St. Blaise is Still Weird, Though…

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

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

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

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

Chad and the hopeless oven.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Such As We are, Such Are The Times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Live in the Sunshine…

A three handed card game called “casino” was a big part of my evenings last week in Phoenix. We’d head outside to the balcony and argue about the musical selection being played in the background, and then Z and I would dominate Tom, who just isn’t good at this game. At all. As my life is chock full of the need to take solace in the fact that I am winner of only the “women’s division” in all family contests, I was a skosh obnoxious in victory. Tom snorted defiantly, “People think you are kind- but actually you are pure evil!” I waived off the insult and told him he should think about being better at cards, ha? Zach quite agreed with me, and laughter ensued. This week also contained a nice dose of sunshine and God’s glorious architecture.

Outrageous architecture was the milieu of Antoni Gaudi. I’ve been interested in him since I discovered the Sagrada Familia, an unfinished masterpiece of truly outlandish proportions which is located in Barcelona. I’ve never been to Spain, but learning more about this eccentric genius over vacation with my poolside nose in his biography makes me long to see it when it’s completed. That is supposed to happen in the next several years– around 2026.

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

Long a lover of books, their pages have taken me all over the globe and taught me about the imperfection and humanity that exists in even the most inspired and holy people. It’s a great reminder to me that, frankly, there was only one Jesus…and we ain’t Him. There’s nothing like seeing something magnificent created by one of the Lord’s flawed creatures, in person, to inspire the soul, though.

This past week, I found myself in majestic and awe-inspiring Sedona, Arizona. Steep canyon walls, hiking trails, and breathtaking views dominated Red Rock country. The Chapel of the Holy Cross, constructed in 1956, is regarded officially as one of the seven made made wonders in the state. It was my third or fourth visit to the spot, and still my jaw was agape at the splendor.

Chapel of the Holy Cross, Sedona, AZ

Being in the mountains with two of my favorite guys on a stunning, sunny day lifted my spirits so profoundly. As we were descending from the top of the rim on our scenic jeep tour, I couldn’t keep from noticing it was the feast of St. (Pope) John Paul II. He was a man who understood the glory of nature and who saw God’s architecture as tremendously inspiring in his own life. All our help comes from the Lord who has made the heavens and the earth. This is the little piece of psalm 89 he shared when he gazed upon the majesty of the Rocky Mountains on his famous trip to Denver. He also took most of his well-documented vacations with friends he treasured camping in the mountains of Poland. He took some flack for staying in close contact with the old friends who often accompanied him through his life and on his holidays, even after becoming Pope.

Me (at left) w Zach and Tom…and our pink Jeep!

Here’s the deal. Saintly though he was, JPII knew his humanity, and that the calamities of life and the existence of evil were a fact. He realized the importance of love, too. His infectious optimism was rooted in its actuality. So, our connectedness with one another is vital. Our relationships must be fostered– and doing so is a form of self-care, he argued. We must guard our mental and physical health, and we must experience our belovedness through the smiling eyes of those we treasure. They are gifts placed in our lives by the Lord. If the Pope can make time to go camping, you can find the time to enjoy your people too!

Let us love, since that is what our hearts were made for.” -St. Therese of Lisieux

After a few days in the sunshine with two goofballs, my concerns and fears about what lies ahead are still with me, but I carried back to Indiana stronger and more confidently in my heart that Jesus cares about my life and hopes– and He hasn’t relinquished control. His plans are better than my own. I mean, DUH? He’s God, and I am not. How is it that I forget this so easily?

I have noticed I’m far from alone on this feeling of being a bit overwhelmed. 2020 just refuses to end, am I right? If you are running on empty too, I strongly encourage you to try to find someone who makes you smile and take a few minutes with them to catch your breath. If your life is too busy or your heart is too disquieted for that, let alone a trip to the mountains…? Friends, don’t worry. My wise friend Tina taught me that when I don’t even know what to do, just pray, “Jesus, I don’t know what I need, but You do. Please help me.” God will come for you. FACTS. He sees you. Like JPII said, “He hears you. He loves you.” That truth goes for obnoxious card players like me with a streak of evil in my heart, and it applies to you too. It’s that simple.

