Parenting is a weird gig. Just when you think you have figured out one stage in your child’s development, they morph into a more perplexing one. By the time they become teenagers, a once pivotal milestone like potty training seems almost trivial. After all, what’s a little pee on the kitchen floor among family?
As children get older, the mistakes they make can feel a lot harder to clean up. More is at stake, yet our roles as parents require us to say less. While this is warranted in the name of their growing independence, I can’t help but feel like the more freedom they have, the less I do. My expressed opinions, insights, and experiences are sometimes seen as unwelcome intrusions into the lives of my young adult children. I’m in a season of self-censorship where I try to say less in general and, more specifically, not say anything irritating. As you can imagine, this is a losing battle. It turns out that almost everything I have to say is irritating.
I call these the duct tape years of parenting, not because I sometimes feel like binding my beloved children with duct tape to make them listen to me. It’s because I realize I’m the one who needs restraint. I need to step back so that they can step in and manage their choices and responsibilities. Even though I realize how important this is for both them and me, I still struggle with what I mistakenly consider a God-given right to express myself.
Yet, when you really examine the life of Jesus, it becomes clear that he used few words to teach, minister, and heal. His emphasis was never on self-expression but on selflessness. He didn’t force his beliefs. He didn’t dictate or demand. He merely offered a path. Jesus gave us free will to choose whether we wanted to follow him. Sadly, duct tape is mentioned nowhere in the Bible. Jesus didn’t use his power to force but to empower us to choose for ourselves. While God hopes that we choose the goodness and light of love that he offers, he knows that not all of us will.
Hi all~ Some of the best memories I have of being a kid are from all of the freedom that came from empty summer days. Wandering around the neighborhood, time wasn’t measured by a clock but by the streetlights that told us when to return home. Ordinary days were made precious by the absence of agenda. Here’s a little reminder to schedule a few days like that for yourself this summer! ~ Love, Lara
While trying not to get killed by drivers who are such avid readers that they peruse their cell phones at 70 miles per hour on the highway, a patch of weeds caught my eye. Tall Y-shaped weeds with black pepper-like seeds that flourish on overgrown lawns overwhelmed me with a surprise rush of nostalgia.
I’m not sure why weeds invoke memories of my childhood but suddenly I longed for the hot summer days of emptiness that I associate with neglected turf. It hardly seemed like anything worth missing, yet neither did all the ordinary moments of youth which were more notable for their familiarity than anything fantastic.
There was something about the monotony of long days without schedules or supervision that captured time. For us children, it was ours. All of it. In the long stretches of daylight that marked the summer season, time stopped being a series of moments or a rhythm of routines. Time stopped being a watched clock; a metric of accomplishment. It ceased to be a threat that marked life’s passing. Time was merely vast space where we grew in communion with the weeds unperturbed and oblivious to expectations or the flamboyance of the flower. We didn’t need to be more and we didn’t need to have more.
Summer was a time when sticks were treasured for their versatility and a shallow stream or puddle of rainwater had no depth to the ways it could entertain us. The inevitability of stepping in ant beds and skinning knees; the passions of play; and the pangs of hunger from being so engrossed in imagination that we merely forgot to eat; all felt quite unremarkable. Boredom was a great inventor and the unstructured hours of empty days made it possible to create anything.
There was so much of everything in those days of nothing. Of course, I didn’t know that then.
All of it feels like such a stark contrast to life now where information whizzes at us faster than the cars on the highway; where we get pinged with reminders of where to be and what to do; where we are pestered by the constancy of trying to maximize time; of somehow trying to immortalize it with the vanity of accomplishments.
In that moment, the humility of the highway weed seemed less like a nuisance to eradicate and more of an invitation to ease my growing resentment of time. I acknowledged the ways I sometimes begrudge its toll on my aging body instead of feeling gratitude for the continued gift of life. It made me realize how much I lament time’s passing instead of languishing in the many gifts of the moment. Best of all, it reminded me that when we stop striving to fill time with tasks that we deem noteworthy, we can empty ourselves of the expectations and judgment that keep us enslaved to busyness; that keep us distracted from the glory of an ordinary moment.
