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 Peace and prayer had been replaced by a frantic longing to find that space for myself.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.

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Take My Yoke

This past weekend we heard one of my favorite Gospel passages:

Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Mt 11:29-30)

There was a time, about eight years ago now, that I came to know this scripture intimately. It comforted me then, bringing me through a long dark hour, and reminds me still that my trust belongs to God.

So how exactly do we take Jesus’ yoke?   

When Mikey’s health was spiraling out of our control from a brain tumor, I turned to Jesus as I knew Him then. The situation was too big for me by far; my baby boy was dying. At the start, I cried out to Him, begging Him at any cost to heal my little one. I saw nothing beyond the deepest desire in my being to keep my sweet 3-year-old in my arms.  Jesus was always there, steady, solid, nurturing my hope, and yet, not making any promises about Michael’s health. He was answering so many of my prayers and giving me things I didn’t even know I needed, even if He couldn’t say yes to my one big request. Trust is not built in a relationship simply by receiving all that is asked for. Trust is built when one does all that one says he will do. God revealed himself in a million ways: through His word, in deed, and through His body, and what I came to know of Him was a depth of fidelity, honesty, capability, and love, that I had never known before. I turned to Him in every moment of need and He stayed close. He walked with me, day in and day out. When doctors were at a complete loss, Jesus wasn’t. As medicine continued to fail, my soul was nourished, refreshed, and full of Hope. One day He brought me to my Father; I will never forget those moments. We were flying away on a Make-a-Wish trip with our huge family, strollers, wheelchair, gear, and medicine, leaving behind all of our care and support team. Disease had become the familiar and we were embarking on a trip to the unfamiliar. I had some moments of terror as we were boarding that flight, understanding that we were leaving behind what little control we thought we had. Then we were up, up, and away, and as I looked out over the disappearing world below, to the vastness of the skies, I suddenly knew the awesomeness and Love of my Father. He created the skies, the earth, and all that is in it. All belongs to Him. We weren’t actually leaving anything behind that was out of our loving Father’s hands. That flight brought our little Michael to Mickey Mouse, but it brought me straight to the giant arms of Love, care, and protection. Jesus knew exactly what I needed. It’s not so scary to be little and helpless when you are cradled in Daddy’s lap. I knew I could trust Him even though He wasn’t promising that my own baby would be healed.

Only five short weeks after that trip, our beloved boy lay dying. I begged Jesus for the grace Mary had as she walked to Calvary.  He knew my desperate need and sent our Lady herself to be with me and comfort me. I really saw and understood Mary for the first time as we gathered around Michael in his final hours and there is no doubt that her grace abounded.  Peace descended upon the room as Mikey gave up his breath and we sought Heaven as never before.

Jesus knew our deepest need better than we did. 

How do we take Jesus’ yoke?  It’s really so simple.  We love Him. We seek to know Him until we can abandon ourselves in Trust, holding no piece of ourselves back.  We take His yoke when we can say that, for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, “I belong to Him whom my heart loves.”

Unconditional Love ❤️ 

I have a three-year-old who is quite mischievous. She keeps me on my toes all the time. Actually, who am I kidding? I can’t even keep up with all the places her little mind goes. At about the time I discover her first disaster of the day, she will usually do one of two things. She either runs and hides, hoping maybe she can blame it on the baby, or she fesses up and bravely decides to face the music. Perhaps her choice depends on the degree of frustration she hears in my bellow of O-LIV-EEEE-AAAH! I’m not sure. But, she’s a smart little whip, and in those moments that she decides to brave the consequences, she has learned how to diffuse my anger. She makes me look at her, right into those large green-brown eyes, and says, with the sweetest and most contrite-sounding voice, “You still love me though, right Mommy?” She already knows how to lay it on thick. In that moment, of course, my heart melts a little (just a very little!) and I love that I get the opportunity to teach her the very greatest truth that can be known. “Of course I love you, Olivia,” I say. This is followed by some version of, “I don’t like what you did and after you help clean up, you still have a consequence, but I always love you no matter what.” She just doesn’t know yet exactly how much my love will bear. Not even Olivia could withstand the power and the depth of that love for her if there were any human way to really express it. We are stuck with inadequate words and gestures that are feeble when compared to the true force of that purest love. It’s a love that sacrifices and has no conditions. And oh, is it ever patient. Real love transcends feelings and circumstances and is a thing in and of itself. I would gladly and easily lay down my life for this little imp.
The greatest truth we can ever know is that each and every one of us is Loved exactly that much and more. No matter who you are, where you are, or what you are doing, your Father in Heaven loves you to your depths. You can never do anything to lose it because it just IS.