Finally, I leave you with this thought as the elections approach and COVID (with all the resulting closings, job loss, illness, masking, social distancing, and cancellations) refuses to relent. When we see our lives in the light of eternity, it’s a game changer. It makes me want to try and BE THE GOOD. So, despite my evil tendencies… like yelling too loudly on the sidelines and mocking my husband when I beat him in cards…? I still think someone who aches to be love for the next guy is mostly on the right path. This is truth even when my potty mouth and humanity get in the way. That said, I think THIS WEEK, the world needs the light of Christ in a big way. I’m going to ask Jesus in prayer to help me be perhaps a little less wicked, and a lot more like Him. That seems like a good recipe to become love.

Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest, if we do not give up. So then, while we have the opportunity, let us do good to all, but especially to those who belong the family of the faith. (Gal. 6: 9-10)

Let Nothing Disturb You

I made dinner for Grandpa Tom and delivered it before I left. Dinner for Mom and Dad was also packed for the journey. I remembered Drew’s package he needed me to deliver to his fraternity, his apartment deposit check, and I brought along some cookies I baked for he and his friends. What I didn’t remember on this second trip north in a week was MY glasses, or clean underwear, or a spare bra, or my toothbrush. So, I just brushed my teeth with a washcloth and I went commando under my yoga pants wearing yesterday’s bra, and THANK YOU GOD a tunic length top. Sheesh. Is that a skosh too much information for you? Sorry about your luck. Today, I’m just flat out keeping it real.

Mom got a new hip a week ago, and so I’ve been staying close to help out a little extra. I broke away from Red Oaks Lane to have lunch with my college kiddo and a buddy of his who are nearby studying at Purdue one of these afternoons. It was a nice break, after which I decided to make a little detour to campus, and I popped into the bookstore to pick up a few items for my Boilermaker enthusiasts this Christmas. That was when things got dicey. There were two employees present, and they were arguing about politics, the Supreme Court nominee, and even just the TV channel being shown in the store. They apparently felt volume changes minds. The experience felt very emblematic of the soupy situation we all find ourselves in right now. Plus, it was not mood enhancing.

Mom, looking good post-surgery.

Maybe because 3 out of 3 grandparents in our lives are in the middle of some health drama, the husband of a dear friend is in the ICU on a vent, COVID has disrupted the education of our children, and the powers that be have stolen from me the sacred music at mass which calms my soul (among myriad other trials), I find myself somewhat rubbed by things which injure my mental health further and illuminate nada. I am much more interested in what we can do to love each other. Helping the next guy to “see the light” or change their stubborn mind when we honestly have no idea what they are facing is just flat out the wrong approach, according to me, myself and I. Clearly, all of the social media outlets disagree, but I digress.

I have a theory. It is based on not a darn thing except my gut instinct. Therefore, I offer it to you without a trace of scientific evidence to back up the assertion. Here it is. I think we can’t change other peoples minds. I think it needs to be their idea. In other words, discordant, raucous screeching actually doesn’t even work a little. Perhaps we can nudge others along with rapport, kindness, and understanding. I feel like I have a lot more success instilling open mindedness in others when I listen respectfully and find common ground.

I’ve never actually tried to convince anyone to change political parties. BUT, I have tried to persuade plenty of hurting, lonely folks that they are loved beyond all telling and that God is for real. That seems like an argument worth winning to me. I’ve got all those people on my mind today, which is apparently “World Mental Health Day.” I can’t keep up with all the made up holidays but based on my own mental chaos alone, this seems a cause worthy of attention.

You can’t live a positive life with a negative mind. Trust me, I’ve tried. EPIC FAIL. To call this year challenging is just the most ridiculous and underwhelming description. I’ll add some other adjectives just to make myself feel better about the adequacy of my work here. Hmm. 2020….troublesome, painful, demanding, wearisome…and downright onerous? Yes, that sounds better. Hopefully, there’s one in there that makes you feel like we are kindred spirits, because it is absolutely true that misery loves company, ha?

