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

 

 

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.

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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 and Miracle-Gro

Hi all,

As I write this it is the end of a long holiday weekend where I didn’t boat or beach or do anything that would require an Instagram post (unless laying around with a needy cat on your chest qualifies). I did rest a lot, and I badly needed rest and quiet and time to reflect.

I also repotted some indoor plants which made me think about how uncomfortable life can be when we are still in circumstances we’ve outgrown. It also made me think about the last time I suggested buying potting soil to my husband he said we didn’t need any and how in the middle of trying to rescue a plant for the trappings of a life it has outgrown I ran out of potting soil. My husband doesn’t always understand the urgency of such things but he reassured me that it would be okay because he was going to “make me dirt.” So, now my rescued plant is in a roomy pot with a mixture of dry leeched soil found from stacks of old planters found in the garage and some sandy mess he dug straight out of our dehydrated backyard.

I added Miracle-Gro, and I figured it’s kind of like life. We make the best of what we have and know that when we add Jesus to it, it will somehow grow.

Also, I have been recording podcasts and interviews and wanted to share this interview about Simple Mercies with you. I am also attaching the link to this article which is a review of Simple Mercies but also shares some of the tips I have from the back of each chapter on how to do each of these works of mercy.

I hope you enjoyed this Memorial Day weekend and special love and prayers to everyone who has served our country. When I think of the beautiful freedom they ensure, I don’t think of simple mercies I think only of sacrifice. God Bless. ~ Love, Lara

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Life and Lent Go Wrong (and my new book!)

You know when you work really hard at something and you plan out the details and then despite all your efforts and all your intention, pretty much everything falls apart.

That was my day last week.

I was working on a deadline to make an announcement on social media that my new book, Simple Mercies, is available for preorder. I made my first ever video. I showered, put on my special cheetah shirt with polka dot sleeves, hot rolled my board straight hair, and tried to remember all of the steps that the girl at the mall’s makeup counter told me would lighten or brighten or contour or otherwise paint me a little prettier than I am.

After I recorded my happy news on video, I went to get my blog post ready to send to you dear people and that’s when I realized that my website was down — like completely and utterly shot down from cyberspace. Because I am not an astronaut or someone who understands how computers work, this was problematic. Then, my computer, which has been glitchy for months quit working. My mouse darted in spastic and erratic movements that ricocheted around the computer screen like an untethered helium balloon in perpetual flight.

Still, I was determined to get the video out. Only, when I listened to it one more time, I realized the incessant scratching noise in the background was my cat in her litter box. I wanted to cry. I was trying to be peppy and professional and there was a cat peeing in the background of my debut video. I thought this cannot be my life. Read more

Blueberries, Book, and Marriage

Hi all~

This is just a quick but exciting post to share that I have seen the cover art for my book and I can’t wait to share it with you! (Fair warning, it doesn’t have cats all over the cover but I think it’s cute anyway.)

I know it’s kind of mean of me to make you wait to see it, but my husband ate the last piece of pound cake my sweet friend made for ME (not him!) so I am feeling kind of mean. She also made this yummy blueberry compote to put on top of it so I have been eating it with whip cream while pretending that there is pound cake underneath.

When I get the artwork from the publisher, I will share it here. I hope you will love it and even if you don’t love it, I hope you will pretend to love it just like I pretend to eat pound cake. This has been a long road and I have eaten a lot of imagery pound cake in the process so I am excited to finally have something real; something I can share; something we can sink our teeth into together. (I hope that doesn’t sound gross or hallucinogenic.)

In other news, it’s National Marriage Week so I thought I would post something wise I have learned in my 23 years of marriage. Of course, thinking of something wise isn’t necessarily my gift to the world.

Yet I do know a few things:

Trust in little things begets trust in big things.

Time apart makes us better when we are together.

Happiness, fulfillment, and peace come from God not our spouses. So, don’t look to anyone else to fill you.

Say thank you.

Recognize how your partner shows love. Is it with service, gifts, time?

Remember the little things because they can become big things. Forget the little things and remember the big things. Know the difference between what you should remember and what you should forget.

When love fails, there’s always mercy.

I think marriage is one of the hardest topics to write about. I mean, is there anything more complicated? And, when you get it right, is there anything more wonderful? What would you add to this list? ~ 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

The Best Gift to Get

While most people fret over not knowing what to buy someone for Christmas, I have a different sort of problem. I love what I buy for others so much, I inevitably want to keep it.

I recognize that my propensity to want to hoard other people’s Christmas presents makes me like Dr. Seuss’s mean-spirited character, the Grinch. In fact, I’m afraid if I took one of those mail-in DNA tests, I might discover that my ancestry doesn’t descend from royalty like one hopes but from a tribe of hairy, pot-bellied, avocado-colored men whose hearts are two sizes too small.

Besides worrying about this fundamental flaw in my genetics, it’s a terrible nuisance to realize you still have more Christmas shopping to do because you kept many of the things you bought for others. My husband, who is a gifted enabler, lovingly wraps the gifts I hoard and puts them under the tree for me. I think it’s a relief for him because he doesn’t have to work as hard at trying to figure out what to give me for Christmas. So, maybe on some level what I’m doing is altruistic.

I know this behavior hardly conjures scenes from the nativity. I suppose I wouldn’t have made a very good wise woman anyhow. I would meet sweet baby Jesus with the gold I bought for him forged into a stylish bracelet around my wrist while explaining to him that his gift would arrive on the next camel.

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Gratitude: Beyond the Glitter

I sat down to write about gratitude and stared at a blank page. I stared out the window. I stared at the cat. I thought of all the ways this year has been hard for me personally and on a global scale. Certainly, there is a lot in between the microcosm of my life and the macrocosm of the pandemic. There has been deaths, unemployment, division, divorce, disease, and depression. And, while those things exist regardless of COVID-19, adding a heaping of quarantines, isolation, mask-wearing, and closures on top of life’s inevitable loss has sometimes felt like an overflow of despair.

So, the words don’t come easy. The spiral of sobering hardships has been like a forced global detox that has stripped life’s glitter leaving exposed the vulnerability and value of life.  Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe that’s something to feel thankful for. Life feels raw and uncertain but also miraculous and precious. And most days, the sobriety of it all scares me. I miss the glitter of distraction that let me think that I was in control; that a long life was promised to me; and that happy times were the hallmark of a good life.

While I would not have chosen the trials of this year, I feel strangely grateful for what they have revealed. Underneath the glitter this is what I found:

  1. Control is contrived. Much of life is outside of our control. That’s not defeatist; it’s liberating. This year has been one of the most difficult and the most freeing. My health issues felt so outside of my control that for my sanity I had to surrender them. Surrendering the big things made it easier to surrender the small things. It’s a relief to know I can let things go. I may have more real problems but by giving them over to God, I don’t have near as many worries. We can either rely on ourselves and build a teetering house of cards, or we can rely on God and live secure in the foundation of our faith.

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