When we let the little cracks in our heart show, that’s where the light seeps out.  That’s what I’m telling myself as I write.

Four years ago, I lost a friend.  Gosh, the whole of my community lost her.  She was shiny and beloved.  She died in a senseless shooting.  It was a murder-suicide.  I try and honor her memory in my life in various ways, but mostly, though, by very intentional affirmation of others and a decision to say  (with a wink to heaven) “Bless his/her heart…” before choosing words that might turn out to be less than kind.  I still have a boat load of work to do if I want to ever shine a light as bright as Shannon’s.  Still, “that date” on my calendar in late July makes my stomach churn.

Several days ago, I got another call.  It was mom.  Horrific violence, she reported, resulted in the death of three members of my family.  Two were murdered and a third was responsible.  He took his own life as well.  I heard it, but I didn’t.  I’m still reeling, to be candid.  That call from mom came four years later, on the same day I was remembering how Shannon was taken.  It was “that date” on my calendar.  All the questions you have?  They don’t have answers.  Not really.

In a moment like this, nothing feels the same, and everything seems unimportant in comparison.  Also, things are all numb and fuzzy.

I don’t really want to share more details, because those who are the very closest to this situation are people I love and they are beyond consolation at present.  However, God has placed a few things on my heart and I think it might help to share them.

Keep this in mind.  I am unapologetically a Christian woman.  Actually, to be specific, I am a Roman Catholic.  This fact frames how I think and feel about most things, and it informs how I respond to life in all its complexities.

Perhaps I’ve lost a few of you now, but please try and stay with me?  I understand.  In fact, at a local coffee shop this week I was unpacking sorrow and concern in the lap of a faithful friend.  I am told even my whisper is top volume, so inevitably I am overheard.  An interested passerby was kind enough to pick up the “Catholic” in my words and interjected that he didn’t “mean any harm” but we Catholics are all a joke with corrupt leaders.  I’m going to assume this human hasn’t discovered the Lord at all yet.  If that’s where you are too, I want you to know I respect how you feel, and I will probably pray for you even against your will.  Before I continue, allow me to share my only viable response to this.  I’ve not quite mastered it’s memorization, but I have the sentiment down cold.  In my sorrow that morning at Panera, I regret I wasn’t able to think clearly enough to share it, so I’ve decided to victimize those reading with the wisdom I failed to impart that morning.

“The Catholic Church is an institution I am bound to hold divine—but for unbelievers a proof of it’s divinity might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight”  –Hilaire Belloc

Now, Belloc was born in 1870, but his words are the most relevant I’ve discovered recently, and they contain the truth as I know them.  So, please forgive me as I share some wise words that I think will ring as truth for all who believe in Jesus.  These matter more to me than any failed or sinful leadership ever could.

A holy 90+ year old Monsignor (that’s kind of an honorific in the Catholic Church…he’s a priest) who says daily mass occasionally at my parish told us last week to remember that we are not our own.  A great price was paid for us, and what that means is that we are called to be the salt and the light.  We are called to be the face of foolish courtesy and love for others—even if it defies logic.  His message was so beautifully and simply delivered.  It stuck in my brain—a gift from God.

Now, imagine losing your daughter and your young granddaughter violently.  Ponder also immediately deciding to forgive the responsible party AND to have a funeral for all three—TOGETHER.

It defies all logic.  It’s the ultimate example of foolish courtesy and love for others.  It was grace beyond all imagining.  My jaw is still slack considering the beauty of this choice.

There was absolutely no way to leave that funeral unaffected by scores of 8 year old girls mourning the loss of their teammate, or  without being wrecked by the faces of two sets of mourning parents and grandparents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles.

Also, there was no way for me to leave there without hearing the daily mass homily I had filed previously in my mind that called for ALL OF US to be foolishly courteous and loving.  Always.  I could not even conceive of a more dramatic example of love than what I had just witnessed.

My dear friend Julie sent me this beautiful thought yesterday.  She said, “imagine what would happen if we all think about what is right with people rather than fixating on what is wrong with them.”

WHAT IF? What if we all choose to see the right and love others ridiculously…like the Colliers?  If they can do that, what small injustices can I overcome with love in my own?  I think God expects me to try harder.

For the sake of three souls we’ve lost to this earth, and my own, I’ll be working on that one for some time to come in honor of the Langdon and Collier families.  Only with God’s help will I succeed.

Love everyone.  Always.

+Rest in Peace, Justin, Amanda and Kendall. 

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?

She’s not going to make it

Jane M. Thieme Jan. 17, 1943-Dec. 4, 2013

Jane M. Thieme
Jan. 17, 1943-Dec. 4, 2013

“Come now.  She’s not going to make it…”

I dropped the bag full of groceries on the counter and headed out the door thinking “how can this be?”

After that, time and details are kind of muddled in my mind.  However, I woke this morning knowing that the grandmother of my boys, Tom’s mom…….Grandma Jane…….is gone.

Sure, she had been ill.  Yes, she struggled physically.  But, she just baked Drew his favorite pumpkin pie for his birthday.  She was going to the Yuletide show this weekend.  She was headed to Chicago.  How can she be gone?

Today, this reality is coming over me in waves.  SIGH.  I guess I just needed to type it and see the words come across the screen in front of me today.  So, forgive me for being a touch inarticulate and not terribly inspiring.  This entry?  Well it feels cathartic, so I’m sorry for your luck if you were in the moody for sunshine.