I love the mornings in prayer, when I can find some silence to just sit with my Lord and greedily let Him fill me with that Love. I usually close my eyes and rest in His lap, safely in His embrace with no conditions placed. I tell Him how sorry I am for all the ways I have wronged him, even if they aren’t always apparent to me. Gently, He shows me. I usually have to tune out the voice of the enemy that would justify my actions and my sins, keeping me bound up by them. Of course, there are probably good reasons why I’ve done whatever I’ve done, but the One who loves me the best dispels it all with one glance. I promise to try and never do it again. And when I feel brave enough to look up at Him, He is always ready and willing to meet my gaze with gentle, unwavering compassion and Joy. In those moments, I have not a care in the world! I’ve done wrong. I will do wrong again. But nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate me from the Love of the one who’s counted each hair on my head. I’m the only one who can allow it, if I were to run and hide instead of boldly asking “Lord, you still love me right?” 
His response is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. No matter your sin, He would give His life for you and for me. Despite our sin, He did just that. 
Romans 5:8 God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 8:38-39 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Freedom

By Karen Pullano

Remember that you are dust. To dust you shall return

Remember that you are dust. To dust you shall return

As Christians are choosing to enter this Lenten season with sacrifice and suffering today, I’m preparing to mark the anniversary of Anna’s death once again. Four years later, her loss is still very present even as the details of her accident and death are trying to fade away.  I say trying because they would fade but for the unexpected reminders that pop up and bring them rushing back into my presence. Those moments can bring keening pain, but I’ve written before of how fruitful they are as well. I would even go so far as to say that those moments are a gift.  They are my tether to a more intimate time with Jesus when he carried me tenderly through the darkest valley.  I am thankful for those moments even as I rejoice in where I am now. I have walked a million miles but somehow feel strong enough to walk a million more.

The Lord has not abandoned me, but comes to me differently now. His lessons still feel extraordinary, but are born more simply out of the ordinary.  I would love to share these moments more often and hope that I can make the space to do that.  He is always teaching, leading us to truth, and guiding us to Himself.

Something that comes to light for me all these years after losing Michael, and then Anna, is that I truly walk in freedom.  It was an ordinary conversation with my sister that brought this beautiful truth to light recently. 

She has been struggling for more than a year with food intolerance and allergy issues.  I would say it has gotten worse over time, as figuring out the culprit remains a mystery, despite careful and methodical tracking and eliminating of foods.  It is a process that has required much thought and careful planning and preparation, and she has devoted herself to that process wholeheartedly. Despite her efforts, it seemed that so many different foods were to blame for her symptoms and finally one day I heard her lament the fact that she’s just allergic to it all.  (Kind of an overwhelming and depressing conclusion considering we need to eat several times a day for forever!)  She has sought the help of doctors along the way, of course, and was directed to a simple blood test to check for food intolerances.  She did it and waited the 8 long weeks for results.  When they arrived, it felt much as she suspected. The list of foods she should avoid is long and daunting.  In fact, she’s made a list of what she can eat instead of what she can’t! It’s a little hard to believe, and before she had even digested the news (no pun intended!), she said the following beautiful line.  “This is freedom.” 

On its face, those results should have felt like a death sentence.  I mean she’s allergic to lettuce, for crying out loud. That’s basically water. Personally, I might have cried in frustration and anger at the unjustness of it.  Since when is food poison?  But to her, “this is freedom.” To know the truth, even if it means embracing the cross, is freedom.  So ordinary. So extraordinary.

To walk in the light of truth is freedom.  The moment my baby boy left this world was the moment that eternity got real for me.  It was a definitive knowing that we are journeying to somewhere, and Someone, and this is only our home for a time. Perhaps it was a grace that gave me to know this Truth with such certainty that it changed me at my core.  Perhaps Truth is the reason God allows suffering at all. I was made for God. I belong to God. It took suffering in this world to make me look that full in the eye.  I am forever free. 

Saying goodbye to Anna several years later only served to confirm all the Truths that are written in my heart.  The physical separation was just as horrific as the first time, but the Truth was solid ground in my world when it felt like it was spinning out of control. My identity and my purpose remain unchanged.  The destination is ever before me.  This may be my cross, but it is amazing what we can endure for the price of Truth.

