Beyond the Suffering

When our son Mikey was diagnosed with a brain tumor seven years ago I was terrified. I was terrified that he might die. Plain and simple. A life lived without my child was just unthinkable. His life was, and continues to be, infinitely valuable. We were told there was no cure for his cancer but we scoured the earth anyway to find some glimmer of hope that could save our child. We clung to the only shred of hope we could find in modern medicine and it wasn’t much. One child had survived this. One. So we treated our son, our treasured baby, in the same way, and we HOPED. We hoped in medicine and protocols and surgery and doctors. We hoped for one end and gave little, if any, thought to the suffering that might result. The truth is, there was no choice that didn’t take us down a path of suffering. We understood that, deep down, from the very first. We couldn’t spare Michael and we couldn’t spare ourselves. The only thing we could do was love him and love his life and take care of him in the very best way we knew how. That included modern medicine. We also knew deep down, that if God wanted Michael to live, he would use doctors and medicine to bring about healing. So we learned to pray and begged God for that.

It was painful and difficult to watch his little body decline and go through such trauma. He endured surgeries and medications and being stuck in the hospital when he wanted to be home playing with his siblings. The chemo robbed him of the ability to walk and his days were spent in a constant state of nausea and vomiting. We did everything within our power to make him comfortable, to distract him, to keep his spirits up, and help him Hope in a future where he would feel good again. Most days he would lie there, desperately quiet, and I imagined him just begging God to let it be over. When we needed some reassurance that he was okay, he would selflessly smile and say, “It’s a beautiful day”. When we started to lose hope, the comfort was always that he was still with us. He was still breathing and as long as there is life, there is hope. It never crossed our minds, not even fleetingly, to put an end to his suffering ourselves. That would have taken the hope of life away from us, possibly for eternity. I shudder now to even think of the sentiment so prevalent in our throw-away culture that does not value life and really does not value suffering.

That suffering was a vehicle, of untold Grace and life unending.

Naturally, I needed to cope with watching my child suffer. It hurt so much. In my prayers, begging God to spare him, He led me instead to Mary. I pondered her journey again and again, trying to learn from her the way to endure. I felt as though I was walking that road to Calvary right next to her. She was quiet and accepting, abiding in something that eluded me. I was crying out, scared, alone and desperate. She stood at the cross without flinching and absorbed every blow to her son with quiet dignity because she hoped in something not of this world. She hoped in the one thing that rendered brutal suffering powerless. Resurrection. She surrendered and trusted and hoped in a Love so powerful that the suffering and the death became the treasure. Suffering is a treasure that has the power to transform our scared and desperate hearts into hearts full of Trust and Love and Hope.

It was an agony to watch my baby suffer and a difficult road for a 3-year old to walk. Even as we prayed for his rescue every day, I lived an agony that transformed me. We suffer many things in this world for lesser gains. God knew, like the perfect parent that He is, that He was giving me the opportunity to choose Resurrection. Mary knew it too, from a lifetime of grace and learning that culminated in the cross. I learned it from a beautiful little boy, a heart full of a mother’s love and a deep understanding that every breath of life has the potential to overcome death. I don’t look back on Mikey’s journey as a nine-month battle of suffering. I look back and remember every day that I loved him. I remember every moment that I held his chubby hand, quietly enjoying the weight of it in my own. I remember reading to him and singing to him and trying to keep him entertained, and I remember the reward of his beaming smile when I succeeded. I remember washing and dressing him and praying with him; inhaling his unique scent. He told me one day that he needed a sword. He said it was his job to help St. Michael the archangel and I remember the determination with which he said it. I remember him teasing his brother even from a hospital bed where he clearly did not have the advantage. He knew his role as big brother well without ever having been taught. I remember him doting on his infant sister, Laura, and him wanting to care for her and protect her from the first moment he laid eyes on her. No, I don’t look back and see only suffering. I see a million moments of living and loving that I would never trade. More importantly, I understand now how those moments, good and bad, were at work in this mother’s soul. God had plans to prosper me! And Michael. I couldn’t possibly have known all the plans the Lord had for me. I still don’t, but I trust Him.