The funeral was Saturday.  Our parish wrapped us in love and helped us say goodbye.  They anticipated our needs, they fed our family, and our two priests were present to walk alongside on a truly difficult day.  I am grateful for my church.  Catholics know how to say goodbye in the most meaningful and lovely way.

This is going to be hard.  How can my father in law be okay when half his heart is gone?  I’m not sure.  God’s grace is sufficient says St. Teresa of Avila.  Gosh I hope she’s right.


Below is a copy of the eulogy.  As my brother in law Jerome aptly put it, I was “voluntold” by the family to write and deliver it at her funeral mass.  I share it here at the request of several.  If there’s anything here of meaning or comfort to anyone, all glory goes to God.

Good morning.  On behalf of my father-in-law, Tom, as well as Jennie, Mary, my husband Tom and the rest of the family, I want to open by saying thank you.   The sense somebody cares always helps, because that sense is Gods powerful love…and your presence here today is a very great gift you have given us for which we are truly grateful.  Your time, prayers and attendance at this special mass for Jane are the tangible presence of Christ holding our hands as we give her back to Him.

Since there is absolutely no adequate way to try and do justice to Jane’s big personality in the 3 or 4 minutes I have this morning,  I am just going to remember some of her greatest gifts and how they blessed all our lives.  I’ll start with her insatiable need to seek out the newcomer.   Jane loved to welcome new faces, and did it in her own fantastic way.  We kind of joked when anyone new showed up at a family dinner or event….”here comes her fresh meat!”

The very first time I visited her home I was 15 years old.  She took one look at me and said, “Well Shelly, that skirt is darling…but you need to come back here to my room so we can look through the jewelry box for a better pair of earrings.  Those silly things you’re wearing are waaay too small.”  In a way that only Jane could pull off, she immediately killed the awkwardness of my greeting the boyfriend’s mom with her own version of “what not to wear.” 

I have heard so many stories the last few days about her sunny hospitality and unique brand of warmth towards co-workers, cousins, friends, neighbors, old boyfriends….it seems everyone has a “Jane story”, and all of them make people smile. 

Jane’s heart was soft for anyone down on their luck.  In fact, right this very minute our South Haven cottage handyman is sleeping in her Michigan cottage bedroom because he didn’t have another place to go.  So, over Thanksgiving, she offered him her pillow and a warm place to sleep in exchange for some painting and repairs. 

This was not new behavior.  On the morning of December 25th many years ago, I was told she noticed a young high school kid milling around outdoors.  His home situation was difficult and he had moved in for a time with the neighbor down the street.  He was locked out I think, and without a Christmas plan…until he ended up at Jane and Tom Thieme’s Christmas morning breakfast on Saw Mill Road.  .  I have no doubt the tree was perfectly trimmed that morning, and I am sure the homemade centerpiece on the table would put Martha Stewart to shame.   I can’t remember his name, but I do recall it gave her great joy to see him on the field playing football for Purdue a couple years after their chance encounter, knowing he was in college and doing well.  Jane had a gift for hospitality. 

Did I mention she was an extrovert?  She charged her batteries by being with other people.  Her favorite person was, without question, her partner of 49 years, Tom.  She once said to me, and I will never forget it, that if she had been on a quest to marry the most thoughtful and hardworking man in the world, she couldn’t have done any better.  With Jane at his side in all her vivaciousness, I feel safe saying he met and interacted with thousands of people he might never have otherwise encountered.  They always seem to be so comfortable with each other, balancing each other, that their example of a holy marriage will always be to us a beautiful influence in our own lives.

What else?

When I listened to Mary Jo, Jennie, and Tom talk the last couple days, I heard about all the summer fun in South Haven when they were kids because to her, things like an extra day of vacation and great games of charades were priorities.  That led to a chat or two about the more recent fun in Michigan had by Thomas, Katie, Nick, Drew and Zach along with us, their parents, and Jane and Tom, orchestrated utterly by her grand plan of cottage ownership about a decade ago.  She handled the bills, she scheduled the repairs, she managed the details none of us wanted to take on…………so that the family could be together, smiling, eating Sherman’s and watching the sunset.

If Jane could speak to us today, I think the first thing she would say is, “Oh, I don’t want all this fuss over me.”  Oh, but she really would.  She would adore the fuss as much as she loved each of you who touched her life in ways big and small.

One last thing. Jane did some suffering too.  Her cross seemed especially heavy during many moments the last couple of years.  We weren’t prepared to lose her.  Our hearts weren’t ready.  So, for those of us who have ever thought about saying to God, why this?  Why now?  I have this thought.

An interviewer asked a young man who had been through extreme suffering and was facing death if he had ever questioned God about why He allowed this to happen.  The young man answered, “Yeah, I ask God why all the time.  Why out of all the people in the world did you choose me?  Because now I am going to spend eternity with you!”

What an amazing perspective. 

I leave you with a prayer inspired from psalm 39, which will maybe help us remember how important it is to live simply, not taking ourselves too seriously……….but by loving each other and our God in the light of eternity.  

Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be.

Remind me that my days are numbered—how fleeting life is.

You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand.

My entire lifetime is just a moment to you, each of us is but a breath.

With you, my God I long to live forever.

May Jane’s soul and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace.