Make the Strawberry Shortcake

Remember this and never forget it.  Even if it should seem at times that everything is collapsing, nothing is collapsing at all, because God doesn’t lose battles.  –St. Josemaria Escriva

For those who don’t know me personally, I’ll let you in on a little secret.  When I begin a sentence with “Correct me if I’m wrong…” then one ought to understand with painstaking clarity that NO CONTINGENCY exists where choosing to do so would be remotely suitable.  I utterly lack patience and am inherently stubborn.  Only when prudence has been forsaken entirely will I open with “Correct me if I’m wrong.” For the love of all things holy, don’t step in that landmine, people.  I’m snarkier than your average bear when provoked.  It’s not something I’m particularly proud about, and I’ve been reflecting on this and some of my other lesser qualities of late.  I wonder how can God use someone so impertinent as me at this moment in the history of the world?  Why did He place me here right now?

Nick, Zach, and Drew Thieme (2006)

Near the beginning of the ensuing insanity of 2020, I cleaned out my office.  One of the treasures I uncovered was this picture of my three sweet boys, in much earlier (and simpler) times, sucking on popsicles on the front step of our house on Garden Gate Way.  The baseball player on the left was then a second grader, Z was 2, and that means Drew was 6.  I found a little magnetic sleeve in a drawer, and I placed the photo on my fridge.  The photo made me feel gratitude for the greatest blessings in my life, and interiorly, I somehow knew I would need that reminder in my line of sight for a while. 

Good grief!  How right was I about that?

Despite my many flaws, I consider myself to be an empathetic, compassionate and kind person.  I’m a good listener too, and these things I think are inherently pro-life attributes gifted to me for the glory of the Lord.  I often text or ask “hey, how are you holding up?” In a broken world, meeting people where they are, caring to wait for their reply, it can heal others.  Being other-focused can bind up our own wounds too.

Adversity isn’t going to depart from our lives.  It may recede for a time or advance in unrelenting fashion like it has in 2020, but I don’t know many folks who have escaped challenge over the long term as human beings living on planet earth.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give it to you.  Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”  (Jn 14:27)

Someone kind of holy sent me that lovely little bit of scripture and I am going to be honest.  My worries were a mile deep that day and it brought on some fairly serious eye-rolling and an interior rejection.  Oh how helpful. That’s super easy.  NOT.

I sank deeper.  And THEN, I got sort of irritated with Jesus and His admonition.  Talking to me about peace when dad had a heart attack he can’t seem to recover from? Mom’s in pain that can’t be relieved for at least 3 months? The father-in-law has stage 4 colon cancer? Multiple friends I adore are in serious marriage trouble? There are folks around me battling addiction, depression, cancer, stroke? The local church is in crisis, in case you haven’t noticed, Lord! What about that? And what about that mile-long list of people who have asked for my prayers? What exactly are you planning to do about those folks??

Sometimes, my best and most honest prayers are essentially silent, exasperated movements of the heart directed with not a small amount of “drama queen” angst to the God of the universe.

That meltdown, along with one similarly angsty sent to an actual (faith-filled) human, were just what the doctor ordered.  I felt better after venting, and grace reminded me that I must have extraordinary value in the eyes of God if Love itself gave Himself for me.  The price of my salvation was the cross of Christ.  I need to quit letting myself get distracted and let it sink deeply into my heart that following Jesus means life is likely to be tricky at best.

So, I’ve been praying about how can I add sunshine to the muck? How can I accept responsibility for my actions now and in the future instead of getting caught up trying to fix blame for wrongs? How can I focus on kindness instead of dipping my toe into the very toxic discourse all around me?

I think the answer is love.  We need to understand that people have bad days.  People are lonely and isolated.  People are limited and they are carrying something.  Daring people to “correct me if I’m wrong” with the fiery eyes of satan is probably not the best next move.  There’s not one eyeball I could meet with my glance who isn’t equally loved by God.  So, now I’ve got that popsicle picture on both my phone and my fridge.  It helps me stop and breathe and remember the almost deranged, irrational love God has shown me in these 49 years on planet earth.  You all?  God is a cuckoo psychopath to rain grace on me like He has.  I mean…I can stomp in puddles, take in sunsets, walk on the monon trail, and hold the hands of my guys during the Our Father at mass.  Those sticky, popsicle eating cuties are nearly grown now, and seeing their much older, hairy, unshaven faces still fills my heart with such joy.  The list of blessings bestowed on me is miles long.  Guess what?  Yours is too.

The point I am trying to make today is that I can’t fix FOX News or CNN, and I doubt my B in Biology at Purdue is enough to help anyone solve the coronavirus.  However, I can share a coffee with a friend who needs to exhale. Also, its simple to skip the complaint.  I can listen without interjecting, and I can affirm generously.  Supporting, forgiving and enjoying the people around me is not so hard. Love is about serving the next guy, and in that act, I think I say yes to God, to whom I owe endless gratitude.

