Grace: the hour I first believed

Laura is pictured on the far left with some of her sisters from Saint Gianna Circle who supported her during her illness and were graced by her friendship.

Writers are told to write what you know.  I started writing about mercy for the exact opposite reason.  I didn’t know anything about it.  I didn’t understand it.  It was a word with a heavy veneer covering the solid wood underneath.  While I almost never heard the word outside of a church, I could see the need for giving and receiving it everywhere.  It’s as ancient as the air we breathe and as transparent.  It’s easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it and life is suffocating without it.

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Earth Day: environmentalist evolution

Earth Day: environmentalist evolution

When I was in college, a friend often wore Birkenstocks, the backless shoes that are the tree-hugging cousin of the flip-flop.  The shoes reminded me of crunchy granola and the Hare Krishna food they used to give away on campus at the University of Florida.  This was back in the nineties before Nordstrom carried the comfort shoe in an array of pastels.   I was poor in college, so a splurge for me was a 2 a.m. run to the border for a nacho bell-grande.  In hindsight, I should have opted for the free food passed out by the bald people wearing white sheets and dancing with tambourines.  It was probably healthier.  But I was afraid if I ate the Hare Krishna food I would end up in a hallucinogenic state and disavow my beachy flip-flops for its chunkier cousin.

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Divine Mercy Sunday

This Sunday is Divine Mercy Sunday.  Since mercy is kind of my thing, I figure I should write about it.  Only, all I can think of are answers to the question, how did mercy become my thing? Mid-life crisis?  PTSD? Exposure to pesticides?

I have other things I am passionate about including cats, dogs, and color-stay lipstick.  Unlike mercy, those things make sense to me.

For most of my life, mercy felt above me like one of those words at the top of the hierarchy that I could never reach.  It was like the incense used during Holy Days that rose to meet the cherubs at the top of cathedrals.  It was an enigma, because I never took the time to contemplate what it meant, how it’s shown, and its source from which salvation hinges. Read more

Easter Rose

During this Lenten season, I lost a dear friend unexpectedly.  It was a Tuesday, and I planned to go to the grocery store.  Instead, I was in the ER and then the ICU, waiting, hoping, and praying while trying to comfort her two daughters who are the same ages as my boys.  I had so many joyful memories with these girls:  picking blueberries on a hot summer day, watching them bob in the pool, laughing, and splashing with abandon, and chatting leisurely in their kitchen on carefree topics that meandered like the veining in the marble on their island.  We went trick-or-treating with them, hunted Easter eggs, and watched fireworks on the Fourth of July. Read more

God: the Mess We Make

I’ve been on a search for the holy grail of vacuums. This isn’t a new thing. I’ve been at it for years.  Other people travel the world, I buy (and, often return) vacuums.

I guess I am looking for the perfect vacuum that has among its features a desire to actually use it.  So far, all I have had is a longing for clean floors.  A friend of mine lent me one of those robot vacuums.  I figured even I could muster the motivation to try it since it only required me to push a button.

The dog and I suspiciously watched the wayward machine.  It was like a mini R2D2 after a night out at the bars.  It swayed in one direction and then the other, continuously running into things.  I couldn’t help but feel sorry for it.  It was trying so hard. Read more

Light: Out of the darkness

 

As a native Floridian, winters are hard for me.  It’s not just the closed toe shoes and the cumbersome layers of clothes that make me feel constrained liked a mummy wrapped in fleece.

It’s the darkness.

The shorter days, gray skies, and the browning emptiness leave flowers blighted and bare trees somber.  I don’t notice how much it affects me until spring arrives, and I am awed by the glorious light. I catch myself staring out the window. I see the green growth of new leaves on the mounds of sticks sprouting up from the earth and the reliable bloom of azaleas bursting bright with joy, but it’s the light, pervasive and ethereal, that captivates me. Read more

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://mercymatters.net/2018/02/06/stillness-the-action-of-finding-god/ and http://mercymatters.net/2014/03/05/shine-this-lenten-season/

XO 

Keeping the Faith: #DTWD

#DTWD: Duval ‘Til We Die is the acronym that shows Jacksonville Jaguar fans’ commitment and faith in the team and the city it represents.

