Power of Love and Example

Hi all,

I have been hither and yon and I’m home again. All of my favorite people are here so there are lots of dishes and laundry. I could say there’s a lot of laughter and love too, but mostly it’s just some occasional pleasantries which all in all isn’t too shabby.

I know I have many readers who are grandparents and sometimes I wonder if they get just how much they mean to their grandchildren. Spoiler alert: You are so loved.

Regardless of who’s under your branches in the family tree, most of us have been blessed with the joy of that special relationship with a grandparent or aunt, or family friend. Whether you are currently on the giving or receiving end of that, I hope my latest post resonates with you. While it’s about my Granny, it’s really about that indelible mark of the power of love and example. The world needs both more than ever.

And if you feel compelled to share, please comment about someone in your life whose influence you still carry and whose love you still carry on. You can read my post here.

Love to you all ~ Lara

So Many Things!

Hi all~

I hope you are surviving the most ceremonial month of the year! I don’t have any big graduations this year but I kicked off the month with my son’s Eagle Scout ceremony (very proud mama).  Also, 50th birthdays are all the rage this year. We celebrated my husband’s last week with a short stay at the beach where he sliced his foot open on an oyster shell while another family member got jabbed in his foot artery with the barb of a catfish. (Of course, I don’t really know if we have feet arteries but without getting into detail it seemed like perhaps we have a profusely plump one that catfish like to poke to avenge fisherpeople. You can’t really blame them.)  Apparently, nothing says birthday like a weekend at the beach and lots of blood. Of course, Mother’s Day was sandwiched somewhere in between it all — and since I don’t remember crying this year it must have been a good one (or good enough which is my new standard).

My son is off to do summer abroad in Italy! If you wonder why I’m not crying in this picture, it’s because I am so excited to visit him after I stalk Pope Francis in Rome. (I probably shouldn’t put that in writing). But seriously, I can’t wait to go and see all of the churches and holy sites, and, well, the Gucci store. (Just kidding, honey).

My book, Simple Mercies, turns a year old this month and I recently learned that it has been chosen by the Association of Catholic Publishers as a finalist in the Inspirational category. I find out in June if it wins but believe me when I say that just being a finalist is better than good enough for me. If you haven’t bought a copy yet you can here. If you read it and you liked it (you are my new best friend) as such please leave a happy review on Amazon because that helps in all kinds of meaningful ways that publishers and algorithms and obscure writers like.

I had two speaking events this month and both were for teenagers. The only people who I think need more mercy than they do is their mamas, so it was a gift to me to encourage them to practice and recognize God’s mercy in their own lives. I hope you are doing the same. It is such a game-changer when we do.

Here is the link to my latest post in The Florida-Times Union https://www.jacksonville.com/story/opinion/columns/guest/2022/05/08/guest-column-tilted-plant-reminder-its-ok-imperfect/9584677002/. If you want to be like me and get in touch with your inner imperfection (or at least accept it) then please read it and know that I’m the girl to make you feel better about nuisance flaws because boy do I have them!

Lastly, I found this sign at the beach and thought maybe it was good advice. ~Love, me

P.S. — if you are judging my outfit, just know that Jesus loves me anyway. And, maybe I will start a new fashion trend in Italy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shopping for Value

I’ve always liked to shop.  The artfully arranged displays, colors folded into precise geometric shapes, and the assortment of curated merchandise make me feel hopeful.  Hope that I could be more attractive.  Hope that I would be enough.  Hope that having something was the same as having it all together.  Unlike the price tag, the promise of such things wasn’t explicit.  It was in the garments hung in rainbow-colored order, the soft lighting, the scent of a lit candle, and melodic music that lulled me into thinking I wasn’t just purchasing a shirt but an assurance of a better life.

It’s as if my potential couldn’t be fulfilled until I owned the right things.  Shopping was like being sent to wardrobe for a starring role in life – exciting, full of promise, and redemptive.  It was an escape from whoever I was for a chance to discover who I could be.  And, clearly, who I could be was better.