Here’s the thing. Servant of God, Walter Ciszek said, “Each day, every day of our lives, God presents to us the people and opportunities upon which He expects us to act.” This is a stunningly beautiful thought coming from a man who spent 15 years of hard labor in Russia, most notably in Moscow’s infamous Lubyanka prison where he was tortured and spent significant time in solitary confinement. If you haven’t read his biography, With God in Russia, I’d recommend it. It’s a difficult read, but incredibly inspiring.

So, what are you and I called to do today? What’s God asking of you? For me, I think it’s possible the Lord wants me to lighten up. The world needs sunshine. Laughter paired with being a little more gentle with Shelly would be a great aid in this matter, and perhaps put my own needs on the to-do list as well? It’s hard not to notice that deficiency when you’ve got Crest on a washrag in your mouth (and no undies) for gosh sakes! I’d guess there are a few of you who may be similarly called by our Lord. I’m making light here, but seriously, folks. Life is hard enough, consider being kinder to yourself. Others are watching your example and during this Respect Life Month, I’d say sometimes we forget our own dignity and worth. We can’t be who we are called to be, or be the face of Jesus to others like we should if we don’t mind the store a little.

A good friend texted me this morning, “Can you help me calm down?” I had no magic, but I promised prayers and told her I loved her. Then later, I sent her an inappropriate but very funny meme. Smiles can be the fairy dust in our day, am I right?

We need to trust the Lord and be at peace. It sounds hard, but it’s really very simple. For me, it helps to quiet down, pray, and go to mass as often as I can. Receiving Jesus is a great joy and comfort for which I’m grateful. This morning, the mass was said by one of my favorite human beings. He’s got the voice of an angel, and he hasn’t used it much lately. There are pandemic rules, I know, I know. Sometimes, I find the obedience of my pastor super annoying, ha? But TODAY, he did sing the Alleluia before the Gospel, and for just a moment, he broke into the harmony while the smattering of daily mass folks like myself sang the melody. It was just a little smile from the Lord, a reminder that He loves me, and that He knows everything— including how much I miss beautiful, sacred music. He’s right here beside us if we look.

On this feast of St. Teresa of Avila, I leave you with one of my most favorite saint quotes of all time. There’s a reason this gal is a Doctor of the Church. Read it slowly, and let it soak in.

Let nothing disturb you,

Let nothing frighten you,

All things are passing away;

God never changes.

Patience obtains all things.

Whoever has God lacks nothing;

God alone suffices.

— St. Teresa of Avila

Raising Canes

Use the gifts you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you. –St. Therese of Lisieux

Marvin Dykhuizen

Uncle Marv is 99 years old. He likes to walk to breakfast from his modest home on Tulip Ln, on the north side of my hometown. He’s WWII veteran and remarkably sharp, despite his age. The problem with Uncle Marv is that he’s mostly lost his eyesight and his hearing isn’t good. He’s remarkably spry, and has always been fit. Unfortunately, the daily walk to breakfast entails crossing the fairly busy Elmood Avenue on the northside of Lafayette. My great uncle is a true Dykhuizen, meaning he’s a talker. He still calls my 75 year old Dad, “Jimmy” and it makes me laugh.

Dad quizzed Uncle Marv about his daily walk, mostly with safety concerns for our family patriarch. The answer he got makes me giggle and shake my head.

“Well, Jimmy, I say a little prayer to the Lord for my safety before I leave the house,” he shared. “Then, when I get to Elmwood, I look both ways, and if I don’t see headlights, then I raise both my canes in the air and start waving them like crazy and I step out into the street and just hope for the best. When I get to the other side, I say a prayer of Thanksgiving that I made it safely.”

