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.

Declaring my Candidacy

“Do not be afraid, for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”  (Luke 2:10)

I, Michelle Lynn Dykhuizen Thieme, have decided today to declare my candidacy for President of the United States of America.

You’re pumped, right?

I have a loud voice.  Like, really loud.  What’s even better is, I only know this fact because everyone around me keeps telling me.  So, that means I also have poor self-awareness.  I’m (waaaay) over 35 and I have paperwork to prove I was born in Lafayette, Indiana.  I have zero political background.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  I did serve as president of my HS class.  It seems to me right there is a great recipe for a presidential run. Who wants to be my campaign manager?  Anyone?

To be completely upfront, my candidacy might prove to be a tad tricky.

First of all, I try to always apologize when I’m wrong, and even though I’m loud, which I know the media loves, I really prefer to get along with people and maintain harmony whenever possible.  In fact, I like to write notes to people and remind them why they are awesome.  That feels like something I will need to fix to be a viable candidate.

Plus, let’s look at the issues.  Guns?  Nope.  Don’t like ’em.  I didn’t even like it when my sons tried to make their legos into gun shapes and play cowboys and “native americans” in pre-school.  I realize that might seem over the top.  So much for the NRA support.  Does this make me a democrat?  There are family members and friends in my life who make their living farming and some of them like to hunt.  They also really don’t like predators (you know, foxes, raccoons, opposums, coyotes) who come after their livestock.  OK, I REALLY don’t like guns but you guys can keep your hunting rifles.  Ditto for you and your FBI friends, Don, and you too, Gerry and all the other police officers out there who are trying hard to keep us safe.  I get it.  Some people rightly value their firearms.  We’ll just have to respect each others differences on that one and wade through together.

“Respect each other’s differences?”  What kind of poppycock is that?  Man the media are going to have a field day with me.  I’ll need a good PR staff.  Who’s in?

What else?  Well, I really feel in my heart that a big challenge in our country is a need to strengthen families.  I suppose that’s a republican thing to say.  The thing is, I respect and love people in my life who have families that look less traditional than mine.  Now, I’m sounding lost in a political Bermuda triangle.  I know.  Clearly, my positions make me insane.  Oh, and I think it’s utterly silly to bother those nuns on 86th St. who are super busy changing the sheets of Indy’s poorest seniors with some law about they need to provide contraceptives to the receptionist.  Actually, it downright bugs me.  I mean, she knew she was taking a job working for nuns, right?  I’d bet she’s probably cool with giving Sister a pass on those drugs– if she wasn’t– she probably would have just applied for another gig.  The nuns and I are on page and…so my hopes of democratic funding seem to be dwindling.

I love nuns, families, and I care about the poor.  I really hate guns, but I get that some people need them.  When a girl down the hall at Purdue called me a “fisheater”, I didn’t get bent out of shape.  Last week, someone called me fat.  Big damn deal.  I loathe sexism and racism and most the other “isms” as much as the next guy, but mostly people who don’t like other people because of who they are or what they look like are just idiots to me.  I wish I’d written “sad” and said I would pray for them.  I’m working on it.  Focusing on people who fail isn’t the centerpiece of my life.  The pervasive over-sensitivity and uber concern about political correctness revolution just isn’t working for me.  These moments always remind me how blessed I am to have a mom who constantly reminded me that I will never be sorry I was too kind.  I should also mention my eloquent Dad who didn’t have a problem reminding me from time to time when I lost my way that “your shit, Shelly does in fact stink.”  Thanks for keeping me straight, guys.

The scripture verse at the beginning of this declaration of candidacy came from the Christmas card I sent out this year.  That’s a pattern of behavior for me.  I’m kind of into Jesus.  In fact, I believe the fact checkers will uncover that I am a mass attending, sacrament loving Catholic.  If that’s not a candidacy killer, I don’t know what is.

So there you have it.  I might be the most un-electable possible candidate in this year’s election.  I’m a definitively pro-compromise, family (and nun) loving, anti-gun, police appreciating fish eater.  I love our underpaid teachers and think high-stakes standardized testing is killing education, and I’m willing to listen to why you might feel differently.  I believe in doing all we can to help the poor up.  I don’t think it’s a close call when it comes to crazy things like the taking of lives or the selling of baby parts, but hating others despite our differences isn’t a thing I believe in either.

