Who wants to be a millionaire? Lance Mudd did. Isn't that the American dream? But after this Louisiana rodeo cowboy turned businessman made his first million, it was not enough. When his bank statement told him he had made it big, his heart told him otherwise.
Lance and his lovely wife and three precious daughters wanted for nothing. After Lance sold one business, he built up another even more successful one. And yet, there was an emptiness he could not shake. Deep down inside, he knew there was so much more than money.
Born in Lake Charles, Louisiana and raised in Southwest Creole rodeo was something Lance shared with his father and grandfather. He competed in calf roping, steer wrestling and cutting cattle--a skill of culling just one from the herd. By high school Lance won the national cutting championship title. Life was good. His Dad had taught him how to be a man and his mother taught him to stay close to God.
Lance competed well in rodeo in high school and received a college scholarship in it at Magnese College. It was where he met his wife, Kelly, who won Best All Around Cowgirl title while she was a teenager.
While Kelly received a degree in teaching, Lance left college and entered the pro rodeo circuit as a steer wrestler. He was undeterred by his 5'9” stature and 160 pounds in this big man's sport. But the deep-down confidence instilled in him by his Daddy had it's limits. Within the year, Lance's confidence was tempered with reality. “They may all put their pants on one leg at a time just like I did, but I had to accept that their legs were bigger than mine,” he said.
A Hard Working Man
He left the rodeo circuit, returned to school and married Kelly. When they were expecting a baby right away, Lance dropped out of school and worked at a series of jobs until beginning a waste management company with two investing partners. Through hard work and excellent customer service, Lance succeeded and expanded. By the time he and Kelly had three girls-- Kailan, Marlie and Quincy-- he sold the company for close to two million dollars. Kelly was thrilled to be able to quit work and stay home full time with her girls.
It would seem that the American Dream had been achieved, but Lance kept chasing it. After Hurricane Rita devastated the Louisiana coastline in 2005, he began construction and reclamation work, ultimately building up another company. Again, Lance prospered. But he did so at a price. Customer service included keeping them happy--very happy. Lance took customers on weekend hunting, golfing and fishing trips, motorcycle riding in Sturgis, SD and car racing in Daytona Beach, FL.
“I'd leave Thursday and come back on Sunday night,” Lance explained. “When I was home, I'd leave my phone on in case a customer wanted something. I'd even leave church to answer the phone.” Kelly finally gave him an ultimatum. Lance could either take his family to Mass with him or take the phone, but not both. He reluctantly left the phone in his truck after that.
The lifestyle Lance had chosen included heavy drinking and partying. The drinking was not in moderation nor confined to cocktail hours. It was a pleasure seeking existence where serving the customers came first and partying next.
“I had a fast-paced life and God and family were at the bottom of the totem pole,” said Lance. “I was living the road to hell.”
But his momma's lessons in faith had not been in vain. Lance always wore his scapular and kept returning to the confessional. He even made a few spiritual retreats and would come home feeling closer to God and at peace. Then, the cycle would begin again.
Lance was being pulled apart with one foot on the road to heaven and the other on the road to hell. Finally, he went to a retreat and looked deep into his soul. What am I doing? he asked himself. His only connection with his daughters and wife was through their rodeo--something they continued to share. Otherwise, Lance had made business and money his God. At the retreat, in the presence of God, it hit him that he was choosing evil over good--the worldly over the heavenly.
After the retreat, Lance's brother and his wife were going to Mexico. He asked his brother to see if there was some cause that needed help. His brother came across a priest, Fr. Donald Kaufman, who was trying to build a Catholic Church in a village outside of the famous tourist spot, Cancun.
Lance flew to Mexico to see things for himself. Fr. Kaufman took him five miles into the jungle to the Church he was building, the Immaculate Heart of Mary. “People were poor but they were dressed up better than me for Mass,” Lance admitted. “During the Eucharist, I realized I had taken this gift for granted. These people had walked long distances to see Jesus. On my way home, I thought, Here I am a successful business man and my life is a mess.”
While meeting with Fr. Kaufman, he met another priest, Fr. James Hogan. The two struck up a friendship. Fr. James took Lance around to other parishes to show him congregations that were trying to build a church. Lance committed to help build a church named Divine Mercy and is currently helping out with a third one. For too many years, Lance had lived a life of self-fulfillment. Now, he wanted to serve God.
While in Mexico, Fr. James gave Lance a book to read, The Diary of St. Faustina. Lance looked down at the thick book. It had over 700 pages. He gulped and confessed, “Father, I have never read an entire book in my life.”
