LOOK UP!

Godversations:

Godversations is 2 years old today!

I thought I would share my very first post again. I was a different person when I wrote this but the message is rooted in Truth and will always be relevant; Listen, Trust, Obey. Thank you for your unending Love and Support in the Joys and Trials we have encountered on our journey of Faith. None of us ever walks alone and I am honored to have each one of you beside me.
I am also excited to be sharing faith on a new blog for the John Paul II Center for Women in the diocese of Syracuse. You can find it here http://jpiicenterforwomen.wordpress.com. The mission of the John Paul II Center is to promote the true dignity of Women. Check out the website for more information http://www.jpiicenterforwomen.com . The Holy Spirit is at work and I am so honored to be part of sharing Wisdom and Truth!
Okay I am publicly putting this out there – eeeek! I have started writing a book. I have no idea if it will get finished, or published, or read, but I have started one. So there ya go. Like the Godversations Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/godversations and leave me a message or shoot me an email every now and then to keep the pressure on! (Oh no, what have I done???)

Happy and Blessed Easter and I will remember all my readers especially in my prayers this Easter Season.
Love and Peace from our family to yours.

Originally posted on Godversations:

Look Up! Look Up! Look Up! Melissa Look Up! Look Up! Hurry Look Up! Just lift your head and Look Up! Look at me. Look at me Melissa. Look at Mommy! Look at my Face! Look Up!!!

This is pretty much how bath time goes with my 2-year-old every time. I shampoo her hair and when she knows the rinsing is coming she looks down to try to shield her face and cries louder and louder, probably to be heard over my pleas, until she reaches full-out hysteria… and we’re done. I’ve tried reasoning and explaining, but my normally brilliant 2 yr old, just can’t seem to get the message.

If she would only listen to me, and trust me, and obey me, then the water would pour nicely down the back of her head and hair washing would be a non-event. Bath time would be considerably more enjoyable all…

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Fear

When our son Michael was first diagnosed with a brain tumor, my God, was I afraid!  I had fear, pure and raw, of the unknown, that my little boy had just lost his childhood and that he might lose his life.  I was terrified.  We didn’t know what was in store for him, but what we wanted was for him to be cured and resume being a 3 year-old boy.  He did indeed lose his childhood and he did lose his life, but as we went through his treatment I came to a point of acceptance where the fear was no longer in control.  It didn’t happen until a few weeks before he died (at the age of 4), but thankfully it did happen.  Trust me, it wasn’t something I had wanted to face at all.  We were perfectly fine and happy doing our thing, taking care of our family, and living life, when suddenly and unexpectedly the rug was pulled out from under us. Then, over the course of his illness, there was a gradual transformation from living solely for this life, to having Hope in the next one.

Imagine having a bone reset.  You think your broken leg is healing fine since it looks okay and seems to be working for the moment, and then the Doctor tells you that it doesn’t actually work properly and he has to break it again to put it in proper alignment.  I would definitely be afraid of that!  I would probably balk and look for any possible alternative, too.  Ouch!  Ultimately though, despite the fear, I would of course want to do what was best for my limb and for my life.  I would endure, and when it was all over, I would move on with life and put that painful experience behind me.  Except that every time I used that leg I would remember and probably be thankful that it is in proper working order and allowing me to run and walk and live the way I want.  Maybe using it would be sweeter for having gone through such an experience, but certainly there would be peace about choosing pain for the ultimate good.

Shortly before Michael died, my fear was replaced with a tremendous peace. It was a peace that surpasses all understanding because I had not yet grasped that it was for the ultimate good.

 “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Ph 4:7)

Truly, this is what happened for me.  It was beyond my ability to understand or reason; it just overcame me.  My trust and faith were totally in God, not medicine, or doctors, or any treatments of this world, and God guarded me.

Still, after Michael died, when people would ask me how I was surviving that loss, I really didn’t know.  They could not imagine such a thing, and as it was for them, for me, the thought of losing any of my other children was terrifying and unspeakable.  Even though I had gone through it and am still ‘going through it,’ I could never have imagined facing that fear again.  I had put my trust in God, and was rewarded with Peace and Joy from deep within; He was helping me Trust Him more in every other area of my life, so there was plenty of “fruit.”  Surely He would never ask me to face the unthinkable — again.

And then the unthinkable happened again… Losing Anna was terrible, but something amazing has happened. Where I had been an utter slave to fear, God has now freed me. Where my trust had been mostly in Him, it is now solely in Him.  By allowing Anna’s death, He has allowed me the opportunity to see and understand what Trusting Him truly means.  If I had to lose another child, or every single one of them, I trust in Jesus.  When I am asked now how I can go through such losses, I no longer wonder the same thing.  I no longer fear that it would be unbearable.  God will guard me no matter what life brings.  I know that.  I know that.  It’s liberating.  Death has truly lost its sting.

 “But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:55)

I didn’t get that before, but I get it now.  God did not just help me through two especially difficult and tragic deaths.  He helped me to know Him so intimately that death has no hold of fear over me.  What we think of as death and loss, I now think of as gain and hope.

It’s kind of like the difference between giving a man a fish and teaching a man to fish.  He didn’t accomplish this work in me completely from losing my sweet little Mikey.  That little boy so precious to me, like all of my children, a piece of my heart and soul, was ripped out of my grasp and I was forced to experience detachment.  Losing Anna has forced me to more fully understand detachment.  As I trust more deeply in Christ and Love Him more fully, my earthly self is elevated to Heavenly Joys.  It’s the strange and difficult call we have as Christians to be in this world,  but not of this world.  We are called to love and to love deeply and yet be detached from it all.  I think that Loving is precisely how we learn to be detached.  It is Perfect Love that accomplishes this; the Love of God that comes in, and through, and with Christ.  When we truly have Christ, everything else pales in comparison.  The things of this world fade away.

I can tell myself all day long that my children have never belonged to me.  That is a bit of a comfort and of course very true, but I think that it is in loving them selflessly and truly that the balance is found.  I want for them Eternity.  Simple.  I want them to be in Eternity with their God, more than I want them to be here with me.  I love them that much.  I love God that much.  Yet I know that my love is very far from perfect. I pray constantly to love more and to love better.