I was born in this city. Growing up, I didn’t know how special it was to live in Jacksonville. I took for granted going to the beach and boating on the St. John’s River with friends and family.

We didn’t seem like a very fancy city, but we were always a beautiful one. I don’t think outsiders thought much of us. They wanted to head south toward Orlando to visit Mickey or to some of the quainter beach towns north of us.  I didn’t think much about it at first. I mean, who can compete with the “happiest place on earth?” Nor did I feel there was a reason to compete. Jacksonville didn’t need to be a vacation destination. It was home, and it always had my heart.

That’s why I wanted to beat the New England Patriots. Not because I care terribly about football, but because I felt like as a city we had something to prove. For too long, we’ve been considered a backwards city of rednecks. Our natural beauty isn’t recognized, our commitment to family life is mocked, and our lack of diversity is criticized despite the many ethnicities who live here.

I guess it is silly to think that winning a football game would help change those perceptions. People will always think what they want. I know this city has real problems, and I am not trying to diminish our demons, the greatest of which may be our lack of pride.

The Jacksonville Jaguars gave this city hope. I dedicated my mass this morning to their win for no other reason than this is my city and the Jags represent my people. People who know their neighbors, are charitable, practice their faith, and are fierce in the way they show up for one another.

I am disappointed in our loss, but I couldn’t be more proud of Jacksonville. As I scrolled through social media posts I saw that the real win was how the game, the fans, and the team, united the city.

It is my prayer that we build on that momentum, on that faith in ourselves, and on the hope of what we can become.

Duval ‘Til We Die.

Interested in reading more about having faith in yourself, read: http://mercymatters.net/2014/09/04/one-word-you-nee…r-life-right-now/

Success: Try again

Try, try, again.  That’s what they say it takes to achieve success.  Today, those of you who are subscribed to my website got some wonky-worded post from me that I did not write, nor send. I apologize for that. It was titled “Stress’ Important Causes in Family Life” and I thought it would have been more appropriate if it read: “The Computer: spawned by Satan and serious source of stress for a certain writer.”

While I have been working on revamping this website, I was not quite ready to post. So, today’s snafu felt a bit like being shoved off the high dive when I’m terribly afraid of heights and have no business being on a high dive. The upside of this is that it has forced me to take this plunge.

I suppose all I have to do now is follow Dory’s advice from the movie, Finding Nemo. “Just keep swimming…just keep swimming”

Seems simple enough. Still, since I am not too brave, I hope you will stay with me to ensure I stay afloat.

***

I was never a success at diving. It just seemed scary to jump head first into water with so many important things to remember: legs together, arms straight, knees bent, head down, mouth closed, and of course, the paramount plunge into oxygen-less water.

That’s what I feel like today – somewhere between tentative and terrified to dive back into writing on this website. I quit using this space a few years ago. Partly because it seemed like I was treading water. My readership had plateaued. I had completed my year doing works of mercy, which is what the site was designed for, and I felt kind of directionless in the depths of the deep blue. Besides, sharing personal stories sometimes made me feel as exposed as a pale, middle-aged woman in a bikini.

Shriveled like a prune, I felt like it was time for me to get out.

Since then, I wrote a book on works of mercy, and currently am looking for a publisher. I recently came close to signing with a Catholic one. It was one of the most exciting and enjoyable experiences I have had both professionally and, personally. But after months of working closely on edits, it was decided that I needed a bigger marketing platform for them to reconsider publishing.

I had floated on hope, and being told no, felt like an unwelcome dunking — water up the nose, hair clumping awkwardly to the face, and sputtering gasps for air as I tried to right myself despite the humiliation.

But here I am, breathing again.

Regardless of success om this publishing journey, I recognize the role of social media in today’s society. It’s a swirl of currents and controversy. It’s swift like rapids and can be used to drag people under or build others up.

It can also be an effective and vital means of communication, and even community. With that in mind, I stand, one toe in the water trying to convince myself that it won’t be too cold, ready to create a space where differences aren’t demonized, faith is not fodder, mercy is more important than money, and God isn’t rhetoric, but real.

That seems less like a dive and more like a warm, safe place to swim ashore. I hope you will join me.

 

Is there a challenge you are trying to overcome in your own life?  You may like to read this: http://mercymatters.net/2014/09/04/one-word-you-nee…r-life-right-now/

Heaven is for real; Earth is for miracles

You know that big spread in the high school yearbook where the senior superlatives tout the “most attractive,” “most athletic,” “best all around,” etc.?  Well, heaven knows I didn’t get one.

Instead, I was on another page in our yearbook where there were more non-traditional, dubious superlatives assigned. Some were “Eddie Haskell Award,” “Biggest Flirt,” “Most Likely to Burn Down the School,” and “Could Give the Best Dirty Look.”

The one picked for me was “Most Gullible.”

I like to think it was a fancy way of calling me nice. Or, maybe someone just told me that is what it meant and I believed them.

In any case, I have not bought any swamp land, taken any wooden nickels or sent any money to Nigeria, so I think I am doing okay.

Still, when the book, Heaven is for Real came out and I learned the story of Todd Burpo’s son, Colton, who went to heaven during an emergency appendectomy, I believed it.

I believe in God, in miracles and in heaven, so to me none of it is too far-fetched.

Miracles are all around us. I think we just get kind of numb to them. We go to the beach and we forget to marvel at the vastness of the ocean teeming with exotic life. Someone has a baby and we may think to make a casserole, but we don’t stop and think how absolutely phenomenal it is that a man and a woman can create life.

But Colton went to heaven. Heaven.

The Burpo family gave a talk at a nearby church tonight and my family and I attended. I didn’t go as a skeptic, but as a believer.

Burpo talked about how angry he was with God when he thought he was going to lose his son. I loved that he went to God with his anger. I think our inclination is to turn away from God when we feel such rage.

As Burpo tells it, while he was raging on God, his son Colton was sitting in Jesus’s lap. I thought that was such a poignant image to think about. When we feel angry, ignored or betrayed by God, it rarely occurs to us that He is indeed with us, embracing us. We are always in His care.

Burpo, a pastor, spoke about his struggle with faith when he was confronted with his son’s account of heaven. Perhaps, that was what was hardest for me to grasp.

I had no trouble believing, why did he?

But then I think of what it is like before the book, the New York Times Best Seller’s lists, the movie, all of which validated the possibility of this miracle. I thought of the clarity of Colton’s claims, some of which go against traditional church teachings such as animals being in heaven. I thought of Burpo putting his career and reputation on the line to stand up to such an incredulous notion that a child that never even died went to heaven — not came from heaven, but went to heaven; sat on Jesus’s lap; saw the sister who was never born; hung out with some angels and then came back to this reality which is not nearly as pleasant, but that we are all more comfortable believing.

And, I understood his doubt and was left in awe of his faith to work past those doubts, to take the risks that he did and to share his miracle with the world.

One of my most favorite things that I heard Burpo say though was that his son was not special. I believe him. I listened to Colton speak and I listened to him sing. I think he is a great kid. But so are my kids and so are yours and so are the ones in Africa, China and Timbuktu.

I believe in an extraordinary God and I believe in the ordinariness of His people in the sense that none of us are without sin. I believe in equality and although it is lacking on earth, I believe that God loves us all passionately and individually – but not one more than the other. I do not believe that He has favorites. I do not believe He gives out superlatives.

Colton experienced a miracle, and I bet you have too. We need to remember to look for the miracles in our lives because they remind us of God’s enduring love. They strengthen our faith and help us get through times of doubt.

His miracles are never ordinary, but I dare say they are often. Whether they get shared with the world or not, whether you believe in them is up to you.

As for me, “Most Gullible, Class of 1990,” I choose to believe.

If you have experienced a miracle in your life, please share it in the comment section. If you believe in miracles, please share this post with someone. Praying for miracles today and the openness, the willingness to notice them.  To read more about being closer to God: http://mercymatters.net/2018/02/06/stillness-finding-god/ and to read more of the Burpo story https://www.heavenlive.org/