A Lenten Note to my Fellow Catholics…

YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT.

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

Exactly right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Umm. Houston?  We have a problem. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT.

Our Lady, Mother of Mercy, Pray for Us.

The 2nd Friend

In the end, there is only one thing necessary, the love of God. (Francis Cardinal George)

A year ago, I gave up Diet Coke.  Lest you think that signals some sort of virtue I don’t actually possess, I’ll add that around the same time, I developed an affinity for drinking coffee.   I mean, is it a problem when the Starbucks barista looks at you and says “grande skinny vanilla latte?”  I’m not proud.  However, I’ve developed a habit of meeting folks for coffee.  A whole lot of these folks have been poisoned by hatred, and my entire goal in these meetings is to be the 2nd friend.  Let me explain.

Recently, a long-time friend of mine shared with me that her husband, upon hearing she was meeting me for coffee commented, “Are you still friends with her?” Do me a favor and back up, read that sentence again and place strong emphasis and not a small amount of smugness on the word “her.” It wasn’t kind. Are you still friends with HER?!! Something shifted in me when she said it. You see, I’ve loved this friend in the really ugly, and I’ve taken her pain to the Lord in prayer more times than one can imagine. I’ve done the same for her husband. It stung. It poked at old wounds.

You all, satan loves to take our rejection and twist it into a raw, irrational fear that we are not enough. The more consumed we are with being slapped in the face, whether the situation be a minor one like that I’ve described here or something much more painful, the result is the same.  We are less in control of our emotions, and our thinking and actions are no longer conformed to truth of the fact that God has a good plan for each one of our lives and that we are deeply loved. 

I want to be the friend who swoops in after that. My desire is to be the one who reminds folks that God did not make a mistake when they were created. I’ve asked the Lord to convert the problem of my latte addiction to become one powerful conversation after another, if He wishes to use me. Maybe God can use a conversation to heal something or glorify Him. I can’t fix anything, rewind time, or keep anyone from drinking the poison, but maybe the Holy Spirit can give me some words that cause a second shift, one that says BE YOU. You are loved.

Are you too whiny?  Too loud?  Going through something tough?  Are you embarrassed to be seen because you’re too tired to shower?  Worried that you might break into an ugly cry?  BE YOU.   It’s okay to be sad around me.  The latte will still be delicious and I’m into the ball cap you’re wearing to hide your hair. I can see your beautiful eyes better anyway.  This is a no judgement zone. 

I don’t care if you’re a democrat or a republican or if you made a snarky comment online that caused the eruption of WWIII in your relationship with the lady who carpools your kids home from school.  BE YOU.  We can agree to disagree, but don’t edit who you are thinking it’s the only way you can get a big bear hug.  They’re free, all the time, unlike the latte…no matter who you are or what you think. 

Do you just need a smile and a little encouragement? Are you really in the forest?  Do you need real, professional help?  Are you so stuck you’re not sure there’s any way out?  I am not afraid of your hot mess.  BE YOU.  Super excited and not just a little obnoxious because you just got a big promotion or your kid won the championship?  Please let me be loud and too much and crazy excited with you.  I love clapping…and little known fact…I am quite a gifted hand-dancer.  We can work on a synchronized hand dancing routine to your kid’s favorite song and post it on Insta to humiliate the little champ?  Or, maybe scratch that last idea, ha?

Do you need someone to hold your hand?  Say a prayer?  Sit with you in the quiet? Are you wearing dirty clothes you slept in?  I don’t give a rip.  I want you to know that in this (caffeinated) place, you are enough if you just BE YOU.

In the light of eternity, few things are worth losing one’s peace over.  Let’s stop drinking the poison of hatred that is swirling all around us.  I want to be the reason someone believes in good people, and I’d bet I’m far from the only one. 

Let’s choose to be the 2nd friend.