I’m never going to be President.  Frankly, neither are any of you.  And that, my friends, is what’s wrong with America.  Let’s just set aside my obvious obstacles, such as I am not a millionaire and I have been a stay-at-home mom for 10 years.  My bet is, even if you can actually fit neatly into one of the 2 political parties calling the shots, when you unravel your belief system you will find you are really going to have some issues which inhibit your electability.  Mainly it’s about you just aren’t cranky enough.

In my opinion, what has made America great over the years is her capacity for compassion, for building one another up.  We’ve lost our way.  The venomous tone at present is surely NOT OF GOD.

Today, I felt called to speak up for the end to the rancor.

Do you want to know why I love the nuns?  They keep me honest.  The $40 they had to come to my parish begging to get from me seems like a lot as I toss it in the basketm but when I head out to shop, it seems like nothing.  I am definitely part of the problem.  However, I continue to pray and to try and do better.  I hope the same for my nation.

God gave us free will, it’s true.  When we are free to act without being under the influence of another, that is real freedom.  Consider the words of a great saint in whom even the vast number of non-Christians in India saw great virtue.  Reading her words always makes me feel as if I have inhaled a tiny breath of heaven.  As I finish my silly little entry today, I invite you to join me in a prayer for our great country and I offer you this bit of fresh air.  I hope you enjoy it.  Know that above all you belong to God, He delights in you, and you are loved.

“Spread love everywhere you go.  Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.”  –Mother Teresacropped-shellybday2014.jpg













A Disheartening Brawl

–verb. To depress the hope, courage or spirits of; discourage
That doesn’t seem like a spectacularly positive choice of words with which to begin, does it? It’s the sunniest selection appropriate to describe how I felt recently upon hearing about the behavior of a large group of teenagers recently engaged in a “brawl” at a shopping mall I used to frequent. Yes, I said “used to”.
As a mother of three sons, ages 10-17, I suppose I feel uniquely qualified to outright reject both the “solutions” and hopelessness offered by local parents and pastors which were shared by Indianapolis area media regarding the handling of teenagers.
To punctuate the sentiment of surrender and discouragement felt by all, one mother was quoted saying to her child, “Y’alls generation is terrible”.
Another group, comprised of pastors from local churches, suggested that the solution lies in helping the young people find something to do—because there just aren’t good choices readily available.
These were themes I continued to hear over the course of days. Well meaning as those people might be, I listened and thought, “What planet are these people living on? We all need to look in the mirror, folks!”
Do you want to know what my teenage sons do on weeknights? They do their homework. If there’s time left over before bedtime, they might catch a game on ESPN, or watch an episode of “The Voice” with their mama, or they might play basketball on the tiny plastic hoop in my 10 year old’s room. He usually has a full NCAA tourney scribbled on a piece of paper. Last night Zach was Michigan and his brother was Butler. I have no idea who made it into the round of 32, I just know that the older boys are forced to play on their knees to make it “fair” and that it sounds like the house is coming down when they play.
On the weekends, when they don’t have practices or games themselves, they go support the high school team. Like many schools, at our place, admission is free to students. Away games, the kids have to come up with $5 or so and they can usually be entertained by two games for that price during hoops season………..hollering for their Golden Eagles for about 3 hours or so. After the games, sometimes they come here and I throw in frozen pizzas for them and a few buddies. Occasionally, they hit BW3 for wings. I know who they are with, and if they have post-game plans at a friend’s house, I check in with the parents to make sure they are home. Often, I get text messages from these parents letting me know that my son is now on his way home, or that he ate a whole bag of Oreos, or that he’s really horrible at Guitar Hero.