The solstice marks the astronomical start of summer and the longest day of the year. It originates from the Latin words sol for “sun” and sistere for “to stand still.” When I was a child, time stood still and in the vast emptiness of that space, time wasn’t the enemy. It wasn’t something I needed to master or outrun. It wasn’t something I had to fill to prove my value or something I was trying to erase as it reconfigured my body. It was just stillness – both an untamed lawn to run through and a roadside weed that reminds me that no matter how old we get slowing down helps us to grow.
I’ve never journaled much because I figured if I wrote down my most vulnerable thoughts they would eventually be used to commit me into a sanitarium where I would spend the rest of my days eating green Jell-O wondering how full life could have been if I only used my Holly Hobbie journal to draw pictures of cats instead of depictions of insanity.
But the reality is, I was never crazy. I was human. And, where the line occasionally blurs between the two, looking back at the few journals I sporadically kept over the years, the problem becomes clear. Regardless of what stage of life I was in, whether it was as a newlywed in my twenties, or as a mother of young children in my thirties, or during an existential crisis in my forties, the commonality between the pages inked in these decades was a quest to figure everything out. It wasn’t so much wisdom I sought but the clarity of a crystal ball. I wanted the yellow brick road version of life so that all I had to do was follow the path to Oz.
So often I worried about missing out or messing up. I was scared of failing and falling behind. I was certain that there were right answers and a right way, and if I was only smart enough or less directionally challenged, I would know how to do this thing called life. But what I understand now is that the unknown path isn’t something to fear. It isn’t a trap to tiptoe around. It isn’t static or straight, and it won’t save you from loneliness or loss or any of the other uncomfortable feelings of our humanity. It isn’t something to figure out as much as it is your own path to discover.
All of those questions hidden in the intermittent passages of old journals never had the answers. There was never one right way that was going to make life sensible nor one clear path that was going to keep me from making mistakes, from being hurt, or that would dull that desperate ache of our inherent yearning for Christ. If there was indeed a universal answer that one could plug in as a resolution to any question, it would be love. And, could there be anything more illogical than that? Read more →
Happy Mother’s Day to all of you amazing women who make me both a better mother and a better person! For all of the emptying you do, may your hearts be full today! ~ love, Lara
After the aerobic chase of cajoling my teenager into a 15-second photoshoot to memorialize the first day of his senior year in high school, I comfortably settled myself back into my morning routine. Only my husband kept interrupting my coffee euphoria by lamenting how sad it was that our son had reached this milestone that would leave us empty nesters in a year’s time.
“It’s so sad. Aren’t you sad?” he repeatedly asked. Half-jokingly I responded, “I’m always sad. So today is just another day for me.”
And, while I don’t really think of myself as a sad person, I have long recognized the loss that comes with motherhood. It’s been a long journey in grief that began sometime around the loss of my belly button during pregnancy. I’ve been grieving the first of countless lasts since when only mere days after their birth the umbilical cord, the lifeline that once tied their lives to mine, unceremoniously crusted over and lost itself under the rumple of sheets. From there, the lasts continued without any fanfare of formal goodbyes. There was the last time I nursed; the last time I read them a good night story; the last time they slept in bed with me; the last time I packed a lunch; the last time I volunteered in the classroom; the last time I patiently waited while bored in the toy aisle; the last story time at the library; the last time I carried them on my hip; the last time I spent weeks planning a themed birthday party.
I could write volumes on the lasts of motherhood and yes, it would make me sad. But because I’ve been told that it’s important to get out of bed in the morning, I try not to look back. Still, I recognize the inherent imbalance in parenting. Sometimes it feels eerily akin to a bad middle school crush where you live, breathe, and surely would die for that cute boy across the room. Only he meets your unmatched devotion with a vague and indifferent acknowledgment of your existence that is somehow associated with being fed.