Gone too soon

“In their distress they cried to the Lord, who saved them in their distress. He brought them forth from darkness and the shadow of death and burst their chains apart.” (Ps. 107: 13-14)

You all? I try to keep it sunny in this little spot of the internet. Today, that feels incredibly inauthentic, yet I know I am called to chat you up all the same. So, I’d like to tell you about my week and ask for your prayers. Please let me know how I can speak to Jesus for you too, because I love you people…every last one of you. Sorry about your luck, ha?

There were six priests and a deacon present for the funeral mass I attended this morning. Cheryl Ayers was the matriarch of a beautiful, large Catholic family which included 8 children and I think 18 grandchildren. She was a vibrant 72-year old who had been arm-wrestling some of those grandkids at Thanksgiving this year, so the subsequent lung cancer diagnosis and her very quick decline were tough to take. The mass was beautiful, despite the ample scaffolding present in the building and it was clear Cheryl leaves a strong legacy of faith and love in her wake. That said, The thoughts in my mind aren’t super coherent this day, but the theme of my week is definitely “gone too soon.” I am praying for her soul today and the peace of mind and heart of all who loved her.

There’s another OLMC parish family in deep grief this week as they lost their 22 year old under tragic circumstances. He was a young man named Will who loved rugby, golf and time at the lake with his family among other things. He’s the same age as my oldest son, Nick, and they graduated high school the same year, though at different schools. I didn’t know him, but the community around me is in deep grief over his loss, including (among many others) the pastor we both shared, as well as his parents and 5 siblings. It’s tough to watch, and it makes my stomach hurt.

Also today, a faith filled woman in my circle asked me to pray for her friend and this friend’s parish, St. James Catholic Church, in St. Joseph, Missouri, as they are dealing with the death by suicide of their pastor, Fr. Evan Harkins. He was a young priest, ordained at age 24, just 10 years ago. My friend described him as humble, quiet, and joyful. It’s heartbreaking. Sometimes, it’s like we expect these guys in collars to wear capes, but they are mere mortals. May his soul find rest in the arms of the Lord.

Then, just a few minutes ago, a woman of faith I deeply respect asked for prayers for yet another local family who just a few days ago also lost their 22 year old son. He was in his senior year of college, just like my Nick Fred, and he graduated from nearby Westfield High School. His parents are understandably distraught. I promised I would pray, and I will.

Kobe Bryant, his daughter, Gianna, and 7 other souls perished this week too, in a tragic helicopter crash out in California. These shocking deaths served to underscore for me the somber backdrop of the week. Kobe, who was bigger than life, of course, has been eulogized in the media all week. I admit that even for me who is a very casual observer of the NBA, his death at the age of 41 feels somewhat jarring.

Another friend reached out this week to chat saying in one breath “all is well” but admitting in another that there have been moments where the thought of driving a car off the road seemed like not a terrible idea. Insisting it was just a passing thought, this beautiful human felt seeking out serious help was too drastic a step to consider. I disagreed vehemently.

Here’s what I feel compelled to say today.

Human beings need emotional support. It’s just how we’re wired.

Some, especially men, seem to believe they shouldn’t need it. That’s a false and dangerous narrative.

If you are someone who is hiding your deep sadness, forsaking all help because you tell yourself “it will be fine” or “I should just count my blessings”, by all means count them. But hey, YOU, count them aloud with another human, or better yet find a professional who can help you turn the ship around. PLEASE. If you don’t know how to get help, let me know and we’ll figure it out together. There is always hope, even in the midst of the greatest darkness. You are the beloved child of the Most High God and your life matters. TRUTH.

The death of Fr. Evan Harkins who was, by all reports, a holy and prayerful man reminds me how very hard it can be for those who are called upon to support others to seek help and support themselves. Pray for our priests. Love our priests…I beg you.

Finally, for the young friend troubled by the scourge of suicides around him who asked me about the souls of those who have died by suicide, I have your answer. First, allow me to say again, sweet boy, that I am not a theologian. However, I do believe in a merciful God who is love itself. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “voluntary cooperation in suicide is contrary to the moral law” but also it says “We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for people who have taken their own lives.”

