Mad for…Karen

We shall steer safely through every storm, so long as our heart is right, our intention fervent, our courage steadfast, and our trust fixed on God. -St. Francis de Sales

This is a recent photo of my treasured friend, Karen Volpe, with her youngest son, Mitchell, who is a recent engineering grad from (my alma mater) Purdue University. You can see she’s beaming with pride here, as well she should.

You see, Mitchell is incredibly bright, independent, respectful and kind. He shares those same qualities with his stunningly beautiful sister Sam as well as his oldest brother, William. All three of the Volpe children are truly some of the most well-adjusted, loving and terrific young people I have the pleasure of knowing. I credit their mother, but how she was able to accomplish the task of raising young people like these is just one of literally thousands of examples of her unrivaled courage and faithfulness in my life.

Defining Karen by the fact that she is quite literally a professional patient would be utterly unfair. That is a prominent fact in her life, though. You see, when Mitchell was in kindergarten, she was diagnosed for the first time with leukemia. In the past nearly 20 years, she has endured multiple bone marrow transplants, cancer surgeries on parts of the body I barely knew existed, lumbar punctures out the ying-yang, chemotherapy, radiation, scans and tests of every variety ad nauseum….I could write more on this and you would simply not believe me that one person could undergo such extensive physical and emotional trials and still be smiling over there on Garden Gate Way, but she is indeed. Her handsome husband, Mark, is damn fine human being as well and I don’t want to neglect saying so.

In her presence, I truly feel as though I am sitting with a living saint. Her wisdom, guidance and advice on everything from dealing with suffering to why one might consider ordering McDonalds french fries without the salt (they’ll be forced to make a new, piping hot batch, ha!) is without a match for me. Her parenting guidance makes me laugh and it makes me cry. She’s unafraid of offering fraternal correction to any doctor or nurse who isn’t treating her (or her fellow patients) with compassion. She’s even more generous in praise of those who are clearly working hard to glorify God in what they do. She’s the one who taught me to notice the drive through gal, the janitor, and the quiet child sitting by herself….by her own witness.

Once, I questioned her on why she felt it was a good idea to keep her daughter home to make candy during the holidays. She said “how can it NOT be a good idea to spend the day with your mom and grandma? This is more important than math today.” How true.

We were long time carpool partners. When she was the pick up person, the school office complained that she always came late. She wasn’t late by much, simply a few minutes. But by the time she arrived, the long line of cars had gone. The school asked me to speak to her. I told them, “Well, you’ll need to take that up with Karen.” I knew well that they would not. Her thoughts were this. You see, time is valuable. The children should wait for me, I should not wait for them”. No child in her carpool care ever complained, by the way. Kids knew chances were pretty solid they were getting an ice cream cone at Dairy Queen on the days Mrs. Volpe was feeling up to carpool duty.

I’m a rule follower and she has often challenged me to see the big picture and live life more fully.

She has taught me that everyday we should make an intentional effort to do something which glorifies God, because tomorrow isn’t promised. Also, her words are spoken so articulately and with such love that I often feel as if Christ himself is speaking them through her. That’s quite a feat considering she’s a Buckeye. Ha?

Karen Volpe is a petite woman in very fragile health if you simply glance. If you look a little closer? You’ll discover she’s a spiritual giant, with a quick Irish wit, and the most fierce warrior I have ever encountered.

I can’t begin to do her justice in a few paragraphs, but today I needed to try. I LOVE YOU, KAREN. Just thank you… for showing me what God means us to be. I am praying for you always.

Mad for…Kit

No better relation than a prudent and faithful friend. –Benjamin Franklin

Isn’t this the cutest picture of a joyful mom with her silly gorgeous daughter? Anna Kleck is on the left and my friend, Kit, is on the right. Kit is also the mother of Emily (a volleyball player at NYU) and Jack (a high school sophomore). All three Kleck children are truly unique, utterly bright and compassionate human beings. This is unsurprising considering the woman who raised them. To be fair, their dad, Chris, is a swell guy as well…but today I am going to tell you a little about Kit.

