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

Time to Act

During my senior year in high school, I had a small part in the school play, H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine.  My role was of the scandalous secretary who was presumably having an affair with her boss. I wore a tiny off the shoulder black dress and slung my waist-length hair around with a flick of my wrist while hinting to the more dutiful office employee about my clandestine relations.  That was almost 30 years ago and the only flicking of the wrists I do now is after washing my hands in the kitchen sink when I’m too hurried to use a dishtowel.

Unlike my children’s lives, mine isn’t particularly well-documented so when I came across an old VCR tape of the school play, I thought it would be fun to transfer it to DVD.  The decades-old recording had aged much like the cast of characters it chronicled.  Faces were a blur and I had to rely on sound more than sight to distinguish fellow classmates.  It’s odd to think back that far, at how young we were, how sure we were, and how unsure we were.   Dizzy hopes for the future dangled like a cliffhanger in the drama of our own lives.  One of the boys who had a leading role in the play passed away last year.  His grainy silhouette was punctuated by the boom of his voice.  His animated gestures and rhythmic inflections belied the premature hush that came upon his life.  It made me sad. Read more

Funerals: Beauty in Shades of Gray

The color black is symbolic of funerals, representing everything from the heavy grief that overshadows the bereaved to the most common color-choice for attire.  How strange then that the decision on whether to attend a funeral isn’t always as clear as the delineation between black and white.  Many people fall into a gray area of not knowing the deceased well, but still wanting to support the grieving.  It can feel like an awkward palette from which to draw — blending the darkness of death with the comfort of light.

Last year, I attended several funerals.  It felt unnatural to lose the people that I lost.  Too young.  Too loved.  Too unbearable.  Too many.  At this point, I have decided you don’t move on from grief you carry it with you – this incredulous realization that you will never see someone you love again. The reality folded up reverently and tucked away in the gap created by the loss in your heart.  Every now and then, you unfold it, look at it in disbelief, and weep for a love that was once tangible.  Then, if you’re lucky, you wipe away the tears and find the smile that acknowledges the best parts of your loved one you’ve kept alive by the illogical, eternal merits of love.  You breathe out, fold it back up, and carry on.  The losses from last year were close to me.   The black I felt was as dark and as empty as a galaxy without stars.  I never thought twice about whether I would attend the funerals.

Sometimes, it’s not that clear.  We aren’t always close to the deceased.  We aren’t sure if it is appropriate.  If we are being honest, we aren’t certain we want to go.  Generally speaking, they are not a lot of fun.  There is nothing to me so private as grief, so I understand the feeling of not wanting to intrude, pry, or feel like a gawking voyeur during moments of another person’s certain despair.  I also know what it meant to me when I lost a close relative and friends who did not know the deceased showed up.  They weren’t there for the dead, they came for the living.  Seeing some of the people who were there for me was so touching that momentarily I didn’t feel grief, I felt love.  It was a beautiful gift.  I don’t know how much vacillating they did between black and white before deciding to go.  I just know in that gray area of uncertainty they chose to come, bringing me a moment of mercy that was as restful as the color white on tired eyes.

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Out of the Ash: American Heroes

I remember exactly where I was when a plane crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. It was a profoundly sad day. It changed lives and an entire nation. I will never forget the unthinkable, unimaginable horror as I huddled around the television watching the ash of innocence unite a country in anguished grief. As the morning went on, the plane crashes went from one to four, each one an almost unrecoverable blow of terror, multiplying devastation into exponential heartache.

A new commitment to patriotism rose like a phoenix out of ashes on that pivotal day. We were less naïve and more united. A surge of civilians stepped out of their air-conditioned offices and into the desert heat to join our military. They traded the comforts of civilian life for the trials of war to ensure freedom.