My first instinct upon hearing this story is to giggle. I mean, I can just picture the cars slamming on their brakes hoping to not be the person that runs over the crazy, old, blind guy with the canes. Perhaps family members should intercede? Then again, the man has survived the Great Depression, served his country in WWII, raised a family, had an enduring marriage, and is mentally astute and prayerful at the age of 99!! Who the heck are we to tell him what to do, ha?!!

Trusting in providence is Uncle Marv’s street crossing strategy. My guess is it’s the same simple, but strong faith in the Lord that helped him survive a century of mayhem that you and I can only begin to fathom– and with his good humor in tact.

I’m a BIG fan of the early Christmas card. You see, if I send one first, most folks will tend to include us in their own mailing when they get around to it. It’s a joyful thing when my mailbox starts to fill up with all those adorable family photos and clever letters. I mail one to Uncle Marv right after Thanksgiving every year. He always calls me shortly after it arrives to give me his “oral” Christmas greeting and asks about the boys and Tom. It’s a 30 minute piece of sunshine in my year for which I can rely. It’s a call that seeks nothing and it brings something reliably bright.

These tiny little sparks in our lives are really not small at all, I’ve decided. So today, inspired by Uncle Marv, I suppose I just want to acknowledge my gratefulness to the Lord for all the people who bring something bright. Your small acts make me believe in goodness. In 2020, I’m all about every single act which confounds the toxicity, brings love, and spreads a little holiness.

Just for fun, I’d like to name a few of the things that have made me smile lately.

  1. My normally tidy husband had a series of food mishaps this week, soiling four t-shirts in 2 days. The spills got to be so ridiculous that he presented himself shirtless on the back porch after the last episode and declared open season on the stain stick. Instead of choosing anger, Tom went with laughter, and the self-deprecating humor gave us all a big belly laugh. #TakeThat2020
  2. My parish, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, inspired by the citizens of our pastor’s hometown of Pendleton, has posted hopeful signs along 146th St and Oak Ridge Road. “You are not alone”, “You are Enough”, “Don’t Give Up”, “Your Mistakes Do Not Define You”, and “You are Worthy of Love”….among others. #TakeThat2020
  3. A particularly holy young man, John Tiplick, was playing a recent tennis match as my son’s doubles partner. After a couple of errant shots, a coach I adore raised his voice in John’s direction asking him “What in the world are you doing, John!!?” John turned to his coach with a very earnest smile and replied, “Playing tennis, Coach!” Anger instantly diffused. #TakeThat2020
  4. Covid snatched from us many events of the year, including Zach’s confirmation mass. The parish responded by holding a very small alternate mass for Z and another young person in similar circumstances. Two children were confirmed, two families were present. Do you know who else was there? Our pastor, a brand new deacon, the music director, two additional musicians…and a parish staff member who had actually retired the previous week. All those folks were there loving up these two teenagers. This particular momma was nearly moved to tears by the extraordinary kindness. #TakeThat2020
  5. A kind local tennis guru took a few minutes he didn’t have to teach me how to wrap a tennis racquet with overgrip today. Nice matters. #TakeThat2020
  6. Laine Schwegman climbed on my couch to re-take and “fix” a “chubby” photo of me with her mother, Renee. She’s a talented, very good human and being around her makes me have great hope for the future. #TakeThat2020
  7. Nick Fred texted me “I love you Mom.” #TakeThat2020
  8. Coach Chris Sciaudone of Guerin Catholic Boys Tennis has somehow kept the ball bouncing in nearly impossible circumstances this tennis season. The young men whose season (and mental health) he has saved will always remember his hard work, compassion, and incredible example of strength in adversity. So will their parents. #TakeThat2020
  9. Kristy Murphy shared her volleyball ticket with me at Covenant Christian High School last weekend. This made it possible for me to use an actual bathroom (and not the port-a-potty designated for tennis families) during the boys tennis tourney being held at the same location. I am a princess who likes indoor plumbing and sinks to wash my hands. It wasn’t a small matter to me. #TakeThat2020
  10. Todd Metzger went out of his way (and fronted the cash) to get Z’s only tennis racquet re-strung in record time so that he would have it for the GC tennis match this weekend. He didn’t have to, it was pure and altruistic act. #TakeThat2020
Hopeful messages on 146th St.

