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.

Challenge Accepted, Cathy!

Vivian and Cathy, pictured here with their cute husbands.  Treasures, all.

Vivian and Cathy, pictured here with their cute husbands. Treasures, all.

Her text opened with an update on her husband who has been hospitalized with heart trouble.  “He is tired but okay today.  Took a nap but just cannot catch up.”  She’s one of those people, like me, who write texts so long you have to unscramble the order to make any sense of their content.  “I took a long time at the store today, reading labels,” she continued, “he loves chili but the sodium is awful.”  Finally, she closed with, “How are you?  Your prayer life, your spirit?”

I replied with a great low sodium chili recipe I stole a few years back from my health conscious younger sister, and I followed up with a query about her own physical well being.  You see, Vivian s a bit of a Florence Nightingale kind of gal.  She often sacrifices too much for those around her.  It’s my own personal observation, one with which I am certain she would disagree.

Wise and grace-filled friends are a gift from God.

Vivian responded, “Okay, respond to my question about your holiness and spirit.”  Then, she added a smiley face emoji.

If the goal is to become a magnificent woman, then she has achieved it.

“My prayer life?  Hmm.  I am not taking enough time.  My faith is strong but I am not praying much.  I feel like all I do is petition.  After communion today, I just thanked Jesus for being with me now and told Him I love You and I need help to love You more.”

After I watched Peyton finish off the home team in my beautiful new basement, surrounded by the handsome Thieme men, I re-read what I had written.  It was clear to me I needed to work on gratefulness.  I thanked our amazing Creator for pointing it out so loudly, and I closed my eyes.

Today, I woke to a Facebook challenge by another Jesus girl to write and post for 5 days, 3 things for which I am grateful.  Coincidence?  Ha!!  I am taking that up for one primary reason.  It’s clear to me that Jesus used Cathy, my challenger, as His voice today.

Ask and you shall receive…huh?!

DAY 1:  Three (3) Things for Which I am Grateful

1.  Magnificent Faith-Filled Friends (You know who you are!)  These are the gals who zero in on what’s truly important, who walk alongside, keep their sense of humor, affirm the worth of themselves and those around them, express themselves authentically, and who listen with love.  You girls have taught me how to juggle, rebound, nurture, commit and pray.  You are the face of Jesus in my life….and  I love you all!

2.  My Achy-Breaky Heart:  I curse it sometimes, like when the original mean girl, Nellie Olsen, is simply horrid to Half-Pint and my eyes instantly well up as I flip past an ancient episode of Little House on the Prairie.  The thing is, that aching means God gifted me with compassion.  When I feel that ache in real life, God is winking at me.  He’s prodding.  Go, Shelly, act.  Give.  Listen.  Offer.  Sometimes, I don’t wanna.  Occasionally, I ignore it.  However, I have found that when I feel the ache, see the truth, and do nothing….it is a day I die a little inside.  That achy-breaky heart is a beautiful gift from God.  Listening and acting (without being attached to the outcome)…It’s God’s light shining in me for a moment.  Nothing feels better.

3.  A Diet Coke, extra ice, in a styrofoam cup, with a lid and a straw.  Not to be shallow or mean, but all other beverages fail to compare.  Sometimes, my adorable husband hand delivers one to me.  He just gets me.

WHAT ARE YOU GRATEFUL FOR?

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.  (Matthew 7:  7-8)

 

43 Things

God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have you used one to say ‘thank you’? –William Arthur Ward

That's me blowing out the candles yesterday.

That’s me blowing out the candles yesterday.

“You know you round up to 45 now? And 45 rounds up to 50. So basically, you are 50, Shelly!”

Then, gleeful grins followed by cackling.

This is the kind of grief I am getting this week. But, when you dish it out yourself, you’d better be able to handle a little ribbing. For the record, however, I think I should state that I am actually a very youthful 43 this week—contrary to what some have been told by my husband Tom and my good friend Lisa.