Please join me today in praying for eternal rest for Cheryl, Will, Fr. Evan, Jordan, Kobe, Gianna, John, Keri, Alyssa, Christina, Ara, Sarah, and Payton.

ETERNAL REST GRANT UNTO THEM, O LORD, AND LET PERPETUAL LIGHT SHINE UPON THEM. MAY THEY REST IN PEACE.

All For One

You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses it’s taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lam and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father. (Mt. 5: 13-16)

Fr. Albert Bischoff, S. J.

“All for One.” It’s the motto of a lovely little Jesuit University of which I’ve grown fond. The Xavier University class of 2020 will include none other than my oldest son, Nicholas Thieme. Nick Fred started his journey at X thinking he wanted to be an athletic trainer. He loves helping people, and he’s passionate about sports, so this choice made sense to me. Then, he discovered there’s a dreadful need to master the biological sciences inherent in this course of study. Nick’s more of a math guy, which is why our finance major excelled once he realized the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, ha? I’m entirely biased, of course, but the folks at Fifth Third Bank are gaining a fine human being among their ranks this summer.

The relatively small campus of Xavier University, located in the middle of Cincy, reminds me a lot of Butler here in Indianapolis. Folks at X might be even crazier about hoops than Bulldog fans, actually! One big difference I’d note, however, is the very prominent placement of the Bellarmine Chapel right in the center of campus. It’s a Jesuit University, and one of the “institutions” on campus is also the presence of Fr. Albert Bischoff. Fr. B turned 90 a year or two ago, I believe? I’m not certain of his age, to be honest, but this week he celebrated another birthday so he’s been on my mind. I met him briefly only once, but it made an impact. He’s most notable to me and many for the way he greets students, by calling them “Saint”.

Yesterday, while I attended a weekly prayer meeting for women called “Awaken” at St. Elizabeth Seton parish here in Carmel, I closed the meeting for my group with a prayer that was largely inspired by the words of Fr. B. .

“I’ve come to believe in the essential goodness of people, and so one day it just came out ‘saint’ and I thought, ‘oh, that’s good’ because that is what we are. We are God’s holy people. And we tend to be negative about ourselves. We overlook our own holiness. I am very grateful to be here and share my life with these people, who I have found to be overwhelmingly good. I want to be with the saints.”

The ladies at my table were a little stopped in their tracks by the beauty of Fr. B’s sentiments, which I uttered rather inarticulately. The Lord found His way to shine in them all the same, as He tends to do– which brings me to my day this morning.

After mass, I met a dear friend for breakfast to celebrate her birthday. If her life story was made into a movie, it would blow your mind. Anyway, she’s well aware of my Jesus girl “isms” and sometimes she quizzes me a bit about Catholic things. Most recently, her interest has been about the concept of adoration, and also the Blessed Virgin. I’d like to say I’ve helped her understand my deep love for both, but that’s not really accurate. I’m leery of effusing much, though I’m bursting to do just that. Part of my problem is that I don’t really want to call attention to myself or my faith. It can be uncomfortable to stand out, or to feel like I am claiming to be something more than what I am. My personal faults and failures are always front and center.

In other words, I find myself identifying with Fr. B. His words resonate as truth. The number of phenomenal, character and faith-filled friends I have who similarly feel like they are not enough, or who speak negatively about themselves (whether interiorly or exteriorly) is astounding. We overlook our own holiness. The thing is, we’ve got to be brave!! This line of thinking is shortsighted and limiting. We’re called to more.

Here’s today’s big idea. I’ve seen how you folks notice the good things others do and that you are quick with compliments and thank yous. I spent a year picking out someone to do this with every day– and you people joined in whole-heartedly with your words of affirmation for the folks around you. It’s not braggadocios to love the Lord and let our light shine. It’s an act of humility to accept that you are good at some things too.

