Stop Talking So Much!

“If mess ups were pushups, I’d be ripped.”  Bob Goff

Good grief, I love Bob Goff.  No one says it more accessibly than he does.  This quote is a recently discovered gem.

Less is more, it turns out, and it’s likely a path I should explore.  I recently met a friend I’ve been worried about out at McAllisters for a bowl of chili.  Those stolen moments are precious, and instead of being a good listener, I was a self-absorbed fool talking silly nonsense about the stove not working (again) and the basement being a mess from a burst pipe.  Honestly, WHO CARES?  I truly wanted to find out about the mental health of my friend, but I had diarrhea of the mouth that day.  Sigh.  I have fouled up many encounters which could have been lovely simply because I stubbornly refuse to practice what I know, which is that I should NOT say every stupid thing I think as it scrolls through my mind.  I want kind, caring, supportive relationships.  I want to know how my people are doing.  This requires a decision to be other focused.  Stop talking so much, Shelly!

This is just one example.  I think it’s possible I might be having a little midlife crisis, and God is in the middle of showing me how God He is.  God is over here doing God things.  How do I know?  Well, because lately I feel like all I do is screw up.  It probably started with all the menopause symptoms.  Nothing proves how much God is in control like out of whack hormones.  Candidly, I didn’t know that’s what was going on, I just knew that I had a growing list of unexplainable and suddenly chronic “ailments”.  Like most things, I am absolutely NAILING the menopause game.  In a brief conversation with a nurse practitioner, I expressed my concern.  She asked me to describe the symptoms, and I spoke for about 5 minutes.  She then said, “Well, Shelly, menopause has 34 key symptoms and most women suffer from about 6-10 of them.  You just named 29 of the 34 without a prompt.”  Yeah, me?  I’m crushing it.

The bad news here is that I haven’t figured a way through this particular maze yet that doesn’t involve extreme amounts of Excedrin and propping my eyelids open.  The flip side, though, is that as we age, the Lord gives us many unexpected gifts.  Right now, the one I’m hearing loudest is, “Shell.  I’m not messing around.  It’s time.”  What is the fundamental purpose of my life?  What does the Lord want me to do?  I’d better get busy with it, because time is ticking, my friends.  It makes me giggle that by putting me to sleep, God’s waking me up.  He’s full of irony and creativity.

Life is scary.  It’s full of madness, frustrations, danger, and so much desire to feel worthy of love and belonging.  The world needs hope.  People need to experience true care and an example of joyfulness.  They need light in their darkness.

Not so coincidentally, the most-used phrase in the bible is “Be Not Afraid”.  It’s purported to be in there 365 times—once for every darn day of the year.  I’m no rocket scientist, but I’m fairly confident that was a signal you and I were meant to live and love fearlessly.  I mess up. Every. Single. Day.  Do you know what I thought I was supposed to feel about those failures (for years)?  Shame.  Self-doubt.  We are at our weakest when we are fearful and shame filled.  That’s when the devil does his thing.  My fear of getting things wrong has kept me from some important work over the years.  My guess is that some of you have at least had similar moments where that little voice said, “keep quiet, don’t do it, you’ll make a fool of yourself”…and so on.

Here’s what 51-year-old me wants to share today.  It’s very possible I’m just typing this for myself, as a reminder on a day that I have less clarity, but I’m going to post it all the same.  The Holy Spirit is turning my thoughts inside out and what I think on this day is that the kind of shame I am talking about is a self-absorbed, inward focused demon.  God can’t fill me with Him when I am full of myself, concerned mainly about my own feelings and angst.  My BIG feelings, turned outward, are an invitation from the Lord of the universe to spread some of that overflowing love, courage, and hope to the others in my path. What a freaking awesome invitation!

I can’t live my life worried about what other people think, full of fear about getting hurt.  You can’t either.  We can’t let a bad day make us believe we have a bad life.  God wants us to speak life and love.  The world has never needed us more.

Faith in Christ is the only thing to save you from despair.”  -CS Lewis

I see Christ every day.  I really do.  He blows my mind with His love.  I spot Him in the Walgreens cashier who always says hello in a genuinely friendly way, and in the orange leaves outside my window.  I met Him at a talk in the parish hall in the face of a truly sunny Nashville Dominican named Sr. Peter Marie who shared the reason for joy and the brightest smile.

Over my recent fall break, I was making myself a very mediocre cup of coffee when my friend Renee very excitedly showed me how to froth my milk in such a way that I could make a “fake latte” with a piece of kitchen equipment I already owned but had never used.  It struck me that what gave her the most joy was doing something simple and kind for me, her friend.  How graced am I to have such a person in my life? 

When I got home from my trip, we celebrated the first “memorial” birthday for my father-in-law, Tom, who died in May.  I went over to SLDM to an evening mass that was said for his soul, and my friend Julie showed up to pray alongside.  The next morning, I was back in the same pew for another mass, also thoughtfully offered for him on his birthday.  There she was again, not 12 hrs later, right next to me.  Julie’s not a bystander.  Neither is Renee.  They love large in simple ways.  That kind of life is contagious, and it sprinkles Christ around like a handful of glitter. I’m crazy about them both, and grateful for their reminder that I am deeply loved—and so are you!  It doesn’t matter that I’ve got a headache, my hair is falling out and I am constantly tired.  As my husband reminds me, “You can sleep when you’re dead.”  You and I are still here, and we have a job to do.  We need to get busy! 

Don’t tell someone who’s struggling, “hey let me know what I can do to help.”  If a person’s wounded or hurting, they don’t know what they need.  Just do something.  Drop off Chick-Fil-A, take them for coffee,  sneak in the back door and empty the dishwasher, send a card, say a rosary.  It doesn’t matter.  Just be the face of Jesus.  Be love.

Yes, the world is a broken place.  It’s full of chaos.  Truth is in short supply and the news is full of despair.  We don’t have to take on the energy of the room, folks.  For most things, “this too shall pass” is a good thought to have in one’s back pocket. If we are to obtain true joy and happiness, we need to discover (or re-discover) what will truly complete and fulfill us. 

