Helping after the Fire

Kelly Hauschild, you are loved!

Bear one another’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal 6:2)

Two days ago, I posted the following note on my Facebook page, and initially, it was emailed it to the 7th grade families at my son’s school, St. Louis de Montfort Catholic School (SLDM), in Fishers, Indiana.

 SLDM Friends,

 Over the weekend, SLDM teacher, Kelly Hauschild, who teaches 7th and 8th graders, suffered a house fire. She has a large family (7 in all) and they are now in a hotel until temporary housing can be secured. I am collecting money tomorrow morning in front of church before mass (I have a light blue minivan), and also in the narthex after mass for this family. In addition, I will be in the carpool line tomorrow afternoon (Wed. 14th). If any of you would like to make a contribution, I will add your generosity to our “gift card” fund. We are getting gift cards to a few restaurants as well as a superstore where she can get needed food, clothing, and household items as they are necessary in the next several weeks. I’m putting a short leash on the collection time frame so that I can get her the gift cards by Thursday. I realize that many of you have young children and haven’t met Kelly yet. As a parent of 2 children Kelly has taught the ins and outs of Algebra, Geometry and Religion over the past 3 years, I can tell you she is an outstanding and faith filled woman. I know she will be humbled and truly grateful for any support from the SLDM family. If you are unable to assist monetarily, that is absolutely fine. Your prayers will be needed and appreciated as well!! Feel free to pass this along to anyone you think who might like to help.

Now, it’s Thursday.  Help came.

Will $3000 worth of gift cards and cash magically solve the challenges faced by the Hauschild family?  Of course it won’t.  They have months of recovery ahead of them, temporary housing to locate, a home to rebuild and a Thanksgiving and Christmas around the corner that no longer looks as they wish and certainly not as they anticipated.

If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one.  –Mother Teresa

A hastily gathered gift, given in love, will hopefully help bridge the gap until insurance paperwork and inevitable red tape leads to actual assistance, a temporary housing solution and life back on track.  Kelly’s co-workers and the administration at SLDM are collecting funds, and clothing is being gathered as we speak for the children.  When I saw Kelly and Jeff yesterday, her jacket covered in ashes from sifting through the damaged house,  and him with a harrowing story of escaping the house during the fire, I could clearly see there will be an ongoing need for help.  I am certain it will be forthcoming.

BUT.  To me, here’s the silver lining.

Yesterday, in ONE DAY, with no time to think, the amazing people of St. Louis de Montfort wrapped Kelly, Jeff and their 5 children in love.  They simply rolled down their car windows and emptied their wallets, no questions asked, to do what they can.

My beloved faith community– YOU were the face of Christ.

The Kingdom of God is among you. (LK 17:21). 

One of my favorite authors and homilists, the charmingly abrasive Fr. Larry Richards, said this morning via Twitter, “We are to bring God’s kingdom to everyone—He is within you so show Him today!”

And that is just what you did, SLDM.  I am so proud to call you friends.  Nicely done.

Prayers continue.

If Jesus is Batman…

“Are you kidding me?  You’re telling me when we put the Flavor-ice popsicles in the freezer THAT is condensation?  You put them in the FREEZER to FREEZE them!! This is ridiculous!!  I am not going to help you if you aren’t even going to try!”  — Me, to my 8 year old son

Suffice it to say, the brilliant and patient science teachers of the world need not fear I am coming for their jobs any time soon.  Further, my general homework/studying philosophy to date has gone something like this, “I already passed the 7th grade, now it’s your turn.”

Have I helped renovate a science fair board, or given myriad spelling pretests, or assisted in researching the culture and political situation in Azerbaijan?  Heck yeah.  Have I edited essays and worn a path to our local CVS on endless supply runs?  Absolutely.

Here’s the thing.  On rodeo #3, I seem to have fallen off the horse.  This is a horse of another color, you might say.  We have only just begun, and I am frustrated, and I am worried.

Here’s my inner dialogue.  A good mom would know what to do.  A loving parent would have patient and loving answers and interactions. A God-filled mother would know how to close the gap caused by frustration and insecurity and would persevere confidently in the direction of success with her child.

Me?  I yelled.  I lost my patience.  I wanted to do something else, anything else.  I shared this with a friend this week, and then confessed I prayed, asking Mary for assistance.  My non-Catholic friend said, “Mary?”  I said, “Yes, Mary, The mother Jesus?”

“Ahh….THAT Mary!  You Catholic girls.  I don’t get the Mary thing.  When I need a filling, I don’t dial up my Dentist’s mom, Shelly.  Can you talk to me about what the story is with Mary?”

I wanted my friend’s consolation.  Affirmation was the goal, then I wanted to head to Marsh for decongestant.  Apologetics was not on my mind.  I instantly recalled a great comment made by a friend several years ago at a CRHP meeting and I flippantly replied, “If Jesus is Batman, then Mary has the Bat phone.”

Giggling.

“Shelly.  Why not just pray to Jesus to help you be the mom you want to be?  That I would get.”

Then, we proceeded to have this surprising interaction.  I asked her why it is that she asks me to pray for her, for her parents, and for others in her life who are struggling.   We talked about how lots of people ask others to pray for them.  Why do we do that?  Why not just talk to Jesus?

I think there are a couple of reasons.  First of all, we don’t live on an island.  We need our friends.  Others have compassion that we need to help us through this life, they stand in the gap for us—they intercede.  Our friends, family members– all can be helps in our relationship with Jesus.

