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!” 

TOO MUCH

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.

LET US THANK ALL THOSE WHO TEACH IN CATHOLIC SCHOOLS.  EDUCATING IS AN ACT OF LOVE; IT IS LIKE GIVING LIFE.  – Pope Francis

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.

Clap Your Hands

Panera Bread was the place where my friend, Janice, and I decided to meet up for a little while this afternoon. After we scored a table, we went up to stand in line. Shortly, a sunny employee headed through the lobby towards the door and as she did so she sang, “If you’re happy and you know it…” and then Janice and I commenced with the appropriate clapping, of course! The singing Panera gal seemed genuinely thrilled at our joining in.

Afterward, my sweet friend commented about how her children would be mortified that she made such a spectacle of herself. Meanwhile, I explained how mine would be relatively unaffected because, well, I let my freak flag show a lot. They might be embarrassed, but they’re largely used to it. I’m genetically predisposed?

I mean, my parents used to make us all sing the Mickey Mouse Club Song when leaving restaurants. M-I-C, see ya real soon, K-E-Y, why, because we like you…M-O-U-S-E. Also, they shoved 14 year old me out of the family mini-van once just before I started high school and refused to let me back in until I belted out the school fight song. I might be immune to total humiliation? So, my point is that the Thieme boys have gotten off easy. Still, I’m their mom and that’s been a character building opportunity for them all, ha?

As we finished up at Panera, that employee we had seen earlier? She showed up at our table with two to-go bags, each holding a cookie. She wanted to thank us for joining in on her joyful moment.

The moral of the story today? If you’re happy and you know it? CLAP YOUR HANDS!!

“Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.” (James Barrie)

Today, I’m grateful for the gal from Panera Bread and my dear friend, Janice Kunkel who both were the face of Christ to me this day with their example of joy. Let’s all quit worrying what other people think about us and be the reason someone smiles today! I believe Jesus would think that’s pretty swell, and isn’t He the one who really matters anyway? Who’s with me?!

Mad for…Mark

Love is the most beautiful sentiment the Lord has put into the soul of men and women. -St. Gianna Molla

This weekend, a faithful, passionate friend of mine, Mark Volpe, is celebrating his 60th birthday! As you can see from the photo above, Mark has been galavanting a little in the south, celebrating with “Bourbon and Basketball” as his wife Karen noted. Alongside him on this little adventure are some of the finest humans I know– his incredible wife, Karen, his daughter, Samantha, and sons WillIam and Mitchell!

Like Boilermakers everywhere, Mark undoubtedly is suffering from a little broken heart this morning. The Volpes had excellent seats at the YUM Center in Louisville last night for what truly was an epic Elite 8 game, but it didn’t end how we in the black and gold had hoped. Mark’s a Cleveland Browns fan, though, so he knows how to handle sports disappointment…ha?!

Mark is an Italian guy, and he wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s warm and compassionate. Over the course of his long marriage, I have often thought of this quote by St. John Paul II where the iconic saint spoke of the role of men in this world. He said this, “God has assigned as a duty to every man the dignity of every woman.” To be completely honest, I don’t think I know a single man who has lived up to that ideal better than Mark Volpe. Not only has he done that by loving his daughter, Sam, with fierceness, but he’s been extraordinary as a partner to Karen in her long and torturous battle with cancer. God loves the way he keeps going, stays positive, and so do I!

There’s a lot in his life that I know has not gone according to his plan, but Mark has held on through it all with belief and trust in the Lord. Somehow, some way…

Mark is a guy’s guy. He’s a sports lover. He’s also filled with integrity through and through. His witness about what a character-filled man looks like is truly beyond my ability to describe here, but it’s certainly not a thing that has been missed by his two absolutely incredible sons or his sunny, terrific daughter. That’s obvious. They are three very blessed young adults– bright and capable– because of the witness of their parents. Few children have been given a Dad of this caliber who loves with all he’s got.

As Mark starts his 6th decade on this earth, I wanted to just take a breath and say a prayer of thanksgiving for Mark Volpe. His witness in my life is a powerful one, because in times of joy and times of struggle, Mark looks to the Lord and trusts Him with the journey. Thanks for showing me the way, Mark. It’s beautiful– just like YOU, my dear friend! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!

