Mad for…Colleen

Intense love does not measure, it just gives. – St. (Mother) Teresa of Calcutta

Once in a blue moon, I encounter a soul that instantly captivates me. Perfect measures of both holiness and smartassery are rarely found in the same person, I’ve noticed. Today, on the very appropriate feast day of St. Teresa of Calcutta, I’d like to introduce you to such a person– my new friend, Colleen DuLac.

Here I am, on the left, with my friend, Colleen, on the right.

Truly genuine, beautiful souls like Colleen are a gift from the Lord. This Jesus girl lives her faith every single day. A gifted and compassionate caregiver, Colleen has walked with many folks as they journey to the end of their lives and into eternity with Christ. She’s a mother, sister, aunt, daughter and friend. She’s suffered much in her life— physically, spiritually and emotionally. However, none of that pain has gone to waste. She uses what she’s learned to make the lives around her better by her presence.

I met Colleen when she began to help the Thieme family care for my father-in-law, Tom. He’s a gentle, but stubborn soul and does not always take up well with strangers. Colleen, though, is a faith-filled woman and a patriot who has a special affinity for all our military men and women who serve the country now, or who are veterans. She also adores helicopters and airplanes. These are affinities she has in common with Grandpa Tom, and she played that common interest card perfectly with our family patriarch. He really didn’t want any strangers in his house even before his cancer battle got serious and he clearly needed us to pour forth some intrusion. He’s not the extrovert his wife was, for sure. So, Colleen simply became his friend, and developed fast rapport. She’s grace filled. The Lord blessed her with incredible patience and warmth, gifts she passes to others in heaping, ornery, “smart-alecky” spoonfuls. She is not afraid to look you in the eye and speak truth, but those glorious, sparkly things are so full of love that one can’t even hold it against her when the truth is tough. THIS is an awesome human being. She’s smart as a whip and can accompany a confused or hard of hearing patient to the doctor and take perfect notes, ask the important questions…and humble enough to see that the bathroom just really needs to be cleaned and simply step up to offer another human being dignity in their daily life. To be an integrity-filled truth teller who cares for others, meets them where they are…well…that’s what it means to be the face of Jesus to those in need. Just like Mother Teresa did, she looks gritty in the eye and sees only our Lord, and she wants to be His hands. It’s incredibly inspiring.

Also? She likes her morning coffee…and my friends St. Francis and St. JPII. When I heard she once got on a flight to Italy with like 30 minutes notice so she could be there when he finished his magnificent work here for the rest of us on planet earth, it made my soul smile. She’s a woman after my own Polish pope loving heart.

It seems to me that the world wants us to overlook heroes like Colleen. These are tumultuous times for sure. However, yesterday while I was at the Purdue football game, I noticed something important. The entire crowd of Ross-Ade stadium got up on their feet and applauded (at some length) while the photos of many military men and women were flashed on the jumbo-tron. They stood again to thank the military pilots who showed up on the field because the weather was too crummy for them to do their planned flyover. They yelled “I am an American” with one voice during the pre-game festivities. It was as if we are all a little more in love with one another, and mostly a notch or two better than we’ve been led to believe, by social media or our TV screens. This made me realize how important it is to be fully present and notice the heroes around us, the folks who make the world more light-filled. This is the best time to become saintly. When it’s difficult to live in a virtuous way, when the world tells us that being Christian isn’t a valid perspective, I think this is the time to look at each other with love in our hearts and minds. Be like Colleen.

So. My little “Mad for” series is back. I’ve decided I’ll reboot this series, making it a weekly for the next year. I’ll introduce you to a “person of the week” starting with TODAY– this Labor Day weekend– and my friend, Colleen (Conner) DuLac is my first victim. As I have said before, and will likely say again, she’s a big scoop of awesome sauce. Nominations are welcome, as always. I make up the rules as I go along, folks. Stay tuned for more inspiring humans. They’re everywhere.

Peace out.

Down the Rabbit Hole…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St. Blaise is Still Weird, Though…

I have become friendly with Chad at Grove’s Appliance Repair. He and some of his co-workers have made several visits to the house in the 7 years since we built the place. Probably, the KitchenAid people won’t want me for their ad campaign anytime soon. The good news is that few people have made such extensive use of a crockpot as yours truly. I own two, actually. I recommend use of the older models that use a knob to control the temperature over the new fangled digital versions where “warm” means “blazing hot” and “high” means the smoke alarms will be going off at any moment. When the Food Network comes up with a 6-hr slow cooker version of “Beat Bobby Flay”, I feel like I’m pretty much a shoe-in to take home the victory. No one can slake the massive, testosterone fueled appetites of young men with giant vats of mystery food quite like I can.

There hasn’t been a fully working kitchen here since Thanksgiving. That day, Tom made us just a glorious bird. That thing was magazine worthy, and it tasted even better. Let’s be honest though. I mean, anyone can cook delicious food with properly working equipment. What challenge is that? Ha?!