Today, Kit had time in her calendar and she sent me a spontaneous lunch invite. One of my very favorite things EVER is a spontaneous invite to do anything with a friend, or a whole room full of them. It doesn’t always work out but when it does, it typically feels to me like the unplanned event ends up being THE BEST. It’s been not my most spectacular week and therefore I jumped at the chance to gab with one of the most wise women around. She’s sensible in action and thought. She’s also categorically positive and definitively sunny. Kit is a person who seems to be fully present. She lets the joys of the everyday bring a kind of soft happiness that inspires gratitude in her interiorly. It seeps out. She’s steady. Her steadiness seems to be something she’s won over time and it makes her happiness with the gift of life extremely attractive. Others around her spy her joyful face and her authentic smile and they want in.

Thank you, Kit, for the gift of your time today. Your light was sunshine in my day, as it always is when I am around you. If the whole world could get a little scoop of your secret sauce, we’d ALL be better for it. I am grateful for the reminder that reaching out in love to others is always a well timed choice.

“A sweet friendship refreshes the soul.” Proverbs 27:9

Mad for…Claudine

“Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” Romans 15:7

Day 24 of 365. Take a look at that beautiful gal on the right. That’s my friend Claudine. A couple of years ago or so, my youngest son began to play on a baseball team with some boys from Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Changing teams is a bummer for parents, because a gal gets to know the other baseball moms pretty well over time and frankly, I liked my friends over there on the “Orange” squad. As boys will do, Zach slid into his role over at 1st base for the Raiders just fine, taking his time to get to know the other guys. However, aside from the embarrassingly loud baseball socks this team seemed to favor, his experience seemed to me to be fairly pleasant. His transition was easy.

I’m not too shabby at meeting new folks, so I made an attempt to feign like I’m a slightly lovelier person than I really am, and I started getting friendly with some of the other parents. I find that grandparents are easy targets with glad handing, if you ever find yourself lonely at a random ballpark, by the way.

Here’s the rub. This group of folks were clearly long time friends whose kids went to school together and whose families have grown together in faith over the years. It can be tough to nudge in without being intrusive. Enter Claudine Kreiner. She’s affable, sweet and helpful. Also she’s incredibly welcoming. Claudine’s kindness and authenticity just ooze from her. Her warmth and beautiful smile drew me in. I began to watch Claudine. Does that make me a creepy stalker? Maybe. I like to think of myself more just a people watcher.

Claudine and her husband, Ryan along with their gaggle of boys soon started showing up nearby at mass. They are all truly impressive young men who certainly are blessed with an amazing mom. I’d see her interacting with her nieces, her sister, her sons, and her mom. I eyed her giggling with friends at high school games. The picture became clear quickly. Claudine is a grace-filled woman. The warmth she shows those around her make her the face of Christ to all with whom she comes in contact. She’s gracious, engaging and kind. I a world STARVING for positivity and kindness, she’s a treasure without price.

Did you ever just meet someone and hope that someday you would have the chance to get to know them better? That’s how I feel about Claudine. Until then, her faithful witness and warm welcoming example remain a TOTAL BLESSING and they inspire me to want to be like Claudine!

Mad for…Kelli

If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over? –John Wooden

Day 23 of 365.

Meet Kelli Allen. She’s a mom and wife. Her kids are (almost) all grown. She’s basically in my wheelhouse there. She’s got one more little chick left at home to help along and I always enjoy hearing the latest.

I stole this photo from her Facebook page, and looking at it is making me want to take a vacation out west, but I digress. Kelli works at Regions Bank. To be exact, her desk is planted almost in the dead center of the building at the Regions branch near 116th and Allisonville Road in Fishers. She’s been working there as long as I can recall.

Sarcastic, but not in an acrimonious way, Kelli has a way of making her customers feel known and appreciated with her dry sense of humor. What makes her exceptional is that she ALWAYS goes out of her way to take care of the needs of all who enter. She’s not the branch manager, but she’s the branch manager if you catch my drift. “I’m waiting for Kelli” is the phrase I often hear repeated by long-timers who wander in and out of her place of work. We like her and we trust her. Period.