It hardly seems romantic, much less fair. But motherhood was never meant to be a two-way street. It’s inherently a giving away of self. It’s sacrifice and sleepless nights. Motherhood is exhaustive and exhausting. It’s frustrating and formidable. It’s all the scary and confusing words you can muster and then a few more that exist in some unknown-to-you language experienced as stomach spasms, migraines, mental breakdowns, or garden-variety heart attacks.
When your newborn spikes a fever, your toddler crawls out of their bed for the umpteenth time, your middle schooler struggles with making friends, your teenager does something epically stupid that’s immortalized on social media, or your adult child experiences a profound loss that you can’t fix, you realize just how much words fail to capture the spectrum of patience, unconditional love, and black coffee which motherhood demands. Being a mama is not a frilly experience of poetic endearment. I’ve never seen a greeting card that describes the supernatural strength, courage, endurance, and overwhelmingly raw ache that it encompasses.
And yet, being a mother has allowed me to experience the deepest most joyful love I’ve known. The emptying of self we experience in motherhood fills us with something far greater. Mothers embrace sacrifice with an uncanny enthusiasm to unravel the best parts of ourselves so that our children can be wrapped in the silky threads of our love. Becoming a mother fundamentally and unalterably changes our identities. Motherhood isn’t about putting our children’s needs before our own, it’s that inexplicable way that their needs supersede our own. No matter how fulfilling or engaging my other life pursuits are, none of them can erode the core component of my maternal identity. Foremost, I am a mother. I have a primal need to nurture, protect, and ensure my children’s future. Whatever I must lose to accomplish that, I lose with joy. This isn’t an either/or experience of good or bad; easy or hard; happy or sad. It’s ands that go on forever linking the coexistence of love’s joy with the sacrifice and loss it entails.
I may get less of them as they grow older, but they remain the biggest part of me. So, whether it’s their first day of school or their last, I’m used to being sad. But the paradox of motherhood, of love itself, is that in the end, this sadness, emptying, and sacrifice ends up being one more thing to be happy about. So, yeah today is just another day for me.
Everyone asks you when you are little what you what to be when you grow up. Most kids I knew wanted to be something cool like a truck driver or a zookeeper. I just wanted to be a mom. This seemed like an ordinary vocation and so I was always trying to think of something more interesting. Mostly, I considered what I didn’t want to be. At the very top of this list – I knew with great certitude that I didn’t want to be a nun.
While I liked the sisters who taught at my Catholic grade school, I couldn’t wrap my head around the solitude of not having a family. More superficially, I didn’t like the clothes nuns wore or that none of them wore lipstick or cute earrings. Yet, in the years since, I’ve become so enamored with the concept of religious life that I tell my husband that I’m going to join a convent after he dies. (I just need to find one that accepts cats and pink lipstick).
I’m in awe of the sisters I know and know of – the remarkable things they accomplish; the way they glow with peace and joy; and their humility that belies the power they have to indelibly change lives. Of course, no one embodied this more than Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She showed me how cool it was to be a nun. She taught me that there is more than one way to be a mother and more importantly, what it really means to be beautiful. She was mercy plain, simple, and profound. She didn’t need frivolities because the beauty she exuded came from the purity of her love for God. It radiated.
She brought mercy into the mundanity of care for the sick and dying by doing small things with great love. And by extension, she showed the world how small things become big. Her appeal was universal and her legacy and influence extend beyond what the best statisticians could measure just in my life alone.
I recently read “To Love and Be Loved: A Personal Portrait of Mother Teresa,” by Jim Towey. In the mid-1980s, Towey had the honor of meeting Mother Teresa while he was a congressional staffer and lawyer. He tells the remarkable story of their unique friendship and how it changed the course of his life. Towey handled many of Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity’s legal affairs. He traveled with and helped expand Mother Teresa’s initiatives to care for the sick and the unwanted.
His book gives incredible insight and examples of this great saint that are so fitting with the aim of which she lived– simple stories of the magnitude of small acts. Certainly, Towey himself is one of those stories. On the day he met Mother Teresa and visited the Home of the Dying in India, he was sent to clean the wounds of a man with scabies. That’s not really what Towey in his starched white shirt and dress shoes expected and neither was anything that came after.