When Michael breathed his last, I was no longer terrified or desperate.  In those moments of death and devastation when I felt utterly empty, I learned the most important Truth of my life.  God revealed His presence and I knew with a peace that passes understanding that I had all I truly needed. I had learned to pray, not merely for the end I desired, but the end that would bring the greatest good for all of us and I was filled with the deep Joy of knowing my baby was face to face with his creator and had fulfilled his purpose in this created world. His suffering taught me Love in a way I never could have learned it otherwise. I was re-created in Christ and could never have seen that coming. Mary knew it though. God makes all things new.

We don’t have a choice about suffering as it will surely find us, but we do have a choice to make. We can pick up the cross and walk the very narrow road, or try and go our own way.
When I get my turn to stand before my God I’m not sure I will say, “Yes Father, it’s been a rollicking good time. Let’s do that again.” But, I will definitely say, “Yes Lord, it was all very GOOD. I got to know You here.”

The Hope In ISIS

I was outside playing catch with Andrew a few days ago and one of my throws went way off course. He made a running, leaping, reaching catch before falling proudly to the ground with ball in glove. He, of course, gave a play-by-play commentary afterward saying, “Terrible throw by Mom, really awesome catch by Andrew!” Just calling it as he saw it (with a big smirk on his face). I saw it a little differently and happily gave him my point of view. My terrible throw gave him the opportunity to make an incredible catch. He needed my terrible throw.

As we all know, the atrocities being committed against Christians in Iraq, Africa, and elsewhere are top news stories of late. Our fellow Christians are being murdered and brutalized and, as our country’s leader stands seemingly silent, the situation feels dire and dark. We are feeling helpless as we watch in wide-eyed horror, with the powerful exception of coming together in prayer for our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Certainly, I don’t want to make light of the horror by suggesting it compares to something as trivial as throwing a baseball around, but I do see tremendous Hope in the horror. ISIS is providing an opportunity to stand before the world and boldly give up everything for Christ. ISIS is drawing the line in the sand in a monstrous way, thereby allowing Christ followers to set an example and send a powerful message, to their God and to the world.

Arabic-NazareneEvery night, my family prays and gives thanks to God for these faithful Christians willing to risk everything, in the eyes of the world, for the one thing only seen with the eyes of Faith. They are a beacon, a light post on top of the hill, standing up for the only thing that truly matters. They risk everything to claim Christ and they know it. They possess Christ so much so that not only are they willing to die for Him, but mothers are willing to let their children die for Him. It is beautiful and it is encouraging. It is the Hope we need in this darkness, an example to be pondered while we pray for that kind of faith and relationship with the Savior. Do you have a faith worth dying for? What is our own suffering now in light of martyrdom and persecution?

Some of the most haunting images coming across my newsfeed are those of children and babies, mutilated and beheaded. The cry comes from deep within me as I think of my own sweet innocent baby. Surely, I would die for her. Why the innocent children, Lord? But then I ask myself, “Would the slaughter of only adults make it somehow more palatable”? These children are marked for Christ and I think it is a sign of even greater hope. Just as in the days of Herod, when he slaughtered all the male children because he couldn’t find the true object of his hatred, these holy innocents are being sacrificed. Then, as now, evil thrashed about like a kid having a temper tantrum, destroying all that it could in its path. Why? The answer is so simple and so full of HOPE!! Because God lives! God lives here and now and He has a plan unfolding. The Christians in Iraq are chosen as part of the unfolding. Those who have died, now live. They are a great light for the world and yet just a shadow of the True light that is coming.

Shortly after Anna died, I had a very strong message and experience that I could not fully understand. I wrote about it here. It was of a sunrise that wasn’t quite full of the splendor and majesty I was expecting or seeking, and yet it was a sunrise that dispelled the darkness all the same. It was a sunrise with the hope and expectation of bright rays burning through the clouds at any moment, but it was incomplete and fell short. What was the Lord trying to tell me? I understand that experience with a little more clarity now. We may not feel the hot sun on our faces quite yet, but we must TRUST fully, deeply, and wholeheartedly that the sun is there and the clouds cannot last forever. Even if that sun sets behind clouds and we are steeped in darkness, we must TRUST that it is only dark for a time. The sun will rise in splendor and glory.

