I’m No “Sermonator”

After you have made a decision that is pleasing to God, the devil may try to make you have second thoughts. Intensity your prayer time, meditation, and good deeds. For if Satan’s temptations merely cause you to increase your efforts to grow in holiness, he’ll have an incentive to leave you alone. –St. Ignatius of Loyola

A couple of weeks ago, a total stranger reached out to me. That, in and of itself, is fairly ordinary. Usually that sort of introduction comes at the behest of a mutual friend who wants me to use my powers of persuasion (and maybe a caffeine-laced latte) to help said beautiful soul feel a little more comfortable in his or her own skin. Life is full of battles. It’s easier to stomach them over Starbucks, some affirming words, and a smile.

Generosity of spirit is what I aim for, in general. This time, I hesitated. You see, the request was for me to come and speak to a Mom’s prayer group at a nearby parish. After I thought about it for just a few minutes, I decided it was a bad idea.

Allow me to walk you through my excuse-laden brain. First of all, I’m not a speaker. Secondly, the event was in just a few days. Thirdly, I’m not a speaker. Did I already mention that? It’s not that I am afraid of speaking. I used to do it as a regular course of action in my job. However, that was a million years ago and also I was definitively not speaking to those folks back in the day about Jesus.

So, the event was a no go. I mean, also THIS parish? My mind began to wander to the most comedic and ridiculous places to avoid this assignment. These poor women are probably super nice ladies but I guarantee they aren’t even aware that Jane Mullin issued sanctions against them and their cheater pants 4th grade CYO coach 15 years ago. Allow me to explain. The whole parish lost their sainthood. Yep. Stiff penalty, I agree. We took away the word “Saint” in front of their parish name and referred to them henceforth with just the name of the Apostle after whom the parish is dedicated, ha? Very mature, am I right? I don’t know if those were lifetime sanctions or not. I’d have to check with Janie about that one. Maybe it’s time to let it go…? Ha? As I read that back, I’m not sure that our 15+ year grudge over a 4th grade CYO basketball game feels so classy? I mean, it was the championship game…but still?

I’m joking because that’s what I do when I’m in the middle of making bad decisions.

Interiorly, I was angsty. I’ll be as elegant with my diction as I was able at that moment. I freaking love You, Jesus. Where I was compared to where I am now is the epitome of pure grace. It’s just that I’m not right for this particular job, Lord.

I confided in a friend who never lets me off the hook. Clearly, I’m mentally unwell. He replied by telling me that when it comes to speaking about faith, the important thing is that we love Christ. He went on some rant about a guy called “Herman the Cripple” who had cleft palate and cerebral palsy and all sorts of daunting disabilities and limitations but evidently, he was a remarkable man who achieved much, and who wrote one of the most beautiful prayers ever conceived– The Hail Holy Queen (Salve Regina).

I think I just texted him back and said something like, “Come on. Really? This is total BS!”

He texted “Hahaha! Google him! It’s possible other people can see your gifts more clearly than you?”

Yep. You can bet your sweet hind end the guilt trip worked and I said yes. I might be confused about why I am being called, but once I’m fairly certain what God’s will is, it’s very challenging for me to say no. The Lord speaks to all of us, but I personally think His voice and methodology is a little different for every person. I mean, I’m not sitting by a bush waiting on the God of the universe to catch it on fire and talk to me like He did Moses.

Here’s the thing, though. I don’t think the Lord is into confusing me. He already knows I confuse easily. We’ve chatted about it. We have a relationship. He does know I love Him sincerely and I ask Him every day to help me love Him more. I want to do what pleases God. I mean, I fail to do it…like a lot. But I really do want that.

The (very) senior associate at my parish is a joyful priest named Fr. Dan Gartland. He won’t like the adjective I put in parentheses in that last sentence one bit. He told me the story of a parishioner bringing him a t-shirt that said “SERMONATOR” on it. The man is a gifted speaker. We all know it, and he does too. He’s entertaining, accessible, and just a guy who makes me laugh and want a piece of whatever he’s got. At a daily mass recently, he told a very hilarious story about a bunch of high school kids he used to torture a little during his years in Lafayette, but then he always finds a way to pivot to a meaningful conclusion. On this day, he implored us all to “do what is right as a sacrifice to the Lord and then trust Him with the rest.” A to the MEN, Padre.

So, I’m no “Sermonator”. I wish I could speak with ease like Fr. Dan. I was marginal as a speaker. Actually, I do think my message was solid. Thanks be to God. It’s simply that I talk too fast and I read from my notes a lot.

However, these are challenging times we live in. People need to be reminded that they are deeply loved by the Lord of the universe and that our faith matters. Our little kindnesses aren’t little at all. Jesus uses us to be His hands and feet. If He calls, He’ll provide the grace. I stood there living the message I was trying to share. So, at the very least it was genuine.