In honor of the occasion of the 43rd anniversary of my birth, here are 43 things, some completely silly, some more substantive, for which I am grateful. They are listed in no particular order.

  1. Family. Yes, some of them are goofballs. But they are MY goofballs.
  2. Birthdays. Just love everything about them—yours, mine—life is such a gift!
  3. Yellow Box flip flops. Thank you, Yellow Box people for making the cutest, most comfy flip flops ever made (and making them in size 11)!
  4. The Laudate App. If you’re a Jesus girl who loves your iPhone, it’s a must have.
  5. French chemist Eugene Schueller, inventor of hair dye. ‘Nuff said.
  6. Pansies. You dudes get a bad rap. What an unfair name. Thanks for being there to usher in springtime!
  7. Teachers who don’t give homework on the weekend. It’s tiring for moms trying to pass 3rd grade for the 4th time.
  8. Books by George Weigel. He has an intelligent, faithful, and accessible voice. Love him.
  9. Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio. Yum.
  10. People who smile….cuz smiling’s my favorite!
  11. The St. Margaret’s Guild Decorator Show Home. An annual girly tradition with Mom.
  12. Kenny, who bags my groceries and cheerfully escorts me to my car at O’Malia’s grocery store!
  13. Catholic Schools
  14. Diet coke, with a lid and a straw…in a Styrofoam cup. Lent is extra-long without you!
  15. Boys playing ball outside for hours in my driveway.
  16. Jimmy Fallon. Geez that guy is funny.
  17. Happy, chill music. Stuff you can listen to while you drink your margarita too fast so it won’t melt.
  18. People who “follow me” on Twitter….because let’s be honest….they are a rare breed!
  19. The garbage man. Without him, smelly chaos.
  20. The sun. May I never take you for granted again!
  21. Mass. When Jesus is on board, life just works better.
  22. Laughter. What beautiful noise!
  23. That feeling when you know Jesus used you to help someone.
  24. Hugs. My husband actually calls me a “hug whore”. Is that a compliment?
  25. Acceptance. I’m so thankful to people who like me just the way I am.
  26. Kid President. Don’t know him? Look him up. That’s one cool little dude.
  27. Glitter. It’s just fantastic sparkly stuff and you know it!
  28. Friends. “Faithful friends are beyond price…” (Sir 6:15)
  29. Hand dancing. If it was only an Olympic sport, I’d be IN!
  30. Compliments. Accentuate the positive. Latch on to the affirmative. Just sayin.
  31. Confession. It’s like free therapy for Catholics. Brilliant invention. Forgiveness is pretty great, and that is all.
  32. People who can laugh at themselves.
  33. Dangling earrings. What’s not to love?
  34. Pope Francis. Domus Sanctae Martae, regular guy shoes, a Jesuit who chose the name Francis? He rocks.
  35. Sports. Especially games the Thieme boys are playing in. When Nick Fred crushes it over the head of the outfielder, or Z crosses someone over, or D drains another 3….then the smile.
  36. Bonfires—with marshmellows.
  37. St. Therese of Lisieux. Don’t know her? Read Story of a Soul. Saccharine, sentimental awesomeness!
  38. Chuck Lofton, WTHR-13. He just seems like he enjoys his job so much I don’t even get cranky when his forecast is a bust.
  39. Mackey Arena. Not a bad seat in the place.
  40. Songs from the old “Glory and Praise” book. Sing to the Mountains, baby!
  41. My husband’s socks. Warm, cozy, cushy. Sorry, hon.
  42. Vacation sex. (Sorry, Mom).
  43. Love. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” (1 John 4:7)

Mother Teresa said, “Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing. So, my birthday week gratefulness list is my attempt to smile at you, and to inspire myself (and maybe you too) to notice how big we are blessed in ways “itty bitty” as well as “ginormous”.

This is the day the Lord has made. Let us be glad and REJOICE!

Shaazam, You’re Good!

