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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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

Simple Mercies: Teaching the Faith

Growing up, Wendy Nelms wanted to be a reporter and travel the world. Instead, she answered a greater call as a beloved teacher sharing the word of God.  She has been at Assumption Catholic School most of her life — first as a student and now as a teacher.

We know teachers practice mercy in countless ways, but here is how Wendy does mercy:

“I am thankful to say that my life as a teacher is one of my greatest blessings. In my time at Assumption, I have had many different roles but my favorite is being the 7th and 8th-grade religion teacher. I am inspired and amazed at the insight and faith of the students I teach and truly love coming to work every day.

Being with teenagers and listening to them share their faith gives me true hope for the future of our church. While being the religion teacher, I have had the amazing opportunity of taking groups of students to serve at Catholic Charities and attend the Steubenville youth conferences. Watching students see the reality of what is taught in the classroom is one of my greatest blessings.

My job is to take their hands and lead them to Christ and then let go. That is the hardest part for me-letting go. Once they walk through my classroom, they know they are always a part of me. There is nothing better than watching someone become who God created them to be!”

Note from me: The spiritual work of mercy, to instruct the uninformed, is about sharing our faith with others. Wendy taught my son and she has an incredible gift for ministry. But all of us have something we can teach others – even if it’s only through simple acts of love.

One of the reasons I wrote my new book, Simple Mercies, is because oftentimes we fail to recognize the way small acts of kindness can make a difference. For the next few weeks, I’m highlighting simple ways that others are sharing mercy as an organic part of their daily life. If you or someone you know would like to participate in this series, please email me at lara@mercymatters.net to share your own story of mercy. If you would like to learn more about the ways that mercy can bring peace and fulfillment to your life while answering God’s call to serve, preorder Simple Mercies, at this Amazon link or San Marco book store http://Bit.ly/larabooks ~ love, Lara

Walk in the Sun

As a teenager, I often went on long walks at the beach with my best friend. I can’t tell you what we talked about because I’m sure it was inappropriate and since I am of a certain age, I don’t really remember anyway. Going on walks meant we could scout the locations of cute lifeguards we knew or wanted to know. While we had no intention of actually speaking to the bronze boys on the towering orange chairs, or even so much as making eye contact with them, just knowing they were there gave our journey a purposeful feel. Years later, I had no idea I would be walking on that same stretch of sand with my husband while participating in a three-day, thirty-mile pilgrimage from Jacksonville Beach to the Our Lady of La Leche Shrine in St. Augustine.

I had never done a pilgrimage so when I heard about the Baby Steps Camino put on by the Order of Malta, a Catholic lay religious order, I thought that my experiences as a teenager walking past miles of strategically spaced lifeguard chairs gave me the necessary foundation for the 10-mile daily walk.

It felt decadent to cast aside adult responsibilities for a day in the sun. My husband and I prayed the rosary, walked in silence, and talked about all kinds of appropriate things (although I can’t remember what they were.) We allowed ourselves to look for the occasional shark’s tooth and other treasures in the sand. We paused for a picnic lunch under the glory of the December sun. Most importantly, we pressed on. When we were hot, tired, and when my feet got wet and my toe got bloody, we just kept putting one foot in front of the other.  It’s a lot like what we do in life when we remember that our final destination isn’t of this world.

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Heal What Has Broken

In the bathroom, I noticed that the small vase on the pedestal sink had broken.  It lay in pieces while the plant it once held in water splayed like a dying fish whose gills move in slow silent puffs of suffocation. I asked my son who was just outside the room staring at his phone or iPad or another electronic brainwasher if he knew what happened to the vase.  Brilliant as he is, he told me it broke.  I asked him if he broke it and indeed, he had. When I inquired as to why he didn’t clean up the broken glass he responded with a casual, “I forgot.”

I probably should have prefaced this story by saying my son is not three.  I have teenage boys, not toddlers – although there are remarkable similarities.  I wasn’t upset that he broke the vase.  I am at the point in my life that when something breaks, I think “great that is one less thing I have to ask myself about whether it sparks joy.”  Not having to answer the question that made Marie Kondo a household name, certainly sparks joy.  So, the broken vase wasn’t the issue.

At issue, is how obvious it was to me that there was an issue when in between the time span that he presumably washed his hands and turned off the faucet he seemingly forgot to see shattered glass and a wounded plant.  The incident reminded me how in our increasingly polarized society people only see what they want – the rest they just forget about. Read more

Joy of Faith (and ice cream)

One of my doctors suggested I try a Mediterranean Diet after I had been diagnosed with a spontaneous carotid artery dissection. “Spontaneous” is the operative word here because it just happened and no one knows why.  It’s rare for people my age without some kind of underlying genetic disease or physical trauma like a car accident.  I had neither.

I have nothing against the Mediterranean Diet.  I like to eat fish and appreciate a plan that includes red wine.   For a few days, I considered it.  I wanted to be excited– to have some new regimen that would fix the broken parts of me.  I read a few articles that outlined the diet.  I even ate some walnuts. While I desperately want to heal, my diet is not the problem.  Whatever caused my artery to spontaneously dissect had nothing to do with what I ate.  I thought about the years I spent as a vegetarian, my almost-daily exercise routine, the half-marathons I had run, and the complete randomness of what happened — I realized I was basically that cliché of the uber-healthy person who drops dead.  Only I didn’t die.  By God’s grace, I am still here.

