Miraculous Mary

In the summer of 2008, my first-born son Mikey was dying. He had turned four years old in the midst of chemotherapy and radiation for his brain tumor, but we knew he would never see age five. I can’t begin to describe the roller coaster of emotions I was riding as July turned to August that summer, and my baby was slipping away. I can tell you that it was terrifying and lonely. I spent my time with him hoping and praying for an epic miracle because I just couldn’t face the writing on the wall. I knew that once I embraced that cross that I would have to see it through to Calvary. And no mother ever wants to accept that cross…

Without even thinking about it, I sought advice from our Blessed Mother. I didn’t really know her well, but I knew we shared this cross and at the very least I wouldn’t be alone in it. At the very most, I begged her to show me how to accept and abide as she herself had done. In the moments between the terrifying reality and unthinkable future, I sought her counsel and companionship. I had nowhere else to turn. My God and my Savior had yet to take His rightful place in my life and in my heart, because He had yet to reveal me to myself.
But Mary was my comfort. Though she couldn’t heal or fix or save my little one, any more than she could her own son, she was with me through it all. She walked beside me and gave me what she gave her son, the quiet, steady confidence of her trust in the Father. I learned by her example that I wouldn’t perish with each next step. Slowly I walked, one foot in front of the other, one painful step at a time, with my wise and gentle Mother at my side. She didn’t look away or run from the excruciating reality, and that gave me courage to face the impossible. Just as she stayed with Jesus until she held his dead body, I knew she wouldn’t leave me, ever.

August 19, 2008 arrived and my disbelief turned to acceptance, that with each passing moment and Mikey’s slowing breath, there would be no 11th hour miraculous healing that would save us from our ultimate cross. Mary understood that process very well.

Our family was gathered around Mikey’s hospital bed in our home that morning. In truth, I had kept vigil with him through the night, not wanting to miss a single precious moment of his last hours. He had spent his last weeks in this favorite room of our house, the sunroom, full of light and windows with peaceful and serene views of trees and landscape. It’s a space that became intimate when filled with a hospital bed, our whole family, and a million prayers sent to Heaven with hope. Even now, 12 years later, I feel the presence of those prayers like a cozy blanket, sent on behalf of my little Mikey then, and now somehow returned to me.

At about 10 o’clock that Tuesday morning, his breathing changed and slowed. The space between each breath grew longer and I think we collectively held our own breath waiting for the
next one. Until there just wasn’t a next one. Helplessly, we breathed his last with him and barely realized that it was happening. One moment he was here with us and the next moment he wasn’t. The reality slammed with full force and no matter how prepared you think you are for the moment to come, the finality of death has a way of ripping into your soul.
The room had gone silent, the only sounds being the gentle wracking sobs of our 8-year-old and the distant, yet gut-wrenching, wailing of our 7-year-old from another room. In my heart, there was peaceful silence. Mikey’s machines were turned off and there was no more pain, medications, treatments, therapies, or agonizing helplessness and worries. He was free. I sat in the rocker, where I had held him for the better part of his four years, and held him for the last time. He was off the cross and in my arms and Mary held us both.

Our last family photo with Mikey that hangs in our sunroom

Those moments were pivotal for me. Infused with the peace that passes all understanding, I was set free, too. I suddenly understood with a divine clarity that although my little Michael couldn’t come back to me, I could CHOOSE to go to him. His lifeless body brought the greatest conviction, to seek LIFE, that I have ever known. In that extraordinary moment, there was no anger or fear or even sadness, but only a gentle and peaceful assurance that my life had found its purpose and I would be in the greatest of company. How did I suddenly understand this without having a clue of where to begin? I was serenely confident that Mary would be showing me the way.

The family gradually dispersed; Bill to call the undertaker and begin arrangements, my mom to handle logistics of visitors and food and love already piling in. Bill’s mom took the younger girls from the room with the excuse of checking the mail. I guess she had also noticed the mail truck pulling up just as Mikey was taking his final breaths. Strange how life ticks on even in the moments that stand still. Notice the mothers in this scene. They might largely go unnoticed except they carried on life and meaning in the most essential ways. In those moments, and in my memories now, I know I couldn’t have survived that day without them, without the comfort of their steady presence.

Suddenly, the girls started running from the mailbox back toward the house waving a letter. I could see them from the chair in the sunroom where I sat still holding Mikey. They barreled into the room breathless with excitement and said, ‘Mom! Look what just came in the mail!’ and excitedly presented me with the full windowed envelope that clearly contained a beautiful yet sorrowful picture card of our Lady and the words “With Sympathy.” I tucked that awe-inspiring, and yet somehow expected, tender loving message into my heart where I carry it to this day. Mothers often love in miraculous ways!

How did I walk through those following days of preparation for his burial with Joy in my soul and Trust that all would be well? They were agonizing days full of a billion tears after all.

On top of the mercy and grace that was showered upon me from heaven, our Blessed Mother walked beside me, and Mother knows best.

