, Such Are The Times.

“I have made a pact with my tongue, not to speak when my heart is disturbed.” (St. Francis de Sales)

Sometimes, I get melancholy or overwhelmed. It causes me to ramble. That’s not usually because I need someone to cheer me up, just that speaking the mess into the world helps it to exit the maze in my head. Exhaling. It’s incredibly healthy. Perhaps that’s not quite the experience had by the “victim” of these outbursts, mind you. Usually I vomit them out in frenzied spasms via text. These fits are often laced with “charming” eruptions of sarcasm which can ring up quite a tally on the little red messages flag on a person’s Iphone. I have a giftedness for texting that few can match. To those elect few upon whom I have preyed with my drivel, I offer my sincerest apologies. It’s 2021, and I’m vowing to work on it.

That said, I’ve reviewed my outgoing messages, and I am going to need to make a positive interior adjustment regardless of the times in which you and I live, with all it’s tremendous challenges. I implore you to consider it too, because MANY of you have shared with me that you are being sucked into the rabbit hole (aka vortex of evil)– often with considerable aid from what’s on the TV or online. I’m going to dig in the dark for a moment to explain why I think we need to make a profound shift, for the sake of our mental and spiritual health. For those who want to remain on the ride, I promise to end with hope.

Right now, there’s a plethora of politicians, experts and celebrities posing as journalists who are anxious to spread fear and loathing in all forms of media. They use words like “unity” and then publicly eviscerate those who disagree with them in the very next sentence. It’s discouraging. My husband suggested that he wishes that under their names on the chyron at the bottom of the screen it would say either “commentator” or “journalist”. I don’t think we have many of the latter still around, if I’m honest. Those are the increasingly extinct folks I’d rather hear from on my news sources. A counselor friend told me this week that at her care facility, suicides among the young are up 600% in the past year. Anxiety, depression, division and animosity abound, as do masks, social distancing, and nearly every avenue of connection to our common humanity. We hesitate to even help a struggling, fragile senior citizen to load their groceries as this new year begins. “Stay back” our interior “Covid Compliance Officer” chants, while our heart aches, knowing what charity requires. Our patience is limited and hopelessness is all around us. The rancor between even friends and family over many things is untenable. This, folks, is actually NOT a new problem. History is filled with such moments. Here’s some very timely food for thought from St. Augustine–and he died in the year 430 AD for goodness sakes!

Bad times, hard times- this is what people keep saying: but let us live well and times shall be good. We are the times. Such as we are, such are the times.

I have to choose better. We have to choose better. I propose we practice the great sacramental pause.

That is, we must remember to whom you and I belong– and we belong to the Lord of the universe. I must maintain mercy towards myself, and you towards yourself. You are infinitely more valuable than the most expensive things offered on the earth. Sense your deep goodness, and realize you and I are both made in the image and likeness of God. Remember that the Lord loves you more than you love your children, parents, spouse, or dearest friends. He loves even the guy who made the ignorant and hateful comment on Twitter that much too.

He’s the one who gives humans life, who makes us capable and responsible to love and care for ourselves and for each other. We were made for love. I believe in hope and it’s rooted in faith.

I’m Catholic. Many folks of my particular Christian persuasion have made some grave and disgusting errors in the name of Christ. To those who brush aside my assertion that faith is the answer based on these dreadful facts, I have a quote to share. It’s a quote I shared with my oldest son when he was questioning his faith, and I believe in it’s truth. Also, it makes me laugh a little.

“The Catholic Church is an institution I am bound to hold divine– but for unbelievers a proof of it’s divinity might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight.” (Hilare Belloc)

Here’s the thing. I love my country despite its very obvious imperfections and those of it’s leaders. I truly believe it’s the greatest place on the planet to live south of heaven itself. So too, I love Jesus with all that I am, despite the tremendous flaws of His church here on earth. Also, I love all you weirdos carrying your freak flags around. Yes, all of you. Each of your lives is precious and I invite you to reach out to me if ever you find yourself in doubt of the same– the coffee and smile are on me. I’d ask you to consider doing the same when you notice the next guy seems a tad glum.

Do you see that quote by St. Francis de Sales up there at the top of this entry? I find it inspiring. Also, I have never had much luck holding my tongue, as illustrated by the fact that I am writing a blog post this very moment. But I’ve been quiet a little longer than usual in this space, because I want to add sunshine and the light of Christ to any place I inhabit and I want to do it authentically. I’d like to think that you want the same in your life, and it can be hard to do that when we ourselves seem to be out of sorts. But God has not relinquished control, so CHINS UP, people!

My phone rang while I was at mass early last week. It was my oldest son. I let it go, making a note to call Nick back after mass. Then, just about 2 minutes later, he called again and my heart stopped a little. The dreaded double call. He’d been in a serious accident. He sounded dazed while telling me he had hit a patch of black ice and lost control. He got a face full of airbags and his trusty old high school Xterra was no match for the concrete barrier. But he was okay. Thanks be to God!

It was a stark reminder that this life goes by fast. We can’t languish in unpleasant thoughts. That’s the devil’s playground. Also, we shouldn’t take for granted our many blessings or waste the gifts of the Lord. That kid of mine was wearing Buzz Lightyear pajamas, it seems, a moment ago, and now he’s a first year financial analyst at a bank in Cincinnati! I’m not saying I’m at all happy Nick hit that patch of ice, but it shook me loose. I got in my car as soon as the weekend hit, and I went to help my kiddo bounce back. He’d need to purchase his first car, and I wanted it to be a happy day, even though it wasn’t in his plans for himself this winter. I don’t want to waste a minute of this precious gift of life given to me by our good and gracious God. What can I add to this world? I can love more profoundly and forgive more quickly, among other good things…and then I must trust God and leave the remainder in His hands.

We found him a pretty badass 4-year old Ford F-150. His first installment loan and only 6 months of employment history meant he needed a co-signer. It reminded me of needing the exact same thing in 1994, when my Dad co-signed the loan for my first car, a Toyota Camry. I felt so excited and proud that day, and I wanted Nick to try and forget his sore neck and bruised up chest and just know he was loved, and feel the joy and pride of his first new car. Those four hours traveling to and from Cincy feel like they were worth every second.

Nick Fred with his first car purchase. It’s a 2016, Ford F-150. Everyone loves a friend with a truck, am I right?
When your names on the loan too, you get the honor of being the first passenger!

My point is that our little acts of love are NOT so little.

We are the conduits of grace needed by the faithful saints in heaven whose powerful intercession we must call upon often. As St. Augustine also rightly said, “God provides the wind, but man must raise the sails.” The Blessed Mother is the queen of that impressive group we call upon, and momma to each of us. So we pray. Then pray some more. The heavenly arm of saints and angels stands ready to help us in our weakness. Pray not out of fear and trembling, but confidently. We are the beloved daughters and sons of the Most High and He’s crazy about us! He loves when we ask for help– just like I was when I got Nick’s call to assist with the car process.

Next time I see that little old lady at Fresh Thyme, I’ll be offering to load her groceries for her, even if the “Covid Compliance Officer” living in my brain thinks it’s not the move in 2021. If she doesn’t want my help, so be it. I’ll simply offer a “God Bless You” in that case and know that somehow in the offer, Jesus used me for His purpose. So, why not pray now? Or call your aunt today? Today seems like a good day to meet your lonely friend and go for a walk, or share your leftover chili with Grandpa Tom. Who cares if it’s cold– the sun is out– and you own a coat!

SUCH AS WE ARE, SUCH ARE THE TIMES. Right on, Augustine!

My prayers today are offered for our young people. +JMJ+