Life’s Purpose and Age in Dog Years

Hi all~

You may not know this about me, but quite recently I was the birthday girl! It wasn’t just any birthday either, I celebrated one of those fancy-pants decade birthdays that only come along…well, you know, every 10 years! If you think about it, we don’t get too many of those. 

I’m not one of those people who engage in modesty or discretion when it comes to celebrating my birthday. I’m a celebrate-all-month kind of girl. This year, God hosted a massive hurricane on my birthday. I figured that had to be a good sign – like rain on your wedding day (or maybe it means this will be a decade of doom, however I’m going with it’s a good luck sign!)

Don’t worry I’m not going to ask you for birthday presents because I’ve moved on to Halloween decor. But I do have an ask. This week’s post shares some wisdom about life. It may be the only wisdom I know but I think it’s probably enough. Anyway, if you want to share any wisdom that you’ve learned about life or purpose, I would consider your perspective a welcome gift. Maybe one that will help me shape this next chapter of my life.  Please share in the comments! ~ Love, Lara

Here’s what I know:

I recently had a decade birthday which brought up a slew of questions ranging from the existential to the inane. Specifically, these questions ranged from what’s life’s purpose to how old am I in dog years. I’m not sure why I started thinking about dog years when I’ve always been more of a cat person. Maybe it’s because cats have nine lives and factoring that in would be an extra step in the equation. Yet, it turns out figuring out my exact canine age isn’t any easier.

You see, it’s not simply a matter of multiplying human age times a set amount of dog years as I’ve always heard. It varies based on the size of the dog and the breed. Also, in its first year a dog may age as much as 15 years and in later years only seven to nine. I momentarily thought I solved the quandary when I found an online dog calculator. Only, it wouldn’t let me put in an age past 20 human years. To make matters more complicated, it also asked me to pick a dog breed. There was no way I could decide which dog I identify as –that’s a rabbit hole I’m happy to say I’m not going down.

So once again, my search for answers only led to more questions. Typically, my existential quest focuses on what I should be doing with my life. I’ve sought answers with the same tenacity as a Bluetick Coonhound on a hunt. More often than not, I ended up lost. It’s easy to focus on what we think we should do instead of what God is actually calling us to do. We spend decades acquiring material possessions, status, and prestige. We hold on to these things as if they are what define this one unique life that is ours. As if they hold the answer to our relevance in this world. Yet, no matter how much we try to complicate, examine, or define our life’s purpose, the answer remains as simple as God’s greatest commandant to love him and your neighbor above everything else. Life is about the love we give and receive. No special calculators or fancy formulas. Just love.

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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

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!

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Clang the Gong: Sharing Acts of Mercy

Growing up I often watched The Gong Show, a television talent show where contestants would perform often dubious acts.  When celebrity judges were unimpressed with a performance it forced its end by clanging a gong.  I always felt sorry for the people who were gonged no matter how absurd their act.  After all, it took a lot of courage to sing about having a lizard on your head while actually having a lizard on your head.

I guess it’s because of the indelible mark that The Gong Show left on my juvenile psyche that when I think of the biblical passage warning against the boasting of good deeds, I remember the cautionary instrument as a gong.  “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” (Matthew 6:2) When I realized the scripture referred to a trumpet, not a gong, I couldn’t help but feel as disappointed as a contestant reprimanded by the merciless vibrations of a rubber mallet’s clash on metal.

Regardless of the instrument used, I believe in clanging the gong.  And before you swing the rubber mallet at me, please hear me out.  I understand that this passage warns against bragging about our good deeds with the intention of building up our own ego or esteem with others.  Clearly, if that is our motivation, we are not acting out of love.  “If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal,” (1 Corinthians 13:1).  (Finally, a bible verse with a gong in it!) Love, as always, makes the difference.  It’s out of love and with the intention of love that I find that the occasional clanging of a gong a powerful instrument to spread more love.

For instance, I typically offer mass for people who I know are going through a difficult time.  Doing this gives me inexplicable satisfaction.  Through the gift of the holy mass, I can share the incomparable peace of prayer with someone who is hurting.  Its power exceeds an army of clanging gongs.  Not only does offering my mass motivate me to attend additional masses as a means of helping others, but it also offers a source of comfort for the recipient.  Particularly when we are going through difficult situations it is important for others to know they are being prayed for, thought of, and held up.  I know when anyone has ever told me that they would pray for me it fills me with tremendous hope.  Hence, I clang the gong.  I don’t do this by telling everyone I know or posting on social media.  But I do usually tell the person that I offered a mass for them.

Recently, a friend told me how she paid for an employee to have a hair cut in a salon. The employee was not used to such a luxury and was incredibly grateful for the kind act.  My friend apologized for telling me about her good deed.  “I know I shouldn’t be telling you this because we aren’t supposed to do nice things and brag about it but it made me feel so good.” Her joy was manifest from love, not vain conceit.  It was the joy of the Lord — of living her faith. Who doesn’t want to share that?