Second of all, and this is a new revelation to me.  My Lutheran friend said to me “Well, I don’t pray to dead people.”

Here’s where the conversation ended for today, but I have been thinking about it ever since.

I should have said, “People in heaven are alive.  This is what I believe.”  It’s a fundamental belief that I mistakenly took for granted entering into the chat.

I think of Mary as the original prayer warrior.  She doesn’t say much in the bible, but she does tell us that her role forever to the end of the ages is to magnify Jesus.

Let’s keep in mind here that like most good cradle Catholics I have encountered, I know virtually zero about scripture.  BUT…..I am familiar with the Magnificat.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior.  For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness, behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.  The Mighty one has done great things for me, and holy is his name.  His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him.  He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.  He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones, but lifted up the lowly.  The hungry he has filled with good things, the rich he has sent away empty.  He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy, according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and his descendants forever. (Luke 1:46-55)

So, reading this, which is just lovely and beautiful playing in my head as a song, it seems self-evident to me that praying for her intercession isn’t worship and it cannot take focus away from the one who saved us—her son!  In eternity, her sole job in my simple mind is to lead us to Him.

Does it diminish our relationship with Jesus to have devotion to Mary or enjoy Marian prayers?  If it’s useful for our friends on earth to pray for us, then isn’t it possible those in heaven are even more equipped?  I mean, who do you ask to pray for you when you REALLY need prayer?  The holiest people you know, right??  Devotion to Mary doesn’t deify Mary…..it simply indicates incredible respect.

Writing this post about Mary was my way of making amends to her son, who I love, for the flippant initial response when I encountered the opportunity to chat with my friend about the queen of heaven.

We do not slight the son when we honor the mother.  –St. Louis de Montfort

I feel like its possible God wasn’t really all that interested in consoling me about my poor behavior or soothing my bruised little feelings.   I concede it’s more than probable that all of this was God’s way of pointing me to the greatest example of motherhood that exists.

Lucky for me, the greatest mother ever always takes calls from her children outside normal business hours.

Hail Mary, full of grace…..

All Saints Day: Loving Catholic Schools

I wrote this article, below, on behalf of St. Louis de Montfort Catholic School, at the request of our amazing Walk-a-thon chairs and my terrific friends, Meg Ryder and Angie Watson.  We’ve held this event for many years, but they have taken it to a whole new level of fun and meaning while still raising funds vitally necessary for the sustenance of our parish school.  Catholic schools everywhere couldn’t make it without supportive volunteers who pour time, funds and their hearts into these schools where our children are able to have daily conversations with and about Christ, grow in character and integrity.  One day soon I’ll write an article exclusively about why I love Catholic schools.  I’ll talk about things like 2nd graders wearing shirts that say “Run, Jump, Play but Do Not Sin! –St. John Bosco” and kids stopping class to say the rosary for a classmate starting chemo.

Until then, I offer this article for today,  All Saint’s Day,

SLDM Walk-a-Thon, 2012

to all the Catholic school volunteers giving of themselves, and all the parents sacrificing for the truly worthy effort of making certain a faith filled Catholic education is available at terrific Roman Catholic institutions all over this amazing country.  You can spot them easily.  They all generally have names like “All Saint’s Academy”, “St. Lawrence”, “St. Mary’s”, “St. Boniface”, or “St. Louis de Montfort”!  KEEP THE FAITH, ALL!  Our Catholic schools are a treasure!

Missionaries in the Mirror:  SLDM Walk-a-Thon

School aged children have a special knack for focusing on fun.  In the fall, most of the kiddos in our neck of the woods look forward to things like Friday night football games or what costume to wear while “trick-or-treating”. Students at St. Louis de Montfort (SLDM) in Fishers, Indiana, also mark the days eagerly awaiting the annual SLDM “Walk-a-thon”.

Yes, the event is a fundraiser.  Oh, but it is so much more!

The goal of the event is to help the children learn how to love, learn, and lead in the community.  This year’s theme, as captured by students who created the event logo, was “Faith-Filled Footsteps”. The idea is to assist students in learning by action, how to become healthy in body, mind, and spirit.

Catholic writer, Jennifer Rey, recently wrote “the essence of the Church’s evangelizing mission is to simply help people, not necessarily convert them.  Conversion is important, but we are called first and foremost to love and to serve.”  The message is one the students at SLDM have been living through their beloved walk-a-thon for several years.  We are all called to see ourselves as missionaries.  Children of any age can pray, smile, help, and engage others.

Partnering with Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St. Vincent (PMCH), students and staff at SLDM are each assigned a prayer partner.  These are sick children being treated at the nearby Indianapolis hospital.  Students are given the patient name, age and condition.  They wear that partner’s information around their neck (this year on dog tags) during the weeks leading up to the actual day of the walk.  They gather items from nearby neighborhoods to give to patients from their wish lists, and they pray for their partners.

Associate pastor, Fr. John Kiefer, spiritually challenged the students to demonstrate actions of love, learning, or leading like Jesus for which they earned plastic balls to place in two story high tubes!  How amazing it was to see their acts of compassion and leadership grow to the 2nd floor of the school!  It was a terrific visual which spoke loudly about how much we can accomplish!