In the time that has passed thus far in our oven repair escapades, my oldest son has purchased his first vehicle, mom has torn her meniscus in two places, my parents both have gotten and recovered from covid-19, Christmas and New Year’s Day have come and gone, a new president has been sworn into office, a third vaccine has come onto the market, my middle son graduated from college, and my youngest son can now drive passengers– including a girl– with whom it seems he recently had his first official “date”. Honestly, these are just some highlights. The damn kitchen is hopeless.

When I got a series of frantic text messages this morning from a friend who was completely losing her mind this morning over her own household crisis, all I could do was look at my kitchen– Chad and his 1000 piece puzzle that used to be my oven– and laugh. Because do you know what entertains me? SO MUCH. The world is a silly, hysterical, amusing joy ride. It’s best not to take any of it too seriously.

Chad and the hopeless oven.

Here’s what we can do. We can lift up the next guy, or we can knock them down. I get to decide what I want to give the world today. What have I got that’s worth sharing? It’s my choice. CNN, Twitter, and the NY Times can do their thing, and I can do me.

Today is the feast of St. Blaise. When I was a kid, the priest at St. Lawrence would line us all up in church and then choke us with these long candles. They called it blessing of the throats. It creeped me out, if I’m honest. His feast, though, falls at a tough moment in the calendar year. There’s a lot of cold and gray. So, some time ago, I decided to turn the day from weird, gray and macabre to something better. I interiorly declared it “Random Act of Kindness Day”. It’s the third day of the month, so I’d do three small kindnesses for others. I rarely have to think too hard, the opportunities simply appear. It’s the Lord’s way, I believe, of reinforcing for me that our greatest calling is love and the chances to practice it are everywhere. Yes, it’s absolute truth that we are called to love, even in the middle of winter.

Chad has been here a long time. The oven still doesn’t work. But what I know now that I didn’t know before is that Chad’s in the middle of chemotherapy. He didn’t look amazing, and I asked if he was okay. He assured me that he was, but admitted he was fighting cancer. Yet there he is on my floor and on the phone trying to fix the great and mysteriously doomed Thieme oven. As he sheepishly got up again to use the restroom, all I could think was…how can I imitate Christ’s love and consideration to this sick man?

I don’t know that much about St. Blaise, except the throat thing and that he was a physician. However, since today is his feast and he was a healer of men by vocation, I have prayed for his intercession on behalf of Chad. Also, I invoked my friend St. Therese who taught me about the value of our little acts of love and sacrifice.

Some day, I’m going to be awesome. Maybe I won’t ever be like St. Blaise or St. Therese, but God’s got a great plan for me, and He’s got one for you too. I think I’ll just trust Him and roll with it, wherever the road leads. I’m trying hard to not get upset about eating potato soup out of a crockpot again because my friend Therese was not about convincing herself that life’s predicaments didn’t bother her or pretending to have feelings she didn’t have. Her temperament and nature was exactly what made her patience a sacrifice. She offered all these things to God. She did so for love of Jesus. Thanks for showing me the way, Trixie.

Let’s get real for a second. I am seriously annoyed by this oven thing as well as many things much larger going on around me at the moment. We can let life make us cranky and bitter if we choose. Or, we can ask Jesus to help us love deeply. Love is a choice and today I want you to think about something. What in the heck would this crazy place do without weirdos who choose kind– even when their souls feel full of brokenness, struggle, rejection, loneliness– and on top of that the damn oven doesn’t work!? I say we stand in it. Let our weary feet be the rich soil the Lord uses to bear fruit. What do you want to give the world today?

As for me? I’m going with a 4th act of kindness for the unsuccessful, very hard-working oven repair guy named Chad who is fighting a battle much bigger than the one with my KitchenAid oven.

Here’s a great prayer for you weary travelers, who like me, struggle sometimes wondering what the heck we are doing, but are trying to trust in the Lord, who is love itself, all the same. It’s a personal favorite.

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. (Thomas Merton)


I’m Limited. Love Me Anyway

“Be kind to unkind people. They need it the most.” -Robin Williams

Lately (and maybe always) the internet is a scary place, full of social media apps and platforms along with users in full throat toxicity. It seems to me that even people of good will often lose their way in this jungle.

For instance, I have a bright and very funny friend, (a father of 2 amazing kids) who in real life would never choose to condescend, but whose online presence is filled to overflowing with vitriol, even hatred towards others who do not share his particular political views. He’s clever, so his comments are particularly pointed and hurtful. I’m sure he thinks he’s educating the rest of us with his caustic, cynical and snide commentary. I’d argue no one of the opposing view is ever going to wake up one day to his sarcasm-filled, angry tweets and think “Oh yeah, give me a piece of what that guy’s got!”