Mad for…Shelley

The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go. -Dr. Suess

Day 68 of 365.

A Brooklyn, New York native, Shelley Bethel might be far from home, but she seems to me to be living her best life here in central Indiana! This sassy gal is boldly smart, sunny and a little saucy too! She’s got a smile that’s a mile wide and the warmest hug around. In short, Shelley is a fine human being, mom to Bryson, Jackson and Addy and wife to Mike. Her children are respectful and full of personality. In my book, both of these are signs of excellent parenting. There is just so much to admire about Shelley.

Though I have only known Shelley a short time, I have a tremendous amount of respect for her for so many reasons. As the mother of 3 very busy children, her energy is tireless. There is ALWAYS a sporting event to attend or a practice to manage. When you add to that the fact that she works a job that never allows a human free time and two of her kiddos are diabetic (with all the added stress and responsibility of managing their health), I find myself a little in awe. I’m sure it’s much, much harder than she makes it look.

Shelley is a teacher and a tireless advocate for the value of books and reading for children. That’s why I chose the sweet Dr. Suess quote to feature as I attempt to honor her today! If you’ve learned anything about me by now during my little 2019 blog project, it’s that I hold ALL TEACHERS in the highest possible regard. Blessed are the children who find Shelley Bethel leading their classroom!

Finally, my friend Shelley is a faithful woman and a recent convert to the Catholic Church. She’s pictured above with her pretty terrific sponsor, Lisa Finn. Shelley is prayerful and has a lovely, compassionate heart for others. She’s not afraid to ask for help when she needs it, a quality I admire greatly, because it highlights her authentic humility. I am praying often that her conversion to our shared faith will continue to lead her to the Lord!

Mostly, Shelley makes me smile and laugh. She doesn’t seem to take life too seriously, and with all of her responsibilities I find that an inspiring witness. THANK YOU SHELLEY, for your fine example of what it means to be a terrific wife, mother, teacher and friend! I hope my little shout out today helps you remember what an utterly beloved daughter you are of our Most High God! Hugs to you, Shelley!!

Mad for…Michelle

Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do…but how much love we put in that action. –St. (Mother) Teresa of Calcutta

PIctured above is my friend, Michelle Crisci, with her beautiful daughter, Lauren

Day 64 of 365.

My favorite saint, St. Therese of Lisieux, is famous for saying “the loveliest masterpiece of the heart of God is the love of a mother.” How very true! Today, I am aiming to spread some of the love back to one of the truly terrific moms out there– Michelle Crisci.

As you can see from the photo, Michelle has a magnetic and very genuine smile that begins in her eyes. She’s funny, adventurous and big-hearted. She goes out of her way for others, and she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty in the process. She’s not looking for a reward, and it’s not important to her that she’s seen doing the act of kindness. Michelle just does the right thing for others because it is the right thing. If we know anything about goodness, it’s that it’s a gift from the Lord. He’s been using this particular gal as His hands and feet for some time.

Michelle is the mother of three pretty terrific young people– Sam, Lauren and Kylie. I’ve known these kids and their parents since they were very small. These are some very blessed kiddos to have such a mom. The Crisci clan spent a decade as our back door neighbors. We hauled our kids to and from school as a team, and we’ve shared lots of laughter, endless juice boxes, a few more than a few adult beverages… and some heartache too with them over the years. Here’s what shines in Michelle through it all– her compassion. Michelle authentically owns one of the most genuine and kind hearts around. The Lord knew she’d need it because, well, she’s married to Stan. If you know him, you’ll understand that I am now heartily laughing as I type! Let’s just say Stan is a BIG PERSONALITY and as awesome is he is….if I outlive Michelle I’ll be opening her cause for canonization when she’s gone! Hahaha!!

In all seriousness, my dear friend, today’s BIRTHDAY GIRL, is joy-filled, patient, and lovely in every way. Michelle, I’m grateful for your faithful and loving example as a mother and as a friend to many. When you could have chosen to be selfish or indulgent, I have watched instead as you have chosen self-sacrifice. What you are is an absolutely beautiful and beloved daughter of the Lord, and I am so proud to call you my friend.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MICHELLE!!