Let’s be open to the big plans God has for us, forsaking the inner critic. My plan is to work hard and not let myself be derailed– by my own criticism or that of others.

I wasn’t sure how my Methodist breakfast buddy would feel about receiving a rosary from me for her birthday, but I figured maybe the solution to her queries about Mary was just to give her a rosary and let Mary work it out with her directly? I told her to put it in her pocket and when she’s feeling anxious and blue, rub her fingers through the beads and that will help her remember she’s not alone and that our Heavenly Mother is there for her always.

Her eyes filled with tears and her face lit up.

“You’re going to turn me Catholic, aren’t you?”

I laughed and said, “Well, I love you, so yes, I hope so.”

She smiled and as we were preparing to part she quietly said, “Thank you. You turned the lights back on.”

AND…Mary swoops in with the victory! Nothing feels better than cooperating in that. Am I right?

Don’t hide your light. #All for One!!

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 2019…

As many of you know, 2019 was a year I spent very intentionally affirming one person each day. Self-imposed deadlines, each set 24 hours apart from the next, were my rule and rhythm for the entire course of twelve months. Lessons learned in this year will stay with me for a long time, perhaps forever. A few folks who have asked me to share these insights in person with them recently over a cup of coffee suggested I post them, so here you go! In them, I hope you find something that makes it worth the read.

1. Be brave enough to stink at something for the sake of the Lord. I am not always articulate, and often the quality of my daily writing was marginal (at best). However, when it’s more important to us to listen to the instructions we believe to be uttered in our direction by the voice of the Holy Spirit than to the give in to our fears and self-doubt, we get it right. This week, two different men in my life reached out to me. One of these tough guys teased me about all my new found “free time” but then he asked me what am I going to do next. He told me I inspired positivity in his life and that he was grateful. The other gentleman, who I’d largely describe as a blue-collar style smartass, asked me to please keep writing. He shared with me two absolutely beautiful encounters with Christ he had in his life. It was incredibly moving to get this feedback, to hear how Jesus takes our little offerings and makes them bigger and better. To me, it affirmed that my imperfect way of trying to shine the light of Christ…well it did get scattered about enough to brighten the area. Jesus is in charge here- rough edges and all. Whatever the outcome…it was effort given for the sake of the Lord. Bottom line, I’m glad I was brave enough to stink for Jesus, ha? It was Mother Teresa who said, “Give the world your best and it may never be enough, give your best anyway, for you see, in the end it is between you and God.” Smart woman. It’s almost like she’s a saint or something, ha?

2. We learn discipline by being disciplined. My confessor has frequently over the years heard me express sorrow over my lack of discipline in many areas of my life. Just like any unholy habit, it can be fixed by simply practicing a new way of living. I am now willing to admit that it takes some degree of discipline to write a few paragraphs every single day for a year. I’d argue I can no longer say I am an utterly undisciplined person. I’m shocked to see those words on my screen. Accountability helped me for sure. I believe this skill has and will translate to other areas of my life and that “practicing” living better can start small and do the same for you too. “The one quality which sets one man apart from another- the key which lifts one to every aspiration while others are caught up in the mire of mediocrity- is not talent, formal education, nor intellectual brightness– it is self-discipline. With self-discipline, all things are possible. Without it, even the simplest goal can seem like the impossible dream.” (Theodore Roosevelt)

3. No Snub Lists Allowed. One day about mid-year, my youngest son asked me about how I choose who I write about each day. He wondered if there were some people I would choose not to write about for one reason or another? Then, my oldest son joked that he planned to publish a “Top 10 Biggest Snubs” list when I completed my year. I would describe my reaction to that idea as MORTIFIED. In every smile there is beauty. None of us are perfect, and every single one of us is made in the image and likeness of God. If there is anyone in your life in whom you cannot spot the face of the Lord, cozy up and look harder– just like you want the Lord (and the rest of us mere mortals) to do with you. God doesn’t have a snub list, and neither should we. No matter what. “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy.” (Thomas Merton)

