Death Isn’t the End

I’ve often thought about death.  This puzzles my generally upbeat husband who sometimes wonders if he didn’t marry Morticia from The Addams Family, the television sitcom with the catchy theme song: “They’re creepy and they’re kooky; Mysterious and spooky; They’re altogether ooky; The Addams Family.”

He never understands how the topic of death pops into conversations about everything, from me questioning if, after I die, anyone will wipe the crumbs off of the kitchen counters to what about my life will have mattered (besides ensuring clean countertops for an indifferent-to-crumbs family). Recently, the longtime retired pastor of our parish passed away. It was sad. People were sad. I was sad. And I couldn’t help feeling like his passing was just another in a multitude of deaths that we have all experienced during the past two years. It’s been a long season of loss for many of us. People we love and who have left an indelible mark on our lives are gone leaving us to live on the morsels of treasured memories which never come close to being as satisfying as having our loved ones with us. Read more

Truth Be Told: Accepting Mercy

I had a yucky experience during a medical procedure. “Yucky” seems less traumatic than hearing the head of the department at a renowned hospital say, “I am not really sure what is happening to you. This has never happened before.” So, I am going with yucky because it sounds a little less terrifying.

But it’s not my physical reaction that was the most significant. I was my spiritual one — my resistance to accepting mercy when I know how other people’s compassion can bless both the giver and the receiver.

A friend offered to bring my family dinner. Typically, if anyone offers to feed me, I accommodate with the gluttonous joy of a counter-surfing Labrador. I don’t like to cook. I end up with splatter stains on my clothes, salmonella all over my counters, and an overcooked entrée that I worry is still lurking with salmonella. Yet when my sweet friend offered to bring us dinner, I immediately refused. Unlike me, my friend loves to cook and doesn’t neurotically overcook things to avoid food pathogens.

Still, I resisted. I resisted because accepting help sometimes makes me feel vulnerable. I resisted because I didn’t want to acknowledge how much my health issues over the last year have distorted my identity. I resisted because I didn’t want to admit how powerless I felt. I didn’t want to be on this end of mercy. It feels so much easier to give it. I didn’t want anyone to worry about me. I didn’t want any of this.

Yet, here I am. Read more

Light is on, but no one is home

**This post originally ran in The Florida Times-Union https://www.jacksonville.com/story/opinion/columns/guest/2021/09/26/guest-column-light-on-but-no-one-home-lara-patangan/5762689001/

When I was growing up there weren’t as many medically-diagnosed acronyms to explain one’s differences as there are today. You might have been labeled “not the sharpest tool in the shed,” “the porch light is on but no one is home,” or if you are from the south, “their cornbread ain’t quite done in the middle,” might be an apt description for someone who’s a little bit different.

I do remember being in the reading group for “special kids.” I have since published a book so I figure that was either a really effective group or I was misplaced. It’s hard to know. I have often wondered if I had been tested by some fancy psychologist if I would have a diagnosis that would explain whether my own porch light is on — because honestly, sometimes I think my bulb is the flickering kind that serves to only draw attention to the cluster of dead bugs pooled at the bottom of the light fixture.

I intended to ask my doctor about my memory loss and lack of focus but in all honesty, I forgot. I met a friend for lunch and she whipped out a picture of herself wearing two different shoes to work and told me about how her husband left painter’s tape in their refrigerator. So, it’s not just me. Or maybe we dim-lightbulb types are drawn to each other like the bugs that spiral the light before drowning in its illumination.

All of this of course makes me think about mercy (and medical diagnoses but mostly mercy) because quite honestly, I have had enough diagnoses during the last year that I am kind of grateful I forgot to ask for another one. Part of the beauty of our faith has nothing to do with aesthetics. Instead, it’s the ability to empathize and relate to another person’s suffering despite their brokenness and despite ours too. Because of this, we feel less alone. We stop looking at our deficiencies as damaged and instead find the humor and humanity in them. We stop hiding our hurts and let other people sit with us in them. We stop judging and let shame surrender to “so-what.”