 “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 Jn 4:18)

This doesn’t mean that nothing scares me or hurts me.  It does hurt to face days without my children here, but that doesn’t mean that I want them back.  I have to keep myself in check all the time when my kids walk out my door.

What if they get hurt?, I ask myself.

Well, what if they do?  I trust in Jesus.

What if they get assaulted? Or taken? Or in another accident?  I sure don’t want that to happen, and will do everything I can to avoid or prevent it, but ultimately I trust in Jesus.  I trust wholeheartedly and completely that if God were to allow any of these things, it is for a sure and certain purpose with the ultimate goal of eternity.  I love Him enough to Trust Him with my children.

No one wants difficult circumstances or hardships in life.  No one wants that bone to be re-broken.  I think that’s very human.  We seek pleasures and comforts when, very often, it is sacrifice and difficulties that are good for us.  Picture the image of Mary standing before the cross — silently.  Didn’t she want to cry out?  Or beg, plead, and scream?  Imagine her pain at seeing her son tortured.  Instead she was silent and accepted the cross — the literal cross happening before her very eyes — of her own son.  There is wisdom there.  Lent is a beautiful time in our church calendar to practice this.  Practice being uncomfortable and sacrificing.  Our crosses are good for us.

Christ-followers know and understand that the way to Hope and Joy and Love, and Happiness and Fulfillment and All that we truly Seek, is the way of the cross.

 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Jn 16:33)

The Final Hour

For the past several weeks I’ve been wishing someone could just hit a fast forward button.  Even if it is a little irrational I don’t want March 2nd to come.  In some strange way it feels like Anna’s final hour is about to happen again only this time we know it and it is frightening.  I’m not sure why I feel this way when obviously the worst has already come and gone.   I think the anticipation is far worse than the day will actually be and part of me wishes we could just skip through.  I’ve been keeping busy, keeping distracted, keeping exhausted.

I’m not at all sure what is so frightening.  Perhaps it is fear that the suffering might change or get worse but then I have to ask, “So what if it does”?   I don’t think it’s possible that it could be as hard or as awful as March 2, 2013.  And if I’m honest, I wonder, “Is it really the worst thing”?  Here I am. Alive and well.  With fruit to show for my troubles. My Surrender comes more readily, my Trust is more certain, my Faith is stronger and my Hope is a force to be reckoned with.

Why are we so afraid to suffer?  It’s hard but we embrace so many things that are hard and we do it for mere worldly gains.  Truly when the pain is the worst I throw myself before God, into Him.  I live more intimately with Him and that is not a bad place to be at all.  In that way my suffering brings my greatest Joy.

March 2, 2014 will simply be day 365 without Anna, no better or worse than the day before or the day after. I know there is much to gain and be learned in these weeks of fear and anxiety and sadness and overwhelming loss.  I know this time of trial is fleeting.  And because I am called to live in the world my time of living purely and deeply in the heart of my God is fleeting as well.

For the past year I have been confronted time and time again with thoughts of how fragile and temporary this life is.  Sometimes I carry on business as usual without giving it a thought and other times I cannot escape the simple profundity of that truth.

Anna left the house on a Friday evening and called goodbye.  I didn’t drop what I was doing to give her a long hug and a kiss goodbye.  To her that would have just been awkward.  (And it wouldn’t have been enough of a goodbye anyway)   How could we not have known it would be her final hour?  There was no sense of it.  No warning and ultimately no final Earthly goodbye.  She walked out the door full of life and hasn’t walked back in.

“But about that day or hour no one knows…” (MT 24:36)

I know for a fact she had every intention of walking back in.  And waking up in the morning.  And taking pictures of her first clients for her budding photography business.  And seeing friends.  She had a journal next to her bed.  Was she about to write in it or had she already?  I don’t dwell on all the things she left undone.  That list is too long to wrap my head around.  But it does always lead me back to the same thoughts.

What if this were my last hour?  Am I ready?  Am I  afraid?  Am I excited?  What if today I meet God face-to-face?  How am I living for Him?

Anna's friends and sister all wear a piece of the puzzle engraved with "Live a Little"

Anna’s friends and sister all wear a piece of the puzzle engraved with “Live a Little”

Anna’s famous last words have become “Live a little”.  She used it as her senior quote in the yearbook and it’s become a mantra among her friends.  And I can’t think of anything more appropriate to describe Anna’s philosophy of life.  She wanted to Live and by all accounts she certainly did.  She found the fun in every situation or made her own.  She was kind, generous, loving, intelligent, compassionate, talented and the pain of losing her brother gave her a unique perspective of the fragility of life. She simply wanted to ‘Live a Little’.

I can’t help but wonder in her final hour if that philosophy served her well?  Was she living for HIM a little?

Certainly no one wants us to ‘Live a little’ more than God does.  After all He is the creator of “living”!  He sent His son for exactly that purpose.  In Jesus’ own words

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (Jn 10:10)

Jesus wants abundance for us, not mere existence.  He came and served and suffered and died so that we might live life to the full.  He knew human suffering well.  He experienced it himself even before the cross, and rightly wants us to know that our suffering is not because of Him or the Father.  Our trials are because of the enemy, but God’s plan for us is living!1961644_10152266045058678_732702104_n

As we go through these days I just can’t help but be reminded of these days last year.  It truly seems like yesterday we were in the same spot with a high school senior.  Waiting anxiously everyday for those college acceptance letters and planning college visits for March and April.  The drama department at Westhill is getting ready to put on their musical production. Last year it was Footloose and Anna had fun designing the poster for it.  Just like last year, the boys and girls basketball teams are making a sectional run and the seniors are excited to cheer on their team. There are so many plans being made for the near future and it’s such a fun and busy time for Seniors.  Lacrosse starts soon.  Spring break.  College.  Senior skip day.  Yearbook.  Ball.  Graduation.  Anna was riding on the high of earning Four Gold Keys at the scholastic art awards and her work was on display at OCC for the month of February.  She was busy getting her portfolio together and was able to take it in person for a review at SU where she received high praise and constructive criticism.  She had been accepted with scholarship to Savannah College of Art and Design and was on top of the world about making that dream come true.  Then and now, there is so much living going on and it’s good.  It was an exciting time for Anna last year and this year feels much the same for Nichole.  Business as usual.