In addition to the community partnership with PMCH, pledges were gathered by students for each step they took during the walk, which will be used to assist the parish school in its mission of providing a quality Catholic education for its 475 students.  Principal Annette Jones and Vice-Principal Janet Andriole added to the fun by providing an “incentive” to the students.  If the student body reached its fundraising goal of $35,000, their administrators would wear the costumes chosen by students during “Walk-a-Thon” week.  It was silly fun to see Mrs. Jones and Mrs. Andriole dressed in costumes all day! The top student fundraiser earned an Ipad3 for himself, and one for his prayer partner, a 12-yr old girl named Laike, from Kokomo, Indiana. Sponsors helped defray the costs.

During the Walk-a-Thon day itself, students created signed pictures to deliver to their prayer partners, they lifted up their intentions by writing them and placing them on a 6ft tall, 3-D cross, there were team building activities, songs, and of course the walk/run itself!  Pastor Fr. Pat Click in his “Fr. Pat Challenge” urged students to go the extra mile, to push and sacrifice for others as they walked and ran!

The event raised a total of $43,000 for the school.  More than that, it taught the students that they don’t have to go to Calcutta like Mother Teresa to make a difference.  They just need to see the missionary in the mirror.

The Great State of Arizona

Chapel of the Holy Cross, Sedona, AZ

George Weigel, a Roman Catholic theologian and author, has written several extraordinary books.  One of these marvelous works is titled “Letters to a Young Catholic.”  In it, Weigel covers what it means to live a faith filled life for those of us who are curious, searching, or even doubtful.  His account is remarkably lucid, and much of what he said resonates, leaving me with a distinct sense of gratefulness for my faith tradition, and hopefulness for the future.  I recommend the book heartily to all.

Having just returned from a rather spectacular long weekend with my family in Arizona, I find that Letter 12 of this book rings particularly true.  The title of this particular letter is “Chartres Cathedral, France—What Beauty Teaches Us.”  The point that Weigel makes here while taking the reader on a tour of a place he cites as one of the most striking that exists is that beauty is a powerful antidote to self-absorption.  Like Weigel upon visiting Chartres, there is for me something overwhelming and ethereal about the “Red Rock” area of Arizona that it renders me speechless.  Like him, I had the sense as I spied for the second time the Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona that I was praying without words simply being present.  The chapel was created by artist and sculptor, Marguerite Brunswig Staude.  She imagined it as “a monument to faith, a spiritual fortress so charged with God, that it spurs man’s spirit Godward!”

Oh, how she succeeded.

Beautiful places, in particular, draw me out of myself.  Sky so blue there isn’t a bright enough crayon to capture it, surrounded by imposing red thousand foot high rock walls all around me, well, they help me realize that the master sculptor has created something so marvelous I simply could never grasp it.  There’s no way to tire of this kind of magnificence.  My 8 yr old son called it “crazy”.  My 15 year old said “I think I took 50 pictures here, Mom.”  My 12 year old simply sat with his jaw open the entire time we were in the Oak Creek Canyon area.  Tom had me ask a stranger to get a photograph of the five of us in the midst of it all, and then, after a round of golf on a mountainside course with our kids he said, “I want to stay another day.”  Says Weigel,  “Beauty is something that even the most skeptical moderns can know.  People know that they know what’s beautiful.”

All of this and experiences like these, of course, are God’s grace at work in my life and yours.

When I was a girl, my parish school was teaming with the smiles of Franciscan sisters.  It seems truly ironic now how I thought they were the loveliest people with the most unfortunate and misguided beauty sensibilities.  I wondered, quite frankly, who chose the brown? The irony is that I remember too walks outside this time of the year with Sister Julie Marie and my entire class at St. Lawrence.  She would point out the many old trees lining the side streets near our school which were so brilliantly glowing red, orange and yellow.  She didn’t have to tell us how beautiful they were, we couldn’t miss them.  That would be like forgetting to notice the sunshine.  When we arrived back in our classroom, she would always say, “God is beauty, huh?”  Turns out those gals in brown knew everything about beauty.

In Weigel’s book, he reminds us of St. Augustine, who famously takes himself to task for taking so long to confront his doubts and conform his life to Christ.  He “exults in his surrender to the God who is beauty itself” pens Weigel.

Late have I loved thee, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved thee!  You were within, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you.  In my unlovliness I plunged into lovely things which you created.  You were with me, but I was not with you.  Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all.  You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness.  You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness.  You breathed your fragrance over me; I drew in my breath and now I pant for you.  I have tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst for more.  You touched me, and I burned for your embrace. –St. Augustine

If every day was a vacation day spent under the blue skies and sunshine near Phoenix, surrounded by smiling children and a peaceful husband, happily disconnected from his laptop………….well perhaps I would not feel as grateful for the lesson, or the need to recall it later.  Maybe then beauty would simply be part of me.

Perhaps then, I wouldn’t need the Chapel of the Holy Cross, or Slide Rock State Park, or fall trees filled with bright leaves, or stained glass windows glowing in the sunshine, or Hail Holy Queen played by skillful hands on an old church organ, or sunset over lake Michigan.

I’m not sure about you, but this human soul has a knack for self-absorption, for getting lost in the everyday.  There are countless antidotes, but since I even like my cough medicine to be cherry flavored, it won’t surprise anyone who knows me to learn the antidote I prefer is the one easiest to swallow.  The next time I am lost in “Shellyville”–self-assertion, self-absorbed world with sentences that all begin “I am”– will someone please remind me to get out my photo album from the October break trip to Arizona?  That should remind me who I am—and who God is.