4. Goodness Multiplies. Naively, I thought I’d just write 365 affirmations in 2019. That would be 365 consoling, kind, and sometimes silly positivity notes in the world. My heart was pure and I was not attached to any outcome. It seemed both simple and worthwhile. I really and truly wanted to be the face of Christ to those 365 people. Period. At the end of 2018, social media seemed so filled with vitriol. My tiny corner? I wanted it to be kinda shiny in 2019. What I didn’t consider was how often my simple note would then lead to other folks chiming in with their two cents about the awesomeness of my person of the day. Frequently, dozens of other people would add their own love to the kindness bouquet with comments on WordPress, Facebook, Twitter, text message….or even (God forbid) in PERSON. Our good and gracious God ALWAYS outdoes us in generosity and love. He’s radically generous. “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. Moreover, God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work.” (2 Cor 9: 6-8)

5. Stop All the Apologizing. If someone issues a compliment, don’t brush it aside or shake it off. Say THANK YOU. Perfectionism is a lie. We all make mistakes. You don’t need to listen to Satan whispering lies in your ear. It’s a time and space waster. Instead of “I can’t” stick the words “Up until now” at the front of your sentences. If you feel guilty, it’s one of two things. Either you have sinned and you need to tell the Lord you are sorry, then move on in freedom…OR the voice in your head is not of God. Which one is it? Turn it all over to the Lord. Trust God because He is trustworthy. Sometimes, He helps us fall apart right into place.

6. God can and does work miracles for you and through you. When I started my year, my health was at low ebb. There was a scary lung cancer diagnosis. Surgery and uncertainty loomed a bit large. I felt consoled by the presence of Jesus in those around me, many of whom I wrote about each day, and in Our Eucharistic Lord too. He was my peace. I really was doing my best to rest in Christ. Still, there were moments of worry and sometimes stomachaches too. I often thought, “I don’t know what people do who don’t have faith.” Skepticism may be cool, and lots of people embrace it when it comes to matters of faith but God can and does work miracles for you and through you. I kept my head up, and tried my best to trust that God loves me, setting aside those thoughts that are clearly not of God, the ones which say “you aren’t good enough” or “why would He love you?” Guys. I was looking for God in all of you every single day last year, and I found Him. Over and over again. The cancer diagnosis was declared a mistake. It turns out it was something less menacing in my lung. A to the MEN. My heart was burning by year’s end at the magnificent way He loves us. It’s uncanny the number of times I heard from someone words like “I cannot believe that TODAY is the day you wrote about me.” “I was at the end of my rope”, or “I really needed to hear this right now.” There are dozens of crazy stories that started with a text or a call like that from 2019. I was probably invited for coffee 50 times by different people who wanted to tell me how incredible it was that I wrote what I did, or that I said it when I did. I drank a lot of latte. You guys. It wasn’t me. God did that FOR YOU. If it was my keyboard, then thanks be to God. Make no mistake, however. It was JESUS loving you. He’s flat out crazy, mad, recklessly in love with little old you…and me! GOD IS LOVE. “Nothing is sweeter than love; nothing stronger, nothing higher, nothing more generous, nothing more pleasant, nothing fuller or better in Heaven or on earth; for love proceeds from God and cannot rest but in God above all things created.” (Thomas a’ Kempis)

Here’s the bottom line. If you have the chance to make someone happy, just do it. Maybe, your act of kindness will just make their day…and yours too.

THANK YOU for reading along in 2019.

Mad for…Shelly?

Each of us is a result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary. (Pope Benedict XVI)

Dad sent me a text this morning which confused me at first. He was asking who was going to be “Mr. Irrelevant”. It was apparently a reference to the last guy chosen in the NFL Draft each year, but even though my house TV is rarely on any channel except ESPN, I was clueless. My sweet Dad was making a comparison he obviously felt was both clever and applicable. What he wanted to know was who would be this blog’s “last draft pick”, so to speak, in my “Mad for 2019” series. That was all the nudging I needed to let my freak flag show a little bit and choose…well…myself? Here’s the thing. I cannot handle the idea that some kind soul might just actually think as Dad suggested! Nope. No dice.