On Sunday, you’ll find them in the 3rd row on the left at mass.
Our faith community has expectations and kids rise to the occasion. It’s amazing when you set a bar for them, they often surprise and hurdle right over it. For instance, the kiddos are asked to do service work at their churches and in the community. There are specific requirements we give the kids, depending on their ages of course. Younger kids (like say 5th graders) might be asked to do 5 hours of service work. High schoolers need many more. They are amazing and creative and their work inevitably reveals to them something about themselves and about their Awesome Creator. The boys and their buddies have raked leaves for the elderly with their school friends, they’ve spread mulch at church, they’ve served meals to the homeless, they’ve stocked food at the food pantry, fit shoes on needy kids, written letters to soldiers, played bingo at nursing homes, worked in the concession stand for CYO games, instructed younger kids at sports camps, dusted and cleaned pews, and on and on over the years.
One particular day after playing bingo with some seniors at a nursing home filled with folks of very limited means, my youngest son (who was 8 at the time) said, “I think that one old lady really liked me mom. She said I made her day. Jesus is happy with me I think.”
My oldest son told the tale of raking leaves in Noblesville for a woman who then arrived home one fall day to find her work had been done for her. She was in tears explaining how her husband had been in the hospital after suffering a heart attack and how much the gesture meant to her. Clearly, the kiddos in his group felt they had been Christ to this woman…..and that felt pretty terrific.
Another day, one of the boys made a point to show me a photo of he and his buddies on twitter. The picture had been posted by his baseball coach while the team was cleaning the kitchen at a downtown food kitchen. He was proud of himself and wanted to show his mom about his morning!
I profoundly reject those ideas.
Admittedly, when my middle son asked for a rosary for Christmas I did wonder to myself who he thought he was kidding. A priest friend agreed and jokingly suggested I check the police blotter. My point is, no child is perfect, and they are all going to make mistakes….including my own.  I share about our life because in all humility I think something is going right, not because the boys I live with are without flaws and not because they have perfect parents.  FAR from it.

BUT. Consider the following.
Professor Clay Christensen of Harvard Business School shared a story via social media that I intercepted a month or so ago. It was about a Marxist economist from China coming to the end of a Fulbright Fellowship in Boston. Christensen asked him if he learned anything surprising or unexpected and without hesitation he said, “I had no idea how critical religion is to the function of democracy.” The Fulbright Scholar went on to explain the reason democracy works isn’t because the government was designed to oversee what everybody does, but rather democracy works because most people, most of the time voluntarily choose to obey the law.
Christensen then goes on to share how this Chinese scholar noted that in America’s past, most people attended a church or synagogue every week and were taught there by people they respected. He went on to say Americans followed these rules because they had come to believe that they weren’t just accountable to society but they were accountable to God.
Professor Christensen then opines about wondering as religion loses its influence over the lives of Americans, what will happen to our democracy? If you take away religion, you can’t have enough police.
Here’s the link to a clip of Christensen’s short messgage:

That leads me right back to the brawl at Castleton Mall and the hundreds of young people who seemed to be lost that day, and the thousands more just like them who desperately need Christ.
All you who love Jesus or who want to love Him more, join me in prayer for our young people, our nation, ourselves.
“O, Lord Jesus Christ, open the eyes of my hear that I may hear your word, and understand and do your will, for I am a sojourner upon the Earth.
Hide not your commandments from me, but open my eyes, that I may perceive the wonders of your Law.
Speak unto me the hidden and secret things of your wisdom.
On you do I set my hope, O my God, that you shall enlighten my mind and understanding with the light or your knowledge; not only to cherish those things which are written but to do them;
That in reading the lives and sayings of the saints I may not sin, but that such may serve for my restoration, enlightenment and sanctification, for the salvation of my soul, and the inheritance of life everlasting.
For you are the enlightenment of those who lie in darkness, and from you comes every good deed and every gift. Amen.

(Prayer by St. John Chrysendom)
We’ve got to do better. With Jesus, we can.

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.

Religious Persecution: Let’s NOT?

Irish crossRESOLVED: That the guarantee of the rights of conscience, as found in our Constitution, is most sacred and inviolable, and one that belongs no less to the Catholic, than to the Protestant; and that all attempts to abridge or interfere with these rights, either of Catholic or Protestant, directly or indirectly, have our decided disapprobation, and shall ever have our most effective opposition. –ABRAHAM LINCOLN

Published in a book written in 1920 titled Abraham Lincoln, Man of God by Dr. John W. Hill, this quote rang in my head when I read it today in a news story.

I loathe involving myself in any conversation that is political in nature.  It causes uncomfortable disharmony interiorly, and I value harmony much more than I care to admit.  That desire to distance myself from some flavors of discord is sometimes holy and other times not so much.

Today I’ve bumped up against a problem.  So, here I go stirring the pot.

My oldest son is 16.  He mumbles.  His room smells like the inside of a sneaker after practice.  I try not to pick fights too much but he’s driving me to stick my tongue out at him after he leaves the room these days.  That’s why it blows my mind that he is the one who made me realize I have to go on the record on this whole dreaded matter of “Obamacare”.

I’m not going to discuss our silly government who closes down the WWII Memorial to vets and leaves open the fitness center for Congressmen.  I am assuming that all reasonable people are with me on that one.  So, I’m sticking my neck out for one reason.  I don’t want to show up at the pearly gates and have to explain why I run off at the mouth about so many things that don’t matter a lick and chose to keep quiet on this one.