Naive and foolish that I may be, I didn’t give in to the temptation to forget God’s call to serve Him that night last week with the lovely ladies and their prayer partners at their end of year dinner. For that much, I am proud.

I did what pleased God the best I could– nothing less, nothing more. When given the chance, I hope you will too. It might be as easy as taking the trash cans up the driveway for the old lady next door! Goodness is usually available and simple.

This Holy Week, I am feeling called to remember that the cost of my sins is more than I can pay. His gift of love for our sake is so much more than we can imagine. This week, I pray I can be a touch more still than normal so that I can hear Him whispering “I did it just for you.”

The only response that makes sense to me falls very short. It’s all I’ve got. THANK YOU, JESUS. I LOVE YOU BACK.

Holy Week is a privileged time when we are called to draw near to Jesus; friendship with Him is shown in times of difficulty. –Pope Francis

Mad for…Deacon Rick

“The future starts today, not tomorrow.” St. Pope John Paul II

A number of years ago, ten to be exact, my oldest son started high school at Guerin Catholic. His principal at the time was a likeable guy named Rick Wagner. He hadn’t yet been ordained a deacon, but one could spot that Jesus-loving twinkle in his eye from a mile away. Although we’ve met briefly (several times) since then, the truth is that we really don’t know one another at all. Candidly, this is precisely the reason I have chosen him as my “Person of the Week”.

Allow me to explain.

Deacon Rick has a rather special charism through which the Lord clearly uses this particular man. He is a profoundly gifted storyteller. What makes him especially effective is his accessibility. Conveying the importance of loving and serving the Lord with one’s life in a way that each person in his path can clearly understand is a piece of cake for Rick. Fancy, complex language is not his thing. Authenticity, genuine care, and kindness are more his jam.

From afar, I’ve noticed the way he honors his marriage and expresses his love for his wife, Carol, and his children and grandchildren. Just yesterday, for instance, he posted a beautiful and touching “Happy Birthday” message to his wife on social media. What made it spectacular was the photo he chose to accompany his touching words– he was dressed in an inflatable “Pillsbury Doughboy” costume and Carol was in some ridiculous dinosaur get up. To me, that was a life filled with love and laughter summed up rather succinctly, and I found it inspiring. It was also hilarious!

Carol and Rick Wagner. In that order.

If you follow Deacon Rick on social media, and I sincerely hope you do, you’ll quickly pick up his impressive ability to shepherd others towards Christ. He’s self-effacing, but he’s also convicted. He gives guidance about how to draw closer to joy, peace, and love itself with humor and patient reminders about what truth looks like.

Author Bob Goff is one of my favorites for his uncanny ability to spot the Lord in the everyday. Personal storytelling is his forte, and just like Deacon Rick, the thing that makes the humorous personal anecdotes truly work is that they are reliably other-focused and Christ-centered. I don’t know either of these men, but it hasn’t stopped them from making a significant impression upon my life and a difference in my daily choices. Both of them are personal heroes of mine.

Over the years, Rick Wagner has written down so many lessons and given countless numbers of beautiful talks and retreats. The following are among the lessons I’ve taken in and tried to improve upon in my own life, largely due to hearing them as themes in his work or talks. I’m saying them much less well than he does, but you’ll get the idea. Here’s one for each day of the week.

  1. I can notice others, make sure they feel seen.
  2. Invest in relationships– with God and others. It’s worth the time.
  3. Be yourself. It makes people feel like they can be real too.
  4. Christ is with me, THIS SECOND.
  5. TODAY is a powerful word. We are called to be the light of Christ for others- NOW.
  6. I am not worthy or capable? Fake news. Not of God.
  7. We can be joyful in all circumstances. Yes, I said ALL.

The badassery of Deacon Rick’s giftedness is not properly conveyed here, though I’ve tried to give you a taste. In many hundreds of previous blog posts, I truly don’t think I’ve ever suggested you fine folks follow anyone on Twitter. Let’s be honest, it’s the wild, wild west online. That said, you brave souls who want to find the sparkly part of the internet should give him a peek @DeaconRWagner or check out his blog at fromthedeaconsdesk.wordpress.comfromthedeaconsdesk.wordpress.com.

Deacon Rick and his beautiful wife, Carol, without the costumes. Thanks for sharing him with us, Carol!

Yesterday, on the feast of St. Francis de Sales, the good Deacon shared this quote, which is an apt description of exactly what I see in him and why I chose to tell you about him today. But first, I want to say one more thing. It’s important that each of us remembers that our little bit of sunshine can bring light to others– even those we do not know. That’s what Deacon Rick has done for me, and so many others. So many, in fact, that I found myself talking about him behind his back at a meeting today. Essentially, what I attempted to say about him i that meeting is contained in this quote he shared just a day ago.