So, I propose we remain steadfast in prayer, and we each take responsibility today to find a way to serve others with love.  Both of these things will help us, and the world, to become less hard hearted and more loving.  I’m not going to overthink it. In fact, right now, I think I’ll go make strawberry shortcake for my fellas.  A special treat might give them a smile.

“To be able to say yes to God at every moment of our lives is the essence of holiness.” –Mother Angelica

Speak Life!

Tom called me into his office and said, “Here. I want you to sit in my seat a minute. I will be right back.” I was thinking, “Ok…?” So, I began gazing around the room (formerly known as MY office) and glancing at his multiple computer screens, wondering why I was sitting there.

Bounding back in, he exclaimed indignantly, “Well, did you feel the whole house shake!?” I replied, “Umm, no? What are you talking about?”

“I just went outside like you do and slammed the door shut to demonstrate how freaking annoying it is! It’s been 3 months working from home and I thought I could deal with it, but I just can’t take it anymore!”

Cue the inappropriate laughter. I mean, you all, I was doubled over and cackling, because I was utterly oblivious as he tried so hard to demonstrate how thoughtless and irritating I am. I just didn’t notice. I was completely unaware.

Actually, I think my laughter diffused the whole thing. He smirked against his will and gave me a little love tap on the derriere before telling me to get the hell out… while shaking his head. It was actually incredibly funny. There wasn’t any escalation, and that’s the magic of love.

Afterward, I went outside to rebound while Z got up a few jump shots. I asked Zach if I have a door-slamming thing. He said, “YES! Mom, you are actually the worst!”

HAHAHA! Who knew? Apparently, everyone but me. Okay then, now that I know, I can work on that. Once again, I affirm that although I am certainly the daughter of the Most High God, I am also Shelly, which means I am unambiguously limited.

Without a doubt, the repeated door slamming was both anger-inducing and thoughtless. We’re in month four of COVID (working from home) world, and the unrelenting lack of professionalism by Tom’s current “co-workers” might be starting to get to him. Also, though, it was a series of acts committed utterly without malice. Is there a need to amend my behavior? Yes. Am I now a door slammer in recovery? Well, the jury is still out. I would contend that my poor behavior has improved as exit percentages go, but I’m pretty sure Tom only remembers the times I slide back into old habits. Do you think it makes it any better that I usually cringe on the other side of the door when I realize I’ve done it again? Eh…likely not.

This is far from the first time that our lack of temperamental compatibility has caused an impasse. Placing my mouthwash bottle on Tom’s side of the bathroom counter and the crunching sound I make when chewing my lifesaver mints instead of sucking on them are also frequent decorum violations to which I’m prone. You guys, I have these lesser parts which abound. The thing that makes this and all relationships work despite the character and behavior flaws as well as the disagreements over matters both miniscule and boulder-sized… is the presence of love. What also helps me when I screw up (or someone I live with is just flat bugging me) is that I know in the light of eternity, there is precious little for which it is worth losing my peace. I’m a work in process with so much to improve, but I’m trying. This applies to things much bigger than door slamming and counter hogging, by the way.

I’m not everyone’s preferred flavor, and that’s just fine. I admit that I am a person who entertains her feelings a little too much, so sometimes I’m wounded by this reality. That can end badly if I let it. Satan loves the kind of rejection that frightens us into the belief that God doesn’t love us, or He doesn’t have a good plan for us. This is a corrupting, hopeless lie. If you find you need to find the escape hatch from the darkness, pray this quick prayer to stop the king of lies. Jesus, tell me You love me until I believe you.

I have learned to choose differently, and so can you. I find that when our hearts are cracked open a touch, we leave that vulnerable, glorious space for Jesus to sneak in. If He, who is love itself, finds a welcome space, we soon find ourselves participating in the divine life, despite our shortcomings, fears, and limitations. He has loved us anyway, restless hearts and all.

Our souls are ordered to the love of the God who made us, so a sniff of His overwhelming grace and mercy begs for a response. For me, it makes me want to speak life. I want to inspire hope and be the reason someone believes in goodness. Some other great folks have done the same for me, and I’d like to pay it forward.

As dangerous as it might feel in the environment we are surrounded by today, I propose we try loving others with abandon, despite their flaws or our own. Right now, the world is telling us that hope is a waste of time and our enemies have us trapped on all sides. I read this old quote by CS Lewis which demonstrates the danger of this line of thinking quite succinctly.

“Suppose that one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then, suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second, then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then finally to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything– God and our friends and ourselves included– as bad, and not able to stop doing it; we shall be fixed forever in a universe of pure hatred.” (CS Lewis)

Deep goodness and beauty exists in each and every one of us. Heroic virtue is what we need right now. First, we’ve got to maintain mercy towards ourselves, then we need to let it spread to those around us– especially when we think they might not deserve it.