The card she sent in the most important moments of my life
Note the copyright 2008

My Divine Mercy Miracle

By Karen Pullano Edited by Nancy Impelizzieri

One of the stories I love to share when I give talks, is the miracle of my own salvation during Divine Mercy weekend in 2008. Of course in the usual way the Lord works, it was a miracle that began taking place long before I noticed. The seeds for it were planted at my baptism; by those who taught me the faith; and by my mother who brought me to the grace of the sacraments throughout my childhood. Much later, the Lord made manifest this work He began in me by way of a tremendous agony in my life. For that, I am eternally grateful.

When Mikey was diagnosed with a deadly brain tumor at the age of three, I refused to accept that he might actually die. My faith in God was shallow at best, but I had faith enough to turn to him in my terror and sorrows. I was terrified of losing my son, and sorrowful day in and day out for all that he had to endure. His childhood was being stolen away and all my dreams for his life and health were increasingly crushed throughout the months of treatment.

As time went on we kept hoping for healing and recovery, but what I didn’t realize for a long time was that as that possibility diminished, my hope in the eternal was growing. We are an Easter people and hope is written on our hearts from the beginning. That hope of course has the face and name of Jesus, but I didn’t understand that then.

Mikey suffered through many rounds of intense chemotherapy after his brain surgery was unsuccessful. Imagine our extreme disappointment when again and again we were told that it wasn’t working. The tumor continued to grow despite the worst poison this world had to give it. After two months of rigorous treatment, the doctors decided to stop. It was the briefest and longest two months of my entire life, as my baby’s life hung in the balance. I used to hug him so tight that I imagined there was no possible way the cancer could survive the squeezing. And in brief moments of pure love and prayer, hope in the eternal was growing. The rest of the time it was ignored as we continued to look to the doctors and the world for the cure that surely must come.

I remember receiving one particular card in the mail that contained a pivotal scripture for me. From Jeremiah 29:11 it read, “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you declares the Lord. Plans for your welfare and not for woe. Plans to give you a future and a hope.” Upon reading this, I was filled with the Lord and the Holy Spirit, though I couldn’t recognize Him at the time. I knew beyond a doubt that the promise was true. I knew the Lord would be faithful and do exactly as He said, giving both Mikey and me a future and a hope. Naturally, I took it to mean that Mikey would be healed. I had no room in my mother’s heart for any other possibility.

So, facing the end of treatment options in March of that year, we brought our first-born son (the 5th of seven children) home from the hospital, to rest and heal from treatment and love him as much as we could while continuing to seek the instrument of his grand miraculous healing. We enjoyed Easter at home together as a family, and hope rose as never before. A new day, the Lord’s day, that He made for us to rejoice and be glad in, had sprung up along with the daffodils in the yard and the buds on the trees promising new life everywhere we looked. That very Easter night, the doctors called and said he should have another chance at treatment since they had detected some response. I knew it! The Lord had promised after all. We eagerly took Mikey back to the hospital that Easter Monday for more toxic chemotherapy. It was a rigorous and near deadly cocktail in and of itself, but it was our only hope.

As was the routine, Bill and I took turns staying with him around the clock throughout that week. On Friday, at about 3 o’clock, I relieved Bill so he could come home to shower and rest. I couldn’t wait to be with my baby even though I knew it would be heartbreaking to be so helpless in the face of his suffering. Imagine my surprise when I arrived and he was sitting up in a chair smiling and talking! Bill felt good about leaving him for a short time and it filled my heart to have some time with this little boy, treasure of my heart. He chattered away telling me his big plans to get Daddy’s keys and drive home in the truck, and play with Andrew and take care of his new baby sister Laura. As he spoke, there was a gleam of life and joy in his little face. (It was years later that I recognized the significance of the 3:00 hour of mercy, and how God showed His great mercy to us on that Friday, in that hour.)

A short time later, the nurses came to get Mikey for a quick procedure. We made the arduous journey down the hall with all his paraphernalia, got through the procedure just fine, and made the slow move back to his room again. Along the way back, out of the blue, he suddenly couldn’t breathe. Instantly there was mayhem. Nurses were running and yelling for doctors and the blue light in the hall was flashing and screeching. Our hospital neighbors all stood in their doorways watching the commotion and I numbly but hurriedly followed the stretcher as we made our way to the elevator and down to the pediatric ICU. Mikey was whisked through the giant double doors and a team descended on him at which point I was stopped by his doctor. Despite the roaring in my ears, I heard her ask if I wanted him to be resuscitated, but somehow the question made no sense. Nothing made sense in those moments. I was expecting a miracle of healing, after all I had been praying so much more, and surely the Lord was pleased with me. But most importantly, He promised! So I answered with the only possible answer I could give and despite her loving protest, I begged her to save his life!

With shaking hands, I called Bill and tried to explain the unexplainable. I called the rest of the family and repeated the doctor’s thoughts, that the tumor in the middle of his brain stem had simply grown enough to shut down his life center. One minute he’s here and the next he’s just… not.