The time to seize opportunities to choose Christ, to choose our faith, and to choose Truth is now. It is critically important that we hone a faith like Abraham. Pray for it. Beg God for the kind of faith that willingly offers your child as a sacrifice to Him. We all know the story of Abraham and Isaac when the Lord stays the father’s hand at the 11th hour and spares the son. We breathe a sigh of relief and hug our own children a little tighter, but that’s not the end of the story. Along comes Jesus, willingly offered and sacrificed by the Father, and this time there is no stay.  Anything less than the full sacrifice just does not get the job done. The willingness to lay down life isn’t adequate, only the actual giving of life will suffice for the salvation of the world. The sacrifice of Jesus was once for all, but it is the model for each of us to follow daily. There have been many throughout history who have done exactly that. We need to be prepared to give back to the Lord all that He has given us including our very life. It is the example of faith that we need for the salvation of our souls in these dark, dark days. Every single martyr is a beacon of HOPE that sends a clear and strong message. Dying is not true death. Dying for Christ is true Life.

Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (MT 16:24-26)

These holy men, women, and children who refuse to deny their Lord are heroes and champions. I will tell you of the true horror and tragedy taking place around the globe because, sadly, it will never get reported.  It is the tragedy of the Christians who are being given the opportunity to choose Him, but instead are denying the Christ. “But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven.” (MT 10:33) We must pray for them as we pray for ourselves.

When a gunman, the unpopular Truth, the socially unacceptable Church teaching, or the private battle with sin calls us to account, will we choose Christ or will we sever ourselves from the Body? No matter the consequence, will we have the courage to take the outstretched hand of our Blessed Mother and say, “Yes Lord. Not my will but yours be done.” At any cost? At every cost? After all, there is no cost greater than Eternity. Our brothers and sisters being persecuted by ISIS know this intimately and many have chosen boldly.

No matter their past sins or successes, when given the choice by ISIS to convert or die, their entire lives of faith have boiled down to one choice in one moment. And the rest of the Body proclaims, “Well done, good and faithful servants. Pray for us.”

Blogging, Speaking, and Pentecost

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Hello, my faithful friends! I’m stopping by to say hello and let you know that I have not disappeared but I am (obviously) taking a short blogging hiatus. There is a lot going on, as always, but the real reason is that I am preparing to speak at a Food and Faith event here in Syracuse on June 16th. I know it’s a little lame of me, but it is taking all of my mental focus right now. Well that, and a million other things, but mostly that.  Ladies, I would love to share the evening with you so please join us if you can.  Counting on the Holy Spirit to show up in a big way, and praying I can get out of the way, so I know you won’t be disappointed!  In the meantime, find me on my Facebook page where I will be stopping in from time to time.Monday June 16th2

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I am now blogging for the John Paul II Center for Women!  (And by ‘now’, I mean sometime this decade.) The mission of the JPII center is to promote the dignity of women.  As a woman and a mom to lots of girls, this mission is near and dear to my heart.  I want my girls to know the TRUTH of authentic love and the genius of their femininity.  I want to share the wisdom of the Church with women everywhere.  It is so simple and so beautiful.  The new blog is called Conversations with Sophia (Sophia being the saint of Wisdom).  Check it out here.  I would love feedback and input.  What do you want to talk about there?  Burning questions, hot topics, church teaching; Let’s go there!cropped-mother20and20child

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Here is the funniest thing I have possibly ever read on the Internets. I stole it from Leila.  This brought me tears of Joy and laughter!

“We were awesome back in October; don’t you forget that. We used to care, and that counts for something. Next year’s teachers will get a fresher version of us in August, and they won’t even know the levels of suckage we will succumb to by May. Hang in there, Mama. Just a few more days until summer,”

Read the full article here Worst End of school year Mom Ever.

The hilarity factor is probably directly proportional to my level of suckage but I am limping people.  Have pity.

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Andrew receiving the Body of Christ in the Sacrament for the first time.

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Missing teeth Just in time for Kindergarden graduation

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Our 2nd born baby girl Nichole graduates in a couple weeks and is leaving the nest!