To those who make my life and those around me even an itsy-bitsy little amount better, THANK YOU. That thing which felt insignificant to you? It wasn’t miniscule at all. When it’s dark out like it has been during 2020, those who journey alongside? YOU MATTER.

My handsome, messy husband and I BEFORE the chocolate attacked his t-shirt!

A lot of people are struggling right now. I’ve had my days for sure. You guys…? Let’s take Uncle Marv’s lead. I say we raise our canes too, trust in Providence and let the Lord handle the hard stuff. After that, we’ll ask for the grace to do our little part. Even if all we can do is be present for someone, it’s a beautiful gift. Make the call. Donate your time. Write the note. Buy the cup of coffee. Send the text. GET BUSY DOING GOOD. It’s much more contagious than COVID-19!

P.S. I really WANTED to run this with the shirtless photo of my husband. But, I want to remain married a little more, ha?

If you’re experiencing stress or tension give it to Jesus. Tell Him, ‘I feel like crawling the wall, but I love You and I want to give this to You.’ Do you think our Lord wasn’t tense living with those twelve screwball apostles?” –Mother Angelica

Five Syllable Phrase

“Let us love, since that is all our hearts were made for.” –St. Therese of Lisieux

Mom and I on a recent trip to Michigan.

Disparaging people I adore is an action I try to avoid in general, but especially in writing. Therefore, it’s with some amount of trepidation that I submit to you a summary of some of the highlights of my last few days. However, I deeply value authenticity, and perhaps a little messiness keeps it real. Actually, I pretty much think that being invited into the weird, vulnerable and rusty parts by someone else is the greatest gift that friendship and family has to offer. I humbly submit to you, therefore, some of the unpolished moments of the last few days.

My mom is a tough bird. The word choice is intentional here. She literally spent part of her childhood living in a chicken coop. That is not a joke. She complains…NEVER. Right now, she’s a little hunched over. Her long overdue hip replacement isn’t happening until October, and there’s been some discussion about rods being placed in her spine after that. I plan to continue to appeal to Our Blessed Mother on behalf of Grandma Kate and see what we can get done about that lousy plan. My point is, when Mom complains of pain and vastly alters her normal active lifestyle, one knows she’s in significant agony. She was here this week, quietly but obviously enduring that torture and cheering on Z in his recent tennis matches. Dad came too but didn’t stay because he had to get back to Lafayette for a little minor surgery. Of course he did. It’s 2020. UGH! The massive dose of naproxen that Mom’s doc prescribed to get her through until her surgery was making her sick to her stomach, so she stopped taking it. Now, Mom has been known to enjoy a glass of chardonnay from time to time, but on her visit this week, it was her choice analgesic. Because he’s a giver and didn’t want her to drink alone, my thoughtful husband sat beside her in the kitchen sipping bourbon. Frick and frack were quite the entertaining combo that evening after the Guerin Catholic boys tennis team had a bad loss up at Westfield High School.

After their (several beverages into the) evening, Drew came bounding through the back door, home unexpectedly from Purdue. The Covid-19 mayhem and stress involved in attempting to understand the clear as mud rules were taking a toll. Drew wondered how they will be applied in his fraternity setting by the university and it simply was too much for my 4.0 college senior to navigate as he takes on his last semester as an undegrad. That’s fairly revealing. So, he came home for guidance and a break from the mask. Not much laughter and smiling is happening for these young folks on campus right now, I can tell you that. We don’t know what’s happening or how long he’ll be here. Drew’s been on a college campus with the throngs, so, to be safe, I sent Drew upstairs and put overserved Mom downstairs. I sent Zach to Nick’s old room. Now, we were up 2 bodies since morning at this point, and down several ounces of alcohol, but no one here was sharing a bathroom with anyone… except for me! That was as much Covid-19 saavy as I had in me. So, I decided to call it a day and went to brush my teeth.