I remember watching Bill arrive. Perhaps he seemed unhurried and at ease to the casual observer. I saw the defeat of a Dad who couldn’t save his son, but more importantly I saw the humble confidence of a son who trusts in his Father. He stood firmly beside me in that trust when the doctor finally returned with the news. Armed with brain scans, she explained that, as they had feared, Mikey was brain dead and being kept alive by the machines. She showed us the scans with the white areas of dead tissue and explained that our next step would be removing the ventilator and saying our goodbyes, not necessarily in that order.

I remember feeling nothing and everything. I remarked to no one in particular that I would never be able to eat again. It felt like my insides just twisted up and died, not that it really mattered. But most of all, I felt such complete disbelief. If Mikey died, then God wasn’t really who He said He was to me. The God I thought I knew lied and let me down. If Mikey died, then my Hope did, too. That was the source of my despair as I stood at his ICU bedside and the priest arrived to give last rites. He led us in the Our Father just as Anna was arriving.

The kids had been scattered at their various activities with family members and had filtered in as soon as they could. Anna was the last to arrive before we could say our goodbyes as a family. The doctors encouraged us to talk to Mikey in case somewhere between life and death he could hear us. So we did and nonsensically I said, ‘Mikey, Anna’s here now, do you want to see her?’ And all of us gathered there, in that moment, saw the slightest nod of his head. His doctor urgently told me to ask again and when I did, his little eyelids fluttered open. There was mayhem as the doctors scrambled to their large screen with the images of his dead brain still visible to us all. They couldn’t make the pieces fit, but I could! This was more like it. Hope unfurled it’s glorious wings. The priest happily joked that he was no longer needed there and led us in a few more prayers before he was on his way. Mikey was not showing signs of breathing on his own, but he was awake and responding and definitely alive!

The night for me was spent keeping a vigil of sorts. How could I sleep when the excitement of what the Lord was doing was palpable within me? I didn’t understand it all, but I was filled with a ‘knowing’ that He is God and we are not. I saw His power and majesty and understood this God of mine in a whole different way. He alone is the Lord of life and death. He is mighty to save and to heal, if it is His will. He has plans in mind far greater than what we can see or conceive. I felt His love and His Favor and was giddy with excitement about this incredible miracle. I knew He wouldn’t take my little Michael away from me. Not yet.

I spent Saturday in a feeling of incredible relief and thanksgiving. I was intimately connected with my Lord in my newfound space of trust, even as the doctors continued to look grim. Mikey still had a massive tumor filling his brain stem and was intubated in the ICU, but I was celebrating! And by evening, he was showing hopeful signs of being able to breathe on his own.

Our family took turns at his bedside, two at a time per ICU regulations, throughout that day and night and it was decided that on Sunday they would try to remove the tube. We made a plan to come to the hospital early and go to Mass in the chapel and then gather together by his bedside for the removal just in case it didn’t go well. Once again, I was so excited at what my newfound Lord and friend was about to do that I wasn’t able to sleep.

I was so sure of the total miracle He would finish in restoring Michael that I was unaware of another miracle He was bringing about in my very own soul.

It would be years before I would understand what the Lord spoke in my heart that Sunday morning when we arrived for Mass. The priest announced that it was Divine Mercy Sunday and I was floored. It was a somewhat new celebration in the church calendar and I had honestly never heard of it before. But on this day, with that announcement, suddenly it was everything. On Friday, in the Lord’s divine providence and mercy, He had restored my Mikey to life in the greatest show of a miracle that could neither be ignored nor denied and I wanted to shout it from the rooftops. After Mass we headed for the ICU. I was ready for His incredible mercy to be made manifest. We entered Mikey’s room not knowing the procedure was done and that adorable little face greeted us with a beaming smile and words to the effect of ‘let’s go’. It was finished. My little boy who died on Friday, was resurrected on Sunday, Divine Mercy Sunday. We could bring him home. And I didn’t know it, but that wasn’t the Lord’s greatest work that weekend.

Although the next months were filled with disease, we had tremendous hope of a total miracle of healing. The Lord had already proved that He could and would, and it was impossible for me to accept the mere reality of impending death. Without realizing it, my hope that had been in doctors, medicine, and treatments, had gradually shifted to hope in the divine and eternal. It was July when the Lord gave me my first glimpse of this.

I was desperate to take my family and escape from reality. In a crazy move, our entourage of 12 boarded a plane bound for the magical world of Disney. Mikey’s wish was to see Mickey Mouse and though he was wheelchair bound and declining rapidly, to the Mouse we went. The plane took off up through the scant clouds and a great peace descended upon my soul as I looked out over the vastness of the earth below. The Spirit breathed truth and life into my prayer, “Lord you have created all this, you have us too in the palm of your hand.” I flew right into His heart that day and barely realized it.