Another acquaintance, whose charitable work and Christian writing has long inspired me, has lately decided that the best use of her giftedness is to beguile us with partisan accusations and cacophony on Facebook. It feels a little tragic in all honesty.

Good and kind friends, there’s not a thing wrong with sharing your perspective. In fact, I’m doing the very same thing right here. I applaud the use of one’s voice to speak to important issues, in charity. Interiorly, though, I find myself often judging the methodology and even the character of these folks and wishing they would choose differently.

Right there is where I went off the rails, am I right? My job is not to judge. My job is to love.

As I look in the mirror, I want to be someone who lifts up the next person (in practice and in prayer), who helps others look forward to the gift of today. It’s hard to do that if I’m playing judge and jury.

Spending a week in Florida with girlfriends is good for the soul. I just returned from such an adventure, with a group of four sparkly friends. Our parting “motto” for the trip was definitely “I’m limited. Love me anyway.” We laughed at length at ourselves and decided the next t-shirt Colleen Stine needs to make us simply MUST bear those words.

As ladies will do, we broke down a lot of topics, as well as each other. Exhaling is healthy, for sure, and God often gifts us with opportunities to be His face in these intimate settings. Such was the case one night on this trip when one of these gals confessed a failure for which she felt great shame. Heck, we’ve all failed. It’s my hope that what she left feeling was empathy and love. Her story reminded me how important it is to remember that there is brokenness in all of us, and that we must be gentle with ourselves and opt for God’s mercy.

People are limited. We are limited by our personal history, unmet needs, physical pain, emotional trauma, or even just our lack of giftedness or self-awareness. Some of us are flat out ill-equipped. We’ve been hurt, taken for granted, or deceived. We’re poorly catechized, or our education was insufficient. We were parented badly, or we’ve suffered abuse. Perhaps we’ve recently lost a child or a job. All these scenarios and many more leave us lacking.

For the sake of Christian charity, here are the questions I’m challenging myself with right now. Is what I am doing making me holier? How is my heart, and is my example leading my soul and yours closer to Jesus?

You guys, I love Jesus. I love Him more than I think I ever have. It’s a gift largely born from what my pastor called “divine absence”. The loss of the sacraments in recent months made me ache for the Lord in a way I never have before. I mean, I knew my faith was important to me, but God used this shut down of churches in a beguiling way in my life. The pain, especially the loss the of the mass, the Holy Eucharist, was unbearably hard at certain points. It felt like a major overreaction. I was thinking “This is nuts! Get over yourself!” But I could not. I would even go so far as to describe myself as interiorly grief-stricken during some of these weeks of quarantine. I believe it was supernaturally ordained suffering. But, suffering refines faith, and God is trustworthy.

I guess this torture is what I get for telling Jesus I love Him and asking Him to help me love Him more, ha? God likes to give us good gifts when we ask, though, and as I look back on this time, I see how He took inordinately excellent care of me.

Am I becoming love? I don’t know, but I desire it. I do know this. People are limited. We are called to love them anyway. It’s a great lesson in dignity and humility for me to ask God for the grace to think from this perspective in all that I say and do.

I looked over to an aggressive driver on 146th St. on the way home from the airport who had pulled out in front of me. I was tired, and my heart was full to the brim with disdain for a moment, until I saw the man’s face. You see, I know this man a little, well enough to be aware he recently lost his son. My minor case of road rage dissolved. Sheesh. I’m such a dork sometimes. He’s limited, love him anyway. That’s what the voice in my head cried out. Good grief, I am a comically slow learner.

This particular spiritual challenge issued by the Lord has me re-evaluating my interior and exterior responses to a myriad of others with whom I come into contact, and even some I may never meet.

For instance, as I probe my heart, I am not proud to admit that there is a powerful man for whom I have had precious little respect for some time now. He has done and said hurtful and unacceptable things to some folks I love deeply.

Harboring ill will? Yes, I have been.

Truly, it’s not ok. You see, he’s limited, and I am called to love him anyway. I have long considered myself not a judgemental person. That self-evaluation is deeply flawed. Luckily, my beautiful Catholic Church has a remedy for that. It’s called confession. It’s a place where we begin again.

That’s the beauty of God. You can’t lose with the Lord if you fall into sin, even mortal sin. Go to confession, repent of your sin, try again…and God, again, not only restores you to the point at which you fell, but advances you again because of your humble repentance and new effort to improve in your spiritual life. You can’t lose with Jesus. It doesn’t matter how sinful you are, how many weaknesses you have or the circumstances in which you find yourself. The grace and the love of Jesus Christ and the power of his sacraments are such that He wins every time as long as you turn back to him, as long as you put your trust in him.” – Fr. David Miller

As I talk to the Lord tonight, the Savior I deeply love, I plan to thank Him for many things, including helping me to see where I am blind.