Intellectually, I know this falls somewhere between silly and sad.  We come into the world with nakedness and nothing.  Yet, still, our inherent value compels someone to pick us up and hold us close.  As babies, we don’t care how we look or what we wear.  We don’t question our worth.  We know we matter.  “I praise you, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works! My very self you know,” (Psalms 139:14).  We have this instinct that tells us we deserve nourishment, warmth, and love.  We demand these things with cries, cooing smiles, and outstretched arms.  For most of us, our needs were met.  We were loved and we were enough.

I don’t know how we are born with such a knowing only for it to get all twisty and tangled.  I just know for most of us, it gets twisty and tangled.  What was once smooth becomes matted into muddled thinking of what constitutes value.  The prettiest clothes, the right weight, the tidy house, the well-behaved children, the doting spouse, the big paycheck, the esteemed title, all become measures offering the same distorted reflection of value as a fun-house mirror.

If we aren’t careful, we confuse who we are with our intellect, possessions, or worldly recognition.  We consider our constructs more than the constancy of our soul’s predetermined and unalterable value.  I suppose in life’s messiness, in all that remains unmet, we seek out instead of seeking him.  As challenging as it may be sometimes to find the perfect pair of jeans, that can still seem less ambitious than finding this elusive God of ours.  Yet, happiness has never been in the having; knowing has never been in the intellect; God will never be in the material and love will never be owned.

All of the assurance we ever need comes from the love of God.  Unlike the perfect outfit, it’s been there all along.  All we have to do is put it on.

May you wear it well.

Hi all,

I always feel like there are so many things I want to tell you in this little section that it is often the hardest thing I write. Like, I want to ask you if you notice that I am not posting as much or being as active on social media — but then I think, hmm, maybe they don’t!  Maybe I should just keep quiet about that.

Then, I think of telling you that I have been in a discerning mode for the last several months but that isn’t quite the best way to describe it. It’s more peaceful than discerning tends to be and I think I may actually be getting the hang of this letting God’s will be done thing. Life really is much simpler when we surrender to His will.

But then I think, oh dear, does that sound like I have everything figured out and I have left Christianity to simply be like Buddha and his big fat belly and just be? No, nothing is really that simple. (Except maybe growing big bellies!) Anyway, I just wanted to check in with you and be candid even if I’m momentarily incapable of being clear. In short, I am here less and with Him more. And, I am good. I remain as grateful as ever to share this faith journey with you.  Love ~ Lara

 

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

Guest Post: Mercy in Motherhood

Guest post today by Lindsay Schlegel

I grew up watching Full House, and hearing Uncle Jesse say “Have mercy!” in every episode. It was a line that always got a laugh, even though I didn’t know why. As a child, I didn’t have a real understanding of what “mercy” meant, either in the Tanner home or in the context of my faith. I might have said it was being kind or letting things that upset you go.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and I now find myself as a mother of five children, from infant to tween. It’s a gift and a blessing, but it’s also a stage of life that requires a new definition of mercy: kindness and resilience, yes, but also peace, humility, joy, and a generous openness to developing an intimate understanding of the other person.

Every day, I’m trying to teach my children to be gentle and charitable, to have mercy with one another. And at the same time, I’m discovering how necessary—and how freeing—it is to have mercy with myself, after the Lord’s example.

I want to parent my children well. I want to serve God joyfully. I want to be a good wife. I want to create something that glorifies God when I write, edit, and record episodes of my podcast. But I’m a fallen creature. I struggle with pride, impatience, and frustration. I am limited by the finite amount of energy I have and the static number of hours in a day.

In a word, I can’t do it all on my own.

Of course, God doesn’t expect me to live my vocation and my calling on my own. He wants to help me. He intends to be by my side. And He also allows me the choice of whether or not to let Him in.