“Like Augustine, we burn for the embrace of the Beauty that is always the same and always new.  That burning, which God himself has built into us, is the beginning of every prayer.”  –George Weigel

AMEN.

P.S.  Did I mention I had a great vacation?  Tom, Nick, Drew, and Zach…………you guys rock my socks off.  Oh, and God?  Yeah, you really seemed to find your groove artistically when you got busy with the state of Arizona.  Just saying.  Nice work there.  Love you.

Some Thoughts from Bed

David, Zach and Anthony at the apple orchard

People see God every day, they just don’t recognize him.

–Pearl Bailey

A virulent strain of the flu has been overwhelming my family for the past week or so.  It first struck my youngest, Zach.  The next victim of said illness really was my Chrysler Towne and Country, which suffered a rather dreadful fate as child #2 inherited the condition on I-465, about 20 minutes from home.  Within hours of that ugly incident, my husband, Tom, decided his most appropriate resting place was the floor of the master bathroom.  While Tom and Drew lived the worst part of their illness, I was in the driveway taking a hose to the inside of my minivan.  The realization that my stylish rubber gloves were a rather feeble defense against this bug was not far from my mind.  Therefore, it was no surprise when I woke up feeling quite ill this morning at 2am.

My mind was filled with all the people I was bound to inconvenience with my illness today.  I was supposed to drive my 2nd grader and his classmates to the apple orchard this morning.  I emailed and texted apologies to school teachers and administrators, hoping they would get my message in time.  I had committed to picking up Nick and and his buddy Grant from school and taking them to the last freshman football home game after school today.  That was certainly out.  I apologized as I sent an explanation and an alternative plan to Grant’s mom—from my pillow.  I cancelled the orthodontist appointment.  I cancelled the pitching lessons.   I called on my friend Sara to take over my lunchroom “captaincy” for tomorrow.  400 kids will need to be fed, but I should clearly not touch their food.  I sent a pathetic call for help text to my friend Donna offering $100 for two Excedrin.

Here’s the thing, though.  God was with me all day long.

My parents woke up well before dawn and drove an hour to be here with Nick for Grandparents Day at Guerin Catholic High School.  They did this despite the fact that I had called off their sleepover here in Indy, not wanting to expose them to our illness.  As I rested in bed, too unwell to even say hello, I listened as my dad helped Nick get his tie on for the all school mass he and mom had driven so early from Lafayette to attend.

Despite his lingering symptoms and minor fever, my hard working husband went to work this morning.  Feeling unwell himself, he nevertheless called to check on us, and he offered to take his lunch hour to bring us whatever we might need.  My friend Donna not only brought the medicine, but she let herself in and delivered it right to my bedside.  I think she might have been holding her breath the whole time so as not to inhale our germfest, but she was here.  That’s love.   The terrific 2nd grade teacher I so inconvenienced this morning sent me a get well note and a smiling photo of my baby on a hayride at the apple orchard.  When I emailed a mom new to the our parish and school asking if she might be able to fill in for me in the lunchroom, she apologized that she was unable to fill in, but insisted she was bringing dinner for the family and that she would leave it on the porch.  Two neighbors who have boys in Zach’s Monday night basketball, not even knowing I was ill, called to offer to bring him.  I had just used up the last of my energy taking a shower, trying to figure a way to muster the wherewithal to make it downstairs to take him.  My friend Sara checked in on me and alerted me that she not only would take over for me tomorrow but had found me a substitute as well.  I could go on and on.

So, despite the rough start and the continuing fatigue, I know too this was a day filled with blessings.  Nausea still has me in its clutches, but I see God loving me.  Mother Teresa is famous for saying we can do no great things, only small things with great love.  My family, friends, and faith community reminded me today of how completely God uses them as instruments of His love in my life.  All those people are God-sends, I thought.

How idle it is to call certain things God-sends!  As if there was anything else in the world.

–Augustus William

St. Teresa of Avila, pray for us!

Carpe Diem!

What a crappy day, I thought as I woke yesterday.  Plastic mixing bowls have been commissioned for use by nauseous children on both levels of my home.  Additionally, the caretaker, yours truly, has broken into an unnatural and proliferous sweat, which likely indicates fever.  You moms know the fever I am speaking of, right?  This would be the perspiration laced fever, accompanied by clamminess and fatigue that we pretend doesn’t exist while our children are ill?

After a sleepless night in and out of the bathroom and multiple late night sheet changing incidents, I was spent.  “Thank God it’s not my carpool day,” I thought as I caught a glimpse of my greasy face and damp matted hair in the mirror, “Zach is finally asleep and I am going back to bed.”

THUD. SLAM!  “Mom!  Mom, where are you?  Mom!!  My ride didn’t show up.  First period starts in 15 minutes, and I have a quiz in there.  Plus, Sam is shadowing me today.  Mom!!”

With that, I slipped on a sweatshirt over my pajamas, threw on Tom’s baseball cap, and went to wake my nauseous and feverish little guy.  “Sweet heart.  I’m sorry, honey.  Wake up, Z.   I need you to put on a sweatshirt and some shoes.  We have to take Nick to school.”

The day and the news just went downhill from there, my mood and energy further devolved, and I found myself with an insane migraine, tearing up in the Target parking lot last night at 9pm.  What a horrible, useless excuse for a day, I whined, as I celebrated my first class pity party.