Admittedly, I am just a housewife here but the acrimony is easy to spot and fury seems to be dialed to high out there right now. There are a plethora of influential and powerful folks making a lot of bothersome and provoking noise right now. However, as far as I can tell, Jesus was not into big shots. He wasn’t into strict adherence to rules that lack compassion or common sense. He was more into speaking life, tending to the least, and most of all Jesus was into sacrificial love. From what I’ve read, He was really, really into that. I want to be like that guy a little more. So, I pray a lot.

“You go to pray; to become a bonfire, a living flame, giving light and heat.” (St. Josemaria Escriva)

That means I’ve got to die to myself and love EVERYONE foolishly. I’ll start with you. You are deeply and powerfully loved by the God of the universe, in whose image you are made, even if you slam doors and irritate your family. When you look in the mirror, see the good. You are enough. If you need me to pray for you in your current struggle, say so. I’ve got a list, and I’d be honored to put your name on it.

I’ll leave you with this golden nugget from a holy priest named Msgr. Laughlin. He said when we weren’t sure if we were getting it right, we should try to order our lives as much as possible to love like Christ, knowing of course that we will fall well short. However, also he suggested we pay no attention to the devil when we fail, but instead remember the last four things: death, judgement, heaven and hell. While we don’t want to be presumptuous, it’s equally important to understand that our judge loves us so much He died for us.

I’m Limited. Love Me Anyway

“Be kind to unkind people. They need it the most.” -Robin Williams

Lately (and maybe always) the internet is a scary place, full of social media apps and platforms along with users in full throat toxicity. It seems to me that even people of good will often lose their way in this jungle.

For instance, I have a bright and very funny friend, (a father of 2 amazing kids) who in real life would never choose to condescend, but whose online presence is filled to overflowing with vitriol, even hatred towards others who do not share his particular political views. He’s clever, so his comments are particularly pointed and hurtful. I’m sure he thinks he’s educating the rest of us with his caustic, cynical and snide commentary. I’d argue no one of the opposing view is ever going to wake up one day to his sarcasm-filled, angry tweets and think “Oh yeah, give me a piece of what that guy’s got!”

Another acquaintance, whose charitable work and Christian writing has long inspired me, has lately decided that the best use of her giftedness is to beguile us with partisan accusations and cacophony on Facebook. It feels a little tragic in all honesty.

Good and kind friends, there’s not a thing wrong with sharing your perspective. In fact, I’m doing the very same thing right here. I applaud the use of one’s voice to speak to important issues, in charity. Interiorly, though, I find myself often judging the methodology and even the character of these folks and wishing they would choose differently.

Right there is where I went off the rails, am I right? My job is not to judge. My job is to love.

As I look in the mirror, I want to be someone who lifts up the next person (in practice and in prayer), who helps others look forward to the gift of today. It’s hard to do that if I’m playing judge and jury.

Spending a week in Florida with girlfriends is good for the soul. I just returned from such an adventure, with a group of four sparkly friends. Our parting “motto” for the trip was definitely “I’m limited. Love me anyway.” We laughed at length at ourselves and decided the next t-shirt Colleen Stine needs to make us simply MUST bear those words.

As ladies will do, we broke down a lot of topics, as well as each other. Exhaling is healthy, for sure, and God often gifts us with opportunities to be His face in these intimate settings. Such was the case one night on this trip when one of these gals confessed a failure for which she felt great shame. Heck, we’ve all failed. It’s my hope that what she left feeling was empathy and love. Her story reminded me how important it is to remember that there is brokenness in all of us, and that we must be gentle with ourselves and opt for God’s mercy.

People are limited. We are limited by our personal history, unmet needs, physical pain, emotional trauma, or even just our lack of giftedness or self-awareness. Some of us are flat out ill-equipped. We’ve been hurt, taken for granted, or deceived. We’re poorly catechized, or our education was insufficient. We were parented badly, or we’ve suffered abuse. Perhaps we’ve recently lost a child or a job. All these scenarios and many more leave us lacking.

For the sake of Christian charity, here are the questions I’m challenging myself with right now. Is what I am doing making me holier? How is my heart, and is my example leading my soul and yours closer to Jesus?

You guys, I love Jesus. I love Him more than I think I ever have. It’s a gift largely born from what my pastor called “divine absence”. The loss of the sacraments in recent months made me ache for the Lord in a way I never have before. I mean, I knew my faith was important to me, but God used this shut down of churches in a beguiling way in my life. The pain, especially the loss the of the mass, the Holy Eucharist, was unbearably hard at certain points. It felt like a major overreaction. I was thinking “This is nuts! Get over yourself!” But I could not. I would even go so far as to describe myself as interiorly grief-stricken during some of these weeks of quarantine. I believe it was supernaturally ordained suffering. But, suffering refines faith, and God is trustworthy.

I guess this torture is what I get for telling Jesus I love Him and asking Him to help me love Him more, ha? God likes to give us good gifts when we ask, though, and as I look back on this time, I see how He took inordinately excellent care of me.

Am I becoming love? I don’t know, but I desire it. I do know this. People are limited. We are called to love them anyway. It’s a great lesson in dignity and humility for me to ask God for the grace to think from this perspective in all that I say and do.