We know freedom is never free.  Just as we have our brave military to thank for the privilege of living in this great land of the free, every created person on Earth has Jesus to thank for carrying His cross to His death. 

Suffering always was, and always will be, but He redeemed it by His love and set it apart as the narrow way. The price has been paid, for all men everywhere. The challenge to love radically has been thrown down and though we may walk through the valley of the shadow of death for a time, we can know with certainty that Love and suffering are the path to true Freedom.   

If you have never known suffering, then welcome to Lent.  Like Truth, sacrifice is ever before us, and the Church, in her wisdom, sets aside this time before resurrection so that we might enter more deeply into suffering. Freedom is actually not the ability to simply choose whatever we want. Truly that is slavery: to feelings, wants, and desires. True freedom lies in our ability to choose the narrow way: to walk in the light of truth even when it’s painful and difficult. It is not freedom FROM suffering that we should seek, but rather the freedom to stand up to, and emerge from it, in paradise.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be encumbered once more by a yoke of slavery (Gal 5:1)

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (Jn 8:32)

Love and Sacrifice

Our family grew by one again this past Christmas. It’s taken me this long to catch my breath and write about it, but here she is. img_0009 Meet Pepper − a little 4-pound ball of playful enjoyment! She’s filling up all kinds of empty little spaces in this family. If you are thinking that I’m the very definition of crazy, I won’t argue. This chubby, happy baby and this precocious 3 year-old

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Olivia Grace

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Leah Denise

are enough to keep me running and hopping, not to mention the rest of the gang.  I’ve been resisting a puppy for over 20 years now, so why suddenly did I dive in? And yes, I squeezed my eyes shut tight and dove− just went for it before I could think about it too much and change my mind!

There are lots of reasons why it isn’t and has never been a good idea for us to take on a puppy. Trust me, I’m still going over some of them in my head… BUT there is one very good and simple reason why I did it. Love. Not just my love for my children and certainly not because I have a particular affinity for dogs (though she IS really growing on me), but to teach them the truest kind of love. Nothing teaches this love like the sacrifice required to care for babies and puppies! I want my children to have hearts filled to overflowing with Love. There’s so much I can’t give them or protect them from. Much of what we can give them is just stuff that’s filling them up, but leaving them empty. Sadly, our kids are such victims of technology today. Victims because they are learning that their acceptance and worth depend on the number of likes they get on a photo or post. The instant reactions and interactions come more from the feelings of the moment than from reason, deep thought, or the care that is necessary to foster personal relationships. In short, our collective young are trading empty accolades for actual love and have no idea! We have become a society that rarely recognizes what Love actually is and I include myself in that condemnation. I have enough work, enough people to take care of, enough responsibility, and practically zero time for myself. Why in the World would I even consider adding a puppy to this already packed and crazy schedule? And yet, can there be enough love?

Love requires sacrifice. Love is not easy. Love doesn’t even always feel good, believe it or not. When I’m so exhausted I can’t see straight and have to spend my entire day cleaning poop from butts and floors, I can assure you that I’m not exactly feeling the love. But when the kids run off that school bus full of excitement and anticipation, it’s not because the computer or television is waiting to tackle them with a bear hug. They come in with Joy to greet the kind of Love that has no expectation beyond simply accepting it; the kind of Love that teaches you HOW to love simply by receiving it.

When I think about my children growing up and heading out into the world on their own, there are so many things that I wonder if I’m teaching them well. Will they be good people, prepared to face the inevitable challenges of life? Will they be productive and successful? Will they be happy? Will they seek the path and the purpose that God has designed them for? I can really get caught up in all the ways I fall short. I wonder if the lasting impression I leave them with will revolve around the endless work, sleepless nights, and the stress and frenzy of trying to fit it all in. Will they even know my Joy? Because I swear I have it. Will they know my peace? Because it’s there and is rooted down deep. Will they walk away remembering the supreme frustration I expressed when the dog had her 100th accident in the house or will they hold more dear the elation I felt when she finally had a successful day going outside? Truthfully, I hope it’s both.