I managed to say the desperation prayer.  This is the one I choose when I am at low ebb.  “Jesus, I don’t know what I need, but you do.  Please help me.”

Help came quickly.  CARPE DIEM.  This is the thought that stuck in my brain.  CARPE DIEM.  Seize the day.

What you need to know about me is that a thought which sticks in my brain to me is many times one inspired by the Holy Spirit.  I am the original supernatural thinker.  This phrase, Carpe Diem, isn’t just an instruction………..but it’s the reminder of a dear friend.  Her name is Karen.  The two go together like peanut butter and jelly in my mind.  Allow me to explain.   I’ll stop here and start again.  We’ll call this part of today’s blog:

French Fries

Every ounce of her Irish Catholic, 110lb, and freckle covered frame is pure defiance.  The mother of three of the most beautiful and respectful children I have ever encountered, Karen nonetheless flaunts authority completely.   There isn’t a single soul who is going to stand in her way.

If you’ve been wondering who is responsible for the move to newer, tougher policies on absenteeism at school, this is the mom.  If she feels like it’s too ridiculously gorgeous out for kids to be in school, or if she’d rather spend the day hanging out making Christmas candy with her daughter, Sam, then that’s what she does.  If her younger son, Mitch, stayed up too late doing homework and wants to sleep in….then so be it.  He’ll be there later.  You get the idea.

The seven children in the St. Louis de Montfort carpool from Garden Gate Way had a well worn path back to the office to wait for her big white Chevy Suburban .  They didn’t even bother to call home.  Mrs. Volpe theorizes that children should wait for adults, not vice versa.  Time is valuable.  The office staff never messed with Mrs. Volpe.

If I’ve painted a rather unfair or lopsided view of my friend to this point, let me self correct for just a moment.  Karen is bigger than life and not a little bit unlike the “Road Runner.”  She can dig out a homemade pirate costume for any child on the block the day before Halloween WHILE she cooks homemade chicken pot pie and measures her living room for new curtains.  Those carpool kids love waiting for her because chances are with the time she saved, she’ll be buying the whole van load of kids DQ on the way home.

A few years back, after we had been to dinner and a little outdoor community play with a few other couples, Karen quietly snuck away as the rest of us drank margaritas.  She didn’t feel at all well, and ended up in the hospital.  Her symptoms led the doctors to perform an emergency hysterectomy.  Here’s the problem with that.  She didn’t actually need a hysterectomy, because what she really had was Acute Myelogenous Lukemia, or AML.

In the months and years that followed, we learned that AML isn’t terribly common in otherwise healthy young moms.  The protocol for treatment that existed was written for much older men.  Doctors kind of had to wing it.  Karen proceeded to get very sick.  Her illness was so debilitating that she once came down to watch “Desperate Housewives” with me the night before surgery and she said her goodbyes.  It wasn’t the first time we had done that, but this time it seemed serious.  She had been told the chances of surviving the surgery the next day were simply not good.  She told me where to find the ring I was to give her son William for his future wife, and she showed me where to find the Christmas presents she had purchased in advance so that her children would have something from her this year.  In short, Karen was dying.  We all knew it.  She had defied the odds too many times.  Remission, it seemed for Karen, was merely a temporary term.  The cancer always seemed to return with a vengeance.

I could bore you with white blood cell count stories and ridiculous tales of graft vs host disease, but I’m frankly not smart enough to do it justice.  Let’s just say it’s just like the Irish to defy the odds.  Karen was too stubborn to die.

After brain surgery and too many trips to the hospital to remember, and not one but TWO bone marrow transplants (one auto-transplant, and one from her donor brother….thanks TOMMY!), I found myself on “Karen duty”.   Her husband, Mark, had called to tell me that Karen wanted to see me and asked if I could go down to IU Med Center and keep her company this particular Sunday afternoon.

When I got to the isolation unit, it was the same.  It’s cold and quiet.  It’s sterile and horrible.  Karen had been there more than 30 days this time.  Years had passed that she scarcely remembered.  Ugh.  The nurse came in and gave her the blood counts.  Karen said, “Say that again?”  The nurse repeated the numbers.  Karen said, “Shelly, pack the stuff up, we’re going home!”  The nurse went on to explain how there was no doctor to release her, even if that is what the doctor told her.  But, do you remember what I told you about Karen?  Irish was too stubborn to die, and too stubborn to stay one more minute in that hospital.  She said very matter of factly, “Well, paperwork is your problem.  I’m out of here.”

As simple as that, I found myself in my van with my very sick, but very hungry friend.  She weighed about 80 lbs soaking wet.  We were 35 minutes from home and not a sole knew we were coming.  It didn’t matter.  Karen wouldn’t even let me call to warn them.  She was hungry.  Karen wanted french fries.

Who was I to tell this amazing woman who had defied every odd that I wasn’t stopping for fries.  We pulled into McDonalds.  She whispered, “Tell them I’d like a large order of fries with no salt.”

“Large fries, NO salt please!”

“M’am, that’s fine, but it’s going to take a moment.  Pull forward please.”  Karen smiled.

I thought to myself about how Karen probably can’t have salt with all those medications she takes.  I just looked at her and felt at a loss for words.  My heart just ached.

As I paid for the fries we had waited on, and they handed them out the window to me, Karen said to me, “Can you ask them for salt, please?”

I looked at her, my eyebrows  in the classic v-shape that speaks utter confusion.  She grinned from ear to ear.