To be fair, the entire crew working at this branch is exceptional. Today, I’m focused on my gratefulness for all the times she wrestled the paperwork, finagled the beguiling systems challenges, or called the house to make sure our needs were met. When the bank at large was underwhelming due to some brilliant corporate strategy that seemed great at the head office but didn’t really work for real people….I stuck with Regions because I knew Kelli had my back.

In a world where customer service increasingly means I am scanning and bagging my own items, or waiting “on hold” indefinitely, it’s kind, capable and truly fantastic people like Kelli who make ALL THE DIFFERENCE!

Some famous guy said “There are no traffic jams along the extra mile.” I can’t find his name right now but HOW TRUE. Thank You, Kelli, for being a terrific human. The Starbucks will be on me again real soon!

Mad for…Fr. Haan

O how great is the priest! If he realized what he is he would die… God obeys him: he utters a few words and the Lord descends from Heaven at his voice, to be contained within a small host. Without the Sacrament of Holy Orders, we would not have the Lord. Who put him there in the tabernacle? The priest. Who welcomed your soul at the beginning of life? The priest. Who feeds your soul and gives it strength for the journey? The priest. Who will prepare it to appear before God, bathing it one last time in the blood of Jesus Christ? The priest—always the priest. And if the soul should happen to die (as a result of sin) who will raise it up, who will restore its calm and peace? Again the priest. After God, the priest is everything. Only in heaven will he fully realize what he is. -St. John Vianney

Day 22 of 365.

Fr. Thomas Haan is a young priest from my hometown of Lafayette. He grew up in a farm family, which I am sure helps to account for his work ethic and natural humility. Like many young men from the Hoosier state, Fr. Haan was a talented basketball player and football player in high school. In fact, he was a gifted athlete who set some impressive records as a quarterback at my alma mater, Lafayette Central Catholic. He also went on to Purdue University where he was a member of the football team there.

That’s kind of a nifty and unique background for priest, but it’s not why I’ve chosen to highlight him today. You see, what makes Fr. Thomas Haan truly sensational in my book is that I believe he gives us all a pretty swell witness of what it means to live as a courageous and holy man. Accessible and reverent, Fr. Haan is an amazingly self-possessed and passionate guy who clearly loves the Lord.

In his role as the chaplain at St. Theodore Guerin Catholic High School in Noblesville, he preaches the faith to young people without even a hint of condescension. Some of those homilies are just incredibly challenging and they always call all within earshot to live in the world but not be of it. He asks us all to be the hands and feet of Christ to one another. He gets away with some bold and extremely demanding calls to holiness which enter into the interior of the listener because his authenticity and personal witness is clear for all to see. Also, he’s just a cool guy. That definitely helps when you’re dealing with teenagers everyday.

This fall, for instance, after my middle son, Drew had barely begun his freshman year in college, he and his high school buddies were back home for fall break. As 18 year old boys will do, a few of them decided to meet up at GCHS and play some pick up basketball. This was a fantastic crew of recent grads and they were thrilled to have the chance to go get sweaty with the buddies they hadn’t seen in a couple months. As Drew tells it, Fr. Haan walked into the gym with a scowl on his face and called out loudly, “Hey, do you guys have permission to use this gym?” They stopped and looked up at him and hollered back, “Uh, no, we don’t Father…” at which point Fr. Haan grinned widely and replied “PERMISSION GRANTED”. They all got a big laugh out his teasing, and it gave them the sense that they are loved and always welcome. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how it’s done. Everyday kindness matters.

In short, Fr. Haan is one of the good guys. With him, young people (and their parents too) know he truly loves Jesus and feel that he cares, therefore his witness of faith bears fruit and begins to spread– even when he tasks us with the challenging work of being a disciple of Christ.

THANK YOU, Fr. Haan, for all you do each day!