I looked over to an aggressive driver on 146th St. on the way home from the airport who had pulled out in front of me. I was tired, and my heart was full to the brim with disdain for a moment, until I saw the man’s face. You see, I know this man a little, well enough to be aware he recently lost his son. My minor case of road rage dissolved. Sheesh. I’m such a dork sometimes. He’s limited, love him anyway. That’s what the voice in my head cried out. Good grief, I am a comically slow learner.

This particular spiritual challenge issued by the Lord has me re-evaluating my interior and exterior responses to a myriad of others with whom I come into contact, and even some I may never meet.

For instance, as I probe my heart, I am not proud to admit that there is a powerful man for whom I have had precious little respect for some time now. He has done and said hurtful and unacceptable things to some folks I love deeply.

Harboring ill will? Yes, I have been.

Truly, it’s not ok. You see, he’s limited, and I am called to love him anyway. I have long considered myself not a judgemental person. That self-evaluation is deeply flawed. Luckily, my beautiful Catholic Church has a remedy for that. It’s called confession. It’s a place where we begin again.

That’s the beauty of God. You can’t lose with the Lord if you fall into sin, even mortal sin. Go to confession, repent of your sin, try again…and God, again, not only restores you to the point at which you fell, but advances you again because of your humble repentance and new effort to improve in your spiritual life. You can’t lose with Jesus. It doesn’t matter how sinful you are, how many weaknesses you have or the circumstances in which you find yourself. The grace and the love of Jesus Christ and the power of his sacraments are such that He wins every time as long as you turn back to him, as long as you put your trust in him.” – Fr. David Miller

As I talk to the Lord tonight, the Savior I deeply love, I plan to thank Him for many things, including helping me to see where I am blind.

I’m limited, Jesus. Love me anyway.

And He does.

Happy 100th!

If I were their officemate, my sons and husband mused at one of our recent lunches in the oft frequented “Café 5350”, I would be that annoying co-worker who hits “reply all” for the express purpose of issuing inane and needless (Hey, thanks!) email replies, thus clogging up the inboxes of others. 

“So, let me get this straight? I am getting raked over the coals at this lovely family lunch on my own patio because I am HYPOTHETICALLY guilty of being the annoying co-worker you finance and accounting guys detest?”

They laughed their big bellies off and agreed, uniformly, that hypothetically speaking, I am absolutely guilty. 

In my defense, I’ll simply offer the fact that my giftedness in the area of interconnectedness is superior to some of my accusers, and I think those handsome clowns are just jealous, ha?  

Authentic, value-based, and positive leadership, I’d argue, makes mutual care and interconnectedness a priority.  For the past few days, I’ve been reading about a man whose life defines that particular model of effective leadership.  It makes me yearn for more men and women like him in 2020. Were he still alive, St. Pope John Paul II would have been 100 years old TODAY!

Reading about his remarkable life and leadership qualities have left me aching for political and spiritual leaders of his ilk.  Instead, it feels like we are all living in a vacuum, a void, an utter emptiness of such pilotage.  I don’t mean to be mean, but the incapacity and ego-driven shenanigans of many of the folks in charge during this pandemic is a bit mind-numbing.  There’s so much preoccupation with one’s own feelings and egotistic self-absorption present in the never-ending press conferences that I long for a selfless captain without ulterior motive. 

The ultimate test of your greatness is the way you treat every human being. (St. John Paul II)

They stand in stark contrast with the person of Karol Wojtyla.  This was a remarkable man who lost his entire family before the age of 21, was trained in dangerous circumstances in an underground seminary as Nazis closed in, and whose entire upbringing was beset with socio-political tragedies.  He had every reason to be a bitter or jaded, but this man truly was a Witness to Hope. He was the pope we remember for his indispensable contributions in the peaceful conclusion to the Cold War.

An inspiring man who operated in love, it seems to me this priest of Jesus Christ saw his work as not burdensome, but rather a way to serve his fellow man.  He firmly believed in “The Law of the Gift”, which is about how the happiness of man rests in his ability to sincerely give himself to others. 

Everyone lives, above all, for love.  The ability to live authentically, not great intellectual capacity, constitutes the deepest part of a personality.  It is no accident that the greatest commandment is to love.  Authentic love leads us outside ourselves to affirming others:  devoting oneself to the cause of man, to people, and above all, to God.  (St. John Paul II)

 I love so much in this story unfolding before me in the pages of George Weigel’s biography, Witness to Hope, but I especially am drawn to the humility on display.  For instance, it’s reported that when he was a Cardinal, he once had to bring in a misguided priest for a reprimand of some note.  After the discussion, Cardinal Wojtyla prayed with the young priest at great length.  At just the point when the poor kid was nearly unnerved, the Cardinal turned to the younger man and asked him to hear his (Wojtyla’s) confession.   What a beautiful example of how to properly conduct fraternal correction!