Only there is a new awareness about all of it. We will all have to face a final hour.

In this hour before the anniversary of Anna’s final hour I turn to my Mother Mary as I so often do for her example.  During her own son’s final hour she walked beside him, every painful step.  She endured until the end.  She loved, prayed, wept.  This son she thought would be a great King was murdered with criminals.  Her hopes for a savior for her people apparently shattered.  And Mary trusted.

Oh Yes I will take a page from Anna’s book, my beautiful daughter.  I will Live a Little.  For Him.  With Trust.

LOVE

A few things I love this St. Valentine’s day.

I love a day that is largely un-scheduled.  No pressure.  No schedule.  So Rare!

I love that I was able to comfort a friend, offer advice, share faith, play a little Catholic matchmaking, coordinate rides and schedules and make weekend plans all via text message while cleaning my kitchen and eating lunch in my pajamas.

I love that when I got home late with all the kids my husband turned the leftovers in the fridge into a gourmet meal served on pretty dishes.

I love how my baby snuggles into my chest and strokes my hair to fall asleep. And that once she goes to sleep she is down for the night, peaceful, satisfied, happy.

I love the nights when a hot soak in the tub is just what the doctor ordered and I’m free to soak away.

I love clean sheets on my bed and fresh laundry in the drawers.

I love breaking the news that school is closed to a sleepy-eyed little boy and his first reaction is to ask for a hug.

I love our simple family meals when the dining room table is full of noise and laughter.

I love the mornings when I’m the first one up and I can savor a few minutes of peace and prayer with a hot cup of tea.

I love that sending in napkins for the 2nd grade valentine party is an option.  That was easy!

I love garbage day.  It’s like a weekly purging leaving behind clean empty garbage cans throughout the house.

I love watching my 8th grader on the basketball court having fun and engaged in sport.  On the sidelines I love that her friends pause to come over and play my little ponies with my little girls and fight over holding the baby.

I love connecting with the families from one school to the next at events and sports.  Familiar faces and community.

I love the excitement of a Varsity sport and a sectional run.

I love that I can reach out in an instant to an entire community of love and support in the blogosphere and that friends I have never met in real life I consider some of my closest confidants.

I love that in this moment I am blessed. I am thankful.

I Love and am Loved

The Desert

I find that one of the hardest things about grieving can be navigating all the anniversaries.  On top of the obvious, birthday and date of death, are other dates that have significance in the family or to the situation.  With Michael we had the date of diagnosis in December and then the date of his first surgery in January when we were given such devastating news.  Our make-a-wish trip in July stands out because it was obvious we were nearing his last days here.  I discovered in the first few years after he died that I spent most of July and August battling an unexplainable malaise.  Of course it is explainable but as I was busy and going about my life I didn’t notice when it started or where it came from, only that mercifully it ended.  I’ve come to think of those times, whether it be one day or several months, as time in the desert.  It is time that I know I will emerge from with renewed energy and hope.  And when I do it is like resurrection.  My Joy for living is restored.  The old has passed away and the new has been born.  Life is full of deaths and resurrections; in nature, in relationships, in church.  Who doesn’t look forward to the promise of spring, or making up after a fight or the start of a new liturgical season.  We are creatures of seasons I think, especially when they are cyclical and expected.  The thing with grief is that it is often so unexpected.  There is no way to plan for exactly how intense it will be or when it might end and if the going gets too tough it can be overwhelming.

Anna18

Anna’s 18th Birthday

This month is Anna’s birthday.  She loved her birthday.  I mean most of us like our birthday but Anna LOVED her birthday.  She looked forward to it all year long.  She reminded us every July 27th that we were halfway there. And not because it was anything grand, though she did always hold out hope for something akin to MTV’s sweet 16 bashes, but because it was a day full of potential promise.  The Joy and excitement of the unknown possibilities fueled her and yet she never seemed to have any real expectation. (well except when she was 3 and we dared give her clothing.  I guess she had an expectation of NOT getting clothing). Her day was a surprise and a gift for her every year.  And it was hard not to be excited with her.

19 years ago this month my life was irrevocably altered (It was altered 9 months before that of course too!).  I experienced a radical redefining of myself.  Where I had been merely Karen or Mrs. Pullano, I was now Mom.  Anna was the name behind my first Mother’s Day card.  She defined me for the new season of my life.  It feels strange to have this day without her.  As it approaches and the grief of her loss inserts itself, I know from experience I am heading back in the desert.  I also know from experience that it is necessary, even if a little messy, to accept that I am there and make the most of it.  Usually  in the desert life feels like a delicately balanced house of cards that could come crashing down at any moment.  Luckily my time spent there over these last years has helped prepare a foundation made of steel since time in the desert is always first and foremost a time of prayer.  From morning until night and sometimes through the night, every breath, every thought and every word is a prayer.  Before I get out of bed I offer myself, and every imperfect moment of my day, to God. I beseech my Holy Mother to be with me and try to emulate her loving example.   I make sure I carve out a few minutes to read scripture or a daily devotional like Magnificat. When I get in my car I listen to CD’s of praise and worship music or a podcast of the Rosary.  I pray with my kids as much as possible about what is going on in their lives.  I pray a rosary. I call on the saints in heaven and the holy souls in purgatory for intercessory prayers.  We pray before bedtime and often I fall asleep listening to the rosary again.

It is prayer for survival but I know eventually there will be fruit.  The fruit is the armor of a steel foundation. The cards may fall but can easily be picked up again.  Life cannot really bring me harm.

For now I am content to give myself to the desert.  It is where I have been taught to pray always, even after I emerge.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thes 5:16-18)

I know from experience what I will NOT do during this time.  I cannot afford to get lost in television or movies or social media or books.  Those will provide temporary distraction and enjoyment but leave me in an abyss of worldly emptiness. As attractive as they may be in the moment I will reach instead for scripture or inspirational reading about scripture that lift me to the realm of Heavenly fulfillment. 