He invites me to a relationship with Him in the sacramental graces in marriage and baptism (both my own and those of my children). He opens Himself to me in forgiving my sins in confession. He offers true communion in the Mass. Read more

Simple Mercy: Keeping Children Safe

Nancy Sebastian has spent much of her life working to keep children safe. This is how Nancy does mercy:

“Sharing what we know about personal safety with the children we love is an act of mercy that can save a life. It’s as easy as teaching a child to cross the street. Children who recognize red flags and know circumstances to avoid will be safer. The same is true for teens. In addition, teens dealing with depression and anxiety are now at an all-time high. Showing concern and kindness can make a huge difference to them.

Everyone wants to know they matter.

I feel very blessed throughout my life to have been able to empower children and teens to protect themselves and their peers from harm and live safer, happier lives. As a mother, teacher, school counselor, and now Executive Director of the KinderVision Foundation for the past 27 years, my journey has been one of amazing grace and awesome miracles, both personally and professionally, with the well-being of young people always a priority.

KinderVision began in 1991 as the result of the abduction and murder of a 7-year-old little girl. Her case remains unsolved. We wanted to prevent future tragedies so we created a video with personal safety tips for young children in English and Spanish narrated by an 8-year-old little girl and a police officer. We personalized our safety video by recording the child on the end to encourage viewing. Hundreds of thousands of children have benefited from that program. It is now digital and the safety tips can be found at www.KVKids.org.

Ten years ago law enforcement asked us to create a program for teens, the age group most at risk for victimization. The Greatest Save Teen PSA (Public Service Announcement) Program was our response. In this peer-to-peer personal safety program, teens choose any topic on teen victimization, research it, and create a 30-second video message for their peers. The messages are then organized by topics and used by schools across the country to raise awareness, engage students in discussions about personal safety, and end teen victimization. Read more

Mercy: Sex Trafficking

Ruby Greers may be a grandma but she doesn’t shy away from a hard fight. And, perhaps it is because she is a grandmother that she works so hard to help eliminate and educate others about sex trafficking.

This is how Ruby does mercy:

I’m especially passionate about educating young people because I saw a quote from a 17-year-old survivor of sex trafficking who said, “How did I not know about this?  Why didn’t someone warn me? Had I known, I would have never fallen into this.” 

Whether it’s sex trafficking or labor trafficking, most people simply don’t know much about it or realize how prevalent it is, not to mention how evil it is. It makes me angry that traffickers seek out the most vulnerable people and exploit them. Many people do not realize that pornography fuels sex trafficking and that some of the people “acting” in those videos may actually be victims of sex trafficking who are being forced to perform.

I got angrier when I attended an all-day seminar titled Sex Trafficking in Schools in Florida (How crazy is it that there was a NEED for that seminar?) and learned that traffickers are putting “recruiters” in schools to befriend the most vulnerable, unhappy kids and that the porn industry is targeting six to 10-year-old children by putting “click here” buttons on gaming sites. Many of our 12 grandchildren are in or near that age range and I could just envision the younger ones sounding out “click here” thinking they were going to get more jewels or swords or whatever, and instead getting a pornographic pop-up.   It’s just a click away on any device. 

So maybe my efforts to educate people about human trafficking are self-serving in that I’m using some of the energy God gave me to burn off that anger. Or maybe I am trying to protect young people like the grands I love so much.  Or maybe the Holy Spirit has hit me on the head enough times to realize that we are ALL vulnerable when we trust the wrong people and those wrong people see us as money in their pocket.  Whatever the reason, I can’t not do it… I can’t just walk away from the subject unless traffickers miraculously realize it’s terrible to take advantage of other people.  Because as long as there’s a demand for paid sex and for cheap goods and labor, there will be human trafficking.  But, God willing, there will also be this grandma educating anyone who is willing to stand still long enough to listen.

Note from me: 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/PatanganSMB ~ love, Lara