PRAYER FOR PRIESTS

Gracious and loving God, we thank you for the gift of our priests. Through them we experience your presence in the sacraments. Help our priests to be strong in their vocation. Set their souls on fire with love for your people. Grant them the wisdom, understanding and strength they need to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Inspire them with the vision of your kingdom. Give them the words they need to spread the Gospel. Allow them to experience joy in their ministry. Help them to become instruments of your divine grace. We ask this through Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns as our Eternal Priest. Amen.

Mad for…Matt

He who is filled with love is filled with God Himself. -St. Augustine

Day 21 of 365

This is Matthew Kiffmeyer. He’s always smiling, and I mean ALWAYS. That’s why I chose him today on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Lately, it’s occurred to me that one of the greatest affronts to human dignity is assuming the worst in another. If you ever watch the news or scroll through social media, you’ll notice a lot of that exists. Most of us are guilty of making these kinds of assumptions about the next guy (from time to time at least). It’s eating at me. So today I thought….who do I know who is the exact OPPOSITE of that? Mattie K.

Matthew is a talented and award winning athlete, having brought home significant hardware at the Special Olympics here in Hamilton County and in Indiana’s State competition as well over the last several years. Not only is he the youngest son of Joe and Julie Kiffmeyer but he’s the pride of St. Louis de Montfort Parish, in my (not so humble) opinion. He’s the younger brother of Andrew and Jim and big brother to sister Sarah. I could (and maybe I will) tell you more about the entire (incredible and inspiring) family as the year progresses, but today is all about Mattie.

Matt is pure joy. He instinctively stops to hug you and shine that bright grin in your direction if he spots you out and about. In fact, my husband Tom and I were the recipients of his awesome love at mass a couple of weeks ago when he spotted us sitting near the aisle on the way back from communion. I was in the middle of thanking Jesus for loving me when He literally came bounding up to me radiant as the sun and gave me a bear hug through the person of one Matthew Kiffmeyer. Day made.

And so I submit to you on this frigid Martin Luther King Day his words that instruct “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Truer words have never been spoken.

Do you know why there’s not a soul around who both knows the Lord and Matthew Kiffmeyer who doesn’t recognize our good and gracious God in this young man? It’s because his intent is clear and simple. He’s enthusiastic, funny, and most of all he’s about loving others. Period. We could ALL borrow a page from that playbook.

Thanks, Matthew, for reminding me about what’s really important. You are a champion for your fast feet as well as your enormous heart.

Happy MLK Day, everyone!!

Mad for…Kristy

Every time you smile at someone it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing. -Mother Teresa

Kristy Worthington, left, with her beautiful daughter, Reese.

Day 20 of 365.

Hearing her name makes me instantly grin. Meet Kristy Worthington. She’s the quintessential smiler. Bright, effervescent, and brimming with positivity, Kristy is one of the most cheerful people I have ever known. You leave even the briefest moment with her better for the encounter.

As a grade school teacher, she’s good-natured on her worst days, and hilarious on her best. We call the year with Mrs. Worthington the “white fluffy cloud” experience. If your child comes home from school complaining about this teacher, then that’s a kid who…. must be coming down with the flu? She’s a phenomenally talented educator who has won many awards for the same. She’s a rock star at what she does every day with children. That’s not why I chose her today.

Kristy is an authentic example of what it means to model goodness. She chooses optimism and carries herself in such a buoyant way that others leave her presence lighter on their feet as well. Kristy can also bust a move. Her lip sync numbers are my personal favorite. She posted one today, performed with her travel partner (daughter, Reese) and it’s what made me think to choose her. She’s the most loving and fun mom, that’s easy to see, even from a distance. She’s sanguine, upbeat and sunny side up…even when the world delivers into her life truly difficult moments.

I have watched from a nearby perch as she set aside her own heavy and melancholy heart to hug, smile, and console others who she instinctively knew were in desperate need of a scoop of Mrs. Worthington’s sunshine. She’s a gift to all who know and love her. It seems to me she’s a terrific example of being grateful no matter what.

How blessed are her three children and her handsome husband, Joel? I hope they know.

Kristy? You are the barometer I use to identify positivity in others. Thank you for your example and for your beautiful, faith-filled and sunny heart. I am SO MUCH BETTER for having the chance to know you.