Inspiring leaders believe in people.  They make others feel special.  St. Pope John Paul II could speak truth, create a climate of wonder, defend the faith, and witness to joy and love precisely because he was humble man who was deeply in love with Jesus.  He was intimately involved with much of the work done during Vatican II.  Here’s a tidbit from Witness to Hope that I found especially moving.

Wojtyla also developed a profound critique of the utilitarianism that permeates modern culture—the temptation to measure others by their financial, social, political or sexual utility to me—by demonstrating the moral fact that our relationship to truth, goodness, and beauty is the true stuff of our humanity.  Finally, Wojtyla showed how accepting the moral truth involved in the Law of Gift is not a limit on our freedom or our creativity.  Truth makes us free and enables us to live our freedom towards its goal, which is happiness.

It seems to me the virtuous way he cared for others and his desire to create a spirit of unity with all humanity is a beautiful example with implications for our contemporary leaders, but also deeply important for our own lives. 

St. Pope John Paul II reminds me that one human being can have an amazing impact on the world.  It’s the same message I was attracted to when I chose St. Catherine of Siena as my confirmation saint many years ago as a teenager.  She famously said, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” It rings true.

Christian love is “the more excellent way”.  I am finding myself moved today to reflect on my life as well as my own circumstances.  Do I have an encouraging attitude?  Am I fostering good relationships?  Am I filled up with solipsism or do I value self-awareness, humility and compassion for others?  As it relates to the dignity and sanctity of human life, do my actions match the truth of Christ I proclaim to believe?

Let me put it to you in more practical terms.  This morning, a lovely friend of mine asked me for some “concrete” spiritual advice.  She said she felt during this pandemic especially helpless, that she wasn’t doing anything useful with her time.  In the absence of access to the sacraments, and with job losses suffered in her family, she is feeling more powerless than at any previous time as it relates to leading her family in faith, she said.  I agreed with her that I have never understood more clearly in my life the importance and centrality of the Eucharist, and that like her I long for the return to access to the sacraments we both hold dear.  However, we can’t control that, so I suggested something simple.  I asked her if she prayed for her family and friends? Then, I told her this.  Prayer is powerful, I believe, because I know the Lord looks on us with such affection that He wants to use us in His work. While it’s His saving work, in my heart I am certain that this prayerful intercession of ours does matter, and the prayers do help.  Most of us, no matter how lowly our situation, can give this gift.  There’s always more we can do to love others, but it’s a start. 

While we’re praying, let us ask today for St. John Paul II’s intercession for our civic leaders, both here and abroad, at the national and local levels as they navigate during these unusual times.  Additionally, we’ll call on the “birthday boy” to intercede for us as it relates to our spiritual leaders.  May they fall more deeply in love with Jesus and have the necessary courage to be fully present, humble, and self-giving shepherds to all the souls in their care. 

St. John Paul II, PRAY FOR US!

Goldfish Crackers and Cranky People

God never looked in your mirror or mine and wished He saw someone else. — Bob Goff

Walking in virtually all conditions is now a standard part of my daily routine during this time of collective isolation. Salvation of mental health aside, I find if I merely spend most days walking the approximate distance of a half marathon, I am able to very nearly balance out the calories from my goldfish cracker consumption. Are the Pepperidge Farms people conspiring with satan? Well, duh! Stoppage of the forced marches causes a precipitous and immediate spike on the bathroom scale. Curtailed use of goldfish as a sedative seems to result in temptation to alternative forms of debauchery, so here we are.

Moderation has never been my area of giftedness.  I’m more naturally blessed with volume and melodrama.  So, I believe I will stick with the crackers and traipsing combo for now.  I’ve decided to be a little gentle with Shelly and not try to win this coronavirus “thing” we are all experiencing.  I’m doing the best I can.  If you’re living your best life during the pandemic, I am thrilled for you, I really am.  We’re doing fine over here, but this is NOT me at my very best. 

For instance, I went to wake my youngest son so he could log in to some high school online classes shenanigans at 9am the other morning. I looked like Medusa, and I was in a tank top and yoga pants that I still had on from the day before. “It’s time to get up,” I groaned. “What’s the deal, Mom? You don’t look great.” I quite agreed with him, and I began laughing aloud at myself as I spoke the thought I’d be wrestling with since I woke to the gray day. “Well, it’s raining, so what’s the point of living, really?” Then, Zach and I began to cackle at how pathetic I looked and sounded. Tom came bounding upstairs to see what fun he was missing. I’m not sure our explanation did anything but confuse him. Up until now, I might have been tempted to label myself as a poor parent with a negative attitude, but today I see the value in modeling something else. Learning to laugh at oneself is a very vital life skill, after all. I’m choosing to believe Z saw that.