“Bracketology” as it turns out, is not a word that appears in my dictionary app.  The people at Merriam-Webster have apparently not spent enough time in Indiana during the month of March.  As we speak, there are six completed NCAA men’s basketball tourney brackets posted on my pantry door.  When the “picks” arrive from Grandma Kate and Grandpa Jim, we will have the door completely covered in scotch tape.  It’s a time of year filled with laughs and bragging rights….and the official start of spring here at the Thieme house.

Do you want to know what is bugging me?  NONE of our teams are in the tourney.  IU, Purdue, Notre Dame, Butler, Ball State…..out, out, out and out!  Since I bleed black and gold, it’s the woeful Boilermaker program that is a tough pill to swallow.  I could go on about my opinions with how to fix that, but I doubt Purdue President Mitch Daniels is in the habit of taking the suggestions of stay-at-home moms about the future of the athletic department—which is in embarrassingly bad shape—in case I failed to adequately communicate that earlier.

Let it go, Shelly.

Serving burgers to grade schoolers is what’s up next on my schedule today.  Usually, I really look forward to being lunch lady.  Today?  Not so much.  You see, this morning my youngest son was sobbing before school.  I am sure he calmed when he got to school.  He’s waaaay too cool to cry in front of “the guys”.  You know when you’re upset , containing it, then you see your mom and you just lose it?  That’s my prediction for how lunchroom will go today.

Last week, he spent two days taking I-STEP tests.  Yesterday, he did a “practice test” for the I-READ.  This test is now required in order for students to be promoted to 4th grade in the Hoosier state.  In Zach’s case, he has been getting A’s on all his reading tests in class.  Of course, that doesn’t matter a bit to the state of Indiana.  Zach is anxious because the tests are given on computers.  He isn’t comfortable with the computer test.  He has developed some test taking strategies which help him (like circling questions you aren’t sure about and underlining key sentences in text) which you can’t do on a computer.  He is sure his computer will crash.  Or, he won’t know how to work it….and of course you aren’t allowed to ask any questions under penalty of death.  Needless to say, he is pretty sure he will be in the 3rd grade until he’s 21.   That seems like pretty high stakes pressure for a 9 year old.

I could expound at great length upon what I think of all the standardized testing and how we have taken education away from the educators and turned our kids into dots on a big bar chart.  Instead, I will spare you from suffering further under my black cloud.

Did I mention he will see me right before he takes this “make or break” test that has him in knots?

Let it go, Shelly.

My washer made this morning’s laundry smell like rotten eggs.  Nick’s new car starts—sometimes.  Caesar, the neighbor’s big fluffy mutt, prefers using our yard as his “potty.”   I miss actual keys because keypads seem to hate me.   Energy-saving light bulbs?  The ones that are supposed to last like seven years?  Ugly, expensive, and mine have all burned out.  Again.  Also, you should congratulate the 3 Thieme boys when you see them.  I am pretty sure they have now officially set a record for most leaves and mud ever tracked into a house.   Impressive accomplishment, gentlemen!

All of this junk is a little taste of what is getting to me today.   As I pondered my excessive  negativity and prayed for grace this morning, I found myself suddenly humming.

Here’s the lyrics to a terrific song by Francesca Battistelli,(@francescamusic) whose chorus came humming out of me, without my permission:

This is the stuff that drives me crazy
This is the stuff that’s getting to me lately
In the middle of my little mess
I forget how big I’m blessed
This is the stuff that gets under my skin
But I gotta trust You know exactly what You’re doing
It might not be what I would choose
But this is the stuff You use

Thanks, God, for reminding me that getting my underwear in a knot over the minutia of life is a useless waste of time.  Thanks for the grace to see my shortcomings clearly this day and for sending me a song to lighten my mood and knock me awake.  You gave your grumpy, undeserving daughter a beautiful gift—that song in my heart.  You are light years beyond any kind of fantastic word I can think up.  Thanks for loving me just the way I am, while challenging me to be more.  Thanks for my beautiful boys, including their filthy shoes.   I love you too.