As July turned to August I could feel that Michael’s time was short. My ultimate cross was looming and instinctively I took refuge in Mary’s heart. She had walked this road before me and I begged her to show me how. So gently did she take my hand and guide me, that I didn’t realize she had.

August 19th my sweet baby, my first-born son, the little prince of our hearts, breathed his last and Mary was with me. There was anguish and there was tremendous peace. Instinctively, I knew that he had to go to the Father in order for the Spirit to come, even as I grieved and hated it. He couldn’t come back to me, but I knew Mary would show me how to go to him. Suddenly I wanted nothing more in my life than to find the way. And so I began.

The miracle of that Divine Easter weekend of mercy had little to do with saving Mikey’s life and everything to do with saving my own.

The Master has need of it

By His stripes we are healed. By our own stripes, the world around us can be healed, too. But what makes our suffering into a stripe that heals others?

Love is what brought Jesus to the gruesome torture and suffering of the cross. Love for each of us, but more importantly, love for the Father and love for His perfect will. The Master had need of Jesus to bring about the salvation of the world, and He has need of us, too. Each of us in our own suffering can help bring about the salvation of souls when we love the will of the Father more than our own. We heal each other when we love others in our suffering more than we love ourselves. I trust in Him wholeheartedly that the loss of my children is being used in his perfect and holy master plan of salvation for others. And so I choose, as often as I can, not to focus on my own pain and suffering, but on the glory of what He will do with that pain and suffering when I unite it with His. He brings about the incredible and the miraculous in hearts and souls.

https://images.app.goo.gl/XKxgrbTkh6B9hzSBA

I recently listened to Bishop Robert Barron’s Stations of the Cross reflections (The stations of the Cross with Bishop Barron). At the fifth station, he parallels Simon being pressed into service to carry the cross, with the donkey being pressed into service to bear Christ into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. In both Luke (19:31) and Matthew (21:3), a servant is told to go and untie the donkey and told, if questioned to simply respond, ‘the Master has need of it.’ It struck me! The Master also has need of you and me, especially in these days of uncertainty and fear that we are walking through.


The Master has need of each of us in the same way Jesus needed that donkey on His triumphal entrance into Jerusalem, and needed Simon on the road to Calvary. We are all equipped in some way for these days we are now in, but maybe not in the way we think. Of course all of our gifts, talents, and riches can glorify God when we allow ourselves to be pressed into His service. But it is the crosses we bear, the sufferings we endure with faith, and the wounds we bravely face, that, when suffered with great Love of God, become the stripes that can heal. My suffering is actually my greatest blessing.


I can’t begin to know how my crosses, small in comparison to His own, serve Him, but I do know how THE cross has served me. It has healed me and made me whole. It has given me freedom and taught me deep and abiding love. If my stripes, united to Him, can do that for His beloved children, then I don’t have nearly enough of them.

The Master has need of me. And you.

“He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His stripes you are healed.” 1 Peter 2:24

7 Years

In these past 7 years, I’ve come to understand my suffering is a gift. A gift not exactly given to me by God, but allowed by God so that He might shower me with so many other amazing gifts and graces. In the rawness of my grief, when Mikey died 12 years ago and when Anna died 7 years ago, God taught me that when you are clawing at air and think you have lost too much to survive, He is there. And He is enough.

He’s proved His love for me constantly, always keeping every promise. He’s been by my side in the darkest valleys and to the top of the hills.

We’ve walked through fire together and I would follow Him anywhere. Even to the cross. After all, that’s where He did His best work. And where I do mine. Mostly because that’s where I meet Him, the one who is Love and Mercy itself. There is no fear at the cross with Jesus, only looking forward to resurrection. Where then can fear live, if the worst case is the cross with our Savior? It’s not death that stings, so much as the fear of death. And the fear of death does not compare to the fear of living without the One who loves me above all else. If that were possible, then everything would sting!

Today I am reminded of all that we have lost in our beautiful and vibrant Anna. I am of course mourning once again all her ‘lasts’ and the really empty space in our family. All the what-ifs and should-haves can bring such great sorrow, but I consider them all a gift because I know they will bring me face to face with the cross. It’s so hard to see the one we love in such agony. He waits there for me anyway. Alone the grief is heavy, but together the sorrow is transformed. I am His and He is mine. He is enough.

These memories are joy but are also a painful and sorrowful cross

This is the Cross that heals and redeems

Refuge

A horrible, holy day

Wow, what a rotten Saturday I had! The weight of so many situations beyond my control really crushed my spirit. I started by oversleeping and missing my quiet time in prayer, a critical mistake! I rallied and hit the ground running (with no caffeine) and got Olivia to her soccer game (late and with only half a uniform). As I tried to focus on the 5-year-olds running around in circles on the field, my thoughts were on the rest of the trips and events of the day, trying to work it all out in my mind. As I get older, these crazy schedules really weigh on me more and more. After this game were more soccer games, a birthday party (requiring a gift), baseball, and a baccalaureate Mass later in the day. I usually avoid the mall like the plague, but when we need to get dressed for an event, it just has to happen. If only clothes and shoes for my children could just magically appear; yet one more reminder on a day like today of how much I miss my mom!