“Shelly, I’ve been in isolation thinking about these fries for a month.  I wanted them to be hot and fresh!”

We both just burst out with laughter.  It was a deep from the core of your being giggle between girlfriends.  Gosh that was overdue.  It felt like heaven.

It’s five years later now, and believe it or not, Karen still lives two doors down, and she still makes me laugh.

From Karen I learned a lot of valuable lessons.  I’ve gained insight on the cancer world and what it means to face that disease that I wish I did not know.  I gained the knowledge that giving is a gift to the giver so graciousness is called for always in receiving.  I learned about a wonderful and compassionate piece of technology called “Caring Bridge”, and I met the face of courage in the midst of suffering over and over again in my brave friend.  I even learned that we should never take chicken casserole to the “cancer house” without first asking how many casseroles are already in the freezer, and usually the kids would rather have Subway.

Believe it or not, the most valuable lesson of all that I learned from Karen, though…..well it’s gleaned from the “crazy” rule breaking incident with those hot, delicious, McDonalds fries.  I know it makes her happy to know this is what she has taught me.  There’s never been someone who needed to learn it more than me.  I remembered the blessing of my friend while at Target last night and I recalled the banner that hung in her first hospital room, signed by all who visited.  It was a big yellow sunflower with the words “Carpe Diem, Karen.”

“Boast not of tomorrow, for you know not what any day may bring forth.” (Prov. 27:1)

NEVER take yourself or your life too seriously.  Loosen up, lighten up, and CARPE DIEM.

God’s in charge here.  He’s got this.

Thank you Jesus.  Thank you, Karen.  I love you, friend.

Yeah, Z…You’re Absolutely Right

This weekend I went to a first reconciliation retreat with my youngest, which at our parish is the first step of sacramental preparation which culminates in receipt of the Eucharist next spring.  Although it’s not my first or even my second rodeo on this retreat, I knew still that it would be a unique experience, because Zach is my pistol.

Allow me to digress for a moment and explain about the Z-man.

My 2nd grade son has informed me that this will be the last year of his formal education.  He says he wants to go to school this year, because it’s first communion year and that is pretty cool, but he really knows everything he needs to know and so he thinks 3rd grade is a waste of time.

When I suggested to him that his grandma, a teacher, thought he might want to “gut it out” for one more year, because multiplication comes in fairly handy, Zach replied, “Umm, iPhones have a calculator.”

Good argument, I thought.  So, the follow up question I asked was about how he plans to spend all his free time.  His reply, “Well, I’m gonna race in the Tour de France.”

This response mystified and disturbed Zach’s very bright and pragmatic cousin, Maddie, a 3rd grader.  As I explained the situation to her, she was immediately struck with the practical impossibilities.  First of all, Zach would need a race bike, which he doesn’t have, and additionally, he is way too young for the Tour de France.  Someone should alert him that he doesn’t have all the facts!

I use this story to illustrate the rub we parents face.

We know it’s our responsibility to impart to our children all sorts of important things.  For Zach, right now, my job is to help him understand God’s love and forgiveness is always available to us, and that receiving Jesus is the greatest gift God gives us.

How can I possibly help my child grasp the enormity of all that when his creative and engaged little 8yr old mind has him quitting school after this year to ride a bike across France?   He can’t possibly understand these things which are so ethereal—can he?

I decided I just have to let go and let God.

Sunday at mass, Zach knelt next to me.  As Fr. Pat began his prayer of consecration, Zach waited anxiously for his brother, who was serving the mass, to ring the bell.  His eyes were on Nick like a hawk.  Then, he whispered to me, “Now’s when the miracle happens, right mom?”

A wide smile came across my face.

“Yeah, Z, you’re absolutely right.”

“Mom?  How come I have to wait until April to make my first communion?  I think a lot of people don’t know Jesus is here right when consecration happens, but I do!”

God’s grace rings the bell.  LET GOD.  Amen.  I do believe.

O Sacred Banquet

O Sacred banquet, in which Christ is received, the memory of His passion is renewed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.

You are Very Welcome!

“I have stilled my soul, hushed it like a weaned child.  Like a weaned child on its mother’s lap, so is my soul within me.”  (Ps 131:2)

I wish.  That sure sounds good, though.

“Women’s Devotional” was the subject line of the email that contained this scripture passage, from my girlfriend, as I awoke to a gray day in Carmel, Indiana this morning.  Accompanying it there was a brief note that said, “Thanks for being my prayerful friend.”  It followed a lovely note from a second friend yesterday that struck me as ridiculously over the top in terms of gratefulness.  I quickly shot back, “Thanks are unnecessary.”  My instinctual response, interiorly, was one of rejection.  Oh, no, I haven’t done anything to warrant gratitude.  What’s wrong with these friends of mine?  I know they mean to be nice, but I just wish they wouldn’t.  There’s nothing special about me.”

Then, knowing the priests of the diocese are on retreat this week and that I wouldn’t be attending mass this morning as normal, I looked up the readings for today.  It’s the feast of the Guardian Angels.  How sweet and sentimental, I thought.

It wasn’t until I read the gospel that I woke up.  He called a child over, placed it in their midst and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven and whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.”  See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly father.” (Mt. 18)

In the kingdom of God there exists complete, humble trust in the ways of the Lord.  That’s the path to holiness we are meant to notice this week.  First, there are the Archangels, then my beloved St. Therese of Lisieux with her “little way”, and then finally today the feast of the Guardian Angels.  They might seem all rather mild and sentimental, but I believe we are meant to realize that what they have to show us is at the heart of our faith tradition.