Off I go.  I’ll give those kids a little of what You gave me.  Promise.

Shaazam, You’re good!

The Snow Storm Birthday

My backyard on March 24, 2013

My backyard on March 24, 2013

Nearly all the best things that came to me in life have been unexpected, unplanned by me.  –Carl Sandberg

Yesterday, we set a record here in Central Indiana.  According to WTHR, our NBC affiliate, it was the largest snowfall ever recorded in March.  As of this morning, there were 8 inches in my backyard and the snow continues to fall.  The previous record of 5.8 inches was set on March 1, 1912. March ONE.  For goodness sakes, God, it’s March 24!!  On this day, my birthday, I usually plant pansies in my front porch flower pots.  What is going on here?

It seemed to me as the forecasters continued to issue their “Winter Storm Warning” in advance of Palm Sunday 2013 that this was just going to be an utterly depressing weekend.   I was thinking like my friend Lauren who posted on her Facebook page, “You know that phrase – I’ll see you when hell freezes over?  Snow at the end of March makes you wonder.  Just sayin”

I’m absolutely with you, Lauren.   You make me laugh because I was thinking this is what the first week of spring is supposed to look like…..maybe in Juneau, Alaska?

Ever an optimist and determined to enjoy myself anyway, I remembered this little golden nugget.

“This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  (Ps 118:24)

Ok, God, I will try to love this snow covered birthday.  I will.

Being a lover of all celebrations of life, and with childlike enthusiasm for my own as well, I jokingly issue annual reminders to all who will listen about the upcoming “festival of Shelly” when it comes around exactly one week after St. Patrick’s Day each spring.  If that seems a tad childish and disturbingly narcissistic, then you have a clear and accurate picture.  A gal has got to do what a gal has got to do.

I’ll not defend myself so much as ask that you allow me to explain.  First of all, I have the most amazing parents (no, really, mine are the best) who taught me birthdays are just plain “the greatest”.   We have some fairly terrific birthday memories from over the years and NO MATTER WHAT Mom and Dad always find a way to get us together to celebrate every birthday in the family WITHOUT FAIL.  Always.  This exercise is compulsory.

God used them to teach me something about the value of every life.   I believe a birthday is a gift– it is one day set aside each year to celebrate life.  If your life intersects with mine on a regular basis, eventually I will seek out the date of your birth, add it to my calendar, and when it’s your day,  I will try to make sure sun shines all over you.  Some of you will resist and you will lose your battle.  On my day, I love the chance to celebrate my fantastic life, filled with gratefulness, with those I love.  All of us have been given that great gift of life, all of us are made in God’s image, and all of us have lives worth thanking God for with a little gusto on our special day!

Secondly, a gal sometimes has to advertise the birthday just to hedge against the possibility the CPA husband could lose track of her fabulousness during these ugliest days of tax season.  My friend Lisa would call this my “charmingly abrasive” side.  However, 80 and 90 hour work weeks are brutal.  My guy is pretty well trained now and I could probably back down the advertising campaign, but now it’s kind of a treasured ritual of our family life! Right, honey?

Stay with me now as I circle back to the snow covered birthday of 2013.

My fabulous husband suggested, in advance of the snow, that our immediate family go for dinner to open up the festival.  We did that on Saturday night.  I chose “The Ram” in Fishers because I am a mom with 3 boys and a husband who love March Madness and I knew we could enjoy our family time AND see the games.  I even got to overrule the watching of Tiger Woods on the golf channel “because it’s my birthday” and watching golf on TV makes removing old wallpaper seem like fun.  We giggled, ate onion rings, and then came home, watched more basketball.  Later, they brought me a scoop of ice cream with 2 candles on top and sang, “Happy Birthday”.  In short, it was awesome!