I don’t doubt the urgency of the call to serve that those newly converted soldiers felt. I was almost eight months pregnant with my first child on 9/11. Things that mattered to me before that day—the décor of the nursery, the name I would choose, decisions about going to work afterward, and finding a pediatrician—were suddenly inconsequential. Somehow, life as we knew it was in jeopardy. My body was full of the promise of life, and the sky was falling. Read more

In the Mess: Easy Like Sunday Morning

I know songs have been written about the ease of Sunday morning, but I wish someone would write one about the angst of a Sunday evening. That’s the twitchiest night of the week for me as I transition from the charms of the weekend to the schisms of the work week. I feel like the amiable comic book character, Pig Pen, created by Charles Shultz, traveling in my own dust storm with all the to-do’s swirling around me making a filthy mess of what was once a peaceful mind.  The more I do, the more I realize how far behind I really am and the dirt cakes on — further muddying my panic.

I sort through emails.  I make piles.  I do laundry.  I boss children — an echo of repetition.  I try to remember what I needed to talk to my husband about.  I usually can’t.  I make lists.  I pick up abandoned glasses and clip close half-eaten bags of chips laying carelessly on the counter.  In all my busying, I only seem to find more to do.  Each task leads to another – a maze in the making.  I scatter about in the dusty swirl of tedium past bedtime – past reason.  My son asks me to review his cover letter for an internship he is applying for and I stop.  In that instant, where I was given one more thing to do– when I was already so done, I would have envisioned being buried under the muck of a mudslide.  Instead, I felt the clarity of grace.  I felt its calm and its cleanse, as I realized I belong in the middle of the mess.  It’s there that my independent, almost adult child asked for my input.  It’s there that the mess suddenly stopped choking me and I breathed into the precious moment of mothering.

Our to-do’s will never be done and life will always be messy no matter how much tidying we do.  Serving others in the midst of it is the grace that makes life meaningful.  It gives order to chaos.  It realigns priorities and it reinvigorates efforts. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need,” (Hebrews 4:16).

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Everyday Heroes and Popeye the Sailor Man

When I was little, I loved to watch Popeye the Sailor Man. There was something so good about the one-eyed spinach-eating sailor.  He was gruff and marbled his raspy words.  His body was disproportionate with massive forearms, and legs that bowed out in curvy clumps.  He had a tattoo on his arm, a pipe in his twisted mouth, and Olive Oyl, his waif of a love interest, on his arm.

Wearing a white Navy outfit, he embodied the everyday hero.  Maybe that was the draw to him.  He wasn’t polished and refined like a prince.  He wasn’t movie-star handsome.  He didn’t speak eloquently.  He ate food from a can.  He was mostly bald.  Occasionally, he even sported a bit of stubble as if he couldn’t bother with the vanity of beard-grooming.  After all, he had bullies like Brutus to fight.  In every episode, Popeye ensured that good triumphed over evil.

I grew up believing that people were good.  Bad guys were just television entertainment to enforce the seemingly universal truth that we all want the same thing – for the good guy to win, order to exist, and happy endings to prevail.  We certainly couldn’t accept the havoc brought by bullies such as Brutus. Read more

Practicing What I Preach

Sometimes I look at my life, and I don’t know whether hypocrisy or irony is screaming louder.  I write about mercy,  because I believe whole-heartedly in its power to change lives and, in a broader sense, the world.  That is not hyperbole.  It is a truth that exists regardless of whether we acknowledge or believe it.

Despite my enthusiasm, doing works of mercy sometimes feels like a struggle.  You would think in my zeal, I would embrace them with a “Woo-hoo! Here’s another opportunity for me to serve!”  But often my “woo-hoo” sounds more like, “woe is me.”

Frequently the service we are called to do is organic, and, like the produce in the grocery store, organic always costs more.  It has always felt easier to serve when I plan for it, choose the capacity, and have had a shower.  When someone else’s misfortune interrupts my plans or to-do list, it can be frustrating.

Recently, I took my mom to the doctor, because she was sick.  I tried to be peppy about it despite my manic Monday mentality.  My mom was pleasant and chatty on the way to her appointment, and, instead of gratitude for her attitude, I begrudged it for being better than mine.  After all, I was the healthy one.  Why wasn’t I bubbly and bright?  Maybe she should have been driving me around! Read more