Today, on All Saint’s Day, I yield to the great St. Augustine for the answer to that one.  “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”  That “you” is the Lord, of course, the ultimate source of all love and all that is good. 

Peace Out, friends.



Holiness grows fast where there is kindness.  I have never heard of kind souls going astray.  The world is lost for want of sweetness and kindness.  –St. Mother Teresa

“When you leave your stuff on the floor outside the shower like that, I lose the spa vibe I was hoping for when we built this master bath, Shell.”

Those words, spoken to me a while back, were a gently filed (but valid) complaint being lodged against yours truly.  I still recall that particular fraternal correction by my husband because of the humor and kindness with which it was spoken.  It made me roll my eyes, but I laughed.  I do fail still, but I have made a concerted effort to keep that particular area relatively tidy since then.  Honestly, it’s because he was candid, but respectful and funny.

Here’s my point.  It takes less effort to grumble than it does to be thoughtful in how we speak to others in our path. We honestly have zip for a clue what most folks are up against today.  Do you know what’s powerful?  A sense of humor is compelling and persuasive, of which well-intentioned smartassery is my personal favorite variety.  Basic compassion and kindness are also pretty magical.

Days we encounter might be difficult, even tragic.  There might be sad anniversaries, grief, health challenges…or a million other mountains you’re climbing.  Still, let’s work on not being a thorn in someone’s side, huh?  The world is so freaking hard and full of insanity.  You can choose to be positive even if you don’t love the day, because I truly believe there’s something good in each one of them if you keep your heart and your eyes open.  You are important to more people than you know.  It’s tough to remember that sometimes, but it’s true.

Here’s what else.  It’s better than okay to apologize when we screw it up.  I love this quote by Kelly Hayes who said, “There’s no shame in admitting you were previously speaking from a less informed place.” A to the MEN, Kelly!

I’m mostly running on lattes and Jesus most days.  My hair isn’t really long enough for the ponytail I constantly shove out the back of my baseball cap.  There are 55 boys on the GC tennis team, and I’m a team mom just trying to keep them fed and hitting tennis balls that still bounce.  My father-in-law passed away 3 months ago, we’re nowhere near closing out the estate, and his son to whom I’m married has had zero chance to properly grieve yet given the endless mayhem that tends to befall anyone to whom the word “executor” applies in these matters.  Our lives are blessed in many ways, but I could keep adding to that list of stressors for a while yet if I chose to continue on like this in today’s post.  We all have our hands full.  A whole spectrum of emotions cover us up each day.  It’s okay to feel all those emotions.  That’s what it means to live life.  None of us has a perfect one.  You are who you are because of your life and experiences.  And you, my friend, are flipping awesome.  You’ve trudged through thunderstorms people can’t see.  You’re still here, and you are okay.  God sees.  You are not alone.  You are loved. 

Who are you really??  Ask yourself if you are living authentically, because that’s the whole ballgame.  Let me tell you who I am.  I’m the kind of girl who wears my heart on my sleeve.  I burn too hot, and I cry too easily.  I laugh so hard that I can’t breathe and tears fall down my cheeks.  I’m menopausal and my hair is falling out, so I try to hide it.  I love hard and am overly dramatic.  I don’t have an inside voice and patience isn’t my virtue.  “Calm down” doesn’t work at all with me. I’m obsessed with leggings that have pockets and I hate story toppers, being late and diet Pepsi.  Most importantly, though, I believe it’s important to be honest and forthcoming, but considerate in the way we treat others. When I fail at that last part, I am hard on me.  These things are who I am today.  If I was pretending to be someone else, I couldn’t possibly have what it takes to do the work God calls me to do today, and neither could you.  Today, He asked me to remind a few folks about the power of kindness. I kind of wasn’t in the mood to type things this afternoon, but He asks and so I answer.  Maybe someone needs to hear something in this ramble?  That’s not my business, I suppose.  That’s up to the Lord.

Because giggling is good…

The thing about kindness is that to the many people who feel the cruelness of the world overwhelming them, your little gift often has an impact you might never realize.  Do the obvious.  Be kind to your family, friends, and the total strangers in your day.  Show grace even when others are casting stones.  Be a person who chooses to love. If you have something legitimate to correct, go with Tom’s tidy bathroom method and do it with a smile.

Say nice things to each other.  Thank the darn barista, because she’s probably spent 8 hours busting her rear.  Offer to pray with or for someone.  Send a funny meme.  Hold the door.  Tip too much.  Don’t look aways when someone is hurting.  Look him in the eye and tell him he is not alone.  Empathy is powerful!!  HOLD EACH OTHER UP.

Only people who are dissatisfied with themselves are unkind to those around them.  If you notice that’s you, ask for the grace to turn it around starting…right now.  Ask for a heart like Jesus.  Some days are so hard we have to brace for impact.  It’s just one day. Tomorrow is a new one, full to the brim with all the grace and mercy you can imagine.  We are going to make it.  It’s easier when we lean on Jesus and work together. 

You don’t have to be a superhero to save the day.  For the right person, your intentional kindness can change everything.  People like that make the world beautiful. 

I’m going to close by sharing a prayer that was recently shared with me by a holy, affirming, and hilarious friend named Deanne.  It’s my new favorite way to end the day.  I invite you to try it before you close your eyes tonight! 

PLEA FOR THE NIGHT (Ignacio Larranaga)

My Father, now that the voices have hushed and that cries have ceased, my soul rises to you to say: I believe in you, I hope in you, I love you with all my might. Glory to you, Lord.

I commit into your hands the fatigue of the battle, the joys and the disappointment of this day which has ended. If my nerves betrayed me, if self-centered impulses had the best of me, if I allowed resentment or melancholy to invade me, forgive me, Lord. Have mercy on me.