Mad for…Mike

Sports contribute to the love of life and teach sacrifice, respect and responsibility, leading to the full development of the human person. (St. John Paul II)

Day 62 of 365.

Mike Fremion is a man I first met several years ago when his son, Grant, was playing baseball at GC alongside my oldest son, Nick. He’s a fiery guy who loves country music, a nice cold beer…and for some reason unknown to me…the Minnesota Vikings? He’s the husband of a very sweet woman named Pam, who is going straight to heaven, and proud dad of 4. He’s got a great smile and funny and self-deprecating sense of humor.

Today, I wanted to take a minute to say thank you to Mike for the many, many hours he has dedicated these last few years to coaching our youngest son, Zach…and many, many other young guys over the years. It’s easy to be a critic of youth coaches, but honestly the number of hours and the energy this guy has put in really does make him a hero. Do you know how NOT FUN it is to endlessly rake baseball fields and scrounge around for gym space like a beggar? It’s not a glamor gig.

Playing on a sports team coached by Mike Fremion is not for the faint of heart, that we can all agree on who know him. However, I believe it was St. Augustine who said that we should not be content with what we are, that we should each push ourselves to become what we are not. I’m going to assume Coach Fremion is a big St. Augustine fan, ha?

In all seriousness, Mike Fremion loves the kids and I’m incredibly grateful for him. In the kids he instills a strong work ethic, strength, and fortitude. He’s intense, enthusiastic, passionate, but also truly encouraging. To say that Mike has gone out of his way for the sake of others in the time I have known him would be a tremendous understatement. Need help with transportation or anything else he might assist with? No worries. He’s on it. When we joined his little sports circle, we were coming in later than most the other families. He was incredibly welcoming, he drew us in to his circle of friendship, and that warmth always remained. He’s a character and integrity-filled guy whose efforts make a difference for others.

Thank you, Mike, for the hospitality, the many hours of toil, and the kindness you have shown to the entire Thieme family, but especially Zach. We are grateful for you.

Mad for…Brian

Do not lose any time. Do good, do all the good you can ad you will never regret doing it. Forget the services you have rendered to others, but not those rendered to you. –St. John Bosco

Day 56 of 365.

Note from the author: Some of you have noticed by now, but others continue to ask, so allow me to explain once again the reason for my daily entries. I decided at the start of 2019 that I would try to inject some positivity into my tiny corner of the world (and social media) by writing a few paragraphs each day about a different person who I think makes a positive difference for us all by the way they live their life. Today, I have chosen Brian Thieme. Read on if you are so inclined.

He’s a just man, upright, and faithful. He’s the father of five and husband to Sarah. Meet Brian Thieme. Brian is the cousin of my husband, Tom. Along with his son, David, he runs Thieme & Wagner Brewing in Lafayette. It’s been quite a labor of love for the family, opening this spot in my hometown. Brian’s an extremely likeable guy, funny, unassuming and absolute without any sense of entitlement whatever. Like most the Thiemes, Brian knows all about a good beer and he shines in the role of proprietor of the terrific bar because he inherited from his Dad his most authentic good nature.

What I love about Brian is that he is kind, welcoming and compassionate. He seems to do all the little things in a way that to me glorifies the Lord. He’s lived his faith life in such a way that it’s been beautifully passed on to his children. He’s an active member at St. Boniface Catholic Church, which is located very near his new establishment in downtown Lafayette.

I’ve watched from my nearby perch as Brian, despite all his responsibilities, has kept an eye on my father-in-law, Tom, his uncle. In my opinion, he’s been this stunningly generous and genial nephew, the one in the extended family who has taken the time to walk alongside Tom during his long fight with colon cancer in this unique and meaningful way. They share a lifelong love of Indy Car racing, and that seems to be the main vehicle for their bonding. What I hear from Toms Sr about their times together is joy. At times, those moments seem fleeting and hard to come by, so it absolutely warms my heart. The time and attention that the very sunny Brian has shared with his Uncle Tom to me cements his legacy as a simple, good man who knows how to witness to his children and his family at large what it means to be the face and hands of Christ to others. WELL DONE, Brian!

I realize you’re the one who owns the bar, Brian, but the next chance I get, your beer is on me! You are a terrific human! CHEERS!