That’s probably the best part of the story – of any story that involves God working in our lives – whether it’s Towey’s life, Mother Teresa’s, my life, or yours, is that we really can’t grasp all of the ways God will transform us and our small acts of love. We are often too afraid of what comes after to take the leap of faith to fully surrender our lives to God’s will. Yet, the real takeaway of Mother Teresa’s life is that we can be saints too. We don’t have to join religious life or the Peace Corps or move to India. There are countless ways to practice mercy as an organic part of our daily lives regardless of our vocation. These acts of mercy fall like dominos changing life after life spreading love ad infinitum.
Whether we are nine or ninety, perhaps the answer to the question of what we want to be when we grow up should be the same regardless of whether we are truck drivers, teachers, mothers, lawyers, or sisters. We can be Saints. And, that has to be the coolest vocation not only in this lifetime but in the next.
Hi all ~ If you are in the Jacksonville, Florida area, Jim Towey will be speaking Wednesday, May 10th at the Carla Harris Performing Arts Center at Bishop Kenny High School at 6:30 p.m.
Either way, I encourage you to read his book for its insight into the nuances of Mother Teresa’s life and the beautiful friendship she shared with Towey. To Love and Be Loved is an incredible account of the enormous power of a tiny woman who saw herself as nothing but ordinary, who by example taught us the path of the small way to become extraordinary.
As we go into the Easter Triduum I wanted to share this post with you. Holy Week reminds me so much of life. The coexistence of hardship, sacrifice, and sorrow with the joy of our faith, redemption, and forgiveness.
How can both things be true? How can life be so maddeningly hard, painful, and desolate and yet still be such a gift of grace with its merciful laughter, love, and promise? Jesus’ death is so sad and yet opens the door to a glory like no other. It’s really fantastic.
So whatever season of life you find yourself in or however many seasons of life you are experiencing simultaneously, may you take this Easter Sunday to feel nothing but unparallel joy. Alleluia is your song, sweet friend. And, blessedly, it’s mine too. ~ love, Lara
P.S. — I just received an email from my publisher, Our Sunday Visitor, that they are running a special on my book, Simple Mercies, until Friday. The book is $5 which is just about as cheap as dirt (unless you buy fancy potting soil kind of dirt. Then it’s even more of a bargain!)
Maybe pick some up for Divine Mercy Sunday gifts, book club, or heck, everyone you know! Here’s their message and link: Get these books for only $5 each through Friday when you use promo code FIVE23 at checkout. Get free shipping (in the continental United States) when you spend $20 or more!
Fly: An Easter People
Sometimes I feel like a tiny bird with an injured leg from an encounter with the claws of a crazed cat. I know how lucky I am to be here and how much worse things could be; yet, still, I carry a limp from my wounds that sometimes keep me tethered to the ground. (I might start telling people that when they ask me how I am doing.)
Life is so messy and most of us try terribly hard to tidy what we can. In its constancy, life can feel like a marathon, and like the tiny bird, we merely hop along. One of my favorite quotes is from Saint John Paul II who said: “We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.” It conveys such unparallel joy – a skyward ascent of heavenly praise. It hardly makes me think of hopping.
Indeed, we are an Easter people and we are meant to rise. Lent is a time to unload the burden of sin we carry. It’s a time to shed the miscellaneous and the excess. It is a time to reconnect to God by disconnecting from our distractions. Sometimes the Lenten experience feels empowering like a strenuous workout or the purging of an overstuffed closet. Other times, it just feels hard. All the emptying, sacrificing, and sustaining from a 40-day reflection can feel too austere for a hallelujah song. No sweet little bird chirps that indicate winter’s hibernation is over. Just a half-hearted hop, hop. Yet Easter is coming – not just at the end of this Lenten season. Also, at the end of our lives. In between, in the thicket of life’s doing and undoing, we rise. Amidst the momentary affliction of life’s messiness, we remain upright. “Arise, for it is your task, and we are with you; be strong and do it,” (Ezra 10:4). Even when it’s hard or feels impossible — when there is not enough money, not enough time, not enough of your poor tired soul to go around — be strong and rise.