I will NOT allow my thoughts to go to the ‘what ifs’.  “If Anna were here she would be…” or “we would be…”.  Those are just sad fantasies.  At best her birthday can only be a remembrance of birthdays past.

I have learned from experience that I don’t mind being in the desert.  It isn’t the worst place to be.  That’s the beauty of this cross.  I don’t have a lot of choice about being here but happily discover that it is good for me here. It is fruitful.  Just as it was for Jesus.  How often in scripture does Jesus go off to fast and pray?  He did that on purpose and for good reason.

Time specifically saved for prayer is imperative to survival and spiritual growth.  I cherish the times that I am able to shut off all the noise of the world around me.  It is healing.  It is restorative and grounding.  It keeps life in perspective.  It is like filling up the gas tank and it needs to be filled often.

Catholics who dive into Lent will understand a bit of what these times are like for me.  During Lent we practice self-denial and deeper prayer, “He must increase and I must decrease” (Jn 3:30). The difference is that there is a definitive beginning, (Ash Wednesday), and definitive ending, (Easter Sunday), and if the going gets tough there’s always the option of ‘cheating’ to gain a little reprieve.   What I experience is sometimes unexpected, always of an undefined duration and there is no quarter.  The only way out is through. And the only way through is prayer.  I live Lent many times throughout the year.

And it isn’t the worst thing.  By far, the worst thing would be living outside of obedience to God.  I much prefer the desert to that and in fact the desert, like Lent, is a time to listen more deeply to what God is asking of us.  The desert leads me to Joy.

I am sad this January without Anna, plain and simple. As her birthday approaches the reality that for the first time in 19 years I don’t have a reason to celebrate is sinking in.  Do we have a party anyway?  It doesn’t seem right to let the day go by unrecognized but it doesn’t feel like much of a celebration.  And God help me, I would never choose this even though a part of me recognizes that this cross is good for my soul.  It is good for me.  So I guess for her birthday I will borrow a page from her book.  I will look forward to the desert with excitement for all the promise it holds.  The end result will be different from anything I can conceive of.  It is a surprise full of the excitement of unknown possibilities for my soul.

My Holiday Coping Post

So many of you sent messages and wondered how we were handling the Holidays. We made it through our first Thanksgiving without Anna just fine. I’m so thankful for all of you who prayed for us and sent well wishes. The day went along as most every Thanksgiving has but for some reason facing the holidays after a loss is just hard.  I can’t put my finger on why exactly, there just seems to be a general feeling of dread and lack of motivation at best, to a desperate desire to run away, at worst.  And despite knowing and believing and understanding that this life is not our final destination, sometimes the sadness comes. And somehow the sadness and the grief have a work to do in us.  My very wise friend reminded me that Jesus and Mary knew grief intimately. In scripture Jesus weeps over the death of his friend Lazarus and of course Mary had many sorrows in her lifetime including the brutal beating and mocking and murdering of her child.  Grief has a purpose in our salvation and I know this is true even if I can’t say exactly what that purpose is.  It’s like the voice calling in my wilderness, “prepare the way for the Lord”. Grief has changed me.

But I also think grief has its place and sometimes needs to be kept in check. Advent, for example, should be a time of preparation and excitement for the birth of our savior. His birth is the beginning of the very reason we can overcome grief in the first place!  In grieving, as in most things in life, moderation is the order of the day.  Not only is it exhausting and draining but I’ve got living to do!

This isn’t my usual type of post but perhaps some of my experience can be useful to others this Christmas. Even if you are not working through your own loss maybe you know someone who is.  I know the process of grieving is different for everyone so I’m not suggesting one right or wrong way to do it – only seeking to share the strategies I try and use all the time. I often hear in grief advice that ‘you should be gentle with yourself’ at holiday time. Well I’m not even really sure what that means but I don’t find it to be helpful advice. If anything I think the opposite is more true. Being ‘gentle’ with myself would likely lead to a whole lot of wallowing in my own pain and pity. I find I have to be a little more stern with myself. I have to work, sometimes pretty hard, to choose living Joyfully. I’ve gotten the response from fellow grievers, “well I do try but it’s hard”.  Yes it’s hard but so is being run by your sadness. And there is a lot at stake if I can’t overcome it. The one thing I hope to teach my children is how to choose to live Joyfully despite difficult and sad circumstances.  I pray I can show them that example.  Joy is a choice we can make, through any kind of circumstance, because we know the Truth.  We should “always be prepared to give a reason for our Hope” and Jesus gives us His Joy so that our Joy may be complete. (Jn 15:11)  By His resurrection He has overcome the world and we are called to do the same. Heaven and eternity await so we can’t really afford to waste an undue amount of time on sadness. Not a single one of us is called to a life of grieving. Some of us have that cross to carry but we have to carry it forward through living to Joy and not stuck buried under the weight of it.

May your Christmas be filled with joy - (a sti...

 (Photo credit: mimitalks, married, under grace)

So here’s what I do

1) Focus on the present moment. This may be a little easier for me than others because with many small children in the house I am pretty busy. Even if I wanted to, I don’t have the luxury of letting my frame of mind interrupt my duties. My family needs to be fed and washed and dressed. The house needs to get cleaned etc. etc. Not only is it unfruitful to allow myself to dwell in the past but it is entirely unfair to my children that are here before me. I have a job and a vocation to carry out and God promised all I need to do it. I believe that. I rely on that.  And once the basics are taken care of there is always a long list of extras and holiday preparations that I can focus on. I Ask myself what I can do to live instead of grieve right this minute.

2) Take captive every thought.  Yes it is easy and natural to focus on what we did in Christmases past. I can’t help but remember the last time Mikey helped Daddy get the tree and that no one in our house was ever more excited for Christmas than Anna. These are normal thoughts and good memories. At another time of year they might bring a smile or peace but right now they bring a serious blanket of sadness down upon me. I will take those thoughts as they come and put them away for a later time. It is not easy to do! I rely on prayers and grace because it requires a conscious act of my will to take the memories captive and decide to not think about them and replace them with thoughts that are more productive and easier to bear right now. The focus and the goal are to prepare and make a nice Christmas for my family that is here with me.  So define your goal and deal with thoughts accordingly.