This isn’t just about the silly things we do (or forget to do) it’s about the way we prioritize what genuinely matters in life. It’s not about all the things we forget but about remembering that the gift of our presence can help others navigate a difficult time. As strange as this may sound, that matters more than mismatched shoes.

I’m not sure whether I would have been diagnosed with ADD or OCD or just as a BHM (Big Hot Mess). While I am curious to know, it’s not ever going to be how bright my metaphorically-speaking light bulb is that defines me. For all of us, that’s always going to be love.

Maybe it’s all as simple as the Motel 6 slogan, the chain of budget hotels that weren’t known for being fancy but rather, just enough. They had that folksy tagline that made everyone feel welcome: “we’ll leave the light on for you.”

When it comes to how to love our neighbor, dim lightbulb or not, it’s pretty wise advice.

Hi all ~ I still get frustrated with myself for all of the not-so-bright things I do (or mostly don’t do) in a day. It’s funny how much we can let insignificant things define our value. That’s why I love the simplicity of Jesus’s message to just love God and our neighbor. I’m far from perfect at either but at least the act of trying (and the acts of mercy!) make me feel more like a wise owl than the girl who just flew over the cuckoo’s nest! Can you relate? 

P.S. ~ my birthday is tomorrow and I know you were probably not going to buy me a gift since you think I am so spiritual that I might find material items to be incredibly insignificant.  Sadly, for my husband, this is not true and I had to order some things on his behalf so that he can still be a good husband to his still spiritually shallow enough wife that she wants actual presents to open on her birthday! BUT for the rest of you dear folks, I would be thrilled if you would leave a review for my book Simple Mercies on Amazon. Currently, I have 44 reviews and I would like to have at least as many as my age, which this year happens to be 110. So, as you can see I have a ways to go to reach my goal (and also that I have aged remarkably all things considered.)  ~ Love and gratitude, the birthday girl

https://www.amazon.com/Simple-Mercies-Works-Mercy-Fulfillment/dp/1681924536/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=simple+mercies&qid=1632767357&s=books&sr=1-1#customerReviews

 

 

Mercy: Not for Sale

Hi all,

This is an interview I did on Smart Catholics. In it, I share how mercy has changed my life and how it can change yours too.

I feel like that sounds like an ad for a wrinkle cream or a magic diet pill but I’m really not hawking anything (unless you want to buy my book, Simple Mercies! But I know you probably already did that because you love me and you want to see me on Oprah someday. Okay, I know Oprah is not on network television anymore but I don’t really know who the cool talk show hosts are and I guess that’s because it’s not 1984 and now everyone has a podcast. I really am just trying to keep up).

Anyway, the point is mercy isn’t something I can sell. It’s free. It’s yours. And practicing it, I dare say brings better results than diet pills or wrinkle creams.

Oh, and if you haven’t bought the book yet and want to support my dream to be on Oprah and also go back to the eighties here’s the link: https://www.amazon.com/Simple-Mercies-Works-Mercy-Fulfillment/dp/1681924536/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=simple+mercies&qid=1632184275&sr=8-1

Mercy works. Try it.

Love you all ~ Lara

Loving Obedience: Our Relationship with God

In the middle of praying, I noticed that my rosary broke. I wasn’t doing anything that would cause this to happen and I felt unsettled seeing the broken beads which are privy to so many of my sacred prayers. Even more disturbing was realizing that the fruit of the mystery for the decade I was praying was obedience.

Was God trying to tell me something? Am I so disobedient that my rosary spontaneously separated? Was a swarm of locusts – or worse, palmetto bugs, about to descend on me?!

When I told my husband what happened, his response was, “well, you don’t like to be told what to do.” I wanted to point out how brave he was for sharing his insight but then I decided he was giving me a compliment. (That’s what I sometimes do when I am annoyed by something someone says I decide it must somehow be a compliment and then I am happy again). Besides who likes to be told what to do?