I told her I was glad she told me — that it inspired me and reminded me of the countless ways there are to show love for our neighbor.  The gong is an instrument mostly associated with a reprimand for empty acts.  But there are creative ways to use it as a different kind of symbol – that of love.

Hi friends~ I think sharing our acts of mercy with the intention to inspire, evangelize, or comfort others can be very meaningful. I would love to hear what small acts you have done for others. Please share – not to be boastful but because these acts are beautiful and on this bitterly cold day, I think we can all use a little beauty!

Also, if you would like to watch the segment of the Gong Show where the man sings about a lizard while he has a lizard on his head, here you go! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwEXSQXfBWc

Read more: If/then: God Loves You 

The Value of Life: An Unexpected Blessing in the Middle of the Storm

*This post first appeared at Our Sunday Visitor: https://www.osvnews.com/2020/04/20/the-value-of-life-an-unexpected-blessing-in-the-middle-of-the-storm/

As a Floridian, I’m used to the rush and rumble of hurricane season.  Being quarantined feels like a similar drill: gathering supplies, overconsumption of snacks, board games, and boredom.  There is also the obsession with news updates, the what-ifs that cyclone through conversation, fear of the unknown, and the prayers that calm the storm of anxieties within.

The main difference between hunkering down for a hurricane and huddling in our homes for a quarantine is that the hurricane only lasts a few days.  The storm passes and the focus shifts from preparation to recovery.  Being stuck in the purgatory of this virus, not knowing when or if life will return to normal; being isolated from family and friends; having the promise of cherished events broken; the loss of income and freedom, all while the looming fear of losing life centers itself as the eye of the storm, has cataclysmically and almost instantaneously redefined life.

As I have feebly tried to wrap my head around all of it — the world-wide scope, and the dire implications of noncompliance, I am in absolute awe of the measures that have been taken to protect lives.  Could it be that we actually value life after all? For so long, nations have chosen warped notions of freedom by legislating the killing of the unborn; they have confused justice with life-taking judgment through the use of the death penalty; and they have chosen money over the mercies of caring for the poor, neglected, and suffering.  The heroic efforts that are in place to protect and save lives are unprecedented.  The recognition of the value of life is a welcome gift amidst this suffering and sacrifice. It’s a chance to not only redefine life in terms of our routines but to re-root ourselves in the purpose of life by resurrecting God’s command to love our neighbor that for too long has been buried under the debris of sin, selfishness, and self-reliance. Read more

Smiling Hearts, Frozen Iguanas, and Viral Monkeys

Reality can be absurd.

During an unusual cold snap in South Florida, there were news stories cautioning people to watch out for frozen iguanas falling from trees.  Days later those stories were replaced by articles about people selling iguana meat – to eat.  I live in North Florida so when the temperature dipped, I only had to worry about covering my plants and wearing closed-toe shoes.  Still, I followed the stories about the non-native iguanas and the people who eat them.

More recently, I have been reading about sightings of non-native wild monkeys in the area and other parts of the state. Apparently, some of these monkeys are infected with a deadly strain of Herpes B.  These herpes positive primates have been known to attack when their territory feels threatened.  So, now not only do Floridians have to worry about being bonked in the head by a comatose iguana, or whether it’s actually chicken in our Brunswick stew or reptile meat, we also have to worry about diseased monkeys charging us.

And people think life here is just sandy beaches and lulling surf.

I often contemplate the absurdity of life. There is so much truth that reads like fiction.  So many realities that seem fantastical.  One of the biggest of which is that there exists a God who so madly loves us that he died for us.  Of all the ways he could have mesmerized, awed, and astonished us to show his love, he chose death.  I can’t say that would have been my pick.  On the surface, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense that he willingly gave his life out of love for us.  When you contemplate the suffering that preceded his death, it feels as absurd as free-falling iguanas. “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us,” (Romans 5:8).  Much to the hindrance of my relationship with God, I have struggled with the reality of this truth.  How could he possibly know me so completely and still love me unconditionally?  How could he identify all my weaknesses and still want me?  How could he acknowledge all my failings and forgive me?   And my favorite wondering of all, how could he allow me to suffer when in a breath he could remove the entirety of the world’s suffering?

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Thanksgiving: It’s all Downhill

When I reminisce about Thanksgiving, I don’t think about food.  If I am being honest, I don’t even think about being grateful.  What I recall is the excitement of being out of school, the quiet wonder of gazing out the car window at the rows of pines that lined the highway as we traveled to my Granny’s house, and the creak of her screen door as it flew open and I rushed inside her modest two-bedroom home straight into her warm and wrinkly arms.

I don’t think about the turkey.

Instead, I remember running to the park with my brother and sister and our two cousins.  With a coveted cardboard box, we perched at the top of a giant hill that spilled onto an oval track. Squeezing together so we could all fit, we flew down the hill on our makeshift sled.  We slid easily on the dead grass beneath.  The nippy air rushed our faces.  My heart raced with a giddy mix of joy and exhilaration.  Then, having reached the bottom, we sprinted back up the steep hill to do it again with the same joyful tenacity as a Golden Retriever fetching a ball.  We were tireless despite our pounding hearts, icy hands, and the tattered box that eventually disintegrated into pieces.  I felt free.