If I have been unfaithful, if my mouth spoke idle words, if I was a thorn for someone, forgive me, Lord. I do not want to fall asleep without feeling in my soul the safety of your mercy, Lord, sweet and unbinding. I give you thanks, my Father, for you were the refreshing shadow that shielded me all through the day. I give you thanks because all along these hours you surrounded me– invisible and affectionate– you watched over me like a mother.

Lord, all around me is silent and calm. Send the angel of peace over this house. Relax my nerves, appease my spirit, set my mind at rest, flood my being with silence and serenity. Watch over me, beloved Father, when I surrender to sleep, confident as a child happily sleeps in your arms. In your name, Lord, I will rest peacefully.


This Makes Me the Dog

I know Ann, I gotta go because I am at the grocery now, but I don’t know what she’s thinking letting her daughter go to that school next year with all those backward, elitist Catholics!

Several years back, I overhead these disquieting and decidedly unchristian words spoken in a local grocery store.  During the last few weeks, the memory of that morning continue to find their way to my mind and heart as I take in giant ladles full of moral relativism and anti-Catholic sentiment. 

Back then, I spoke up (albeit not in the moment) about why it’s okay to be proud to be Catholic.

At the time I heard them, I said nothing and simply turned away. It felt like a very personal blow all the same. To be fair, I arrived at the grocery store in a bit of a bad head space, not unlike the one I’m in now. Therefore, the longer I thought about it, the more annoyed I became with this stranger. To call me BUGGED would have been considerably inadequate at the time.

I watched a similar encounter between two friends just this past week (over six years later) that has me similarly riled.  One can choose silence as a response to uneducated attacks on the Lord of life, or the state of the world. Or, we can speak up.   My head is right in the middle of the muck coming across my Twitter feed and TV and I am certain many of you are right here with me.  Allow me to share what I know to be right and good about our collective Christian community by using the example of my own parish as I begin.

I’m an active member of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church, at which the 13,000 sq. ft. Merciful Help Center is located.  Jayne Slaton, the amazing woman who runs the operation, would literally be the last person on earth to say, “Hey, look over here!  We’re amazing!”  Truth be told, THEY ARE.  The center houses a large food pantry, the Trinity Free Clinic, and serves thousands annually. They meet the needs of marginalized people from all walks of life every single day. Their network of volunteers from doctors and dentists to retirees, as well as housewives and their children, is astounding. 

Above: Food packages prepared by Merciful Help Center Volunteers is ready for delivery to Hamilton County families in need of assistance.

Guess what? I know you good Catholic people with your sleeves rolled up all over your own community, and I know you don’t really give a rip how much “credit” you get for who you help. Largely, you simply want to be the hands and face of Christ to those around you. You inspire me. You make me want to be more and do more!  You are literally EVERYWHERE.

According to the Pew Research Center, there are over 17,000 parishes that serve a large and diverse population just here in the United States.  The Catholic Church is the largest non-governmental provider of education and medical services in the world.  Catholic Charities, for instance, serves over 10 million individuals annually.  Some of its more well-known partner organizations include Habitat for Humanity as well as Catholic Charities Disaster Relief. In short, they work hard to reduce poverty and provide emergency relief throughout the US and well beyond. It’s hardly an insignificant contribution.

To understand the social services impact of the Catholic Church, though, I think, one needs to understand that our country is home to a vast network of Catholic hospitals and health systems, and that the University system in our country was largely a Catholic invention, and that our thousands of parishes ALL contain ministries similar to the ones I mentioned at mine.  Each contributes in its own way and within its own capacities to combat hunger, domestic abuse and poverty.  They provide resources to families struggling with elder care needs, children in foster care, to pregnant mothers, those in mental health crisis, and so much more. 

The Church runs 5,500 hospitals, 18,000 clinics, 16,000 homes for the elderly and those with special needs, with 65 percent of them in underdeveloped and poverty-stricken areas. 

Now, add up the smaller scale charitable works of the Catholic parishes I mentioned, and be sure not to leave out those undertaken by individual religious orders like the Missionary Sisters of Charity, the Franciscans, Jesuits, Dominicans, and many others I’m forgetting. 

You see, we Catholics know that Jesus was never indifferent to the sufferings of others or the dignity of life.  So, when someone yells “You Catholics don’t even support [insert social concern here], so we know you don’t really care about life”, they are just ill-informed.  I’ve heard it said this way. A dog barks if his master is being attacked.  I guess this makes me the dog.  If hunger were easy to fix, or abuse, or poverty…then they would be solved already.  Georgetown professor J. Brennan recently stated it this way on his May 3, 2022 post on social media.  It says, “I am against Russians killing Ukrainians, but I might for all sorts of reasons oppose the US government aid to Ukraine.  I don’t think my neighbor should murder his kids and yet that doesn’t mean I believe I am obligated to feed his kids.”  This particular academic admits he sides against Catholics on many issues but acknowledges that some in his camp misunderstand some of the pertinent issues at hand.  What I’m trying to say is, the argument is not only an invalid one, the premise is also completely false. 

There are more nuanced conversations and smarter arguments out there for why being authentically Catholic and proudly so gives great glory to God.  Pope Benedict XVI called us “an expert in humanity.”  I quite agree.

To those in who cry out in anger, who are suffering, or who are searching, I offer the following invitation in all sincerity.

When you are down on your luck, come find us. We are literally EVERYWHERE. We’ve got nuns that will help care for your Uncle Henry who needs a hand up, priests who will tend to his spiritual needs, and pastoral associates who will help his daughter find a counselor and a great gal named Jayne who will get her a bag of groceries.

We’ve got Universities who help underprivileged young people get a college education who couldn’t otherwise afford one—and college students filled with so much heart they are building houses for people on the weekends and tutoring students in your local public school for free.

We’ve got hospitals. We’ve got grade school kids making PB&J’s who will pass one to you to take along for the road after you leave the food pantry. We’ve got HS kids taking their day off after finals to come rake your leaves. We have thousands of those little old “church ladies” and countless Catholic prayer groups who will pray for you– and if you need help with food for your brother’s funeral–we’ve got your back.