What I need most is not a new diet but to accept that we can’t control or fix everything (or sometimes much of anything). I’ve spent so much of my life not being spontaneous – thinking that if I followed the rules, the outline, the diet, and the plan, then I would be safe.  Of course, these things matter and it’s important to not be reckless with our lives or the lives of others. It’s just that we can easily get so focused on the regimen that we forget the reason for it.  I knew it wasn’t legumes and olives or even wine I needed.  It was ice cream. Read more

Faith in Quarantine

I don’t know if I am going to mentally survive the isolation of quarantine.  The number of people testing positive for COVID-19 is skyrocketing here in Florida.  I am considered at increased risk for severe illness if I get the virus because of yet another dubious gift of 2020, severe stenosis caused by a dissected carotid artery.  Trust me, I wouldn’t want COVID-19 anyway, but I certainly don’t want to do anything to tip the precarious situation I am already in.  So, I stay at home.

I have a lovely home which I have gone to great lengths to find perfect throw pillows for but I am sick of being here. It feels like jail, only with comfy, well-coordinated pillows. Being quarantined reminds me of the birds we had as pets when I was growing up.  My friends hated to spend the night at my house because they would squawk and squeal like angry alarm clocks way before our teenage bodies were ready to wake.  And, no wonder the birds were angry – they existed in a cage of monotony.  Quarantining makes me feel somewhere between an inmate and a caged bird.

When it turns noon, I pretend my nightgown is really a sundress and carry on with the day’s inactivity.  And to add to my disdain, I get frustrated with myself for being so whiny about having no life when the whole reason I am doing this is so that I can have life.  So, I cram peanut M & M’s in my face and watch with envy as the hummingbird outside the window flutters from flower to flower in a fury of freedom.  I can’t help but wonder if she knows anything about the caged bird (not the one that sings – the angsty, squalling bird that tormented tired teenagers). Read more

Marlboro Reds and MRIs

Way back when kids actually went to school, I won the award for perfect attendance for not missing any school days in a year.  My mom always told me I was her healthiest kid.  I think she appreciated that I didn’t get sick on road trips or require multiple trips to the ER to be sewn back together from running into walls.  Discounting late-night runs to the border for Taco Bell’s Nacho Bell Grande and a fog of other questionable college choices, I have mostly lived a healthy lifestyle.

So after going through two ultrasounds, an MRI, a cat scan with angiogram, a needle biopsy in my neck, countless blood tests, visits with an internist, endocrinologist, neurosurgeon, vascular surgeon, rheumatologist, and a neurologist –  all in the span of three weeks, I considered buying myself a pack of Marlboro Reds to puff on as I rode off into the sunset on a horse that would likely buck, leaving me concussed in some cornfield wondering what became of that little girl’s certificate of good health. (Yes, that’s a long sentence but it’s been a long few weeks friends.)

Still, I can’t help but feel immense gratitude.  If I hadn’t noticed a lump in my neck that led to the thyroid biopsy and a diagnosis of a multinodular goiter then I wouldn’t have seen my doctor.  I wouldn’t have told her about the chronic headaches and cluster of bizarre symptoms that prompted the MRI.  She was as surprised as I was when the results showed severe stenosis in the carotid artery.  And on the day that I received the official diagnosis from the cat scan of a dissected carotid artery with greater than 70 percent blockage, I was terrified.  I called a nurse practitioner friend to ask for her opinion.  She just happened to live across the street from a brilliant and compassionate neurosurgeon who agreed to see me that day to explain the diagnosis and treatment. At the time, none of it felt like a miracle.  It was hectic, confusing, sordid, and surreal that this 3-inch space on the right side of my neck had not one but two separate and unrelated diagnoses. Each made more complicated by their proximity to each other. Read more

Be You: But Not All About You

We toured colleges with our son last spring.  In every tour, in every talk, we heard a similar spiel: “We want to get to know you — get a sense of who you are.  The best applicants are the ones where students are themselves.”

I hate to be cynical, but all the “just be you” enthusiasm made me skeptical since most of these schools admit like 5 new students a year.  Statistically, it doesn’t seem like being oneself is as important as SAT scores, GPA, or any other metric that funnels the throngs of applicants into a thread of coveted acceptance letters.  Highly competitive schools with high performing applicants humanizing their cut-throat admission policies with a warm, fuzzy, encouragement to simply be oneself, and as surely as the sun rises in the east you will shine.

Of course, we have all heard the same messages in our own lives.  It’s not a bad message either – to just be yourself.  In a day when diversity has become a means of deliverance, individualism has become an art of self-love.  Still, one can only play Mirror, Mirror on the Wall for so long without becoming utterly bored or an utterly boring narcissist.  Loving others has always been where it’s at – where we truly feel full, alive, and connected.  So, yes, be you but don’t be all about you. One of the things I love most about God is he loves unconditionally and universally.  “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” (Galatians 3:28).  The world may classify its people into hierarchies, but God has none of that.  He made each of us unique and yet loves all of us the same.  How fun is that?  No competitions or emphasis on what makes you so special.  He eliminated that pettiness when he died on the cross for our sins.  It was the great leveler that gave each individual that has ever been or ever will be the same unequivocal opportunity for redemption.  Of all the world’s laws, treaties, pacts, covenants, and alliances I don’t know any that compares to him dying on the cross so that each and every one of us can have a shot at eternal life.

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