How about a few Pullano kid highlights?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Say the Holy Rosary. Blessed be that monotony of Hail Marys which purifies the monotony of your sins.”.  - St. Josemaria Escriva

Oh, the wisdom in that!! If you pray the rosary and go to confession often, you will totally get it. Sometimes I wonder if the poor priest hearing my confession feels like he’s in a Charlie Brown episode; I speak words, but he hears ‘blah blah blah’. I bore myself with the monotony of the same sins, over and over.  Praying the rosary is a beautiful antidote to those pesky human sinful tendencies that we can’t seem to ‘kick’ on our own.  Our Heavenly mother is so wise.

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Thanks Anabelle, for The Catholic Writer Award!
” If you truly are a Catholic writer, then you must give the keys of your keyboards to God. You write when He inspires and whatever He inspires. You can take breaks, He doesn’t want exhausted bloggers either.”

Yup, that pretty much sums up my blog!  I love this award!  Check out Anabelle’s full post and my blogroll on the sidebar for lots of great inspiring Catholic writing.  And, if you have a Catholic blog please leave me a link in the comments so I don’t miss you out there!CatholicWriter'sAward

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And last but not at all least: a short Reflection from my Garden for Pentecost.

We have a healthy strawberry patch in my garden and last week it was in full bloom.  The kids were so excited and ran out each day before and after school to see if there were any berries to pick yet.  After a few days the flowers faded away but the fruit was not yet apparent.

It was an exercise in patience, watching and waiting for the green berries to emerge and then gradually ripen.  That waiting time reminds me of the past 10 days in our liturgical calendar.  The time between Jesus’ ascension into heaven and the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples is a very fruitful and necessary time.  It may not seem like much is happening in that upper room, but we know one very important line from scripture,  “all these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer” (Acts 1:14).  They were gathered together, praying, trusting, abiding, pondering.  They were being emptied, so the Spirit could come and fill them, and their mission would bear incredible fruit.  This is the most important thing those first Christians could have done.  Of course, they had the very best teacher.  Like the berries, getting sweeter, absorbing sunshine and nutrients, changing color, and being made ready, so were these men being made ready to receive power from on high.

We celebrate Pentecost and pray for a fresh outpouring of the spirit to bring renewal and conversion, in our hearts and in our church.  The harvest is being made ready.  Let us devote ourselves to prayer and go and make disciples of all nations.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

The Great Temptation

I was looking at an old family photo hanging on my wall and noticing the smiling faces of my 4 oldest girls. They looked downright joyful, with a sparkle in their eyes and not a care in the world (other than the perceived hideousness of the outfits I made them wear). The photo was taken pre-cancer… pre-death… pre-trauma. In that moment, I was tempted. I was truly tempted to give in to anger and despair and resentment because the cross they have been given to bear is just not fair. The cross I have been given is not fair either, but at least I’m a grown-up.  They are just kids.  It’s not fair that we couldn’t shield our children from the world, so they could be simply children. I hate that their smiles don’t always reach their eyes. I hate that tragedy has worked on breaking them at such a young age and the effects have rippled through our family for these past few years.  ‘Something’ was really tempting me to give in to ugliness and evil.

But I didn’t, and I never will, and I will tell you how and why. Giving in to that would be akin to taking the morsel Jesus dipped in the bowl at the last supper.

Judas Iscariot, the one who is to betray Jesus to the High Priests, is depicted reaching across the table to dip into the dish.

I will never understand how Judas actually took that piece of bread from Jesus. How could he choose darkness when he had been walking with the light for three years?  Why would anyone want anger, hatred, and resentment over Love, Peace and Joy? Why doesn’t Love always prevail?

The answer is age-old.

Satan has dangled the carrot of power and control since the beginning.  He did it in the garden,

“The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Gn. 3:4-5

And tried it on Jesus in the desert,

“the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.” Mt 4:8-9

And uses every moment of suffering and vulnerability in us, still to this day!