I’m not proud of some of my parenting moments. I often lament that I sure didn’t channel the Blessed Mother in the way I handled a certain situation or another. But I take heart from the messy stuff because what I hope my children will take away from their first-hand witness of the struggle and sacrifice is that I was committed to Love. I’m committed to loving them and teaching them love. My sacrificing, day in and day out, is the legacy I hope to leave them, because love in its purest form bears the depth of sacrifice. It is life-giving and has the ability to teach and to heal, requiring nothing in return. Love without sacrifice is a shallow thing at best. I love certain things, but wouldn’t sacrifice a whit for them. If I can leave my children one lasting example, I hope it will be this real, deep, and true kind of love. When they are grown and gone, I hope they remember the sacrifice and see the beauty in it.

And then I hope they remember their Jesus and that He did it for them first.

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

A Holy Smackdown

I have been in the thick haze of newborn parenting these last weeks.  Leah Denise Pullano joined our ranks on June 29, 2016, weighing a healthy 9lbs 3oz.  She is perfect and just awesome.  Once again, this new little life feels like the greatest gift our family could ever receive! I am, as ever, in awe.
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At the same time, our household has been busy with the teenager-end of the spectrum. Noise, laughter, food, music, and lots of plans with friends, describe these lazy days of summer for the high-schoolers−though to hear them tell it they are seriously overworked!  Poor kids. 😉  One of our girls will be a junior this year and many of her friends have gotten their license. That will be a reality for us in the next weeks as well. It has been gradually sinking in this summer that my 3rd-born little baby is no longer in my grasp and it’s terrifying.
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This fear is what’s prompting me to share this experience, both to be potentially helpful to others as well as to call myself out. The stark reality is that I am terrified of losing another child. It’s a fear that forms in my mind and then takes root down deep. When I’m not paying attention, it sprouts branches and without really noticing I am suddenly that annoying, in-your-face, tell-me-your-every-move mother.  As if I am in control or something. (And oh how teenagers love having their mom in their face…)  
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The moment I realized what a monster had taken root, I just happened to be at Mass; not really much of a coincidence since Jesus has a way of laying the smackdown when we need it. With His love, mercy and compassion, He helped me start digging it out from down deep.  Gosh did that hurt. Digging out fear requires surrender. The kind that says again and again, “Yes Jesus, I trust in You, even if it means I have to lose another child.”  Ouch! But, I will not live in fear.  I cannot.  It’s no kind of living. And so, as I received my Lord, body, blood, soul, and divinity, He filled up the now-empty space, every nook and cranny, where fear had resided.  He overwhelmed me with Truth and Love so amazing, the fear was but a shadow of a memory.  Oh Lord, never let me forsake receiving You in the Eucharist; nothing can compare.  Where the enemy would steal joy and peace with the lie that I can’t handle the worst, Jesus is waiting with the Truth that I can do all things through Him. 
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My 16 year-old is an awesome teenager.  She is smart, resourceful, humble, and capable.  We will be prudent and careful, but she is fully her own agent.  She will be driving a car, working at a job, applying to colleges, and growing up, as she should.  I can’t add a minute to her life with my worry.  Maybe she will make a mistake or a bad decision that will carry a hefty consequence.  Maybe she will be an innocent bystander in the wrong place, at the wrong time.  Maybe she will get sick for no reason at all.  I certainly know that these things can and do happen.  Whatever comes, we will walk the path in faith with our Savior by our side. Jesus, I trust in You.  You are working it all for good. 
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We recently welcomed little Leah into the Church with her Baptism and Fr. Hyde made a wonderfully important distinction in his explanation of why we baptize our infants.  He said, “Evil affects us all, the innocent as well as the guilty.  If it only affected the guilty, we would call it justice.” (Thus, infants have original sin even though they are innocent and so need baptism.)  Evil is part of the human condition; no getting around it.  I may have to say goodbye to another child in my lifetime, or several, and even as I desperately beg the Lord to let that cup pass me by, I cannot and will not live in fear of it.  The lie needs to be called by name, acknowledged, and brought to the One who heals and restores.  He alone can overshadow it with Truth.  And I must not stop bringing it to Him through prayer and the sacraments, not even for a day.  I am reminded of the scripture about the unclean spirits in Matthew 12, When an unclean spirit comes out of a man, it passes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ On its arrival, it finds the house vacant, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and dwell there; and the final plight of that man is worse than the first.”
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I cannot let my guard down.  Jesus needs to dwell always in the void created by the loss of two of my children. He is always waiting to pour Himself out when I invite Him in, and I need to invite Him with intention and my continuous attention, not the vagueness of prayer that plagues me when I am busy. 
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The other night we played a familiar game on a car ride with the kids.  My husband asked them, if they could pick one thing, anything at all in the whole world, what would they want? The answers were cute and funny, typical for their ages.  When it came around to me, I was wracking my brain for something worldly that I actually want and came up empty. But, I did share my greatest and deepest desire that all my children live with me in heaven for eternity.  I want nothing so much as that.  Evil can never steal it away, and THAT is Justice.