Stop in and see us.  Find out who we really are.

When you call us names or tell us we’re backwards, we’re human. It makes us sad. When you think it’s okay to disrespect our beliefs, and especially where it relates to ending the lives of the most vulnerable, it makes our hearts weep. Broken hearted people don’t always think straight or articulate well. For those times when we have failed, we ask your forgiveness. We will work on our behavior. It doesn’t change the fact that we are right here and we want to help—no matter who you are or where you live.

Catholic friends, when did disagreeing become something that must express itself venomously? WE, as a group, need to do a better job understanding that people weren’t exactly a big fan of Jesus either (and we are CLEARLY NOT HIM), and rest in the Lord. That’s all. The anger and defensive posture are unbecoming.

As my youngest son often says, “We’re a good family.” Like all good families, we are full of flaws. But don’t be led astray. Our church is born of Christ Himself, and it’s okay to be proud to be Catholic.

With God’s help, we’ll keep trying to respect one another and do better. We must.

If I have the chance to talk sometime directly to the heart of folks like the woman I overhead at the grocery a few years back, or the one filled with venom this week? I would say this. “I’m worried about some of you guys. Some of you don’t see how BELOVED YOU ARE. Hey you! Yes, you! God loves you. He’s better at loving than any human being could ever be, and He sees everything amazing about you.”

My faithful friends, if you know that, really KNOW THAT, in your heart, then you are blessed beyond words. I’m asking you to please join me in prayer for our country? It’s full of angry people who do and say evil things which means they don’t know God loves them.  It breaks my heart. I’ve been there. It’s a really crappy place to be. Let’s ask God to use us to be His face and His hands to show them what love looks like.

When you feel worn out or lack the courage to speak life and be a proud Catholic, remember these words spoken by St. (Pope) John Paul II, “Never tire of firmly speaking in defense of life from its conception and do not be deterred from the commitment to defend the dignity of every human person with courageous determination.  Christ is with you:  Be Not Afraid!” 


The too much in me…honors the too much in you!

That was the response I received today when I thanked a treasured friend for her over the top kindness to me during my birthday festival.  I love birthdays—yours and mine.  I think they are a great opportunity to celebrate the great gift of life.

Mitigating factors are at play, I admit.  For instance, I was raised by a birthday loving mother who has a long-stated wish to be “on the water” for her birthday each year.  Some years, that means we have been at the beach on August 10th.  Other years, it has meant a pontoon boat ride, or even just lunch outside overlooking Morse reservoir.  We make it work—because her life is one worth celebrating in a big way!!  She always made the rest of us feel extra special on our day too. As kids, I recall her making us our favorite dinner, for example.  I remember she always went out of the way to make me my favorite angel food cake.  If you’ve ever made one, you know it’s something you only do when you love someone.  It’s a hassle!

Yesterday, I received a lovely birthday message from my friend Jenny.  She might be the most genuine and affirming person I’ve ever met.  She’s a beautiful soul and pure sunshine.  That’s why it surprised me when we had this text exchange after the birthday love.

Me:  Life is short.  And sometimes so hard.  We must celebrate whenever possible!

J:  Remind me that when I turn 50 next month!!  Hard to celebrate that.

So, I did some digging and I learned from a mutual friend the date of her birth.  However, I was warned that she absolutely does not want it to be celebrated. Hmm. 

Listen.  I’d never want to upset anyone, and we all have our quirks and “isms”.  Here’s the thing.   I’m speaking to all you people who are anti-birthday and using Jenny in an anecdotal way here. I respect your right to feel how you feel, folks.  You’re just so wrong and I’m right….ha?!

The “too much” in me that I am always warned about is kind of twitching interiorly.  This gal?  She’s the face of Christ to literally EVERYONE in her path.  She’s human sunshine.  Honestly.  In my head and heart, celebrating her life is quite literally honoring the Lord and an opportunity to be grateful for the gifts He has bestowed on us all through her presence.  It’s the same reason I say things to my husband like “we can celebrate you in a low-key way if you prefer, but if you think I’m skipping your birthday, you must be high!”

I’ll never convince some of you about my birthday fetish.  I get that.  Nevertheless, to me it is just the best kind of pro-life activity.  Plus, every single one of us needs a day to be reminded that our lives matter, that we’re worth it, and that we are infinitely loved by the God of the universe.  He does that largely, by the way, using us humans to be His face and His hands.  In fact, (and I say this constantly) He loves us more that we love our kids, our parents, our dearest friends…because He’s better at loving.  He’s God and we are not.

Yesterday, I started my birthday early at 6:30am mass.  Afterward, I snuck in a quick confession.  Sin-free is a great way to start the day, am I right?  Then, I went to get my nails done as a special birthday treat to myself.  When I arrived, the owner of the salon presented me with sunflowers.  You see, the friend I mentioned in the opening paragraph here?  She had gone over and delivered them and paid for my manicure so that I’d be surprised.  Later, I had lunch with Mom and Dad.  Best of all, Nick drove over from Cincy and Drew and Erika drove home from Purdue to have dinner with me.  You guys.  Tom even went to the MALL DURING TAX SEASON to get me a couple thoughtful gifts. Tax season Tom doesn’t shop, you all.   This was an act of love.  He says he knew from the visa bill that Athleta was the move.  That made me laugh. How blessed am I?  How much does God love me? 

Birthday number 51 with my guys!

Every birthday isn’t as life-affirming as this one, I’ll admit. The thing is that 2022 is a tough moment in history and I’ve had some discouraging moments. Haven’t we all? There has been some struggle and loss in my life recently, just like a lot of you. Going to the gas station is even depressing, and I wish I had never heard the word “hospice.”