Jesus did the impossible. He did the miraculous. He transformed death. The finality of it was made infinite. Hallelujah is our song. It may not always feel like it, but our time on earth is nothing but a rising. We are enduring people. Our suffering does not define us. Our injuries do not bind us. Challenges, adversity, and wounds cannot stop our ascent. “Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise,” (Micah 7:8). We are the Easter people. It’s not just Christ’s resurrection we have to celebrate, it is the possibility of our own. Easter isn’t just a day culminating the end of Lent. It’s an everyday. The shedding of our burdens, the surrendering of suffering at the foot of his cross, and the unification of our souls to his, is what makes our rising possible. It’s what helps us to remember that even in our brokenness, we are an Easter people and we still have wings to fly.
I wouldn’t have even known the song was by the former boy-bander had the deejay not mentioned it. Timberlake isn’t really my type, which I’m sure is a huge relief to his wife (actress Jessica Biel).
Timberlake was singing about love and making some girl’s dream come true by loving her. It went something like this: Love, give it a chance, yadda, yadda, yadda; his hips rolling; my eyes rolling. The song culminates with Timberlake making dreams come true (as if he’s become the physical embodiment of a Disney theme park because clearly, that’s what every woman is looking for in a man).
The song is set to a rhythmic beat that seems too fast to slow dance to and too slow to fast dance to. Its genre could best be described as folding towels kind of music.
It was the part about the dreams coming true that perplexed me. My husband and I have been married for 25 years. We met when we were 14 years old. Not in a commune — but in high school, which admittedly is similar in some ways. While we didn’t date until after college, we’ve still been together for a long time.
But numbers don’t mean anything when you are talking about love. Despite being many amazing things and a partner in the truest sense of the word, my husband is not my dream. Since I’m fairly certain Timberlake quit reading this after the first paragraph when I said he wasn’t my type, I don’t feel guilty for saying that identifying a romantic partner as a dream seems like a ridiculous sentiment.
It’s unrealistic to envision romantic love as the end-all, be-all — in other words, the big, capital D “Dream.” Thinking of love only as first kisses, long gazes, and electric touches, it’s no wonder so many people become disenchanted with their relationships. Those things are flirtatious and fleeting. From a practical perspective, I would also prefer my husband unload the dishwasher rather than gaze at me. Lingering stares make me feel as if I’ve left part of my supper on my face or dangling between my teeth and I hardly feel attractive.
I don’t mean to sound cynical either. Long stares aside, I love moments when my breath catches in my throat. But those moments are not sustainable. You would quite literally start to choke or gasp, neither of which is particularly attractive. Those moments are fun and they’re giddy. They sell books, movies, and even songs. But when we get too caught up in them, we can develop unrealistic expectations for our relationships. Mostly when we hyperfocus on romance, we ignore a fundamental truth — love is messy.
I know the Bible doesn’t say that in Corinthians 13:4-13, which begins with “Love is patient, love is kind …” But maybe what’s inferred is that love is messy, so be patient; love is messy, so be kind, etc. Real love isn’t just romance. It’s listening when you don’t feel like hearing. Love is accepting when you want change. Love is trusting. It’s surrender, vulnerability, and sacrifice. It’s scary. Add a mortgage and a couple of kids and it gets even scarier. No one dreams about a sink full of dishes or a sinking feeling when you have different opinions or different approaches. No one dreams about taking care of someone when they are sick or struggling with feelings of indifference or apathy. No one dreams about fights or the vulnerabilities they expose.
Loving someone through moments, days or periods of time that for whatever reason feel like a nightmare isn’t as pretty as the flat hearts we colored red as children. Yet, it’s not the perfection of love that makes it exceptional, it’s the implausibility of it to thrive despite life’s imperfections. Love is beautiful because it is so messy and it endures despite all of the humanness; all of the brokenness that exists in our world. Likewise, when Jesus died on the cross for us, it was not a dream. It was reality at its most brutal. Yet, it was the epitome and essence of love. It was sacrificial and unconditional. For sure, it was messy. Jesus deserved better. I can’t live up to his example or repay his sacrifice. Still, I am humbled by the reality of it.