I’m limited, Jesus. Love me anyway.

And He does.

An Open Letter to my Catholic Friends…

Dear Friends,

I’m going to be honest. Humor eludes me today. At the grocery store this morning, I overheard half of a conversation that bothered me.

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

I said nothing, but it felt like a very personal blow. To be fair, I arrived at the grocery store in a posture that was poised for anger and I felt defensive. Therefore, the longer I thought about it, the more annoyed I became with this stranger who obviously doesn’t know anything about us or our church. To call me BUGGED would have been an inadequate characterization.

I appreciate your consideration about my perspective on this, but first, I’d like to remind you about who we are as Catholics, because this gal and her comments sent me exactly to the center of my political frustrations too. Good people, I PROMISE this is NOT a political post. I’m just acknowledging my head is right in the middle of the muck coming across my Twitter feed and TV and I am trying to be real. One of the news stations this morning re-ran part of an interview from a couple years back. It was a prominent figure making a staggering claim that the Catholic Church is responsible for 50% of social services in the United States. The media, predictably, pounced on that with mountains of statistical “fact checking” about how Catholic Charities, while one of the largest charities in the country, falls far short of that mark.

This is true. Catholic Charities serves ONLY about 10 million individuals annually, BUT these millions are served regardless of their own religious, social or economic backgrounds. Some of it’s more well-known partner organizations include Habitat for Humanity as well as Catholic Charities Disaster Relief. In short, they work hard to reduce poverty and provide emergency relief throughout the US and well beyond. It’s hardly an insignificant contribution (and definitely not rooted in elitism).

I wanted to yell at the screen, “Someone, anyone? Defend us!!”

To understand the social services impact of the Catholic Church, though, I thought, one needs to understand that our country is home to a vast network of Catholic hospitals and health systems, and that the University system in our country was largely a Catholic invention. Also, within the 195 dioceses, there are approximately 18,000 Catholic parishes in the USA. I “Googled” it.

Let me say it another way.  The parish nearest my home is Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Carmel, Indiana. This parish built and operates the 13,000 sq. ft. Matthew 25 Center, which includes a large food pantry, the Trinity Free Clinic, and serves THOUSANDS annually. They meet the needs of marginalized people from all walks of life EVERY SINGLE DAY. Their network of volunteers from doctors and dentists to retirees, as well as housewives and their children is astounding.

The parish school my son attends at St. Louis de Montfort in nearby Fishers also houses a food pantry. The parish gives 10% of collections, or about $250,000 (I’m guessing) annually to meet the needs of the community by supporting financially and with manpower many local charities doing good work that aren’t necessarily affiliated with the Catholic Church. One recent collection, for instance, went to a local shelter that provides emergency housing for women who have escaped domestic abuse. The parish regularly houses families on their campus who are struggling with homelessness as part of their partnership with the Interfaith Hospitality Network (among a zillion other worthy endeavors).

These two parishes whose compassionate contributions I have sorely underreported here are QUITE representative of the incredible work the other 17,998 or so parishes are making. My husband is the CPA, not me. I just know this amounts to a boat load of people helping a boat load of other people.

Guess what? I KNOW YOU good Catholic people with your sleeves rolled up all over your community, and I know you don’t really give a rip how much “credit” you get for who you help. The vast majority of you simply want to be the hands and face of Christ to those around you. You inspire me. You make me want to be more and do more! You all are trying to do small things with great love, as St. Mother Teresa advised. Some of you are old fussbudgets, others are sales people, teachers, pediatricians, high school kids….so many hands are in the mix.

Where are you going with this, Shelly??

Here’s where I am going.

“Hey, Carmel! Hey Fishers! Hey America! WE LOVE YOU!”

When you are down on your luck, come find us. We are literally EVERYWHERE. We’ve got nuns that will help care for your Uncle Henry who’s down on his luck and priests who will help his daughter find a counselor and a great gal named Jayne who will get her a bag of groceries and some new undies.

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

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

Stop in and see us.

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

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

As my 12-year-old son says, “We’re a good family.” Like all good families, we are full of flaws. But don’t be led astray. Our church is born of Christ Himself, and it’s okay to be proud to be Catholic.

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

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

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

“There is no place for selfishness—and no place for fear! Do not be afraid then when love makes demands. Do not be afraid when love requires sacrifice.” (St. Pope John Paul II)

Smiling and Loving…and coffee cups

Tongue firmly planted in cheek, my handsome husband texted me from his conference in Las Vegas this week.
Tom: Our keynote is trying to tell me that it’s not all about me. She’s full of it.
Me: Someone should have informed her.
Tom: She also wants me to be positive and find the good in people. She doesn’t get me.
Me: Lmao! She is unqualified to give a keynote to accountants. Someone should have vetted her. Heads will roll.
Tom: Now she wants me to lighten up. Come on woman.
Now, part of what makes our marriage work is that I have a self-imposed rule that I don’t write about Tom. However, I am making an exception today to illustrate two things. First, I’m not really all that good at following rules. Second, he is a truly funny guy who makes me laugh aloud now and then. Laughing leads to smiling and I happen to believe whole-hardheartedly in smiling.