I Must Decrease

There is a synchronicity of events occurring this week that has had me pondering the following scripture lately.

“Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Jn 3:29-30

June 23rd kicks off the celebration in the Church, of the Nativity of John the Baptist, with the feast of his vigil in the evening, and his feast day on the 24th. In the early church, the Solemnity of the birth of St. John the Baptist was greatly celebrated with feasts and traditions according to customs in different cultures around the world. He was highly revered as the pre-cursor to Christ, one who was ‘filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb’ (Lk.1:45). His birth, his life, and his death are significant in our salvation story and illustrative in any transition from the old to the new.

June 23rd also marks the day my mother went home to the Lord. One year ago, my sisters and I were keeping vigil with her as she journeyed to the end of her earthly road. Just before sunset on June 23rd, 2015, she breathed her last. For me, the timing of her passing on the eve of St. John’s Day, has been a treasured consolation through this past year of missing her. I take comfort in the ancient words of the Baptist himself, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” He spoke those words as an acknowledgment that his earthly purpose was fulfilled.

I think of my mom’s passing with the firm hope and belief that as she made her own transition, she understood that she fulfilled her God-given purpose and that her ‘Joy was complete’! In our humanness and grief, it is sometimes hard to accept as it seems she was taken from us too soon. There is so much life we are still living without her and it seems she should be here. Once again, we can look to John the Baptist and say the same, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” When he was beheaded, it was a great and terrible tragedy to those who followed him and loved him. His young life seemed dispensed with well before his time and yet what more could he have accomplished than what the Lord set before Him to do from the moment of his conception? His life and his work was fulfilled.

Thirdly, this week, we are expecting the arrival of our 10th child! I’m pondering this verse quite literally as it seems time for me to decrease! Time for newly created life to emerge and begin her own journey to fulfillment, however long, and in whatever form that might take. The time of fulfillment of this pregnancy is here. I look forward with fear and trembling, to bringing her into this world, knowing it won’t be easy or pain-free, but trusting instinctively that something of the old me will be purged and a new me will emerge. He must increase.

Seasons, fulfillment, and transitions make up the very fabric of our life of faith. To everything, there is a time and a purpose and then the old transitions to the new. Though often difficult, what a great and beautiful hope we live as a people of faith! Death leads to resurrection in Heaven. Our decreasing means that God increases. The pain of labor culminates in precious, tiny new life.

And sometimes life doesn’t go according to plan. Sometimes we battle disease or tragedies. Sometimes we lose loved ones too young or even in the womb. Sometimes suffering and death and loss comes all out of order and it is precisely then that we are called to be like the Baptist and proclaim the Savior as he did, again and again. “Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” In our suffering, we have the opportunity to become smaller and let God be big, pointing the way. In spite of sin and death and this fallen world, this valley of tears, He increases! To me, that is the most beautiful reassurance. When Mikey died, He increased in my heart and my life. When Anna died, He increased. When my mom died, He increased. Likewise, with the birth of each of our babies, He has increased. New life, though tiny and innocent, sure has a way or re-ordering priorities and teaching humility!

As my mom left us at sunset on that special date, I felt like she was leaving behind a final piece of motherly wisdom. None of us are meant to stay here forever. All of us, like the Baptist, are called to point the way to Christ in word and deed. When we continuously allow ourselves to be humble is when Christ can get to work in us. He makes all things new. He leads us from the old self into the new, so that when death comes to steal, there is nothing for it take, for our Joy is already complete!

All is fulfilled in Christ Jesus our Savior!

The Question

I’ve been reflecting on something for a few years now. It’s one of the most difficult things to explain when asked and yet somehow it seems pretty simple. Honestly, I’m not sure if I can adequately explain it, but wanted to throw a few thoughts out there. The question is this: If God allows suffering, and we sure know he does, how are we supposed to be happy and full of Joy, and free, when more-often-than-not our suffering is a tremendous burden weighing us down? If God promises to wipe our tears and turn our sorrow to dancing, how does that help us now?