Tom began hollering at me from the family room. He suggested that I might want to check on Mom because she had been yelling my name from the basement. I think I mumbled a two syllable phrase and it closely resembled “Well, crap” but it wasn’t quite that appropriate. Ha? You see, unexpected calls from parents of late have been things like chemotherapy side effects, heart attacks, and hospital visits. Given the way the night was going, it didn’t seem like this was headed anywhere positive.

But do you know what she wanted? She wanted to give me a pair of her underwear. Yep. Her underwear was gifted to me late Monday night because they are the most comfortable panties she’s ever owned. Also, they are one size fits all. How innovative. That seems normal? I can keep them she says. Lucky me, right? Because, you guys, EVERYONE wants to wear their moms underwear. If only sarcasm burned calories….

I showed them to Tom when I came upstairs. And then I started to cry and fan my face because I was laughing so hard. Tom said if I start wearing Mom’s underwear we will have to get a divorce. Sorry for outing you, Mom, but thank you, God, for the best laugh I’ve had in a month!

We’ve all got a story to tell about our journey through 2020. Mine’s quite a bit bigger than the messiness I’ve described above, but a glimpse at my more vulnerable (and grateful) than before heart reveals something. I’ve grown spiritually, and I’ve learned some things this year. I hope you have too. One of the great lessons for me is about vulnerability. It’s a holy and good thing when we gift it to one another and to the Lord. I mean, Jesus knows a thing or two about being vulnerable, am I right? If you’re not tracking with me, Google “Sorrowful Mysteries.” God has a pattern of redeeming us when we are broken open. We simply have to go to Him. Prayer can change that which seems impossible. I invite you to try it.

I can’t fix Dad’s heart, or Mom’s hip, or Grandpa Tom’s colon cancer. I can’t rescue the friends who are struggling with broken marriages, addiction, or mental health crises. However, I can walk beside them, making sure they know they are not alone on the journey. I can love (and find the humor) and so can you. We can’t listen or hear or enter into the heartaches and hurt of others to love them along unless we are willing to be available and vulnerable. We can’t be the face of Christ during the not-too-pretty parts of life when we are bitter or angry or selfish.

Sometimes, I don’t get invited to “the” party. Do you know what I do get though? The honor of holding onto the secret hurts, and the SOS text in the middle of the night. If you’ve experienced it too, you’ll understand why I’ll take it over almost anything. Nothing feels quite like trying to spend a moment loving like Jesus. Those are moments I guard, reverence, and hold dear. I don’t want anyone to feel alone, overcome by suffering. The way we bring light into darkness is through the fire of our faith and the light of our smile. When God is at the heart of our lives, we shine and our tiny corner of the world is transformed.

We need to hold one another in high esteem, and we need to laugh and love in each moment as it comes along. That’s how I think we survive 2020 as Christians.

I’ll leave you with this little grin. My 16-year-old, Zach, asked me in the midst of the eLearning this week to help him come up with a five syllable phrase for his now online GCHS ukelele class. I was annoyed by virtual school and too much screen time and was not in a particularly inspiring mood and my reply was “I hate Zoom meetings.”

Later, when I asked him what he went with, he began to giggle, looked up and me and said, “Five Syllable Phrase”. HAHAHA! Yep. He’s definitely my kid, and his snarky little sense of humor remains in tact. Well played, Z! We’ve got to keep smiling.

Here’s the little prayer I’m saying lately. It feels like our country and our world can use all the love and cheerfulness available right now. I hope you’ll join and pray along with me!

“O Holy Spirit, descend plentifully ito my heart. Enlighten the dark corners of this neglected dwelling and scatter there thy cheerful beams.” –St. Augustine

Here’s hoping you get a chance to spread a little love and laughter in your day. PEACE, OUT!