“Mom?  The Little Sisters of the Poor have a crappy choice.  Do I have this right?  Poor Nuns, like literally poor—it’s in their name– who take care of equally poor old people with nowhere else to go have to either agree to pay for abortion drugs or else give the government like a million dollars a day?”

“Yes, hon. “

“Well, don’t you think the people who work there knew they were going to be working for Catholics when they took the job?  I mean, obviously you’re gonna offend a nun if you ask them to do that.  They’re NUNS.  It seems like you would just not work there if you wanted that.   I mean the place is called SAINT Augustine.  Why not just apply for a job at Starbucks or something instead?”

So, my teenager wants to understand what’s happening?  The same kid who barely seems to notice there are others even in his space some days?  The kid’s observation seems pretty spot on.  You see, freedom to WORSHIP is not the same as freedom of CONSCIENCE.  Abraham Lincoln understood it very clearly.   Despite being a teenager, Nick seems to find the logic mind-bending too.

This is America:  Land of the free and home of the brave.  Today it’s my turn to be brave and go on the record.

Everyday, the Catholic Church feeds, clothes, shelters and educates more people than any other organization in the world.  It truly makes me proud to be Catholic.  Without freedom of conscience rights, this is in jeopardy.  If the statistics I read today are correct (and it is possible since Google has been wrong before), 13% of medical care institutions in the United States are Catholic.

Here’s what I think.  I think anyone who truly believes in God (by any name), respects the freedom of conscience rights of others.  Even kids know this interiorly.  Well, those that are blessed do.  That’s why Nick was thrown.  He understands the problem very easily.  Why?   It’s because he is a believer.

When I was about nine years old, we used to play “kick the can” in the backyard with the neighbors.  I would occasionally complain about the choice of game (mostly because I was slow and somewhat afraid of the dark).  One of the Benjamin boys would inevitable yell “What you’re problem?  Is it against your religion or something?”

I would argue this oft heard phrase indicates that even children recognize one ought not to interfere with matters of faith.  It’s sacrosanct.  A smart guy named Lincoln apparently thought so too.

“NO Brian, it’s not against my religion but how about let’s NOT and say we did?  Cuz I am so sick of this game!”

Those who argue that we Catholics are being “intolerant” on this matter of Obamacare  or are “overly sensitive” are largely unchurched people, I would guess.  Those who love God and choose faith in whatever tradition generally appreciate freedom of conscience and grasp the difference between that and merely the “freedom to worship” mindset that is prevalent in our overwhelmingly secular culture.

A Jewish friend with whom I have shared this debate quietly,  quickly came to understand my perspective once we chatted.  She believes in freedom of religion, not just freedom of worship.  That’s because Judaism is not just a set of beliefs about God, it’s a comprehensive way of life filled with rules and practices that affect every aspect of life:  what you can and cannot eat, what you can and cannot wear, how to conduct business, who you can marry, how to observe holidays, how to treat others.  This set of rules is called halakhah.  What I have been told is that traditional Jews believe that properly observed, it turns the most mundane or small things into acts of religious significance, which in turn leads one closer to God.

So, here’s the deal.  What’s being asked of Catholics now is a violation of conscience.  Or as Brian Benjamin would prefer “it’s against my religion.”

If violating the conscience rights of another doesn’t turn one’s stomach, then what I think we have is a person who does not realize that God loves them.  Our intense prayers are needed.  There is only one, and he cannot prevail, who wishes for a soul to lack a relationship with God.

For me personally, I know that I fail over and over.  I try not to worry too much about perfection but just persist giving my best effort.  I just try to give my heart to Jesus.  I know that He will take it, mold it, and fill it with the fire of His love if I keep asking.  Therefore, there’s no judgment here on this matter of making your own choices.  In Shelly’s world, YOU ARE FREE TO MAKE YOUR CHOICE about your own life, lifestyle, and healthcare.  God gave us all the gift of free will.

Don’t ask me, however, to give up my freedom of conscience rights to pay for another man’sfree will choices.

That’s called religious persecution.

This is America:  land of the free.

Let’s NOT?  I’m sick of it.

Sidebar:  Did you know my given name is actually Michelle?  That will help here below.

Here’s the prayer to my patron Saint, a fitting prayer for my petition today:  That all souls may know the love of God in this life and ever after.

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.  Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.  May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the Power of God, cast into hell Satan and all evil spirits who prowl throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.  Amen.