Next up was the never-ending battle with my children over technology. I swear their little devices have become enemy number one and it’s all-out war at times. A short time later, I was confronted with the sin of a loved one. It’s just so hard to watch how sin enslaves and at the same time watch the one who is enslaved crying for freedom. More weight on my spirit.

I couldn’t wait to get to Mass later that night, but even that was turning into a battle. The teenagers were excited for graduation the next day, but not about an optional Mass on their Saturday night. We insisted, and that’s putting it mildly… I was desperate for some peace in my heart. I went to get dressed (running late of course!) and lo and behold my go-to summer capris wouldn’t button. When did that happen?? How depressing. We made it to the Mass with all the younger ones, and we were even a few minutes early. I was hoping the graduate would actually show up and the 2-year-old wouldn’t run screaming to the altar at the consecration, but I was eager for the liturgy to begin. We piled into the pew behind friends who also have a large family, beautiful inside and out, completely put together with their graduate and all, and their littlest one sound asleep on Daddy like an angel-child. I didn’t really think I could feel more inadequate or more of a train wreck on this day. I was wrong. It was at that very moment that our youngest one ripped off her shoes and her pigtails and went tearing out of the pew, hair flying, to the back of the church, just as the Bishop was walking out of the sacristy. I’m pretty sure that my child taking out the Bishop before Mass would’ve been the last straw of the day for me. Thankfully, he good-naturedly chuckled and then got out of her way! I sat in my pew crying to the Lord, Why? Why, why, why, are my family and I such a hot mess?

 

My spirit felt crushed by my inadequacies and all that I could not overcome. I needed Holy Mass more than anything, but even being there, I was distracted by an unruly toddler, my late-to-Mass teens, and the general party vibe from the not-regular-mass-goers there. “Help me Lord!” Why can’t I be all these ideals I strive to be? Why did I fall into comparing myself to others when I know what a deadly road that is to walk?  Why can’t I be without the sin and selfishness that made everything hard today? Why can’t I at least fit in my clothes? Why, why, a thousand whys?

And He gently answered my heart. If I were all these perfect things then I wouldn’t need Him. Oh, how I need Him! I do know that I need Him and I always want Him, but why all of this, all at once, nearly crushing me today? I do need you, Lord. I guess I can literally do nothing without You. I know that in my head, but today He allowed me to feel it. I am not sufficient in any single area of my life. I am sick, and the sick need a doctor.

“And then he broke the bread saying take this all of you and eat. For this is my body which will be given up for you.”

I felt Him reassuring me, ‘all the sin around you, all your own sin that you can’t overcome, I knew, I saw, I took care of that already.’

“Do this in memory of me.”

Daily, I need to remind myself how much I need Him and His sacrifice that happened on Calvary once for all. But so much more than that, I need Him physically again and again to fill me and to overcome all my human weakness, selfishness, and sin. The remembrance alone would never be enough for this fickle heart. Mere words and ritual could not penetrate through the totality of my mess and bring me to the humility I needed to be one with Him. Nothing but the sheer mystery, awe, wonder, and total faith required to believe that yes, Jesus Himself in His very flesh and blood, is bringing Himself to me again and again every day, could overcome my hot mess. He humbled Himself once to come into humanity, and He continues to humble Himself at the hands of men, His priests, so that He might nourish, heal, comfort, overcome, answer, and love. I by myself will never be enough and He knew it from the beginning, so He comes in many ways, but none so real as this.

“Behold, the lamb of God.” My King before me in the humblest form of bread, so simple even a child can receive Him.

Thank God for this horrible day. If there were nothing weighing on my spirit, would I know how much I need Him? Might I be willing to settle for some quiet time in prayer instead of making the effort or engaging in battle to get to Mass? Sometimes it’s enough to retreat in prayer and simply take refuge in Him, but what a gift and a treasure to be able to allow Him to take refuge in me.

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51)

Tennis Courts

Suffering is Treasure

So, I have an AMAZING new job! It’s a job that I feel the Lord made just for me and He has been ‘making me’ for it, for years! I stand in awe of how perfect a fit it is for me and my family.  My skill set fills the job requirements exactly. And the best part? I work for a ministry here in Syracuse, so I literally am working for Jesus these days. How good is God?!?

The physical location of my office is in a rectory not far from my house, which happens to be right next door to the high school where Anna and Nichole went to school. In order to get to my office, I pull in the parking lot and drive down a long driveway with the building to my left and the high school tennis courts to my right. So, every time I go to work, embracing this wonderful new venture in my life, I am confronted with the all-too-familiar cross of old. My instinct is to move on and leave it behind in every way, which I so often do day-to-day. Who wants to live in pain, if you can escape it? But now it is there before me regularly and I can’t look away. The tennis courts. Oh how the antics and stories of Anna and tennis still have a life of their own for me!