There are only 365 days in a year, and I still have a working list of spectacular folks I could write about but who for whatever reason did not appear yet. I may eventually do that, as the Holy Spirit moves in mysterious ways. For now, I am content to finish 2019 with a few words about the author, yours truly.

It sort of blows my mind that over 50,000 people have at one time or another stumbled across this tiny spot in the middle of the cyber mayhem this year. Here, I attempted to spend some time each day being grateful for the amazing folks in my path, and to be intentional about affirming them. It’s for the sake of these readers (I didn’t expect you all to show up) that I am going to answer a few common, personal questions I have received.

First of all, I am the wife of a handsome accountant named Tom and I spent about 10 years in corporate communications before I became a stay-at-home mom. We were high school sweethearts and this year we celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. Said anniversary happens to fall on the feast of one of my all-time favorite saints, St. Therese of Lisieux. I hadn’t met Trixie yet when we got married, so I consider this happy “coincidence” a grace of our unbelievably generous God. Together, we have three sons. Our oldest, Nick, will graduate from Xavier University this spring. Drew is our Boilermaker, and like his dad, he’s studying to be an accountant. The baby, Zach, is 15 and a freshman at Guerin Catholic High School. My parents are Jim and Kathy Dykhuizen, and I have one sibling…a smarty-pants, science whiz named Robin who lives in the Chicago area.

A couple folks have expressed distress over the frequent grammatical errors in this blog. I want you to know that I am, in fact, capable of writing proper sentences– I just don’t wanna. This writing space is a place I intended as a “stream of consciousness” blog. Whatever comes into my head is what appears at my fingertips. I like to think that if you know me personally, you will hear my voice in the words. I’m simply not focused on or interested in perfectly formed paragraphs here, mostly because the imperfections are what make this an accurate and authentic reflection of me. I hope that doesn’t land as self-absorbed or narcissistic. I don’t mean to disregard the norms of the English language some of you hold quite near and dear. Maybe I’m just not your cup of tea, and that’s okay. I still sincerely thank you for the time you spent following along!

One reader emailed to tell me she can tell “the Catholic thing is a big deal to me, but she wishes I’d let it go already.” How about this? The Starbucks is on me if you haven’t met Jesus yet but you’re curious?

Let’s see. Yes, I have lost some weight this year. It’s always a compliment to tell someone they look nice, and it never occurred to me to be insulted. Lots and lots of you were worried about offending me. I’m not offended. At all. Actually, I started 2019 with cancer diagnosis, which turned out to be inaccurate (thank you, God)…and I ended the year right at 100lbs lighter. None of this story is a secret and I’d be glad to chat about it with anyone who is interested. Feel free to ask.

What else? I’m proud of myself for following through and affirming someone every day this year. It’s been a worthwhile task, one which has proven quite rewarding in ways I didn’t expect. I’ll tell you more another day. For today, it feels important to me to acknowledge that in my quirky little way, I tried to shine Christ’s light this year so some of you fellow weirdos would be reminded that you are an AMAZING child of the most high God and that you matter.

It took me a long time to get to the point that I could believe those last 14 words, and I know lots of you are still struggling with it too. Let’s work on being gentle with ourselves, huh? As I head into 2020, I’m going to try and be nice to old Shelly. I mean, yes, there are many things I’d like to improve upon. Oh goodness I’ve got a long way to go to be the holy woman our good and gracious God wants me to be. However, old me has survived and persevered through some challenging stuff. However she’s failed, she’s kind of a badass in her own crazy way. I mean, I arrived at Dec. 31, 2019 in love with the Lord and enamored and overwhelmed with gratefulness for so many blessings– including you kind people who are reading now. That’s a great place to start.

HAPPY NEW YEAR, ONE AND ALL!!