3) Power through and suck it up. There will be many things I do that I simply don’t want to. I will do them anyway. Most moms know when we are taking shortcuts and not doing the best job we can do with our kids or husbands or household and there are repercussions to that. I try and be as honest with myself as I can be and ask, “Will I feel better about doing this or not doing this?” Some things however are nonessential. For me this Christmas it looks like this: I will not feel the least bit bad if I skip making cookies. The kids are busy and won’t miss it enough that it will impact our tradition. Getting and decorating a tree however is non-negotiable. I will force myself to go through the motions of that even though I don’t want to at all. Not doing it would be sad for my kids but worse for me for having let them down.

4) Accept the change to my family. One of the most difficult things for me to do this year was take a family photo. The last thing I want to do is send a Christmas card without Anna in it. I had just gotten used to sending one without Michael and now everything in me rebels about sending one without Anna too! I want to send a card with all my children in the photo. I really really really do. It is a challenge to truly accept that my family is now different. Taking that photo was a good idea and a good exercise in accepting that my family is missing someone. It will always feel like that I think but I can accept it. Accepting it will make it easier going forward. They will never be out of our mind or our heart but the reality is they will never again be in our family photo. I don’t like it but I accept it.

5) Make a decision right now to not be sad. Be determined about it. You may be surprised about how well you are able to pull yourself out of your same old rut. I choose on this day, in this moment, to be happy. I don’t necessarily ‘feel’ like it but I will ‘fake it ’til I make it’ and have an amazingly better day than if I didn’t force a smile on my face. There is always something to laugh or smile about and it’s amazing how the outward expression can transform the inner feelings.

6) Count my blessings. I have so many things everyday that I am thankful for. By focusing on them and actually counting them – out loud – it leaves little room to lament my losses.

7) Praise God. I wrote a post about praising here and I want to tell you it is foolproof! Try it.  Play some Christian music that praises God and sing along and focus on the words and the God who holds the universe in the palm of his hand. He is holding you too. Praising Him is a gift that he gives us because it can change us from the inside out.

8) Do something new and different this year. My sister was feeling bad that she never decorated Anna’s door last Christmas as she had planned. She decided to do it this year for the other kids and they loved it. It felt great to do something different that was not connected to Christmas past or to Anna. We’ve made a brand new memory and hopefully a new tradition.

9) Do not be a victim or feel sorry for myself.  I am not defined by what I’ve lost but rather by what I’ve been given and who I am as a child of God. I will banish any thoughts of ‘whoa is me’ and ‘it’s not fair’. That gets me exactly nowhere. If those thoughts surface I immediately take them captive and count my blessings instead.

10) Practice being mentally strong.  I read this great article that went viral this past week. I realized there are many similarities with the strategies I use for grieving.

All of this being said, there is always a place to remember our loss and our loved one and to let grief do a work in us.  There will be times when there is so much sadness you can’t even look at this list. When that happens I pray for grace and ask Jesus to help me right where I am. “Lord help me to want to overcome this sadness right now.” If that doesn’t work I try asking, “Jesus, please help me to want to want to overcome this sadness”.

Finally I am usually heartened to remember that no matter what – if I allow God to work – I will only get better.

My Year of Faith

Eight months.

It seems impossible but it has truly been 8 months since that Fateful Friday night.  I waited up for Anna that night as I did every time she was out.  Usually around 11:30 I started texting her, just to make sure she was on target for curfew.  She was always patient and pleasant with her answers but I knew she wanted more trust and independence.  And since turning 18 in January we had tried to give her exactly that.  The thought that very soon she would be out of our house and out of our grasp entirely gave us courage to start letting go. So 8 months ago I waited up until midnight and then made the decision not to contact her.  I knew she would be on her way very shortly.  I said goodnight in my heart and left her where I constantly leave my children when their welfare is out of my hands, in God’s very capable and loving ones.  No sooner was I sound asleep than the phone was ringing us awake and the horror of the moments that followed has not faded since.  Not at all.  And yet in those moments before comprehension completely dawned Heaven intervened. I may never be able to properly describe it, but God was at work in those moments, powerfully, keeping the horror at bay until it could be borne.

All the events of this past year have been on my mind and heart very strongly of late: The good, the bad, the tragic, the miraculous, swirling in my mind, present and real. I’m not a big fan of dwelling on the past, preferring instead to look ahead with Hope.  Still the thoughts surface, coaxing me.  To what?  I’m not sure.  It’s as if this past year isn’t finished with me yet.  There is still much to learn perhaps so I’ve been pondering.

And then I heard a speaker the other day remind us that remembering can be useful and good.  Looking at where we are versus where we have been can really highlight how God is always at work.  He quoted the scripture  “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

One year ago we were working diligently to bring Sergei home from an institution in Russia.  Those chubby cheeks and blue eyes beckoned across land and sea and barriers I never thought we could dare to cross but our hearts were full and sure.  We had gotten through the homestudy process and all the initial paperwork and 50 hours of parent training and of course paid the necessary fees along the way.  I was starting online Russian language lessons in the hopes that I could navigate more easily on our trips there.  It was all a great distraction from the torturous thoughts about where and how our sweet Sergei, and thousands of orphans, are living.

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At the Vatican waiting for the Pope to arrive

One year ago we were getting ready to take our older girls on a trip of a lifetime to Italy, courtesy of Grandma.  The promise and excitement of new adventures was high!  We all took a few Italian lessons and were looking forward to experiencing places we had only seen on television or in books, not the least of which was the Vatican.  I remember getting the confirmation invitation to the audience with the Pope and feeling overwhelmed with excitement.  Pope Benedict XVI had just opened the year of Faith and spending a week in Rome felt like a great way to spiritually get involved.  Our Holy Father’s intent was for the year to be a time for the faithful to learn more about their faith through reading papal documents and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It struck me that we can also learn so much about our faith by hearing witness of others who are living it and so I had planned on this blog to gather faith stories to share throughout the year.

In general, at this time last year, we were filled with the holiest desire to follow God’s will for the building of the kingdom and fulfilling our heart’s desires.