When I opened my eyes the next morning, yesterday, the snow was already falling.  We made it to mass and the grocery store.  My crazy parents drove down here in the snow.  Mom and I went shopping for Easter dresses while the snow came down.  Dad taught the kids a new card game.  We had pizza for dinner, we ate my favorite homemade angel food cake, and then the greatest thing happened!!

THERE WAS SO MUCH SNOW.

There was so much snow in fact that the boys got to stay up late because school was cancelled.

There was so much snow that their grandparents decided to spend the night.

So, the party continued.  There was a long, loud card game won by Tom, a lesson on what exactly is “The Harlem Shake” for the grandparents, there was late night hot chocolate, NCAA basketball bracket updates, more giggling, and bacon and eggs this morning for breakfast followed by a game of euchre.

“We know that all things work for good for those who love God- who are called according to his purpose.”  Romans 8:28

Thanks to Tom, Nick, Drew, Zach, Mom and Dad for ringing in my 42nd birthday with me during the snow covered weekend.   It was fantastic.  I love you.  You all are the most amazing blessing.

And God?  You just get me.  The snow storm birthday of 2013—nice.  THANKS.

“Be happy in the moment, that’s enough.  Each moment is all we need, not more.”  Mother Teresa

A Passion for Purple: GCHS

St. Theodore Guerin, pray for us!

St. Theodore Guerin, pray for us!

Two trimesters into our family’s likely 30 trimester experience at Guerin Catholic High School, I am feeling grateful to God and therefore I am compelled this day to share 10 things I love about this high school.

1. The first all school mass of the year.  A standing ovation to welcome the freshmen?  You gotta be kidding me.  AWESOME!

2.  Long Live the GC Student Section!  Experiencing the rowdy, smiling fools– dressed in God knows what crazy theme on any given night—totally fun!

3.   Boys who know how to tie their own tie. 

4.  Deacon Rick’s weekly letter.  Man oh man, I’m gonna miss that guy!

5.  Purple Pride.  This one was almost a deal breaker for us choosing GC.  Think LSU colors.  Yikes!  But now, I admit, I find myself searching out purple accessories.  It grows on you.

6.  Ash Wednesday Lunch:  A bowl of soup, a piece of bread.   Hello, Lent.

7.  Fr. Joshua Janko:  Fantasy conclave pushing, mass before finals celebrating, oversized basketball jersey wearing PASSION.

8.  Mr. Panasuk’s Videos:  Here’s a sample:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SJcDQ8muSwo

9.  Community Service Day:  “Be a Servant. Be a Leader” (X 750).  Powerful.

10.  Teachers who get it:  Here’s the sort of thing that happens in every department, with consistency.  These people just get it.  This letter went out to Spanish students yesterday.  Remember, this isn’t from the Theology teacher.

Estudiantes,

Final exams have been graded and plugged in.  The overall grade you see listed is your FINAL grade for the course.  There is nothing more you can do, even if you are only .0000000001 from whatever the next grade up may be.  If you wish to see your final exam, you may come check with me after the last final exam period is complete. I thank you for a good trimester together and would like to leave you with a quote from Fr. Michael Keating, an associate professor of Catholic Studies at St. Thomas University in Minnesota that recently struck me as the reality of this statement is stunning.  He said, (referring to eternity) “You will either be a creature of eternal light and rule with Christ in His Kingdom, or you will be an eternal horror full of darkness in the depths of hell. You are not called to just be a ‘nice’ person.” I don’t know about you, but I find that to be absolutely amazing and terrifying at the same time. Let us pray today for the grace to live a holy life, so that we can live forever as creatures of eternal light. Your life may be the only Bible some people read.  – Author Unknown

It is impossibe to estimate what a Christian education does for these young people.St. Theodore Guerin

Great Catholic schools everywhere deserve our thanks.  They are filled with amazing educators, administrators and volunteers who aren’t in it for the money, that’s for sure.  What do you love about your Catholic school??

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.