In every smile there is beauty. In every heart there is love. In every mind there is wisdom. In every human being there is a soul, there is life, there is worth, and there is the ability to see all these things in everyone, including one’s self. (Marc Chernoff)

Mad for…Mrs. Mason

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn. (Benjamin Franklin)

As high school students go, I was solid academically speaking. That said, science was definitely not my forte. I managed, but it was purely my work ethic that helped me through the very tough chemistry class of one Mrs. Patricia Mason during my days at Lafayette Central Catholic. She was a graceful woman and a terrific teacher with striking eyes and a sharp wit.

I realize that I am now 48 years old, but I can’t bring myself to call her by her first name all these years later. She will always be Mrs. Mason, I suppose. Mrs. Mason was an inspiring teacher, mainly because she was so genuinely interested in her subject matter. She was more about assisting us in discovering the world of science than she was imposing her will, as lesser educators sometimes will do. I remember her as kind, inspiring, and intelligent– and in that order too! She’s one of the folks during my school years whose lessons stayed with me, because her influence simply cannot be erased. She was patient but firm, and that combination was especially effective for me. I’m not going to lie, though. Chemistry was hard. The thing is, the degree of difficulty was high, yet nevertheless, I truly feel Mrs. Mason left the community at large a whole lot better than she found it.

In recent years, I have been following her life from afar via social media. It appears to me that she is enjoying her retirement quite a bit, and I’d be willing to bet she’s a beloved mother and grandma. She’s also making me want to visit Anguilla, ha?! Mrs. Mason is a Boilermaker fan as well as a woman of faith. If you know me at all, you’ll recognize those as two qualities I hold near and dear.

A couple years back, I was lamenting (well, whining really) about my son’s science fair predicament. It was my old high school chemistry teacher who noticed my post and sent me several challenging but fun ideas for him. I’ll be honest…I was ALL OUT of creativity by the time the last of my sons hit science fair age!! She couldn’t help herself. Once a teacher, always a teacher, I suppose. How thoughtful, am I right?

As I finish off my year of daily affirmations and gratefulness, it seemed important to me to acknowledge some of the great educators who have made a difference for others. I am a fairly prolific reader, and it was this quote (written by Lowell Milken) from this afternoon which had me searching my mind for the great teachers I have encountered so that I could choose one to honor today. “Good teachers are to education what education is to all other professions– the indispensable element, the sunlight and oxygen, the foundation on which everything else is built.”

She was the sunlight and the oxygen, indeed! Thank you for spending your professional life making a difference for young people, Mrs. Mason. I know I speak for many when I say most sincerely that I’M GRATEFUL!! Happy New Year to you and your entire family!!

Mad for…Stacey

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. (Romans 12:10)

I’m pretty sure she told me once she was a Boilermaker like yours truly, but I’ll be honest and admit that I could be making that up. Sometimes I just WANT all the cool people to be Purdue grads, ha? In any case, Stacey Wilt is a beautiful soul and a mom to three! I’ll admit I am writing about her today because I saw this great quote and it made me think of her. “Special needs parents are the equivalent of Batman, Captain America and the Incredible Hulk combined with a side of Mary Poppins.” I have not a clue who said it, but it’s SPOT ON from my vantage point.

I’ll be totally candid now as I acknowledge that until recently, I knew Stacey only through Guerin Catholic High School sports, and therefore the only child I was aware of is her oldest, a handsome and athletic kid named Spencer. We’ve seen each other a few more times this fall, and it turns out she has two gorgeous girls as well– Mac and Ellie. Ellie is a freshman like my youngest son (Zach) so I suppose I have three and a half years to get to know Stacey a bit better. That’s fine with me.