Even though I often have to pick up my own cross a gazillion times to show the people in my life genuine love, I strive to do it no matter how messy it feels. This isn’t the kind of love I dream about, but it’s a timeless testament to the power and practice of authentic love — a tune that can sometimes feel a little offbeat but that inevitably makes me want to dance.
Hi all~ It’s the month of love! (Or so Hallmark tells us.) While the image of Jesus doesn’t make it on most greeting cards, it’s really his example of love; his passion for us; his unconditional and merciful heart that I want to emulate with everyone I love. But I am me so I never get it quite right. And, still, love accepts, forgives, and embraces me. That’s the power and promise that doesn’t come from mylar balloons or the prettiest bouquets but from our heavenly Father. That’s love.
Hi all ~ We are a few weeks into a new year and maybe it’s not feeling as shiny as you hoped. So, I hope this post encourages you to find joy no matter how messy or imperfect your days may be. As Christians, we have so much to celebrate – so may you dance (and live) like everyone is watching. ~ Love, Lara
My dance resume is so scant it wouldn’t fill a Post-it note. I took a month of ballet when I was seven-years-old, and a few years later a private jazz class that culminated in a duet with my teacher to Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York. The best thing about it was of course the red sequins and fish-net stockings my nine-year-old self wore with scandalous pride. Other than that, my dance career consisted mostly of inebriated moments on the sticky dance floor of some bar where an intoxicating mix of youthful angst and heady independence collided in manic, exuberant moves that made me feel like a rock star but probably looked like I was having a grand mal seizure.
My only other notable dance moments usually occurred when Gloria Gaynor belted out “I Will Survive,” as part of the DJ’s dubious playlist at a wedding. Without thought, I would abruptly end my conversation and hustle out on the dance floor as if it was my sole mission to join in solidarity with the other women to celebrate the rising that comes from a bad breakup. Again, why do they play this at weddings?
Last year, I added another bullet point to my dance resume – a dance class at the YMCA. This is the kind of class where you have to channel your inner preschooler who has more energy than inhibition and more acceptance than austere ambition. At the start of class, the teacher says that the only rule is to have fun. I would add to try not to run into anyone and most importantly, don’t look at yourself in the mirror. (I’ve done both.) The woman I ran into was gracious; the mirror – not so much. When I saw my reflection, I went from feeling like one of the Fly Girls from that 90s show “In Living Color,” to freezing like I just saw the snake-haired Gorgon, Medusa, and turned to stone out of utter fear of my incongruous boogie moves. Trust me, it’s better to just embrace the delusion that you are a Fly Girl, or Rockette, or Beyonce. Read more →
If you’ve experienced suffering (and who hasn’t) then maybe you already know how God can transform it into something beautiful. It took me a while to figure this out but now it shines bright like 1,000 twinkling lights on a puny tree in things that I know — really know.
May you know it too. And, rejoice!
Merry Christmas! ~ Love, Lara
In high school, I remember driving to the Christmas tree lot with my mom. It was close to Christmas so by the time we arrived the only trees left looked like they belonged on the Island of Misfit Toys — assuming the island’s castoffs were conifers instead of spotted stuffed elephants, a wannabe dentist elf named Hermey, and a choo-choo train with square wheels. These trees were lopsided and skinny with dehydrated needles that fell off if you brushed against them. Even in the dark with the blurring glare coming from street traffic and the strings of lights snaking their way from the mouths of fluorescent orange extension cords, you could tell the trees were ugly.
So, of course, my mom bought one.
And, I know Charlie Brown’s sparse Christmas tree with a single red bulb ornament evokes a certain sort of nostalgia that reminds us of the true meaning of Christmas. But I was a teenager. I hadn’t lived long enough to acknowledge there is beauty in the broken. I still saw the world as two-dimensional. Black and white. Good or evil. Generous or selfish. Happy or sad. All of the color that exists between things just felt chaotic and confusing.