For many years, I confused obedience with people-pleasing. I don’t know if I seem particularly inept but people often seem to have a need to tell me what to do or how I should do something. Because I didn’t want to disappoint anyone, I tried to comply. Of course, this never ended well. I became resentful or pulled away from anyone who I considered overbearing. This wasn’t good for me or the well-meaning bossy britches in my life so I had to quit people-pleasing and just let those who want me to make different choices think what they want. Everyone does anyway.

However fraught our human relationships may be, it’s different with God.  Obedience to him isn’t something that should make us bristle. He trusts us enough to give us free will. He isn’t going to force anything on us because he knows love doesn’t force. It doesn’t control and it doesn’t dictate. When you think how much God loves you and wants only good for you, being obedient doesn’t feel restraining. It’s what really allows us to live in freedom. I know having rules doesn’t sound as much fun as not having any but God’s commandments protect us from the bondage of sin which is heavy and hard and full of hurt that often spreads to the people we love. There is nothing freeing about that.

Read more

How to Not Feel so Bad

I can’t sing any better than I can do math. Still, I love music. Recently I was thinking of the song, “My favorite things,” sung by Julie Andrews in the 1965 film adaptation of the musical, “The Sound of Music.” I was thinking about it because right now life is wrought with many of my unfavorite things: death, illness, doctors appointments, moody teenagers, indecision, dirty counters, and the swirl of controversy over everything from Covid to the environment.

Sometimes it all gets to be too much. Truly.

As this was the case recently, I found myself obsessing about hydrangeas. Every week this summer I cut two blooms to enjoy inside. It made me happy to see the plump pink flower amid the inevitable sprinkle of paper and crumbs on my counter. Last week, I cut the last two remaining good blooms. And, in the midst of planning funerals and rescheduling appointments and moving my son into his new apartment, and trying to keep up with the ordinary minutia of my day, I felt an urgency to buy more hydrangea plants.

I couldn’t stand the thought of not having any blooms to greet me the following week. More than ever, I needed this simple quiet joy.

Eight hydrangea bushes later (and an exhausted husband that doesn’t understand why I can’t just find joy in something that doesn’t involve him doing manual labor in the hottest month of the year) I’ve thought a lot about being joyful even in the midst of trials.

Part of me wondered if I was looking for joy in the wrong place since I know that lasting joy comes from God not the delicate blooms of flowers. Then I decided that was like ignoring the lifeboat in the middle of the storm. Right now, for me, hydrangeas are a lifeboat.

They are among a few of my favorite things.

I know they won’t solve a single problem or relieve a single ache of my heart. Yet, they remind me how important it is to find joy wherever I can and that no joy is too small or unimportant to make a difference. They remind me that life is precious and we are not promised tomorrow’s bloom. The hydrangeas remind me that even when they will go dormant in the next few months, that like happier days, they will return.

Even during troubled times, perhaps especially during troubled times, it’s important for us to remember the joy that is promised to us as children of God. “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice and no one will take that joy from you,” (John 16:22).

We have so many opportunities in daily life to experience genuine contentment. In nature and our neighbor, we are reminded that joy isn’t in the perfect; it’s in the perspective. Very often, it’s in the simplest things. Look for it. Hold on to it. Plant it if you must. It’s a great mercy. You are worth whatever effort it takes.

We don’t have to let our worry and hardship spread with the tenacity of strangling weeds. We just have to hold tight to the seeds of our faith that remind us of the promise of his everlasting joy. Until that day, try to remember a few of your favorite things.

And, then you won’t feel so bad.

Hi all~ I felt like a kid waiting to unwrap presents on Christmas day, waiting for my husband to plant my new hydrangeas. Of course, life being life-y, it started raining while we were planting. Determined, we soldiered on (me, in my hooded rain jacket, and him, in his wet muddy clothes — because he refused my merciful offers to get him proper rain attire). When I saw lightning strike a few houses away, I figured the Lord was teaching me patience– again. Like most things, no matter how messy, wet, or tiring the work was, it eventually got done. But now where there was once mud, joy blooms!