The most authentic voice that has ever spoken about the importance of smiling, in my mind, is Mother Teresa. She said this, (and so much more) about the matter.

“Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.”
Well, what if we’re not actually happy? What if we have an “Eeyore” temperament or our personal circumstances are a mess? Isn’t it a little deceptive to fake it?
I have one friend who is from a large, wealthy family who was taught at a young age that she must appear cheerful. She and her siblings felt they were shaming their parents if they didn’t appear to be happy. This kind of “pressure” to smile does feel inauthentic, don’t you think?
On the other hand, several years ago I received a letter from an awkward, even geeky, former classmate. The note came decades after we had been in school together. “You were the reason I made it through school. I knew every afternoon when I got to English class you would be there smiling at me and saying hello. Except for you, the experience was pure misery.” I didn’t see this coming at all.  The thing is, though, I remember making a choice to be kind to this kid. It was my mom. She endlessly told us that we would never be sorry we were too nice. Spot on, Mom. Thanks.
I share these two stories to make a point. These are two very different types of smiles. In the first example, my friend spent her growing up years “faking” joy. It was feigned and deceptive. The purpose? It was done to make people think favorably about oneself, and it’s difficult to pull this off successfully. Why? Because human beings can feel it when you are “all about me.”

Perhaps unbeknownst to Mom, she was channeling Mother Teresa’s approach to joy with her ever present instruction. YOU WILL NEVER BE SORRY YOU WERE TOO NICE. Mom taught us the outward looking smile. The smile which is aimed at another for his or her benefit is silent and powerful acknowledgment that you see the presence of Christ in that person.
“Spread love everywhere you go….”
Love is a decision. When we love, we are making a decision to look outward. It’s not about impressing someone or looking the part. Have you ever considered how you might answer if God someday asks, “How did you love me?”
Here’s three minutes worth seeing that speaks about this truth of our job to love and be a witness to love in a very accessible and relatable way. The priest who is featured is known only to me as “Fr. Rob.” He publishes at This particular video speaks about the red cups at Starbucks that have been on every media outlet ad nauseum the last few days. I think you’ll enjoy it, so I’ve put a link at the end of this post.

What’s my point in all of this?
Even if I’m not feeling it, even if I’m not in the mood, even if you’re like the sarcastic comedian I’m married to and you claim it’s not part of your natural temperament– I do think we should go out of our way (even if we have to force it) to see the good in others, to perform little kindnesses, and to smile at others in our daily path.
Did you know Mother Teresa felt a profound darkness of soul for the last many years of her life? She was experiencing tremendous interior misery for many years. It was a shocking revelation only revealed after her death. It was mind blowing to many, because the world saw intense joy in her eyes, and deep peace in all that she revealed to others.
She smiled for love of God, so that’s the message we received from her. LOVE.
It’s not about you.

P.S. Do you think Mother Teresa would care about the color of a coffee cup? Me neither.

On 9/11…

Large flag hangs from the bell tower of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Wash DC today.  (photo cred: Catholic News Service)

Large flag hangs from the bell tower of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Wash DC today. (photo cred: Catholic News Service)

“I just rode up those elevators to the top with Mom to celebrate her 50th birthday,” I said to a roomful of no one listening.  They were all glued to the TV, like me, aghast.  We were suddenly and radically changed individually and as a nation that day 13 years ago.

“I’m leaving to pick up my boys, and I am going to spend the rest of the day hugging them,” I declared to no one in particular.  Then, I got up and left the office.  No one objected.  My room full of office mates were stunned and frozen in place, barely glancing up.

They are 3 and 1, I thought, driving back to the daycare center.  Into what kind of world have I brought them…?

Where were YOU that morning?  Every American over the age of about 20 can answer this.

Today is a day to memorialize, remember, and above all PRAY.

At Guerin Catholic High School today where my older boys attend school, an all school mass was held.  Fr. Joshua Janko paid tribute to those lost on Sept. 11, 2001 and he challenged us to listen to the words of the Gospel.  He powerfully acknowledged how difficult the words of Jesus seem to be on this day.

“Jesus said to his disciples:  To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you…” (Lk 6:27-28)

How can we possibly love those who desire to harm us?  I’ve got to be honest, it’s 13 years later and I’m not sure.  I do know everything is possible with God.  Our prayer releases the power within us to be the hands and face of Christ, to do good, if you will, in the face of evil.  It’s not about them, it’s about you and me and our God– who IS love itself.

God loves without limits.  He is all good.  I’m honestly not sure how to rectify this when in the presence of that which is truly evil.  So, the Lord calls me to trust.  Good gracious that can be hard some days.

“Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Mt. 11:28)

I give THANKS today for:

Police Officers and Fire Fighters, whose daily sacrifices I didn’t even begin to notice prior to 9/11/01.  You are heroes where you live, and I am proud of you and grateful for your service.

Our US Armed Forces, to each soldier past and present, I thank you for what you have done to protect the collective freedoms of all of us who call the United States of America our own.

My faith, the most beautiful gift from God, and without which I would be lost.  Thank you, Lord, for the grace of strong faith!

Today, I admit I am struggling with the challenge offered by Jesus and echoed by Fr. Janko.  I don’t want to pray for terrorists.

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Losing Shannon

My dear friend, Janet (L) and her beautiful sister, Shannon (R).

My dear friend, Janet (L) and her beautiful sister, Shannon (R).

Dear Jesus,
I do trust You, but I don’t get it. I know You love us, but wrapping my head around this is impossible. She is with You now, in arms more loving than I can imagine. Help us to trust in Your plan for all of us. Fill Connor and Danny, Jan, Colleen, Rita and Danny with grace and peace. I ask this in Your most holy name. Amen.

He folded his little body in half, burying his face between his knees. No sound came from him but a puddle was forming on the otherwise dry sidewalk there on the bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. The grotto said, “Our Lady of Lourdes” but I thought of her that day as Our Lady of Sorrows.
It had been two days since she died, but we were out of town and isolated from the media and friends and I couldn’t figure out how to tell my freckle faced little man. I knew he loved her. She had just taken him to Steak N Shake along with Connor, Anth, Mikey and Ty between baseball games. It’s what baseball moms do. She was the teacher who taught them all how to hold their hands when they received Jesus for the first time. It’s what 2nd grade teachers do in Catholic schools everywhere. But, she did them, as all things, with special panache, filled with a twinkle in her eye.
Dealing with death is a fact of life, it’s true. This is different though. It broke me to think of it, and it crushed my spirit into 1000 pieces having to shatter the innocent childhood of my beautiful boy by telling him.
“What’s going on mom? Why is no one telling me what’s going on?”
“Sweetheart, it’s Mrs. Hall. She died, Zach.”
“What do you mean? I just saw her. She was fine.”
“Zach. She died. I want you to listen to me carefully. Mr. Hall died too.”
“Mom? How? An accident?”
“ Mrs. Hall died when Mr. Hall shot her, and then himself. It was not an accident. It’s one of the most terrible things I can imagine, Z. We can’t be sure why something like this ever happens. You know, sometimes people can’t think straight and they are really sick even though they look okay on the outside. I know you want to understand why….but for now none of us know, and we are all sad. I think we should just focus on what we can do. We can pray.”
“I’m so so sad for Connor and Danny, Mom.”
“I know, Z. Me too. Me too.”
“Spread love wherever you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” –Mother Teresa
She died on July 27. It’s been a month.
I was not her Mom, or her Dad. I was not her sister or her son. I was not her nephew, niece, nor was I her best friend. I saw her frequently, and we were friends. We were “Bring Z over and swim” or “You know I am going to eat all of your sunflower seeds if you keep them there” kind of friends.

A month feels like 5 minutes. I was expecting her to walk into the lunchroom and tease me with her smile when I was at SLDM last week with my apron on saying, “What? No Diet Coke? I bet you brought a Coke for Jan! I keep telling her that I found you first and she stole you from me.”
She taught all three of my children and showed up every day with a smile, despite any personal hardship she might be going through on any given day. I saw her with fair clarity, and “I don’t mean to be mean” but Shannon was not perfect nor did she claim to be. Who among us is? It doesn’t change her legacy an ounce.
What I have learned as I have prayed, watched, listened and reflected in one month is that God called her to live that “Spread love” mantra of Mother Teresa and she did it with style and substance. She was not just smiling; she was giving us all an authentic piece of God when she twinkled those smiling Irish eyes in our direction.
My heart hurts—especially for those two boys. I pray, and then I pray some more. I try and make deals with God, and sometimes I tell Him that His plan sucks canal water.
Today, as the one month anniversary of her death is just hours away, I find myself thinking about what Shannon would have done if a terrible tragedy had happened to me, or you, or any one of the thousands in her path?
I know the answer right away. She would let her light shine every chance she had. She would pray with her class, give excessive numbers of hugs and she would keep on keeping on. She would spread love.
I’m not yet ready to change my prayer. I have it memorized now.

Dear Jesus,
I do trust You, but I don’t get it. I know You love us, but wrapping my head around this is impossible. She is with You now, in arms more loving than I can imagine. Help us to trust in Your plan for all of us. Fill Connor and Danny, Jan, Colleen, Rita and Danny with grace and peace. I ask this in Your most holy name. Amen.