Yet here was this beautiful, joyful day where I turned 51.  God made me for this moment in time and He also needs when I need fresh air.  He chose you for this moment in history too.  I know we’re up to it, even when we don’t feel like it.  I know this because I trust the Lord.  I’d like to trust Him as well as Mary. I’m not there yet. Today is the day we are reminded of her FIAT.  “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord.  Let it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

It’s an important day, the Annunciation.  I’ll be honest.  I feel like in Mary’s spot, I’d have had another reply.  Something like this, “Umm.  Pregnant by the Holy Spirit?  Are we confident this is the best solution, Mr. Angel, or are we still exploring alternative ideas?”

See the thing is, God knows what He’s doing.  That “YES” to God was the world’s greatest ever unplanned pregnancy. 

I propose this solution for the anxieties of living life right now.  Let’s do our best to be fully present in each day, attentive to the desires our Creator has for our time.  Sometimes, that means He wants us to eat tacos with our family and blow out the candles on a birthday cake your kid picked up at Kroger, grateful as heck for your own life!  More often, it means visiting someone you love who’s nearing the end of life after a brutal battle with cancer, or taking a meal to a sick friend, or stepping into the gap for someone in need.  However, make no mistake. ALL of these are holy acts.

God is good all the time.  All the time, God is good.

Immaculate Heart of Mary, Pray for Us.  

Author’s note:  To all of you who reached out to wish me well on my birthday, I’m incredibly grateful.  For those who apologized for sending belated messages, there’s no such thing.  It’s a festival.  I pray I never lose my joy and enthusiasm for life and for celebrating it big.  For those who want no celebration at all?  I can’t make promises, but I’ll make an effort to tone it down.  That said, don’t let anyone ever tell you that you are too much.  You are just exactly the right amount, I promise.  God knows what He’s doing, and He made you. 

Curious Minds Wonder about Catholic Education

Celebrating Catholic Schools Week 2022 with a Long-Winded Open Notes Tribute

As a freshman in high school, I received a phone call from a mom with whom I was somewhat familiar.  I didn’t really know her daughter, but her name was Dawn, and she was a year younger than me. The family was contemplating a move to my Catholic high school.  They had a lot of questions and pre-conceived notions and worries about Catholic schools, yet they were drawn.  Some were correct, by the way, and some of their assumptions and concerns were utterly without merit.  It was the first time I received such an inquiry, but the next year, a similar call followed from a long-time family friend.  That trend has continued almost non-stop throughout my life.  I was 15 then, and I’m 50 now.  That’s a lot of years of clarifying, explaining, and offering my two cents.

Pandemic experiences have rendered many folks a touch fragile. Worries about our children, their mental health, and the quality of the education they are receiving are absolute reasonable, in my view.  This has led to me to many more conversations than usual on this topic.  Here are some recent parent questions I thought were especially interesting, and the answers I have shared.  These are merely one gal’s personal perspective, mind you.  However, as this year’s Catholic Schools Week has largely been spent snowed in, it seemed a good way to honor both the phenomenal educators and the faith tradition I hold dear to share these in a more open format. 

Q.  How much time do the kids spend on religion classes, mass and stuff like that?  I guess I’m worried they won’t get all the skills they need.

A. You’re not asking the real question. You already know the education is solid or you wouldn’t be considering a move. What you’re asking yourself is, “How Catholic is it?” There are other options if what you want is a private education. Do you want a faith-based education for your child? Do you want them in an atmosphere that is saturated with the Catholic faith all day long, everyday? Kindness, charity, service, prayer, faith formation and intentional discipleship are at the heart of Catholic schools. Also, you should show up for one of those masses you’re worried about. They will cleanse your soul and renew your spirit with a wholesomeness you had forgotten existed. Have you ever heard or seen 750 kids singing worship music, at the top of their lungs like they’re at a rock concert? You have to see it to believe it, but it will melt your heart.

Student section fun at the football game this fall.

Q. I’ve heard Catholic Schools are just really over the top with rules and I wonder if my son will be frustrated?

A.  Heck yes, your son will be frustrated at times.  He maybe won’t like having to wear khakis with a belt, and he definitely won’t like the no hoodie rule, and he’ll be annoyed that he’s required to do 30 hours of community service.  But do you know what you’ll like?  The same guy who sent him to detention because he didn’t have a belt on is likely to also be the guy who notices he needs a little extra love because he’s struggling with self-doubt, or a family situation.  His guidance counselor will know his name and will ask him how football season is going for him when she spots him in the hall.  The music teacher will notice he’s great with younger students and share that with the Campus minister one afternoon and before you know it he will be helping to lead a retreat group, or tutoring a struggling freshman in math.  Catholic schools are big on accountability and bigger on love.  Students and teachers in this kind of environment are encouraged and empowered to express their care and concern for one another in a way they simply cannot do in other schools.  The public schools in our area are phenomenal in many ways, but in a school that has winter break instead of Christmas break, Christian community isn’t part of the equation. Here, everywhere they turn they will find prayerful support.  Faith is alive in the hallways.  So, are there a lot of rules?  Sure there are.  He’ll live.  He’ll learn.  He’ll grow.

Q. What is your favorite thing about the Catholic School experience?

A. The community of faith-filled people!  Let me explain.  My mom is an incredible, caring human being. She was an amazing grade schoolteacher—a Golden Apple Award winner!!  I know she made a huge difference in the lives of her public school students and I am so proud of her.  That said, she never took her class to the chapel and skipped math class for the day because one of her 4th graders had a mom who was terminally ill and the youngster needed to be prayerfully supported.  Here’s another example.  My son and his high school tennis team gathered a couple hundred others and after school one day last fall, they prayed the rosary together at the grotto for their tennis coach who was in Boston to remove cancer from his brain.  The friends that surrounded my children throughout their school experiences were amazing kids and had families who were like-minded.  We knew they were safe in each other’s care.  Many of those folks remain our closest friends to this day.  That Christian community is one of our greatest blessings! 