Jenny, Don’t Change Your Number

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you know how you should respond to each one.” (Col. 4:6)

The Doc. I love this picture and he will probably not be thrilled I posted it without permission. But, it kind of captures his handsome sassy vibe. Had to be done, birthday boy!

Lithogenic. That’s the fancy, smart guy word my favorite doc, Dave Hollensbe, uses to describe me. Try not to be too jealous. I’m pretty sure it just means I am good at manufacturing kidney stones. He’s a talented guy, and it’s not that he’s intending to be impertinent or ill-mannered by using words I’ve never heard, it’s more like he just really enjoys his own gift of intellectual superiority. He admits as much with a smile in his eyes, and it’s pretty darn entertaining. There’s nothing dull about this guy. He’s brainy, astute, and quick-witted. He’s also faith-filled and incredibly compassionate in the most smart-alecky way possible. I was on the phone with him recently for my “virtual” appointment. He wanted to make sure I had the phone number for his assistant if I needed to call his office so he said, “Just write it down again, Shelly. It’s 317-867-5309.” I said “Thanks.” Then, he started laughing and I realized he was mocking me. 867-5309. I mean I was a teenager in the 80s? I should have caught that. Funny guy. It did make me giggle, and I needed the smile that morning. He never fails to bring a grin to my day when I speak to him. The guy is a big-hearted scoop of awesome sauce in a world desperately in need of a heaping ladle full.

I want to speak plainly to you folks. I’m sharing this today because I was asked to do so by two amazing women who for the first time in their lives have had serious mental health struggles. They are far from alone. A mental health counselor friend tells me they’ve never been so busy. My point is, not just a few of you seem discouraged. I’m a dangerously untrained mental health “expert” (in my own mind) and you need to know that the longer you speak to me, the more I am diagnosing you. Ha? I’m kidding about the diagnosing, but I am a pretty good listener, and a heap of people have given me an opportunity in 2020. I’m grateful for this, as I love people and when the Lord gives me a chance to be His ears, it makes me feel the terrific privilege of getting to do something small but important for Him in my day. The world is upside down and it’s full of suffering and unbelief. In the midst of this, we have lives to live this day, you and I. What we do with this precious gift of time is our choice. I can’t counsel anyone, but I can care, listen, and remind folks they are loved. So can you.

I’ll be brutally honest. One of my big character flaws is that while I am a pretty capable and attentive listener, sometimes I don’t do a lot of thinking before I speak. I’m just as shocked as the person next to me by what comes out of my mouth sometimes. I say stupid things sometimes and laugh when I shouldn’t. I’ve got to do all that a bit better, pausing to respond with grace when others choose differently. We really can help darkened hearts, including our own, come alive with our words and our concern. Sometimes we speak the wrong ones. I’m going to argue though, that even though we might screw it up, trying anyway is what God expects. I promise you this. Even when I foul things up, I will always be TRYING to love you with a full heart. That effort and God’s grace is enough.

Here’s the critical part, and we MUST be completely honest with ourselves, because we are going to encounter difficult people.  If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that!!  Difficult folks are often just lost, lonely souls that need a spark of joy.  We MUST care for them and pray for them.  In your interaction with another, did you act with love in your heart?  Was your intention pure and completely free of selfishness?  We can’t be afraid to speak truth, in love, in an effort to protect ourselves or what another might think of us. That one is extra hard for yours truly, but I’m learning and improving.

My friend, the doc, is not afraid to speak truth in love.  He’s also not afraid to be a total Jesus-loving smart ass.  This combination is rare and glorious.  His cross has been a particularly heavy one the last couple years, but he is a generous, compassion-filled light all the same.  Smiles are contagious, and kindness is free.  This is what I remember each time I have an interaction with him.  Today is his birthday, and this little post is my tiny little tribute to a hard-working, terrific human who inspires me with his unique brand of smart-assery.  Thanks for being a great blessing to many, birthday boy!!

I wish you ALL more peace, more love, and you, Doc? I wish you that plus several magnificent rounds of golf with friends you adore in the next year!! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

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.