The scriptures are full of human suffering and people crying out to God. In the Old Testament, the people looked to God for real help in their distress and received His consolation before they truly understood the promise of Eternity. In the New Testament, Jesus himself reassures, “I have told you these things so that in me you will have peace. In the world you will have trouble, but take heart I have overcome the world.” He knows the exact struggle of living, the human condition as it were. And He provides Himself as the antidote. I find this beautiful and reassuring and uplifting. I call upon this verse often and remember Jesus doesn’t want me dwelling on my sorrows or trials because there is real work to be done. He is here. He is Alive. He is present. He reveals Himself in a thousand ways, most especially in His body living here with me. The church militant, slogging through the muck with me, who by simple acts of faith and love, reveal Jesus. Just as Jesus reveals the Father to us, so does the body of Christ reveal the Head. I know He will make good on every promise! Still though, those promises seem a long way off. Is it supposed to be a life of misery and pain until then? We could certainly choose to live as if it were, but that’s not our only choice. There is happiness, freedom, and Joy despite suffering, and I believe His promise begins right here and now.

In a very basic way, my kids called this to mind the other day. They were grievously upset, devastated really, when we had plans to go to the church fish fry and at the last minute I had to cancel. They had been looking forward to it all week long, making plans with their friends who were also going. They had certain toys to bring and share and had arranged where they would sit and ‘hang out’. At ages 6 and 8, this was big on their social calendar. I would fill pages if I described the day that ultimately ruined our plans, but suffice it to say, I did not cancel lightly. They cried and moped and in their little world, they suffered. They were mad and couldn’t fully understand. They tried to bargain and beg and my heart broke at their disappointment. I couldn’t even stay home to distract them with fun and games, but what did I do? I promised them something fun to look forward to. I promised them that it would all be ok. I knew with the wisdom of an adult and a parent that they wouldn’t truly be harmed by not going to the fish fry and hoped it wouldn’t take any time at all to do something else fun and be distracted. Sure enough, by the time I got home they had built a massive fort and played for hours with seemingly no memory of their earlier disappointment.

Similarly, I think this is one of the ways Jesus meant we should become like children. With utter trust and love they believed and accepted my promise. They took my advice to do something different and had fun anyway. Not the same perhaps, but they were fine.

At the most basic level, Jesus would never let us suffer unless He knew we would be ‘fine’. He’s promised that it will be better than we could have hoped and in the meantime He’s given us so much to do!

I think of His earthly parting with Peter. He knew how devastating His loss would be to his disciples. He probably understood that their grief, fear, and uncertainty might paralyze them for a time. He knew all they would ultimately face in this world full of troubles and in the face of it all, He asked just one question, “Peter, do you love me?”, so simple that it took no thought at all to answer, “Yes Lord.” “Then feed my sheep”, Jesus said, knowing that He would be making all things new. Peter couldn’t have truly understood, but with the faith and trust of a child He declared his life for Jesus. Three years of coming to know Jesus meant a radical transformation that culminated in one simple question and answer.

So back to my question: Is it supposed to be a life of misery and pain? The people in the Old Testament did not buy into that and constantly looked to God as their refuge and hope. Jesus’ promises give me great Hope for my eternity, but if I’m simply waiting in agony for that time to come, then I think it’s fair to say I don’t really know Jesus at all. If I’m not letting Him transform me in a radical way by spending time with Him and getting to know Him, then how can He offer me consolation? Without the transformation, I miss the call inherent in all suffering. Only when he asks the question through the lens of my suffering does it have deep meaning. “Karen, do you love me”? I know the cost of the answer already and by His grace I give it without reservation. “Of course, I love you, Lord.” What else is there? I can wait for the promises of Heaven as long as you are the Way, the Truth, and the Life walking beside me right here and now.

“For the lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to ‘springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’” (Rev 7:17)

Three years and Treasures in Heaven

As the third anniversary of my daughter Anna’s death approaches, I wanted to write something to mark this season. I guess it’s hard for me to keep writing of suffering and grieving when really, we are doing so much living. The hard truth is that death is always a piece of our living, but it is a piece that adds meaning, and substance, and depth. In light of death, we understand the blessing and the gift of life more profoundly. In the light of this cross, I have come to find fulfillment in serving the Lord through simple everyday living. This earthen vessel holds many treasures.

We are living in joyful expectation of our 10th child these days. Our newest little princess, our eighth daughter, should arrive at the end of June, and so far she is healthy and growing beautifully. Despite my “advanced maternal age,” I feel great, too. Pregnancy sure was easier on my body 21 years ago, but it is easier now in so many ways with the wisdom of age! It seems my growing belly is like an invitation to chat about all things “children” and it presents me with a challenging but beautiful way to witness on an almost daily basis. At some point, I think every mother has been asked how many children she has. For me, this has been a loaded and difficult question since my son Michael died eight years ago. I’m always tempted to give the simple half-truth version of the answer, that this is our 10th child, and leave it at that. As you might expect this usually piques curiosity (or disbelief!) and is always followed by more questions. I usually have a split second to decide how to answer. Sometimes it’s a sacrifice for me to tell the whole truth, but more often I can’t help but think of the person on the receiving end. Imagine asking a casual and friendly question and getting socked with my whole truth that two of my children have died! But the truth is the truth and it serves, if I am willing to tell it. Most often these moments that inspire a curl of dread at the outset, turn into moments of shared faith. They are opportunities to speak Truth, open hearts, console and be consoled, to serve and be served. Sometimes, I discover someone who is suffering greatly, sometimes it’s someone who has never known the sting of loss, and other times I am pleasantly surprised to meet a fellow Christian that I would not have known otherwise. Thanks to my baby bump, these grace-filled moments happen every day. I consider that a gift and I’m thankful for the struggle of it, for these are the treasures I am storing in Heaven. Anna’s death, though still a painful reality, is serving the Kingdom. And it’s beautiful to me that it happens in these cases because of life! Isn’t this precisely the message of the Gospel after all? Because Jesus died, we can have life!

Photo courtesy of Charles Wainwright for Pillars magazine

Photo courtesy of Charles Wainwright for Pillars magazine

I love this family picture. It is happy and full of life, but it only tells half the truth. There’s so much more to the story. I often wonder how the Lord expects me to tell it without Anna and Michael here to be in the picture with us. There are a few thousand words this picture cannot tell and I feel so keenly what is missing even as I rejoice in all that we are. What I have come to understand more deeply in these past three years is that the story must serve the Kingdom in order to bear fruit. It isn’t merely for my own transformation, though that is miraculous in itself, but it must be for God’s good and holy purposes. Why do I love my neighbor and forgive my enemy? Why do I proclaim life and not death even though I know fully that life only truly comes after death? In service to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He submitted to death so he could proclaim life. His death is always part of the story or there isn’t much of a story. This picture captures so much of my heart. I am blessed. I am grateful.

IMG_5692But always this picture tells the rest of the story. My treasures are in Heaven. This part that is missing gives so much more meaning to all that is here. I have learned to overcome what is missing by seeking all the life that is before me. Being pregnant at 41 is a sacrifice but it is nothing compared to the sacrifice of living without this new life.  She is loved beyond measure already.

The way to overcome death is to seek life. Jesus is life. The Gospel is life. Death is overcome.
The Mass each week calls to mind my own journey these past three years. For a time after each of my children died, Heaven came to Earth to meet me in my need and brokenness and my heart has found healing in the presence of the Giver and Creator of life. The consolations have been many and I have grown in my faith in many ways, but like the final words of blessing, there’s more to it than my own faith. There is a call to arms; “The Mass is ended, go in peace to Love and serve the Lord.”

The sacrifice has been re-presented and the resurrection has been celebrated. We will have all of Eternity to enjoy the consolations that have only been glimpsed here briefly, but today we are called to serve in God’s great army. Our sufferings and crosses become our armor and serve a great purpose in the Lord’s battle for souls. We have work to do, however small it may seem. We have treasures to store up for Heaven.

“We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves…Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.” (2 Cor 4:7,10)

People Of Praise

People of Praise

I am always amazed when a part of the Mass jumps out at me and seems brand new, even after hearing it thousands of times. This week, I had praise and worship on my heart. I was wondering how I could do a better job at making my children grateful for all the little things we have grown accustomed to and take for granted. I sincerely hope they will never grow up to echo this prevalent thread of entitlement and victimization that runs rampant through our culture. I was thinking the antidote to that has to be a heart full of praise because when that’s the case how can there be room for anything else? Well, apparently the church and her 2000 year-old wisdom thinks so, too. I heard a part of the Eucharistic prayer this week for, what seemed like, the first time! Listen to this part of the Mass:
Priest: Lift up your hearts.
People: We lift them up to the Lord.
Priest: Let us give Him thanks and praise.
People: It is right and just.