A couple weeks ago, some friends and I decided the connection with one another felt a bit strained because of our inability to lay eyes on each other.  So, we’ve followed the lead of the rest of the world and moved our friendship to Zoom.  Seeking some sort of organization to keep us on track, my dear friend Chris suggested a book club.  We are currently in the middle of a very slow reading of the book Everybody Always.  Despite of the fact that he’s an attorney, the author is a positivity hero of mine, Bob Goff.  I plan to tell him that in person someday.  I’m not sure how that’s going to happen, but this guy has so inspired me to try and become love in my own life by following the lead of Jesus that I plan to find a way…but I digress. 

The book suggestion was mine. Actually, I wanted the girls to read his first book, Love Does. I keep giving it to people who I think the Holy Spirit sends me that need to hear from Bob. You see, his message is challenging, but accessible. I think his crazy stories lead folks to the Lord. That isn’t the best part, though. Bob is the kind of guy who makes you want to add “up until now” at the front of your sentences. He doesn’t say it that way in his books exactly, but that’s what I hear. He thinks big and steps out there to meet Jesus. It’s scary on the ledge trusting Christ with our lives. You see, we all seem to listen to this interior voice from time to time that says we aren’t good enough, or we are failures, or we just can’t do this. I think we need to re-think things at this moment in time and add the phrase “up until now” to the start of our negative self-talk sentences. Are we or are we not made in the image of the Lord? That fact alone makes us the beloved children of the Most High God.

 The girls wanted me to read something with them that I had never read before.  So, I lied and told them I hadn’t read Bob’s second book, Everybody Always.  Well, I didn’t lie exactly, I just led them to assume I hadn’t read it.  At least, that’s what I’m telling myself since my heart was in the right place and the confessionals all have a “closed for business” sign on them right now. 

Here’s what happened at last week’s meeting.  We decided to choose an activity and put love in action this week.  The challenge was to identify a neighbor that perhaps we didn’t know, or (if feeling particularly brave) someone we find particularly off putting and reach out to them.  Nothing works to create peace of mind and heart quite as well as selflessness.  I chose a crabby older couple that lives across the street.  We’ve lived here 6 years and I couldn’t even come up with their names.  It’s really not okay.  Mostly, they seem to dislike us because Nick Fred parks his old clunker on the street near the end of their driveway. 

So, I wrote them a note and included a little care package.  I apologized for not getting to know them sooner, asked about how they were doing, and I offered to run errands for them during this crazy time.  My cell phone number along with some chocolate wrapped in yellow ribbon accompanied the kind letter, in which I shared some details about our children and our lives.  I even addressed the car situation, explaining how I regretted the angst the vehicle was causing them but explaining why it was the safest option available to us and how Nick will be permanently moving out of state in a month. 

Transformative moments like this little one from my week always remind me about the power of selfless love.  When I sprinkle love on someone else, expecting nothing in return, I nearly always find the same interior result.  That is, when I let go of my judgements and ego, then I start to like who I’m becoming.  Feedback or outcome didn’t matter, because this was about loving others more in practical ways.  It made me seek out other opportunities all week long. 

Are you wondering what happened with my neighbor? I’ll allow it. When we were out in the driveway shooting hoops, Dave from across the street came out to chat. He smiled at me, and we kind of agreed to disagree on the location of the car. Later, he sent a text telling me about himself and his wife, and he thanked me for offering to help them out.

That was nice, and it felt good.  The thing is, that part doesn’t matter.  Not really.  It was never really about Dave and Nancy.  It was about me and the Lord.  No matter who I think I am, or where I am on my road of faith, God can use me.  Up until now, you might not have thought He could make use of perfectly imperfect you, but He can.

E-Learning: Get Behind Me, Satan!

A few saintly souls aside (for whom I have long held great esteem), none of us really wants to “home school” our children. What we’re doing now, in fairness, isn’t really home schooling at all, but it sure feels like it to those of us who are not born with the gifts of wisdom or patience. Our educators at every level are doing their best to deliver meaningful content across subject areas via the internet right now—and with zero time to prepare. By all accounts, the vast majority are doing so creatively and with compassion. After all, the majority of these folks don’t live on an island. Most of them, like the Thieme family, are navigating in a storm of the unforeseen. I’ll be candid. If my sons learn how to make the perfect over easy egg or change a flat tire instead of mastering the bone structure of the human wrist or the finer points of Spanish II this spring while the world implodes, I’ll live with it. We’ll fight on in the fall and play catch up academically. This is the season of the pandemic, and I don’t know a single soul whose mental health and daily life is unaffected.

Because I know this last sentence is absolute truth, I am trying my best to not yield to my baser instincts in dealing with those few teachers who just don’t get it. What I yearned to do this morning with one misguided Catholic school instructor was aim in her direction that famous quote by our Lord when He sharply rebuked Peter with “Get behind me, Satan.”

I didn’t. We’ll call it a moment of grace. I’ll pray it holds.

Instead, I texted my girlfriends for moral support.  They were squarely, and not surprisingly, in my corner.  We have coronavirus rules, you see.  Rule #1 is support your girlfriends without judgement because none of us is truly okay.