I had yet to reconcile how Jesus could be born a King in the midst of smelly farm animals or why he would love a bunch of sinners or give us free will to decide whether to love him back or why he would choose forgiveness over justice. Basically, I didn’t understand redemption, neither the ugly Christmas trees nor my own.
Over the years, I’ve experienced the way our sufferings — those unwelcome feelings of loneliness, loss, rejection, and disappointment can be transformed into something beautiful. I’ve seen how we become strong in our weakness; compassionate in our sorrow; and how hard times soften us. All of life’s brokenness that we don’t want, don’t deserve, and didn’t ask for, has a way of making us more whole when we let God’s love and mercy transform our suffering. We celebrate Jesus’s birth at Christmas and it is new and shiny and hopeful. But he didn’t come here to be shiny. He came to save. The reason we celebrate his life is that ultimately, he redeems ours with his death.
That’s heavy stuff to ponder when we can easily focus on stacks of presents, twinkling lights, or perfectly decorated Christmas trees. But I tell you it’s the best part of Christmas – this realization that redemption is continuously available to us. This knowing that with God there’s a place for misfits and that no matter what we’ve done or how far we’ve strayed, God isn’t going to isolate us on some snowy island. He’s going to embrace us with the warmth of his love. Transformation that adds color and dimension to the pieces of our hearts which have become flat and jaded is possible. This is the redemption that is born on Christmas Day and that is available to us throughout the year.
This is the redemption that I couldn’t recognize as a teenager but that I see all these years later when I think of my mom as a single parent taking me to pick out a tree. On the car ride home, we laughed about the mostly dead evergreen we just bought. We decorated it and with its gaping holes and spindly leaves, it stood as a lopsided witness to that year’s Christmas. All these years later it still stands in my memory – an ugly tree; a happy memory. In between, the birth of redemption.
If you are in frantic, freak-out mode, please know that’s how I feel every night when I have to cook dinner! And, yet somehow we all eat.
Below is my most recent post in The Florida Times-Union. It’s all about sturdy gratitude – the kind that’s imperfect and the kind we tend to need most because life can often be more freak out than fine china.
Enjoy this holiday and the many blessings in your life. And, know that I count you among mine. ~ Love, Lara
On Thanksgiving, it’s easy to wonder why the picture of your holiday sometimes looks like a dysfunctional diorama instead of a page out of the Pottery Barn catalog. The mute, lifeless images of a burning hearth, spice-scented candles, tables set with garlands of leaves, vases of burnt-colored flowers, and origami-shaped napkins folded into gold leaf-embossed rings set an impossible standard.
Sometimes I wonder if they look so perfect because there aren’t actually people in those images.
As the annual host of my family’s Thanksgiving, I send a group text the Sunday night before the big holiday and ask everyone what they are bringing. We push two picnic tables together in the backyard and set up another folding table with mismatched chairs. Because I’m fancy and I read my mom’s discarded issues of Southern Living magazine, I cover the tables with tablecloths and do my best to make some kind of centerpiece out of what I can find in the yard or lanterns that I keep in the garage. I buy paper plates with harvest designs along with complementing cutesy paper napkins and I congratulate myself on my hosting skills.
And, I’m grateful.
It’s not that I can’t appreciate all of the fineries. It’s just that one of the things I’m most grateful for is that I’ve learned to accept imperfection and even see the strength in it. The way it shines despite being more Goodwill than good china.
It’s easy to think of gratitude as only the best things in life — the pretty pictures and perfect settings. The prestigious titles, gifted children, and magazine-perfect houses – any of the colorful accolades or achievements that we can fan like prize turkeys are easily recognized as blessings. But genuine abiding gratitude, the kind that sustains us through loss, disappointment, and failure isn’t showy so much as it is sturdy. It’s the kind of gratitude we cultivate by noticing the way big things appear small like the simplicity of a goodnight kiss or how the hungry feel after a hot meal no matter how mediocre it tastes. It’s the gratitude the grieving feels to have loved so deeply; the appreciation the lonely have for the person who for a moment made them feel seen, or the relief a young person experiences when they feel accepted.