Tomorrow’s challenge: Let your light shine. Let no one come to you without leaving happier.
BRING IT, PEOPLE! Who’s with me?

Prayers for Boilermakers…

“There’s been a shooting at Purdue today,” said teacher Cathy Cederholm as I finished up my lunchroom duty at St. Louis de Montfort today.  “I’m checking up on all my Purdue kids to make sure everyone is safe.”

The information being released is minimal and the situation is still active at my alma mater, which happens to also be my hometown.  From here, what I can do is pray for the students, professors, campus employees and passersby who might have been in harm’s way (or feared they were) today.

For the young Boilermakers who are out in the world on their own for the first time and now dealing with a lost sense of safety and security, and for their parents whose hearts stopped  beating until they got the “I’m safe and I’m okay” call, there’s little else any of us could do.


Sometimes, it takes something extremely serious to help us with perspective.  Other times, a tiny moment does the trick.

When my 9 year old glanced upward with that morose little face full of innocent freckles and asked me about this situation on the campus he has visited so many times, I told him that it made me sad too.   Then, I just had an honest conversation with him and his 14 year old brother.  I told them how we needed to pray for the victim and his family, and also for the shooter.  Zach looked up waiting for my explanation on that last part.  I shared how no one who understands that they are wonderfully made and truly loved by God would choose to solve their problem with a gun.

I said, “Do you think God loves the boy who made the really bad choice today at Purdue?”

“He’s probably not very happy with him, but He’s God and God always loves us, right Mom?”

“Yep. That’s right, Z.”

Most days, our challenges and concerns aren’t so incredible.  For instance, when my oldest son Nick was 4, he was timid.  On the soccer field, he stayed outside “the scrum” and watched the other kids fight it out.  He was afraid to get hurt, afraid to fall.  Learning to ride a bike was therefore a near impossibility…and his dad and I were frustrated by his inability to get out there and meet the world.  We wondered if we were failing him in some way.  His words were, “I just can’t do it!  It’s too hard.”  He couldn’t see the freedom waiting for him.  We wondered and worried about him like all parents do, especially the first time around.  It seemed like such a big deal.

A few days after watching us and our futile attempts with Nick and his bike, a neighbor told us (and our little guy too) about her “magic bike”.  She described how her son Will had learned to ride on the “magic bike.”  “I could have Will’s uncle bring the bike back from Ohio for you to borrow if you want to try it, Nick” she gently offered.  “Yes, Mrs. Volpe, I would like to ride the magic bike.”

Within moments of his little feet touching the pedals of the “magic bike” a couple weeks later, the walls of fear were coming down and suddenly his world was bigger and faster—and much more fun!  Freedom is delicious!!

On that particular week  12 years ago, there was both worry and then joy for my young son, Nick as he took off on the rusty old white bike shipped in special from Ohio.  It was one of those life moments.

Today, I received a text message from my now 16 yr old (yes, an illegal text sent to his mom from school) wondering about the safety of Will Volpe– the same kid whose bike he borrowed those many years ago, now a Purdue Senior studying engineering.

My grandma used to say “small kids, smaller worries, big kids, bigger worries.”  How true.  It doesn’t really matter if they are tiny or if they are enormous, though, does it?  They are ours all the same and each day we must be prepared to handle what our journey brings as best we can.

Freedom is peace of heart in the middle of the chaos

Over oatmeal and coffee earlier in the week with a girlfriend, we discussed our children.  We talked of our hopes for them, the challenges and perils they face growing and maturing, and our need to trust that God will lead us all according to His flawless plan.  Being at peace and trusting in God’s plan, trying our best to do His will.  That’s freedom, but gosh it’s hard.  It’s especially challenging for those of us right in the middle of raising young people in 2014.

As I wondered aloud that day about the school dance and the driver’s license eligibility date approaching, my friend shared with me that her beautiful and remarkably bright daughter frets and struggle so much over the issue of body image.  This young lady is a gifted athlete who wears a single digit dress size.  If there was ever anyone who should look in the mirror and appreciate God’s creation, it is this young lady.

How can she not delight in it?  How can she fail to see how wonderfully made she is?

Her mother sees all this with clarity and not a small amount of angst, yet she seems willing to walk alongside her lovely daughter with a fair amount of peace in her heart, despite the difficulties.  She is a godly mother, and to me there seems an innate need on the part of mothers everywhere to love our family by some sort of inner compulsion.  It’s how God made us.

Our journey is perilous but we must take it if we want to be free. 

Our children are each on their own journey, just as we all are.  The important thing is that as we walk, wherever we are, that we learn to know who we are in God’s eyes.

Why?  Because we aren’t the author of the story, and the only thing we can count on in this life for sure is that some days are going to take our breath away and we aren’t going to get out alive.