Stacey has eyes that sparkle, she’s the sort of woman who I’d bet can smile right through trouble. I think of her as someone who warms and cheers the rest of us in her path. She’s got magnetic laughter going for her and a natural joyfulness that makes her sort of irresistible! Positivity, and a happy heart are her calling cards. She doesn’t overlook anyone. I can’t tell you how attractive that quality is in humans. I once read a sure sign of wisdom is a cheerful temperament, and if that’s true, then I need to stay a little closer to Stacey, because I can use to soak up all the wisdom she can impart! She’s authentic, amiable, and flat out charming. I really do credit her cheerful frame of mind. Gratefulness and warmth are the vibe she gives off when I run into her– whether it’s at GCHS or even when I run into her eating chicken wings at BW3 with her family!

It’s clear as a bell that Stacey is a supportive and loving mom to her three cuties, and that she knows how to enjoy her life and laugh through it! I’d bet that all the important people in her orbit are well aware that she is crazy about them too, because she strikes me as a woman who loves people just a little recklessly…and those are my favorite kind of people.

I’ve got not a clue when Stacey’s birthday is, but since the year is literally almost over, I’d wager I missed it. The thing is, even though birthdays are the only days we officially are called to celebrate folks just because they are…well I’m calling a special exception today. You see, Stacey is a woman who makes bad days more bearable for others. I know because I asked a couple of her people. They also said she is filled with faith. This is not a shocker. So. Today is a random Sunday and I am choosing to celebrate Stacey! Why the heck not?! I’ve even got a silly little something for her to show her a little of that same attention and affection that I hear she sprinkles all around her constantly. Why? Because I wanna!!

I have declared today STACEY WILT DAY! Three cheers for you, Stacey!! The very next time I see you, well…I’m coming with a tiny little surprise. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all the Wilt clan!

Mad for…Jill

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf; be reconciled to God. (2 Cor 5:20)

When I was a girl, I spent a considerable amount of time with the Vanderkleed family. Stan and Nancy were long time friends of my parents and they had two daughters– Jill and Erin. Since this week (yesterday, actually) Jill celebrated her birthday, I thought now would be an excellent time to celebrate what makes her a spectacular human! We all know that I am sometimes a day or two late with my greetings, but hopefully I’ve demonstrated by now that if there’s anything I believe in, it’s the festival approach to such celebrations!

Even as a little girl, Jill had an incredibly infectious laugh. Her giggling radiated the entire area, as did her smile. Her eyes sparkled too! This has not changed a bit! Now, she’s a mother of three and the wife of a tall, handsome guy named Tony Hardebeck. Many years (decades actually) have passed since those afternoons we shared sledding down that steep hill behind Stan and Nan’s house in the country, and I can still hear the sound of Jill shrieking in delight! It really is one of the defining sounds of my childhood. She is a joyful human! As one of my favorite authors, Bob Goff, says, “Where joy is a habit, love is a reflex.” I couldn’t agree more!!

Our lives are full of actions we repeat over and over. These rituals become habitual and that must be the reason why even though my sons are no longer attending St. Louis de Montfort Catholic School, I sometimes find myself accidentally heading that direction in the afternoons when I go out- it’s a habit I built over 16 years. That was Goff’s whole point. The thing is, he meant it as it relates to things like finding the joyfulness in life like Jill does! It’s a wonderful habit she’s spent a lifetime perfecting!!

It doesn’t matter how much time passes, when I run into Jill, I know I can count on a dose of her cheerfulness and warmth! Also, chances are excellent there will be top notch baked goods– the woman can bake circles around every other human being I have ever encountered.

Jill is a social creature who lights up the area she inhabits with her bright smile. What a blessing she is to her kiddos, parents, sister…and a whole lot of other folks who inhabit her life! She’s a woman who helps out where she sees a need because it’s the right thing to do– a woman of character. It seems to me like it’s her way of witnessing to all of us what it looks like to live a grateful life. It’s beautiful, actually.

Happy Birthday Week, Jill (Vanderkleed) Hardebeck! How cool it is that you share your birthday week with the Prince of Peace? Very! I hope your day was as awesome as you are, my beautiful friend!! Also, Happy New Year to you and the entire family.