One day recently the cross got heavy – too heavy and too insistent for me to happily smile through and walk on.  I had to bring Laura and Melissa into the high school for their dance rehearsal and suddenly all those days driving by the tennis courts with old feelings and memories surfacing, just bubbled up and boiled over. The pain of missing my girl was blinding.  But I knew it was for a purpose. I knew it would serve me and hopefully others. I remembered the Lord speaking to my heart about this time last year, as I was preparing to give a talk. “Your suffering is your treasure.” The problem wasn’t in walking into the school or driving by the tennis courts so often.  The problem was that I desired to happily walk on by and look only to the good, happy, and exciting things the Lord is doing. He’s continuously making all things new. He fills my heart with gladness and joy. I live in awe and wonder at His goodness all the time. He’s a good and generous Father desiring not only my good and my salvation, but even abundance and happiness in my life.

But none of those things would be as true for me, if I didn’t have this cross.  I could never see and appreciate the joy in the same way, if I had never walked the road to Calvary with Him and with Mary.  We simply don’t get the resurrection without first having the death.

So, I will walk through those days of pain, sadness, and burden, trusting my Daddy to fix it in His time and in His way. I will pray for Him to transform me for this present suffering, to make me worthy, to help me see and share the treasure.  After all, it’s an honor to share the cross with Him. And he showed me that I’m not afraid of this. In fact, I was made for this. And so are we all made specifically for the cross God has allowed in our life. I am being made for this because I love Him, and the more I love Him the easier it is to bear.  Somehow from the crippling moments, more joy is born. All the former good times, memories, accomplishments, and laughter that are now done and gone, are treasures of this Earth that He is helping me store up in Heaven, and Heavenly treasures don’t come cheap. In fact, they are priceless.

“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Mt 6:21

 

What has been lost

People often wonder if I’m angry about losing my children. I’ve written about this before (here), but in short, praise God that anger hasn’t been my struggle. It doesn’t mean that I never feel the emotion, but I’m generally able to keep it solidly in check. If there is one thing that has made me angry from time to time though, it’s the reality that our living children have all had to suffer so much in their young lives. 

I’ve cried out to the Lord and lamented to friends that it’s just not fair to them. They’ve lost so much and suffered greatly in many different ways as they grow up around these giant tragedies smack in the middle of their being.  So much has been stolen from them and if I let it that could really get me fired up!  And just to be clear, my anger is always directed at the enemy, the Father of lies and destruction and never at our loving Father. Satan comes only to kill and destroy and we live in this fallen world where sin and death run rampant.

Since Mikey’s death, I’ve just sort of accepted this fact and carried the hope within that all will be reconciled in the end. But still, the struggle of the day-to-day grief remains and the price has been heavy at times, especially for my innocent young children.  Anna always struggled with her little brother’s death. She locked up a whole lot of pain and grief and battled each day to overcome the sadness and heavy burden. As a mom, nothing hurts more than not being able to help your child. But I couldn’t fix it for her then, any more than I can fix it for the others now. 

But what if things aren’t exactly as they appear here? What if the enemy has actually stolen nothing? Here’s a truth I have come to know: There is no school like the school of suffering. The tragedies that my children have endured are what’s making them. They are being tested like gold in fire and how precious and valuable is the Gold that endures it? I can lament all day long that despite our best efforts and intentions, we weren’t able to give our kids the ideal carefree childhood that we both had. But I have only to think of the hope that carried Anna through her days to know with certainty that the Lord used every minute of her pain and struggle for her good. Mikey’s death was like a tether that kept her eyes turned toward heaven even as she lived a little while she was here. She had hope and trust that she would see him again and he was part of her living here, too. In a beautiful way, the Lord was using the pain and struggle to bring her closer to Himself. I’ve had so many consolations that in her final weeks He was wooing her, knowing her day and her hour were near, and if that’s true then the enemy has stolen precisely nothing. Joke’s on him. Despite death, hope remained and Heaven reigns.

The suffering for my little ones is big, no doubt about it. I never want to downplay it or make light if there are tangible and concrete ways to overcome their pain. It does have a way of seeping into the nooks and crannies and discoloring so much of life, but there’s more than meets the eye at work. I trust in that, even as we walk through the sometimes dark valley of these days laced with struggle and suffering. What would these young ones be like without the crosses they carry? I don’t believe the answer is that they would be better off. I really don’t. 

I loved my childhood. I feel so fortunate that I was blessed in all the ways that I was. But if I’m honest, the truth is that I didn’t really start living until I walked along the road to Calvary beside my Lord. What an honor and a privilege, and honestly, not very difficult at all compared to His walk. 

My children may not understand or see the good right now, but it doesn’t change the truth of it. The Lord is wooing them just as He did Anna and He has a plan for each of them; to give them a future and a hope and the enemy is always playing right into His hand.

To me, that is cause for celebration and rejoicing, not anger.

“Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever.” Ps 23:6

Ancestry

It seems like every fall I get the Ancestry bug. Inevitably a free trial offer or message containing new information draws me in and I get completely hooked before the reality and busyness of life kicks me in the rear and I snap out of it. I absolutely love the hunt, the find, and the puzzle of learning about my ancestors. Thinking about the people who have come before me, who have paved the way to my being here in this time and place, strikes my heart with awe and wonder. It affords me a perfect opportunity to step back and marvel at how God‘s design gives us the freedom to live, work, be, and do, and yet His plans and His designs are still carried out. And here I am, no accident of circumstance, but planned by my Creator. He made a space for me in the great big whole of His design and I have a very unique and specific purpose here, as we all do! In 100 years, I will be little more than a square on the giant family tree. Perhaps if you click my profile you will be able to piece together some of the details, but it won’t be until we are in heaven that we will see clearly and understand the fullness of the role each of us has played in history. I think that’s what drives me so much, knowing these relatives were so much more than I can learn from the records we have. And it’s not lost on me that I always seem to find myself immersed in genealogy research in the month of November, a time when we remember the saints already in heaven and pray for the holy souls in purgatory. And of course I do exactly that for the time I spend with each ancestor, and somehow I come away feeling a little more connected.

Last week, I spent some time researching my second great aunt and uncle, Philip and Olive. They had nine children and I immediately wanted to know more about them for obvious reasons. (I have 10!) I soon discovered how much we really did have in common as stories of all that they suffered were revealed. They lost their eighth child at almost one year old. Their seventh child died of breast cancer at age 45. Olive buried her husband just shy of their 50th wedding anniversary. A few years later she lost her 25-year-old grandson in a car accident. In her 90th year, she buried her fourth child in May and her fifth child in October. I can’t begin to imagine the joys and heartaches she endured in her 96 years here, but I know she must have been one tough lady. It’s daunting to think of all that she suffered knowing the suffering that is unseen was far greater than what is now seen in these records. My heart hurt for her as I tried to empathize, sympathize, and pray about all I was discovering. At one point, I wondered to myself how one woman could endure all that. Did she have faith in God Almighty and hope in heaven? How did she cope with losing children and a grandson without her husband by her side?

My thoughts turned to the more recent tragedy of the limo crash here in New York State that killed 20 people, most of them related or friends. Four sisters and their spouses or boyfriends died in that horrific accident. What about the parents of those sisters? How do they go on in the face of losing their children – all of them? When I originally heard the news of the story it rocked me to my core! In the midst of all my prayers for them, I had some moments of begging God to show me how they could go on and find Joy. He reminded me gently of how this goes; the same as is true for me, for those parents, for Olive and Philip. Truth with a capital T! Truth is how and the Truth has a face and a name – Jesus: the Way, the Truth, and the Life. When we are stripped of everything is when we learn that the author, creator, and source of all remains, and we live because of Him! He is the true home we long for, even as we make our way here in this time and place we were made for, with all its joys and sufferings.

When I was a child, the thought of losing my parents scared me and I felt that if anything happened to them surely I would die. When I grew up a bit and got married, the thought of losing my husband terrified me. If he died, surely I would too. When we had children, the thought of losing any of them was enough to make me break out in a cold sweat. Certainly there is no way I could go on without them I thought. But when the very worst happened and Mikey died, I didn’t die. In fact, the surprising truth is that I discovered instead who I live for. When Anna died, this truth was reinforced more. I didn’t die at all (though some days the grief and pain were pretty unbearable), but I learned why I have Hope always.

Even now, the thought of losing another child terrifies me. I don’t know how I would survive it, but I know that I would. With Jesus. Were I to bury them all, the Truth would remain, and in light of that Truth, the affliction is momentary and light. It’s like when you are unexpectedly plunged into darkness. Perhaps someone came along and turned off all the lights without realizing you were in the room. You don’t just stay quiet and accept the darkness, right? Usually the reaction is to wait in expectation of the light. Maybe you call out and then you hope and trust that the light will return because you know it can and will. You wait and strain to find just a flicker or maybe you fumble through the darkness seeking the light on your own. You know you will find it and eventually there will be light, and hope lives.

What a great Joy, in the midst of my tragedies, my momentary darkness, to come to know the Light and Truth of Jesus. I know with certainty that He will carry me through every joy and every tragedy and every moment in between, straight into eternity. He alone is the Hope in any darkness.
I stand now firmly in that Truth, by the power of Christ and His cross, in the light of His glory and resurrection. There is nothing whatsoever to fear.