I’ve been reading this book called Work and Prayer. I don’t particularly recommend it. However, if you’re the extra curious sort who is interested in all things Catholic, it’s not so scary. It’s an explanation for lay people about the rule of St. Benedict.

St. Benedict is famous for this “rule” and essentially for saying we need to find God where we are, that it’s wiser to get down to being grateful for what we have and are doing, to making the best of it. “Doing otherwise brings jealousy, resentment, and distaste for what is,” he states. He beseeches us to “act like leaven” which is to be, by example, a persuasive influence in transforming those around us for the better. At least, that’s what I’m taking from the book so far. Well, that, and I’ve learned some new vocabulary words like, “compline” for instance.

Benedict spends a lot of time talking about proper humility and the peace it should produce in our hearts. I’d say I’ve got some serious work to do before I have ANY SHOT at this wild idea he has about how all things are to be embraced with a quiet heart. If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that there’s not a single quiet thing about one Shelly Thieme. Did you hear me mention I wanted with all my heart to tell a poor high school teacher this morning to “get behind me, Satan?” I still kinda want that. Sheesh. Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy…

Walking.  That’s what is working for me.  It might have been only 30 degrees this morning, but I got up and did it for an hour or so all the same.  Most the time, I spend these walks in prayer. Prior to our time of isolation, I was often at morning mass at this hour.  I miss Jesus and the sacraments so very much.  We have had so much trouble with the whole “streaming” thing over here that we couldn’t even watch Easter mass. Our Wifi is sketchy and inconsistent at best.  We don’t need Wifi to pray, though.

This foul-mouthed, ill-tempered mother of three large male humans is a surprisingly able prayer warrior. I really am. If you ask me to pray for you, or your intentions, I do it. I truly consider it a great honor. I’m not the most articulate. In fact, my prayers often sound a lot like my words in this blog— or Jim Carrey’s character in Bruce Almighty. I know this because I watched that silly movie on Netflix yesterday. Don’t judge me. I know you’re over there watching Ozark or Tiger King or something. There’s ample whining, some volume, and plenty of run-on sentences in my prayer lexicon. That’s my point. He knows my voice though, because I am DEFINITELY the squeaky wheel. You know what they say about that squeaky wheel getting the oil? I’m counting on it! “Ask and you shall receive”. My hope is wrapped up in that thought. There’s a growing list of names on my phone, as my only prayer “quirk” is that I really prefer to pray with names. Yes, God knows who you are, but without a name, I tend to lose track of folks. There’s this idea in my head that is ever before me about how my heart and my efforts on His behalf are always seen by the Lord. I want to do my best work.

Why am I sharing this? Well, yesterday, five terrific people reached out to me. They were all struggling in some way with the current situation in which we find ourselves. I promised prayers, and they thanked me. In fact, three of them texted back later with rather effusive gratitude. It struck me as work Jesus gave me and it gave me great joy to feel I had helped in a small, but meaningful way as I sit in quarantine and I felt gratitude and joy. It happens to me a lot, these requests. Do you need prayers too? I’ll be glad to pray for you. Share your name or your specific intention by replying to the post, or email me at shellythieme@yahoo.com. I’ll pray. I promise. When God sent Jesus here, He was telling us He wanted to be with the ones He loves. I want that too.

I’ll leave you with one last thing.  For all of you who are more like “Get behind me, Satan” Shelly from this morning, be gentle with yourself.  I struggle interiorly with that concept, and I know a lot of you do too.  We are all doing our best, ugly though it may look at some moments.  St. Benedict implores us about this.  He says we should never despair of God’s mercy.  That seems an apt, helpful reminder to me this day.

Holy Thursday…Coronavirus Edition

So now I am giving you a New Commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you. You should love one another. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples. (Jn 13: 34-35)

I have a little group chat going pretty much all the time with a few gals I affectionately call my “mom squad”.  This is not new to my everyday rhythm, nor is it something we’ve added since all the COVID-19 insanity disrupted, well, life.  The conversations continue to be about what is happening in our day to day worlds.  We cheer each other on from afar, celebrate life’s tiniest victories, comfort one another when one (or more) of us has a case of the blues, and always we pray for each other.  These girls are some of my most treasured peeps.  I mean, who else can I text a photo of my newly painted toenails to and they will understand the sliver of heaven I am sharing?  If you have friends like these too, let me tell you folks, your days and mine have all been touched by the sparkly stuff which can only come from the Lord!!

Yesterday, one of these amazing women shared with our group a photo of the dry erase “family goals” board in her hallway.  She’s the most Type-A person I know, and one of the most affirming, articulate friends I’ve ever had.  I’m pretty sure she was trying to encourage some greatness in us.  Each of her family members had 3-4 daily goals on that board.  It was impressive, and full of things they wanted to accomplish during the quarantine.  It would be downright inspiring to a better, holier woman than myself.  Mostly, it made me laugh aloud at myself and think of my most recent conversation with Tom.  He was mocking my coronavirus routine.  You see, I was getting up, showering, then realizing each day there was literally nothing normal on my calendar so I’d take a long walk.  Right after my shower.  I told him in no uncertain terms that this was MY QUARANTINE and if I wanted to get sweaty in full makeup, then that’s my prerogative.  However, he did have a point?  So, in my own quirky, weird way, I felt like I had WON THE DAY because I entered it smelly on the day I got that “goals” board from Lisa.  Her people have lists of accomplishments, and I am celebrating the fact that I am embracing my own BO.  To each her own?  HAHAHA!!!