I don’t think about sitting around a crowded table or how the brown gravy spilled onto my green peas.

Instead, I remember curling up next to my Granny and reading from her stack of magazines.  I remember the gentle roll of her belly with each inhale and exhale.  I folded into her quiet breath and wasn’t distracted by the din of the television or the mundanity of adult conversation. I felt safe. Read more

College Applications and Love Redeemed

It’s the Fall of my son’s senior year in high school.  The seeds we planted in the blind enthusiasm of grade school, protected from the ambivalence of middle school, and fertilized with a hearty mix of encouragement and extracurriculars through the high school years have culminated into a small crop of college applications, deadlines, and gut-wrenching decisions.  Our mailbox is jammed with colorful college brochures, inviting postcards, and glossy magazines that clearly explain the absurd-cost of college.  For months, we’ve binged on the propaganda.  We’ve made our list.  We’ve pared down our list.  We’ve reevaluated and we’ve changed it – sometimes all in one day.  At times, motivations and decisions seemed logical, and, just as often, the experience has felt more like a diagnosis of insanity than a direction to begin anew.

It’s been exciting, exhausting, and frustrating.  There have been hard talks and heartfelt moments of hope.  It has brought us closer in ways that feel like a cherished parting gift which right now we have the joy of opening, but will ultimately close this chapter in our lives.  Undoubtedly, the best chapter I could hope to write.  It is not lost on me that all our efforts, not just to send him off to college, but to prepare him for adulthood, inevitably mean a parting of ways.  Every act that brings him closer to his goals is taking me farther from the child I want to hold onto.  Yet I know I can’t keep him.  He needs to go and I need to let go.  It makes me think a lot about what love means.   So often, love is more of a surrender than a holding on.  Love is another’s heart that we don’t get to keep no matter how much it has imprinted our own.  It’s helping someone meet their goals knowing that getting them there will cost a piece of you.  It’s explicably worth the sacrifice, the heartache, and the cavernous emptiness that makes you wonder if your heart is imploding.  Love is the illogical dying on the cross for unworthy sinners that Jesus endured.   It’s letting go of what you want to give someone else a chance at what they want.  It’s beautiful and boundless.  Despite breaking us into a million pieces, it inevitably makes us more whole.

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Ash Wednesday and Opposites Attract

a couple in love I love that Valentine’s Day falls on Ash Wednesday this year.   It has a certain yin and yang to it.  The commercial hawking of one compared to the saving grace of the other, proving once again that opposites attract.

The black ash symbolizing death countered with the puffy red heart celebrating love adds an element of realism.  And when you have a holiday as syrupy as Valentine’s Day, a-la doilies, hyped up expectations, and besotted poetry, that darkness is rather refreshing.

I know I sound terribly unromantic, but I have loved long enough to know that true love has little to do with those trappings and more to do with the ashen cross on the forehead.   (My poor husband is probably not feeling too wooed right now.)

Ash Wednesday is a day of penitential prayer and fasting.  It marks a season that is purposefully non-celebratory, while Valentine’s Day is about bubbly champagne, decadent desserts, and red roses.

I like the juxtaposition of it.  But there is also a commonality that exists between the two.  At the core of each is love and there is no greater example of that than God sacrificing his only son for our salvation.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NRSV).

On Ash Wednesday, we are reminded of God’s mercy, which has the power to take away the stain of our sins.  Our hearts, blackened by the wounds of the world, grudges, indifference, neglect, and injustice can be wiped clean.  We are called to seek mercy during the Lenten season.  It is this mercy that allows for everything:  forgiveness, second chances, redemption, and the glory of new life.  The days leading up to the victory of the cross are a sacred time to examine ourselves, our relationship with God, and our neighbor.

That might seem dull next to shiny, red, heart-shaped balloons bobbing and boasting like a frog bellowing for a princess’s kiss. Yet it’s anything but.  Everyone knows helium balloons eventually sink, chocolates are consumed, and flowers die.  But what God promises is eternal and real.  It has the power to heal the dark wounded places we hide from the world.  It forgives our failings and delights in our efforts to know, love, and serve him.   It carries us in our loneliness, desperation, and grief.  It doesn’t inflict pain like the thorny rose of the world but offers the bloom of eternal life.

Anyone who has moved past infatuation knows that love is messy.  It’s trying again, like Jesus when he fell carrying his cross.  It’s forgiving like Jesus did before he drew his last breath. It’s beautiful and redemptive like Jesus rising from the dead.

It’s fitting then that Valentine’s Day falls on as significant a day as Ash Wednesday.

It’s the perfect preface to the greatest love story ever told.

While obviously, Ash Wednesday takes precedence of Valentine’s day, love and Lent aren’t mutually exclusive ♥ what are you doing to honor both today? Please comment! Want more related to Lent http://larapatangan.com/2018/02/06/stillness-the-action-of-finding-god/ and http://larapatangan.com/2014/03/05/shine-this-lenten-season/

XO