In the eyes of the world, and yes, sometimes in even our own eyes, we are nothing.  Our contributions feel negligible.  But I realize this afternoon that whatever enhances life, whatever affirms goodness, is the Holy Spirit working in our world.  We are God’s children, and our every small act of love is a step on our path to Him.  We may feel small, in fact, we are….but the feasts of our Church these last few days remind me of Mother Teresa’s famous quote, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”   We are not meant to deny the grace filled affirmation our friends bring to our lives any more than we are meant to loathe ourselves, denying His goodness and love in every small work done through us.  That line of thinking is arrogant, and lacks humility.  It’s false humility, and it is not of God.

Fr. Robert Barron, the soon to be installed rector at Mundelein Seminary in Illinois, and creator of the amazing series “Catholicism” (which I recommend every Catholic see), has spoken periodically about the devil.  He eloquently explains that the devil tempts us, afflicts us, and wounds our world often indirectly.  He reminds us to check ourselves.  The Holy Spirit affirms someone in their personhood, says Fr. Barron, while the influence of the devil will wound us with untruth.

Who have you wounded with untruth, gossip or insinuation?  Are you listening to archangels or fallen ones?

The next time a friend says “Thanks, Shelly, you’re the bomb” I plan to change my response.  “Thanks aren’t necessary” will henceforth be amended to “You are so very welcome!”

When I do that, it’s a prayer of thanksgiving to my love and my savior, for choosing to use me for His purpose, and for the grace that caused my “Yes, Lord!”

This afternoon, I am praying gratefulness for the attitude adjustment and the peaceful spirit I seem to have acquired.   That’s weird.  Gratefulness to God brings me to calmer waters?  As my 8-yr old son would say, “WELL, DUH!”

Somewhere in heaven there is a beautiful, but exhausted guardian angel assigned to me who deserves a nap.

“I have stilled my soul, hushed it like a weaned child.  Like a weaned child on its mother’s lap, so is my soul within me.”  (Ps 131:2)

Now, I’m off to make some turkey soup– small thing, great love.  Yum.

Loving like St. Therese of Lisieux

Gratefulness overwhelms me today.  I wish I could say I thank God each morning like I did on this one.  It is my 18th wedding anniversary.   My husband, Tom, remains the love of my life and one of the most honest and authentic people I have ever known.  To say that we are blessed is a ridiculous understatement.  It also happens to be the feast day of my favorite saint, St. Therese of Lisieux.  It was a holy and very funny priest who introduced me to her just a few years ago.  I don’t happen to believe in coincidence.  Like any deeply Catholic person, I am a supernatural thinker.  God’s plan was that I celebrate my marriage on the feast day of the saint who loved her bridegroom with stunning devotion and with joyful self sacrifice.  I remember reading her autobiography, Story of a Soul, and being blown away by her pure heart and passionate love of Christ.  Today, as I find myself filled with gratitude for the beautiful life and challenging, but rewarding vocation He has called me to live, I uncovered this old editorial I wrote about loving Christ with abandon.  It ran with a photograph of St. Therese, the Little Flower, which I am including in this post too.  I hope you enjoy the message.  What better day than my anniversary to share what I’ve learned about love.  St. Therese, Pray for Us!

Is Jesus Going to Spit Me Out?

Reassurance from others can lead us to believe we are in decent shape as far as “godliness” is concerned.  When we compare ourselves to those around us, we might even convince ourselves we stack up nicely compared to our neighbors.  Our security lies in our church attendance, generosity with others, work ethic, service to our parish, family or community.
Here is the rub, though.  Jesus wants ALL of us.  He wants us to love him with abandon, like our very lives are at stake– because they are!  Lukewarm people love Jesus, believe in him, and desire to do what is good.  We are often even moved to tears by stories of radical faith.  Surely, compared to those who don’t make it to mass at all, or who don’t raise their hand to help, we with caring hearts who share from our abundance and love our Savior, though safely, are in fine shape as far as eternity is concerned.  What does Jesus say?
As challenging as it is, it’s pretty clear the Lord is nauseated by us.  Uncommitted faith is an abomination to our Lord.  The word of God is absolutely concise.  “I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish you were either cold or hot.  So, because you lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev. 3:15-16)
Frankly, that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up to attention.  Jesus wants to spit out the half-hearted?  Yikes.
Two amazing saints are St. Therese of Lisieux (The Little Flower) and St. Augustine.  These two are clarifiers for me on the issue, because though they are very different from one another, their commonality is loving Jesus with relentlessness.  The former was a contemplative who lived what most would say was an outwardly unspectacular and truly pious life inside the walls of a convent.  She very simply offered her every tiny daily sacrifice out of genuine love of God.  Her God given gifts were quiet, and she lived only 24 years, but her soul cried out to Jesus as spectacularly as anyone about whom I have ever read.  As for Augustine, through the powerful intercession of his mother, St. Monica, he overcame a life filled with sinfulness.  His love for God shines in his words, “I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more.”  None of this sounds like halfhearted commitment.
To give Jesus ALL doesn’t mean we must do it in quiet hours of prayer and reverence like the Little Flower, or with bold panache and fantastic conversion like Augustine, it simply means our Savior wants us to use the grace and gifts He has given us to let Him be known.  To do so, we must look to the saints and love God passionately. The purpose of our very life should be to point to Him.
Here’s a good litmus test.  If we are obsessed by God, nothing else can get into our lives— not tribulations stress or worries.  Worry and stress reek of arrogance.  How can we dare to be so absolutely unbelieving when God totally surrounds us?
Are all we hopelessly lukewarm then?  What can we do?  Here’s some sage advice to ponder:
Be not afraid to tell Jesus that you love Him; even though it be without feeling, this is the way to oblige Him to help you, and carry you like a little child too feeble to walk.
 –St. Therese of Lisieux