We had an amazing trip to Italy and enjoyed a very special time with our girls.  Experiencing the Joy and awe and wonder through their eyes was such a gift.  I can see Anna so clearly walking the streets of Capri, and in open-mouthed wonder with her camera in the Basilica’s and churches, at Trevi fountain lit up at night,

What did you wish for Anna?

What did you wish for Anna?

and then dressed and radiant for the Papal audience simply because she knew how special it was for me.  She was in her Glory, or at least as close to it as I ever witnessed.  The memories are painful and bittersweet.  She was so alive and so vibrant.  I am so thankful that we had that time on that trip for many reasons but mostly because I had a glimpse of what she must feel like now in Heaven, her true Glory. I can picture her Joy and awe and wonder and that is a gift of untold worth.

God is always at work.

Only a few weeks later we found out we were expecting our little Olivia. We were a little amazed and certainly overjoyed and I love to gross our kids out and tell them we brought home a lifelong souvenir from Italy! HAHA.   And then came a bombshell for the adoption world. No sooner had we re-committed ourselves to bringing Sergei home and updated our homestudy and obtained the necessary approvals, that news of a Russian adoption ban broke.  The days turned into weeks and then weeks into months before the reality of that sank in for us.  We are still coming to terms with the fact that we will only ever be able to love and pray for him from afar.  And on March 1st, instead of being halfway around the world, we were home when our phone rang that Friday night.  I am thankful for that great mercy.

God is always at work.

I’m remembering New Year’s Day 2013.  The Holiday celebrations were over and our household was busy getting ready to head back to school and work.  We all went to mass after dinner and I had the overwhelming sense that there was no place more important for our family to be, at that moment and in the year to come. It was an incredibly peaceful interlude, like the calm before the storm. I obviously had no idea what was to come but knew in my soul that our family would be facing challenges and that we would need Jesus to do it.

God was at work preparing me I guess.  I left that mass to face the new year with courage and faith and hope.

Jesus we trust in you… Lord, wherever you lead we will follow.

The months following Anna’s death were a time of extreme closeness with the Lord.  It was a time that ‘oneness with God’ held new and profound meaning, a time when all of this life seemed to fade away and Eternal Life was brought to the fore.   I remember this exact phenomena from the months after Michael died, of being here but not really being here.  Of going through the motions here but truly residing in the heart of Christ.  It wasn’t a challenge or something I was striving for, it was simply survival. I wrote a bit of my experience during those first months here and here though no words were ever adequate enough.  Slowly the world around me crept back in and continues to do so.  We are called to be here for a divine purpose but it feels cold and cruel after such intimacy, as if I’m being ripped out of Jesus’ embrace and thrust back into the world.  Of course the spiritual unity remains but simply put, duty calls.  The unity is shifting though the relationship is stronger for having been tested. The race of Life marches on and seasons change but I can say with certainty that God has walked every minute of it by my side.

The Life He started in my womb almost a year ago has come to fruition and is a living, breathing crying!) reminder of how real God’s work is in our lives.  Our little Olivia is like a healing balm to this family. She brings Joy, day in and day out.  As we mark 8 months of this earthly process of grieving and healing, it is easy to see how far we have come and yet the road ahead stretches endlessly on.  How will we navigate 8 more months without her and then another 8 after that?

If I’ve learned anything from pondering the events of this past year it’s this: Through trials and joy, through life and death, God is present and at work.

In a few weeks, the year of faith will come to a close.  As I reflect back and ask myself what I did with my year of faith, I realize the answer is simple.

I did the same thing I will continue to do in all my years of faith to come.

I simply walked the road with God.

Courage!

I was starting to think I might never have a prayerful moment or coherent thought again with the challenge of a new baby and a whole slew of kids to get settled in their various schools and activities. I’ve missed my little blogging world and all of you tremendously so here I am for a quickie post.

These days, this season that I’m in, is quite frankly an exhausting one! No sooner do I crawl into bed at night than it’s time to crawl out again. The pace is frenetic, this baby is hungry and all the kids need my attention. The cross of acutely missing Anna, day in and day out feels monotonous and heavy. Every day that she doesn’t walk back into our lives is a new day to work on growing spiritually; the only comfort. And my marriage needs time and attention too. It feels like I’ve hardly seen my hubby in weeks and weeks! There are two relationships in my life that sustain all else; one with Jesus Christ and the other with William Pullano. I can not afford to be too busy for either of them. The cost is simply too great. In short it seems everyone wants a piece of me! A couple of things struck me in the past week that have given me renewed courage and I thought I should share them with you all. After all, I think courage is a cornerstone for these times!

My friend Leila at Little Catholic Bubble published a post a couple of weeks ago titled Women: Save your marriage. In Five minutes. It is definitely worth reading and seems to have struck a chord in many circles. There has been a lot of buzz about it in the blogosphere and the post has been linked on several diocesan websites. I had to see what all the excitement was about and promptly ordered the book that Leila recommends in her post, “The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands.” by Dr. Laura Schlessinger. I dug right in and wasn’t even through the first chapter before the “Alleluia bells” started chiming! I love this book because Dr. Laura has a solid grasp of marriage as vocation and that takes center stage as she deals with just about every situation you can think of. The read is worth every minute of the investment and has something to offer for every marriage but I think these 6 tips alone, excerpted from one of her listener’s emails, will absolutely change your marriage. Right now. Today!

Kaye writes “…Thank God daily for such a terrific guy, mentioning specific qualities for which I’m grateful.

Look for daily ways to be a blessing to my husband (trying to understand what pleases him, anticipating his needs, etc.)

Chart my menstrual cycle and remind myself on the PMS days that what I’m feeling isn’t true and to keep my mouth shut and let it pass.

Avoid books, magazines, and TV shows that describe what marriage, family, and husbands ought to be like, and make a conscious effort to be grateful for things as they are instead of trying to change the people around me.

Take responsibility for my own emotional well-being: Stay rested, don’t overcommit and then complain, stay in touch with friends with a positive influence.

Stay focused on making a home for my family and remember that this is my highest calling and responsibility, and that it has eternal value. The more I do this, the happier and more content I am.”