“It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere, to give you thanks Lord, holy father, almighty and eternal God… And so, with all the Angels and saints, we praise you…”

It is not merely right and just to give thanks to God, rather, it is our duty and our salvation, and not just when we feel like it, but always and everywhere. These are the words spoken every single day, in every Catholic church in every corner of the world. Perhaps they have become so routine that their meaning doesn’t always register, but I was blown away by their wisdom in that moment. This is what I need to instill in my children. This is what I myself need to live more fully. It is right there in the holy Mass, which is a direct result of the scriptures and the deposit of faith (the teachings given directly by Jesus and his apostles). It struck me once again that there really is nothing new under the sun. A heart full of Praise is not merely a timeless antidote to the problems of the day, but it is a call to action that serves to keep God at the heart and center of our being. I think it is an action that has been overlooked and has gradually lost importance in our time and culture. We feel entitled to a rose garden, even though we were never promised a rose garden. We were only promised that all would be fulfilled in Heaven and all that we have that is good is from God in the first place. Nothing is our own doing.

So, as we face the storms in our lives and the mounting storms in the world, we need to keep Praise ever on our lips. When I am asked how I cope with the tragedies I have experienced, my answer is faith in God, the promise of Eternity and praising He who is sovereign over all. When I am asked for advice and prayer in a difficult situation, my first thought is to Praise God. In any difficult situation, especially a painful circumstance, I say, Praise God in it. It doesn’t mean you have to feel joyful or in the mood to praise, it means you should be obedient to the command we are given in scripture. “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus ». (1Thes 5:18)

It is our duty and salvation to praise God. We are created to spend Eternity praising God alongside the choirs of angels. It is our duty now, so that when we are saved it will be our Joy. While it is certainly not the only thing we will do in Eternity, it will be something so infinitely fulfilling that we can’t really grasp it in the here and now. For the time being, we have to practice and learn to let praise flow out of us. When times are good that isn’t so difficult, but when times are difficult is when we need to call on this fundamental command. It is only in living a spirit of Praise that we cease to live a spirit of complaining, fear, anger, discontent, victimization and woe-is-me. The absence of this praise is often the absence of trusting that God is sovereign over the situation.

Always and everywhere we should Praise God. To be sure, this is a radical call. It’s one thing to be thankful to God for Life and Love in any season, but it is another to actually be thankful for our trials. Still, no matter the situation or circumstance, always and everywhere, we should first and foremost be thankful. Do we Trust God that our sufferings and trials have a divine purpose? Do we have the humility to let God be in charge instead of making our own angry demands? We have got to learn to be a people of Praise and Thanksgiving, because anything less means we are not giving God His due, in every circumstance, including the horrific, sad and terrible. When a loved one dies, for example, praise and Thank God. If you don’t know what in the world you would be thankful for in that situation, then I humbly suggest that now is the time to figure it out.

I am thankful for the hope and belief that my children and my mom are in heaven and beholding the beatific vision as we speak. I am thankful for all that will be accomplished through their death that could not be accomplished in their lifetime. I am thankful that I need and rely on God and His grace to stumble through the dark hours. I am thankful that He loves me enough to allow me to be refined and tested in fire. I trust Him and thank Him that I will emerge better than before. I thank Him for all the ways my life is made better because I knew and loved those people. I am thankful that death never has the last word. I am thankful that we will be reunited and they are now preparing a place for me and the rest of our family. I am thankful for the trial and the suffering and the fire because to God, I am gold, and strong enough to withstand it.

There is never a wrong time to give God praise and the really beautiful thing is that praise is a gift we give to Him, yet it is we who benefit. God does not need our praise. He doesn’t have an ego that needs inflating or reassuring. He allows us to praise Him and in so doing we are transformed! Our hearts, minds, and words become more united to God and less united to the worldly attitudes that surround us.

Let us pray for one another in this important endeavor. May we become a People of true Praise!

Praise-the-Lord-FB.001

“Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (Rev. 5:13)

( Psalm 9:1-2) I will praise you, O LORD, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonders. I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.

(Psalm 19:1) The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

(Psalm 7:17) I will give thanks to the LORD because of his righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High.

(Psalm 44:8) In God we make our boast all day long, and we will praise your name forever. Selah

(Psalm 147:1) Praise the LORD. How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him!