“Faith is like a bright ray of sunlight. It enables us to see God in all things as well as all things in God.” –St. Francis de Sales

THANK YOU, Deacon Rick, for all you do each day for others. You have been the face of Christ to me on many occasions by sharing your faith journey, and I am way past overdue to express my gratitude!! Your reward is my “person of the week” honor, which comes with exactly zero prize money and even less prestige. CONGRATULATIONS, ha?!

Deacon Rick Wagner serves at St. Pius X in Indianapolis and is currently the President at Guerin Catholic High School in Noblesville. He’s a proud husband, dad, and grandpa to a family full of truly blessed humans.

Mad for…Justin

“Don’t shine so others can see you. Shine, so that through you, others can see Him.” –C.S. Lewis

Rolling gingerly to my side, I’d grab for a nearby pillow and slide it ever so gently between my knees at 2am or so. Sometimes, when my alarm sounded, I’d lie flat on my back and draw my knees up to my chest one at a time in a futile effort to loosen it up. The point I’m making is, the pain of standing after another night of fitful sleep was just about upon me one morning a few months back.

Once I got both feet on the floor, I knew the effort to stand up straight was going to be both painful and futile. My husband called me “S” shaped. My youngest son tried very hard to teach me the stretches he learned from the pretty fantastic Jaime Waymouth (Guerin Catholic’s Strength and Conditioning guru) to help me. He also rolled his eyes a lot and said, “Mom, FIGURE IT OUT!”

This went on for well over a year. For a while, I was able to get some relief from walking. After 20 minutes or so of making my way around the neighborhood, I’d slowly be standing more erect. Then, one very cold morning, I found my Aleve-aided self desperately walking in the driving rain. I was hunched over like a 90-year old man when I began, and when I ended, I looked like a soaking wet 90-year old man. I looked in the mirror and laughed at myself. Then, I literally looked at the ceiling and spoke aloud to the God of the universe. “Lord. I’m a damn fool. Also, I’m a stubborn, willful PIA who needs help. I give up. Let’s try Your plan.”

Here’s what you need to know. A solid and genuine “Your will, Jesus” has never failed me.

Later that day, in a text exchange with my friend and pastor, we traded stories about our respective mornings. His was a lovely story about ministering to a family in need, and mine was a whiny tale about being a soaking wet and very cold fool. Also, he said, “Call Justin Gilmore. He’s a spiritual son of mine and good at what he does.”

Dr. Justin Gilmore

Suddenly, I recalled this piece of paper a dear friend had shared with me months earlier. It was a certificate she had purchased at a parish auction for a free initial consulation. The name of the chiropractor said…”Dr. Justin Gilmore.”

Got it, Lord.

When I arrived to visit Gilmore Chiropractic a couple of days later, the two most kind women greeted me. Kristen and Kelli could not have been more welcoming at the front desk…and the X-rays were soon underway. Dr. Gilmore, when I met with him a couple of days later, indicated that he felt there was a strong chance he could help me. He did NOT overpromise. He simply shared he felt it was more than worth a try and explained the problem in a way that a smart girl (that’s me) who also was pretty terrible in biology class (also me) would be able to understand.

I began visiting Dr. Justin Gilmore a few times a week. Sooner than he predicted, my pain lessened. In each and every visit, Dr. G was friendly. His office is also the cleanest, most efficiently run medical office I have EVER encountered. I know zip about chiropractic care and as far as I know, I’ve never met another chiropractor. His goodness, honesty, and skillful work give a good name to the entire profession, in all honesty.

I don’t know a lot about Justin other than he’s a very handsome man from Terre Haute who’s married to a woman named Laura who he clearly treasures. He also has a little girl he adores who really likes the stroller she got for her doll this Christmas. My guess is that both of those lovely ladies are incredibly blessed…because no one can fool me for long. After 24 visits, I’d have detected and ascertained his lack of authenticity if it existed. I’ve got a gift in this area.

I’m happy to report that as of this writing, I’m pain free, by the way. Even if I weren’t, I’d still be a big fan of this unassuming, but very bright and faith-filled man. To be candid, I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d wake up feeling this way again… where my back is concerned. I’m 50 years old and I simply figured there wasn’t much to be done. I was wrong. It turns out that once again I have learned the Lord loves me and turning to Him is the move. I recommend the prayer thing strongly, by the way, even if you do so in a way that might not impress others as the most pious or articulate approach. He listens.

He heard my slightly pathetic prayer (probably rolled His eyes) and then sent me to this capable, terrific human through whom the love of Christ shines in the respectful and compassionate way he uses his gifts to serve others each day.

I’m so grateful I met you, Doc. THANK YOU for all you do for so many of us. I was joking when I asked you to move in with me after you cracked my back the first time, but seriously…you’re the REAL DEAL. For this reason, you are my person of the week. It’s such a HUGE honor. I hope it doesn’t go to your head, ha?!