I had to re-read these several times and really pray about how well I am or am not embracing these things! Grab a copy of this book and see for yourself.   Leila would love feedback for a follow-up post in the future so send her an email with your thoughts littlecatholicbubble@gmail.com (or contact me and I will pass it along)

The Alleluia bells rang for me again shortly after reading this when I decided to see for myself what the media buzz surrounding our Holy Father is all about. I’m sure you’ve seen the media headlines proclaiming ways in which the new Pope is single-handedly changing 2000 years of Church doctrine. It was a little shocking to hear our sweet little local newscaster proclaim such a thing when of course nothing could be further from the truth. I decided to see for myself what prompted such sensationalism and erroneous reporting and what I found was a lengthy interview FULL of beautiful truths and insights. Pope Francis’s humility is, well, humbling and if anyone wants to get to know Pope Francis the man, I highly recommend reading this interview in its entirety. But here is the one paragraph that called to me like a beacon.

“I see the holiness,” the pope continues, “in the patience of the people of God: a woman who is raising children, a man who works to bring home the bread, the sick, the elderly priests who have so many wounds but have a smile on their faces because they served the Lord, the sisters who work hard and live a hidden sanctity. This is for me the common sanctity. I often associate sanctity with patience: not only patience as hypomoné [the New Testament Greek word], taking charge of the events and circumstances of life, but also as a constancy in going forward, day by day. This is the sanctity of the militant church also mentioned by St. Ignatius. This was the sanctity of my parents: my dad, my mom, my grandmother Rosa who loved ​​me so much. In my breviary I have the last will of my grandmother Rosa, and I read it often. For me it is like a prayer. She is a saint who has suffered so much, also spiritually, and yet always went forward with courage.”

To go forward with courage, with patience in our day-to-day lives is our greatest sanctity and the means by which we can become saints!!!

I needed this reminder. It is basic stuff but somehow I allowed the noisy world around me to cloud the simple truth. In the face of day-to-day monotony, struggles, crosses we carry and even the greatest blessings that require something of us, God is present and doing a work in us.

I don’t have to do anything great today, I just have to do the very best I can right where I am. What Hope! What Joy! What rest!

Seriously, by loving my family and doing the laundry and the dishes and driving to activities, God is making me a saint? Not only can I do that, I want to do that!!

Courage my friends!

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Breastfeeding and Pelicans

— 1 —

So this is my first ever quick takes Friday post!  I always enjoy reading these posts but have never had 7 relevant, entertaining and meaningful topics to post about all in the same week before.  And if I do it’s usually Wednesday by the time I write them.  So here I am.  With good stuff.  And it’s still Friday.  Yay!  Must be that Blue Moon this week (and it had me breaking out ‘The Smurfs’ for family movie night!)

— 2 —

So the news you’ve all been waiting for (unless we are friends on FB, Instagram, twitter or I have your email, phone # or you live in my neighborhood or you have children living in the 315 area code….) Drumroll please…. Our princess Olivia Grace Pullano arrived August 6, 2013, 8lbs 13oz.  She was and is beautiful and healthy and probably just as stubborn as her Mom Dad since she decided to stay put for an extra 9 days.  Nine. Daaaaaaays. Nine… But she is here safe and sound and there aren’t enough hours in the day to adequately Praise God for this little miracle! Yes she was a good size baby but she is still a tiny little nugget and our whole family is totally in love with her!  I think we many need a sign-up sheet with a 20-minute rule to cuddle her!

Don't you just love newborn papoose babies?!

Don’t you just love newborn papoose babies?!

— 3 —

And I don’t know if I can do this justice in writing but I thought I’d share with you our first moments home with Olivia.  So we arrived home to paparazzi and fanfare and barely contained crowds holding signs and cameras.  (My kids and a few hundred of their closest friends)  Olivia and I loved every minute of meeting her newest fans but her hunger won out and we had to pause to eat.  Spoiler alert: Somehow I did not adequately prepare my younger children for the natural and beautiful act of breastfeeding.  I got settled in a comfy chair and got Olivia all situated while a little crowd gathered around for the momentous occasion.  Without a second thought I lifted my shirt to nurse and happened to glance up at the faces of my youngest children.  Andrew (7) was a little bug-eyed and his mouth was open in protest, though no sound actually came from his mouth.  After a minute he frantically looked around and ran over to make sure I was completely covered up.  And I mean completely. So when I finally emerged from the blankets, my attention was drawn to horrified face #2, Laura (5).  (Really?? Have my kids never seen someone breast feed??)  She was just as stunned as Andrew but quickly found her voice.  She immediately and efficiently cupped her little hands around her mouth and went all through the crowds shouting “No one look at my Mom!!!  She’s feeding the baby from her boob!  No one look at my Mom!” Over. and Over. and Over. Relieved that the situation was firmly under control, I turned my attention to my sweet little Melissa (3) standing quietly by.  She had calmly taken in the entire scene but had just one question for me.  She leaned in close and whispered, “Mommy, do you have apple juice in there too?”

True Story

— 4 —

  Just one week after Olivia arrived, Bill and I celebrated our 19th wedding anniversary.  While the day was a little overshadowed by, well, breastfeeding, and everything else, the occasion was remarkably celebrated in our hearts.  Not a day goes by that I am not thankful for the Man that coerced me into a few dates and quickly stole my heart.  I never could have imagined all that God had in store for our lives together.  Happy Anniversary Honey. What an honor it’s been to have you by my side!

— 5 —

This past week we marked 5 years since our little Michael went home to the Lord.  It hardly seems possible that it’s been that long.   I can still picture his sweet little face and hear him running to our room as soon as the sun was up and saying, “Mommy and Daddy!  Wake up.  It’s a beautiful day!”  He had the right of it.  We didn’t have a minute to waste with our beautiful boy.   It’s been a while since I’ve listened to his Song of Love but the minute I heard that music I was reminded how special that song was to Michael and all of us during his illness.  I am so grateful to that organization for bringing some Joy during a time that was not very joyful.  It always brought a smile to his face to hear his name in a song!   Here’s a link to Mikey’s song on YouTube that we put to pictures if you want to check it out!