Fr. James just smiled, “Well, Lance, hopefully you'll read it before you die.”
That day, Lance opened up the book and began reading. He did not want to put it down. Coincidentally, when he returned from Mexico, he went to visit a dear cousin who was dying at the age of fifty. Lance was impressed by her acceptance. Where was she getting so much peace? he wanted to know.
His cousin showed him the book that was the source of her strength--The Diary of St. Faustina. They were in awe to realize they had both stumbled on this devotion at the same time. Lance and his cousin prayed together the Chaplet of Mercy, a powerful prayer given to St. Faustina in a vision from Jesus.
Lance credits the book with opening up the floodgates of mercy for him. “The book changed my life,” he said. “It helped me to believe that God loves me no matter what I've done. I thought that if St. Faustina could live a faithful life and live God's will, then I could do it too.” He began reading her diary in a hotel in Mexico and finished it one month later, on a return trip to Mexico to help Fr. James in his mission work.
Right now, Lance is working with Fr. James to build a church in Playa del Carmen, MX , a city with a population of 250,000. It will be named, Holy Family. There is a movement among Protestant denominations in Central America to convert Catholics to their faith. In Playa del Carmen, Jehovah Witnesses are especially aggressive.
According to Fr. James, in an effort to solidify the Catholic faith in the area, he held a retreat that combined the Divine Mercy and Sacred Heart devotions. “Mexico has one of the richest Catholic faiths in the world,” he stated. “They have beautiful traditions and their faith is interwoven into their culture.” Originally from Bridgefield, CT, Fr. James has been a missionary priest there for seven years.
At the retreat, he taught them about the two devotions of Divine Mercy and the Sacred Heart. Afterwards, two religious sisters went from home to home inviting families to enthrone the Sacred Heart of Jesus as King of their homes in a simple ceremony. The sisters gave the Divine Mercy and the Sacred Heart of Jesus picture to each family.
Both these devotions are part of our Church history. “Fr. James and I came up with this plan to help families while they wait for their church,” said Lance. “A lot of people can't get to a church but everyone can pray.”
A New Attitude
From his retreat, to missionary work, to the Divine Mercy devotion, Lance is a new man. His conversion story is not so different from many others. The details vary but the ending is always the same: Sinful pleasure and selfishness are left behind for a deeper relationship with God.
Kelly, Lance's wife, said she appreciates this new direction for their family. There was a time when she had wanted to get Lance and the kids to listen to a Lighthouse Media Catholic/inspirational CD. No one was interested. She laughed when recently, it was Lance who put the same CD into the stereo and told Kelly, “You've got to hear this!”
Lance originally put his business up for sale, believing he should walk away from the business world. When it did not sell, Fr. James told him that God does not ask everyone to sell all they have but rather to put serving God before all else. Lance feared that his new life would not fit well into the business world. To his surprise, he was wrong. “The crazy thing is that my business is doing better than it ever has,” he said.
Now, instead of feeling responsible to entertain his customers, Lance feels responsible to be a good example. “I really like to share with men that I learned that I can run a business and try to be a holy man at the same time.” Lance said he is always looking for opportunities to be help others get on track too. “I follow what St. Francis said, to preach the Gospel by living it and speak when necessary.”
Lance has done some speaking around his area. His desire is to get across to men the importance of putting God and family first. He also has a message for women: pray and be patient rather than leave when their husbands are not fulfilling their spiritual role in the family.
“God is calling us to be holy,” said Lance. “How do I get closer to God? Well, when all I did was go to Mass an hour a week, that's only four hours a month with God, and forty-eight hours in an entire year,” he said. “I was hunting three hours in a blind, it took four hours to play golf, and I'd be gone for six hours fishing--half a day. When I started breaking all this down, I realized I was spending more time drinking in a month than I spent with God in a year.”
Lanced admitted that a conversion is not just a quick fix. “It's a long struggle,” he admitted, “but it's worth it. It's now how many times you fall, it's how many times you get back up.”
Copyright 2012 Patti Maguire Armstrong
About the Author
Patti Maguire Armstrong is the mother of 10, and has a B.A. in social work and M.A. in public administration. Her newest book is Holy Hacks: Everyday Ways to Live Your Faith & Get to Heaven. Others include Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families and the Amazing Grace Series. Follow her at @PattiArmstrong and read her blog at PattiMaguireArmstrong.com.