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 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

Simple Mercy: Comforting the Sorrowful

A picture may be worth 1,000 words but the picture this story paints just needs one – love.

It’s about Susanna and her neighbor, Mrs. Honeycutt. Susanna noticed Mrs. Honeycutt’s “angel sparkle” the first time they met. “She was open to listening and connecting, and I was warmed and magnetized by it. I’d lost my mother in my 20s so this kind of motherly attention from a slightly more “experienced” mama-gal made my heart swell…she filled a void just by offering me her presence.”

Unfortunately, in January, Susanna lost her dad unexpectedly. “Dad’s death made me feel pushed into a soggy, rudder-less boat adrift to the stupid, yuck-no-thank-you island of Parentless People. Losing Mom was one horrible thing, but when Dad died, I lost my bearings.”

With her brother and her husband, Susanna traveled to Mississippi to empty her Dad’s house: “a stunning Federal-style estate built in 1860 and filled with fineries, antiques and everything I did not want or wish to organize. To make it seem more glamorous or at least a notch up from the despair I was feeling over the process, I posted photos of Dad’s lovely interior décor online. It was a nice release to send some of Dad’s life vision out there into the world. It kept something of him alive. My compass recalibrated just a teeny, little bit.

About a week after we returned, a package arrived on my doorstep with a note on it that read, “You, me, Chardonnay on the deck?” I am always down for an invitation to slurp the chard – especially when it’s Mrs. Honeycutt doing the asking! But the package contents took the cake. That gal downloaded all those beautiful photos I’d taken of Dad’s house and made a beautiful little picture book out of them! A keepsake forever!

Read more

Mercy and Sexual Assault

Devon’s husband and children.

Devon Larkin works in ministry. Not in a sanctuary but with sexual assault survivors. Devon is a sexual assault forensic nurse examiner for the Women’s Center of Jacksonville. Devon meets with survivors of sexual assault, both women and men, within five days of their assault to collect possible evidence from their bodies, regardless if they are reporting it to law enforcement.

These are her words. I really have nothing to add to them. They are mercy.

It can be such a hard job, witnessing what one human is capable of doing to another.  When I first started, I remember calling my dad, wondering what the point of it all was, knowing most would never receive the justice they deserved and desired.  It was through that conversation that I came to realize, the biggest part of my job was being present. I would never be able to control how the investigation or prosecution would go, but I could be present. I could perform my part with compassion and excellence. I could listen to someone’s painful experience, let them know they were believed, listen without judgment, treat them with dignity, and let them know this experience does not define them. 

I may be one of the first and only persons they ever speak of about their experience and I have the opportunity to start the healing process by being compassionate while conducting my exam.  WCJ is a non-profit and the Rape Recovery Team which I am a part of, is one small component of their services. I am grateful, God put me here and I truly receive more than give from my work.  As I remind my children, to whom much is given much is required (Luke 12:48).  This life is a stepping stone and not permanent.  We are all called to serve others as much as possible.  Read more