— 6 —

   Of course Anna is never far from our thoughts and many days are so bittersweet.  Bill and I still say, “I just can’t believe Anna died”.  Sometimes I expect her to walk in the door from a long trip or something and the reality hits with fresh force.  She is not walking in the door.  She is not swiping her newest baby sibling from the cradle for late-night snuggles.  She is not joining in the back-to-school frenzy.  Her friends are all heading off to college this week and gathered one last time to say goodbye to Anna. IMG_3275Chinese lanterns made their way up and over the city of Syracuse.

6 months ago, I wondered how I would manage to get her ready for college with a brand new baby in tow.  I tried to imagine saying goodbye to our first-born baby as she embarked on a new chapter of her life. I tried to imagine our house without her.  I couldn’t imagine it but somehow I am now living it in a way I didn’t dream.  The words of scripture, and the mass, strike me for the 1000th time. “Free yourself from needless worry and anxiety” and from Luke’s gospel:

Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life ?  Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest.

As always, I am comforted by the truth of Anna’s reality.  What a waste my earlier worries turned out to be and the thing is that even if she were alive and well and heading off to college right now, my worries still would have been a waste!!  That verse goes on to instruct, “Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

We are not promised longevity in this life. We aren’t promised an easy life, or luxury, or power or wealth or health, but each of us is here for a purpose.  We are part of the divine plan with work to do for the kingdom and we have a limited time to get it done. Our time might be gone in the blink of an eye.  I know it too well. I will ask myself today, and every day, “Lord, how can I serve you?  How can I Love You, my Treasure?”  and then I will pray for the Grace to do it!

— 7 —

And last, a friend recently told me something cool and since I had never heard of it thought you might not have either.  He was visiting a church in NJ which had an image of Jesus captioned “Jesus my Pelican”.  I had never heard Jesus referred to as a pelican before but it’s really a fitting comparison. “The symbolism of the mother pelican feeding her little baby pelicans is rooted in an ancient legend which preceded Christianity. The legend was that in time of famine, the mother pelican wounded herself, striking her breast with the beak to feed her young with her blood to prevent starvation. Another version of the legend was that the mother fed her dying young with her blood to revive them from death, but in turn lost her own life.”  You can read the rest of the article here http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0682.html  Interesting!!

Happy Friday! For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

It’s baby week in the Pullano house!!

A quick bit of my rambling thoughts for today.  The level of anticipation and excitement and busy-ness is high around here as we wait for the arrival of our own royal highness!  I think we are all imagining cuddling and snuggling a new little baby in all her innocence and sweetness and the waiting is a true exercise in the virtue of patience!

For me, there are the usual doubts and fears about the enormous task that lies ahead.  Am I up to it?  How will I juggle it all?  Luckily I’ve been here a few times already and know from experience that of course it will work out and yes I will be up to it – what other choice is there?  There is Joy in the sure knowledge that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Which is not to say that it will all be a piece of cake. Of course having babies and raising a large family is full of struggles.  I don’t have many children because I love being sleepless for months and months or because I love donating my body for years at a time.  To be sure the effort and the sacrifice is great at times.  Many look at me and think I must be made of something superhuman in order to pull off having 9 children.

Indeed I am.  I am a daughter of God.  Simple but divine.  I possess the same superhuman quality we are all capable of possessing. In fact, it’s the very quality we are all created for, to Love.   Not by our own power but by God’s power can we experience that agape love that overrides all else.  It’s the kind of Love that says, yes I will give up myself for you.  And I can’t take much credit for knowing this.  I guess you could say I stumbled upon this truth when I said yes the first time to accepting Life.  Whatever the reasons or circumstances at the time God used my ‘yes’ to teach me something far more beautiful and wonderful and amazing than I ever knew existed.  He showed me that because of His Love, His divinity, His Holy Spirit living in me, I am superhuman.

I can’t help but think of Jesus’ words, “Greater Love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13)  Or for one’s children, or for one’s family, or for one’s God.

To be sure the list of complaints at 39 weeks pregnant for the 9th time is looooooong.  I’ll spare you. You’re welcome.

The sacrifice is great and I know all too well that it is only the beginning.  In fact, I really don’t know the extent of the sacrifice this little life will require of me.   Just as I didn’t know that when I was carrying my 5th child that his life would be so short  – or so fruitful.  I didn’t know when we had our very first child the sacrifice that would be required just 18 short years away.  I didn’t have any Simeon in the temple to predict that a sword would pierce my heart – twice.  We have no guarantees that this newest little life won’t require great sacrifice.  That’s not how it works.  We give ourselves up to Divine Love and Trust in God, come what may.  All the sacrifice day in and day out is part and parcel of Loving.  I bear it all gladly.  And it is like nothing really in light of what Jesus did for us on the cross.  It is the small everyday way I can participate with Him in the cross.

It is the supreme gift of my womanhood and humanity, to be full of life, creating with God, saying Yes and offering myself as a sacrifice in a physical way.  For this I was created and the gift of the opportunity is beyond compare.

I remember being in labor with our 7th child, while our little Michael was in the hospital next-door receiving chemo treatments.  It was gut wrenching to watch his sweet little innocent self suffer and endure that.  In some strange way I wanted to share in that suffering with him.  I really wanted to take it away from him of course but what could I do? Nothing. Except in my contraction-induced haze of pain I had the idea that if he could suffer then so could I.  So in some sort of effort to share in it with him I refused all manner of pain relief and by the power of Love delivered a healthy squalling 9lb 4oz baby girl (and continue to question my sanity to this day!)

It was the sentiment of the cross really.  It was the greatest Love that motivated me, silly as it may seem.  I suppose looking from the outside in someone might question the sanity of Jesus on the cross, walking willingly to give up His life.  But from the inside, wow does it make good sense!

Only by being both a receiver and a participant of that Love does it make all the sense in the world.

The past 9 months has been a time of physically giving my life for another.  The upcoming labor and delivery will not be a walk in the park but the suffering is just a glimpse of the cross.  The Love is the fullness of the cross.  I get to experience both.  Again.  What a gift.  What a Joy.

stay tuned….