St. Andre Bessette, Pray for Us!

Mad for…Emily

When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. (Is 43:2)

As a mother of three incredibly sweaty, but terrifyingly amazing sons, I have had the occasion to enter into a fairly repetitious monologue with each of them during their teenage years. It’s the kind of “speechification” that typically elicits yawning and no small amount of eye-rolling. What can I say? I have a gift, ha?

Nevertheless, my job as a Catholic woman of faith and a mom is to make sure that I drive home the message to my children that no matter our circumstances we can always be confident that God is with us, He is in control, and He is trustworthy. Those poor kids of mine get pretty darn sick of hearing my Jesus girl ramblings. The Lord never sends any of us into battle alone, though. In a variety of ways, He is ever-present…supporting us always.

Enter Emily McAulay. I’ll be utterly candid. With fair certainty, I can tell you that I have never officially met Emily. However, this absolutely does NOT disqualify me from declaring her a faith-filled savant who specializes in the successful evangelization of teenagers. I want to tell you more about what she spends her life doing that absolutely glorifies the Lord. Sharing how she is the face of Jesus to human beings she’s never even met seems like the best way to start.

Like all of us do at various times, my youngest son has traveled a bumpy stretch of road the last couple years. Honestly, it’s nothing overly eventful as these things go but that doesn’t mean Z’s cross doesn’t feel heavy. Raising young men of character, integrity and strong faith is far from simple… and families, school, health, sports, and covid-related chaos all can add up. This is especially true for young people who are just beginning to try and navigate in a more adult and less childlike fashion. Being a parent in 2021 is complicated. God never sends us into situations alone, though. He walks beside us every step of the way. This past week, He did that in the person of one Emily McAuley.

When a rain-drenched, bleary-eyed, Santa hat wearing Zach Thieme arrived at the passenger side door of my car with a big smile on his face, I knew that his junior retreat had gone well. I didn’t even have to utilize the open-ended questions I had prepared, because Z was in a talking mood on that car ride from the St. Joseph Retreat Center in Tipton back to Carmel. The first thing he did when he mentioned his retreat group leader, Emily McAuley was say, “Oh my gosh, Mom, she’s just an absolutely AMAZING person! She was totally awesome!!” And just like that, I thought to myself how fantastic it was that for this moment in time, my relentless effort in pursuit of Christian virtue for my son felt a little less lonely. She might have thought she was helping kids, but it was so much more. Whether they know it or not, there are 7 other families to whom God sent a modern day Simon of Cyrene last week. In the person of this young high school guidance counselor from Guerin Catholic, there was a selfless woman who has chosen to be the light with her life. Who in their right mind decides to spend 72+ straight hours, with little sleep, (drinking cherry flavored ginger ale some 17 year old provided) while devoting herself to the faith formation of other people’s sons and daughters? A few other crazy people did the same. Today, though, I’m focused on the gal who made a difference for the Thieme family.

What I know about Emily personally is very little– you see she’s not assigned to our part of the alphabet as a counselor. She’s evidently a unicycler from Texas. That’s what it said when I stalked her Twitter profile. The young people she counsels described her to me as kind, soft-spoken, and “not super outgoing”. In my observations from a distance, I’d add friendly, conscientious, and joyful. She has a glorious smile too.

It doesn’t matter. I know enough. So, I’d like to just take a moment to give a shout out to a beautiful soul who happens to be a selfless, joyful light of Christ to a whole lot of young people and their families. I feel confident that those for whom she works each day in her role at Guerin Catholic are very blessed by her competence, compassion, and care for her students. She’s so much more than a woman who makes sure kids get into the proper classes, though. One mom said it best. She said, “Emily is a difference maker.” A to the MEN.

Today, I wanted to make sure she knows we see her– and so does Jesus. Sometimes, we are quite aware that our presence in the lives of others and in the work that we do makes a difference. Other times, we honestly don’t have a clue that our efforts are in the least bit worthwhile. Emily? This week you reminded my son that He is loved without conditions. A guy needs to hear that from someone besides his momma sometimes. THANK YOU. You are a big ladle of awesome sauce and what you do matters so very much!

“Wherever God has put you, that is your vocation. It is not what we do but how much love we put into it.” –St. (Mother) Teresa of Calcutta

This week, let’s all aim to make the world a better place by trying to be a little more like Emily? What do you say, friends? Be the love.

They Have No Wine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace out, friends!

Mad for…Erin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mad for…Mike

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

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

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

The Panasuk family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mad for…Todd

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

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

The Metzger Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stomp on his Ugly Head

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hail, Holy Queen

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Assumption of Mary (Guido Reni, 1642)

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

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

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

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

Queen of Heaven…Pray for Us!!