My point is, there is no right or wrong way to do this time of “isolation” and we all just need to be gentle with ourselves and each other.  Some people need goals, others need Facetime, and still others need to get in a long daily walk or extra prayer time.  I’m not going to lie when I say some of us just need the damn Wifi to work properly so the family doesn’t implode while they try to upload assignments or work projects.  As for me, what I probably need most is to practice CHILLING OUT.  So, perhaps my skipped morning shower is actually a holy practical exercise in patience? 

Here’s what I’ve noticed that I want to share.  Like a lot of you, I’m online more now than I ever have been before…and that place really is a rabbit hole sometimes.  For the first time ever though, I really am seeing the blessings of technology in the way that it can aid relationships when we are forced to be apart.  However, people are difficult and opinionated, and that includes me.  Humans who are a little rattled can be challenging to handle, so sometimes we are tempted to put up barriers, or even demonize the guy with a differing opinion, which is sort of natural.  Some folks do it loudly with a grumpy tweet aimed at someone they see as a villain, and others of us do it in the quiet of our hearts.  The thing is, either way…that is NOT how Jesus taught us to love.

Today is Holy Thursday, and we remember our Lord instituting the Eucharist on this day, by sharing a meal with a man that He knew would betray Him.

I’m reading a sunny book right now that was written by a positivity hero of mine, Bob Goff.  As I look around online to connect with folks in a way that is currently safe and available to me, I keep asking myself the question Bob asks in this book.  “Am I really so insecure that I surround myself only with people who agree with me?  When people are flat wrong, why do I appoint myself the sheriff to straighten them out?  Burning down others’ opinions doesn’t make us right.  It makes us arsonists.”

We are all made in the image of God. He loves you and me and the goofball at Meijer who has ALL the TP in his cart just the same. The same thing goes for the guy in the free food line who drove up in a Tesla. Let’s pick on the TP guy a second and call him “George”. We don’t know the circumstances which brought Tesla guy to the free food line, nor do we understand the motives of George hoarding the TP. What we do know for sure is that even if in the unlikely circumstance that both gentlemen are filled with ill will, the Lord loves Tesla guy and George more than I love my three sons. Let me tell you, that’s just a freaking lot of love, and also a tad disconcerting, am I right? I know this because, well, God is God and I am not. He loves His children more than I love mine because HE IS LOVE. That means He loves you, and me….and George and Tesla guy more than you and I love any soul on this earth. I don’t know about you, but my son called me “pouncy” this week (for good reason) so that unearned, unconditional love feels pretty nice about now, huh?

This day more than any other seems an appropriate time to just remind myself Jesus taught us to love our enemies. That means the backbiters, slanderers, opponents, rivals, antagonists, and just the people who confuse the heck out of us on Twitter.

Think about Jesus with Judas at that first eucharistic meal before He died.  It’s so fitting to me that our Lord instituted this most important sacrament the night before He was crucified.  We pay special attention to everything He said and all that He did (with even more sharp focus today) perhaps because that’s exactly what we humans do with any good friend who is near death.  Jesus wanted us to have a profound and intense relationship with the Eucharist, because He was giving us Himself as spiritual food, necessary for the life of our souls. 

Do me a favor for a hot second and focus on the joyless feeling you have interiorly when you’ve spent yourself (perhaps only in the quiet of your heart) criticizing yourself or others because you or they have failed or fallen short.  Can we just NOT?  I’m taking a pause on that behavior for Holy Thursday, reflecting on the beautifully imperfect life I’ve been gifted, and with deep gratitude asking the Lord for the grace to love others and myself the way He does. 

JOIN ME in a little prayer of gratitude for all our priests?  Today is also the day we celebrate the institution of the priesthood, and without these good men, the Eucharistic feast we all miss so terribly is simply not possible.  I think this familiar prayer feels perfect today, at this unique time in history for them all. 

HAIL HOLY QUEEN, Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness, and our hope.  To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve.  To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.  Turn then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy towards us, and after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.  O Clement, O Loving, O Sweet Virgin Mary. 

Pray for us O Holy Mother of God that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.  Amen.

The Coronavirus Birthday

Memorare

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

The Annunciation, Henry Ossawa Tanner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Kindness Pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHATEVER WE PAY ATTENTION TO GROWS.

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

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

Peace out, friends!

A Lenten Note to my Fellow Catholics…

YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT.

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

Exactly right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Umm. Houston?  We have a problem. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT.

Our Lady, Mother of Mercy, Pray for Us.