Q.  What is your least favorite thing about the Catholic School experience?

A.  It’s expensive.  It’s also PRICELESS.


I hope in these questions and answers you will hear authenticity and genuine gratitude for my Catholic faith and the amazing gift of Catholic education in my own life and that of my children.  Its value is inestimable. If you’ve played a part in the Catholic School experience of our family as a teacher, pastor, administrator, or friend…THANK YOU! We love you.

Lastly.  The fine print.

I was asked (in a grocery store checkout line) to “qualify myself” on the matter of Catholic education.  So, for the sake of a stranger named Scott, any anyone else who cares to know, here’s my resume.

I am the product of 12 years of Catholic school.  I attended grade school (1st-8th grades) at St. Lawrence Catholic School, followed by 4 years at Central Catholic High School—all in Lafayette, Indiana.  My husband, Tom and I met in high school.  He attended grade school at nearby St. Mary’s and middle school at St. Boniface in downtown Lafayette, before I met him at LCC.  We have three sons, ages 24, 22, and 17.  Next year when our youngest, Zach, graduates from Guerin Catholic High School, that will conclude 40 (individual) school years of tuition payments. Whew!  St. Louis de Montfort Catholic School in Fishers, IN graced our family with 24 of those blessed school years, twelve will have occurred at Guerin Catholic, and four were logged by Nick (our oldest) at Xavier University in Cincinnati. Nick now lives in Cincy and works for Fifth Third Bank. Drew, who is 22, graduated early from Purdue University and will finish his master’s degree in May before starting his career with a local accounting firm in Indianapolis. Zach, 17, will be a senior at Guerin Catholic in the fall of 2022. Someday, I’m hoping they bring me armloads of grandchildren to babysit, but for today, I’ll settle for someone to help me shovel the snow out of the driveway. Be safe out there, everyone! –ST

Mad for…Pat

The holy man was the whole man, the man of integrity, who not only tried to change the world, but live in it as it was. –Dorothy Day

A couple months back, I was on a long walk with my friend, Catherine. We’ve not been friends all that long, honestly, but I treasure her for her authenticity and her stunningly beautiful heart. As fate would have it, we encountered a bike accident on the Monon trail that day, and in this case, an older gentleman was clearly injured. His pants were ripped and he was bleeding. We stopped to talk to him and we noticed the bleeding was rather significant. When he shared that he was on blood thinners and had some other medical issues, we strongly urged him to allow us to call for help. We were on foot and not that close to our cars. He was adamant that he didn’t want us to call for an ambulance, so Catherine decided to call her husband Pat.

Pat Murphy, on the far right, with his beautiful family.

Pat Murphy, I’ve learned from observation, is a very hard-working and compassionate man. Within minutes, he arrived in his rather badass pickup truck and saved the day. He had brought along some basic first aid essentials and then tossed the man’s bike into the back of his truck and drove him home, making sure he’d done all he could to assist. Let me add for a moment that Pat is a busy attorney. I’m fairly certain he didn’t have “Good Samaritan” on his schedule for the day, but that day he dropped everything to be the love to a stranger. Kindness and love always make a difference. Pat probably thought he was just doing a good deed and that it was not a big deal. Oh, how far from the truth he would be!

An integrity-filled father of 4, Pat and his wife are high school sweethearts from Champaign, Illinois. He’s the youngest of four siblings, and a man of faith who is ALWAYS willing to pitch in. For instance, just this past Sunday as we were setting up for our first of four Sunday speakers at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel (part of our Respect Life Month activities), we noticed that some of the folks who ordered meals didn’t order a drink. Pat immediately offered to go out in the rain and run to the grocery for a couple cases of water, just so that we’d be able to make sure everyone was comfortable and satisfied. It’s a little thing, but it’s the exact kind of selflessness I see Pat display over and over. I could fill this page with several similar stories. Rarely, (I pray) do I overlook someone who inspires a ripple of kindness in their wake, because Pat and folks like him always remind me that the things that matter the most cost virtually nothing but mean everything. He’s a quick-witted smart aleck who I’ve noticed leaves the world a little better than he found it. THAT combo is my favorite kind of human, and honestly…and it makes me want to be like Pat!

What struck me about Pat’s little grocery run was his positivity. He didn’t come back even a skosh snarky about the last minute fire drill. Instead, he gushed about the rainbow in the sky he’d seen on this journey and how it felt like a “God hug”. To me, Pat’s sense of humor, his willingness to join in and help, his work ethic, and his obvious love of his family make him the perfect guy on whom to bestow the illustrious Mad for “Person of the Week” award.

Don’t let it go to your head, Murphy.

Down the Rabbit Hole…

Under this innocent and pretty little boxwood lies the entrance to the rabbit hole.

Last night, my youngest son anxiously and loudly called me to the back window urgently.  He said, “Mom!  Look at all the rats!!”  I believe my reply was something super articulate and helpful like “Oh hell no!”

But then, I looked.  It wasn’t rats.  It was bunnies.  Lots of them.  It appeared to me that a wild bunny had given birth to like a dozen more and they evidently burrowing in an endlessly deep tunnel in a raised plant bed just a couple feet from my back door.  This is NOT what we want, but it does explain why all the sudden my boxwoods are dying. The roots are being eaten.  Also, the internet paints a scary scenario of where this bunny situation could be if I don’t intervene quickly.  I mean, I’m not looking to be a bunny murderer, but did you know they can give birth every thirty days to litters of a dozen or more that pretty much eat every living plant in the vicinity?  I mean what do I know?  Maybe it’s fake news, but that’s what Google says, so who am I to argue? HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM.

Most of us are familiar with the phrase “going down the rabbit hole” and we know that it is a metaphor meant to explain how we can cause ourselves no end of trouble by descending into a bad state by our own poor choices. 

I’m grasping the concept a little more now, both literally and figuratively.