Mother of Mercy

I’m gonna be honest.  Right now, I have forced myself into this chair to type hoping it will calm me down.  My heart is racing, my hands trembling; my mind is spinning out of control.  This has been quite a week.  At this moment, the gift I am giving myself is to simply spew it.  This is what I would call a “stream of consciousness” entry.

Have you ever had a friend you just cherish beyond words?  God has blessed me with a handful of them.  I just call them “my girls”.   They are the cream of the crop, each with amazing gifts that make them incredibly special to me.  My friend Julie is the REAL DEAL.  She is a loving mother of 3 boys, an artist, quiet and unassuming, funny, selfless, and one of the finest women I have ever known.

As I wrote earlier this week, my wonderful friend, Julie, lost her mother a few days ago.  I omitted details from the day she died on my previous entry.  See, the thing is, I had been with Julie most the afternoon that day this world lost Nula.  Julie had what I call a “Lucy and Ethel moment” and fell down the stairs and onto her garage floor the day before her mom died.  When I got the call to take her to have her leg checked the next morning, we both assumed she simply had a bad sprain.  Wrong.  The ankle was broken.  We talked and laughed and determined that it was annoying as heck, but nevertheless possible, to survive 6 weeks as a mom of 3 without being able to drive.  She picked out a purple cast….the ideal color for the mom of a Guerin Catholic Golden Eagle football player.  We found the sunny side, and I promised that we would help her through.

When she got home, news reached her that her mom had taken a major turn for the worse, and that doctors didn’t think she would make it through the night.  This was jarring.  Despite the fact that she had been ill, the end came very suddenly and was without warning.  The prayer warriors went into overdrive that night praying Divine Mercy for Nula and strength for Julie and her entire family.  Word came just a couple hours later that God had taken Julie’s mom.  Julie sat beside her mom’s bed in a wheelchair herself, filled with angst, in that quickly forgotten purple cast.

Funeral plans were made.  Eulogies were written.  We painted Julie’s toes purple to match her accessorized right leg.  Casserole dishes and platters full of cookies appeared.  Four priests concelebrated the mass, and Deacon Rick was “robed up” too.  It was a beautiful celebration of an amazing life.

SIGH.  NOW, it seemed time to let my friend have some room to mourn with her family.  Then, the phone rang.  It was Julie.  She wondered if I could take her to the doctor.  Her good leg was hurting more than she thought it should.

Two days post funeral, there we are in the doctor’s office again.  The doctor looks up at us and says, “I’m going to need you to head to St. Vincent’s now.  They will confirm things for you, Julie, but I believe you have some blood clots in your leg.  You need to go immediately.”

I was thinking, “Goodness.  That’s a fine how do you do, God.  Really?  Hasn’t she been through enough this week?”  Off we went, trying to remain calm.

Within half an hour, the ultrasound technician confirmed the diagnosis.  Her good leg has quite a few clots.  More tests were ordered.   Tears streamed down my friend’s face as I held her crutches, and her necklace, and her hand.  “Jules, this is when trusting God feels really hard, but we have to try.  He and I are gonna have some words tonight over you, FOR SURE, but our job is to trust Him.”

I went to get her a tuna sub from Subway, and I called her husband.  He left work, and we tried to see the sunshine.

Yesterday, more doctors were consulted.  Specialists galore, friends, and family swirled about.  She was sent home to rest and wait for instructions.

Now four days since her mom’s funeral, she finds herself in a chair, in the same hospital where her mother passed away last week, with her purple cast, a left leg full of clots, getting a blood transfusion.  It seems her blood counts are poor.  It’s REEE-DAMN-DICULOUS!  Why now?  None of it makes much sense.

Her concern is for her children.  She is texting me not to forget the youngest son’s cleats.  There’s carpool pickup, practice, and don’t forget the 9am football game.  Every mom can relate.  There’s no way to be present and peaceful in the moment until you are certain your children are safe and in loving hands.

Tonight I will have some extras at the Thieme house.   There will be picking up, dropping off, packing bags, watching games, meal preparation, kid bathing, sleeping bags, and extra hugs needed.  I wish I could do more.

To all the people today to whom I seemed distracted or even rude, I was.  I’m sorry.  Gus, greatest handyman ever, thanks for saving my house from the leaky plumbing while I talked and talked and talked on the phone today and completely ignored you.  I’m sure you’d like to give me a piece of your mind about my tacky hand waving.  A nice tip will be forthcoming.

Here’s the thought I can’t quite escape as my heart hurts for my friend.  Who do we want when we are sick and struggling?  I can’t speak for you…..but I want my mom.  Gosh.

Jules, this is my prayer for you.   I’m asking Mary, mother of us all, to watch over and intercede for you this day.  She will, because you are beloved.

HAIL HOLY QUEEN, Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness, and our hope…..