Simple Mercies: Teaching the Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Simple Mercy: Diversity

Latasha and I attended Bishop Kenny High School together. I didn’t really know her well. This wasn’t because she’s black and I’m white. It’s because she was smart and athletic and in different classes and social circles than me. She was the girl who ran towards the ball and I was the one who ran away from it. As the Captain of the 1990 Girls’ Basketball State Championship Team, Latasha did plenty of running towards the ball.

These were not differences based on race but just on who we are as individuals. Admittedly, I didn’t think much about race back then. I could tell you this was because I was thinking about boys or passing algebra but it’s just as much because I didn’t see how it affected me. And, no matter your skin color, racial injustice affects us all. Mostly, it goes against Jesus’s message to “love our neighbor as ourselves.”

In her volunteer role as the Chair of the Task Force on Diversity at Bishop Kenny High School, she works with the school to deepen the level of understanding of racial diversity and inclusion that reflects the tenets of our Christian faith. “Bishop Kenny is in a unique position to combat this hatred and promote diversity and inclusion because it is educating the next generation of leaders. We must ensure that our children understand the history that created barriers for people of color and the need for intentionality when addressing issues around race,” Latasha said.  “We cannot be afraid to tackle this issue head-on. We are all charged with standing on our Christian principles and truly trying to figure out how to make an impact in our daily lives. Our children are listening to and watching us.” Read more

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

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 

Small Mercies and No Cones

I’ve tried to have a good attitude about the necessary sacrifices of living during a pandemic. I considered mask-wearing a clever and inexpensive way to hide wrinkles, with the added benefit of no longer worrying about whether bits of salad were caught in my teeth. I pretended my stint at homeschooling was like a long (albeit dysfunctional) episode of Little House on the Prairie. I put away the Pinterest worthy tchotchkes on the desk so my now work-from-home husband can actually use it. I’ve done the FaceTime happy hour, the social distanced visits in the sweltering back yard, and the scavenger hunt for mundanities like toilet paper, disinfectant, and flour. But when I went through the McDonalds drive-thru and was told that they are currently not serving ice cream cones because of COVID-19, I was done. I tried to keep the hysteria out of my voice when I asked the cashier what the who-ha she was talking about. No ice cream cones?

I don’t want to get off on a tangent of how I am not sure if I want to live in a world without ice cream cones. And, I don’t want to debate anyone about the COVID germs lurking on the paper-wrapped cone that McDonald’s altruistically saved me from (or how I typically remove the paper before consuming the cone). I get it. Everyone is doing their best in this madness. We are all trying to be tolerant, make lemonade with this bushel of lemons, find the joy in the simple things, remember what’s important, and otherwise paint sunshine and roses over the choked vines of 2020.

But sometimes all of the ‘not that big of a deal in the whole scheme of things’ concessions we make leave me melting like ice cream on a hot summer day. Only now, I have to melt in a cup. I know if Jesus is reading this post he’s likely to put his head in his hands while wondering how he is going to save my whiny soul. And while a vat of self-serve ice cream seems like an obvious solution, I know that what will save me is the same thing that leaves me grateful despite the wonky and worrisome year it has been – his mercy.

One of the reasons that I write about mercy is because I know it’s the small things that we do for one another that often mean the most. It’s easy to think life is about the right job, the fancy house, or the latest trends. But those things don’t mean much when we are going through a difficult time. Instead, it’s the mercy of someone holding the door for you when your hands are full; giving you the benefit of the doubt when you’ve said something that would be easy to misconstrue; receiving forgiveness for something hurtful, and being listened to compassionately when you share your worries with others. Those are the kinds of things that make a difference – that remind us how important it is that we love our neighbor. Small mercies offer relief when we are tired, overwhelmed, overburdened, and over all the wonky and weird that has become our new reality. The simple mercy of remembering that we belong to each other is a light no matter how dark the times. So, let your light shine with warm and radiant acts of kindness towards others. They are even better than ice cream.

Hi all~ It has been a difficult year for most of us. We’ve all been asked to sacrifice a great many things — mostly cherished time with the people we love. We can all use a little more kindness right now. I am trying to be mindful of that during the hustle and bustle of this season. Acts of compassion are the best gifts to give —  and to get. How will you share mercy this advent? ~ love, Lara

Read more: Gratitude: Beyond the Glitter

Heal What Has Broken

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

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

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

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

Pro-life: Pro-love

I was subbing for a first-grade class when I received a text message from an unknown number.  It was from a family friend’s college-aged daughter seeking help for her friend considering an abortion.  She knew that I had volunteered at the Women’s Help Center, a pro-life organization that supports women throughout pregnancy, and asked if I would be willing to speak to her friend so that she understood all her options.

Choice.

Of course, I said yes. As implausible as it is to think any of us has the right to terminate life, it is a legal choice in our society.  A choice that is clearly devoid of God who created us out of love and with the innate purpose to love. Taking God out of the miracle of motherhood feels illogical, but there are many who do.  Even biologically speaking, motherhood is the most natural thing in the world.  Not just our bodies’ ability to create life but the innate desire to protect, nurture, and sacrifice for our offspring.  In the animal and the human species, this is the norm, and while it is standard it is also fierce.  Everything else – including our own survival is secondary to the “it’s in our nature to nurture” phenomenon hard-wired in most living things. It hardly seems like a matter of choice.

Being in a room full of six-year-olds is a frenzy of joy.  They are dynamic, unique, curious, and flat-out funny.  They give spontaneous hugs, ask personal questions, listen attentively when a middle-aged woman talks about cats, and without hesitation trust you with their day. They are also complicated like the rest of humanity and will become increasingly so.  Even as an outsider, I can see their proclivities, strengths, struggles, and basic need to be loved and accepted.  They have a keen sense of the world around them.  They are paying attention.  They are fully alive.  Each one a choice.

By the end of that school day, I learned that the woman made an appointment to have an abortion.  She was still agreeable to speak with me and was supposed to call me the next day.  She never did. Her friend explained to me that she didn’t want to be talked out of her decision.  I called the young woman and assured her I was here if she wanted to talk, and would be after her appointment as well.  Not to judge or lecture or to act like a caricature of a pro-life Christian in all the variances of absurdity they are portrayed as – but just to listen.  My heart ached for the burden of choice this young girl carried.  It would sound condescending to say the woman didn’t understand her choice; presumptuous to say abortion will affect her deeply, and Pollyanna to say that if she has her baby it will be full of giddy laughter and flying unicorns, when I know how gut-wrenchingly hard motherhood can be. Everything that can be said can be construed as flippant, dismissive, over-simplified, insensitive, or unrealistic.  All the best words can come out wrong. Read more