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.

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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

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

 

 

 

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

Have Mercy: Feeding the Hungry

It started with a few men, a few down on their luck families, a few small acts of mercy that 40 years later is making a big impact on the hungry.

In 2018, Carolyn Chesser established the Jim Dotson Foundation in Jacksonville, Florida in memory of her father who was one of the men that started the outreach program that now operates out of Fort Caroline Presbyterian Church.  It has grown from feeding church members families in need to operating a twice-monthly food pantry that feeds more than 2,000 people, hosts a monthly hot breakfast, and includes a clothing and toy ministry.

Carolyn said they are able to do this with the help of donors like Louis Joseph, who is the business of feeding people himself at his restaurant, The Mudville Grill. The beloved neighborhood institution, like most restaurants, was hit hard by COVID. Still, it hasn’t stopped him from using his restaurant as a platform to give back.

Louis and I went to grade school together at Christ the King and high school at Bishop Kenny. While we learned about serving the poor at school as part of our Catholic faith, Louis also recognizes the role his parents played in teaching him to give back. “I was raised by two wonderful parents who taught me at a young age to live my life with a warm heart. We live in a caring community. I try to support it in any way I can.”

Keeping a 55-gallon drum at the restaurant to collect canned food items for the foundation seems like the perfect way to honor the legacy of Jim Dotson. A few people doing what they can to help –and collectively making a difference for many. Read more

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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