I would love to know what brings you joy right now? If perhaps, Simple Mercies is among a few of your favorite things, or even among your “good enough” list of things (I’m not proud), please consider leaving a review on Amazon!

 

 

Mercy on the Climb

This isn’t my usual post day or my usual post. I am writing under the pretense of inviting you to a book signing this weekend because really that’s what I should be doing to sell books and I need to sell books. But that isn’t really why I am reaching out.

Mostly, I just have noticed that life feels extra hard right now. I hesitate to share that because I don’t want to be a downer. Besides, I am not down. My family and I just returned from an adventurous trip to Maine where I hiked and climbed mountains (and slid down steep rocks on my bottom so I wouldn’t have as far to fall) and I rode a bike (and sometimes walked a bike) through Acadia National Park. I felt brave and discouraged and scared — sometimes all at once.

I thought about God a lot, and what it means to have faith and trust and just take one more step on the climb and how going down a mountain can be just as hard as going up. Either way, sometimes we need someone to catch us.

I don’t know what to expect of middle age or if it has anything to do with age at all, but I know so many people who are losing people they love – to age, to illness, to what feels like complete randomness. And with the ravages of COVID, life once again feels too fragile, too precarious, like one wrong step is all it will take for us to fall.

I lost a dear, dear friend, this past week. Someone my family traveled to parks like Acadia with. We awed at the Grand Canyon together and at our growing children too. And, now he’s gone. Another friend I’ve lost in this abyss of the middle years. And, none of it makes sense to me. Too young. Too precious. Too final. Read more

Selfie: Seeking to Understand

I didn’t grow up with social media. I handwrote notes on notebook paper and folded them into small squares to pass to my friends. I took a picture with cameras that didn’t make phone calls and it was months before I bothered to get the film developed. I didn’t take 10 iterations of the same pose because film was expensive. I just smiled and said “cheese” and that was that.

Fast-forward like an obsolete VCR to thirty years later, and now we can take pictures of ourselves. The “selfie” has become an art form that I imagine an anthropologist in another millennium will discover and muse about our culture’s fascination with taking pictures of oneself with puckered lips and wagging tongues.

If I sound cynical, it’s only because I’m jealous that I’m not skilled at taking a good selfie. Last summer when I was on a quest to eat as many McDonald’s ice cream cones as possible, I took countless selfies with my ice cream in an effort to chronicle the frozen lactose journey that I was sure would eventually have profound meaning. I thought it would be cute and peppy because ice cream is universally appealing – apparently, that is until you put my face next to it. Then it becomes a deranged geometry lesson trying to formulate the precise intersection of the askew angle of my face with the triangular cone where I don’t look like an idiot. I didn’t have the patience to solve the equation because, for the love of God, I just wanted to eat my ice cream.

So, now I only do selfies when necessary and I usually put my hand over my face or try to superimpose the cat’s head over mine to make it more aesthetically pleasing. This still feels cumbersome but I’m much happier with the results. What I realized during my brief selfie sojourn is that looking effortless and spontaneous is not only a lot of work, it can cause us to miss the bigger picture. Read more

Mercy Matters at MD Anderson

The beautiful thing about giving mercy is thinking about the person who is on the receiving end and what our small acts of kindness can mean to someone else. In my book, Simple Mercies, I share a beautiful act of mercy that my friend, Julie Anna, did while I had been at the hospital all day with a dear friend who died unexpectedly. I will never forget her kindness because it was the only light I saw on that dark day.

She is so thoughtful that it didn’t surprise me when I learned that despite being several states away, she was still doing acts of mercy. This time, with a little help from a friend.

This is how Julie Anna does mercy:

Mercy Matters!

