I Ran into a Tree

Hi all,

The post that I am sharing with you this week is one that ran recently in the Florida Times-Union. I’m sure it was a proud moment for my mom to have an article in the newspaper where her daughter writes about running into a tree with her face. But, I like to keep her humble.

This post is really about the pain we carry and I hope it resonates with you (not because I hope you are in pain! It’s just that if you are, you will know you aren’t as alone as it may feel.)  Sometimes, I think we all need that reminder. ~ love, Lara

Read the post here. 

 

Don’t Stop Believing: The Magic of Christmas

This is an excerpt from my book, Simple Mercies, that I wanted to share in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe’s Feast Day this past Sunday.

During one Christmas season, I was reminded of the power of prayer when I became one of the prayer warriors trying to get a forty-nine-year-old man named Joe out of prison. I know that doesn’t conjure the same feelings of drinking hot cocoa in footed pajamas by the fire like your typical Christmas story does. Still, it’s a powerful reminder of what can happen when we believe – not only in God but in one another.

As one of six boys, Joe grew up next door to my friend, Cecy. Despite having three young kids at home, she worked for years trying to get her childhood friend out of prison. Joe had been arrested for buying cocaine for personal use and was charged and sentenced as a trafficker. His punishment was twenty years with no chance of parole. He had already served thirteen.

Joe had made appeals all the way to the Florida Supreme Court — each one denied. The only hope he had was clemency from the governor to commute his sentence. That’s when the ordinary became extraordinary. Joe was finally granted a clemency hearing. Sadly, his mom passed away less than a month before his hearing. Joe learned of her death from a prison guard and was unable to attend her funeral. The tragedy of it hardly made me think of the word, believe. Yet when his hearing was finally held, I was visiting New York City where over the Macy’s store on 34th Street, a huge sign in brilliant white lights said only one word: Believe. While I wasn’t sure whether I believed our prayers would be answered in the way that we wanted, I was inspired by the people who believed Joe deserved another chance and did something about it. I had faith that no matter what, God would use the situation for good. I had already seen how many people it had united in prayer and I felt the shared hope that a miracle was possible. I very much wanted to believe. Read more

Seeking Advice

This post originally appeared in The Florida-Times Union: https://www.jacksonville.com/story/opinion/columns/guest/2021/10/31/guest-column-some-problems-cant-solved-writing-dear-abby/8475262002/

When I was in junior high, I had an advice column I shared with another girl.  Our last names both began with the letter C so while the national newspapers ran syndicated columns of Dear Abby or Dear Ann Landers, my catholic grade school featured Dear C & C.  Quite honestly, I think we were just as good as Abby and Ann too — even if we did make up most of the questions in order to fill the mimeographed page.

Sometimes I think things were more progressive in the eighties. I can’t imagine a 21st century school letting kids publish their own advice column.  They would worry too much about legalities and the social/emotional consequences of two twelve-year-olds doling out advice. I guess there were some advantages to my generation despite the massive amounts of Aqua Net hairspray we inadvertently inhaled, the high-fructose corn syrup and red dye we consumed along with our Little Debbie’s snack cakes, and Kool-Aid, and the Crisco oil we slathered on us to sunbathe.

I loved reading advice columns even if most of the topics had little to do with me.  I didn’t have a mother-in-law to take issue with and I didn’t have houseguests who left wet towels on the floor.  Still, I liked the reassurance of these columns — knowing that someone had answers, that every problem had a tidy well-written solution, and if we ever needed help, we just had to ask. Read more

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

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

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

Book Launch: Simple Mercies

There was an amazing article in The Florida Times-Union this past Sunday about the year I spent doing works of mercy. Please check it out: https://www.jacksonville.com/story/news/local/2021/05/21/turning-40-led-jacksonville-woman-year-service-writing-book/5091085001/t

The author did such an amazing job capturing the intention of the year and of the book, Simple Mercies

I spoke at my home parish this past Saturday and celebrated with a book launch reception afterward. It was one of those magic nights that made all of the hard days seem so far away. If a picture captures 1,000 words, then surely these capture the joy, gratitude, and love that made my heart simply happy!

 

 

Happy Easter and Happy News!

Sweet friends,

Today we rejoice! And, after the last year we had, that is such happy news. Jesus has risen. 

The gift of Easter, beyond the white lilies and choruses of jubilant Alleluias, outside the pastel dresses and the wide-brimmed hats, sweeter than the chocolate in wicker baskets or the smiles of delight they invoke, is the resurrection of the Son of God which makes our rising possible. It takes the black ash of our suffering, grief, and sorrow and wipes it clean.

And, while it often seems like our newspapers are filled with dread, I have an Op-ed in the Florida Times-Union that is filled with Jesus! Please check it out. And, if you don’t have time because you are busy rejoicing with your dear families, I can sum it up in one word — alleluia!

https://www.jacksonville.com/story/opinion/2021/04/04/guest-column-easter-reminder-life-rises-ashes/4838311001/

Love~ Lara

 

If/then: God Loves You

Every January we are inundated with messages of losing weight to prepare our bodies for summer as if it’s as complicated as training for an Olympic sport instead of simply shedding coats and slipping on shorts.  To be considered “ready” we are encouraged to lose weight, pump iron, and color ourselves caramel.

The message is clear.  The preparation is all-important.  Where you are now is clearly not good enough.  You aren’t worthy of summer vacay unless, until, all that urgent striving sculpts you into the picturesque airbrushed model on the magazine cover who hasn’t eaten in three years and works out five hours a day.

I don’t know if it’s more demoralizing or depraved, but many of us buy into this if-then mentality.  We do it in an array of scenarios: organizing our house before we can host friends, getting the promotion before we can pride ourselves on a job well done, or securing the relationship before we cement our self-worth.  The perception that our arrival is more important than our pursuit is most damaging in our relationships with God.  We often think where we are in our spiritual journey defines how much we please him, how much he loves us, and how worthy we are of his mercy. Read more