During lent, I gave up some social media.  Twitter is especially bad for me, I’d learned.  So I decided to take a break.  However, in my quest to stay abreast of current news, I picked up a couple of news sources that are emailed to me each day.  You’ve seen the quote that applies here, right?  “Don’t let anyone else ruin your day.  It’s your day.  Ruin it yourself.”  HA?  This morning, the very first thing I did (before saying “good morning” to my husband or saying “good morning” to Jesus) was read a news item.  (Cue the dark scary voice of Vincent Price from MJ’s Thriller album).  The title of the story was, “Birthing People”. 

You see, apparently, a congresswoman from Missouri referred to women as “birthing people” during her testimony before some House subcommittee, because they banned the use of gender-specific terms like “mother” and “father.”  I was highly amused, but also a little more than riled.  I sent the story to a few of my friends.  And you see, that’s where the rabbit hole comes in.

My snarky commentary about being super pumped for my “Birthing Person’s Day Blessing” at mass on Sunday did NOT help anyone’s day begin in a joyful or godly manner.  EPIC FAIL.

“To live in love is to sail forever, spreading seeds of joy and peace in hearts.”  –St. Therese

So, now you see why I love Trixie so much.  This saint is a woman who reminds me by the example of her life what is important and what we are truly meant to do.  We are meant to LOVE. 

I vowed to work to shine a litter brighter with the rest of my weekend, and to be the type of person that draws people to goodness and makes them feel loved and fully alive. I hope you and I spend our days doing more listening, noticing, and caring…instead of heading down the rabbit hole of negativity.  This week, I saw that Franklin Graham said, “We are living in an increasingly secular and anti-God culture.  We need to let our light shine in the darkness.”  A to the MEN, Rev. Graham. 

So, this morning, I wasn’t so impressive. We’re all full of weaknesses and imperfections. We can beat ourselves up and continue down the rabbit hole if we choose. I chose to begin again. Every single time I get it wrong, that’s what I must do. You must do the same. The Lord needs all of us who love Him to do our part, folks. If not us, who?

“Speak words of hope.  Be human in this most inhuman of ages.  Guard the image of man for it is the image of God.”  –Thomas Merton

On Prayer, and Cheating at Euchre

Remote though the likelihood may be of you having either the time or inclination to hear out the ramblings of one rather insignificant and sinful soul, I find myself humbly submitting to the world this little entry about my Dad and asking you to stick it out, all the same.  Frankly, I’d greatly prefer to never have written this post, most especially not on Mother’s Day weekend.  However, it’s my sincere belief that the Lord expects my obedience in this matter, so I’ll delay no further.

Before I get to the reason for the post, I want to share a couple of moments from my childhood.

I was an Indian Princess as a kid.  Dad named me “Blue Water” for the color of my eyes, and my sister and I named him “Hungry Bear”.  I don’t remember a lot about the Indian Princesses, to be candid.  However, I remember it was delightfully different from all the other activities we did.  What differentiated it from the ordinary?  Well, there were cool headbands, colorful feathers, and campouts filled with daughters and dads where I learned to use a bow and arrow, shoot a shotgun, and roast the perfect marshmallow. Dad was all in!

At about age five, Dad taught me how to play poker.  Next came euchre.  We played A LOT of euchre in grandma’s house on Vinton Street when I was growing up.  In fact, I remember distinctly Dad laughing until he cried one Sunday after mass when he saw to it that Robin and I were pitted against my Grandpa and Uncle Don, Dad’s older brother, in a big euchre game.  We were about 12 and 10 years old, respectively.  We trounced the very experienced Dykhuizen men that morning, and they were utterly rattled.  Dad could not contain himself.  The trash talk was legendary after our victory.  It wasn’t until much later that they were told about how he taught us some signs to use to signal each other—barely perceivable signals– that had been successfully used to win an international bridge tournament that Dad read about.  He taught his two young daughters these hand signals for the sole purpose of watching his Dad and brother come uncorked when they lost at cards to two little girls.  His laughter shook the entire house when it worked perfectly. 

I have so many silly little memories like this for which I’m deeply grateful.  Both of my parents loved us up in an extraordinary way.  They surrounded us always with a supportive atmosphere and the understanding that we were loved unconditionally.

My Dad is a joyful, articulate, sarcasm-filled lover of people and a man of faith.  He’s an uber-involved and phenomenal grandfather too.  I’m sorry to all who have suffered endlessly through the exaggerated stories of my three boys and their sports successes, but I assure you the tales of the musical and artistic giftedness of my nieces, his granddaughters, are for real!

If they gave a Nobel Prize for “Best, Most Unintimidated Conversationalist” I am convinced that Dad could not be beaten.  There are no limits to the “no strangers” rule of life according to Jim Dykhuizen.  He’s extraordinarily gifted at befriending total strangers.  In fact, I guarantee you that as I type this, he’s learning the names of the children and grandchildren of his nurses up there at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Lafayette.  I feel certain he’s trying to make the best of an incredibly trying stretch of days.

Dad had a massive heart attack this week.  Because of the COVID rules, Mom was forced to simply drop him at the door of the ER, clutching his chest in pain.  We didn’t hear again from him or about him for 7 hours.  When he called mom from the recovery room after his heart stents were placed, it was the first time we knew he’d had a heart attack and gone into surgery.  I’ll spare you more details but suffice it to say the week has been challenging and emotional for the entire family.

He remains in the hospital, fighting a fever of unknown origin. He’s there all alone.

Lively and persistence recourse to prayer is what I’ve got for this.  It’s all I’ve ever got, honestly.  Sometimes this week, I’ve moved all 50 of the Hail Mary beads and I don’t remember saying any of the prayers.  I’m sure I did, but I don’t recall them a bit.  I was entirely distracted, but the fact is that I tried to turn my glance heavenward, and I’m trusting that Our Blessed Mother sees my heart and has accepted my request for her intercession all the same.  I’ve walked and spoken aloud to the Lord in fits and cries—for Dad, for Mom—and for all of those on my prayer list.  My work this week was sort of like a school kid who did half the math problems and then forgot to sign the test.  I’ve not had a corner on the market in the piety department, but I think God isn’t like the teacher I had who gave 0% when we left our name off the assignment.   We’re in the middle of the coronavirus season, and He’s the amazing teacher who understands my wifi’s been acting up, so patience and compassion are His calling cards. He’s not failing me. He loves me even more than I love my parents.  He loves them more too.