Every once in a while it hits me that the hand we have been dealt is just so unfair.  I look at those beautiful happy souls in an old photo and can’t stop the negative resentful thoughts. It’s easier to overcome this temptation when all is well and going according to my own plans, but when things are not looking so rosy, it’s tempting to feel like we have been thrown to the wolves and the deck has been stacked against us.  It is imperative that as quickly as those thoughts surface, I take control of them by an act of my will.  And therein lies the how. The gift of our free will is powerful – that is how we never have to give in to temptation. Of course the deck isn’t stacked against us.  Jesus says as much in scripture, 

“And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Cor 10:13

We always have all that we need to overcome temptation and evil. Period. Judas had the power to overcome it as well, but he chose to reach out his hand and take that morsel instead. The God I know and Love would never stack the deck against us and He certainly didn’t set us up to fail.  To the contrary, He has stacked the deck highly in our favor.  He stacked the deck for us during His ministry on Earth when he established the sacraments and the priesthood and set Peter as the first in line to lead His church.  He stacked it when He promised that the gates of hell would never prevail.  He stacked it from the cross when He gave his final earthly gift; his Mother.  He stacked it by opening the gates of Heaven and sending his Holy Spirit to be with us always.  He stacked it with the ultimate sacrifice of himself.
When we face trials there is often the temptation to turn away from God. I hear it said again and again; “If God really loves me then why did he allow (fill in the blank)?”  When evil and suffering are at work, we blame God and question why.  At the first sign of trouble we demand God show himself and explain.  When that happens we have bought into the lie and are playing right into the hand of Satan.  God can stack our deck all day long but it does us no good if we only play our own game by our own rules.  We need his church.  We need the sacraments and the wisdom of the church fathers and the saints who have gone before us.  We need every single tool at our disposal because we are under attack.  As long as we live on Earth, we constantly have to fight the temptations that our human nature is susceptible to.

God never abandons us in our trials and temptations, but I think sometimes He allows them just to show us how strong our free will is.  We have to know our strength in Him in order to become saints.  And in order to know our strength we first have to be humble in our weakness. Nothing teaches humility like realizing, through our trials, that we are not in control.  We cannot control life and death, sickness and disease, poverty or wealth, or the choices others make, but we can control our response to them all.  We can control whether we rise up to the challenge and respond with faith, trust, and surrender to God, or whether we fight (kicking and screaming) to maintain some illusion of control.  That is why Love and peace and joy do not always win out.  Our desire for control, and belief that we have it, is the great temptation.  Wanting that control is the ‘something’ that was coaxing me to give in.  As a parent I want to be in control of what my children are exposed to and what trials they have to suffer. (If I were, I guess they would suffer precisely nothing.)  Naturally, I want to protect them and shield them, but giving in to anger, despair, and resentment is just plain silly and only hurts myself.  And therein lies the why.  Our trials are good for us.  They help form us into the saints we are all called to be and this is true for my children, too.  Sainthood should be the desired goal of our entire lives.

In this modern age, being in control has become increasingly ingrained in us by our society.  We are so self-reliant and self-sufficient that it’s easy to forget we need God, every single minute of every single day.  Every minute that disaster doesn’t strike us we should be thankful for the grace and protection that is keeping us safe.  Anna’s date of death, March 2nd, happens to be the feast day of St. Charles the good.  Shortly after she died, a friend sent me one of his quotations that has stuck in my mind ever since: “We are in the middle of dangers all the time, but we belong to God.”   Unfortunately, the modern view tends to be just the opposite.  We have the expectation of controlling as much as we possibly can and when disaster strikes we are angry and upset that we didn’t see it coming, or that God didn’t protect us.  How differently we would view suffering if we lived a more God-reliant way of life!  If we stepped outside of ourselves and practiced letting go all the time, and not only when we are forced to, it would be easier to do when we need to.  So, if the goal is sainthood, we should be thankful for our trials since they give us the opportunity to relinquish control and trust more fully in God.

There, but for the grace of God, go I.


“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” 1 Cor 15:10

The gift of my free will is powerful, but it does not give me control over life and our circumstances.  Disease will strike.  Accidents will happen.  Trials will come, but in my weakest moments my free will gives me the power to tell Satan to go to hell and to let God be God.

When I look longingly at the Joy of days gone by, temptation to despair may arise, but I know that it holds no real power.  Instead of being bitter and angry about what has been lost, I choose to pray in utter surrender,
Jesus, I trust in you. My kids have been broken, but you are the divine healer and can restore us, Lord. I didn’t ask for these trials God, but you can use them for your good. We have lost so much, but as long as we have you, Jesus, we have everything.  I am Thankful.”

"We are always in the midst of danger, but we belong to God"  1083- March 2, 1127

“We are in the middle of dangers all the time, but we belong to God” St. Charles the Good 1083- March 2, 1127

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…

View original 672 more words

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.