Recently, my cousin and her husband traveled from their home in Missouri to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston hoping to qualify for a clinical trial for terminal cancer. Some of their friends from Missouri travel internationally teaching about God’s healing so they had their friends from WoodsEdge Community Church welcome my cousin to Houston. They visited my cousin and her husband at MD Anderson offering support and prayers for healing. Mercy.

My cousin posts updates to family and friends on the Caring Bridge site with specific prayer requests for a healing miracle for her husband. When I read her post about how the WoodsEdge Church welcomed them I wondered if this was where my close friend, Lesley, who had recently moved from Jacksonville, Florida to Houston, Texas attended church…And it was! A God Moment of Mercy, Not Coincidence.

I reached out to both women to let them know of this “small world” God moment and put them in touch with each other. Both women are amazing prayer warriors and are true inspirations of living/speaking your faith, trusting in God, and sharing it with others.

Lesley wanted to do something in addition to praying to help my cousin. Lesley’s 13-year-old daughter, Lindsey, was cooking dinner and told Lesley she wanted my cousin to have a warm meal. Lesley then made the 40-minute drive to MD Anderson, dropped it off at the nurse’s station, and drove back home. Mercy Me!

This act of mercy that Lesley and Lindsey made happen brought me peace. It’s so hard to be far away from a loved one when they are suffering and not be able to do anything to help. My cousin was so touched that a total stranger would bring her mercy. Lesley is now my cousin’s prayer warrior and can be available for them if they need her. Two strangers now connected by God’s mercy. Not a coincidence. Just mercy.

Small everyday acts of kindness matter! God’s mercy moments matter. I am learning to recognize these moments and thank Him!

PLEASE PRAY for my cousin Stacey and a Healing Miracle for her husband Russ ~ Julie Anna.

Hi, all ~ I love stories like these that have so many connections that could be passed off as coincidence but really have the hand of God all over them. And, I love how Lesley and her daughter, Lindsey, readily stepped in as an act of mercy to the sick and an act of friendship to Julie Anna. The picture above is of the cooler that I found on my dining room table on the day my friend died unexpectedly. I had spent the day pouring out mercy in every way I knew how and I came home and received it. Mercy matters. Giving. Receiving. Simple Mercies. ~ Love, Lara

To purchase Simple Mercies: https://www.amazon.com/Simple-Mercies-Works-Mercy-Fulfillment/dp/1681924536/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_product_top?ie=UTF8 or locally at http://bit.ly/larabooks

 

Parties, papers, and podcasts – oh my!

Thank you for the support you all have given me with the launch of Simple Mercies. I absolutely love being able to share it with the world and everyone has been so generous to help spread the word. Two dear friends opened up their homes so I could speak about the book and I so enjoyed meeting new people whose compassionate hearts make our community a better place. If you are interested in me speaking at your home, church, or organization, please don’t hesitate to reach out at lara@mercymatters.net

I have also been busy recording different podcasts. Here is one I hope you will enjoy https://ultimatechristianpodcastnetwork.com/meet-lara-patangan-author-of-simple-mercies/?fbclid=IwAR3eBHR2sLfOibvvmB3COFtL3Xz8ST9IR1pWPdNgG-hAYLUiGOfdqS2XosE

Lastly, I wanted to share this article that recently ran in The Florida Times-Union about the year I spent doing works of mercy. The author, Beth Reese Cravey, really did an amazing job capturing both the spirit of the book and that year. (I apologize for the gaps in the article. I had to make it into four PDF’s to share it here. And, by me, I mean my husband who actually reminded me that I was his only employee and that maybe I should be nicer to him. His comment made me really happy because by saying this he did the work of mercy to “admonish a sinner” while simultaneously bringing me grapes — “feed the hungry.”  So, if you think about it, I’m a soul-saving kind of boss).

To purchase Simple Mercies: https://www.amazon.com/Simple-Mercies-Works-Mercy-Fulfillment/dp/1681924536/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_product_top?ie=UTF8 or locally at http://bit.ly/larabooks