Here’s the thing.  God knows I want to pray.  He sees me trying to turn to Him, doing my best.  That is enough. 

My favorite saint is Therese of Lisieux.  She said, “Prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned towards heaven.  It is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.” 

I might be screwing it up, and I’m no theologian, but I think I’ve learned something worth sharing.  It’s about knowing how deeply we need Him, and about our own desire to find Him.  Praying is just us pathetic peasants, beggars that we are, looking for sustenance from the only one who can truly help.  Of course, we wouldn’t be looking for Him if He hadn’t already found us first. It’s painfully simple.

This one’s for Dad.  And, dear reader, if you are so inclined, join me in this prayer for peace of mind and complete healing for one of the best guys around.  I’m thankful to you in advance!

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

Mom.  Robin.  I love you.  I’m so glad we have each other.  Happy Mother’s Day to two of the best moms on the planet earth.  The blog entry should have been for you guys this weekend.  Dad really knows how to steal the thunder, ha?  What do you say we get him home and well…and then make him pay for pedicures?

Mad for…Ted

A strong friendship doesn’t need daily conversation or being together. As long as the relationship lives in the heart, true friends never part. (Unknown)

Our roots will always be tangled, and the truth of that makes me smile. Meet Ted Stumpf. In the photo of two pretty handsome guys above, the completely lovely Xavier Plascencia is on the left and my lifelong friend, Teddy Bear, is that tall drink of water on the right.

When we were kids, our two families were inseparable. All of our summer vacations and every New Year’s Eve were spent together. Ted’s an only child, and I have one younger sister, Robin. The three of us were often left to our own devices for many hours on end, and one of our favorite pastimes when we were little was playing “office”. My poor sis was left in the outer office, permanent secretary of this fictitious corporation, and Ted and I were, naturally, Co-Presidents. Neither of us had any desire to be anyone’s underling, that’s for sure. We were nerdy type A kids, ya think? Honestly, I don’t know why my amazing sis, the great Robino, put up with us and our bossing for years on end. We might have been a tad insufferable. However, we three were always happy being together.

There were several years of “junior naturalist” certifications from the Kentucky State Park system that were earned in classes we attended, of our own volition, while our parents slept in during trips I will not soon forget. We organized talent shows, plays and other creative adventures each New Year’s eve. What I’m trying to say is that Ted was a groomsman in my wedding because, frankly, I think of him as my brother. I will love him always.

Ted’s got a BIG personality. On the trolley ride from St. Lawrence Church to the wedding reception destination, it was Theo that decided we should stop for more champagne– like a LOT OF IT. My memories are a tad hazy, therefore, about our arrival, but I do recall my mother and mother-in-law glaring just a tiny bit at our obvious shenanigans. Also, I recall lots of smiling and giggling and fun. That’s my Teddy Bear. He knows how to throw a party, and he knows how to enjoy one!

He’s a genius in the kitchen, and he can reorganize interior spaces with the furnishings already present, and they ALWAYS look incredible. He’s so intelligent– just incredibly bright! He gives the best hugs and has the most genuine smile. Ted has never shied away from hard work, and he’s a man filled with integrity and warmth. He’s compassionate and caring, the kind of guy we all wish we had as a friend.

Ted lives near Napa, CA, which is way too far away for me to give him the in person birthday hug he deserves today. So, this little shout out will have to do. Ted? You are precious, and when the Lord counts up his heavenly treasures, he counts you…just like I do! I love you! Happy Birthday, Ted!!

“…The Lord, your God, has chosen you from all the people on the face of the earth to be specially his own.” –Dt. 14:2

Mad for…Jen

Live your truth. Express your love. Share your enthusiasm. Take action towards your dreams. Walk your talk. Dance and sing to your music. Embrace your blessings. Make today worth remembering. –Steve Maraboli

The world needs more sassy extroverts like my friend, Jen Osborn. She and her husband Chris live in Fishers and they have three pretty fantastic kids– Emma, Josh, and Sam. Above, she is pictured with her middle son, Josh, who will graduate from high school this year.

The quote above I read some time ago and I tucked it aside for today. It speaks pretty loudly to me and it reminds me of Jen. I almost ran a different and very applicable quote with which I am sure most of you are familiar. They are the words of Shakespeare. “And though she be but little, she is FIERCE.” Truer words were never spoken about a human. It’s as if Shakespeare met Jen just before penning them. Ha?!

Jen impresses me with her mad Excel spreadsheet organization and how driven she is working for the success of the insurance agency she owns with her husband. However, she inspires me by her authenticity, integrity, confidence and gratitude. She seems to attack life with enthusiasm and joy. Being around her makes me smile!

I’m sure you’ve seen Jen in the gym at Guerin Catholic if you have attended a basketball game there the last few years. If you haven’t met her yet, you really should go introduce yourself because she is a total gem. However, I’d advise you wait until halftime. This gal, not unlike yours truly, is a fairly intense sports fan. If she came to the game, she’s there to see it! Meeting her will be worth the wait, though, because she’s a woman who just never seems to tire and who doesn’t seem discouraged by the struggles of life. She’s simply always hopeful. Numerous times I’ve heard her say things like, “Well, it’s not okay yet, but it WILL BE,” or “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.” Trust me, your life will be better by making her acquaintance!

Jen is generous and compassionate, which means her family is truly blessed. Becoming her friend helped me to realize that the Lord invites us each to live the day intentionally and with vibrant enthusiasm. JEN, I am honored to share my birthday with a woman filled with such sunshine! HAPPY BIRTHDAY, FRIEND!!