“ For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Cor 4:17-18

 

 

 

What Finally Matters

On this day five years ago I had no idea it would be our final hours with her. Tomorrow I will celebrate, with great hope, her birth into new life. But today I remember her and celebrate her in this life. Of course, I face all the questions that I can’t help but raise. Why didn’t I squeeze her hard before she left and say a proper goodbye? Why didn’t I drop everything to tell her how much she was loved. Again. Why didn’t I call her before I went to bed? I didn’t because… life. That’s just how it goes sometimes. But the real question that burns as I ponder what finally matters is, “Did I show her Christ?” Did I lead her there enough? If not what was I waiting for? Could it ever even be enough? When she came to her moment and stood before HIM in the wee hours of this night, did she know Him as her own? Did I love in such a way that her choice was as plain as day? If I failed in this then I have utterly failed and all I can do is trust that where I fell short is where God’s mercy abounds.

“Therefore keep watch. For we know not the day nor the hour” Mt 25:13

Just Begin

Ok, it’s time. I have begun…again. My littlest one has just turned one and my body is my own for five minutes, which means exercise! I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little tired of this routine: 10th baby, 10th attempt at getting back in shape. Sigh. It’s a struggle for me to keep this body in check, but we only get one and we have a duty to take care of it, so here I am again.

I now have two weeks under my belt and have been reminded that the pain does give way to strength, all the previous excuses and objections melt away, and as in all things that are challenging, there are great spiritual lessons to be learned.

For me, getting started is always the hardest part. I know very well why I need to do it and that there will be great rewards before too long, but I still wasted weeks making excuses. “I’m just pulled in too many directions already. I feel exhausted, drained, and like I have nothing left to give,” I said. Probably 10 out of 10 friends would agree that I actually did not have time to officially go exercise. Even a quick 30-minute workout routine takes quite a bit of preparation and planning. I needed to decide with intention that I was committed to making it happen. Once I made that critical decision, I made it a priority and found something manageable for my circumstances. Finally, I got started and did my best. My first weeks didn’t always go quite as I imagined. At one point, I was on the floor trying to work my abs with a puppy licking my face, a baby crawling on top of me, and a running commentary from the 11 year-old boy child who was less than impressed with my abilities. But, I persevered through those first painful days and little by little started feeling results. My energy has increased, I am stronger already, and my clothes fit just a little better. Now that I have a routine down and am feeling as good as I am, I don’t ever want to stop exercising again! Why did I wait so long to begin?

I’m feeling the exact same way about my prayer time. Here I am, early in the morning before my house is buzzing, enjoying the richness and beauty of the silence, wondering what took me so long to begin?! Nothing can get in the way of this precious time like having a newborn and a driving need for sleep and that’s exactly how it went for me this past year. Peace and prayer had been replaced by a frantic longing to find that space for myself. I know firsthand how wonderful life gets when I devote some time in prayer each day and yet it felt difficult and I made excuses left and right. I was justifying all the demands on my time instead of taking a hard look at what I was doing with it and considering where I could make some changes. I knew the only thing I needed to do was show up. When we bring our will, God makes the way. Despite knowing all that, I procrastinated. I’m not sure when I decided to begin, but thankfully I finally did! I reorganized my routine a bit, let my family know how important it was for me, and decided with intention to show up. Since I’m not the most patient person in the world, the Lord had to teach me again to be still in mind and body. At first, my prayer time felt a little harried since I spent some of the first weeks asking Him to show me the fruit of it rather than just shutting up and letting Him. He was tilling this soil before planting and watering. But, I kept showing up because I know how necessary it is for my soul and my life and before long seedlings emerged. I kept coming back to soak up the sun and in no time the Lord brought forth His fruit. Life is beautiful and wonderful once again. Some days I only find minutes, other days it’s more, but it always seems to be the exact right amount for Him to give me all that I need.

As predicted, I find myself wondering how I ever survived without this time in silence. I am once again filled with peace, greater Hope, a stronger sense of my purpose, a more firm resolve, motivation to accomplish my duties, and greater Joy in the everyday stuff. I love better and more readily, am frustrated less, forgive more easily, and hold my tongue more successfully. My relationships have all improved. My crosses no longer seem so heavy. I see more clearly, listen more readily, and hear more effectively. I have better self-control and more discipline, which helped me find time to start exercising! The world around me feels fresh and new, reminding me that, Syracuse weather notwithstanding, “It’s a beautiful day.” The more the Lord fills me up, the more I crave Him in every way. I am the handmaid of the Lord. My life is the same and yet everything about it is infinitely different. Seriously, if we could bottle this, people would be beating down the doors for it!

Why did I ever wait even one minute longer before making this time for the Lord?! It’s not a mere chore that I am duty bound to fulfill, but more like a budding romance full of newness and excitement. The light of Heaven colors my vision and, unlike exercise time, every moment in prayer feels like the greatest gift. The silence draws me as nothing else ever could because l have found my truest love and He awaits me there. For this love, were we all made.

Just begin!

Psalm 139
For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.
1
You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
2
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
4
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
5
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
6
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.
7
Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
8
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
11
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
12
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.
13
For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15
My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
17
How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18
Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.
19
If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
    Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20
They speak of you with evil intent;
    your adversaries misuse your name.
21
Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
    and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22
I have nothing but hatred for them;
    I count them my enemies.
23
Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.