Who am I in God’s eyes?  I didn’t know when I was 16.  Or 30.  I was a slooooow learner.  Of course I don’t want that for my 3 boys.  I’m sure you’d rather an easier path for those you love as well.  UNFORTUNATELY, God isn’t big into sharing when it comes to authorship.  He is the Author of Life(Acts 3:15), Author of our Faith (Heb. 12:2), Author of Salvation (Heb. 2:10).

Friends really are a gift from God and that chat felt like a God sighting along Highway Shelly.  It helped me so very much as I meandered through this Tuesday afternoon.

Patience and humility are the words of the day.  God makes His presence known when He wishes and appears for His own reasons.  We have to be, says Fr. Robert Barron “humble and docile in his presence, ready to wait, if necessary, through long hours, days and years, prepared to hear the rush of God….when it comes.”

For the first time maybe ever, I realized today, I feel a legitimate sense of peace.  I am not saying I don’t have significant things about me that I don’t like a bit.  I loathe that I am sometimes more concerned about me than about others.  It bugs me that I don’t get out of bed without hitting the snooze button.  It irks me that I lack self-discipline, have a bad attitude towards exercise, and that I drink too much diet coke.  I talk too loudly and check my iPhone too often.   It drives me crazy that my pride doesn’t allow me to love selflessly the way God wishes.  And seriously, what’s up with the kidneys always full of stones?

Here’s the thing.  I don’t define myself anymore by what’s lacking in me, by the sins I commit or the suffering that is mine to manage while my God seems far away.

Says Fr. Barron,  “When we suffer, we are like the tiny child, sadly and angrily incapable of grasping the reason for our pain, and God is like the father whose only recourse is the invitation to trust.”

Much like my sons are each the child of a crazy lady who insists they shower and occasionally eat from multiple food groups, not to torture them but out of love, I am the child of a merciful God who is wild about me.  So are you!  Sin or imperfection cannot be allowed to define us.  That is a peace stealer and it is NOT OF GOD.  God loves me because I am His.  It doesn’t have anything to do with what I do or the parts that I don’t like.  God loves me because of who He is–and  HE IS LOVE.

Here’s my little prayer today.

We praise you God and thank you for making us just as we are.  We thank you for our friends, family and all those you have given to walk alongside us in this life.  Lord, we ask you to reveal your love to us and to our children in a new and profound way.  Help us look in the mirror and say, “Mighty God, I know you love me.”  Help me shine like the sun so others may see You through me.  Oh, and Jesus…please be with all the Boilermakers who need your powerful presence tonight in their minds and hearts.


“Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:8)

Do You Smile Like a Stewardess?

“Do you smile like a stewardess? “  –Pope Francis

Sweatshirt weather, colorful leaves, apple cider, and college football are some of the reasons I love this time of the year.  There is also a treasure trove of feast days of many of my favorite saints:  Therese of Lisieux, Matthew, Francis of Assisi, John Henry Newman, and Teresa of Avila.  If you don’t know them, for goodness sakes look them up—they are in a category I call “crazy amazing”!

Call me eccentric if you wish, but these are people I consider friends.  Through the example of their lives, they help me realize that Jesus is the real lover of our souls, and that all the blessings He showers upon us are the means He uses to urge us to love Him in return.   When you combine the sunshine and bonfire weather with the inspiration, it’s just a great big hug from our Awesome God, reminding me each autumn just how much I am loved.

Unfortunately, it’s not so for everyone.  Chances are, I’m preaching to the choir here.  I’d be willing to bet that MOST Catholic blog readers who’ve made their way this deep into the internet world are likely people who already know that Jesus loves them.

So, here’s the question:  Do you act like someone who knows God loves them, or do you smile like a stewardess?

This is the question posed recently by Pope Francis to a group largely made up of religious men and women.  It was shared, essentially, as a one sentence conscience exam on sanctity.   It struck me as a remarkable, powerful, and extremely simple bit of wisdom.

St. Teresa of Jesus said it years ago, “A sad saint is a sad saint.”

We all know when a smile is forced and inauthentic.  Let’s try saying “buh-bye” to whatever is not genuine.   We all respond to a smile that is the fruit of joy and holiness.

Here’s why it’s so incredibly important.

“The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.”  — Mother Teresa

Today, I am issuing a challenge to all willing to take it.  Let’s BE Christ today.  The world is filled up with people whose hearts are lonely and broken.  We are the hands and feet of Christ.  Look around today.  Share a brave, genuine smile, or a cheerful gesture.  Then, repeat tomorrow.  Who’s with me?

If you’re not yet convinced, don’t take it from me, read this last little bit from one of our great October saints who says it much better than I could (his feast IS TODAY):

Gloom is no Christian temper; repentance is not real which has not love in it.  We must live in sunshine, even when we sorrow; we must live in God’s presence, we must not shut ourselves up in our own hearts, even when we are reckoning up our past sins.  — John Henry Cardinal Newman